American Prints & Drawings

Just before Christmas, my friend Emily and I made a trip to the National Gallery to see the El Greco exhibit.  On our way out, we stopped on the museum’s lower floor to see the small, two-room exhibit of 20th century American prints and drawings from the Kainen Collection.  I’ve been reading a lot about early twentieth-century American artists recently, and so was particularly excited to come across this collection of drawings.

The Kainens collected through most of the 20th century, and their collection includes early works and experimental prints and drawings by showstoppers like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.  In this 1951 drawing, Pollock experimented with the effects of allowing ink drips to soak through thin Japanese paper — I love the way this medium allowed him to create a melodic tone entirely different from his more iconic paintings.

Jackson Pollock, Untitled

The exhibit’s collection of lesser-known twentieth century artists is equally exciting.  I’ve been interested in the explorations of American artists in the 1930s, and there are a number of stellar prints and drawings here by artists like Stuart Davis.  I especially love this one by sculptor William Zorach, whose work in watercolor allowed him to embrace a more improvisational style.

William Zorach, View of Distant Hills

Like the Pollock, Zorach’s View of Distant Hills was done on Japanese paper.

One of the exciting things to me about the Kainen collection is how closely it brings us as museum viewers to the process and impact of contemporary collecting.  Though the Kainens collected widely, both were deeply committed to buying work by contemporary American artists.  Both Kainens were highly knowledgeable and well-connected in the art world (Jacob Kainen was an artist himself), so they certainly had the expertise to gauge the importance of the work they collected.  But buying work by experimental living artists always carries a heightened risk — and a heightened impact.  I’ve been reading about how artists like Zorach and Davis struggled because their work was innovative enough that it was seldom salable.  These purchases by knowledgeable collectors like Jacob and Ruth Kainen therefore had the double-impact of asserting the experimental works’ value and literally sustaining the living artists’ continued explorative practice.

Karl Schrag, The Influence of the Moon

Modern American Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection is on view at the National Gallery through February 1, and is absolutely worth visiting.

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Fibonacci in the Natural World

Yesterday I wrote about the finding the Fibonacci Sequence in the rays and tiers of New York’s Chrysler Building.  The Sequence appears everywhere.  In pinecones and artichokes and nautilus shells and the human ear’s cochlea.

Fibonacci Spiral

I’ve been reading about Fibonacci today, and I learned that its numbers (when divided into each other) move ever closer to the Golden Ratio that has been a hallmark of architecture from the Taj Mahal to the Parthenon.  Which makes the Chrysler Building’s homage to Fibonacci all the more resonant.

Since I’ve talked a lot about Fibonacci in architecture, I thought it was only fitting to end with this terrific video that talks about Fibonacci in plants.  It’s a fun and creative film — even for those who don’t like math.

Chrysler

When we stayed in New York this winter, our hotel had an amazing view of Chrysler Building, which has always been my favorite skyscraper.

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During our stay, I found myself thinking about the building’s numbers.  Seven arched tiers at the top.  Then the rays on each tier arrayed: one, three, three, five, five, five, eight.  These numbers feel elegant, like they carry their own rhythm, a numeric poem.  A riff on the Fibonacci Sequence,* which has long been one of the mathematic concepts that’s resonated with me most.  Three rays plus two tiers equals five rays.  Five rays plus three tiers equals the next tier’s eight.

I had never known about the connection between the Chrysler Building and Fibonacci before, and it was a pleasure to discover it for myself while lying in bed, watching the sunrise.

*A funny story about the Fibonacci Sequence: I first learned about it from Mathnet on PBS, when I must have been somewhere between 5 and 7 years old.  Detectives Monday and Frankly used the Fibonacci Sequence to solve a crime, and for me, the pattern has been imbued with a quality of mystery ever since.

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I love that this picture captures both the Chrysler Building and the small rooftop garden across the street from our hotel.  Large-scale and miniature testaments to beauty.

MoMA

Lean

Lean, MoMA

While I stopped in the MoMA lobby to draw up plans for my visit to its galleries, I was caught by this image of a fellow visitor standing by the window, glancing between his museum floorplan and the view outside.  I love the shape of the man and the statue, each leaning in their different ways.

Two Pieces at MoMA

A couple of weeks ago, I made it up to the MoMA in New York.  The MoMA is where I first fell in love with Cézanne’s landscapes back in the late 1990s.  I haven’t returned the museum since its renovation, and I had two pieces of artwork I was especially excited to see on this visit.

Pines and Rocks

The first was Cézanne’s Pines and Rocks, which is one of the landscapes that first drew me into a lifelong admiration for Cézanne.  I even wrote a paper on one of Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire landscapes when I was in graduate school.  But I hadn’t seen Pines and Rocks since my last visit to the MoMA, even though I remembered its impact on me and thought of it often in the intervening years.  After fifteen years, it was thrilling to be able to find this painting again.

Object

The second piece I really wanted to see was Méret Oppenheim’s Object.  This is actually one I had never seen in person before, but a professor showed a slide of it during an art history class I took in college, and I felt immediately drawn to Object.  I’ve kept a pretty low-quality print out from that slide presentation ever since then, just so I could have an image of it.  We actually had a pretty hard time finding this piece in the museum at first, and we went back through the gallery twice, determined to find it.  I was so happy to finally see Oppenheim’s tiny sculpture in person, and happy also to replace my grainy print out with a high-quality postcard image from the MoMA gift shop.

Has anyone else visited or revisited a beloved piece of artwork recently?