Thursday, March 18, 2010
Broken Umbrellas, Illuminated Manuscripts
"Broken umbrellas like dead birds." This Waits line was on my tongue last week on my brief trip to New York. I left rain for more rain and on Saturday's walk back from Chelsea I passed at least twenty black umbrellas scattered about Seventh Avenue in under three blocks. Memorable, but lead to relapse of the nasty cold I caught in February's monsoon which bloomed nicely into Bronchitis. That, combined, with leaving my computer behind is to blame for this retro-post.
The main goal of the trip was to see the display of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, a 15th century illuminated manuscript that is on display at the Morgan Library. Normally rare books are on display two pages at a time, if at all, but a rare showing of many of the pages is currently on view. At the end of the show, the book will be rebound and probably stashed away in the vault. Included in the show is a touchable complete reproduction of the entire book, which will continue to be for sale in the gift shop, untouchable, for a the low low price of $15,000. Though I object that only the truly rich have that sort of pocket change for a glorified Kinkos (well, it did have gold leaf, and was probably made by hand...) I perhaps learned the most by having the simulated experience of flipping through the entire book of hours, page by page.
I also caught a completing show at the Met, "The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry." Not to be outdone, the Met's show was larger in scope, spread out across an area roughly four times the size of the Morgan show, with many pages displayed front and back in vertical glass cases. The shows were equally incredible opportunities to see two equally rare and famous books. The effect of looking at all of those miniatures was exhausting. I can normally stay all day in a museum, but after two hours in the Met, I had literally absorbed a hundred incredibly rich paintings.
Both the Met and the Morgan museums also had concurrent drawing exhibits. I'm a big fan of Bronzino, so the show of his drawings was a draw at the Met. It's always fantastic to see drawings in person; reproductions rarely come close, and of course I always think of that docent at the Albertina who assured me otherwise. Though it's great to live in the immediacy of the hand of the master, Bronzino's drawings were clearly never intended to be shown and do not begin to compare to the complexity of his finished paintings. There were scraps, sketches, and many drawings were covered by grids used by assistants as to enlarge for his murals. The show was small, three rooms, and really was more of an interesting curiosity. It was the Morgan this time that trumped the Met with its drawing show, "Rome after Raphael." Though less cohesive in theme, the Morgan's show was of simply better drawings, even by lesser known artists.
Of course, I did my fair share of galleries. I try to always stop at the Forum, and was surprised by the crustiness of Bernardo Siciliano's paintings. Also, the grid he must use to transfer his images from photographs was very evident at times, which I wonder if he views as a conceptual part of his paintings. Ross Bleckner at Mary Boone was nearly sold out, with each painting at 125-150K each. Some of the paintings had a really nice presence through scale and the blur. In Chelsea, I mostly got very, very, wet so I did not see a lot but I'm usually not impressed by shows with two-three sculptures in the big white box. There were a few more at Gagosian, but the space was pretty cold. Last, I confess I skipped the Whitney Biennial again. The trip was just too short, and I used the time to linger near the Courbet paintings in the Met.
Cheers to the fast Fung-Wah, and here's a link to a great online resource of the Morgan Library, Corsair. Photo dedicated to Stefan and Ella.