Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Cloisters (+ David Lynch, Jonathan Franzen and celebrity minister sex...)

The Unicorn in Captivity, around 1500, The Cloisters, New York

The Trie Cloister. Capitals: Late 15th century. Fountain: Different elements from around 1500.

A page from the Limbourg Brother's Belles Heures, about 1410

The Langon Chapel. Original parts of the stonework: 12th century. (Photo: James Muspratt)

The first semester I spent in New York, I was struggling to deal with my new situation as a mediocre (at best!) dance student among so many talented dancers. But I worked hard in class, and when I was not too exhausted from that, I would explore the city by foot. I also watched dance shows and film, moved around by subway, ate my lunches in Union Square, had very little money, and lived with many different roommates in crappy apartments. - Without ever reflecting on how this move from my well organized life at my parents' house, in the outskirts of Europe, actually affected me.

I just happened to notice something very peculiar when I visited The Cloisters one crisp and beautiful autumn day.

It was not a religious experience, and I did not yet have any particular interest in the art I saw there. It must just have been that big transition from busy downtown everyday life to those quiet and beautiful surroundings on that hill way up north on Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River.

The calm and inspired state I reached that day when I looked at the beautiful unicorn tapestries, walked through the sensuous gardens and experienced the magnificent light and sacred ambience in the different chapels, is something that I ever since then have thought of as "The Cloister Mood".

*   *   *

This blog is supposed to be about art and sometimes about poetry (and I do not want the posts to be too long for people to bother reading them), but today I feel a strong need to write a little something about sex and literature... (Feel free to stop reading right here, because the sex-part will not be particularly sensational, I'm afraid.)

Thinking about the sacred feeling I got that long time ago at The Cloisters, I would like to tell you about reading one of the Norwegian tabloids when I was in Oslo about a week ago.

I had just finished the memoir "Eat, Pray, Love", in which I found the "Pray" part most interesting (where the protagonist struggles with her meditation). And the night before I had heard David Lynch speak about meditation and creative work. He was stopping in Oslo on a book tour, at the same time as Jonathan Franzen was there to present his last novel, "Freedom". (Two very big names in such a provincial capital at the same time!)

So in that paper (which is a curious mix of gaudy tabloid with a well informed culture section), there was a piece on David Lynch ("mild and kind" - almost like a minister?), and there was one on Jonathan Franzen, who talked about the novel as salvation (not the exact term he used, though) from our busy lives that are so dense with digital information. The novel, he said, makes us sit down for long, quiet periods, and it gives us a precious chance to reflect.

But the front page of that paper - in which these two great artists put forth eternal (almost religious) values (love, beauty, centeredness, reflection) - was covered by a minister from the Church of Norway, the "celebrity minister" Einar Gelius. That day he made top news for having published a book about sex in the bible, in which he apparently hails pornography and elaborates on his private sexual preferences.

I'm all for sex, don't misunderstand. And obviously this rebel minister does not represent the Church of Norway in this case. It is just a pity that the Church of Norway does not manage to get more publicity about what it has to offer on the matters of which David Lynch and Jonathan Franzen spoke in the same paper: Love, beauty, meditation and reflection.

(... And I am aware that putting the sex-word in the heading of this post may be deemed as speculative as putting the "celebrity minister" on the front page of that paper...)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Georgia O'Keeffe

"Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona 1937"
(© Trustees of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust Collection Center for Creative Photography)

The woman with the sly and teasing look in her eyes is Georgia O'Keeffe, photographed by Ansel Adams  in 1937. He has said the following about this photograph:

“I remember that we watched a group of Navajos riding their horses westward along the wash edge, and we could occasionally hear their singing and the echoes from the opposite cliffs. The cedar and pinyon forests along the plateau rim were gnarled and stunted and fragrant in the sun. The Southwest is O'Keeffe's land; no one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.” (Collaborative Arts Resources for Education)

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Ram's Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills", 1935, Brooklyn Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, "Ranchos Church No. 1", 1929, Norton Museum of Art

Ansel Adams, "Saint Francis Church Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico", c. 1929
Gelatin silver print, 13 5/16 x 17 9/16 inches Collection Center for Creative Photography,
University of Arizona © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Do you see how she simplifies the New Mexican landscape in her paintings?
And how her version of the Ranchos church is even more stringent than Adams's black and white photograph of the same church?
She shows us the beauty in those very basic architectural shapes.

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Red Poppy", 1927

"Georgia O'Keeffe" Philippe Halsman,
Gelatin silver print, 1967
Halsman Family Collection,
Image Copyright the Estate of Philippe Halsman

Her close-up of a red poppy is my favorite, but I must admit that when I first discovered her art, sometime around 1990, I was most fascinated with her as a strong and independent woman, living on her own in her beautiful Ghost Ranch house. That bottom portrait is particularly stunning, I think. Seeing her wise expression and beautiful face makes me a little better able to love my own wrinkles.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ansel Adams

© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

I am probably not the only one who has come to appreciate art through enjoyment of black and white photography. The reason why, I think, is the rendering of light. Black and white photographs show us how important light is to any visual experience, and in doing this, they have something in common with impressionist-inspired paintings like the one I showed in a former post. Somehow, the importance of light becomes more apparent in black and white photos than in color photos. Probably because of the substantial degree of abstraction that is at work when colors are replaced by shades of gray.

The first few years I lived in New York, I used to go to the International Center of Photography quite often. And Ansel Adams was a favorite artist. I had a calendar with his photographs in my kitchen. I even visited Yosemite and Death Valley on a cross country trip, to get a live experience of the beauty Adams had shown me. Those places are definitely beautiful, but I didn't quite manage to see them the same way in real life.

I have uploaded a version of the top picture which is quite detailed (hopefully it is not too large for your connection...). But standing in front of the original print is obviously totally different. You just have to imagine seeing all the rich details and depth of shade in "Moon and half Dome", Yosemite National Park, 1960. And can you see how well the shades of gray sculpt the dunes in "Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Monument, California, 1948"?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ernesto Neto

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery 1997

Imagine walking around in a small gallery space, between streched out stockings filled with spice. - The smells, the colors. - Moving carefully...

Ernesto Neto's work made a strong impression the first time I saw it, in 1997, when Tanya Bonakdar Gallery was still located somewhere in Soho where you had to arrive by elevator. It filled the entire room and was quite seductive...

"Simple and light as a dream...the gravity don’t lie...just loves the time", 2006
Installation view fromTanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
Foto: Fabian Birgfeld, photoTECTONICS.
Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

"Simple and light as a dream...[...]" is included in the retrospective currently showing at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo. According to the Norwegian critic Gerd Elise Mørland, the seductive and physical aspects of Neto's work get lost in this big show. Apparently, there just isn't the same possibility to become totally emmersed in the different sculptural installations when they are presented as a collection of separate highlights, rather than sculptural environments that have been created to fill a particular space.

I still checked it out on a trip to Oslo last week, and hoped to be seduced... again...
I enjoyed Neto's almost childish play with gravity, but there was, unfortunately, only one work in which I became completely surrounded by texture and smell, "Stone Lips, Pepper Tits, Clove Love, Fog Frog" from 2008:

Entering across the "Stone Lips" filled with pebbels, into the body that I thought of as the "Fog Frog", I could smell the "Pepper Tits" and the "Clove Love"...

- Magic, and yes; quite sensual...

Photo: Librado Romero/The New York Times
(From The Armory Show)

"Walking in Venus Blue Cave", 2001.

The works in these last two pictures are not included in the Oslo retrospective.

- Can you imagine wandering into the sculpture in The Armory Show?
- Or taking some time off in the "Venus Blue Cave"...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Robert Mapplethorpe

Self Portrait, 1975

Lydia Cheng, 1987

Tulip, 1985

Derrick Cross, 1983,

When I was 19, I went to New York City to study dance. - A big step in many ways: Leaving little Bergen, Norway; getting overwhelming challenges as a dance student; and discovering some amazing art museums.

A Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1988) was the first show I saw.

Look at that playful guy in the top picture.
- Isn't there some of the same playfulness in the next two photos?
Do you see the beautiful lines and proportions? A stringent abstraction is accentuated by the black and white format, particularly in the tulip picture.
- And the way that last photo has been composed: What a beautiful shape...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Skagenmalerne (The painters at Skagen, Denmark)

Peder S. Krøyer, "Sommeraften på Skagen Sønderstrand" 1893, Skagens Museum.

I had a small reproduction of this painting in my room when I was a school girl still living at my parents' house. - At an age when intimate friendship was so important and stylish clothes were a big part of my dreams about the future.

I thought of it as old fashioned, and did not realize how modern it was considered less than a hundred years earlier, when painters had just started to paint outdoors, rendering clean, clear colors in natural light.

Do you see how the soft evening sunlight makes the dresses and the women's necks shine, so quietly?
The beach continues far into the painting, to where the sky and the sea meet. And the ocean is almost completely still, waiting.

This is now...

... when I welcome you to my blog.

I have chosen to call it MOMENT/C because I want to give you a chance to take a moment off from whatever you are doing in front of your screen, -  to see artwork that can let you experience just this moment ... now.