On Sunday morning, we had a pretty phenomenal breakfast at The Continental, a retro brunch place near our hotel. I was enthralled by the tiramasu waffle (mascarpone, bourbon syrup and whipped cream on a chocolate waffle). We turned down the opportunity to sit in the swinging basket chairs upstairs, but enjoyed the bustle of families and hipsters alike in aqua blue booths by the windows.
And, as usual, I eyed a chandelier with enthusiasm - a funky, sparkly centerpiece.
Post breakfast, we hit the high road to the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA.
Inside, you'll be too busy gawking at all the art to be fussing with a camera.
Acquired and displayed with care by Albert Barnes, works includes many Renoir, Cezanne, and Matisse paintings as well as many other Impressionist artworks and a survey of art from other approaches and eras.
The Barnes Collection will be moved to a new building in downtown Philadelphia in 2012, so the opportunity to the see the work in the building Dr. Barnes selected will not be around for that much longer. The new location will maintain his arrangement of paintings. Displays emphasize symmetry and stylistic connections between artists.
That's the thumbnail brochure info on Barnes. Do remember to get tickets early. We ended up becoming members (pricier) so as to get in on the weekend we were in Philly. Plan ahead.
[Longish digression on blogging]
In terms of blogging, I'm finding it difficult to find a comfortable tone on some of my various field trips. I'm not interesting in simply regurgitating what a tour guide says (although I do); you should go to check places out yourself and see what strikes you. Me retyping the same information you can find on their Web site or wikipedia seems a waste of everyone's time; no one is (or should be) coming to Artful Mistakes for my fine research skills.
Given my general approach to life, I can't imagine I'm ever going to say a museum or event or whatever wasn't worth going to. Getting out in the world and looking around, paying attention, is never bad idea. Experience = good. So no thumbs down is happening on art events. Formal reviews are not me. I will like some things more than others, but my preferences won't be yours. And while logistical advice is handy, it ain't interesting.
So that leads me back to how I experience things as an artist pursuing...whatever it is that I'm pursuing. My problem with that is that its inherently narcissistic, me, me, me. And while I'm fascinating to me, I'm aware that doesn't hold true for the whole wide world.
What I would like to do is broaden out to talk more about artistic process, the variations in consumption and creation that artists become passionate about. But then, with artists I know, I don't want to invade people's privacy (one of the reasons I seldom use friends' names on this blog, unless I have very specific permission). Not everything should be a blog entry. And artists I don't know aren't necessarily volunteering up their philosophy of arting. Perhaps I should consider official interviews with friends and non-friends alike? An option.
If anyone reading this has any great insights on these issues, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll continue to muddle along, finding balance on occasion. Obviously, my process in this blog is very much not behind any curtain, and evolving the more I explore and write.
[End of digression - Back to the Barnes]
From here on, I'm going to talk about my reaction to the Barnes collection on a more personal level.
I didn't do the audio tour at the Barnes, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I'm cheap, and it was the frugal move. Also, I like to come to art fresh, to see what I see before I hear what the "experts" see. On the other hand, this could also be construed as wallowing in ignorance, so I wonder on that. I did enjoy eavesdropping on wandering tour groups -- but also enjoyed being able to step away from them.
Happily, I had a small moment of validation that I could at least sometimes see what the experts see, as I noticed a Renoir painting (the largest collection of Renoirs is at the Barnes - 181, according to wikipedia) that seemed both inherently Renoir, but also different. The shape and detail of the women's figure were his, but the blurring of the edges so that the figure seems to melt into landscape, an aspect that is such a quintessential Renoir element, was not there. It turns out, Renoir had a decade of time, the Ingres period, where he fell away from some of his Impressionist ways. He went to see Renaissance masters in Italy, came back and did something different; he rediscovered edges. I overheard a tour guide talking about it after I'd spent some time in front of the painting wondering.
A very obvious element, true, but at least I saw it. Because the Barnes has so many Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses, highly recognizable artists, it is a place where you can walk up to a painting and go, ah, yes, look, that has to be such-and-such. For someone like me, who hasn't ever taken an art history class, there is a little thrill in that. I often can't articulate why a brush stroke or color palette or choice of subject is used by an artist in a certain way. But on a holistic level, I can see the result of an artist's style enough to recognize his work. That's satisfying.
Taste is a tricky place. I prefer Modigliani's long-necked women over Courbet's almost-porn Realist nudes. Unlike Dr. Barnes, who clearly adored his work, I don't connect to much of Renoir's work despite recognizing both its beauty and his talent. For me, his work seems a little too pink, his subjects too romanticized, misty-eyed views of people and places. Glowing nudes. Innocent children. Lovely ideals, but feeling (for me) sanitized. I orient more toward Cezanne, the bolder lines, the contrast of color, the freeing sense of messiness. It feels more honest. Generally, I prefer perception not idealized, but altered, as in Cubism, Surrealism, or at least, the little I know about them.
Perhaps I've seen some of De Chirico's work before, but I noticed it more at the Barnes because his subject matter is distinctly not Impressionist. He has robotic figures and architectural detail, surrealist leanings, so not surprising I'd enjoy it.
Often, I look at paintings and think, could I create that? A Renoir nude? Not a chance in hell. I don't draw well and do not understand oil paints yet (possibly ever) and lack that level of detail and expertise. But some vague approximation of some Cezanne apples? Maybe not completely impossible if I was trying to directly copy it, the individual brushstrokes being more clear, the abstraction overt, and apples being quite a bit easier than a face. Once I tried to copy Van Gogh painting of flowers, and while mine looked little like the original, neither is it ugly. Flowers are more forgiving.
As noted, my knowledge of visual art is scattered and almost entirely experiential, not academic or organized (perhaps part of my affection for it).
As I page here and there reading snippets of artist's biographies, I am reminded of what should have been obvious: these revered artists were, day to day, people struggling along, kind, or moody, or awkward, or whatever, muddling through as best they could.
Claude Monet probably never envisioned that his water lilies would end up on mouse pads and coffee mugs, hailed and recognized around the world. The life of the art, as it goes beyond the life of the artist, that too is bizarre.
But I've rambled enough. In summary: go to the Barnes. And perhaps start with a large tasty waffle for brunch.
I'll end with a wonderful Picasso quote: "Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth."