Rachel Cohen

The Frederick Project

Introduction

During this period, when we are all in our rooms, and our ways of seeing and learning are virtual, I have been looking through several thousand photos of paintings, drawings, and installations that I have taken, mostly in museums, over the last nine years. Nearly all of these museums are closed to the public right now, and the photos, visual notes, are worlds of color, sometimes like memories, at other times, like steady markers for study and imagination.

Our children have a book, called Frederick, by Leo Lionni. It’s about a mouse, who, in the summer, studies colors. When winter comes, he tries to tell the other mice what he remembers. Looking at my photos, I thought I might try to follow his example.

Image©LeoLionni

Tang Chang Calligraphic Blue

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Something about the blue in the Mary Cassatt I was looking at yesterday and the calligraphy in the Persian miniature I looked at before that made me think of an extraordinary calligraphic blue that I witnessed in a show at the Smart Museum of Art a couple of years ago. for Issa Lampe [...] read more

Cassatt The Child's Bath

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Today, I am thinking about loving a child, and worrying about them. [...] read more

Iskandar and the Seven Sages, from a Khamsa of Nizami

Saturday, June 27, 2020

I just have four pictures, each poor in its own way. But I can't even find the work in the Art Institute's files, or 'pinned' on the internet, so this is the only way to show it to you. I know nothing about it beyond my impression of its incredible fineness, the perfection of the relationship of the calligraphy to the image, the beauty of the colors, and the grace of the situation of the figures in the landscape-page. [...] read more

Cleveland Hike Cézanne

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

This morning we walked with the children in a preserve south of Cleveland. There were stone steps that allowed you to climb up and down along the river which fell over slate ledges in striated curves. [...] read more

Jongkind: A River in Summer

Monday, June 22, 2020

We are visiting family in Cleveland. The Cleveland Museum of Art will be one of the first to reopen, on June 30th. Ordinarily, we would go there. [...] read more

Charles White Collage

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Charles White exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018 had this collage called Headlines . I took only these two photos of it, the whole shown above and this closer detail: It was made in 1944, at the height of the war, when racism in the United States was taking many ugly forms. Looking now, I am struck by the extremity of elegance and profundity with which this renders learning about what people are doing to people through the news. [...] read more

Van Gogh's Room In Detail

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

It is nearly midnight. Dark out. Someone is setting off fireworks. In the house very quiet. I think of Van Gogh, to whom it was important to have these few rooms, with enough room for him to paint, and for Gauguin to come and be sheltered, these rooms in the yellow house in Arles. [...] read more

Van Gogh's Room

Monday, June 15, 2020

Today there is a small glitch in the program that allows me to upload images as part of these notebook entries, and this changes how I can take you through Van Gogh's room — the square table with the blue pitcher in its bowl and the stoppered glass bottles, the open green casement window, the floor with its rough texture of green and brown, the two bright yellow straw chairs, the red cover on the bed, the row of pegs on the wall on which hang the blue work clothes and the soft-brimmed hat — all this will [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse, A single room, Van Gogh

Saturday, June 13, 2020

We are in our rooms in a different way. I think I am having the experience of realizing that this is not a matter of a few weeks or months that will soon be definitively over, but a matter of a year, or years. The room I want to think about is Van Gogh's. The Bedroom , 1889, belonging to the Art Institute of Chicago. On Monday, I will set to work with this room. Wishing you a weekend with time for thought. [...] read more

Graduated

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Yesterday and today, in our extended family, as for many families, our children graduated. Our children and their cousins left behind nursery school, second grade, kindergarten, sixth grade, a year of daycare, and the fourth grade in a planned home school. Their teachers and families made a moving effort to mark these changes which this year do not seem as visible, as tangible, as usual. Thinking about graduation, and gradual movement, my mind went to Claude Monet, who was one of the first painters I loved, and whose paintings our children love to look at. I wanted to [...] read more

Kano School: Kyoto at Peace

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Continuing to think about the rare quality of light at Promontory Point on Sunday. Mellow clear June light of a temperate day. And also light imbued by the people who sat together, sheltered on the rock ledges of a public park, returned to our lake after months of sequestration, with an early tenuous sense that a less violent future might be possible. At first sight, you might think, as I did, that this screen has too much gold on it to take it seriously. I recoil from things which seem to announce their opulence – cannot bear [...] read more

