Sunday, December 4, 2011

Independence and Youth -- The Rubin Museum and the Brooklyn Museum

Before I set up this blog, I did my blogging on a fetish website. It's a rather strange fetish website, but I like it.

I figure I'll give you the link to my old diary over there, just in case you'd like to see it. If you aren't into the fetish, don't worry. I don't expect people to be into anybody else's fetishes. I'm definitely not into certain fetishes myself.

Baby's First Art Book

The website, Sissy Kiss, is devoted to people who like to do ageplay and transvestism. In ageplay, the participants generally take on the roles of baby and parent or child and parent. I generally liked to think of myself as a baby. Thus, over at Sissy Kiss, I adopted the avatar of Preemie -- in other words, a prematurely born baby.

In real life, I actually was born prematurely. And I've kind of been weak and small all my life. I also feel like I've never actually quite gotten all the way into the world, like my soul never quite had enough time to get stuck in my body before I was born. So the avatar of Preemie has a special meaning for me. So I decided to keep that as the avatar I used for this blog.

Anyhow, the reason I bring all this up is because -- well, for one, because I'm noticing that I do have a few people, not a ton, but a few people in Europe and a few people in Asia, following my blogs on a somewhat regular basis. So I figure it's probably better that I have the fetish aspect of myself out in the open sooner rather than later. That way, people know what kind of person they're dealing with before they get too attached to me.

But the other reason I wanted to bring this stuff up and give you guys the link to my old blog was because of what this particular blog post is all about: my trips to the Rubin Museum of Art on Wednesday and to the Brooklyn Museum of Art today.

You'll notice, when/if you read my previous blog, that basically all that blog is about is the visual arts. And you'll notice, when you read this blog, that this blog is all about books. So it was pretty unusual for me to head to a museum twice this week, and actually to have had enough presence of mind to hold images in my head long enough to form opinons about them.

There are a few reasons this blog is all about books. First of all -- in June of 2011, I had a huge nervous breakdown and quit my job. I'm really thankful I quit it the way I did. I stood up, walked out of the office, called my human resources department, and told them I was never coming back into work again. Then my boss called me up on the phone, and I yelled like crazy at him for about ten minutes straight.

Now, while I'm not glad that I yelled like crazy at my boss -- it probably got me blacklisted from working in any position like I'd been working at ever, ever again -- I am glad that I got out of the office before my anger really got the best of me. Because I was chair-throwing angry.

I won't try to guess at what got me so angry. The fact is, I got angry, I left, and I pretty much got blacklisted. And, ever since, I've been running out of money, bit by bit. So going to the museums once or twice a weekend has kind of become less and less of an option.

But in New York, there are plenty of museums you can get into for next to no money. I don't go to those museums, either. Because, as an effect of this nervous breakdown I've had, I've found myself becoming more and more afraid of people and social settings. I can hardly leave my house. When I go outside, I get scared as hell. I feel like everybody is against me.

Worst of all is when I go to museums. It seems like all the security guards are focused on me and nobody else. Like they think I'm going to do something crazy. In some museums, I know that the security guards just think I'm interesting. I spend a long time looking at paintings. Some security guards tell me they think it's great that I'm so interested in paintings. But that's not always the case.

I remember going to Philadelphia, when a museum there had the exhibit of the restored "Gross Clinic" painting by Thomas Eakins. One of the security guards talked with me for a good couple minutes about how she liked some of the paintings as well, and how interesting she thought the whole painting restoration process was.

But on the same day, I was walking through the Asian art section of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and there was a horrible security guard there. He was flirting, I guess, with a female security guard. But he would run into one room, cry out, "Oh, shit!," then run back into the room with the female security guard. He'd do this over and over again, until I finally left the room.

But of all the museums I've been to, the Museum of Modern Art, and its sister museum, PS1, are by far the worst for the security guards. I've stopped going to those museums altogether.

But the people at the Rubin Museum have always been nice to me. And the people at the Brooklyn Museum are always very nice.

Nevertheless, I still haven't gone to those museums very much, either. Not just because I don't have any money. And I don't. I'm seriously wondering whether I'm going to starve to death like Thomas Otway in Johnson's Lives of the Poets. I might. But I won't have left anything meaningful behind. Otway did.

