Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Progress of Love, The Pulitzer Foundation

This is partly about how installation can affect the response to a work of art and partly about a work I really love.

At the 2007 Venice Biennale I was completely transfixed by the French Pavilion, where Sophie Calle had installed Take Care of Yourself. Calle's work seems always to be about herself, not always interesting to me, but this installation hit home. Her lover had written her a "breakup" email. To deal with it, she sent copies to more than 100 women for their professional responses and the results make up the installation. What makes it wonderful is the range of occupations of the women chosen: a sharpshooter, various dancers, therapists, actresses, a judge, a cook, an editor, a crossword puzzle maker, a curator, a child, her mother, and more, some famous, some not. And I liked the variety of media in which the women respond. I don't often like video, but these work for me. Tom and I both loved this installation in Venice, but after an hour or so he took a break and went outside, where he sat on a bench with all the other men waiting for their women to come out. I was there another half hour or so and had to drag him back in to show him some of the items he had missed.

I made a point of going to see the installation again at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York a couple of years ago, where it was crammed into one gallery space with very little translation help. There were quite a few people there, but they looked completely bored and I was really disappointed.

So it was with interest that we had the chance to go to the Pulitzer Foundation gallery today to see The Progress of Love, a rather complicated, somewhat puzzling three-part exhibition that is being shown at the Menil in Houston, the Center for Contemporary Art in Lagos, Nigeria, and the Pulitzer. Each venue has a different show dealing with an aspect of love, the artists are not the same, and there doesn't seem to be any sharing of the various shows, for example in a unifying catalogue. I have no idea what the positive effect of doing three exhibitions in three places and calling them one can be. Anyway, I wanted to see the Calle again. And was vaguely interested in what Yinka Shonibare had contributed to it, and willing to check out the two Nigerian woman artists' work, Zina Saro-Wiwa and Temitayo Ogunbiyi.

The Calle looks almost as good as it did at Venice and it still engaged and amused us.  The range of responses to the same text; the way different women responded to the poor man whose private email has been torn up, analyzed to death, shot, and chewed by a cockatoo; the personal and yet universal (well almost universal) experience of rejection keep one looking at each response. Her mother's is one of the best, but we also love the video of the cook.I laugh and cry at the same time at this work of art.

Speaking of which, the Pulitzer provides a translation of the French email (recommended as part of the museum curator's response to the email) as a handout, plus a brochure for the exhibition that includes translations of the French texts. The videos are subtitled when necessary; they are in several languages. The Pulitzer staff were, as they always are, very helpful and tried to make sure that we saw what we wanted. (We tried to wait for "the cook" to come up on the random set of videos; we gave up and were about to leave when the museum attendant told us it was on view.)

Yinka Shonibare's video, Addio del Passato, 2011, shows a black woman in 18th-century-style costume made of Shonibare's characteristic Dutch African print material, lip-synching the aria Addio del Passato (Farewell to the past, or Farewell to the happy dreams of the past) from the last act of Verdi's opera La Traviata, while wandering through a beautiful palace and estate. It appears that the tape keeps repeating, but each repetition is slightly different and my understanding of what is happening changes a little with each version. While the press releases and other materials say this has something to do with Horatio Nelson's wife Frances Nisbet mourning his death, this makes no sense, as Nisbet wasn't black and Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar, not in any of the ways the man in the video is seen expiring. It gets more complicated than that, with Shonibare's photographic recreations of historical death scenes, including The Death of Chatterton in Shonibare's characteristic colorful fabric, playing roles in the video.

Shonibare replays the same scene with variations, making us reinterpret what is happening. Calle has 107 people respond to the same message, each in her own way. The two works , completely different in source and style, still seem complementary.

Federico Barocci at St. Louis

I can't remember how long it's been since I fell in love with the work of Federico Barocci, the late 16th century painter from Urbino, and I can't remember what was the first painting that caught my eye, although it might have been the breathlessly activated Deposition in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Perugia. I remember walking into that church and being stunned by the brilliant colors and frantic motion of that composition. I loved his brillant and unusual colors and unusual poses of his somewhat too sweet Madonnas. So I had been wanting to see the Barocci show at the St. Louis Art Museum for a while and am delighted that we finally got there yesterday. Indeed, New York and the East Coast should be mourning the fact that they didn't get this gorgeous and thoughtfully organized show, the first one in this country since a small one of Barocci drawings and prints in 1978 (I already loved Barocci then and was happy to be able to see it.)

Barocci was born around 1533-35. He made a couple of visits to Rome, where he would have seen Renaissance masters and even met Michelangelo. He became sick there, possibly poisoned, and returned to Urbino, where he stayed, continuing to suffer ill health, till his death in 1612. Nonetheless he painted altarpieces and other religious works for patrons across Italy.

One might have a few quibbles with the St. Louis installation:  I wished for a bit more information about the subjects of the paintings, for example, explaining why Joseph hands Jesus a branch of cherries in the Rest on the Return from Egypt or telling exactly how each of the apostles in the Last Supper is identified. I might have liked to have a biography or clearer sense of chronology in the installation. Maybe the four very nice videos could have been run without such long credits between them. But  really I didn't much care about those details.

The exhibition is organized around the fact that Barocci was an untiring draughtsman; I was surprised that 1500 drawings by him survive. There are enough paintings in the exhibition to provide a really good idea of Barocci's work, including some large altarpieces that we were surprised the churches and museums lent. Each painting is surrounded by studies for it and the labels provide explanations of how the drawings were made, how Barocci modified his designs from one to the next, and how they relate to the finished painting.  By organizing the exhibition in this way, the curators, I think, make it much easier for a general audience to pay attention to a series of drawings and to take the time to look at them closely. It's not just one painting after another, but each gallery containes one or more painterly problems to be solved and you watch Barocci solving them through drawing.

There are sketches for various body parts, touching in the warmth of their handling and the slight movements of toes and fingers depicted. The drapery studies are luscious. Two drawings of the head and rear of a donkey (in the Rest on the Return from Egypt) capture the animal and seduce one with the texture of black and red chalk with white highlights on beige paper. (And of course I'm always interested in donkeys.) I kept looking at the drawings and wondering exactly why I was so transfixed by their beauty. Barocci captures the textures of warm flesh, soft fur and shimmering drapery without obsessive detail. The multiple lines of chalk and ink activate his forms, but are also just wonderful to look at as you watch him observing and re-observing body parts, poses, and compositions. You feel that he loves what he's doing, loves his subjects, and is just exuberant about life.

