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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ashcan Wednesday


I am always waiting til the last minute for things. I knew I had to see the "Ashcan Artists" exhibit at the NY Historical Society and there wasn't much time left; it's closing this weekend.

I enjoyed it immensely. These artists are so accessible - all painting during the first two decades of the twentieth century. I guess I've made it clear in other posts that that's one of my favorite historical periods. Because the focus of the exhibit was on the social history - the parks, sporting events, cafes, bars, theaters, amusement parks and other public gathering places - there were, in addition to the paintings, artifacts such as menus, souvenir programs -even some early Edison film clips. There was a particularly charming one called "Rube and Mandy at Coney Island"; you can see how it would lead up to Chaplin and the Marx Brothers.

But I was really there for the paintings, many of which were familiar but many more of which were NOT (lots from private collections and tiny, out of the way museums). I've been reading Robert Henri's brilliant book, still used in art schools, "The Art Spirit". He was the mentor and guiding force behind all of the others (Sloane, Shinn, Glackens, Bellows, etc) . He also taught Hopper, who came into his own a little later. In the book he talks about the importance of organizing the space into "four or five" large, differentiated planes of different values. It's extraordinary to see how these pictures, many of which involve large crowd scenes, do exactly that. Here's a simple example from Shinn:

You can see how the dark backs of the heads of the audience define the foreground, the light figures of the performers make up the middle ground, and the intermediate tones of the scenery make up the background. The tiny lit face and score in the center remind us that there's an orchestra in there too. Again and again we're learning (I'm talking about the pastel class now) how it's all about VALUES - get them right, and the colors will fall into place. I'm learning, I'm learning! I did a bunch of thumbnail sketches of these paintings (no photos allowed) to help drive it home.

Even though I spent most of my time on this one exhibit, there was the whole REST of the place to see too. I hadn't been there in years. The NYHS is famous for having all the 400+ original Audubon watercolors for Birds of America, acquired in 1863 for the then astronomical price of $4000 (they would have gone to the British Museum otherwise). Only a few at a time can be displayed because of light issues.

There was a powerful exhibit of 9/11 photographs that I refused to let myself get too sucked into - I really didn't want to relive those awful days.

There was also a large exhibit related to a spectacular visit that Lafayette paid to the US in 1824-5. He was given a hero's welcome as he traveled to 24 states over the course of 13 months - went as far west as New Orleans and St Louis. I hadn't known that much about Lafayette and probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to see this, but I'm very glad that I didn't miss it. One of the best parts (I should have photographed it but I wasn't sure whether it was allowed) was an enormous privately owned "basket carriage" that was used to transport Lafayette from one town to the next over nearly non-existent roads while in Vermont - at the astonishing speed of 9 miles per hour!

And then there was the whole permanent collection, - huge clumps of like-minded objects - chairs, buttons, tools, plaster casts, glass - you name it, it's there. Some of the storage areas were visible (through glass) so you could get a sense of what the rest of the "iceberg" was all about.


By the time I left it was dark out (only 5:30) but I decided to take a few minutes to stroll over to Broadway. I love the Upper West side, and rarely go there. The main thing that would attract tourists is the Museum of Natural History, but you can get there straight from the subway without even going above ground. So the rest of the area has a residential feel that I love. My main indulgence for the day was a tiny and outrageously expensive marrons glace gelato from GROM - a trendy place I'd heard of but not visited before. All in all, a good day.






2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely post - thanks so much! as a deskbound person, I really enjoy reading about your museum trips.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous beecher said...

This sounds like an amazing day. Wish I could have been there with you...

2:12 PM  

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