Saturday, October 18, 2008

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia, PA, by Thomas Martin

On a long overdue escape down to Philly I had two goals in mind- see the new Perelman building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which opened about a year ago, and visit the embattled Barnes collection, perhaps for the last time in it’s current location. The Barnes collection was closed that day (I had thought I was safe with a Wednesday) and the PMA is apparently on a craft binge this season, showing quilts from Gees Bend, James Castles’ folk art, and jewelry by Calder among a few others. All was not lost, however, it’s currently PMA’s turn to show Eakins’ Gross Clinic. That, combined with museums more than adequate permanent collection would make the trip more than worthwhile.

I was forced to walk through the Gees Bend exhibition to get to the American wing, and as I passed through the thorough exhibition, my opinion slowly softened. I had been told that there was something special but by the time I hit the 70’s room I was amazed to see quilts that reminded me of the wonky sophistication of Mary Heilman or early Elizabeth Murray. (This was further driven home last night as I sat in the New Museum’s cafĂ© looking at some early Heilmans recently hung for he upcoming exhibition.)

Beside Eakin’s Gross Clinic hung a study, which I fell in love with- a collage in paint. This little guy made the trip worth it.

Lastly, I trekked across the street to the Perelman building. I’m not sure where I got the idea that the new building included galleries devoted showing more of the collection, but, the building, relatively short on actual exhibition space, was loaded with more special exhibitions which I had no interest in seeing. Nevertheless, I gave Calder a chance. In a second surprise of the day, I found that Calder’s work makes much more sense as jewelry, prefiguring the current DIY, cute aesthetic that’s been in vogue the past few years.

Qunnie Pettway, “Bricklayer” variation, 1975. Corduroy, 80 ¾ x 69 ¾ inches.

Thomas Eakins, “Sketch for “The Gross Clinic” 1875. Oil on canvas, 26 x 22 inches.

Alexander Calder
Hanging on wall:
Necklace, c. 1943, Silver wire Loop : 34 inches; pendant: 5 1/4 x 3 3/4 inches.

Resting on surface, from left:
Bracelet, c. 1947. Gold wire, 2 13/16 x 2 7/8 x 2 9/16 inches. Cufflinks, c. 1940, Silver wire, 1 1/2 x 1/2 x 3/4 inches. Each. Tiara, c. 1938 Silver wire, 4 1/2 x 7 x 6 1/8 inches.

© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York/Artist’s Rights Society (ARS, NY)

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