Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Visit to New York and Discovering Archibald Motley

Everyone wants to know if after half a century plus living in NYC whether I miss it since we decided to emigrate to New Mexico .  When I say definitely not and I wish I had done it earlier some act as if I have insulted them personally even if they never lived in New York.  We did, however, recently make a visit back and my amendment to my comment above is always that the culture there is over the top so when we go we overfill ourselves with the arts.

Our first day back we visited the warehouse where there is still some of my art and a great deal of paper consisting of catalogs, photographs and archives.  After checking in there and having lunch with our ever loyal friend, ally and former employee, Diana Nixon, we decided it was time to check out the not so new museum in town, The Whitney.

We used the new way to get there, Uber, which was perfect going down with our driver, Mohammed, but we had to cancel when we wanted to leave the museum as we watched on the Uber map our driver Kunga driving around in circles and could not find us.

It is amazing how soon one forgets the vicissitudes of the city!  As we approached the museum we saw a long line at the entrance.  I must say they got people in very quickly and smoothly, however.  Everyone was courteous and helpful.  As usual I had sticker shock when I found the entry fee was $22 but then I grew up in the era of free museums and, after all, we were in the building for the same amount of time as seeing a Shakespeare play.

We are a bit late coming to the party since the Whitney, having moved out of their Marcel Breuer space uptown, opened near the High Line last May.  It is a destination building by Renzo Piano, which, I expected to dislike but I was very pleasantly surprised.  The views from the outside and in are beautiful and the galleries are very thoughtfully installed.  Herewith, one of the modern galleries and a view from one of several balconies in the building.

We started as instructed on the top floor and here we lucked out.  There was an exhibition of the work of Archibald Motley (1891-1981), a Modernist who came to the fore in the 1920’s as part of the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz age.  It drew black writers, artists, musicians, photographers, poets, and scholars to Harlem where culture flourished.  The Exhibition “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” was organized by the Nasher Museum at Duke University and curated by Professor Richard J. Powell.  It was installed and organized at the Whitney by Carter E. Foster, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing.

The show is divided into sections with the first being biographical and here there are many possible choices I could use to illustrate but, no surprise, the painting that does this best is already front and center.  It is called “Myself at Work” and comes from the collection of Mara Motley, MD and Valerie Gerard Browne as all the images do unless otherwise indicated.

Image Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

A 1929 work “Blues” is a theme that Motley explored often during his life, in both dance and music. When he got a Guggenheim Fellowship to Paris a short while later he painted nightclub scenes and he also showed music and dancing in the streets. (Image Blues, Credit Line: Image Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)

When further along, I saw “The Boys in the Back Room” circa 1934 from the Estate of Reginald L. Lewis, I immediately thought of Cezanne’s "The Card Players" in the Metropolitan Museum.

I so enjoyed the energetic gesture of the gentleman explaining to his girl friend.  A gesture that has been referred to in French as “Le Doigt d’Expert” the finger of the expert! Here we have two images, “Doigt d’Expert” and a straight on image.

The painting with the most social commentary is the last image in the show titled “The First 100 Years”.  It is a scathing look at race relations in this country.  Its strangely eerie blue sets off the blood red highlights of the Confederate flag, a burning cross and the devil.  There is a lynched black man near the Statue of Liberty.  If you look closely you can see the heads of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, three champions of racial equality.  Since this painting is not at all like the rest of Motley’s work it makes the image all the more powerful.

There seems to be an epidemic of Jazz Age Period Art in New York.  The Neue Galerie has an exhibition, “Berlin Metropolis: 1918-1933”.  The International Center for Photography has a show called, “The Early Years of Rhythm & Blues” and the Cooper-Hewitt is planning an exhibition for the Spring of 2017.

Our last day we saw an exhibition that I wish I had seen on the first so I could have written about it for this week.  It closes at the end of this month but please go see for yourself.  It is a “Pop-Up” exhibition in a New York Mansion at 2 East 63rd Street by 3 art dealers, Brimo from Paris, Di Castro from Rome and Kugel from Paris.  A greater treasure trove of old European art you will not find in this town.  After you have explored the two chockablock floors ask to see the tapestry cycle upstairs.  Here is an image of the dealers in one of the treasure rooms.  I hope to write more about it but unfortunately by then it will have closed.

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