Tuesday, January 31, 2012

At the Orsay in Paris

My previous visits to Paris had been filled with the less daunting art museums than the Louvre. I had been to the Pan-Arab Museum, the Rodin, the Picasso and several other small museums which could be enjoyed in a single day.

My last trip to Paris was in very cold December. Thinking that the museums would be less crowded, I made a commitment to see the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsay (above photo).

The Louvre was gigantic, noisy and difficult to navigate. On the other hand,the Orsay was "just right" (as Goldilocks would say). I was enchanted with it the minute I passed through the ticket booth. It was like coming home. Perfect. I would return several more times just to see everything and commit what I saw to memory. (I'm sure there's still my well-worn path from the Metro to the Orsay.)

The Orsay building started life as a train station facing the Seine river. Thanks to the 14-year vision of Michel Laclotte, the chief curator of the paintings department at the Louvre, the station was converted to an art museum in 1986.

The museum is dedicated to the period from 1848 to 1905. For those of you who are enchanted by the Impressionists' period as I am, this museum is heaven. Yet, the museum levels are arranged so that the viewer can see the works of master artist prior to the Impressionist all the way to the post-Impressionists.

My personal favorite was the area where pastels are exhibited. You can see the quick sketches of Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and others who were drawing in the moment. These sketches were often done on whatever paper was available. To keep paper and pastel from deterioration, these rooms are darkened and the arts kept in temperature/moistured controlled glass displays.

There is a feeling of reference in these darkened room. It's as if the viewer is watching the hand of the artist at the moment of creativity. It was time travel. As I looked at the sketches and the immediacy of them, I felt as if I was looking over the shoulder of the artist.

On my last day in Paris, I resolved to spend whatever time I had in the Orsay, soaking up the art.

I salute the visionaries who created such a wonderful museum. Must not forget... when you need a break, the French live up to their gastronomic reputation - the restaurant is a delight. (photo left)

Next week join me for the art at the Orsay and a few personal favorites.

Meantime don't forget the contest to NAME the ART.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Dragon Year

Did you feel a sea change in the past few days? It's probably because Monday, January 23rd, we entered the Chinese Year of the Dragon.

The Chinese have certain symbols for their biggest celebration and it is more than coincidental that red is the chosen color. Red represents fire and is considered an auspicious symbol to celebrate good fortune.

Red paper cutouts are placed on the door wishing "happiness," "joy" or "prosperity." Red packets containing money are exchanged and red clothing is worn to ward off evil spirits.

Red door banners with a Chinese character for "blessings" is hung upside down to represent "blessings to come."

This year is represented by the Zodiac symbol of the Dragon. Western cultures consider the Dragon as evil, but in Asia the Dragon is a very good symbol. A Dragon year is considered the luckiest year in the Chinese Zodiac - and we could use it this election year.

Since Chinese New Years' celebrations last for 15 days, so we can still enjoy it. Here's wishing you a most auspicious year - Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Porcelain Beauty

How often have you heard or read of someone having "porcelain skin?" What comes to mind? Probably something like, white, translucent and flawless as described for the finest porcelain china. Did you know that porcelain didn't start out that way?

Porcelain was created in China starting about 100 CE. The first Chinese experiments were anything but white and flawless. What made porcelain popular was that it could be fired in a very high kiln making it more durable than clay. It would be another 400 years before the Chinese created the porcelain we know today.

Once the Chinese had mastered the means to create white porcelain and control the glazes, artists could create beautiful scenes on vessels and other decorative
pieces. It was China's secret and they guarded it well.

It is said that Chinese porcelain was introduced to Europeans by Marco Polo in 1295 CE. Porcelain pieces were so highly prized by the oligarchy of Europe the they referred to them as "white gold."

The demand for porcelain gave China an exclusive export market. However, exporting to Europe from China was a difficult, arduous and even dangerous process. It was valuable and fragile cargo. European demand and the difficulties of transport led to experimentation to create porcelain locally.

It would be a few centuries of hit and miss until early in the 18th Century when Johann Friederich Böttger of Dresden created a ceramic material that had the strength, whiteness and translucence of Chinese porcelain. European production of porcelain was initiated by the Meissen factory and factories spread through Europe such as: Straffordshire in England, Limoges and Sevres in France.

This story of a scarce and prized item that humans value is repeated many times in our history. Maybe it isn't always necessity that creates inventions. What do you think?

(Below: early Meissen porcelain images)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Betty Woodman: Potter, Painter, Sculptor, Printer

Betty Woodman (1930-) started her art career as a ceramic potter. Over the years, she has added painter, ceramicist, sculptor and printer to her resume. At age 81, she is still remarkably innovative, exuberant and eclectic in her work.

A tiny woman, Woodman produces many monumentally sized installations. For example, her commission for the U. S. Embassy in Beijing, China was approximately 30 feet by 27 feet!

Her energy is so contagious that she reminds me of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010),whose fertile imagination guided her artwork until she was in her 90s. (See archive – Sept, 2009) Another shared area was the size of their works - both women made large-scale sculptures.

Woodman has received many kudos and awards over the years including a Fullbright-Hays Scholarship to Florence, Italy; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship at Bellagio, Italy, and many Honorary Doctorates from renowned schools of fine arts.

Her mastery (but not the large scale) of her works can be seen below. I’ve chosen images, which reflect her eclectic combination of clay sculpture, painting and print. However, if you want to see Woodman in action, there’s a short video of the installation in Beijing, China, in 2009 when she was a mere 79 years old. (Click on the URL to enjoy the fullness of her art, her energy and her exuberance for her work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT6-Qusq95U )

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Your 6-Word Memoir

Since this is the first week of the New Year and many of us are looking back on the previous year, I thought it'd be fun to repeat a Feb., 2010 blog:

Last Thursday I was driving to the post office and listening to NPR. The host was interviewing the authors of a book on 6-word memoirs.

The authors said that allegedly Hemingway was challenged in a bar (where else?) to come up with a 6-word memoir. He responded, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." That's profound, but then again, he was a writer. Less daunting were funny ones from Stephen Colbert and Dave Barry.

The NPR host invited listeners to phone in their 6-word memoir. It was wonderful. Memoirs were serious, funny or poignant. Since I was driving, the only one I can remember to quote is: "Bachelor party, You-Tube video, Wedding canceled."

Now, since this blog is titled Ruminations on Art and Life, I invite you to make up your own 6-word memoir.