Jeff Donaldson and Miles Davis: Report on a South Side Mood

Monday, June 8, 2020

Today I just want to report on a mood that the children and I happened into around 5:30 yesterday afternoon. A beautiful mood, such as I have never encountered before, fine and distinct. ** The children and I found the mood at Lake Michigan on Promontory Point, which was open yesterday for the first time in nearly three months. We got word from a friend that it was possible to go. We rode our bikes down around 5 in the afternoon. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and there were other people and families making their way through [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse Norman Lewis

Saturday, June 6, 2020

This work in pastel and ink by Norman Lewis caught my attention one day at the Smart Museum of Art. The story wears us down. Lewis grew up in Harlem, his parents were Bermudian, he studied with Augusta Savage. He worked alongside Pollock in the WPA and showed with Mark Rothko and went to the meetings of the Abstract Expressionists, he founded the gallery Cinque with Romare Bearden and Ernest Crichlow, he had shows in his lifetime at MoMA and the Whitney, but his work was not discussed in the official histories of Abstract Expressionism. Abstract [...] read more

Beauford Delaney Eyes

Friday, June 5, 2020

Drawing together the two paintings I’ve been considering this week – Delaney’s Untitled (Village Street) , 1948, and his Self-Portrait , 1944. Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Village Street), 1948, Terra Foundation of Art. All detail photos Rachel Cohen. Beauford Delaney, Self-Portrait, 1944, Art Institute of Chicago. All detail photos Rachel Cohen. When I was with Untitled (Village Street) , I noticed the repeating circles and ovals – lights, clouds, signs, puddles. I thought of the story that James Baldwin tells over and over, and that writers about Baldwin and Delaney tell over and over: I remember standing [...] read more

Delaney, Self-Portrait with a Red Hat

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Today, I just want to look at this self-portrait by Beauford Delaney, carefully, and from different distances. It was painted in 1944. Yesterday, I was writing about 1943 – the year when the Harlem insurrection broke out on the night after James Baldwin’s father’s funeral, which was also the day of Baldwin’s 19th birthday. When Beauford Delaney found the money to pay for the father’s burial, and Baldwin drove through the streets of shattered glass to the burial. And then left Harlem and moved down to the Village to live with Delaney for a while until he [...] read more

Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin, Notes of Native Sons

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Between the thirties and the end of World War II, there was perhaps as radical a change in the psychological perspective of the Negro American toward America as there was between the Emancipation and 1930. —Amiri Baraka, Blues People: Negro Music in White America When I looked at this painting, painted in 1948, Beauford Delaney’s Untitled (Village Street) at length this winter, I was very struck by the way one side of the painting is very clearly in color, and the other very clearly emphasizes black and white. The color division is so evident that you have to [...] read more

Beauford Delaney and Protest

Monday, June 1, 2020

In these hard days, the sounds of our neighborhood are of the unusual silence of the pandemic, the birds singing, of sirens, both ambulance sirens and police sirens, of the 7 pm neighborhood pot-banging in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protestors, the muffled greetings between neighbors, masked and at a distance, the imagined sounds of videos of police violence that I have not played, but have read about, the imagined sounds of protests that I have not attended, but feel I can hear from a few miles away, and the imagined sounds of shattering glass that I [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse: Balthasar van der Ast

Sunday, May 31, 2020

At the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, this still life happened to catch my eye. The wall label read: Balthasar van der Ast Dutch, 1593 or 1594-1657 Still Life with Fruit and Shells Oil on panel Private Collection The sky is very blue today. We are waiting to understand, waiting for a better world, and my friends come into my mind as if they were nearby. [...] read more

Guest Post Lori Waxman

Friday, May 29, 2020

I was delighted that the wonderful art critic Lori Waxman accepted my invitation to write the first guest post for the Frederick Project. Here is her reflection on Fischli and Weiss and the Way Things Go. — RC After the shelter-in-place order was issued here, one of the very first artworks I turned to was “The Way Things Go,” a 1987 film by the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss. I watched it with my son, who is six years old and likes to make inventions out of random crap he finds in our house and on [...] read more

Centrale Montemartini, Bodies in Structured Space

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Yesterday, I thought about Michelangelo's designs for the Laurentian Library in Florence. I was interested that I came upon a thought of the strain that an idea of architectural space may put on a body. I hadn't quite thought to myself before that part of what interests me in certain Florentine ideas of space and design is that they demand something of my body as I move through them. When I let my mind rove about for what to look at next, I came to the Centrale Montemartini in Rome, a museum that is like a huge [...] read more