But, really, I don't go to museums anymore because I've become so afraid of people and social settings, that I can't quite bring myself out into the world anymore.

So it was a surprise to me that I was actually able to get to two museums this week, and that I was actually able to pay attention to them.

I went to the Rubin Museum kind of by accident. I'd gotten some temporary work -- about six days' work over a three week period. But nobody wanted to give me a paycheck for the work. So, on Wednesday I had to come up into town so I could fight like crazy just to get my paycheck. Once it was pretty certain I was going to get my check, I went to the Rubin to while away the hours before I could actually pick up my check.

The Rubin Museum is a lovely museum. It's in a kind of obscure area for museums. It's on 17th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan. A few blocks west and north, it would be in the prime area for art galleries. But it's nowhere near the major museums, such as MoMA, the Met, and the Guggenheim. Nevertheless, it's one of the most beautiful museums in the city. And it has a spacious, clean, lovely cafe.

The museum has six floors of exhibitions. Each floor has a different theme. And each floor can hold about sixty pieces of work. So you really get to see a lot. A couple of the lower floors are devoted to exhibiting items from the permanent collection. The upper floors are dedicated to temporary exhibitions.

Right now, the sixth floor is all about paintings from India. And this is what I spent all my time on when I went to the Rubin. The paintings are all from 1947, when India became independent, through the present. I don't know the most recent painting on display, actually. The most recent one that caught my eye was from 1983.

This painting -- if I'm remembering my dates correctly -- was of a group of workers walking across a bridge. Behind them, past the bridge, could be seen a small town on a cliffside. The workers walking up from the bridge were all very slim, dark, with gaunt features. The main character in the painting held his arms behind himself, his left arm bent and holding his straight right arm. It was a moving painting, even though the style of depth description isn't my favorite.

But the really fabulous paintings, in my opinion, were the glamorous, elegant portraits of women. Some of these portraits, actually, were of working-class women. Painting these women, making them into subjects of art, was actually thought to be quite a controversial practice in India at these times -- I guess in the late 1950s and early 1960s -- that was the time period that seemed to move me the most. But, despite the choice of model, the portraits were glamorous.

One painting, by Gullam Rasool Santosh, was almost all white. The white was a kind of washy paint, brushed over a beige or pale tan surface. The woman in the portrait was hardly more than a set of smooth, elegant lines, finessed into this white, washy paint. Yet everything was executed so wonderfully that the minimal lines were sensual and alluring, and the contrast of the washy white and the beige colors gave a sense of fleshiness and weight to the body.

Near the woman's shoulders, and, I think, somwhere below her midsection, were two lines of pink squares, almost like tiles, but more like the jumbled-up shapes one might see in a Cubist landscape. This painting was, in fact, like a blend between the cubist style, the minimalist style of Matisse' sketches, and Modigliani. I loved it.

Another painter who really interested me was Maqbool Fida Husain. There are two paintings by Husain that I liked a whole lot. But I only remember one right now. This one was of a Muslim woman, seated, wearing blue, and against a blue background. The woman was wearing the traditional hair-covering, and her face was revealed. But, while she wore the traditional head-covering, she also wore a dark-blue miniskirt. It was an interesting mix of traditional and modern.

But what also interests me about the painting is that the woman is holding up the first two fingers of her right hand, almost as if she were in a Buddhist pose. I don't know enough about Islam to know if this two-fingered gesture is a part of Islam as well. I think some Hindu gods may make it as well. So maybe it is also a Muslim gesture. But it strikes me as being very Buddhist.

But what's also interesting about it is -- the woman's hand is shrouded even more than her face is. Her hair is covered and her face is in shade. The whole painting is in a kind of thick-lined, Van Gogh-esque style. But the face is visible and full of expression. But the hand seems kind of patchily painted, and it's set in a well of darkness. I don't know why that is. But it's very interesting to me.

Another painter who interested me was, I believe, a female painter named B. Prabha. There were two paintings that really struck me. One was of a reclining woman. In an otherwise naturalistic setting, this woman was painted with blue skin.