The exhibition contains a range of drawing types. The ink sketches usually seemed to be quick ideas, several on a page, for compositions or figures. Chalk, often on blue paper, is used for these quick sketches but also for more detailed investigation of exactly how a foot or two clasped hands look. He works out several individual heads using colors. Some of the drawings are squared for transfer, suggesting that he transferred the images in them to a larger scale drawing or painting. And some have the marks of incision, indicating that they were full-sized cartoons, laid on the surface to be painted and incised so the outlines would transfer and could be followed in executing the final painting.

In the context of the drawings, the paintings remain amazing. Details like the odd pose of the Madonna del Gatto, with her legs straight out and crossed and her transparent sandals; the little window bench from the Palace at Urbino in the background of that picture; the possibility that the cat and the cross above it refer to the patron's coat of arms (a lion rampant below the cross); the way the Madonna is nestled into a niche and sitting close to the floor like a Madonna of Humility, with Joseph leaning in from the shadows;  the cat wanting the European goldfinch that is the symbol of Christ's martyrdom; the green shawl around her shoulders and her green sleeve, the yellow drapery below her blue mantel, the contrast between her childish youth and Joseph's grey age; the little book in the basket on the floor, all just happy discoveries.

On Friday evening the exhibition was pleasantly occupied by attentive people. I was glad it was attended but not crowded. The exhibition is in St. Louis till January 20 and in London from Feb. 27 to May 19.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone at MOMA

In summer 2010 we visited the art museum in Wroclaw, Poland and I wrote here about the amazing works of art, dating between WWII and the present, that we saw there. Among the works I reproduced was one by Alina Szapocznikow (1928-1973). A year or so ago I learned that an exhibition of her work in the United States was planned and I was really pleased to be able to see the exhibition at MOMA: Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone (Here's a nice review). (I couldn't photograph in the show, so I'm providing links to images, but you can get a lot by just Google Imaging her name.)

At the Wroclaw museum I had felt uncomfortable and a little frightened by her work, with its frank intimacy and gritty emphasis on body parts, as well as by the materials she used, either the naturalistic color of the polyester resin or black or brown polystyrene. Learning from the labels that she died of cancer and had been in concentration camps during World War II, I started to see the deeply personal, but also universal feelings embedded in the works.

At MOMA I learned that she had been married to the photographer and graphic designer Roman Cieslewicz  (whose work I had just seen in the Quay Brothers exhibition nearby). One of the first objects in the show is a series of photographs by Cieslewicz of 25 chewing-gum sculptures she had made in 1971, proclaiming her excitement about the variety of media from which one could make sculpture. This, with a photograph of her with an impish grin on her faceholding colored cast breasts against her body, also suggested that she had a sense of humor and joy in her work.

The brown and black sculptures of bellies had bothered me in Wroclaw, but at MOMA I learned that some were prototypes for polyurethane foam pillows that were never mass produced, but seem like great fun and I wished they were for sale. I also wanted the lamps she made of cast-and-colored polyester resin lips and breasts, with bright pink lips and nipples that glow when they are lit. They also were sadly never manufactured. The lips she used for models were hers and Julie Christie's. She liked these modern mediums, which were light, inexpensive, easy to color, could be transparent, and were easy to replicate.

A pair of sculptures she made in the 1950s respond to her War experience. One, Hand, Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1957, is a monumental hand on a stand. The other, Exhumed, 1955, is a tribute to Laszlo Rajk, a Hungarian Communist activist who was executed in 1949 show trials and exonerated in 1956, a year after she made the sculpted portrait. Unlike the later body forms, these are more serious partially abstract, powerfully modeled objects that suggest perhaps the influence of Henry Moore.

On some of her sculptures she added transfer prints of the faces of family members or friends. One pedestal contains bowls with color casts of lips and breasts that are each titled Dessert. Her 1968 Bride's Wreath is a nest of lips in the grass, pink and flesh colored lips on stems that seem to grow out of a circle of grass. As her cancer developed, she made sculptures of tumors; one, Tumors Personified, of 1971 consists of sculptured lumps, each with a face on it, scattered at random on a gravel floor.

I wonder why I didn't know about this artist in the 1970s, probably because one didn't know much about Poland. She's a cheerful Louise Bourgeois, predates Kiki Smith, has been compared to Eva Hesse and Frida Kahlo, and seems to anticipate many other artists who incorporate difficult personal histories and their bodies in their work. Simply put, what I found provocative was her ability to make objects that may be seen as personal to her but also speak to me about living and dying as a human being. And I think she had a fine sense of humor. One final object is Rolls Royce II, 1971, a sculpted automobile in pink Portuguese marble with a hood ornament. She wanted one made twice life size, a perfect work of art, with no function, and "for some snob to put on his private lawn."

Thursday, 13 December 2012

More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness

In one day in Santa Fe in August, before Tom joined me, I visited 6 museums and was pretty disappointed with all their exhibitions. Nothing seemed new or particularly engaging, some work was unegaging and some of the exhibition narratives wandered away from their promises. Then the next day I decided to visit SITE Santa Fe, where I was delighted to discover that the exhibition More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness was on view. It's there till January 6 and then will be at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from March 3 - June 9, 2013.

