‘Chasing Desire’ at Lora Reynolds Gallery

What Makes a Man by Xavier Schipani, 2018. (Photos courtesy Lora Reynolds Gallery.)

An unusual show is on now at Austin’s Lora Reynolds GalleryChasing Desire features portraits and a fascinating installation by Austin artist Xavier SchipaniI have mixed feelings about this show, but foremost amongst them is my admiration for Schipani’s apparent fearlessness.

Self Portrait by Xavier Schipani, 2018

The installation, called What Makes a Man, is literally a large bathroom, with sinks, a mirror, urinals, three stalls, and a set of murals (see image above). The walls, both inside and outside the stalls, show paintings of men of various races in erotic poses with each other. The views inside the stalls, in particular, are quite explicit.

I’m not sure what I think about this. I’ve no problem with homosexuality, so I was initially puzzled about my reluctance to write about this show. I’ve come to realize that my reticence is a combination of two things: that bone-deep Puritanism that so many of us WASPs grow up with (and that I assumed I’d shaken ages ago), and, related to that, an unwillingness to deal with the reactions of folks who would see my write-up as a target to rave against homoerotic art.

Less important is the fact that the more explicit pieces really aren’t to my taste. That doesn’t matter so much to me, as I do really appreciate the fact that the pieces make you think. The artist’s concept of using the setting of a bathroom, especially one that looks as real as this one, is genius. Especially in light of the debate over the use of public restrooms in the past couple of years, coupled with the fact that Schipani is a trans artist (and this is Texas).


Battling Narcissus (detail) by Xavier Schipani, 2018

My favorite pieces in this show, however, were a few of the other wall murals that were less overtly sexy, and more athletic. They reminded me of Greek statues of athletes, or more particularly, of the way Greek artists painted athletes on their pottery, e.g., discus throwers, runners, wrestlers, etc. Schipani paints these figures in solid colors and in poses that look sculptural. It makes the art history geek inside my head happy.

Chasing Desire will be on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery through September 1.


USA Museum Bucket List

Five Swords at Storm King Art Center, by Alexander Calder, 1976. (c) 2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Jerry L. Thompson

So far, I’ve posted here a few reviews of museums I’ve visited in the U.S. and abroad, and have a huge backlog of others that I want to write about. In the midst of that project, I thought I’d take a break and share the list of my top five museums that I’ve yet to see. I don’t know when I’ll make it to any these places, but I’m keeping them in mind for future trips. Have you been to any of these? I’d love to hear your impressions, and any tips for visiting. So, in no particular order except working from east to west, I give you my list.

Storm King Art Center
New Windsor, New York

I first saw this place on an episode of the Netflix show Master of None. In the episode, Dev (the main character, played by Aziz Ansari) takes his friend visiting from Italy to an enormous outdoor sculpture park. It looked absolutely incredible. It wasn’t named in the episode, but based on the show, I figured it had to be a quick train ride from New York City. So I went online and after a bit of searching, I discovered it’s called the Storm King Art Center. It’s located in New York’s Hudson Valley. Founded in 1960, its 500 acres of sculpture amongst a beautiful outdoor landscape. Heaven!

The Frick Collection
New York, New York

Girl Interrupted at Her Music by Johannes Vermeer, 1658-59. Henry Clay Frick bequest.

I’ve been to New York City a couple of times, but have yet to make to all of the museums there that I would like to see. One that’s still on my list is The Frick Collection. I’m a bit fascinated by the weird juxtaposition of the railroad robber barons like Frick, and for that matter the financiers like J.P. Morgan, who had reputations for being hard-nosed and even cruel businessmen, but yet loved art and spent fortunes on it. That’s one of the main things that intrigues me about this museum. It’s located in Frick’s mansion, and the collection he left behind seem pretty wide-ranging, from masterpieces on canvas to porcelain to furniture.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Bentonville, Arkansas

Composition with Winch by Stuart Davis, 1932. Promised gift to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

A fairly new museum, Crystal Bridges was built with money from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walten. Thus, it’s located in the company’s hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas. I heard of the museum some time ago, but I admit I wasn’t initially inclined to think much of it. I guess I assumed that fine art and Wal-Mart don’t exactly go together. But then I came across a video of a fascinating lecture on YouTube by the author of a new biography of one of my favorite artists, John Singer Sargent. The author was speaking at Crystal Bridges. I was so impressed that I looked into the museum more, and to my surprise, it looks like a wonderful bastion of American art that I need to visit. The grounds also seem to be filled with walking trails and beautiful trees. I hope to make it there within the next few years.