Michelangelo, Stairs for a Library

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

While I was working on the biography I wrote of Bernard Berenson, which was published in 2013, I was able to go to Florence twice. This was before I had a phone with a camera, and I did not take pictures on these trips. Berenson’s lists of Italian paintings and painters are still foundational for all the work of identifying who painted what in the complicated annals of late Medieval and Renaissance art in Italy. He was extremely gifted at discerning the artistic personality that had been at work in a certain piece – this is the way [...] read more

Katayama Yokoku, Marking an Occasion

Monday, May 25, 2020

When I began going to museums with our daughter S, she always liked paintings of animals, and, from an early age, tigers. Sometimes, when I went without her, I would take a few pictures to bring home of things I thought she might especially like. It is for this reason that I have one photo of this magnificent tiger in a rainstorm, painted by Katayama Yokoku, who was a Kano school painter in the 18th century in Japan. S was two and a half when I took the picture, I was very pregnant, and thinking of her with [...] read more

Michelangelo on Sunday

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Two important exhibitions of Michelangelo drawings in recent years. The drawing below was in the show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer (Nov. 2017 - Feb 2018). It's a composition sketch for a planned sculptural relief at the church of San Lorenzo, the subject is St. Lawrence Coming Before the Emperor. The Emperor is enthroned on the viewer's left. Michelangelo began in red chalk, on the left, and then began to use pen and brown ink, and eventually abandoned the chalk. It seems so alive, the materials let you see [...] read more

Stockholder Rose's Inclination

Friday, May 22, 2020

Red was also painted on to the sidewalk. The red stretched up in a big painted arc on the back wall that curved up on to the ceiling and stretched toward the windows of the second floor, windows that you cannot really see from the lobby space below but which shone on the red. And red ran in the carpet under the tables where students sat and drank coffee, across the floor of the lobby, out the museum doors, and on to the sidewalk, where it was met by triangles of yellow, blue, green, and lavender. The work [...] read more

Vostell Concrete

Thursday, May 21, 2020

In the fall of 2016, when we had just arrived in Chicago, I began to get emails about a concrete car, a 1957 Cadillac encased in concrete, that would be traveling the streets of Chicago before being permanently parked in a University parking garage. This seemed promising and suggestive, and though I was unable to attend the parade, a small trail of reflection began. Concrete Traffic, Created 1970, Originally Installed 1970, Reinstalled 2016. Conceived by Wolf Vostell and created by Chicago artisans. Located at Campus North Parking Garage 5525 S Ellis Ave, Chicago. Photo Rachel Cohen. There was [...] read more

Mondrian Trees Reflected

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

This entry was written for, and is up today at, zoeryanprojects , more information below. ** I walked by this Mondrian one day at the Art Institute, just wandering with a friend. I am tall, and she is taller, carries herself like a long line and speaks in lineated prose, and, although she was in another room when I happened on this painting, the elongation of space was a part of my impression. I first became aware of the significance of trees for Mondrian at the great MoMA retrospective, which I am surprised to realize was in [...] read more

Vuillard and Vegetation

Monday, May 18, 2020

This week I want to think about vegetation and growth. I have been reading a long poem by Francis Ponge from Le Parti Pris de Choses , which my friend Massimo sent on to me – happily, since I cannot find my copy of it. In the poem “Faune et Flore” I find the line: “Il n’y a pas d’autre mouvement en eux que l’extension.” Extension is their only movement. It has rained enormously over the last few days. The last five springs have been the rainiest five years on record in Chicago and the surrounding farmlands. [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse Vuillard

Saturday, May 16, 2020

This painting by Édouard Vuillard is called Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods . It was painted in 1899. It used to hang in a different room on the second floor of the Art Institute of Chicago, in a side room against a dark red wall. This was a quite wonderful color that brought out the richness and browns that are an important part of it. It is always nice to take a deep breath before this painting, which is massive — eight feet high and more than twelve feet long. It was meant to feel like [...] read more

Morisot, Occasionally

Friday, May 15, 2020

I went to Québec City in the summer of 2018 to cover Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist. I had never been to Québec City before, and I had not been away from the children for two nights in a row. Our daughter was then six, and our son three and a half. Both Québec City and the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (MNBAQ) were built with French models in mind, and then also built to be of a different place. So the buildings and collection assembled into the MNBAQ are connected to European museums, but are substantially [...] read more

If you think of each act, Pissarro

Thursday, May 14, 2020

If you think of each act. I mean, every time a person comes into contact with someone else or a living being, or the life of the world. Every time she talks to the cashier as she pays for groceries at the store, or calls the pharmacy about a prescription, every time she does or doesn’t nod to a person she passes as she’s out walking, every time she puts out bird seed or chases away a rat who has come to eat the bird seed, or decides to bring in the bird feeder for now and moves [...] read more