The exhibition is premised, somehow, on a riff on the Colbert Report October 17, 2005, where Colbert explains the term "truthiness." Although the issues in that video are past, the concept remains appropriate for the discourse of today - falsehood parading as truth for political expediency. All the works in the exhibition address issues of truth and reality, often with humor or irony.  A variety of them caused me to think and rethink ideas and reconsider what I thought I knew. The sense of play caused me to think more actively about the content of the works, as opposed to the response I had had to dOCUMENTA, where the exhibition seemed to be saying "see what awful things you've allowed to happen in the world?! Why aren't you more ashamed?!"
I watched the segment from the Colbert Report early on and it effectively set the stage for the rest of the exhibition. But before viewing that, I had walked into a waiting room where an officious-looking receptiionist told me to take a number and wait.  I took a number from a machine and sat down while she riffled through some papers and glanced at me haughtily. After a few minutes she called my number and I cautiously entered a dark room where there was no one else and saw illuminated shapes of various objects with no particular connection. Having expected something more challenging, I smiled and left. The work, by Mark Dion, was titled "Curator's office" and supposedly replicates a 1950s office from the Minneapolis Institiute of Arts that had been walled off. The imitation office is interesting, but it was the experience of being kept waiting that seemed most real, and I was amused to learn that the officious receptionist is actually the museum's director of development.
Eva and Franco Mattes, Catt, 2010

Next, at the entrance to the gallery was the amusing object that has been used to publicize the exhibition, an irritated-looking taxidermied cat in a cage with a canary sitting above it. This object, created in 2010 by Eva and Franco Mattes, also known as 0100101110101101.ORG, was exhibited in Houston as a work by Maurizio Cattelan, the artists having co-opted his identity. The title, Catt, may be intended as a clue. The multiple layers of reality and fiction in this work: the idea that people believe the work to be by Cattelan but it is not, that the image imitates one on the web, that the fabricator who made is it also employed by Cattelan, that Cattelan himself makes up narratives (the Pope struck by a meteorite, horses suspended from ceilings and walls, pigeons attending the Venice Biennale), the wavering between amusement at the fiction and irritation at the ruse, demonstrate what truthiness can entail.

I wasn't so engaged by the elevator that used mirrors to appear to have an endless shaft by Leandro Ehrlich; enjoyed once again seeing Ai Wei Wei's neolithic pots dipped in house paint;  noted Thomas Demand's photograph of a fictive Oval Office; and loved the accurate reproductions of paintings seen from the back by Brazilian Vik Muniz, who accurately copied the exhibition labels from Van Gogh's Starry Night, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, and Grant Wood's American Gothic; without seeing the painting, you can see where it's been. I was amused by Korean Seung Woo Back's photographs (titled Real World, 2004-06) of the Korean park Ains World, in which he photographs the replicas of world monuments in ways that juxtapose unlikely places, putting Chinese sailboats in New York Harbor, for example. And Sharon Lockhart's large photographs of two preparators installing Duane Hanson's Lunch Break, caught my attention as I tried to figure out which figures were the Hansons and which the preparators.

More powerfully touching are the photographs of Vietnam War reenactments and Iraq war training operations in the United States, taken by An-My Le, who was born in Saigon in 1960 and I just noticed is a 2012 McArthur Fellow. Le lived through the Vietnam War and was a political refugee in the United States before participating in the war re-enactments in order to photograph them.

Sometimes it takes three times for me to "get" a work of art. I learned that about opera many years ago when Richard Strauss's Salome suddenly became powerfully moving the third time I saw it. Sometimes I just am slow to learn. This exhibition was the third time I saw Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's Phantom Truck, 2007. The first time had been at the Venice Biennale several years ago, the second was on an exhibition announcement. Both times I wondered what why anyone would be interested in that big thing in the dark and walked away. In More Real, I finally read the label and learned that Mangano-Ovalle had made it as a physical manifestation of Colin Powell's "evidence" that the Iraqis were manufacturing chemical weapons and moving them in mobile labs. This big truck form in the dark embodies one of the fictions that enabled the Bush administration to start a war against Iraq.
Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, Phantom Truck, 2007
 I have very little patience for video, so I was surprised by the power of two of the video installations. I've watched one on the web since I saw the show and it still touches me. This is Pierre Huyghe's video of Anlee, the Japanese manga character he and Philippe Parreno had purchased and then "liberated," making her available for other video artists to use. I Was Gone, 2000, in Two Minutes Out of Time, as the installation about the project is titled.

For the other video, I glanced in, as I usually do, and saw people speaking a foreign language with subtitles translating them saying things like "I think it was because I looked more Jewish," and I thought this must be some recollection of the Holocaust, except many of the interviewees were too young to be survivors. The subtitles sometimes gave two slightly different translations of what I learned was the Polish being spoken. This is Omer Fast's 2003 video Spielberg's List, in which he interviewed extras from Krakow, some of whom were World War II survivors, about how they had been chosen to play either Jews or Nazis in the movie Schindler's List (1993). The interviews were interspersed with scenes of Krakow and bits from the film. Realizing the Krakow is very close to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, I was mesmerized, and chilled, by the juxtaposition of the real and imagined histories.

 I realize that a great many of these works are not new; they date between 2000 and 2009 and have been exhibited frequently and often acquired by museums. Gathered together, they and the other objects and installations in the exhibition continue to have power, humor and intrigue and to be entertaining and feeling-provoking, I hope in a non-truthy way.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Steve McQueen, Static, 2009

Each year we go to Chicago to SOFA, the sculpture and functional art fair on the Navy Pier. And we always take some time to visit the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The big exhibition at the Art Institute this year was Steve McQueen. I have very little patience with video art, preferring to decide how long I will look at an object on my own, rather than at someone else's bidding. So if a video work tells a story, I usually miss it. There are exceptions to this experience: I found The Clock thrilling, and an Omer Fast video in the More/Real at SITE Santa Fe captured me for some time, although I did not watch the entire thing. Likewise one video in the McQueen show kept my attention, but my experience was so different from what the label told me I should think that I wanted to report on it.
I walked into the first gallery of the show and saw the Statue of Liberty, just the top of it, obviously seen from a circling helicopter. I think I first thought "I wonder if there are people in the observation deck inside her crown," so I waited to see it, but the camera was so unsteady that the crown, and even her face, were not visible for a while, something that irritated me. Then I thought, "Oh, yes, Steve McQueen is a British artist of African descent, he might intend this to be about the Statue of Liberty as a symbol both positive and negative of America, but it really doesn't express any point of view to me on that subject." Other thoughts passed through my head: "Is there an observation place in the flame?" "Wow, the flame is really gold, gilt like so many domes and decorations in St. Petersburg." I remembered when I set sail for Europe on the United States in 1966 and passed by the Statue of Liberty, welcoming people to the United States, and thought of all the people for whom it's been a landmark of hope and freedom and opportunity, but also at the same time a symbol of hypocrisy when the United States was at war in some small third-world country or sending those hopeful immigrants home. As the helicopter circled, I looked beyond the statue to the landscape of New York and New Jersey, never seeing important landmarks, but the changes from the docks and watery landscapes to the skyline, also thinking that Hurricane Sandy had probably changed some of the landscape already. The statue seemed lonely, and it seems amazing that it has stood for so long, given its structure. Signs of wear were there, maybe some leaves caught in a fold of drapery, one eye seeming a bit too deep, maybe manifestations of the travails of the country it symbolizes. I thought about visiting it when I was a small child and couldn't actually remember if we did visit it or if when we did we climbed to the top - probably not, since my mother was afraid of heights. I liked when the sounds of the helicopter got quieter, something that seemed to correspond to the camera becoming more steady and focusing better on the face of the sculpture, but then also drifting down to show the folds of drapery. Briefly I thought of Bartholdi and the models he made, as well as other giant sculptures he designed.
After viewing the entire show, I found the booklet with information about the work. The label says the jump cuts, which I found very irritating, made the statue "seem.. to lift off its float and fly against the backdrop of lower Manhattan and its surrounds. " Nothing like that occurred to me. The label also said the "film defamiliarizes an eminently recognizable symbol whose meanings are assuredly entrenched in the popular imagination," but I thought it looked really familiar and I'm not at all sure what it means to people these days.
I liked this work a lot. I liked the close up view of the the Statue of Liberty and thought the color and texture of the sculpture looked beautiful. Seeing it from above, alone against its surroundings, did give another viewpoint to the work. And fragmenting the sculpture enabled me to look at its parts in more detail than I normally would. So aesthetically the video had positive merits at the same time it gave me the chance to ruminate on the work from my own personal experience, giving it meanings more powerful for me than anything suggested by the label.

