Art Trains

This weekend I took the train from New York City to Washington, DC. An experiment: 3hrs down, 8 hours on the ground, 3hrs back home. A rousing success.

I was blown away how much nicer the train trip was. Took a subway to the train station, grabbed a coffee and snack, and then pretty much walked directly to my car and seat. My big fat cushiony seat with plenty of legroom, next to the big window. No security hoops to jump through, no rules for seatbelts and tray tables. What a dream. Definitely want to do more trips like this.

The specific reason for the trip was that the Rubell Museum DC just opened late last year. I can’t think of any other time in my life I was around “at the beginning” for a new institution like that. What a cool opportunity!

The featured exhibition was What’s Going On? – a nod to Marvin Gaye, who went to junior high in the building that now houses the museum. Really liked the Kehinde Wiley in the main hall – Sleep (2008):


(Seeing Wiley’s work in person for the first time was one of my favorite art moments.)

Also enjoyed a bedazzled and dazzling work from Mickalene Thomas, whose collaged paintings just burst out of the frame.

After the Rubell, the next stop was the National Gallery of Art, East Building. Man, I love quilts. I loved this one, “Columns of Blocks” (2003) from Gee’s Bend quilter Sue Willie Seltzer, “evoking ripples and reflections on the wide, wandering Alabama River”, as the placard has it.

SueWillieSeltzer ColumnsOfBlocks

Perfect. And I’ll close with Max Ernst’s “A Moment of Calm” (1939). Love its dense details, making harsh, spiky angles somehow lush and warm. And those big birds are just silly.

MaxErnst MomentofCalm

In summary: 10/10, will train for art again.

Arnold Schönberg: Playing Cards

Arnold Schönberg: Playing Cards. I love those designs.

This facsimile edition of playing cards painted by the composer Arnold Schönberg in c.1910 was published by Belmont Music Publishers in 1981 and produced by Ferd Piatnik (Vienna), with a preface by the composer’s daughter, Nuria Schoenberg-Nono. The original cards were made in watercolours and gouache on cardboard with gold and silver, size: 10.5 by 5.5 cm. No reverse has been found for the cards so a coloured pattern painted in one of his diaries was used.

Filed under: not just a composer.

Art Moments

When the portraits of the Obamas were revealed today, I mentioned that seeing Kehinde Wiley‘s work was one of the big Art Moments in my life. I started thinking about a few other peak experiences and wanted to jot’em down.

First, Wiley. I saw an exhibition in Phoenix, and just drooled. I love the large painted portraits, but it was the stained glass that really won me over:

The first time I ever saw Out of the Past, I almost couldn’t believe it was happening. At that moment, it was a pinnacle combination of zippy script, glamour, camerawork, noir, tragedy. Just dumbfounded and grateful that I’d found it.

As a teen I got kinda lost in the Louvre and then I came around some the corner, I saw Winged Victory, and I couldn’t move. When the spell wore off a little bit, I didn’t want to leave.

In college I went to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with a buddy of mine. At this point it was one of my favorite works for orchestra, one I’d listened to a million times, and I lucked into one of those edge-of-your-seat performances where everyone was locked in. It’s all great and then we come to the close of the third movement, just a few minutes remaining, where the pianist is racing through a closing bit of fireworks (32:18 or so), and where there’s a pause (32:33) – it’s just a second, but at this point we’re just dying to hear the orchestra re-enter – we can hear the pianist and the composer both take a deep breath and lunge into action and boooooom we’re back with timpani and strings and big chunky chords and we’re all losing our minds. Lordy.

Lastly (for now) I went to Chicago a few years back and wandered around the Art Institute. I had some time to kill so I figured why not wander to the bottom floor and see about that Ethel Stein exhibit they had tucked away. I’d seen plenty of woven stuff before but this was one that made me really appreciate how high the ceiling can be.

I know I’m missing a bunch, and that’s fine. These are the ones that stick out for now. Here’s to many more.


Ellsworth Kelly, Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I—VIII

From The Philadelphia Museum of Art:

While in Paris between 1948 and 1954, Ellsworth Kelly explored many new artistic strategies. Seeking to abandon figuration for abstraction, in 1950 he seized upon the randomness of collage made of cut-up pieces of his drawings. In a further effort to remove any semblance of a figurative image from his work, the next year he arranged collaged elements by chance on the systematic form of the grid. The fortuitous discovery in a Paris stationery shop of a stock of gummed papers in twenty colors led to eight collages entitled Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance; the present composition is the first in the series. With a method both systematic and random, Kelly took the small squares of colored paper and arranged them quickly and intuitively on the grid, as if by chance, using no system or scientific method except to proceed progressively from the grid’s lateral sides toward the center. As a result of Kelly’s instinctive and playful method of composing, try as one might, there is no scheme or pattern to discover in the arrangement of the colors in this vibrant collage. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections, 2009.

From an interview at the Tate Museum:

Christoph Grunenberg: Did you use a mathematical system with the early works?