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, California

Attic Black Figure Column Krater, Athens, Greece, about 520 BC

So much to see here. I have spent some time, on and off over recent years, following the goings-on at The Getty. The big attractions for me at the museum, which is just one part of an enormous Getty complex, are the antiquities. I’m especially anxious to see their Greek pottery and Roman mosaics — two of my favorite art forms. But the Getty also has a Research Institute and a Conservation Institute. I would love to visit these, too. I’m not sure if they are open to the public. Maybe they have rare public tours, and you have to schedule your trip for the right time. It bears some investigation.

The Huntington Library, Art Collection, & Botanical Gardens
San Marino, California

The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough, 1770

I had heard of the Huntington Library, but didn’t know much about its art collection except that it is home to The Blue Boy, Gainsborough’s famous painting. Then a few years ago, I took a free online art history class called Sexing the Canvas: Art & Gender. This class is a collaboration between The University of Melbourne in Australia and the Huntington, and uses examples of art from both locations, and includes videos of walkthroughs at the Huntington, with the Melbourne professor giving her explanations in front of different paintings.  It made me want to see the place in person.

So these are my big five! Let me know if you’ve been there, and what your tips for visiting are. Want to recommend other places to visit? Please do.

Davis Gallery’s ‘Of Warp and Weft’

grey rope IV by Caprice Pierucci (author photo)

I dropped by Davis Gallery after work this past Thursday, to check out their current two-person show, Of Warp and Weft. It features Austin-based artists Caprice Pierucci and Charles Heppner.

Pierucci’s flowing wooden sculptures are pretty amazing. The light-colored ones almost look like the bones of some giant fish.

A lady I was chatting with in the gallery remarked that one of Pierucci’s dark brown sculptures reminded her of dripping, melted chocolate, and I could see it immediately. Her sinuous forms thus are like clouds — people will see different things in them.

Pierucci’s works are held in some prominent collections, and she has gallery representation in Austin, Houston, and New Orleans. She’s also a senior lecturer in the School of Art & Design at Texas State University in San Marcos.

without, wanting by Charles Heppner (author photo)

The other artist in this show is photographer Charles Heppner. I really enjoyed his pieces. When I say that he has shot cheesecloth against a black background, that may sound quite ordinary — even dull. But I was mightily impressed by the forms of the twisted white grids on black.

The lack of color, but ramped-up contrast created interesting shadows and play of light remind me of what Edward Weston could do with a bell pepper.

The way these large-format photos are printed and mounted is not something I’ve seen before, either. It’s described as “UV-cured ink-jet print on Dibond.”

Heppner’s work takes on various media. Apparently he started out as a painter, but now works in photography, mixed media constructions, and drawing, as well. After seeing what he does with cheesecloth (!), I am quite interested to see some of his other work.

Of Warp and Weft continues at Davis Gallery through July 21.

A Flying Visit to My Giant on a Hot Day

Looking Up by Tom Friedman (author photos)

This past weekend, I paid a visit to my giant silver friend on the shores of Lake Austin at Laguna Gloria, one of the sites of our local art museum The Contemporary Austin.

33-foot sculpture dwarfs the Driscoll Villa.

It had been a while since I had been by to see him, and I’d forgotten what a behemoth he is. At 33 feet, he soars over the palm trees that themselves dwarf the WWI-era Italianate villa of Clara Driscoll, where the museum manages a sculpture park and an art school.

My silver man is a work by Tom Friedman called Looking Up, commissioned by the museum for this site in 2013. Friedman created the model for him from crushed aluminum roasting pans, then cast the final sculpture in stainless steel. He arrived on the lawn in May 2015.