The woman is reclining in some brown setting, a very vague setting. A railing behind her actually breaks off midway through the painting and reappears a bit later, bent upward and at a higher location.

The woman wears a red blouse which exposes her shapely midriff and a tight, white skirt that goes down just below her knees. Her dark, black hair is parted in the middle and tied in a ponytail behind her head. But what's also interesting about this painting is that the woman's forehead is a paler shade of blue, so pale, it almost makes her forehead look transparent. For such a naturalistic painting, there are so many things that make this woman look so mystical.

Another really beautiful painting by B. Prabha is of a woman in a yellow dress. The woman is very dark skinned and very, very slim. Her yellow dress is even slimmer than she is. The woman's left breast is even exposed. The woman again seems to be standing in front of some vague, brownish background. But there is, I believe, something near her, something like a spinning wheel.

Another female artist who interested me was Arpita Singh. The painting by her that I liked was of a kind of stout woman with short hair. She almost looked like Gertrude Stein, with her Caesar's haircut. But the woman in A. Singh's painting had much more expressive eyes than Gertrude Stein -- even more expressive than Picasso's Gertrude Stein, before the Caesar cut.

A. Singh's female subect wears a dress filled with full roses. The roses dash about her dress in a crisp way, like the upholstery backgrounds in some of Van Gogh's portraits. The background, even the chair, of A. Singh's painting has, I believe, a similar motif -- the almost two-dimensional iconicism of imagery serving as a painterly upholstery. But I can't remember what the imagery actually is.

The final artist to have really caught my attention was a man by the name of K. Ramanujam. There was only one painting by him. But it was really fabulous. It was of a gigantic, purplish-blue monster rising out of the fog. The fog itself was a purplish grey-blue. The gigantic monster rose up into a dark purple night sky, and stood so that the yellow moon served almost as a halo for the behemoth.

The monster had the body of a man. But its head was altogether different. It was like a bull mixed with a tiger. But it had tusks like an elephant. It had furry whiskers and huge, cat-like ears. It had orange and black eyes, too googly-eyed to be anything either human or animal. They were the eyes of another sort of creature altogether. And atop this monster's head were a man and a woman, dressed like a fine, classical gentleman and lady. They strike me, now, as having been almost childishly drawn, with a lot of bright green outlines.

Unfortunately, K. Ramanujam was, if I understood the museum text correctly, a schizophrenic. He killed himself at a very young age. So the world was deprived of the fanciful genius of this painter. But I'm sure, based on this painting, that everything we have by K. Ramanujam should be treasured.

I've been meaning to go to the Brooklyn Museum of Art for a while, now, to see their exhibit called Youth and Beauty. This exhibit is all about paintings from America during the 1920s. There are quite a few paintings in the exhibit, and of all different styles. Some styles struck me as flat.

Unfortunately, there is a whole section of the exhibit devoted to the paintings of Thomas Hart Benton, but nobody seems to pay any attention to it. It's not so surprising to me. Benton's style is kind of flat, and the color schemes don't seem to have any direction. Nothing catches and anchors the eye.

It's kind of interesting that this is the case. As I remember things, Benton influenced and taught Jackson Pollock. Now, Jackson Pollock's paintings could easily be misconstrued as having no direction at all. And yet, while it's easy to see how Benton's paintings have a conception of direction, and how they're full of things happening, there really isn't any sense of direction. Whereas, in Pollock's abstract expressionist paintings, everything has a direction. The eye is caught and directed through the painting.

Benton may have been a theorist and a teacher, while Pollock was the genius who learned how to apply Benton's principles. Or -- perhaps Benton and Pollock didn't have anything to do with each other and I'm just making an ass out of myself. I make an ass of myself at least once a day. I might just go for a triple-ass today.

There are some other really clasic works. There are at least two paintings by Edward Hopper, a mainstay in New York museums, I guess. But it's still always really lovely to see his works. Here there are a painting of an apartment, seen through three windows, and the painting of Lighthouse Hill, where the white lighthouse and the living quarters, I suppose, for the lighthouse keeper stand atop a grassy hill under a blue sky and in the golden light of the sun.

