Saturday, April 23, 2011

Field Trip: Vassar College

Now tell me again: what did people do before the automobile?  I am constantly impressed by those who to this day choose to do without this marvelous invention. I know somewhere in my heart of hearts there is an argument to be made against it but really...can you buy into it? Tuesday this week was yet another gray and dreary kind of raw day around these parts. I had decided to take that day – my birthday - off from all the tedious but necessary bits that have become my new occupation. Since the weather was not conducive to a stroll outdoors I decided to do a little exploring and headed upriver to Vassar College.
I am ashamed to admit that before I moved to this area I did not realize this somewhat legendary college resided just a few miles across the Hudson in the city of Poughkeepsie. I happened upon the interesting little street on which the campus sits, with its quaint brickwork and cozy round-abouts, while passing through for business. When I realized what lay beyond those brick walls I made note to return for a visit. A bit of research on lead me to The Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, the rather impressive collection it houses, and the decision that this would be the day’s destination. So I hopped into my little red bug - with the top up today - and motored on up for A Good Life Well Lived field trip!
There are several entrances from Raymond Avenue, that charming tree-lined street, to the Vassar campus. I suggest the main entrance – through the gateway arch of Taylor Hall, which also houses the Art Center. You can park right alongside the galleries or you can take a drive through the College's rambling and eclectic campus.
To quote from their web site, “Universally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful in the country, the Vassar campus comprises over 1,000 picturesque acres ranging from the manicured lawns and formal gardens of the main campus to the meadows and woodlands of the Vassar Farm. The buildings, designed over the course of the college’s history by some of the most prominent architects of the day, range in style from Collegiate Gothic to International and include two National Historic Landmarks.”
 The institution's founder, Matthew Vassar, was known for declaring that "art should stand boldly forth as an educational force." Adding action to his words, Vassar donated his extensive collection of Hudson River School paintings to the college, making it the first college or university in the country to include an art museum as part of its original plan. 
Today’s collection of 18,000 pieces includes art from the ancient world up through contemporary works by world class artists from European masters (Brueghel, Picasso, C├ęzanne, Braque) to the leading twentieth-century American painters (Pollock, Rothko, Stella, O'Keeffe).
The collection recently resettled into a newly renovated 1993 building, designed by Cesar Pelli. Modern and sleek the Loeb sits in interesting juxtaposition to the old Taylor Hall with its elaborate carvings of artists and mythical creatures. The building provides a compelling experience, leading visitors through a low, glass enclosed tunnel, past a small outdoor sculpture garden to a high, sky lit central hall with jewelbox-like displays of ancient vessels under a high coved ceiling.
A huge portrait of the founder looms ahead, marking the entrance to the Hudson River School gallery on the left and the remainder of the exhibits to the right. The multiple galleries are nicely sized and arranged more or less chronologically with an occasional temporary or changing exhibit interspersed.

Though the collection in some ways rivals that of a Met or Chicago Institute in breadth, of course in size it is much more limited. The wonderful thing is that this allows for each room to contain one genre or historical period, making the transition from one to the next startling but also exhilarating.
 To stand amongst the richly carved medieval altarpieces and statuary, kissed with the burnished remnants of a polychrome glaze, and spy the overpoweringly simplistic color fields of an Ellsworth Kelly through an open doorway heightens one’s awareness of each - and jaded one cannot be! All you need to know about the Art Center can be found here. For general info on all Vassar has to offer click here.
The Student Inspiration Room
Mark Rothko
Jackson Pollack
Georgia O'Keeffe (Detail)

Monday, April 11, 2011

New York City, April 2011, Part 2

Yesterday on the bus ride to the City I noticed that finally, it seems, spring has come to New York. While the forsythias are not yet the blinding chrome yellow of their full bloom, the buds are certainly bursting and the color is unmistakably sunny! So with the dual enticements of a warm cloudless day and the advent of New York's seasonal outdoor displays I thought, while I was there, a walking tour was in order. I'd read a piece about a new public art installation along the Park Avenue mall. Will Ryman's crazy large, blatantly garish fiberglass roses were planted in January on a few dozen of these little urban stages, between 57th and 67th streets.

They are just the latest of the always eye-catching displays along this wide residential boulevard but definitely one of the more fanciful.

