30 April 2019

Equinox Bracelets


It's a spring tradition in Utica, New York.  Every class of  sculpture students at the Munson-Williams-Proctor  Institute Art School gets to participate in the making of the Equinox Bracelets, following a style of work laid down at the Bauhaus in 1920s Germany.  The students begin work on the project while they are freshmen and complete the fabrication during their sophomore year. The project is a joyful yet serious meditation on the recurring cycle of the seasons  and the symbiotic relationship between darkness and light.  The Equinox Bracelets will be on exhibit on the grounds of the Munson-Williams- Proctor Art Museum for two months following the vernal equinox.

The circles are constructed out of bent plywood left over from another project and stand ten feet high.  The colored lights are set inside  holes drilled into the wood.  The geodesic dome which holds the sculpture together was also built by the students.  Part of the frisson of working on the project comes from students working on discrete parts and then watching the work take shape as they put them together.

I have more about the city of Utica and the Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute and some of their artworks by Arthur CarlesNorman Lewis, Henry Lee McFee,  and Bob Thompson

Participating artists: Colette Bernard, Carolina de Pontes,Claus Dicovskiy, Diana Kichuk, Rebecca Johnson, Natalie van Oyen, and MWP Sculpture Technician Erik Nilson.

Image: unidentified photographer - Equinox Bracelets, 2019, mixed media,  courtesy of Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institue, Utica, NY.

27 April 2019

Joan of Arc: Juana Romani & Anna Hyatt Huntington


This Joan of Arc is not the thirteen year old peasant girl who heard angelic voices urging her to lead an army in battle during the Hundred Years' War.  Yet she is magnificent and possessed of a sense of  her destiny as Joan certainly was.

Superficially  then,  a typical Academic portrait of a historical figure in the tradition that brought us  George Washington as a toga-clad Roman figure wreathed in a crown of laurels.  Her heart-shaped face and sloe-eyed stare, the sumptuous gilt and velvet robe, are the stuff of Pre-Raphaelite fancy.  Her dark cloud of hair blends into an amorphous background punctuated by bits of religious symbols. But look closer at the robe she wears, painted with a hint of japonisme by way of French Impressionism.  Gilt at collar and cuff is set off by equally brilliant turquoise, separated from the third primary color, (here blood) red by inky thick blackness. Through her virtuoso display of textures Romani reveals her encounters with the early Impressionist techniques. Romani's style also harmonized elements of Aestheticism with her classical academic training.  A medieval- looking robe of red velvet   scored with designs of tiny flowers and fleur de lys (flower of lily) is both a symbol of French royalty and was also worn by Catholic saints.



Juana Romani wat born Carolina Giovanna  Carlesimo in Velletri, Italy in 1867.  When her mother's affair with a prominent local landowner, Temistocle Romani, was discovered, Carolina's father burnt down one of Romani's stables and was found dead under mysterious circumstances.  Taking the girl, the lovers  fled to Paris, settling in the Latin Quarter in 1877.  In time the little family was impoverished and young Carrolina began to model for many of the artists in the quarter.  In 1882 she posed for Alexandre Falguiere, a friend of Ana Hyatt Huntington about Huntington, more below).  ONe was Jean-Jacques Henner with whom she had  a brief affair.  At nineteen having seen enough of the art world, Carolina decided to become an artist herself and changed her name to Juana, the Spanish equivalent of her middle name.  Filippo Colarossi Founder invited her to study at Academie Colarossi, one of the few schools at the to admit women.  When she exhibited at the International Exposition of 1889 in Paris, Romani was awarded a silver medal.

Romani became friends with Antoine Lumiere when she taught him to paint, an his sons, Auguste and Louis accompanied her when she visited Velletri in 1901.  The brothers generously donated one of their movie projectors to the city, which returned the compliment by naming their first cinema Cinematograpgo Lumiere in honor of the pioneering movie camera the brothers had patented in 1895. On this same visit Romani donated a sum of 5,000 lire to the art school to support an annual prize for a deserving student.  The school was renamed  the Juana Romani School of Art in 1905.

From artistic success, Romani's life began a downward slide, prejudice against female artists, savage reviews, and her mental frailties led to her commitment to an asylum in Pars where she died in 1924.

Around the corner in the Shaffer Art Galley from Juana Romani's portrait of Joan of Arc stands Anna Hyatt Huntington's bronze statue of the little warrior saint.  The original has stood at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Ninety-Third Street in Manhattan since its dedication in 1915.  The marble pedestal contains fragments from the cell in Rouen where Joan awaited her execution in 1431.

