I’ve posted many photos from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, so for a change of pace here’s a sampling of the art I saw in just a teeny portion of the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Author: Aaron Wallace
Title: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom
Publication Info: Branford, CT : Intrepid Traveler, 
This will be the last in the trio of books about Disney theme parks I’ve read recently, but it’s also the best of the bunch. The author takes us on a tour of the Magic Kingdom and fills us in on the history, artistry, and hidden features of each attraction. Wallace knows a lot about the thinking that went behind creating the attractions and offers insight into how people respond to them. He also pairs each attraction with a movie to watch, and not always the most obvious one. Some of the films aren’t even by Disney! This is a great book on how Disney theme parks work as cultural artifacts.
Recommended books: The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness, Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World by The Project on Disney
The Matisse exhibit paired many objects from his studio featured in his art with the art that captured the moods, shapes, and colors of those objects. The McCloskey exhibit is small but features delightful studies and sketched of illustrations for books such as Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, and Burt Dow: Deep Water Man. The Botticelli exhibit brings together many works of art rarely seen outside of Europe while in charming parochial way also celebrating “Boston Botticelli” by bringing in works from the MFA, Gardner Museum, and Harvard Art Museums. The exhibit also includes works by Filippo Lippi (Botticelli’s teacher) and Filippino Lippi (Filippo’s son and Botticelli’s student).
Here are some of my favorite works.
I continued my ongoing quest to visit every gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts by visiting the Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa wings. It’s unfortunate that the art of the two most populous continents and some diverse island cultures are all clumped together like that, especially since the MFA boasts having a large collection of Asian arts dating back to the earliest days of the museum. Nevertheless there was quite a delightful collection of works that had me hopping around geographically as well as through time. One gallery deliberately mixed contemporary and classical Japanese art in a provocative way.
I also took a 3 masterpieces in 30 minutes tour and got to learn about three family portraits from three different artistic styles – Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, a folk art portrait from the 1830s, and Steen’s Twelfth-Night Feast.
After these eight visits, I believe I’ve been to every permanent gallery in the museum. Of course, art on exhibit is changing all the time, so I’ll have to go back and do it again. Maybe next time I’ll have a theme like art with families or bridges or pets or something like that.
If you’re my age or older, you’ll remember the anticipation of getting the Sunday newspaper, fighting with your sibling for first dibs, and the joy of laying out the full-color comics section (a.k.a – the Funny Pages) and reading your favorite comics. I feel that I grew up in the last golden age of newspaper comics with The Far Side, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbes all making their debuts in the 1980s. Older comics like Peanuts, For Better or Worse, and Doonesbury were also still fun to read.
Newspapers have gone into a steady decline and newspaper comics have gone down with them. Of course, there are still newspaper comics and I read the Comics Curmudgeon daily to see them lovingly lampooned by Josh Fruhlinger. I think even today newspaper comics could be brilliant but publishers these days have focused on keeping the limited space for comics occupied by legacy comics of deceased cartoonists that have long past their freshness date. Large format comics with artistry and provocative topics might even draw some readers back to newspaper, but we won’t ever know in this extremely risk averse climate.
And so today I turn to the internet for my comic joy. A number of comic artists have been brilliantly innovative in the web format and I’ve listed below the comics I read regularly. They can also get to be very specific to certain topics, as you’ll note I have multiple comics about biking and libraries. My list is arranged in reverse alphabetical order.
Yehuda Moon and Kickstand Cyclery – Set in a fictional Cleveland-area bike shop, this comic focus on the joys and challenges of the American bicyclist
Wondermark – This comic repurposes 19th-century illustrations to create quirky commentaries on popular culture and bad puns. I’ve been accused of writing for Watermark, so close is creator David Malki’s sense of humor to my own.
XKCD – The stick figure comic features clever jokes about science, math and computing as well as some creative large format works that use web technologies to their full advantage. The strip can be arcane so it’s handy to check out Explain XKCD when you just don’t get it.
Unshelved – Set in a public library, this comic has jokes that library and information professionals appreciate, but it’s broad enough to be appreciated by a general audience.