See them through May 31st during the day or under the spotlights at night.  You can find more details and read the artist's statements here.

What I love most about Manhattan is the likelihood that without warning you might all at once stumble upon the completely unexpected. One could argue that a 25 foot tall flower looking like the spawn of Little Shop of Horror's resident man-eater Audrey is the very definition of unexpected and one would be right. But in this case the unexpected I'm referring to is that particular vignette, vast and imposing or tiny and delicate, that one has no idea is lurking around the next corner.  So the surprise, in addition to the delight, is the thing.

At any moment you might be feeling oppressed by the gray hardness all around you when suddenly the crowd thins and you see an improbably large flower pot exploding with the glow of daffodils and the perfume of hyacinths.

Turn the corner from a boring, unending expanse of dreary storefronts and feel the exhilaration of a wide open esplanade lined with elegant residences punctuated by a parade of planters packed with masses of tulips, each with petals just now shyly peeking out from their green leaf robes.

Walk up the street a way and - can you believe your eyes? Is that a frightfully large yellow - YELLOW?! - teddy bear! Yes. Very large. And a fine shade of yellow. Like the lemon in lemon meringue pie.  And it seems to be knit from yarn. And it has the shade of a black desk lamp sitting on its head. Like a wayward baseball cap - or batting helmet. And its poor little head is crammed up against the light bulb in the lamp. And all the diminutive people, as amazed as I am, are milling around, fascinated. Or completely ignoring it as New Yorkers do.

This art installation, one of 3 by sculptor Urs Fischer, can be viewed on Seagram's Plaza (Park Avenue at 53rd street) for the next five months before being auctioned off by Christie's (in case you just HAD to have it for your own plaza).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

New York City, April 2011

I decided to be a tourist Saturday...with a bus ride into Manhattan. I admit I have something of a love-hate relationship with "the City" as we call it. So many of us in this Metropolitan area do for there is so much to love - and to hate - about it. So we choose to either focus on the hate - never visiting, shunning all it has to offer - or embrace the love - admitting that the beautiful, interesting, exciting, educational experiences are worth the price of admission.
One of those lovely things, that so many true tourists never see, is the Macy's Flower Show. Only the 3rd most famous Macy event The Flower Show still draws huge crowds each year as the already dramatic main floor is turned into a kind of hovering botanical garden.

The tops of most display cases in the jewelry, cosmetics and accessory departments are laden with plants, shrubs, flowers and even trees, all of the most colorful, fragrant variety.
When the show debuts the scent of spring permeating the entire sales floor is as captivating as the visual display.

The throngs of people milling about, craning their necks to see the high-flying displays, are treated to a true taste of spring - bridal wreaths, ranunculus, pansies, rhododenron, lilies, orchids, gerber daisies - and azaleas nestled in a mini Japanese tea garden.
On this, the penultimate day of the 2011 show, some of the blooms are a little sad, the scent is not nearly as powerful but the experience is still one of a kind!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


So I've reorganized the blog again (I've warned you). With all the job hunting I'm doing I've decided I really need to have a proper portfolio of my work. So I've converted the blog pages that used to do that job to showcase some home projects. I love these little narratives. They do not tell the story of major change. Instead they simply highlight how little changes make such a big difference. Now I realize some may not think that ripping out every single fixture in the kitchen is little. But in the scheme of modern home renovation - believe me it is. In any event these are projects that last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. They mostly involve as much planning as they do implementation. Regardless of the amount of blood (in the form of dollars) sweat (meaning uncertainty) or tears (due to something NOT cooperating)each provided, in the end they are little bright spots that I see and appreciate everyday. They validate my talents, invigorate my creativity and bring a smile to my face. It seems silly sometime when I compare this little preoccupation to the difficulties and worries we all have - some profound. But it is all part of the tapestry of life. In fact it is what "A Good Life Well Lived" is really all about: live honestly, live simply, find joy where you can, and when you kind of can't - at least try to keep it in perspective. BTW: the photo above? It's the view from the master bathroom through the walk-in to the {unmade} bed in my bedroom. I think it's a pretty picture even if it is unkempt and not really for the public. Seems appropriate for this post, you know what I mean? ;0)