Huuntington's Joan is an austere, prayerful figure, with cropped hair.  Much closer to what the historical record suggests and certainly familiar to viewers of  Renee Jeanne Falconetti's mesmerizing performance as Joan in the 1928  film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, a landmark in film, silent or otherwise.  Falconetti was filmed from the neck up only, a sculptural gesture intensifying our sense of her spiritual struggle.  Huntington's bronze captures something of that in stop-time.  Whether we  think that restoring Charles VII of the House of Valois to the throne of France was a mission from God or worth the life of a remarkable young woman we can admire her for staring down the destiny she chose.
Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) was one of the foremost sculptors of her day, recognized internationally, with a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor from France and the Grand Cross of Alfonso XII in Spain to her credit.  Anna Hyatt married Archer Milton Huntington, poet. philanthropist and translator of the medieval  Spanish epic El Cid Campeador in 1923. Huntington had founded the Hispanic Museum of New York City and the couple made its expansion their joint adventure.

Images:
1. Juana Romani  - Joan of Arc, circa 1900, oil on panel, 39.5 x 31.5 inches, Shaffer Art Gallery, Syracuse University.
2. Elihu Vedder  - View at Velletri - circa 1868, oil on canvas, Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Utica, NY.
3. Anna Hyatt Huntington - Joan of Arc, 1922, bronze, 63 inches, Shaffer Art Gallery, Syracuse University.

23 April 2019

I Have the Room Above Her: Oscar Hammerstein II & Jerome Kern





















I have the room above her
She doesn't know I love her
How could she know I love her

Sitting in her room below?
Sitting in her room below
How could she know
How far a dream could go?

Sometimes she meets we smile
And oh, her smile's divine
It's such a treat to hear her say
Hasn't the weather been fine?"

I blush and stammer badly
My heart is beating madly
The she goes into her room
And I go sadly up to mine

A lover more impetuous than I
Would say his say and know the reason why
when I get my chance
I let my chance go by.
 - lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II, to music by Jerome Kern


I. Appraising the 1993 revival of Showboat, John Lahr wrote in the New Yorker that it had been nothing less than a revelation of just how "a radical departure in musical storytelling, marrying spectacle with seriousness" it had been when it debuted in 1927, how unlike the romantic comedies, operettas, and variety shows that were the usual Broadway fare then.  Based on a best-selling novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber, Showboat was a musical that delved deeply into the lives of the denizens of a Mississippi river boat, their loves and their tragedies, even taking aim at  the taboo subject of racial prejudice.  Critics of the time recognized the transformative affect this would have on American musical theater.

When Universal Pictures commenced shooting  a film version in 1936 they asked Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, II  to provide three new songs; in the event  only one - I Have the Room Above Her -  was used. An utterly lovely ballad, it was undeservedly overshadowed by well known songs from the original Broadway production including Ol' Man River, Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, and Bill.

I Have the Room Above Her received its due in 2004  as the title track on Paul Motian's ECM release of that name.  The drummer was joined by guitarist Bill Frissell and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano. Recorded with neither a piano nor a bass, the melody is at the forefront with Motian's cymbals underline each change.

II. Gail Albert Halaban is a photographer who was born in Washington, D.C. in 1970.  She received her MFA in Photography from Yale University School of Art.  After living in Los Angeles she moved to New York City in 2007 and began the series Out My Window.   The project was inspired by something that happened on the day of her daughter's first birthday; she received a gist of balloons and flowers from someone she did not know who lived nearby and had seen the party through the apartment window. ... series represented the ordinary daily routines of  urban apartment living against a background that appears cinematic in comparison. While it might seem voyeuristic, Halaban  obtains permission from her subjects before photographing them.  From the neighborhoods of New York City, Halaban then extended the series to Paris, Istanbul, Buenos Aires  and other cities between.
I saw Gail Albert Halaban: Out My Window, the exhibition, at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York in August 2018.

Image: Gail Albert Halaban, photographer - from the series Out My Window (New York City), 2007, courtesy of George Eastman House, Rochester.


17 April 2019

When the Wind was Green


When the wind was green at the start of spring
When the wind was green like a living thing
It was on my lips and its kiss was fair
You were there

When the wind was red like a summer wine
When the wind was red like your lips on mine
It caressed my face and it tossed my hair
You were there

The came the fall and all of love
came tumbling, stumbling down
Like leaves that lost to frost and found
They were flying, crying
In a brown wind dying

But the winter's come and we both should know
That the wind is white like the swirling snow
And we'll never see all the wonderful things to be seen
When the wind was green.
 - "When the Wind was Green" by Donald Henry Stinson

Some songs don't stand the test of time.  They are of their time and should be allowed to stay there.  Some jazz songs manage to stand the test by shedding their lyrics, a skin no longer needed that sets the music itself free to metamorphose as new generations of musicians take its measure.  And then there is a type of song that I have held close, since I was very young and then as a jazz radio programmer, where I got the kick of doing something about it.