There are a number of good paintings by Georgia O'Keefe. There's an O'Keefe painting in what one would think is the classical O'Keefe style -- two lush, leafy calla lilies against a soft, bright pink background. The twirling lily petals take up almost the whole view with their billowing whiteness and yellow tongues. But the pink behind it all is the real support for the whole scene.

But there are also a number of pre-vaginal paintings by O'Keefe on display. Of course -- let me break off for just a moment to give you my quick opinion on the Brooklyn Museum. Not this one temporary exhibit, but pieces from the permanent collection.

The permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum is packed full of magnificent treasures. But there are four reasons that the Brooklyn Museum will always hold a place in my heart.

First: Georgia O'Keefe's painting of the Brooklyn Bridge, which is in the abstract style that I generally think of as the vaginal style, but the subject of which is so -- so -- what it is -- the Brooklyn Bridge. It's the perfect representation of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Second: Rothko's painting of people standing out on a platform, waiting for the subway. It, again, is an interestingly unique view of Rothko's paintings. It's not two squares of pure color. It's figures. But the figures are so unique. It's like -- if Edward Munch were to have taken photographs of people for a newspaper, and then Rothko were to have cut them out and pasted them into a German Expressionist film set of a subway platform -- topped off with a technicolor scheme by Rothko himself. It that description gives you vertigo, you should see the painting!

Third: Hopper's painting of the Macombe's Dam Bridge. It's a very lovely painting, with low, steel bridge, a nature scene in the foreground, and a city scene in the background.

Fourth: The Cuzco, Peru paintings of the Saints and other Christian subjects, including, I believe, the young Jesus Christ. These paintings are a blend of Spanish Renaissance style, Peruvian vegetative boisterousness, and the fragility of porcelain dolls. They are among the closest things to holy paintings that I can imagine.

Now, I said all this because I was first thinking of that painting by Georgia O'Keefe of the Brooklyn Bridge. And I'm always keeping in mind one of those things that Marshall McLuhan always said --

-- by the way, another reason I liked Michael Collins' book Carrying the Fire was because he mentioned Marshall McLuhan not once, but twice.

-- one of those things that Marshall McLuhan always said, that things are falling out of the collective mind and then being recalled to the collective mind. I'm always on the lookout, not for any practical purpose, but just for the fun of it, to see what may be recalled. I don't think I'll ever be good at seeing new trends. But I have fun trying to find out what old retro is becoming the new retro.

And, walking through the Youth and Beauty exhibit today, it seems like Georgia O'Keefe's non-vaginal works must be trying to get recalled as a new retro trend. Almost all the museum texts I read were talking about Georgia O'Keefe's city-scapes and town scenes and what not, all these pre-Southwest, pre-vaginal-flower kind of works.

Even one of the works that was obviously southwestern -- of a huge silver cross, with a blazing white underside, towering over lavender mountains and a turquoise-to-cobalt sky -- had a long discussion about O'Keefe's non-southwestern works.

But there were a couple really striking works by O'Keefe that had Eastern United States settings. One I can't remember very well (and, of course, I call it striking). It was right next to Hopper's Lighthouse Hill painting, which took up more of my attention. But O'Keefe's painting was of a couple of slate-grey buildings near a river. It was strikingly unlike Georgia O'Keefe's famous style.

But the most astounding work by Georgia O'Keefe was of the East River. It was an incredible view. The sun was high up in the sky. But it had blue as its center. Only the corona of the sun was yellow. It was like the sun was almost invisible in the sky!

The beams spreading forth from the sun, too, were blue -- they were like pale blue slashes in the less-pale blue sky. And there were glimmers of white (a photography by-product O'Keefe translated into her painting) speckling the close proximity of the yellow corona and boiling-blue center of the sun.

Down below, in the background of the painting, a charred black cityscape of factories and buildings was billowing up smoke, just behind the shore of the East River. The East River itself was colored bright red, in darting waves which wove outward, like the outline of a ziggurat, eventually breaking into pure silver and blue waters.