Saturday, 27 October 2012


Reviewing my mail the day we got back from Documenta 13 I found requests in my mail from various NGOs, as usual frantically asking for help with disasters in Africa and war regions in the world. It felt like I was still at Documenta. It seemed that every artist in this wide-ranging exhibition was either addressing a war or political disaster or had been the victim of one. A number of the works were by long dead people, often from the Holocaust, but always defined in the context of struggle against oppression. Even the Canadian landscape painter Emily Carr was defined in the context of struggle (I wondered why Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo, her US and Mexican contemporaries were not also included).

 The exhibition was mobbed and between the crowds, the tiny label text that forced us to wait to see who had done the installations and why, and the lines waiting to go into restricted rooms (Leaves of Grass, Geoffrey Farmer's thousands of little shadow puppets cut out from Life magazine, was the biggest letdown, after a 40 minute wait), it was impossible to see even half of the works in two days there. But we didn't really care. I have a strong interest in and commitment to political art, but the focus on war crimes, death, deformation, environmental degradation and political oppression quickly felt like hectoring to me. And, as The Art Newspaper reviewer said, the exhibition totally lacked irony or humor. I began to look at the labels only long enough to identify what indignity the artist had suffered.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is far more present in this exhibition than any curator I recall in the past. A significant number of the works are commissioned for dOCUMENTA, which is to be expected, but there are also works co-created by the artist and the curator, objects inserted by the curator, and a conference room designed by the curator, all of them conscientiously credited to her. On the one hand, it's pretty amazing how much she accomplished in so many sites in Kassel and elsewhere; on the other, her omnipresence hinted at new possibilities for curatorial arrogance. With that in mind, it may not be surprising that the introduction to the exhibition is rambling and wanders pretty widely One puzzling sentence: "There are terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary." That would seem to cover it all.

We did not see the entire exhibition and missed much in the park, although we wandered through part of it. I gather that many of the works in the park were quite subtle. One, co-created with Jimmie Durham, we did not see, but Tom and I both found its description in The Guidebook puzzling. It appears that artist Durham and curator Christov-Bakargiev each planted a supposedly rare apple tree. Hers was one of a line created by a prisoner at Dachau; Durham's choice was the "extremely rare" Arkansas Black he remembered from his childhood. The Arkansas Black actually is not that rare; our friends buy it in local grocery stores here in Kansas. And as apple farmers, find Arkansas Black fairly available, although we don't like the taste that much. Of course, planting apple trees increases Tom's questioning the exhibition's idea of art, while I've been just figuring that it is, as critics have said, more about creativity. But the creativity always relates to politics.

Curatorially, or design-wise, the exhibition had one enormous weakness. The objects are mostly impossible to comprehend without explanation and a great many of them have little or no aesthetic interest, so it's important to get some idea of the concept. In order to do so one must read labels that are printed in type no larger than what I'm using here and no more than three people can see them at one time. These small typeface labels flout accessibility requirements, but apparently accessibility to visually impaired visitors was of no interest to the exhibition planners. The labels were often in very low light as well, making them even more inaccessible.

Having read advance notices, I came to the Fredericianum expecting to see the ground floor empty. Having enjoyed Ryan Gander's work at Venice last summer, I was interested in seeing what he would do with the empty spaces and did wonder how he created the breeze in those empty rooms. I have no idea what Christov-Bakargiev had in mind keeping the rooms empty, but they are quite lovely spaces with nice windows. But even there there were objects. One of them was a five-page handwritten letter displayed flat in a floor case. With several people already reading this letter, installed by the curator with the permission of the writer, I gave up trying to see what it was about. Our friend told me the artist was apologizing profusely for not participating in the exhibition. After spending two days there, I can imagine excellent reasons to have bowed out. Another otherwise empty space included three sculptures by Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942) that were included in Documenta II in 1959. The description says "To return to Gonzalez in this context is a recapitulation of the work of sorrow....that documenta historically carried out in the realm of art and culture, following global destruction, during the reconstruction of Germany and Europe." The sculptures are small abstractions of the human figure made in the 1930s. I really don't get the connection, althought it's kind of cool to see something that was included in the second Documenta exhibition.

Some of the installations are very engaging. Kader Attia made an extremely complex installation of a slide show of survivors of disastrastrous facial damage in World War I juxtaposed with African masks; wood carvings by Africans depicting the men in the slides; books on African art, culture, colonialism, and World War I; and war remnants - shells, weapons, tools - some of them made into useful objects. The huge arrangement seems like a history or anthropology museum display. The slide show is horrific and the sculptures abstract the reality. I'm not sure if the African sculptures were intended to suggest the similarity of traditional African masks and the distorted faces or if , as the guidebook suggests, the system of repairing African sculptures relates to the repair of the faces, or he is making connection between World War I and Africa. The shell casings and objects made from war refuse also suggest, I suppose, an aspect of repair.

