Pierre Bonnard- The Dining Room, 1940-47, Vincent van Gogh- Daisies, Arles, 1888, Paul Gauguin- Still Life with Bowl, 1889-91, Benjamin Marshall- Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent, 1810
The two shows from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opened at the Frist over the weekend. Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Cubism and post-Cubism. In addition, there is also the Mellon collection of hunting art. The hunting art might not initially grab you, but it deserves your time.
When I was in graduate school, at VCU, I lived in an apartment two blocks from the VMFA. (How is it going, 3200 Hanover Avenue?) Honestly, if life ever gives you the opportunity to live in “the fan” in Richmond, just go for it. As you might be able to figure out from previous posts, I did not particularly like graduate school and a lot of that is on me and where I was emotionally when I rolled into town in summer of ’97. Removed from academia, living in “the fan” is a lovely existence. Aside from my car getting stolen and the entire plaster ceiling of my dining area caving in spontaneously and having the loudest copulating couple ever as upstairs neighbors, it was the best neighborhood that I have ever lived in. All of that said, it was 20 years ago, and I bet no one can afford it anymore. The point is that I lived near the museum and saw this collection frequently. One of my top 10 art viewing experiences was seeing the VMFA’s complete series of William Blake’s Book of Job prints. I have been a bit hungry to see late 19th/early 20th century painting lately so, bam, here it is. The show is a reminder of the power of material. There is such authority and power in van Gogh simply painting a basket of daisies. You know it is just more than a basket of daisies to him. There was a pastor in Philadelphia who had rallied his church to clean out an empty lot and turn it into a garden in hopes that it would stop being a place to do drugs or dump a body and instead be a blessing to the block. While he and his church were working on the lot, two men stepped into it and executed a typical drug deal. The pastor looked at his wife and said, “What are we even doing here?” She forcefully replied, “We are planting a garden.” A basket of daisies is more than a basket of daisies if you know why you are painting it.
The hunting collection is something you might not ever see again, at least as a collection. It is an oddball. There is a painting of a dog playing the piano and I cannot think of anything more 2019 in our Instagram culture than a painting of a dog playing piano. One of my duties in my second year of graduate school was to transport visiting artists to and from the airport. This duty fell upon me, not because I was the golden child, but simply because I had one of the only cars with working air conditioning. Based off my experiences, this was more of a punishment than a reward. For one trip, two NYC artists (that do not need to be named) were coming into town and the professor that organized their visit accompanied me so that we could then give them a tour of the VMFA. Yes, how grand. If only NYC had a museum of art or galleries they could visit. We must take them directly from an airport to see our Warhol Elvis and our minimalist Bryce Marden and our Kiefer. My father once flew from Nashville to Sydney, Australia. He was pulled off of a 20+ hour plane ride and whisked away to a golf course. It felt like we were doing that. I was dreading it a bit. Fortunately, the way the museum was configured at the time, when you walked down the stairs to the entryway of the contemporary section, the hunting collection sat immediately opposite it. The two artists looked at Elvis to the right, saw the hunting collection to the left and proceeded to the galleries of horses and hounds. Success. After that one of them said, “Xxxx here is a Civil War enthusiast. Where can we go?” I spent the afternoon driving them to various sites while my professor, who had lived there for 20+ years kept saying, “How do you know where all of this stuff is?” So, if the hunting collection is good enough for Xxxxx and Xxxxxx, then it is good enough for you. I also wrote a horrible paper about a George Catlin piece in that collection. Apologies to my seminar teacher that semester but I wanted to be anywhere but that seminar class. It was not your fault. I was just done.
Other than that trip down memory lane of hunting dogs and loud sex, the blog tank is empty this week. I painted the dining area. Onward to the living room and kitchen.
Someone once wrote that “my transcript is a list of things that I never want to do again.” Some version of that is happening on this blog. Declarations are made. “I shall, from this day forth, never paint a head again!” Cut to me painting heads. Paintings that I considered successes two weeks ago have been painted over. Two pieces have survived for a few days now so they might stick around. Of course, they are heads. I started a drawing of a tree like it was 2006. It is a way of being productive while I sort out these painting issues. Remember when I said I was going to make a 20x7’ piece and I built all of the panels for it? That thing is just sitting there, daring me to take action. I feel like I am procrastinating for a good reason though. To quote an 80s abstinence campaign: it can wait.
Leon Vynehall’s Nothing Is Still is on steady repeat for me these days:
Quote for the week:
“I am letting you into the secret of all secrets, mirrors are gates through which death comes and goes. Moreover, if you see your whole life in a mirror you will see death at work as you see bees behind the glass in a hive.”
Lyric for the week:
I have been listening almost exclusively to an instrumental album all week, so there is no lyric.
The Book of Matthew
Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians