What We Caught In The Big Town

Well the Missus and I trundled down to the Big Town for most of last week, and here’s a taste of the arts seen there.


After an uneventful, if costly, drive to the City (seriously – they’re raising the extortionate RFK (née Triboro) Bridge toll to $7.50?), Freddie and Flossie headed to the Museum of Arts and Design to see – no, smell – the Art of Scent exhibit.

The Art of Scent 1889-2012 is the first major museum exhibition to recognize scent as a major medium of artistic creation and fifteen artists who work in this medium.

The exhibition focuses on twelve works made between 1889 and 2012, and will include Jicky, created by Aimé Guerlain in 1889; Ernest Beaux’s Chanel N° 5 from 1921; Jean-Claude Ellena’s Osmanthe Yunnan from 2006; and Daniela Andrier’sUntitled, created in 2010.

Each scent was selected by curator Chandler Burr to reveal the evolution of aesthetics in the medium or to illustrate major innovations in scent design. Among the innovations was the introduction of synthetic raw materials, which appeared in the late nineteenth century. Before then, the creation of scents was limited to only natural ingredients; synthetics transformed artisanal products into works of art.

The exhibit consisted of 12 scent-stations where you could sniff the fragrance and read text on the wall that periodically faded “the way scents do,” as I overheard a tour guide say.

I’m not sure I buy the concept of the exhibit, but the execution was swell.

After that, we wandered over to a preview performance of Picnic, the Broadway revival of William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

We liked it a lot, despite lead actor Sebastian Stan’s chewing enough scenery that he needs to floss after every performance.

(Then again, as the Missus noted, William Holden did much the same in the 1955 movie version.)

But Ellen Barkin and Mare Winningham are terrific in the new production, as was Elizabeth Marvel, whose performance as Rosemary Sydney eerily echoes Rosalind Russell’s in the film.

Even better, the Missus met some lovely women from Long Island who invited her to join their weekly Mah Jong game.

Ah! To live in the Big Town!


We started (and spent most of) our day at the Met, which as always was chockablock full of eye-catching exhibits.

Exhibit A:  Matisse: In Search of True Painting, described this way on the the Met’s website: (Does that sentence need a colonoscopy or what?)

Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was one of the most acclaimed artists working in France during the first half of the twentieth century. The critic Clement Greenberg, writing in The Nation in 1949, called him a “self-assured master who can no more help painting well than breathing.” Unbeknownst to many, painting had rarely come easily to Matisse. Throughout his career, he questioned, repainted, and reevaluated his work. He used his completed canvases as tools, repeating compositions in order to compare effects, gauge his progress, and, as he put it, “push further and deeper into true painting.” While this manner of working with pairs, trios, and series is certainly not unique to Matisse, his need to progress methodically from one painting to the next is striking. Matisse: In Search of True Painting presents this particular aspect of Matisse’s painting process by showcasing forty-nine vibrantly colored canvases. For Matisse, the process of creation was not simply a means to an end but a dimension of his art that was as important as the finished canvas.

Representative sample:


That’s a terrific exhibit, as are Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop and  African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde. The same cannot be said, however, of Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years,  a total mishmash (see this Times review if you don’t believe me) that thankfully vacates the premises in a few days.

Much worthier of your attention is the fabulously ornate furniture in Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens, “the first comprehensive survey of the cabinetmaking firm from around 1742 to its closing in the early 1800s. Its innovative designs were combined with intriguing mechanical devices to revolutionize traditional French and English furniture types.”

Representative sample:


Another knockout exhibit is George Bellows:

Bellows_featuredGeorge Bellows (1882–1925) was regarded as one of America’s greatest artists when he died, at the age of forty-two, from a ruptured appendix. Bellows’s early fame rested on his powerful depictions of boxing matches and gritty scenes of New York City’s tenement life, but he also painted cityscapes, seascapes, war scenes, and portraits, and made illustrations and lithographs that addressed many of the social, political, and cultural issues of the day. Featuring some one hundred works from Bellows’s extensive oeuvre, this landmark loan exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s career in nearly half a century.

Funny seeing the Bellows exhibit that day because that night we took in the new Lincoln Center production of Golden Boy, the Clifford Odets classic (that, coincidentally,  featured William Holden in the 1939 film version).

The entire cast is excellent, especially Tony Shaloub, a wonderful stage actor who delivers a standout performance here, as this excerpt demonstrates (lots more videos here):


Golden Boy is at the Belasco Theatre through January 20. If you’re in the city, do yourself a favor and go.


In the morning we trundled over to MOMA, first catching Christian Marclay’s The Clock, where we lasted maybe 40 minutes.

Representative sample (12:04 pm to 12:07 pm):


Far more compelling is Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925, described this way on the MOMA website:

The exhibition brings together many of the most influential works in abstraction’s early history and covers a wide range of artistic production, including paintings, drawings, books, sculptures, films, photographs, sound poems, atonal music, and non-narrative dance, to draw a cross-media portrait of these watershed years.

(Those connections are graphically illustrated here.)

Inventing Abstraction features an ideal organizing principle: No discernible beginning or end, no sections, no category groupings, no themes – just art. The perfect non -representational exhibit, the very opposite of the normal “curatorially interpretive presentation of art.”

Representative sample (František Kupka. Localization of Graphic Motifs II. 1912–13):


From there we stopped by Edvard Munch’s The Scream, “on view at The Museum of Modern Art for a period of six months.”


Virtually everyone crowded around Munch’s classic pastel-on-board from 1895 saw it from behind their cellphone. Museum business as usual.

As the Missus and I walked away, one spectator said “It looks just like the poster.”

Yeah, eh?

After a quick stop by the Frick Collection to see Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of a Peasant (“the first time in forty years that the painting has left its home institution”), we headed crosstown to the New York Historical Society for its WWII & NYC exhibit.

Representative sample:


Great stuff. We especially liked the 1939 Edward R. Murrow broadcasts from London.


First stop: The Whitney, which featured American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe,  Sinister Pop, and Richard Artschwager! – all well worth seeing.

Then it was on to the Guggenheim for the Picasso Black and White exhibit, described in a Weekly Standard review this way:

It may be hard to believe that one of the more underrated New York art exhibits of recent times is a current Picasso show at the Guggenheim, but such is the case. “Picasso Black and White”is not only one of the best Picasso exhibitions to visit New York; it is one of the better exhibitions of any artist to visit New York in the past few years.

Some may be hesitant to see yet another Picasso show, but this installation—in New York’s most distinctive museum—is unique in its own right. An unprecedented gathering of 118 black-and-white works of art reveals that there is terra incognita even in the realm of Picasso exhibitions. This is the first American exhibition solely devoted to Picasso’s black-and-white artwork, and many of the pieces have never before been exhibited in the United States.

Representative sample:


It’s like Picasso dismantled the human body and then reassembled it without consulting the owner’s manual.



On the way back to Boston, we dropped by the newly renovated Yale University Art Gallery to catch its spectacular The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America installation.

It’s a killer exhibit and a magnificent makeover, which we’ll let the Boston Globe’s redoubtable Sebastian Smee describe for you.

Then home again, home again, jiggity jig.

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4 Responses to What We Caught In The Big Town

  1. Pingback: While We Were Out (The Art Seen In New York) | Campaign Outsider

  2. Pingback: Dead Blogging ‘Awake and Sing!’ at Huntington Theater | Campaign Outsider

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