I can't -- only these few hours later -- remember what the near foreground depicted. Crap. Nevertheless, despite my inability to recall it, the painting was very moving.

Another artist who seems to be gaining in popularity, at least in the Brooklyn Museum, is Joseph Stella. The third floor of the Museum, other than housing the Museum's Egyptian and Assyrian artifacts, has a gigantic atrium, the walls of which are full of European and American paintings from around the 1300s, all the way through the present.

One of the paintings recently installed, I believe, was a painting of the Virgin Mary, by Joseph Stella, an American who was active in the 1920s and 1930s, and maybe later. This painting is incredibly colorful. The Virgin Mary seems to be surrounded by some kind of sunny, Mediterranean land and seascape. The painting is twined all about with vines, citrus fruits, and colorful birds. It's a really spiritual picture. It's colorful and original and unique.

So the Youth and Beauty exhibition has two great paintings by Stella. (Stella!) One is called The Birth of Venus. In the painting, Venus springs forth from a flower, which itself is springing forth from a gigantic seashell plunging upward from the sea. The seashell itself is an intricately colorful maze and spiral of interlocking shells, some of which twist into and out of each other like caverns, and others of which flow into and out of each other like waterfalls.

All down in the water are, not schools, but armies of all different imaginable kinds of brilliantly colorful, tropical fish. The fish are all directing their sharp, darting faces up toward Venus. The fish look like spears, ready to shoot upward, to be flung like arrows, at Venus' request. This is very much like the last poem of Cowley's Mistress cycle, where the Mistress stands waist deep in the water, and all the fish swim around her waist.

But in this painting, Venus doesn't realy extend below the waist. Venus herself is thin, svelte, sharply elegant and sharply beautiful. She extends her elbows upwards and flings her hands back to arrange her fresh, thick hair. Her face gazes up toward the sun with closed eyes. Her eyelids are sharp, her facial features are sharp -- sharp, but elegant, langourous, luxuriant.

Her torso has a slim, lovely form. Her waist tapers down, but then -- her hips! Her hips, just -- bell outward. They don't curve back inward. It's almost as if Venus doesn't have legs. It's like she's just a part of the flower. Or could she be yet unformed below the waist? Or could she be a mermaid? It's all very strange.

The surface of the water and the sky itself are full of petals, pink petals, and pink flowers, all in different states of wholeness. But off to the far right of the picture is a very strange creature, indeed: a gigantic monarch butterfly, orange and black butterfly wings -- with the face of -- a baby boy!

It's a very strange and lovely painting. I guess it was made for a cosmetics magnate by the name, I believe, of Carl Weeks. Weeks had, apparently, invented a new kind of foundation make-up. This made him really rich. So he commissioned Stella to make a painting for him. The painting was, apparently, based on models who might be found in cosmetics ads. But, really, the woman looks, to me, like some of the more experimental works of Rossetti, or of Gustav Klimt.

Another really lovely painting by Stella is called The Amazon. It's a kind of silly title. But it expresses what Stella wanted to express: the enterprising and commanding spirit of the American Woman. Stella believed, apparently, that the American woman was responsible for a lot of America's settlement of the American West. It took a long time for the truth of that idea to get drilled into people's heads. And in Stella's day maybe it was still a revolutionary idea.

Anyway, the picture is a woman's head in profile. The woman's head takes up almost the entire painting. The woman's face is sharp -- almost as sharp as the face of an American bald eagle. The woman has fair skin and gleaming green eyes. Her hair is blonde near her face, but it quickly fades into a darker brown. Her hair is short, maybe shoulder-length. It sweeps back romantically.

The woman wears a contemporary-style red sweater and a purple shawl, fastened in place at her collarbone by an orange, black, and silver pendant. The purple shawl has green and red vegetative designs stitched onto it. And, right where the pendant meets the woman's collarbone, the purple mountains of the background meet the gleaming line of the sea. It's as if the woman has her own fashion, as well as the landscape, fastened to herself, right at the point of her pendant. The sky is a dark, deep, and rich blue.