I have wanted to write about When the Wind was Green for a long time  but shirked the responsibility of doing so because it feels presumptuous to elaborate on lyrics that stand so beautifully on their own.  Originally composed as an instrumental by Donald Henry Stinson with lyrics added for vocalist Chris Connor's debut album, the conceit around which the lyric layers its images suggest other worlds than that of a love song.

When the Wind was Green was recorded in  1950 by the David Rose Orchestra.  Chris Connor recorded the first vocal version in 1956 on her debut release, the first jazz album from Atlantic Records.  Founded in 1947 by the Ertegun brothers, Nesuhi became the president and Ahmet the A & R (artists and repertoire) man.   His confidence in the smoky-voiced Connor, led to pairing her with pianist  John Lewis, bassists Oscar Pettiford and Milt Hinton, drummer Connie Kay, and a ten-piece band led by saxophonist Zoot Sims, all jazz royalty, then and now.

I first heard the song on a 1995 RCA Victor cd When the Wind was Cool from Dominique Eade, a tribute to Chris Connor and other cool jazz singers.  Eade's was a well-traveled childhood. Born in London, England, her father was an Air Force officer and the family moved fequently.  After spending her teenage years in Germany, Eade studied English at Vassar College and then attended the New England Conservatory of music. A singer who played both piano and guitar, Eade arranged several of the songs for her major label debut.  She also had her share of illustrious accompanists including tenor saxophonist  Benny Golson  and vibraphonist Steve Nelson.  A vocalist of uncommon agility, Eade can encompass toughness and intimacy in a single interpretation. Her most recent release is Open from Sunnyside Records (2017).

Donald Henry Stinson published his songs under several pseudonyms, even representing himself as a duo on the credits for When the Winds Was Green.  Information about Stinson is sketchy but the best resource online is Discogs.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) was an America artist whose paintings belong to the style Color Field.   I was delighted to fin that Tableau vert waspainted in 1952, of the period when Stinson was working on his song.

Image:
Ellsworth Kelley - Tableau vert (Green Painting), 1952, oil on wood, Art Institute of Chicago.

09 April 2019

A Lesson from Abstraction: William Palmer's Autoroute


"William Palmer performs the miracle that is at the center of pictorial creativeness.  In his paintings he makes a synthesis of disparate elements and causes them to promote each other.

   His characteristic subject is landscape and, within that, particular region of New York State.  He expresses this in a form so generalized as to seem capable of only the most general  content.  But through his strong assertion of the physical surface, both in tactile paint quality and in the sense of the plane, making a strong impact on the senses, he is able, mysteriously, without description, to convey the character of a special piece of nature, with its individual geological form, even its kind of weather, and, as well, his own rich feeling-reaction to it!

   And then, again mysteriously, the particularity is submerged in an imaginative expression of a lyrical view of life and the world, and a deep humility toward the greatness of art." - Isabel Bishop

In William Palmer's Route 5 - Morning abstraction does not conceal so much as reveal a new viewpoint: this is how landscape looks from the road, from a car.   It is, coincidentally, how farmland looks from the air.   Agriculture may be the oldest profession but the automobile has existed for the blink of an eye, historically.  Palmer's choice of the panoramic view seems exactly right for his subject, suggesting movement and his choice of purple, complementary color to green, an apt choice  to suggest passing clouds reflected on the ground.

The origins of this particular route date from the post-glacial age.  First as narrow foot paths trod by the Mohawk and Iroquois peoples, then as trails for horses and oxcarts to carry European settlers westward.  When traffic reached a critical mass, New York State turned the roads over to speculators and the era of the turnpike toll road began.

By 1793 the Mohawk Turnpike reached from Albany to Utica where the Genesee Turnpike continued through Central New York (now known as Route 5).  With the arrival of the Erie Canal  in 1825 and the railroads in the 1850s, turnpikes became poor investments for speculators  fell into neglect.  With the invention of the automobile, rutted paths and corduroy roads had to be replaced by hard surfaces.  A new east-west toll road was proposed in the 1940s and the first section of the New York State Thruway opened in 1954 between Utica and Rochester.

