Sunday, January 8, 2012

Brooklyn Museum Birthday Bash

Get thee to the Brooklyn Museum ... post haste!

Two terrific shows are up and running but the first closes at the end of this month and the second in the middle of next month: Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties (closing 1/29/12) and HIDE/SEEK: Difference & Desire in American Portraiture (closing 2/12/12). For her July birthday, Valerie wanted to go to Phillip Johnson's Glass House in Connecticut. (See our 7/11/11 posting for details.) Jean chose to go to the Brooklyn Museum for her November birthday bash, to see these two shows. (Yes, yes, we know. We're just getting around to telling you about it NOW. We've done sooo many things that we're sooo behind in posting about! We moved this up so you'd have time to see the exhibitions before they close.)

The museum's indoor and outdoor spaces are visitor-friendly. Valerie gets up close and personal with the Burghers of Calais.

The lobby features a cafe (a teeny cafetino, really, says Valerie, but right by the huge windows with a sweeping view of the sculpted grounds and Eastern Parkway) serving good lattes and cappuccinos and light snacks. After we refueled, Ms. Jean opened her fabulous birthday presents, courtesy of Ms. Valerie (teeny presentinos, really, says Valerie)! Without revealing too much detail, chocolate skulls among other interesting objets, were involved!

Apropos the "Art of the American Twenties", we encountered this lovely young couple attired head to toe in vintage clothing, getting into the act. They were pushing their baby in an incongruously high tech stroller. Perhaps they are in the market for one of those old-fashioned "baby buggies"? Sure hope their child appreciates them, (especially in a few years when he realizes all his friends' parents are wearing designer sneakers and logo-emblazoned fashions?).

They looked great together and their attention to detail was fantastic, right down to the footwear. Notice the seam in her stockings! Raise your hand if you remember those!

But we digress, as usual. Back to the meat of the matter.

Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties
October 28, 2011–January 29, 2012 Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, 5th Floor

Paul Cadmus 1928 by Luigi Lucioni (from Brooklyn Museum Website)

"How did American artists represent the Jazz Age?" asks the exhibition Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties which brings together for the first time work by 68 painters, sculptors, and photographers who explored a new mode of modern realism in the years between the aftermath of the Great War and the onset of the Great Depression. Throughout the 1920s, artists created images of liberated modern bodies and the changing urban-industrial environment with an eye toward ideal form and ordered clarity—qualities seemingly at odds with a riotous decade best remembered for its flappers and Fords.

Artists took as their subjects uninhibited nudes and close-up portraits that celebrated sexual freedom and visual intimacy, as if in defiance of the restrictive routines of automated labor and the stresses of modern urban life. Reserving judgment on the ultimate effects of machine culture on the individual, they distilled cities and factories into pristine geometric compositions that appear silent and uninhabited. American artists of the Jazz Age struggled to express the experience of a dramatically remade modern world, demonstrating their faith in the potentiality of youth and in the sustaining value of beauty. Youth and Beauty presents 140 works by artists including Thomas Hart Benton, Imogen Cunningham, Charles Demuth, Aaron Douglas, Edward Hopper, Gaston Lachaise, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Luigi Lucioni, Gerald Murphy, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston. The painting above of Paul Cadmus is the one that caught our eye one day in the subway, and convinced us we had to see this show. The portrait is stunning, and so is the show.

Two Women 1924 by George Wesley Bellows (from Brooklyn Museum website)

Bellows' ambitious work is an homage to Titian's circa 1514 Italian Renaissance painting Sacred and Profane Love (Galleria Borghese, Rome) in which a nude and a clothed figure are paired to contrast pure love (unclothed) with its worldly counterpart. In the 1920's, when Freudian ideas were as current as the latest fashions, viewers likely read George Bellows’s variation on Titian’s theme as an embodiment of the vying impulses of sexual openness and repression. The assertively lit nude and her clothed counterpart appear in the well-recognized parlor setting of Bellows’ home in rural Woodstock, New York.

Something comes over the two of us when we go to museums. Our jaunts become like outtakes from a Marx Brothers movie.

In the stairwell between exhibits, occasionally egged on by a number of passing people who took our pictures, we emoted.

As you can see, there's more than enough light in the stairwell...

Here, however, is Jean in Horst or Hoyningen-Huene mode. The pose is almost identical, but the angle is different, and shot without a flash. No special photoshop effects.

And here, Jean's hat, distinctive already, is transformed by the play of shadows.

It is a little known fact that Valerie lived not ten minutes' walk from the Brooklyn Museum during her childhood, and visited frequently. (Particularly the Egyptian wing. Keep in mind that right about then minor TV channels were having a field day filling time slots with movies from the '30s and '40s, and a perennial favorite was Boris Karloff's The Mummy). It's also a little known fact that in those days Valerie considered no museum visit complete without a slide down one of the museum bannisters. Guards watched the art, not the stairwells, so it was possible to punctuate the solemn contemplation of boy kings, god kings, cat goddesses and cat mummies with a little fun. Why would anyone ever want to take an elevator to the next floor when they could take the monkey bars?

Here Valerie relives old times. Valerie notes that her center of gravity (like so many other things) has changed considerably in the intervening years, and sliding down the bannister demanded much more concentration than she remembered. At least, to her credit, she remembered!

HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture
November 18, 2011–February 12, 2012 Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, 4th Floor

Self Portrait 1975 by Robert Mapplethorpe (from Brooklyn Museum Website)

The first major museum exhibition to focus on themes of gender and sexuality in modern American portraiture, HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture brings together more than 100 works in a wide range of media (paintings, photographs, works on paper, film, and installation art), charts the underdocumented role that sexual identity played in the making of modern art, and highlights contributions of gay and lesbian artists to American art. Beginning in the late 19th century with Thomas Eakins’ Realist paintings, HIDE/SEEK traces the often coded narrative of sexual desire in art produced throughout the early modern period up to the present. The exhibition features pieces by canonical figures in American art—including George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, Alice Neel, and Berenice Abbott — along with works that openly assert gay and lesbian subjects in modern and contemporary art, by artists such as Jess Collins and Tee Corinne. HIDE/SEEK presents artists’ responses to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the AIDS epidemic, and postmodern themes of identity, highlighted with major pieces by artists such as AA Bronson, Félix González-Torres, and Annie Leibovitz. More than simply documenting a prominent subculture often relegated to the margins of American art, HIDE/SEEK offers a unique survey of more than a century of American portraiture and leads the way towards a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of modern art in America.

Janet Flanner 1927 Berenice Abbott

According to exhibition notes, in 1922, Janet Flanner settled in Paris with her lover, Solita Solano, and spent the next fifty years writing her “Letter from Paris,” column for The New Yorker. Flanner and Solano became fixtures in the salon life of the city, their homosexuality providing a crucial entrée into the most fashionable literary groups, which were then dominated by wealthy expatriate lesbians. Flanner signed her column with the decorously French and sexually ambiguous pseudonym “Genêt” to hide her identity, but like most masks, the name revealed as much as it hid. With her campy prose and focus on known gay and lesbian personalities, Flanner provided a knowing glimpse of the Paris “in” crowd. In this portrait by Berenice Abbott, Flanner wears two masks, which—like her pseudonym—suggest her multiple layers.

One thing we found very interesting were the two Romaine Brooks portraits - one a self-portrait, the other of Una, Lady Troubridge. Those of you who were reading us last year might remember that Romaine Brooks was listed as one of the women we most admired, and the two above-mentioned paintings were posted to the blog. Up until our trip to the Brooklyn Museum, however, we had not seen the paintings in person, just in photographs. Here we got to see them both, one in each show. Because Brooks was an early 20th century American painter and a lesbian, her portraits could have gone in either show. The museum judiciously decided to put the self-portrait in Hide/Seek, and Lady Troubridge in Youth and Beauty. Jean briefly contemplated the fashion potential of a monocle, but immediately hit two major barriers: how does one do a monocle version of sunglasses? When and if that minor challenge is overcome, one wonders if they come with progressive lenses!

Ram's Head, White Hollyhock-Hillsl 1935 Georgia O'Keeffe (photo from Brooklyn Museum website)

O’Keeffe filled her landscapes of the desert Southwest with an abundance of horns and antlers. According to the Brooklyn Museum, this painting features an enlarged ram’s skull and antlers hovering emblematically over landscape and sky; the organic lines and complex orifices of these nearly abstract forms conjure associations both phallic and feminine.

Maintaining the O'Keeffe theme, after touring the galleries, we headed to a great Mexican restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn whose walls featured numerous ram and steer skulls, including this specimen.

We welcomed the opportunity to cool our heels and compare notes about what we'd seen and what we thought. Oh, and the cocktails were delish! Having said that, however, we are still looking - so far fruitlessly - for a frozen mango margarita to compare with the peerless ones we had at the late lamented Tabla. Where DID those genius mixologists go?! Anyone who knows should tell us!

We HAVE to put in a GREAT word for the Brooklyn Museum Gift Shop. Of COURSE we went there FIRST. (Once, somewhere, we saved a museum gift shop for last, only to discover that it closed before the museum galleries did! Thwarted in our attempt to buy something! Museum trips are a pilgrimage, and museum shops aren't like The Gap (or like The Gap used to be, that is), with one on every corner. Once you've missed your chance, you're not likely to get it again. So now we visit the gift shops first. (It's good to get it out of your system, too. That way you can focus on the art.) Anyway, the Brooklyn Museum Gift Shop has a great buyer or buyers. There's always something very clever and original there, there's a wonderful variety, and their prices are very good. Go, and buy! (Remember it helps support the museum.)

What we're wearing:

The birthday girl is wearing an Ignatius faux leopard hat; 8-eye leopard Doc Marten boots; Kyodan jacket; Illesteva glasses; Angela Capputi resin alligator bracelet and Canal Street oversized watch; vintage black bakelite necklace and rings; Lux de Ville black patent handbag; and white museum ID tag.

Valerie is wearing a Parkhust hat; aluminum pin from the flea market; vintage I.B. Diffusion sweater (also from the flea market; top to bottom there are no repeats in the design, which probably indicated a highly skilled pattern maker, and may also have been a challenge for the knitting machine); yellow cotton gloves (Metropolitan Vintage Show); Betsey Johnson dress (thrift shop); Arche shoes (resale shop).


  1. Both of those exhibits look very cool, especially the portraiture one - what a nice way to spend a birthday (Jean: I want to know what your other presents were!). Valerie, you have the most divine collection of sweater coats, and I love the shot of you sliding down the bannister! I totally get what you mean about museum gift shops--I can spend almost as much time in them as viewing the exhibits.

  2. Jean Babs,
    Just saw your new short film.
    Remember I knew you when.
    I thought we all signed exclusive life-long contracts with Fraver Films.
    Hope you don't into legal difficulties.
    On the other hand, you might enjoy dressing (I mean addressing) the court.
    Keep in touch, sweetie.
    Mr Lee