Thursday, July 26, 2012

Travel and Art: Museums, from Massachusetts to Manhattan

Even though Manhattan’s museums are open all summer, for art-saturated New Yorkers, the hot and sticky season is an excuse for an opportunity to travel and…well, see more art. Just a few hours north of the city, the Berkshires and western Massachusetts contain world-class theater, dance, music and art. Even if one has visited the area for years, there are always places that one has never gotten to before.

Frelinghuysen House and Studio
There’s the Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio, which is next door in Lenox to the Tanglewood Music Festival, a mainstay of many Berkshire summer visits. There’s also, near Amherst, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and the Springfield Museums, located in a town best known for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio is named after American abstract artists Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L.K. Morris, who lived and worked there together until his death in 1975. (Suzy continued to live there until her death in 1988; the place is currently curated by her nephew, Kinney.) The imposing building comprises the Studio, constructed in 1930 in the Bauhaus style by architect George Sanderson, and the attached house, designed by another architect, John Butler Swan, in 1941. The subtle clash of exterior styles is compelling—but pales next to the interior, a shrine to the partners’ works and their collection.

Even though interesting Picassos, Braques, Legers, Grises and even Matisses hang on the walls, it’s Frelinghuysen’s and Morris’s art that dominates the house from the moment you walk up and see Morris’ colorful fresco outside. In the foyer, a winding staircase has another Morris fresco on the wall behind it: throughout the house, the artists complement each other beautifully, his bold murals on the living room walls contrast with her subtle works in the dining room. Even if a trip to Tanglewood is not in the offing, it’s worth going to Lenox just for this enduring historic and artistic power house.

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Off Interstate 91 near Amherst, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art opened in 2002 to immortalize the children’s book artist and author (from The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Baby Bear Baby Bear, What Do You See?). Adjacent to Hampshire College, the Carle is a wonderful depository of artworks and hands-on fun for children and adults of all ages. In addition to an exhibit of Carle’s book Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth—which was completed the year the museum opened—there’s another dedicated to author Ezra Jack Keats, whose revolutionary The Snowy Day opened the eyes of children’s book publishers to realistic depictions of black characters in 1962.

Four large, bright abstract panels by Carle—painted in red, blue, yellow and green, respectively—dominate the walls of the museum’s large foyer, and seem to yell “welcome!” to everyone who enters.

Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden
Further south on Interstate 91, the town of Springfield has more to offer than just the Basketball Hall of Fame:  the Springfield Museums complex encompasses a quadrangle that contains the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, which has whimsically delightful statuary of the Lorax, Horton, the Cat in the Hat, and Seuss himself by his stepdaughter Lark Gray Dimond-Cates.

In addition to the Springfield Science Museum, the Wood Museum of Springfield History and the Smith Art Museum, there’s also the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, which, in addition to its decent European (Gauguin, Picasso, Monet) and American (Cassatt, Homer, Sargent) collection, currently boasts two impressive Tiffany exhibits. Even if you think you’ve already overdosed on Tiffany’s lamps and stained glass, these are “don’t miss” exhibits, especially the seven recently discovered “Book of Revelation” windows, worth a visit by themselves.

Back in Manhattan, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest blockbuster fashion show—Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations—might be impossibly gimmicky (a fake “conversation” between the notoriously reclusive and singular designers, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Judy Davis as Schiaparelli and the real Prada), but so many glorious examples of their designs, especially those Schiaparelli did with famous 20th century artists like Dali and Cocteau, that there’s no reason to skip it. A smaller but equally compelling show, Bellini, Titian, Lotto— North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, comprises a nice selection of paintings otherwise unseen in New York.

Gustav Klimt
Across the street from the Met, the venerable Neue Galerie has its own “blockbuster” show, Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary Celebration, starring the Galerie’s own immaculate Klimt paintings like the scintillating Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Surrounding those works are drawings and vintage photographs of Klimt in his private life. Even with other Austrian and German masters like Beckmann, Schiele and Dix in adjoining rooms, Klimt remains front and center at the Neue Galerie.

Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio
92 Hawthorne Street
Lenox, Mass.

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
125 West Bay Road
Amherst, Mass.

Springfield Museums
21 Edwards Street
Springfield, Mass.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations
Through August 19, 2012
Bellini, Titian, and Lotto—North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Through September 3, 2012

Neue Galerie
1048 Fifth Avenue (at 86th Street)
New York, NY
Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary Celebration
Through August 27, 2012

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