We came upon on large display as we were trying to find the Fredericianum exit after making a search for the installation by Emily Jacir, whose work I have found very engaging at Venice and other places. (Here her cell-phone photographs of pages from Palestinian books taken from Palestinian homes and kept in the Jewish National Library in West Jerusalam as abandoned property were puzzling, since the actual images are often of nearly blank pages.)

Leaving her installation, we went through the wrong door and happened upon a fascinating and disturbing installation by Michael Rakowitz, also dealing with destruction and books. Rakowitz spent time in Afghanistan, in Bamiyan, actually, with the purpose of reviving the practice of stone carving in the area where the Taliban had destroyed two enormous 6th-century Buddha images in 2001, despite international protests. Using stone from Bamiyan, he had his newly trained carvers make reproductions of books from the library of the Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel, that was destroyed by British bombers in 1941. (We were surprised that the bombing took place so relatively early in the war and understood the destruction of the library to have been an example of "collateral damage." The fact that Kassel was a huge center of Nazi arms manufacture was not mentioned in any labels we read.) Looking at the stone images of books we were engaged by some of the identifying labels, most memorably by the one for The Story of Ferdinand (1936), which we recalled as a charming children's story, but the label said the book was internationally controversial as a pacifist book and banned in Nazi Germany and fascist Spain. Bits of bombs, anecdotes about the British bombers dropping stones from Coventry on Kassel or the Taliban destroying the Buddhas because the West cared more about the sculptures than poor people, and remains of burned books amused or angered me. I found it particularly troubling that the artist, and the curator, equated destructon of a library as collateral damage in wartime with intentional and unprovoked government destruction of historic works of art because they represent a different religion.

Hugenot House bedroom
 A widely celebrated project of Documenta was Hugenot House, a decrepit building that the Chicago artist Theaster Gates proposed to renovate and install with artworks made from remnants of destitute buildings in Chicago. We visited it with great anticipation. The building was still in terrible condition, possibly worse condition than when Gates first occupied it, with torn layers of wallpaper, exposed electric cables, and non-functioning bathrooms. There was a modest functioning kitchen and several small dormitory-style rooms that were apparently in use, as well as several video installations in otherwise unfinished rooms. Our friends found the restoration project daunting and Tom did not see how building renovation, something that was once his family business, could be considered an art project. Having been very enthusiastic about this concept, I was really disappointed at the lack of visible success and the quality of the work altogether.

 Hugenot House

On our second day, we visited the documenta-Halle, where there were drawings by Gustav Metzger, a Holocaust survivor and artist famous for "auto-destructive art," made between 1945 and 1959 that have not been previously shown. They were strong objects, but each one was under a cloth that had to be lifted to see it and the process became tedious for so many drawings. The drawings seem very traditional compared to the work for which he is known.

An installation of enormous airplane images and working engines by Thomas Bayrle interested Tom, but not so much me.

I found the former Elisabeth Hospital installation of works by Afghan artists to be quite interesting, primarily just because it was a whole building devoted to one group of artists. Several years ago I was very taken by videos by Lida Abdul, who was also included in this space. I didn't "get" What We Have Overlooked, the video shown here, and don't make sense of the catalogue explanation.

Mark Dion, Oak
In the Ottoneum, the science museum, Mark Dion constructed a beautiful marquetry display cabinet for the Museum's "wood library," a collection of miniature dioramas shaped like books, depicting 441 species of wood, made by Carl Schildbach between 1771 and 1779. Dion added his own dioramas of species from continents not represented in the collection plus one of Oak, in homage to Josef Beuys's "iconic planting of 7000 oak trees in Kassel for documenta 7 and 8 from 1982 to 1987." (quoted from museum label). The wood of the object comes from one of Beuy's 7000 oak trees. The display cabinet is lovely and functional and the additional objects expand the range of  the educational potential of the collection.

Amar Kanwar

In an installation in the same building, The Sovereign Forest, Indian artist Amar Kanwar combined a video installation with the display of multiple samples of types of rice. I didn't really understand what it was about (and have trouble connecting the images I saw with his statements about mining's destruction of the ecology of the state of Orissa, even though I believe him), but the whole thing was poetic and beautifully presented.

Hundreds of artists were included and more than 800,000 people visitied dOCUMENTA (13). A huge amount of the work is fascinating, as I've already discovered through seeing some of the artists in other contexts. Two months later, however, I still remember the gathering of objects and installations as oppressive.

Friday, 7 September 2012

St. Petersburg, Russia, without a tour

A while ago I posted the drill for getting a visa to Russia. It turns out that the visa was possibly the most difficult, the only difficult thing about going to St. Petersburg on our own, without a tour. Many of our friends, including arts professionals, had recommended against it - "You may not be able to get into the Hermitage, because of the crowds," "It's difficult to get to some of the places without a tour," and of course the concern about the language. But I'm leery of city tours and especially don't like being guided around museums in a herd. And sometimes it makes the trip more interesting to have to get places on your own. So we just did it. And it was just lovely.

First, our hotel, the Petro Palace, was just what we wanted. It is very close to the Hermitage, about three blocks, and also close to St. Isaac, the huge cathedral whose bright gold dome is visible from just about everywhere. The hotel has a nice modern lobby with a little bar where we sat each evening with a drink and checked our email on the free wifi. The room seemed rather spartan at first, with a thin carpet and quite simple furnishings, but the bed was comfortable, the air conditioning worked, and everything was clean and in good repair. We were on the central courtyard, which was also quiet. They serve a large buffet breakfast with a variety of meats, cheeses, pastries, eggs, cereal and so on. By the fifth day I was a little bored with the breakfast, but it was really just fine. A couple of days it was really crowded, perhaps with a tour, but it was hard to tell because most of the guests were not English speakers.

The first day things did not get off to a great start when we located the central ticket place for the train we would be taking to Helsinki but could not find the right window to purchase the tickets. Finally the information clerk had someone lead us to the window, where we waited for more than an hour on a very short line. We met some very interesting Germans in the line and in the end the ticket buying process was easy even though the agent did not speak English.  Our guidebook had said we could get the tickets from the hotel concierge, but he kindly recommended the ticket office because he would have to charge a substantial fee for doing it for us.

