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Blog about the studio, life and travels of visual artist Carly Drew.

Filtering by Tag: Museums

Washington, DC

Carly Drew

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In February we went to Washington, DC for a hot minute for a little museum hopping, eat some good Eastern European food along with a little vodka tasting. This time of year in DC is pretty magical, the winter light creates gold casts over the marble buildings and the long shadows magnify the aura of mystery in a city so steeped in history. There also aren't a lot of people that willingly brave the chilly air to walk and see the sights, so the city is nice and bare in comparison to other times of the year. 

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Once again I got to see a few Hudson River School paintings by both Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. Bierstadt was the first one we ran into at the Smithsonian American Museum of Art, titled "Among the Sierra Nevada, California" and then shortly after I found another in the National Gallery of Art called "Mount Corcoran." I'll be honest in that I'm not a huge fan of Beristadt's paintings or personality. His trees always feel a bit clunky, the paintings a touch overworked and he was never the most humble of beings (for example he renamed "Mount Corcoran" to impress the banker William Corcoran [nga.gov]), but I do have to admire his skill in creating light effects.

In this case though I was less interested in his biography and more interested in the compositional parallels between the two paintings mentioned above. The similarities are indicative of how artists in that time would compile multiple studies of the same or different locations into the same composition. Bierstadt was a huge proponent of not only sketching and painting studies of his subjects, but also photographing them and more specifically using sterographs to heighten the depth of space. [Jensen] As is typical with many artists today, he would then bring these materials back to his studio and evaluate how they could be turned into paintings. 

Both works take place in the Sierra Nevada, which naturally gives them the same flora, fauna and geological basis. On top of this there are repeated elements that feel almost formulaic when you look at some of his other work. The sweeping curve of the lake around the right side of the composition is one of those things, it leads the viewer back to a stand of trees and up into the sheer rock faces in the distance. The animals that pepper the shoreline are also similar in placement and purpose. He also adds in excessively dramatic clouds and lighting to each of the scenes for maximum impact. I think this formulaic approach versus a legitimate study of the weather patterns, geology or realistic characteristics of that specific place is often where I get lost with the Hudson River School and particularly Bierstadt. There is such a thing as too much perfection and too much fantasy, the sickly sweetness that caused the derision of this type of work for decades couldn't help but be a biting taste in my mouth once I had the opportunity to study these works more in depth. 

 

 

On the other hand is one of my favorite Hudson River painters, Thomas Moran. I find Moran to be a bit more analytical and downt to earth than Bierstadt (not to say Bierstadt didn't observe the landscape, he just did it with a different, more grandiose focus). When he traveled Moran would tirelessly study the different effects of weather, geological formations the characteristics of specific places. He was less concerned with mishmashing multiple viewpoints and would often only shift the weather or lighting of a scene. Similar to Bierstadt he worked from extensive sketches and photos, but he also chose to work from memory and the feeling of the place more so than anything. This could be due in part to his influence from Turner, but I've always been fascinated by the process of intense study and ultimately the inclusion of memory into the work. Maybe this is why I've always been drawn to Moran, or it could be all of the umber and red dirt, who knows, either way anytime I see his work in person I get an inexplicably strong pull of connection to it. This is now the second time this has happened, the first was at Crystal Bridges back in November last year, and I spent an exceptionally long amount of time analyzing this amazing set of Thomas Moran paintings in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Seeing these three works was by far the highlight of my trip. 

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The last find was a small Andrew Wyeth painting of a window with a curtain billowing through that showed off his attention to detail. Again similar to the "Pentecost" work that I discussed in this post, it's a painting of a simple moment in time that has a maximum impact.

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Crystal Bridges Part IV: Curated Favorites

Carly Drew

John James Audubon,  Wild Turkey Cock, Hen and Young,  1826.

John James Audubon, Wild Turkey Cock, Hen and Young, 1826.

