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Frida Kahlo at SF MoMA

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

A while ago, Jeremy and I went to a large exhibit of Frida Kahlo at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  They have a great informational feature here, if you have fast internet access.

This was my first opportunity to see a significant number of her pieces all collected together.  I came to the exhibit with limited background knowledge.  Jeremy is still trying to get me to watch the film “Frida”, but so far not.  I had seen the reproductions that graced the dorm rooms of my generation; but not much more.  I was amazed, shocked, fascinated, intrigued.

By and large, I try to resist the notion that I should interpret the work of an artist from their biography.  But the work of Frida Kahlo makes that position more of a challenge, because so many of her major paintings are self-portraits or contain images of herself.  Perhaps the most disturbing of all the paintings was “The Two Fridas“.    In it, she paints a double self-portrait–one in a Victorian wedding dress the other in traditional Mexican attire.  It was painted at the time of her [first?] divorce from Diego Rivera and contrasts the Frida that Diego loves with the one that he no longer does.  There’s much more going on, and I don’t think that I have even begun to digest it.  But, in this case anyway, it seems that it really helps to understand the image to know the facts of her life at the time that she painted it.

I think that another part of the impact of the painting is to see the original, full-size and full-color.  I’ve come to believe that something special happens when I’m actually in the room with the original painting.  Maybe it’s like the special energy that comes from a live performance of music compared with a recording.  The live performance may not be as “technically perfect”, but it can have a kind of energy that no recording can match.

The other interesting feature of the exhibit at SFMoMA is that there is a significant amount of genuinely biographical material, including both photographs and film.  In my view, the Frida of the photos and films is a more beautiful and happier woman that the Frida of the self-portraits.  But this perception just gets me tangled up again in trying to read psychology from art or to read psychology into art, which I’m still convinced, is no favor to either.

To Thy Happy Children of the Future Those of the Past Send Greetings

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Jeremy and I were visiting the US Midwest recently, and one of our stops was Champaign-Urbana, Illinois–home of the University of Illinois, where I was in graduate school.  At the entrance to the school is one of my favorite statues, Alma Mater by Lorado Taft [The link is wikipedia].  It was a commission from the Class of 1927 (? I think) and the inscription on the base is the title of this post.  It strikes me that this inscription is the hope of what education is really all about.  The first picture on the Wikipedia link is the statue. [And here’s a picture that Jeremy took:]

Alma Mater

I went mostly to visit friends from my school days.  But, not surprisingly, they had lives that they were busy leading.  They provided a guide to art at the Univerisity of Illinois.  Jeremy and I worked our way around the campus, seeking out pictures and sculptures located in out-of-the-way corners of the campus.

I think our favorite discovery was a picture in the reception area of the President’s Office: We the People: The Land-Grant College Act Heritage, painted by Billy Morrow Jackson in 1987.  [The link is the page from the art guide, with a black & white version of the painting.]  The color image is much more interesting.  I’ll try to add one, if I can.

We ended our art tour of the campus at the Krannert Art Museum, the main art museum on campus.  There were a number of high points–there were some of the prints from the Carceri d’Inventiones [Imaginary Prisons–or Prisons of the Imagination, as you translate] by Piranesi.  These prints played an interesting part in the series Inspired by Bach from Yo-Yo Ma.  In the series, he worked with artists in different disciplines to create realizations of the Bach cello suites in their medium.  Some of them are much better than others, but they’re all interesting [and available on DVD].  In one of them, some acoustic engineers manipulate the sound from Yo-Yo Ma to place him sonically into these environments created visually by Piranesi.

Another amazing piece was another sculpture by Lorado Taft.  It’s called, I think, Les Aveugles [the Blind–with a Flickr link].  It’s based on a Nineteenth Century one-act play by Maeterlinck, describing a group of blind people that were marooned on an island.  At some moment, they realize that a baby born to the group can see, and that encapsulates hope for the future.  The sculpture captures the moment when an older woman is holding the baby up to the sun–and it’s clear both that the baby can see and that the rest of the group cannot.  In many ways, the group reminds me of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais–a large sculptural group, each an individual, united by their situation.

It was wonderful to discover a new side to a place that I spent such a long time, and that I have so many good memories of. 

One Activity, Two Cultures–Gay and Non-Gay Square Dancing

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008
Jeremy and I are getting ready for our annual expedition to the gay square dance convention.  For those of you who haven't done any square dancing since seventh grade, this is meant for a refresher--and a discussion of some differences ... [Continue reading this entry]

What changes and what stays the same?

Friday, April 25th, 2008
   I've been pondering this question: What changes and what stays the same?   I don't know that I have any answers, but I saw an exhibit of photographs that seemed to address the issue profoundly.  The exhibit has been collected ... [Continue reading this entry]

Three performances–Sometimes it’s magic, and sometimes it isn’t

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Over the past few days I've seen three live performances.  I want to use this post to ponder the complexities of how we react to live performance.  I want to say at the start that no one wants to give ... [Continue reading this entry]