Usually when I think about my large friend, it’s to reflect on the strangeness of his other-worldly, kindly-alien-visiting-from-an-advanced-planet vibe, which exists in marked contrast to the stately Edwardian lines of the house and gardens.

When I saw him this past Sunday, though, and snapped photos of him against the blue sky, puffy clouds, and palm fronds, what struck me most was how cool and serene he looked with his head tilted toward the sky. His giant feet stood still in contemplation; he took no giant strides across the lawn. He simply looked to the sky, thinking deep thoughts. The 100-degree afternoon did not seem to bother him.

Dainty feet.

It started to get to me, though, after about 10 minutes. My deep thoughts gave way to a deep desire to return to air conditioning.

I’ll be back, Silver Man, when the temps are more kindly. Until then, keep an eye on things for me.


In the Round with Sol LeWitt

Circle with Towers (author photo)

This is a work by Sol LeWitt called Circle with Towers. It has been in place in front of the Gates computer science building on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin since 2012 as part of the university’s Landmarks public art program. (Another incarnation had been erected in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2005; it’s no longer there now.)

When this piece came to the university campus, I did not love it. Neither did I hate it. You might say that I was confused. I looked at it and struggled with whether I would call it art or not. It almost looks like it could be any other concrete wall on campus — a place for students to sit down and rest between classes (and stare at their phones, naturally).

But now, it’s growing on me. The more I learn about LeWitt and his concepts, the more intrigued I become. I don’t always find his works to be beautiful, but the idea behind them is fascinating.

Idea being the operative word. LeWitt, who passed away in 2007, created the ideas for his pieces. He wrote up meticulous instructions, and other people actually built them (and continue to build them, under the supervision of his foundation). So LeWitt’s work is conceptual art. The work of art is not the finished product; the work of art is the concept.

Apparently LeWitt was adamant that those who built his concepts always be given credit, along with himself. So his works, which come in lots of different forms including wall drawings, always carry his name and the names of the people who carried them out.

You Say d’Orsay, I Say Train Station

The Orsay Museum, on the banks of the Seine, Paris (Jorge Láscar)

My first trip to France was in 2016, and amongst numerous delights was the opportunity to visit the most famous of Paris’ museums. I’d fallen in love with Impressionism as a,  well, as an impressionable teenager. And though in the years since I’ve moved on to swim in deeper artistic waters, so to speak, I’ve never quite forgotten my first love. So of course when in Paris for the first time, I had to go to the Orsay.

Main hall of the Orsay (K. Tanaka)

You may know that Le Musée d’Orsay, or the Orsay Museum, is the home of the greatest collection of Impressionist masterpieces, or chefs-d’oeuvre, in the world. It’s situated on the Seine river inside a renovated train station built at the turn of the last century.  The building is gorgeous. Incredibly, this edifice was slated to be torn down in the 1970s before someone had the bright idea to repurpose it as a museum.

I was excited as I could possibly be for the chance to see those Monet, Caillebotte, and Morisot masterpieces in person. But it didn’t quite turn out the way I expected. Or, more precisely, my reaction was not at all what I expected.

Handy map (author photo)

It was bit of a strange experience. The reason was, I think, that I had seen most of these paintings dozens, if not hundreds, of times in books. Seeing them in person was not the transcendent experience for which I had prepared my brain. Although the canvases were literally foreign — thousands of miles from my home, deep in the heart of Texas — I was so familiar with them that they ceased to move me in the way that they once did. I’d reached a saturation point, mentally, before I ever made my way to the City of Light.

Rest assured, I had many transcendent experiences on that first trip to France. And some were indeed with art. They just weren’t, for the most part, with the art that I had seen so many times I could call it up in my mind’s eye with the mere suggestion of a painting title.

Necessary for any Paris trip  (author photo)

The building, though, was another matter. It was truly awe-inspiring. I’ve just been rooting around in my computer files looking for my own photos, only to come up empty. That must have been the day that I forgot to put the recharged batteries back in my camera. Don’t tell me you’ve never done something dumb like that. (Please, don’t.)