The last few blog posts in this series on Crystal Bridges covered my stay in Bentonville, the Picturing the Americas Exhibition and Symposium, a quasi-religious response with a Thomas Moran painting and some thoughts on the museum. While I've covered some of the work in the museum over previous posts, there were still several pieces I wanted to highlight from the permanent collection, starting with Audubon's turkeys.

Anyone that knows me understands my odd fascination with drawing turkeys. There's this grotesque yet sublime beauty mixed up in a bird that can sometimes be genuinely dumb. The northeast corner of South Carolina is one of the prime turkey hunting spots in the southeast and in the spring/fall they are everywhere. My grandparents always had a few wandering around the farm in western Pennsylvania too, so guess you can say I've grown attached to them over the years and in an odd way they symbolize home for me. Knowing this can only explain a little of the sheer excitement when I walked in the first permanent collection gallery only to have Audubon's painting of wild turkeys be the first thing I see.

Martin Johnson Heade,  The   Gems of Brazil,  1863-1864. 

Martin Johnson Heade, The Gems of Brazil, 1863-1864. 

In a similar vein I was also looking forward to seeing so many of Martin Johnson Heade's The Gems of Brazil paintings in one place. There was really something spectacular about the way they were grouped for display by the museum. It felt like they paid close attention to the scope of paintings he did in this series and his intentions to publish them in a book format. One of Heade's slightly larger paintings, Two Hummingbirds with an Orchid, was included in the Picturing the Americas exhibition. 

Alfred Thompson Bricher,  View of Mount Washington , 1864. 

Alfred Thompson Bricher, View of Mount Washington, 1864. 

A painting exhibited in close proximity to Thomas Moran's Valley of the Catawissa  in Autumn was Alfred Bricher's View of Mount Washington. One of the two things that really struck me in this work was the handling of the atmosphere along the back edge of the lake. The dusky purples and blues that faded down into the surface of the water were soft and beautifully rendered. The level of contrast is another thing that stood out for me in this work. Bricher uses a fairly high contrast in his atmospheric perspective and has a more drastic jump (especially from mid to foreground) than several of the other Hudson River School painters I've seen. This way of depicting space in the landscape makes the distant background and foreground fight for the viewer's attention in an interesting way. 

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait,  The Life of a Hunter,  1856. 

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, The Life of a Hunter, 1856. 

I was intrigued by this Arthur Tait painting because of the reversal of roles in the interaction between the hunters and hunted. There's also a very strong narrative element that is usually a bit more subtle in other hunting and game paintings from this time period. While there were several things I enjoyed about it, there are definitely some issues. I've never personally been mauled by a bear, but I highly doubt they sit down when doing so. This bothered me a bit in that you can clearly tell it was painted from observation of either a caged, stuffed animal, or possibly even a photo. Although one of these was probably the most accurate (and safe) way to study a bear at the time, it doesn't lend itself to a very plausible painting. The reference for the bear creates an awkwardness to the piece reminiscent of a V8 commercial, with the bear is about to bop him on the head for not eating enough veggies. All humor and problematics aside though, the combination of hunting, narrative and landscape in this work made it one of the most interesting pieces I saw.

I'm a sucker for a good still life of wild game and Alexander Pope's Trophies of the Hunt from 1905 (above left) was a nice surprise. It was a heavy work with a little chiaroscuro, reminding me a bit of a Caravaggio painting. Another piece with heavy historical references was John Taylor's A Wooded Classical Landscape at Evening with Figures in the Foreground from 1772 (above right). The light in this piece was quite beautiful, setting up a nice backdrop for classical ruins and Claude Lorrain inspired feathery trees.

Andrew Wyeth,  Pentecost,  1989. 

Andrew Wyeth, Pentecost, 1989. 