Hermitage Museum/Winter Palace
The Hermitage did indeed have a line of perhaps 100 people. It wouldn't have been that bad a wait, but I am a member of the International Council of Museums, which enabled us to use the tour group line and we  hardly had to wait at all. The Hermitage is crowded, but no worse than the Metropolitan or the Louvre, and only in front of the most famous paintings. Several tour guides asked me to move away from the two Leonardos so they could give their 30-second spiels in front of them. People snapped their pictures and moved on quickly. Although I had seen the Madonna Litta in the London Leonardo show, it was still great to see it in the Hermitage's daylight, where it actually looks better. And the Benois Madonna is still charming, the Madonna holding a flower and Christ's hands encircling hers, while he concentrates on the gesture. The Titians and Rembrandts were not as crowded and we could spend as much time as we wanted in front of everything. Actually, I was surprised by the number of not very interesting paintings that lined the rooms, filling in around a masterpiece or two.What were most interesting were the actual rooms of the Winter Palace, restored to luxurious (or gaudy, depending on your viewpoint) glamour, with amazing parquet floors and extensive gilding.

Floor of one room in the Winter Palace

Parquet detail of another room

The objects are also amazing, a vast range of porcelain, semi-precious stones,silver, gold, glass, coral, inlay, gilding, carving and casting.

Detail of a Sevres porcelain and gilt candelabra
 The only reason I wanted to go to St. Petersburg was to see the Hermitage, and it was a disappointment, not for the palace, but for the paintings. Three other major collections I visited after my art history training was over - the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Berlin Museum (in Dahlem), and the Prado in Madrid - were miraculous, life-changing, overwhelming. The Hermitage collection was just big. I wonder if somehow I wasn't attuned to its assets, wonder if perhaps the works needed cleaning. But mostly I wonder if the tsars in their eagerness to acquire European culture were buying their art in huge lots and not always paying attention to the quality of what they got.

Not to say I am not delighted to have been there, having spent the better part of two days there. But for surprised delight I would recommend the State Museum of Russian art where, as we had in the Museum of Modern Art in Rome, we discovered wonderful 19th-century artists and huge masterpieces we had never heard of. The museum has a small collection of very icons, of a size and quality I don't recall ever seeing anywhere. I'll post some images on another entry, since I can't seem to get any more on this one.

Peace Bears near the Admiralty
 Without a tour, we had to create our own itinerary, of course. Looking online and in our Fodor's guide, I decided that we should take one day and go to Peterhof. It was easy to take a hydrofoil from the dock next to the Hermitage. There's another dock next to the Admiralty, which was closer to our hotel, but the ticket person was in some kind of a swivet and we decided to go to the Hermitage one instead. Our good fortune was that the boat left  as soon as we boarded. Like much of St. Petersburg, Peterhof was full of Russian families on holiday and crowds of people filled the park, wandering, picnicking and enjoying the extraordinary fountains. Everything seemed to require an additional ticket and after seeing some of the smaller outbuildings, we skipped the main palace and just explored the gardens.

Palace, Peterhof

Fountains went off at 2 p.m.

Formal Fountains, Peterhof

Peterhof Palace Fountains

We noticed the Singer Sewing Machine building, now a bookstore with a nice Cafe Singer (or Cafe Zinger, as my credit card bill identified it). On the way to purchase train tickets, I spotted an amazing church that turned out to be the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, built in 1883 by Tsar Alexander III on the spot in the street where his father, Tsar Alexander II, was assassinated in 1881. The fantasy exterior is appropriate to the fabulous neo-Byzantine interior, every surface covered with mosaic religious images. A small altar marks the exact assassination spot, revealing cobblestones of the street. We also went inside St. Isaac's Cathedral (1818-1858), near our hotel. It's a huge neoclassical structure with gigantic marble columns and that gilt dome. Inside was another amazing display of mosaics, this time depicting religious figures in neoclassical style, many of which copy original paintings that apparently were deteriorating. Only telephoto photographs could prove to us that they are mosaic.

On a more modest scale I found wonderful landscape paintings in the Marble Palace museum, which also houses examples of contemporary art from the Ludwig Collection. (Again, I wondered if Mr. Ludwig passed on some of his less brilliant acquisitions.) At the Stroganoff Palace we encountered an exhibition on the War of 1812, the Russian War of 1812. the turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, subject of Tolstoy's War and Peace, and celebrated in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, being commemorated this year with no reference to the minor war that Americans give the same name. That palace also displayed photographs of the rooms before their most impressive restorations. In the Mikhailovsky Castle we were surprised to come upon an exhibition of photographs made by Howard Buffet, who has a foundation to help people in underdeveloped countries. We watched a video of him and his father Warren, surprised to find Nebraska neighbors exhibited in Russia.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Crystal Bridges - The Art

While I have some reservations about the initial experience of the architecture of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, I found the experience of looking at art there to be pretty wonderful.  The audience and the variety of looking opportunities reminded me of Soumaya, the Carlos Slim museum  in Mexico City (another museum created by an individual's immense wealth), although the collections are completely different. There were lots of people, at least one wearing overalls, and many of them in small groups. Whatever the fame or "importance" of the objects on view, there are many really engaging images and exploring them is a delight.

The works of art are in relatively intimate spaces and the curved wooden ceilings give the rooms a soaring feel. In most galleries the wall colors are subtle and allow the paintings to glow. It is easy to follow the 'flow' of the museum through each section, and each section has an introductory panel that announces what the gallery intends to include. We were a little disappointed by the simplistic and not completely appropriate way the early 20th century was divided into sections that basically said "These paintings are abstract and forward looking" and "These paintings are representational and baclward," but those are the quibbles of museum people over interpretations of art history.

One of 16 hummingbird paintings
 by Martin Johnson Heade
Not every work at Crystal Bridges is a masterpiece, but one could spend many visits exploring the fascinating objects there, whether they are famous or unusual. I was delighted with "Gems of Brazil," 16 small depictions of hummingbirds by Martin Johnson Heade, who is better known for his haystacks in the Jersey Meadowlands, of which Crystal Bridges also has one.