Another really lovely painting is a very large landscape, called Dead Chestnut, by Ross Braugh. This painting is incredibly intricate, full of color. The dead chesnut tree takes up most of the picture, although a very interesting set of hills and farmland make up the lively background.

But, really, the liveliest thing about this painting is that massive dead chestnut tree. The tree is a study in textures, light, shadow, the effects of light and shadow on color, and the effects of foregrounds elements in the fragmentation of background elements.

But what I stood there forever looking at was, really, the lovely coloration. The branches cast purple shadows, blue shadows, green shadow. Some of the limbs, in complete shadow, may be silvery, dark grey, purple. Some are green with phantom outlines of fiery red-orange. Some of the upper, peripheral branches are painted in a kind of maroon or burgundy that almost borders on the translucent!

The twisting, muscular trunk, limbs, and branches are all silvery, silvery-tan, or sandy colored. Sometimes the tree is mottled. Other times it is rippled like a flexed stomach. Other times it is smooth as polished steel.

The last really lovely painting I'd like to describe is by a woman named Florine Stettheimer. I believe the painting was called Natatorium Undine. The painting basically showed a fantasy swimming pool in some kind of palace. The painting is done in a sketchy, scratchy style, like Chagall's. But the style is also waifish and slender.

The sky is barely visible above -- a pale pink sky, with a moon-like sun blazing whitely in the center. But the swimming area is mostly surrounded by billowing, but not intrusive, green curtains, almost like elegant shower curtains.

The pool takes up most of the view. The water is shimmery and pinkish white. On either side of the pool are garden-like patios. The patios are bordered by twirly railings and spidery plants.

In the patio on the left a band full of copper-skinned men in white suits are playing some kind of jazz music, I'd suppose. In the patio on the right, a gigantic, copper skinned man in a white tank top and shorts is standing on a pedestal and dancing. A number of women, most of whom are very thin, are dancing along with the man.

In the pool itself, one woman is diving off of some fantastic, towering springboard, atop which is a tiny, little platform serving, I suppose, as a diving board. Another woman has already jumped from the board and is already swimming in the shimmery, pink water.

Other women are using either animals or objects like animals and shells to drift through the water. One woman is swimming on a gigantic, green turtle named "Daddy." Another woman is stretched out in a gigantic, white shell. Another woman is riding a gigantic, golden fish-dragon type of animal named "Baby." Another woman is riding a blue, unicorn-swan type of animal named "Mercy." Down near the bottom of the painting, a woman is riding on a pink dragon-swan animal.

The women are all rather thin, and are all wearing squarish-styled bathing suits. Some of the bathing suits are white. Some are gold. Some are striped red and black.

Up in the upper left corner, some women lounge around just a ways away from the pool, on the ground or in deck chairs, wearing pointy-topped, Chinese-style (I guess) hats. Up at the very top of the painting, a big, fat person is receiving a massage from a dark skinned woman in a bathing suit. The big, fat person isn't wearing anything except a gigantic towel or sheet, which seems to tatter itself loosely all over the person's body.

Of course, the strange, surreal, yet exquisitely feminine style of this fantasy world is just like something I could imagine as the setting for an ageplay or baby fantasy I'd act out.

There are definitely a lot more paintings of interest. I just don't have the energy to write about them all tonight. In short -- there are two great paintings by Winold Reiss. One is called The Prophet. Another is of a woman whose name I can't remember. The Prophet is a wonderful painting. But the painting of the woman is fabulous. The woman's facial expression, her dress, and the way Reiss has outlined her in varying tints of purple and blue, are all phenomenal.

There are also some paintings by a man named Charles Demuth. He seems to have taken the line and angles idea of the Cubists and the landscape ideas of Edward Hopper and combined them -- somehow, without really combining them at all -- and with adding a sense of line reminiscent of artists like Jessie Willcox Smith.

There is a really interesting painting of a woman in man's clothing, by a woman named Romaine Brooks. I like the painting a whole lot. There are also photographs by Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Margarethe Mather, and Man Ray. There is also a wonderful painting -- but I can't remember the artist -- of a man and daughter. I believe the man's name is Osborne Marvin. The man's face is very powerful. But the woman is soft, beautiful, hypnotic.