The Andrew Wyeth piece pictured above isn't actually in the Crystal Bridges collection, but from a book I bought in the museum shop called Wyeth: Andrew and Jaime in the Studio. There is a large of Wyeth's work locally at the Greenville Museum of Art, which interestingly enough was acquired with similar controversy to a few of the works at Crystal Bridges. His paintings were some of the first work I ever saw in person and have been fascinated with them ever since. The painting above is new to me though, which is surprising as someone that has studied a bit too much about Wyeth. Maybe in the midst of grad school I was looking for other things in his work and glanced over it, but this has to be one of my favorite Wyeth paintings so far. The linear qualities in the netting, subtle neutral tones and dramatic cast shadows all make this work come to life, in fact it almost seems to breathe right before your eyes. Hopefully one day I'll be able to see this one in person, but for now I'll enjoy it as is.

Richard Estes,  Antarctica (detail) , 2007. 

Richard Estes, Antarctica (detail), 2007. 

A few other pieces that surprised me a bit were by Richard Estes. Honestly I've never studied Estes much outside of art history class so the work above, as well as Provincetown I and Acadia Park I, took me a bit off guard. I admired the sharp clean lines and hyperrealism that bear many similarities to his more famous paintings. After seeing this body of work I'm interested in looking at Estes more depth.

Below is as artist I was already familiar with, Neil Welliver. I was introduced to by a former painting instructor to him several years back. It's a much more frantic type of landscape than those mentioned above, but that's what makes it so exciting to look at. The scale and pattern of his work were two things that stuck with me the most and they've always reminded me a bit of Abbott Thayer's camouflage paintings

Neil G. Welliver,  Snow on Alden Brook,  1983. 

Neil G. Welliver, Snow on Alden Brook, 1983. 

Maya Lin,  Silver Upper White River,  2015. 

Maya Lin, Silver Upper White River, 2015. 

The last and coincidentally most recent work is a sculpture by Maya Lin. This piece is drawn directly from the terrain around the museum. The casting is made of the Upper White River, which runs across northern Arkansas and Missouri. It's suppose to be one of the country's best trout fishing resources, which is what inspired Lin to create this work. Rivers in the Americas used to be known for "running silver" because they had so many fish, which is what inspired her to use silver as a medium. The sculpture is really fascinating to look at and I came back to it several times to watch the light change across it. It was definitely my favorite contemporary work at Crystal Bridges, but to be fair anything that has to do with topography or trout immediately gets my attention. 

Well this concludes a week of posts about my trip to Crystal Bridges and Bentonville, Arkansas. Hope you liked reading about it as much as I enjoyed being there. It's definitely a place I will be back to many times in the future and I'm excited to see the museum grow.

Check out the other posts about the trip here.

Note: Unless otherwise noted all photos were taken by me at the exhibition.

Crystal Bridges III: The Museum

Carly Drew

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After glancing over the musuem in the first post I wanted to address it a little more in depth. When I first heard about Crystal Bridges back in 2011, I thought it was too good to be true. The architecture is stunning and the work housed in the permanent collection is a dream, but the thing that really sealed the deal for me is that it's in the middle of nowhere. To be honest I'd rather visit Arkansas over New York any day. After a few days visiting a city I'm done and museums in places like Rome, New York and D.C. provide a much different experience. This isn't to say the museums have done a poor job with thier exhibitions, I just don't have the tolerance to fight crowds. Often by the time you get a clear view of a work it's only a few seconds before you get crowded out of the way or someone walks in front of you to snap a selfie. It's frustrating. Instead of getting inspired and creatively recharged, I often leave tired and angry. It's akin to going to the mall on a Saturday afternoon, you never really find what you're looking for and finally just want to give up and get out. Art requires time to process, which I've rarely been able to achieve in many of the major museum settings of late. Crystal Bridges reminded me how fulfilling museums can really be. Everything had space to breath and people were courteous of others viewing the same work, which is something hard to come by anymore. You weren't being distracted or rushed, which gave adequate time to study, think and pay proper attention to things of interest. Maybe the difference is a bit of good old fashioned Southern hospitality, but it's the first time I haven't felt exhausted after visiting a museum in a long time.