So I’ve pulled out some of my paper souvenirs and taken a few quick pics with my phone. And found some lovely images of the museum online (used with permission, thank you).

Behind the clock face (Xiquinho Silva)

One of my favorite memories of visiting the Orsay was standing on the upper level, behind one of the enormous clock faces. There is a photo of me somewhere, standing there in silhouette, with the giant Roman numerals and clock hands behind me. I’ll find it one of these days. But for now, this dude’s photo looking through the clockface will have to do. Fin.

Bring on the Bookplates

This past weekend, I checked out the Ex Libris show of original bookplates at RECSPEC gallery. A friend of mine had a piece in the show.

The idea for these works really struck a chord with me, as a lover of both books and art. I love the idea that you can express your individuality through a bookplate, simultaneously laying claim to your property while stamping it with your own personality.

Bookplate by Laura Thoms

Case in point: Here’s a beautiful bookplate from the show by my friend and co-worker at McDonald Observatory, Laura Thoms. The top portion shows the domes of the telescopes where she lives on the observatory grounds. At the bottom, her home and the wildlife who visit her daily: a deer and her fawn, birds, and a few of the javelinas that abound on site. I love the contrast between the red type and the black graphics.

Ex Libris closed on June 9. It has got me thinking, though, that this would be a great gift to commission for a friend (or myself) through a local artist.

Be Careful What You Wish For, or That Time I Finally Visited Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou (author photo)

This is the first of an occasional series of posts I will write on museums I have visited in recent years. These posts are not intended to be full-blown travel journalism, with all the details on what you’ll need to plan a visit. Rather, since all that info is readily available online, I will offer my own impressions and opinions of the places.

And so, it came to pass in April of this year that I returned to France. And it was a completely wonderful trip. More on the trip later. But one of places I have dreamed of visiting, for years and years, was Centre Pompidou.

In case you don’t know, a quick synopsis. The Pompidou Center, to give it it’s Anglicized name, is a huge complex in the heart of Paris. It encompasses multiple arts organizations within its six floors — most notably (for me, at least), the Musée National d’Art Moderne: France’s National Museum of Modern Art.

Late-career work by Kandinsky (author photo)

And what’s possibly even more exciting than the contents of that museum is the architecture of the building itself. The Pompidou was the first museum building designed by Renzo Piano and collaborators. In the 1970s, Piano was a young, unknown Italian architect. He has since designed many of the most famous art museums in the world (including, closer to home, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, and the new building of the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth).

Built in the 1970s, the Pompidou Center is a building turned inside-out. Much, if not all, of its infrastructure is on the outside. Ducts, vents, escalators: all exposed. It looks amazing. It was controversial at the time, but is beloved by many, if not all, these days.

Young girl with a black cat (Marguerite), 1910, by Henri Matisse (author photo)

First, the good. The Pompidou contains a lot of amazing art, from a lot of famous 20th century artists the world over. And, interestingly, some from less-famous French artists. I saw some fabulous stuff from some of my favorites, like Sonia Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, and more. Even Chris Burden, whom I’m embarrassed to say, I only recently discovered. So in my view, the quality of the art on display is not in question.

What is in question — big time — is the function of this building. Yes, it is cool to look at. And no, it does not function well at all. Unless you live in Paris, and go there all the time, and get used to how it works. If you’re a tourist, even one who speaks a bit of French, comme moi, it is frustrating as hell!

So first of all, walking up to Centre Pompidou, it’s hard to tell which side is the front. Second, when you walk in a random door, you emerge into a giant space with no indication of what is where. There is a line leading to an entrance, but this is not the art museum. How did I figure that out? By looking at a sign? Mais non! By talking in my broken French to the, admittedly quite friendly, guy at the cash register.

I find out the art museum is on the fourth and fifth floors. He kindly directs me to the elevator, which is good because it is not easy to find. I take the elevator up to the fourth floor, and get off, looking to enter the museum. No signs here, either. I ask another person in broken French, how do I get in? It turns out that you can’t enter the fourth floor of the museum on the fourth floor: You must take the elevator up to the fifth floor, and then ride the escalator down to the fourth floor.

