Friday, May 28, 2004

Day Off

So I had clocked in 40 hours already this week and swore that I would take Friday off for a long-deserved long weekend. Kate and I are supporters of the SAM (Seattle Art Museum) and they are about to launch their big summer show tomorrow - Van Gogh to Mondrian - Modern Art from the Kroller-Muller Museum and we got a member-advanced look.

Kate and I are spoiled with art museums, in part because of our proximity to the Art Institute of Chicago for many, many years. SAM is much smaller, tucked into the top three floors of a narrow endcap of a city block (its slender frame is more pronounced since they have leveled the buildings uphill of it for a new skyscraper). Yet despite its size, I am always exhausted after a museum walk in the SAM - the exhibits are well-thought-out and challenging, the presentation is solid, and it hosts a mix of cultural styles and historical periods as well as modern art and installations. (OK, they go overboard on their text descriptions - let me tell you about their "Monumental Dynamic Peaches" some time, but its a good museum).

Anyway, Kroller-Muller (yeah, there are umlats in the name which I am doing without) was the daughter of an industrialist that started collecting art, in particularly current art in the early 20th Cent. She felt that the new styles of art allowed presentation of the unseen - motions, emotion, and symbolism, and ranged from the impressionists forward to the postmodernists, with stops at pontilism, cubism, neoplasticism and several other -isms as well.

The press pushes this as the Van Gogh show, and that's the center and heart of it, though it has a lot more. I was struck most by Van Gogh's sketch-work, which was detailed and very, very different from his painting style. You can see the animation of his painted works in his linework, but I was amazed by the underpinning his pen-and-ink work provided for his paintings.

And painting themselves were rich and wonderful. Van Gogh is one of the artists that does not transfer well to the printed page. There is a topographic nature to his work, the thick layering of bright pigments to produce a solid coherency. His works feel like they are in motion, and they are full of life. Even his still lifes and landscapes, absent of human forms, have a lived-in look that makes them look populated.

(I mention this because the exhibit kicks off with a group of pointilists, whose dot-based form to create color and shape produces wonderful work (all presented here seemed to be influenced by Seurat and A Sunday on the Grand Jette), yet they all seemed unihabited - even those pieces with human figures have them turned-away or indifferent, and the pictures themselves empty as a result.

There is a section on architecture and furnishings which appealed to the engineer in me (though I noted many patrons, after getting their Van Gogh jones, moving to the exits) and the exhibit finishes with the shapes and colors of Mondrian and his brethren, where modern art unmoors entirely from representation and drifts off into the darkest wilderness, into lands where you need both a translator and native guide to follow. All in all, its a very good exhibition.

Also there for the next two weeks is Only Skin Deep, an exhibit on photgraphy and race. Taking up one-half of a floor, this is photographs, videos, and other media showing presentation how racial groups look at each other. This exhibit I found both intriguing and troubling, as it underscored for me how easy it is to cull out one group from the herd of humanity for persecution, and how easily the medium bends to accommodate. It left me disturbed, but I recommend it - If you're a local and you haven't done the SAM, this is a good time to do it.

After a late, late lunch (Ivar's), we hiked up the hill to the new Library. The Monkey King liked it but refered to it as "The IKEA Library". I was interested in seeing it, and Kate was tolerant but dubious. Oddly enough, afterwards Kate was excited by the building and I was less impressed.

In general shape, the building looks like the conning tower of Imperial Star Destroyer. Indeed, stepping off the elevator into the 5th floor "Mixing Room"/Catalog Hub, you step out onto a catwalk overlooking two floor below you. At that point I leaned on the railing and said "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this library installation". Kate giggled.

What won Kate over was the spiral, the fact that the floors of the stacks continued to coil upward, forming effectively one large multileveled room four stories high. I found the uneven floors unsettling, and brilliant colors (lime-yellow escalators, brilliant red stairways) off-putting. I probably will warm to it as I figure out how it works as a system (we both got library cards, since we're not officially part of Renton (which is not part of the Seattle Library system)). They are still figuring out some of the systems and how things really work (We had a long talk with an excited and exhausted librarian about some of the teething problems).

Then home for a nap (I told you the museum always is a big energy drain, and we topped it off with an uphill hike) and another episode of Firefly. And there was an interesting message to the site. But more about that next time.