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The second major thing that drew me to Crystal Bridges is that it's situated in the South. Obviously I'm a little biased, but there are so many great things about this area of the country and its nice to see an institution that can help highlight Southern culture in a positive way. I also have to commend Alice Walton on having the balls to snap up some amazing work and create a place like this. There's a lot Crystal Bridges does right. It merges art and nature, which is a classic combination. The rolling hills of Arkansas, crisp November air and the late fall colors created a stunning backdrop for the Moshe Safdie designed structure, which compliments its rural setting. The landscape also reflects the work housed in the collection. Viewing a Thomas Moran is that much more exciting when you can take a break from the art, cozy up with a cup of tea in the cafe and enjoy some natural beauty.

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Finally it's a place that anyone would feel comfortable walking into and talking about art. Which is something a lot of institutions miss and as someone that didn't grow up going to art museums is important to me. The more comfotable people are going to look at art, the more they will interact and get involved. The more people that get involved the more meaning it holds and if the experience is a good one that is something that will stay with them for life. My experience at Crysta Bridges and the work I saw has definitely left a mark and has provided me with insight and inspiration for my own work. Overall I enjoyed my experience at the museum and can't wait for another excuse to visit Arkansas!

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Crystal Bridges Part I: Bentonville, AK & 21c Hotel

Carly Drew

Frank Llyod Wright, Bachman-Wilson House @ Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. 

Frank Llyod Wright, Bachman-Wilson House @ Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. 

At the beginning of November I posted about the travel grant I recieved from Crystal Bridges Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation. A week later I was on a plane from Charlotte to Bentonville for the Picturing the Americas Exhibit and International Symposium! Why am I posting these blogs a month later? Sometimes I like to give a little space between traveling and posting blogs, its nice to have a little time to reflect and take in everything you've seen. While I always take a lot of photos when travelling, rarely do I post those photos right then and there. Personally I find it to detract from the experience of a place when stopping to take time to Tweet, Facebook or Insta, not to mention the ensuing onslaught of likes and comments that are distracting as hell the rest of the day. My experience at Crystal Bridges really didn't need to be bothered by those things and my purpose for being there was to immerse myself in the American landscape tradition, which for me is a borderline quasi-religious experience that didn't need any of those external distractions. With that in mind here is the first in a week of posts about my trip to Arkansas. Similar to the Puerto Rico trip, I've chosen to break it into a few different posts so I can highlight some of the things I enjoyed most about my time in Bentonville.

After starting out the trip on barely two hourse of sleep (thanks to some chattering coyotes and a loooong 3am drive to Charlotte) it was a relief to find a little inspiration in the air. I'm a bit of a topographic and aerial photography nerd, which is about the only thing I enjoy about flying. Going over the Appalachians and the farms of Ohio and Kentucky was the only thing that kept me sane. Above are a few in-flight shots descending over Arkansas into the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. The descent over rural Arkansas was beautiful in its topographic glory, full of farms and chicken houses about as far as the eye could see. As the home of Tyson Foods, its no wonder that there were so many chicken houses dotting the landscape and the way the silver metal buildings stood out against the November landscape was really striking. Although I'm sure the smell in August would leave a little something to be desired.

I arrived late in the afternoon on Friday and after a long day of travel didn't have much time to explore the museum before the Picturing the Americas opening lecture that evening, but I did get to do a quick walk around the grounds. The first image in the post is a shot of the newly opened Bachman-Wilson House on the property. The Frank Llyod Wright designed home is a great addition to the numerous sculptures that dot the trails around the museum. Off the back side of the house is a deep ravine with a creek, even more walking trails and reflection pond. It fits effortlessly into the grounds and there are moments when it simply felt like someone's home set in the trees. I walked around it several times over the weekend and the way it was situated is absolutely stunning.

The Moshe Safdie designed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. 

The Moshe Safdie designed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. 

