Title: Bill Cunningham New York Release Date: March 16, 2011 Director: Richard Press Production Company: First Thought Films Summary/Review:
The movie starts with a man photographing passing pedestrians on a street corner in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a bit creepy, and not too far into the movie a pair of women yell at him to stop. We learn the man is a fashion photographer for the New York Times who publishes collages of street fashion as well from fundraising soirees and models strutting down the catwalk. But as we get to know the humble man behind the camera, all the preconceived notions of fashion photographer.
Cunningham is not at all fashionable himself, consistently wearing the same blue jacket as he bikes around Manhattan with his camera. He lives modestly in a studio apartment within Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets of his photographs (part of the movie documents Carnegie Hall management evicting Cunningham and other aging artists to make more room for revenue-producing office space). He never accepts payment or even food and drink at the events he covers. He does try to photograph celebrities, but focuses on photographing fashionable clothing that captures his eye. And he never mocks the everyday people he photographs, instead celebrating their fashion sense. Indeed he’s something of an anthropologist documenting fashion trends that emerge from the populist.
Every Blogging A to Z Challenge I’ve done on documentary movies has included one on a street photographer – previously Finding Vivian Maier and Zimbelism – and they’re all complex and a bit odd people. I’m not terribly interested in fashion photography but do feel I learned to appreciate something about it through Bill Cunningham’s unique life story.
To celebrate my birthday on Wednesday, I played hooky from work and paid another visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This time I was accompanied by my lovely wife Susan!
As aficionados of Dutch Golden Age art, we made our way first to the special exhibit Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The name is misleading as there is only one work by Vermeer and a handful by Rembrandt. This is not a bad thing as a number of their contemporaries painted some excellent scenes of of 17th-century Dutch life. Jan Steen stood out as a favorite of mine. Art was unusually popular among all income levels in the Netherlands of that era, although not usually art as fine as that on exhibit. The exhibit is arranged to show art depicting the upper, middle, and lower classes each within their own gallery, with a fourth gallery collecting works that show the different classes interacting. Sebastian Smee has a great review of the exhibit in today’s Boston Globe that focuses on the social effect of the exhibit.
Photography was not allowed in the exhibit, so below is a list of my favorite works in the exhibit:
If you look at these paintings on your computer, make sure to zoom in on all the tiny details. The curators on the audio guide were particularly ecstatic about the brushwork.
After finishing that exhibit, Susan picked out a small but spiffy exhibit of American ceramics from the 20th century and then we wondered among the Art of the Americas gallery where we stumbled on a few surprises.
Paul Revere Pottery of the Saturday Evening Club, made in Boston by Sara Galner. Iris vase (1913) and Daffodil vase (1914).
Mickey Mouse vase and Underdog vase by Michael Frimkess and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess. Note: Nov. 18 is also Mickey Mouse’s birthday.
Native American (Acoma) ceramics – Seed jar (2002) by Sandra Victorino and Seed jar (2001) by Dorothy Torivio.
A pile of laundry? No, it’s December (2013) by Cheryl Ann Thomas.
John Singer Sargent captures boyhood, from a portrait of Robert de Cevrieux (1879).
John Singer Sargent captures girlhood, a detail from The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882).
John Singer Sargent captures Italian model Rosina Ferrara in A Capriote (1878).
Meta: Paintings of paintings hung salon style that are hung salon style.
Super-Meta: A painting of the gallery hanging in the gallery. Warren Prosperi, Museum Epiphany III (2012).
Photograph of the gallery from approximately the same angle as the painting.
Medea (about 1868-80), deep in plotting, as envisioned by William Wetmore Story.
Childe Hassam’s view of Charles River and Beacon Hill (about 1892).
My absolute favorite painting of Boston, At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight) (1885-86) by Childe Hassam
Susan really liked The Fish (about 1890) captured in stained glass by John La Farge.
