Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Weekend in New Haven

By Charles Kessler

I highly recommend New Haven to all art lovers. It's still a bit funky, but it's become a lot better — less crime, more good restaurants and interesting stores, and lots of first-rate music, dance and theater available (we saw the play 4000 Miles at the Long Wharf Theater and loved it). And New Haven is still relatively affordable.
And of course there's Yale – it's gorgeous, the epitome of a Gothic Ivy-league college; and Yale's cultural resources are extraordinary. The Beinecke Rare Book Library, one of the largest collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world, is worth a trip in itself. There is something about this multi-story glass display of books, presented as if they're holy, that's profoundly moving.
Panoramic of the interior of The Beinecke Rare Book Library.
When I visited, there was an comprehensive exhibition of endpapers – Under the Covers: A Visual History of Decorated Endpapers (until May 28th).
William Wordsworth, Winnowings from Wordsworth ..., 188?, Edinburgh. (I can't find the exact size but it was small, about 4 - 5 inches tall.)
Endpapers are sheets of paper pasted to the inside covers of books. It began as a way to protect medieval illuminations from the wear of wood covers, but over time they were used for purely decorative purposes. This exhibition traces the development of endpapers from their beginning, in medieval times, until the present – all from the Beineke's own collection.

There's also the Yale Center for British Art, the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom with a collection of about 2000 paintings and 200 sculptures. Not being a great fan of most British art, I didn't go there again this time.

And then there's Yale's outstanding encyclopedic museum where I spent most of my time. I wrote about the Yale Art Gallery last year, soon after they opened the newly restored and much enlarged new space. This trip I was able to spend more time on individual works.
Marcel Duchamp, American, Tu m’, 1918, oil on canvas, with bottlebrush, safety pins, and bolt, 27 1/2 x 119 5/16 inches (gift of the Estate of Katherine S. Dreier – 1953.6.4). 
Tu m' is Marcel Duchamp's farewell to painting, and it's a summing up of his past work. I must have seen this painting a dozen times over the years, but I've focused on its conceptual aspects. I never realized how beautifully painted it is – how delicate and sensual.
Detail: Marcel Duchamp, Tu m'.
Detail: Marcel Duchamp, Tu m'. (Duchamp hired a sign painter to paint the hand.)
And after a close examination, I also noticed this strange beading around the bottom edge of the painting like a black gritty caulk.
Detail: Marcel Duchamp, Tu m' (bottom of left side).
I never read anything about this, but you can be sure, knowing what Duchamp scholars are like, someone has written a long brilliant essay on it.

Some of my other "discoveries" from this visit are:
Carlo Crivelli, Saint Peter, ca. 1470, tempera on panel, 11 9/16 x 8  7/16 inches (gift of Hannah D. and Louis M. Rabinowitz – 1959.15.15).
This is a small painting, about letter-size, but I enlarged the photo here so you can see how dramatic it is close up. Saint Peter, as Crivelli depicts him here, is not someone who will easily give up the key to heaven.

Another small painting that I spent time with and savored is this glowing Seurat:
Georges Seurat, Black Cow in a Meadow, ca. 1881, oil on panel, framed: 6 1/8 x 9 1/2 inches
(gift of Walter J. Kohler – 1969.96.1).
This Andrea del Sarto is on loan so the Yale Gallery website doesn't have a reproduction of it, but luckily I was able to take a pretty good photo. I was struck by how modern it looks.
Andrea del Sarto, Portrait of Bernardo Accolti, c. 1528-30, oil on panel (private collection).
According to the typically informative wall label, Andrea painted this rapidly from a memory of meeting Bernardo Accolti about fifteen years earlier. Remarkable!

I also paid more attention to this Manet, a painting obviously influenced by Goya's Clothed Maja. 
Édouard Manet, Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume, 1862–63, oil on canvas, framed: 46 7/8 x 54 5/16 inches (bequest of Stephen Carlton Clark – 1961.18.33).
Detail: bottom right, Édouard Manet, Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume. 
I know, I know, I'm a sucker, but I'm totally charmed by the playful kitten on the bottom right.

There were also several temporary exhibitions, and two of my favorites were:
Red Grooms: Larger Than Life (until March 30th) – his fun homage to the great artists of the twentieth century.
Installation view, Red Grooms: Larger Than Life.
This show was all from Yale's own collection and included several very large paintings and twenty preparatory cartoons and other drawings.
Red Grooms, Cedar Bar, 1986, colored pencil, colored crayons, and watercolor on five sheets of paper, mounted to board and framed in artist's wood frame, framed:119 1/2 x 324 x 3 inches (Charles B. Benenson Collection – 2006.52.56). 
And finally, Byobu: The Grandeur of Japanese Screensan exquisite exhibition of Japanese screens, mainly from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Every one of them was breathtaking. This show was filled out by work from private collections.
Flowering Cherry with Poem Slips, Japanese, Edo period, 17th century. Right screen from a pair of six-panel folding screens: ink, mineral color, gold, and silver on paper (collection of Peggy and Richard M. Danziger).


Carl Belz said...

You encourage to rethink "Tu m'. It looks real fine, visually as well as conceptually engaging, and highly ambitious, as though it might compete with the "Large Glass" for masterpiece status in the Duchamp oeuvre, which I've never thought before. Could that be possible?

Charles Kessler said...

I think so, Carl. Tu m' might not be as complex, innovative and edgy as the Large Glass, but it's a pretty great painting.