Shelf Check – Another library comic, which may be a bit more inside jokey, but also addresses issues of representation and equality in libraries.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – Another comic that usually has some science or philosophy underlying the joke although it has no set theme and focuses on lots of different issues.
Medium Large – A joke-a-day comic with a few recurring characters that focuses on pop culture arcana. Creator Francesco Marciuliano also writes for the newspaper comic Sally Forth (and mocks in Medium Large).
Lunarbaboon – The comic depicts a fathers view on parenting and children. Another comic that seems to have been drawn from the thoughts within my mind.
Leftycartoons – Infrequently published satirical comics about politics from a left-wing perspective.
Jen Sorensen – Another editorial comic with a slightly less left-wing perspective than Leftycartoons.
Dustinland – An autobiographical weekly comic that’s basically whatever is on the mind of artist Dustin Glick each week. When I first started reading this years ago, it was about dating, dead-end jobs, and social lives of young adults. These days it alternates between comics about raising a young child and political commentary.
Dinosaur Comics – This is the opposite of artistically adventurous as every single comic is the same six panels repeated, but with different text every time. And yet it somehow stays fresh seeing a new joke in the same formula over and over.
Derangement and Description – Can’t have library comics without an archives comic too. The jokes here are brilliant but probably aren’t going to be understood outside of the field.
Bikeyface – A Boston bike commuter’s commentary on why she bikes and all the problems of a city hostile to biking.
What webcomics do you read?
I had a surprise afternoon free and so made another visit to one of my favorite places Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Having not visited in 6 months, there were a lot of new exhibitions I hadn’t seen so I focused on those:
- Megacities Asia – 11 artists from 5 cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi, Mumbai, and Seoul) create massive, provocative, and interactive works of art inspired by urban life. The works are spread throughout the galleries of the Museum (and outside, and at Fanueil Hall Marketplace) making for interesting contrasts with other art and human experience.
- #techstyle – fancy and whacky clothing designed with new technology expounds upon the humor and excess of the fashion world.
- Visiting Masterpieces: Pairing Picasso – a simple gallery pairing Picasso’s works on similar subjects from different periods of his artistic style.
- Year of the Monkey – the role of the monkey in Japanese culture explored in art from different eras.
- Ruined: When Cities Fall – cities destroyed by war or abandonment are depicted in haunting images from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
- The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris – a collection of the Canadian modernist’s paintings of mountains, water, and glaciers in cool colors and streamlined forms. The exhibition is curated by Steve Martin!
- Lawren Harris: Modern Connections from the MFA Collection – adjacent to the Harris exhibit is works of art by his modernist contemporaries with similar styles including Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler.
It was a great visit and an enjoyable experience bouncing among masterpieces and brand new creations.
Since I always do things in a prompt manner, yesterday I made my first visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art since they moved from the Back Bay to their new building on the waterfront (which just happened in – OHMYGOD – 2006). Getting there was not easy as the ceaseless construction of new high-rise buildings in the Seaport District put up many barriers. But at last I arrived at the notably spiffy ICA building, cantilevered to overlook Boston Harbor.
Despite the large building, the galleries are a small portion of the building largely on the fourth floor. This means that while I saw pretty much every piece of art on display, it’s probably worth returning for events, performances, films, and new exhibitions.
What I saw:
- Walid Raad – two exhibits. Walkthrough, I couldn’t really get into but The Atlas Group was a fascinating examination of found images of the Lebanese civil wars presented as a fictional archival collection.
- Diane Simpson – sculptures based on clothing, reminiscent of Claes Oldenburg’s sculptures of ordinary objects.
- The Birthday Party – an immersive installation by three Iranian artists.
- ICA Collection: Transcending Material – my favorite pieces were in the permanent collection, some photos below.
I probably spent the longest amount of time in the Poss Family Mediatheque looking at the harbor and watching the 30-minutes of chain reactions in “The Way Things Go” by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, a lesson in physics, chemistry, and film-making.
On another solo visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I completed touring the Art of Europe galleries, traveling through 17th-century Dutch and Flemish, gaudy 18th-century French decorative art, 19th-century art deemed worthy by the Academy, and finally Impressionism and post-Impressionism.
Then I took the guided tour of the Art of the Americas wing, learning more about old favorites and some new surprises. I’ll probably work my way more methodically through those galleries on my next visit. Before departing I stopped in the Made in the Americas exhibition which was mostly decorative arts and textiles and seemed less interesting than similar exhibits at the Peabody Essex Museum. And I finished with the delightful Musical Instruments collection. I wish I could hear a concert on those instruments.
On my second visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I began a slow and studious exploration of the Art of the Ancient World. I had trouble making a connection with the art at first as there seemed to be no story linking them together. Galleries adjacent to one another held Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman art. Thousands of years, and thousands of miles, and thousands of cultures side by side. But I did make a connection looking at the sculptures of ancient people and gazing into their eyes. When face to face with a person it is hard to maintain eye contact, but here I could look into the eyes of humans who lived millennia ago and they had so much to say. One Greek sculpture, Woman from a funerary monument, almost looked alive in her expression of grief.
To mix things up, I moved on to the Contemporary Art collections. Ancient art memorialized people and honored gods, but contemporary art asks you questions. The descriptions, the writing on the wall, even the art itself ask questions. Art here is more a reflection of the viewer, literally in the case of Untitled (Shu-red). I spent more time that I should be willing to admit trying to take a selfie in its lacquered surface and finding myself delightfully disoriented. Art also asks the tough questions, like “Why?” and “How can we let this happen?” A sobering gallery collects artists’ responses to the 2011 earthquake in Japan. The photographs and film here capture more pain and poignancy than any other news report.
There’s still much more to see and experience at the MFA, so I hope I return soon.
On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Boston, my family and I visited the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway to experience the monumental work of art As If It Were Already Here by Janet Echelman. At first it felt underwhelming, pretty, but smaller than expected. But as I walked under and around the sculpture I couldn’t help but notice how it interacts with sun and sky, buildings and trees, always changing even with a small change of perspective. So I took a ton of pictures. You can see them below, but definitely check it out in person.
I made another first time in a long time visit to a Boston institution with a day out at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Unlike the Museum of Fine Arts, there is only one work of art at the Gardner Museum, a collaboration of Mrs. Gardner and thousands of painters, sculptors, designers, architects, and gardeners. This was my first visit since the opening of the new Renzo Piano wing, which is impressive, but seems mostly a utilitarian annex to the historic museum. It was also the first time I’ve been to the museum since photography is allowed, although only of the courtyard on the main level. Plenty of scofflaws took photos from the upper levels too, but were only stopped by the guards when using flash. I followed Mrs. Gardner’s preference of immersing myself in the art and beauty.
For the first time in several years, I have a membership to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I’m working on putting it to use by visiting the Museum and methodically but casually working my way through the galleries absorbing the art on display and sharing what I learn.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I explored the third floor, home to the Museum’s collection of 20th-century art. It is a quiet place in the museum even on a busy weekend. A man pushing his sleeping child in a stroller along a window-lined corridor told me “This is the best part of the museum!”
I was impressed particularly by the MFA’s strong collections of 20th Century Art but African-American artists, Boston-area artists, and some who are both. Some artists I learned about for the first time that I’m really drawn to are Eldzier Cortor, Allan Rohan Crite, and Charles Sheeler. In addition to a variety of modern paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, the third floor hosts an excellent exhibit of photography of Gordon Parks, who returned to his home town of Fort Scott, Kansas for a photo essay in 1950.
Author: Ulrich Boser
Title: The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft
Publication Info: Smithsonian (2009)
For the 20th anniversary of the theft of 13 priceless art works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, I read this book detailing the heist. The first chapter gives a blow-by-blow of all the known details of the heist itself in the early-morning hours of March 17, 1990. Next, Boser introduces Harold Smith, an art detective who dedicates many of the remaining years of his life gathering clues and following leads about the heist. After Smith dies in 2005, Boser himself picks up Smith’s casebook and begins immersing himself in the case to the point of obsession. The trail of the crime leads Boser to look into various Boston underworld characters such as a noted art thief, Whitey Bulger and his mob cronies, and even the Irish Republican Army. At one point the obsession gets ridiculous as Boser visits a town in Ireland thinking he’ll be able to pick Bulger off the street. In the end, there’s no solution yet for the mystery of missing art, but Boser gives some interesting insights into how art theft is perpetrated and how that art may hopefully be returned.
Recommended books: Dead Certainties : Unwarranted Speculations by Simon Schama, Legends of Winter Hill: Cops, Con Men, and Joe McCain, the Last Real Detective by Jay Atkinson, and Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr
Previously Read by Same Author: The Architecture of Happiness
This book reflects on travel focusing on the little things such as the novelty of the commonplace in a new place, disorientation, the boredom of travel, and even ponders whether travel for pleasure is even a necessity. Along the way he shows travel through the eyes of various artists: Van Gogh, Wordsworth, Flauber, Von Humboldt and others. He even details how artists create the vision we have of the destinations we wish to visit. This is all written in the intellectual vein of someone who attends a literary salon, so if that’s not your thing, you won’t like this book. I found it brain-teasingly good, but I think that de Botton is meant to be read more than heard so I don’t recommend the audiobook.
With the first day of spring upon us and Boston officially thawing out, it’s time to get out and do something! There are many things to do and sites to see right near home that I always find a way to procrastinate, some for several years running now. Here are ten things to do in metro-Boston that I’ve never done before that I would like to do between now and Thanksgiving.
- Finally visit The Museum of Bad Art in Dedham
- Tour an old house like the Loring-Greenough House in JP, the Gibson House Museum in Back Bay, the Nichols House Museum in North End, the Shirley Eustis House in Roxbury and/or the oldest of them all the James Blake House of Dorchester.
- Walk through the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library.
- Check out the new Institute of Contemporary Art.
- Check out the view from the observation deck on the Customs House tower.
- Walk the African-American Heritage Trail.
- Get back to nature at the Boston Nature Center. (completed 5/25/09)
- Take in a vintage baseball game, preferably on Georges Island.
- Sample the beers at the Samuel Adams Brewery Tour.
- Commune with the fuzzy pigs at Drumlin Farm. (completed 8/26/09)
Of course, I’d like to get out of town and do some things outside of Boston as well. Here are five things in greater New England that I’ve never done before that I’d like to do in the same time period:
- Watch the second largest St. Patrick’s Parade in America in Holyoke, MA. (completed 3/22/09)
- Journey through a world of art and culture at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA
- Get my public transit geek on at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, ME (completed 6/21/09)
- Visit the literary landmarks of Hartford, CT: the Mark Twain & Harriet Beecher Stowe houses
- Stroll around historic Providence, RI and perhaps witness WaterFire.
If I do any of these things, I will of course blog about it here. Come join me if you want to do these things too!
Great Fortune : The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003) by Daniel Okrent is a lively and engaging popular history of the origins of the most famous urban development in the world. It’s chock-full of facts that I never knew.
For example, the land Rockefeller Center is built upon was originally the “Upper Estate” of Columbia University, something of an albatross on the university’s neck especially after it moved further uptown. The university collected rent from the Rockefellers into the 1980’s. The plan for Rockefeller Center was originally to construct a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera, a plan that fell through as the greater plan for a commercial development stormed through into the Great Depression. There were scandals of the Communist Diego Rivera painting a mural in the RCA building, and the Facist Benito Mussolini giving his blessing to a building for Italian commerce. The most famous element of Rockefeller Center – the skating rink – was something of an afterthought to bail out a failed plan for a shopping plaza. The opening of Radio City Music Hall was an overlong, over-the-top bomb that resulted in the venue being used as a movie theater for the next four decades.
Okrent also weaves in the biographies of the various characters involved in creating Rockefeller Center. Most obvious of course are the Rockefeller family including the introspective John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who spent his life trying to atone for Senior’s greedy excess, and Nelson Rockefeller a steamroller of a personality who took charge of the Center in the later years of development. Architects, designers, artists, corporate executives & businessmen all get their fair share as well. Okrent writes of these people sympathetically without being adulatory, and shows their warts (not to mention having a few laughs at their expense) without it being a hatchet piece.
This is a very enjoyable historical work which I believe does a good job of capturing an era through the myriad people who worked on and at Rockefeller Center.
Great fortune : the epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel Okrent. New York : Viking, 2003.