I made my third visit to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to slowly explore the art collections, gallery by gallery, piece by piece. You can see my first and second trips on this blog. On this visit I decided to focus on the Art of Europe galleries. I started out on level 1, which turned out not to always be European, nor even “art,” but the was fine. In fact I saw several wonderful exhibitions. The Kunstkammer Gallery honors the “cabinets of curiosity” that flourished in 17th century Europe and were the root of modern museums. The collections included hand-crafted automatons with videos that showed them working! Pastoral to Pop shows the rapid change in British prints and drawings over the course of the 20th century. And my favorite of all, Unfinished Stories is an absolutely delightful collection of found photographs grouped together by themes. You’ll never look at your family snapshots the same way.
On the second level, I explored the Italian Renaissance art gallery and learned about Maiolica, the brightly colored Italian tin-glazed pottery. I then joined a highlights tour of the Art of Europe which took us from a 12th-century Catalan chapel through the works of the Impressionists. It was an informative hour. I was able to return to the medieval and Renaissance galleries on my own for a more in-depth exploration, but then my time ran out, so the rest of the Art of Europe galleries on the second level await my return.
Detail of a bureau cabinet with an ivory inlays. Made in India (1725-40) in the English style.
Harlequine and Leda, Germany, about 1759-1760. “Now watch me whip, now watch me nae nae!”
Diana and Stag automaton, Germany 1579-1620
Nef (‘ship’), Germany, about 1620.
Nautilus cup, The Netherlands, 1659
Cyril E. Power, Air Raid, about 1935
Cyril E. Power, The Escalator, about 1929
Snapshot of a couple
Snapshots of surprised baby and dog.
Selfie with a steamship.
Dancing on the railroad tracks (this should be the cover of some band’s Americana album).
Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, Carmen Goudin in the Artist’s Studio, 1888
Guanyin, Germany, about 1720
The Last Supper, Italy, 16th century
Sandro Botticelli, Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist, about 1500 (perhaps the most beautiful painting in the MFA!)
Kneeling knight (Spain, around 1600) in front of Window with eight Apostles, the Pieta, and saints (England, early 15th century)
Eucharistic dove, France, about 1200-50
Christ in Majesty with Symbols of the Four Evangelists, Spain (Catalan), about 1150-1200. (This is the image of Jesus most likely to say ‘Duuude!”)`
Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon, Austria, about 1440-50
Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino, El Greco, 1609
Appeal to the Great Spirit, Cyrus Dallin, 1909 with Boston skyline.
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.
Standing figure of Babaef Egypt About 2472-2458 BC
Face from a composite statue Egypt 2873-2859 BC
Pseudo-group statue of Penmeru Egypt 2465-2423 BC “The Dad and Mom”
Pseudo-group statue of Penmeru Egypt 2465-2423 BC “The kids”
Statue of a young man Egypt 2353-2323 BC
Colossal statue of King Mengkaura Egypt 2490-2472 Detail of hand.
Colossal statue of King Mengkaura Egypt 2490-2472 Detail of head.
Face froma mummiform coffin Egypt 1070-656 BC
Male and female figures Syria about 3200-2800 BC
Lion from the Processional Way Iraq (Babylon) Reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 604-561 BC
Lion Greece about 550 BC
King Menkaura (Mycerinus) and queen Egypt 2490-2472 BC
Woman from a funerary naiskos Greek About 330-325 BC
Figures of Eros with musica instruments Greek (Euboea) 4th or 3rd century BC
Juno Roman Head, Trajanic or Hadrianic Period, Body of earlier period 1st to 2nd century A.D.
Me, reflected in “Untitled (Shu-red),” 2007 by Anish Kapoor
Me, reflected in “Untitled (Shu-red),” 2007 by Anish Kapoor
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.
Autumn in New England brings beautiful, crisp days and brilliant colors to the trees. I think this year’s foliage has been particularly brilliant. The past couple of weeks I’ve been taking photos around the city, mainly in Arnold Arboretum and collected them in a photo gallery called Autumn Color.
I also had the delightful serendipity of coming across a parade of animals on Charles Street as I was going to take the Boston By Foot Tour of the Month of Bay Village. This was a reprisal of the Bay Village Tour of the Month I reviewed last year. I added new photos to my Bay Village photo gallery with as special emphasis on capturing the autumn colors.