Speaking of the landscape and architecture, my first impression of the Moshe Safdie designed museum was of how seamless it worked with the surrounding landscape. The colors, lines and materials all directly pulled from the rolling hills of northwest Arkansas. At the main entrance to the museum is a sculpture by Roxy Paine that accomplished similar things, but in a much different way. The tree sculpture's metallic surface reflecting the colors and structure of the almost leafless late fall landscape. Those reflections really brought to life something that had the potential to feel cold and mechanical in contrast to its setting. One of the few other pieces I was able to spend some time with on the first day was a Gabriel Dawe string installation. Placed in an off-side stair well, this piece is mesmerizing. I spent a good 10 minutes just walking back and forth underneath it watching the colors shift before my eyes.

Roxy Paine, "Yeild"  (2011).

Roxy Paine, "Yeild"  (2011).

Gabriel Dawe, "Plexus No. 27" (2014). 

Gabriel Dawe, "Plexus No. 27" (2014). 

Only having a short amount of time before the kickoff lecture, that was the extent of what I was able to see the first day. Once the evening's event let out I retreated back to the hotel for some much needed sleep after a very long day of travel. I stayed at the 21c Hotel due to proximity with the museum, which is barely a 5 minute walk via nature trail and even thought its a bit more expensive I did save money by not needing a rental car. Hell I even walked over in the rain two mornings no problem. The hotel was very contemporary on the interior and my room felt a bit like staying in an Ikea. The neatest thing about the hotel is that it also served as a gallery/museum with multiple artists work displayed on each floor and dedicated exhibition spaces on the ground level. It was a nice break to see some ultra-contemporary work after looking at mostly historical pieces all day. They also have these funky green penguins that mysteriously move around the hotel, winding up in unusal places like packed into the elevators, on the roof and stalking you at breakfast (see my experience below). The biggest let down of the trip was that I missed Arnold Schwarzenegger by 20 minutes one morning, apparently he stayed there for a night while in town to do a quick tour of the museum. Should've spent a little less time on my hair that day...oh well.

I got a little lazy with food this trip since most of my time was spent in the museum. Anyone that knows me knows that anytime I actually eat out it has to be something that I can't cook myself or haven't had before. Usually hotel restaurants aren't my favorite go to (looking at you Puerto Rico), but the one at 21c was an exception. The Hive is both conveniently located downstairs and also headed up by James Beard nominated Chef Matthew McClure, which is my book is a winning combination. Over the few days I stayed there I tried a good chunk of the menu and didn't find anything dissapointing. Most everything was cooked perfectly and delivered a solid fresh, but clearly Southern influenced breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some standouts were a scallop dish with peanut sauce (sounds odd but surprisingly good), a chocolate cake and one of the best bourbon cocktails I've ever had. It was the perfect spot to sit at the bar and enjoy a nice meal with a glass of wine after a long day exploring the museum. 

21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas.

21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas.

One of those pesky green penguins came to visit me for brunch.

One of those pesky green penguins came to visit me for brunch.

The light around the bathroom mirror created some serioulsy neat reflections in the shower. Plus you could seriously fit 10 people in that shower.

The light around the bathroom mirror created some serioulsy neat reflections in the shower. Plus you could seriously fit 10 people in that shower.

The lamps had to be my favorite and the bed was super cozy, which is really all that matters.

The lamps had to be my favorite and the bed was super cozy, which is really all that matters.

Crystal Bridges Museum "Picturing the Americas" Travel Grant

Carly Drew

Image via  Amazon .

Image via Amazon.

On Friday I'll be flying out to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas for a few days to explore two things I have devoted a large part of my life to: art and the land. I'm also beyond excited to announce that I was awarded a travel grant by Crystal Bridges (sponsored by the Terra Foundation for American Art) to attend the Picturing the Americas Exhibit and International Symposium.

The exhibition covers the many definitions of human interaction with the land by showcasing over 100 works of art from North and South America. I will also be attending several panel discussions on how land becomes icon, the intersection of science and art, and how modern artists interpreted the landscape. It will be a nice departure from the process of making work and get out of the studio. Spending a few days immersed in a discussion about the historical representation of the American landscape and its contemporary manifestations is my form of art geekery at its finest. 

If you are interested in either the exhibition or symposium, here is a link to more info on the exhibit via the Crystal Bridges website.  You can also check out the book, Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic.