Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grand Rapids Art Museum 1/13/10

It was a beautiful, sunny day today and seeing as I had to renew my membership, I decided to do it in person and visit the museum for a few hours. You all know, or should know, how beautiful the building is, open and airy, and full of natural lighting (and Leed certified). With over 5000 items in storage, the museum rotates some of its art and also brings in other exhibits. So along with revisiting the permanent collection on the third floor, there’s always something new to see. (They are currently hanging a new photography display, and preparing a Calder Jewelry Show - yes, he did small things too.) The “guards” are ever vigilant and I always feel like I’m being stalked (I promise, I won’t touch the art). But I did find a friendly employee who was working on the new photography exhibit and was happy to talk to me.
Within the past five months, I’ve been to The Louvre in Paris, The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and The Art Institute in Chicago. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is none of these but it doesn’t try to be. Instead it’s a little treasure sitting in the middle of downtown, waiting to be discovered. It doesn’t hit you over the head with its art but asks you to explore. Turn a corner and you’ll run into a Renoir oil painting adjacent to a John Singer Sargent watercolor. Down another hall you’ll find two oil paintings depicting the Provincetown Pier on Cape Cod, one in summer and the other in winter (Gerrit Beneke). There’s a beautiful, large 3-panel oil, alkyd & graphite on linen called “Concourse 2007" by Mark Sheinkman. I call it “curling smoke” and it’s mesmerizing. Wood engravings by Winslow Homer hang together, and nearby is a very small exquisite painting by Henry Farny, “Moonlit Indian Encampment”, beautiful in its lighting and detail.
And don’t miss the “Design and Modern Craft” hall. On the other side of the entry wall, you’ll find short film offerings entitled “Modernism and Film.” Take a seat and watch. First up is “Manhatta” from 1920, a 10-minute documentary featuring a day in New York City, with texts by Walt Whitman, and produced by artist Charles Sheeler and photographer Paul Strand. They obviously loved New York City. Next up is the 3-minute “Rhythmus 21", an early abstract work by Hans Richter that features squares and rectangles changing shape, accompanied by a piano and string bass score. The score sounded ominous to me as though the film-maker was warning us about something but that’s just my take. And the last is a 1-minute excerpt from “Modern Times” by Charlie Chaplin, about which nothing else needs to be said.(The first two can be found on YouTube and the third in parts.)
Lastly, I took a final look at “Open Water”, the ArtPrize winner that is on display until the end of month, when it moves to a private collection. (As I am writing this, I see an update that Dick & Betsy DeVos are the purchasers and will leave the work on temporary loan to the museum.) (Update: it now hangs in their restaurant, Reserve). Look on the opposite wall and you will see a short video composed of photos from the larger ArtPrize event accompanied by music taken from performances by the Grand Rapids Symphony of David Lockington’s composition “Celebratory Fantasy Fanfare for ArtPrize.” I wish it had been longer because it was great fun to watch and beautifully accompanied by the music.
So go and explore, and find your own treasures.

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