 Carl Bodmer, Mato-Tope, a Mandan Chief,
1832-34, Hand-colored aquatint, detail
A separate room with low light holds paintings and gorgeously and meticulously hand-colored prints of the early 19th century travels up the Missouri River by George Catlin, Carl Bodmer, and other artist explorers, along with paintings of Indians and maps of their journeys. The Bodmer portraits of Native Americans are amazing for the detail of their regalia and headdresses. A print of Indian utensils and arms by Bodmer, George Winter's Ten Potawatomi Chiefs, and a pair of portraits by Charles Bird King give a sense of the discoveries and diversity of these early adventurers' initiatives.

Carl Bodmer, Indian Arms and Utensils, hand-colored aquatint

George Winter, Ten Potawatomi Chiefs, 1837, oil on canvas maounted on board

Map of the Missouri River and select exploration destinations
Charles Bird King, Ottoe Half Chief, ca. 1822, Oil on panel

Among less-known objects is an 1830 portrait by Edward Dalton Marchant of Samuel Beals Thomas with his wife and daughters. These rather plain people look out at us with a bit of disdain and with as much curiosity as we have for them.

I expect that Richard Caton Woodville has gained some national recognition and interest as a result of his 1848 War News from Mexico being noticed in the Crystal Bridges collection. African Americans look on with concern about the news of the Mexican-American War, since the possibility of the United States annexing all of Mexico had substantial ramifications for the potential expansion of slavery at the time.

Alfred Thompson Bricher, View of Mount Washington
1864, Oil on canvas

Bricher, detail
William Keith, Sentinal Rock, Yosemite, 1872, oil on canvas

Keith, detail

Worthington Whittredge, Twilight on the Plains, Platte River, Colorado
 ca. 1866-67, Oil on canvas

Whittredge, detail
In my memory, when I was working on my Ph.D., I would see Asher B. Durand's Kindred Spirits high on the wall of the vestibule of the main reading room of the New York Public Library. Now it is at eye level among other landscapes of the period and, frankly, seems more ordinary at Crystal Bridges. There are many wonderful landscapes. While my snapshots of them are amateur, some of the details I took remind me of the fun of exploring these paintings by artists like Alfred Thompson Bricher, John Smillie, William Keith, and Worthington Whittredge.

Emma Marie Cadwalader-Guild, who is she? She sculpted an African-American man in basswood around 1876 and titled it Free.
There are paintings by Stanton MacDonald Wright, Stuart Davis, George Bellows and many, many other important artists of the 20th century, but I chose to remember a small image by Agnes Pelton

and the large Norman Rockwell of Rosie the Riveter, modeled with great humor after Michelangelo's Isaiah from the Sistine Ceiling.

The post-World War II art also has both recognized and less famous artists. I noticed a very good Hans Hofmann painting as we rushed to finish this area before the museum closed.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

How we got our Russian visa

I've wanted to go to St. Petersburg, Russia for a long time, particularly to see the Hermitage. I didn't really want to take a tour because it wouldn't give us enough time in the museum, se we decided we could do it on our own. This involves getting a tourist visa. It took me two full days, actually more, to figure out how the visa process works for Russia. Partly this is because I did not believe the process actually works the way it does. When I searched "Russian visa" online, a lot of websites appeared offering to help get the visa.  I couldn't find any guides or independent sources with the information (I looked online at the NYTimes, Fodor's, Frommer's.). It took me a while to realize that if you aren't able personally to go to the offices in Washington, DC, New York, San Francisco, Houston, or Seattle, one of those companies will probably be necessary. The actual process seems to take about three weeks if you go through normal channels.

I found it kind of amazing, hard to believe, that we needed an invitation to Russia and a documented hotel reservation, but we did. Fortunately, before I worked on getting the visa, I searched and found a hotel, and the online booking site,, also provided an invitation at no additional cost. Several of the booking sites make the same offer, as do the agencies that help you get a visa.

Next we had to get passport-sized photographs, easy to acquire at FedEx/Kinkos or Walgrens or other places. Fortunately our passports are good for a few years and still have some blank pages.

Then there's the form. The Russian consulates have outsourced visa applications to a company called Invisa Logistics Services LLC ( You go there online, get an id and password, and fill out the form, which asks for much detailed information, including your family names, several of your previous jobs and your education with addresses, and everywhere you've been outside the US for the past 10 years, with the year you were there. (Also your criminal record and the like.) You submit the form online to ILS Houston (or whichever office is closest to you). Save the id and password they give you because you may need to edit the application form. I had to do it twice.

After indicating on this application a time for an appointment, set the following week, I realized that somehow I had to have the documents personally delivered there, so I searched for someone to do that for us. There are many, many services, with fees that seem to range from about $50 to $90 per visa.  I had no way of knowing which of the businesses was reliable, but used one noted by the site where I found our hotel. It is Travisa ( whose office in Houston we used.  Travisa has an application form you must complete. They do not charge your credit card until the visas are processed, which is reassuring to know. The official consulate application fee for the tourist visa is $175 per person and there are additional costs, plus the Travisa fee.We printed out the ILS application forms, the invitation, and hotel reservation, and enclosed our passports and photographs and FedExed them to Travisa.

The Travisa representative takes your materials to wherever the visa needs to be processed. There my application was rejected because I had written our destination, St. Petersburg, twice. So I edited it, printed and signed it and sent it again. This time I had missed clicking something that controls the margins and it was rejected again. The third time seems to have worked. I'm grateful that there is someone to help me get through this complicated bureaucratic process, and the representative at Travisa has been most friendly and understanding.

So, the process:
1. Be sure you have a passport that is good for at least 6 months after your trip and that has two blank pages for the visa (not the last two pages)
2. Begin the process at least a month before leaving, preferably 6 weeks or more
3. Book a hotel (They advise against getting non-refundable airline tickets or hotels before the visa is approved) For some visas they require copies of your airline reservation.
4. Get an invitation to Russia (the hotel, booking agency, or visa company can help with this)
5. Have passport-style photographs taken
6. Choose a company to be your representative in Houston, DC, NY, SF or Seattle and fill out their application form.
7. Fill out the visa application online (  and submit it to ILS Houston (or the city of your closest consulate). Fill it out carefully. Be sure to submit it to an ILS office.
8. Print all the application forms and sign them to send. Make copies for your own records. Copy your passport.
8. Send all your materials securely (FedEx) to the company representing you.
9. Be ready to repeat parts of the process if your application is rejected.