The view of Paris from the upper floors of the Pompidou can’t be beat. Notre Dame in the distance. (author photo)

I know what you’re thinking: Je ne sais plus! Or you would be thinking that, if you spoke French. It means “I can’t even.”

Suffice it to say, that was not the last of my adventures in Pompidou land, but I’ll leave out the remaining details. I’ll just say that they involved much riding up and down of escalators — in the heat, you understand, since they’re on the outside of the building — and looking for elevators, and taking the stairs when all else failed.

Part of the problem was, no doubt, that this was just about the last day of a two-week trip through France. While it had been fabulous, I was tired. And cranky. And ticked off about being kept from the art I wanted to see by a stupid building that was supposed to be a fabulous specimen of world architecture, dammit. No doubt when I return, and I will, I will enjoy it much more.

You know, they say the roofs leak in Frank Ghery’s buildings. It doesn’t do to learn too much about your heroes! Fin.


On the Blog Again …

I’m going to start my art blog up again. Was it Willie Nelson who said “I can’t wait to get on the blog again, sipping free wine at art shows with my friends?”

I’ve been inspired to take a closer look at the art around me on the college campus where I work. There’s a lot of it, and much of it I really like. I’ve not written about it before, thinking that it has already garnered a lot of attention when it was first installed. But really, my purpose here is not only to inform others, but to learn for myself. So I am going to take it on.

I’ll try to feature one piece of art or ClockKnotarchitecture from The University of Texas at Austin campus per week. To start out, I’m picking a metal sculpture that I love, and that is situated quite near to me on campus. My office is in a building across the street.

I’m talking about “Clock Knot,” seen at left. The artist is Mark di Suvero. This 2007 sculpture was purchased by the university in 2013.

Situated in the midst of the quite ugly Brutalist architecture of my end of campus — i.e., the science and engineering buildings — its fire engine-red painted steel reaches 41 feet off the ground, really livening things up around here.

According to the university’s Landmarks website, this was one of the earliest pieces in its Landmarks collection, which now includes sculpture and other types of art placed all over campus.

Seeing this piece cheers me up every day, providing me with more evidence all the time that art can lift our spirits by its mere presence. Not to mention, it reminds me that my employer places some importance on art for the campus, which is also an uplifting thought to hold onto when one gets bogged down in university red tape!


Sipping Wine for Salvador Dalí

Dalí drawing
Salvador Dalí drawing from the Argillet collection. Shown at Russell Fine Art Gallery, Austin, Texas.

This past Saturday night, a friend and I went to check out the opening reception for a show of Salvador Dalí prints and drawings for sale at Russell Fine Art Gallery.

I’ve been to openings at the Russell many times. It’s one of the few places in Austin (that I know of) that brings in work by big-name artists. And by “big-name” I mean artists that anyone on the street would have heard of. The last show I saw there featured Degas, Cassatt, and Picasso, amongst others.

The thing about these shows — and it’s not surprising — is that they always seem to be prints and drawings (i.e., most decidedly NOT paintings). I can understand that: The paintings by folks of this caliber surely have been snapped up by major museums decades ago.

But I’ve never really been a lover of prints or drawings. Or etchings or engravings. You get the idea. The recent online classes I’ve been taking in art history have given me a bit more appreciation for prints, by getting me to look past their mere appearance (which is often in black and white, of course) into their historical significance: as a way for art to be copied and disseminated widely to people who couldn’t afford to buy paintings or travel to see them in museums (and of course before television and the internet!).

Anyway, I’m getting off track a bit. I enjoy going to these art openings as way to educate myself about different artists and see their work, even if I can’t afford to drop $30K on a large, hand-tinted etching by Salvador Dalí (with 12 MONTHS NO INTEREST FINANCING, as was prominently displayed in several places around the gallery, along with signs reading NO PHOTOGRAPHY (more’s the pity)).

It’s also fun to look around at these receptions and wonder who, of all the wine-sipping grandees in attendance, is able to purchase such fare. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s great. More power to ’em. If I had that kind of money, I’d probably be spending it on art. But for now, it’s nice to know that I can go and see it, bring a friend, and enjoy a free glass of wine while I’m at it.