You may not know his name but the imprint of William C. Palmer (1906-1987) is all around  the art world of  upstate New York.  Palmer was the first professor of studio art at Hamilton College in Clinton and the founder of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute School of Art at Utica where he served as director from 1941 to 1973.  His murals  grace post offices from Massachusetts to Iowa and hospitals in Queens; his paintings are in the collections of the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and, of course,  Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute.

Born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1906, Palmer studied at the Art Students League in New York  with Thomas Hart Benton.  It is there that he met a fellow art student Isabel Bishop, whose career took a realist turn, forcing on women in their everyday lives.  Meanwhile, Palmer studied fresco painting at L'Ecole des Beuax-Arts in Fontainbleau.  He returned from France in 1927 to earn his living by painting murals for the WPA Arts Project during the Depression in New York.

In 1941 Palmer moved to Utica, New York, to become artist-in-residence at Hamilton College and Director of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Art School.  President Franklin Roosevelt choose a Palmer painting Manhattan from the Jersey Meadows for the White House art collection; it is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.  After his retirement Palmer lived in nearby Clinton, NY until his death.  The moods and atmosphere of the upstate countryside were often the subject of Palmer's late semi-abstract landscape paintings and Route 5 - Morning is among Palmer's best.

Image:
William C. Palmer - Route 5 - Morning, 1949,  oil on canvas, Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Uiica, NY.

01 April 2019

Mariano Fortuny: The Perfect Moment:






































From the corner where you sit,
Look out at the light,
The grass and trees and mossy
Stone in the arbor

That measures time in the sun,
And the water lilies, tufts
O f dream on the motionless
Water of the fountain.

Above you, the translucent
Folds and pleats of the leaves,
The pale blue of the sky,
White clouds.

A blackbird sings
Sweetly, as if the voice
Of the garden were to speak to you.
In such a still hour

Use your eyes well, look
As if you gently touched
Each thing.  You owe thanks -
For such pure calm

Free from pleasure or pain -
To the light, for soon.
It will go, as you will.
In the distance you hear

The deceptive treed
Of time, moving
Toward the winter. Then
Both your meditation and this

Garden you contemplate,
Transfixed by the light,
Must lie down in a long
Sleep, mute and dark.
 - "A Garden" by Luis Cernuda from Selected Poems, translated from the Spanish by Reginald Gibbons, Berkeley, University of California Press: 1977.

The longer you look at this seemingly modest painting the more amazing it becomes.  Cecilia de Madrazo is a portrait of the wife of the artist, recording a quiet moment of domestic life - but with what panache. The clarity of the composition is breathtaking: the woman sits facing left with a chair and the curving line of a tall potted rose bush bracketing her figure. Her white blouse as the setting for her head is muted in contrast the artfully executed billows of her striped skirt, evidence of Fortuny's masterly draftsmanship. The background is rendered in delicate washes of watercolor;  Fortuny was the pre-eminent water-colorist of his day.  The richness of a small perfect moment is captured, lest we overlook life's sweetness in our hurry from one moment to the next.

In August 1874, three months before he died, Mariano Fortuny wrote, "Now I can paint for myself, the way I like, as I please...It is what gives me the hope of showing myself as I really am."  The Spanish artist and his family were spending the summer in Portici, a beach town near Naples when Fortuny contracted malaria.  He died in Rome from a stomach ulcer that hemorrhaged.  Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874) was only thirty-six years old but he was already an artist with an international reputation, his works in museums and private collections across Europe and North America.  His admirers sensed that he was on the brink of doing some great new thing when he died.  Today his reputation has been overshadowed by that of his son Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), a Venetian textile designer but a renewed interest in Spanish art is the occasion for another look.

His contemporaries adored Fortuny's work, Vincent Van Gogh and the Americans John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins notable among them.  Pablo Picasso, a fellow Catalan, admired Fortuny for patriotic reasons as well.  Fortuny was a collector of art and fearlessly hung his collection in his studio, interspersing works of the past with his own  to create a personal aesthetic environment.

Mariano Fortuny  was orphaned at the age of six and thereafter raised by his grandfather who supported the boy's artistic talent through a small stipend from the local church.  Antonio Bassa, a silversmith and painter of miniatures taught Fortuny the value of thoroughness in art.  His grandfather accompanied him to Barcelona where Fortuny began his formal art studies in 1852. Then, in 1858, he won the coveted Prix de Rome, an award that changed his life.