Ellsworth Kelly: It was a chance system for the placement of colours on a grid. Numbered slips of paper each referred to a colour, one of eighteen different hues to be placed on a grid 40 inches by 40 inches. Each of the eight collages used a different process.

Christoph Grunenberg: Did you make conscious references in the arrangement of these works to the aesthetics of the colour chart?

Ellsworth Kelly: I never thought of colour charts at all when I was working on them. They were really an experiment. I wanted to show how any colour goes with any other colour. Above all, I wanted to learn about colour relationships. Many of the works of this period start from chance encounters, such as shadows on a staircase, the reflections of the sun on the River Seine and the exposed sides of buildings that showed the abstract black patterns where the chimneys had been. After the experiments with arranging colours by chance came my first works using the actual colour spectrum as a source (Spectrum I, 1953).

via Socks. Filed under: Ellsworth Kelly, color

I really love these. Pixel art before pixels were a thing.

The Wesleyan Argus | A.O. Scott Defends the Art of Criticism

“One of the things that any artist is working with is other art. You think about filmmakers, for example, and they all start out as film fans. You have Martin Scorsese as a kid going to double features every day and absorbing all of the world in that way, and then thinking about Quentin Tarantino in the video store,” Scott said. “In the simplest way that you see something or you hear something, and you start thinking, ‘How did they do that? Could I do that? Could I do it better? How would I do it differently?’ All of what we identify as aspects of the creative process, the absorption of influence, the learning and discarding of rules, the workshop discipline of figuring out what works and what doesn’t and how—all of that is criticism.”


Most human effort results in mediocrity, it’s just the tragic fact of the human condition. The question is, though, how mad are you gonna get about that?

The Wesleyan Argus | A.O. Scott Defends the Art of Criticism

Balancing Frames and Canvas at Viktor & Rolf


Balancing Frames and Canvas at Viktor & Rolf | The Cutting Class. Viktor & Rolf, Couture, AW15, Paris.

Viktor & Rolf, Couture, AW15, Paris.

In a show that saw artworks exploding off the wall to form couture gowns, Viktor and Rolf created garments that exaggerated the balancing acts that lie at the heart of all clothing. On everyday clothing, common pattern shapes are regurgitated so that designers don’t have to deal with pesky things like gravity. However, once materials become harder, heavier or stiffer the ability to shape and control the structure of a garment to form extreme silhouettes becomes more and more important.

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Previous favorites from The Cutting Class.

I’ve had my dictaphone since the mid- to late ’90s. In my previous life, I used to record demos on it. Then I ran into some trouble with tendonitis and repetitive stress and it prevented me from writing at my laptop. I got really bummed about it, so I started speaking my scripts out into this dictaphone I had lying around. I realized it was really helpful for my creative process. Having a linear writing machine, where I couldn’t go back and hate myself and edit myself, allowed me to blast through drafts of scripts much more quickly and write from a much more instinctual, as opposed to intellectual, place. It’s a mess when it comes out, but the pacing is really good. So I have Radio Shack to thank for my entire creative process.

Mark Duplass. (via). And also:

For the first time in my life, I’m starting to make more money than I know what to do with. And it’s really weird. What it does is it kind of kills your god. Because your god, as an artist, is to try to find a way to make the art you want to make while being financially sustainable. And to have achieved that murdered my god. So now I look to Warren Buffett — the way he’s still actively excited about achieving career success and making money, and then he throws it all away on people who need it. That is the most inspiring thing that I can imagine.

From ‘American Sniper’ to ‘Macbeth,’ a Reporter’s Moviegoing Spree –

I love this essay about a two-day bender at the movie theaters.

Henry Higgins has a song in “My Fair Lady” in which he talks about how even-keeled his life was before Eliza Doolittle came along and messed it up. That is true at the movies, too. Alone, you can respond any way you want; the only negotiation is between you and the screen. Let another person in, and everything changes. My friend was gracious, but I could tell that he wished the seats were farther back and that he was repelled by what he perceived to be the unpleasant jingoism cascading around the theater. I felt responsible, because the movie had been my idea.

That was a bummer. I began to believe that maybe art is better experienced alone, which is not a healthy belief.

And this too:

The movie was “Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb,” and it was pretty bad. It was a perfect thing to see alone, because I really liked it and would not have wanted to explain myself to anyone.

From ‘American Sniper’ to ‘Macbeth,’ a Reporter’s Moviegoing Spree –

Watching Details Move Through Time at Anrealage

Watching Details Move Through Time at Anrealage | The Cutting Class. Anrealage, AW12, Tokyo.

Anrealage, AW12, Tokyo.

In the same way that some of the Futurist artists used stuttering lines to indicate speed and movement, Japanese label Anrealage was able to give the impression of blurry human movements, seen as though captured through the passing of time for the Autumn-Winter 2012 collection.

At first some of the garments trick the viewer into believing the photos are out of focus, with exaggerated silhouettes enhanced using prints and patterns that blur on the edges. However the effect is created through carefully considered print placements and precise pattern cutting.

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Blows my mind.