This really is the way it works. Travisa, and some of the other sites, provide lists of what is required, as well as the variations for different types of visa. I'm sure tour companies and travel agencies also provide a lot of help. I would have liked to have a friend tell me what I know now.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

When I was a student I was thrilled by images of Moshe Safdie's Habitat '67, built in conjunction with the Montreal World Exposition. I've never seen it, but have always imagined Safdie as a powerfully creative architect with a vision for a better world, and have looked for his work for years. By the time I saw any of it again, the irregularly stacked boxes and affordable housing concept of Habitat had been replaced by huge curved and glassed monuments to art, culture, and money. He has been successful.

Eight months ago we attended our first opera performance at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City. Two weeks ago we visited Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. Everyone around here wants to see both Safdie buildings, major additions to the arts and culture scene in this part of the country. My initial response to the Kauffman Center was exhilaration; with its soaring lobby and extensive glass fa├žade it proclaimed that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Kauffman Center lobby
Everyone I've talked to has loved Crystal Bridges, which makes me disappointed that I did not have the same burst of delight there. Instead, I kept seeing reflections of buildings by other architects. The name Crystal Bridges made me expect buildings connected by bridges over sparkling streams, but the only bridge in the structure is the restaurant, and the water feature is two murky manmade ponds. Nonetheless, the works of art in the building are displayed extremely well and the experience of seeing the art is excellent. It’s a collection worth seeing, not necessarily all masterpieces, but objects of great visual and historical interest.

Crystal Bridges is a complex of several buildings made of poured concrete inset with bands of southern pine and roofed with copper-clad pine and glass. The buildings alternate concave and convex roof lines and the facades curve in or out; this variety of profile and emphasis on curves giving the structure a sense of movement and life, appropriate for such an organic natural setting. Moving through the museum and between the galleries one traverses spaces with views into the woods and planted grounds of the complex, a refreshing break from looking at art, reminiscent of the experience of the Getty Museum pavilions in California.
Crystal Bridges Museum from upper entrance

Kauffman Center Lobby

Some critics have already noted that the curved roofs at Crystal Bridges recall Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport and Ingalls Hockey rink at Yale (nicknamed the Pregnant Oyster when I was an undergraduate). I love these curved, sculptural roofs. The glass walls and curved wooden beams alternating with glass in some of Crystal Bridges' ceilings, with their extensive use of wood, emphasis on natural light and integration in surrounding nature, call to mind Thorncrown, the gorgeous chapel near Eureka Springs by Fay Jones, the Frank Lloyd Wright student after whom the architecture school at the University of Arkansas is named. Speaking of similarities, the interior balconies of the Kauffman Center recall the Wright’s Guggenheim Museum ramp, even though their function as lobby hallways is somewhat different and they appear to be tinted pink and blue, reflecting their bright carpets. One wonders if these are meant as quotations, as opposed to the more general influences Safdie acknowledges.

Our experience of Crystal Bridges may be atypical because we entered through the lower parking lot, took the elevator the wrong way, and ended up in a poured concrete stairwell with visible water pipes. We finally realized that we needed to take the elevator down, and found the small circular courtyard between the museum entrance and the museum shop. The lobby is busy and functional. By this point I hadn’t yet seen an overall view of the museum.

We ascertained later that if you enter from the top parking lot, it is obvious that you need to take the elevator down and you can get an overview of at least part of the complex from above. It is also possible to park at Compton Gardens in downtown Bentonville and take a very pleasant and not difficult walk through the grounds that leads to a modest side entrance of the museum. Our inauspicious beginning, taking the back stairs, was similar to our experience at the Kauffman Center, where the parking lot leads to elevators and escalators in stark, definitely back entrance-feeling passages. Since in this region cars are the only way to get anywhere, it is a real disappointment that Safdie's buildings do not provide more scenic entrances for the majority of visitors. I expected the complex to open up in an architectural welcoming gesture, but that did not happen either. From both the park and above it is possible to get some sense of the museum’s layout and its relationship to water. From parking in the lower lot, it would be more attractive to take the marked “Art Trail” down staircases that can lead to the lower entrance.
Park entrance, Crystal Bridges
The staff and volunteers were exceptionally friendly, a Walmart characteristic, my friends tell me, and we were cheerfully guided through the check-in process. The gallery spaces are lovely. The larger galleries have curving wood beamed ceilings and long softly curved walls; these spaces are subdivided into galleries that are suitable for the domestic-sized works of art. Wall colors are reticent and enhance the objects, for the most part.

Crystal Bridges Late 19th Century Gallery
Crystal Bridges window wall and exterior of two early 20th-century galleries
The most dramatic structure is that displaying the art of the first half of the 20th century. Its angled walls are glass and its ceiling alternates curved bands of wood and glass, so natural light flows into it from everywhere and it seems continuous with nature and the rest of the complex. In order to show painting in this space, two rectangular structures are set into the building. I wondered if Safdie planned it that way or if the staff had to have the structures built in order to show anything besides bronze and marble sculpture.

There really are no bridges in the complex, although a few in the garden cross small bodies of water. Rather than buildings connected by bridges crossing sparkling streams, the structures surround two artificial ponds created by damming the small spring-fed stream that flows through the valley into which the complex is set. Most reviewers saw the building before the ponds had filled and described their imagination of the final result. Perhaps this still is not complete, because the ponds were murky green or brown. Just now I'm wondering if such a large water feature actually makes sense for the complex, which might look just as good with gardens in the center. A pleasant terrace by the pond opens to gardens and education spaces.
Cystal Bridges Restaurant
Crystal Bridges is doing very well, with 350,000 visitors in the first six months, more than double the anticipated attendance. Perhaps because of the unanticipated crowds the museum has posted the rule that visitors must remain 18 inches from the objects; the guards are ever-watchful of viewers. Since the label print is quite small and several of the paintings demand close examination, it is frustrating to be remonstrated for attentively examining the art.

I still find myself struggling to get an overall impression of the place beyond that it’s big and ambitious and somewhat complicated, with many references to the architectural past. The building seems well suited to the art it exhibits (except for that one big sunlit structure), is large enough to accommodate significant crowds of visitors, and integrates the architecture and art with beautifully landscaped natural surroundings.