In Paris, center of the art world in the late 19th century and home to a growing and influential bourgeoisie, Fortuny achieved fame.  Writer and critic Theophile Gauthier's praise of Fortuny's work  opened doors to the young Spaniard,  leading to an exclusive contract with the renowned art dealer Adolphe Goupil. Fortuny had recently married Cecilia de Madrazo, daughter of the director of the Prado on Madrid and together they made an impressive couple.

The bourgeoisie fell in love with Fortuny, the scholarship boy from Tarragona, a self-made artist who rose from humble beginnings to achieve worldly success.  In his good fortune they saw their own values reaffirmed, their social virtue in allowing  him to succeed validated their conformism and negated their narrow-mindedness. The grandson of a cabinet maker was lauded by the international art world as a complete artist -  his virtuosity with oil paint revealed new ways to portray light on canvas, his agile draftsmanship was the foundation for his self-assured handling of watercolor that renewed the medium in Spain, France, and Italy, and his compatriots considered Fortuny the finest intaglio print-maker since Goya.

Popularity had its drawbacks: Fortuny grew tired of painting the formulaic orientalist works that were all the rage at the time, work that he found increasingly shallow.  And if we look at those pictures now we can  see his wisdom that they  were blocking his development as a painter.  Fortuny also felt hemmed in by  very narrative that made him so attractive to many patrons.  With some relief, the couple moved to Granada in 1868 where they settled in the Washington Irving Hotel at the Alhambra.  The importance of the Alhambra in garden history would be  hard to exaggerate. For Fortuny it was truly a heaven on earth.

The gardens of Spain are richl in history, combining designs from ancient Persian and Roman gardens with more recent Islamic additions from the time of Moorish Spain and Andalusia.  The 'paradise garden' is organized around a central axis with paths radiating out in the four cardinal directions. Sun and heat, the basic elements of the Spanish climate, are tempered by the coolness and humidity of fountains and watercourses.  Fortuny painted it all with clarity and spontaneity, no small feat.  You have only to compare his work with that of another Catalan painter Santiago Rusinol (1861-1931) whose vivid landscapes are relatively stiff and unconvincing.

Fortuny's late landscapes are anything but stiff, they brim with light and color. Beach at Portici, unfinished at the time of his death, was so highly regarded that it was hung prominently in the American Pavilion at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Alexander Turney Stewart, a New York collector, had purchased the painting in 1875, knowing it a work in progress.  The concentration of detail in the background trees and beach juxtaposed with the free brush work of the foliage in the foreground could hardly be improved on for overall effect.  The wall nicely defines the space around the human figures enjoying their leisure on a sunny day.  An unusually large painting for Fortuny, its relatively broad canvas provided scope for his extraordinary capacity for expressing the beauty of the ordinary.


In the United States Fortuny's paintings are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Walters  Art Museum in Baltimore, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.

The poem "A Garden"  is exemplary of Luis Cernuda's writing.  For him, the natural world was indivisible from the human perceiving it, not anthropomorphism but something more subtle.  In the same fashion, the speaker in the poems, the "I," was Cernuda the observer, not the ego.
Luis Cernuda (1902-1968) was the most cosmopolitan of modern Spanish poets; he immersed himself in the French surrealist poets, the English Romantics by way of Goethe, and American literature.  Cernuda was born is Seville but moved to Madrid, the center of Spanish literary culture.  By contrast, the Catalan city of Barcelona where Fortuny had gravitated as a young man was the birthplace of modern Spanish art.

Social life in early 20th century Spain was a melancholy spectacle,  constricting, valuing conformity above all other values.  Cernuda could be fearsome in his denunciations of the bourgeoisie, as in these. lines from "Remorse in Black Tie:" ("A gray man walks the foggy street./No one suspects.  An empty body,/ empty as plains or sea or wind:/ Harsh deserts under unrelenting sky.")

Cernuda lived  most of his adult life in exile, a poete maudit, whose songs went unheard in the wilderness. Solitary, anti-religious, and homosexual, Cernuda preached against the church while employing their own symbolism to mock them.   He rejected their rigid morality in hope of a more organic one. I hope this taste of the flavor of Cernuda's work encourages readers to search out his poetry.

Fortuny:a retrospective was held at the Prado in Madrid from 11/21/2017 to 02/21/2018.

Images:
1. Mariano Fortuny  - Portrait of the artist's wife Cecilia  de Madrazo, 1874, watercolor and gouache on blue-ish paper, British Museum, London.
2. Mariano Fortuny - Young girl in the garden of the artist's studio - Granada, after 1868.
3, Mariano Fortuny - The Beach at Portici (unfinished), 1874, Meadows Museum, Dallas.