Rembrandt – Somber

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Today three different messages of death reached me. A colleague’s father has died, from a long illness, not the coronavirus. It is very complicated for the son to go; he will have to quarantine away from his family on his return. At noon, I gave a virtual reading with another colleague, who lives on a block one block away from me. Both of us read about memorialization. After the reading, my colleague said that five households on his block - I can see the backs of these houses through my study window as I write this – [...] read more

Vidura Jang Bahadur Two Photographs Outside

Monday, May 11, 2020

On Friday I wrote about a show of works by photographer Vidura Jang Bahadur that has stayed with me. It was up in the spring of 2017 at the Muffler Shop at 359 E. Garfield in a University of Chicago-owned space here on the South Side. When I looked at the show, I began with the works that had been displayed in the interior space first, and my Friday entry concentrated mostly on those. Two works mounted outside were especially interesting, and I wanted to return to them today. The Muffler Shop sits in a paved parking area [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse: Cézanne Bouquet for Mother's Day

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Here is a Cézanne, The Vase of Tulips , from about 1890. It is at the Art Institute of Chicago. I took the photos. Happy Mother's Day [...] read more

Vidura Jang Bahadur On Photography

Friday, May 8, 2020

In the spring of 2017, Vidura Jang Bahadur installed a series of photographs he had taken at the Muffler Shop at 359 E. Garfield Blvd near Washington Park on the South Side. The building is owned by the University of Chicago and is a part of its art initiatives. Bahadur’s photographs were street photographs – of people at the lake shore and in the parks on the south side, of storefronts and prairie grasses, some portraits of an individual or a small group, some larger crowd gatherings. In the photographs there was stillness and composure, and I [...] read more

Gwendolyn Brooks in Our Neighborhood

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

In our neighborhood, at 46th and Greenwood, is Gwendolyn Brooks Park. And in Gwendolyn Brooks Park there is a statue of the poet, which is believed to be only the second statue of an African-American woman in Chicago. The sculptor is Margot McMahon, an artist who specializes in public projects and in sculptures of people who play what get called ordinary roles in the making of city life. The sculpture was McMahon’s idea, as part of the centennial celebration for Gwendolyn Brooks, and she approached Nora Brooks Blakely, daughter of the poet, who suggested that the park [...] read more

Faith Ringgold Story Quilts

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

“On the Beach at St. Tropez” was the first Faith Ringgold story quilt I’d seen, and I was completely unprepared for the encounter. I was floored. And know what that expression means as I find it is the right one: it means my soul rushed down to the floor so that I could look up and take the measure of this. I had already read the wall text, so I knew that there was a character, Willia Marie Simone, an African-American artist who had gone to Paris in the 1920s and had a wonderful, historically very [...] read more

Three Pissarros Over Time

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Pissarro landscape has a special quality. As in a Monet, the vegetation has a lift, but this is even a bit more pronounced, so that there is a strong space around the leaves, which have a kind of brio. Detail from Camille Pissarro, A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1874. As in a Sisley, there are glints, and the overall effect is quite bright, but the strokes are not quite as thin as Sisley’s. Camille Pissarro, Cotes des Grouettes, near Pontoise, probably 1878. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. * To understand the painter who emerged in [...] read more

Weekend Countryside Pissarro

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sunshine today put me in mind of three Pisssarros at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Camille Pissarro, A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1874. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. And, second: Camille Pissarro, Jallais Hill, 1867. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. Third: Camille Pissarro, Cotes des Grouettes, near Pontoise, probably 1878. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. May the weekend bring you sunlight and repose. [...] read more

Valeria Luiselli and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Montage, Part 2

Friday, May 1, 2020

Continuing the thought of yesterday. Two artists consider the topography of Mexico and Mexico City. Lola Álvarez Bravo in a photo-montage called Landscapes of Mexico from around 1954; Valeria Luiselli in an essay from around 2012 called “Flying Home.” [I’m using the translation by Christina MacSweeney; I don’t know what the essay was originally called in Spanish.] Both artists consider shifts in point of view that are hard to come by right now – you can’t get up into an airplane, or into the dusty reaches of a map archive, or to the top of a skyscraper to [...] read more

Valeria Luiselli and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Changes in Scale, Part 1

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Low this morning, daunted by similar days and already anticipating the evening feeling that the day has slipped by without any of the things I meant to do getting done. I am aware that today was to have been a special day. We had been able to invite Valeria Luiselli to come to the University of Chicago, and she was to have arrived yesterday. Tonight would have been the large public event. I would have met her yesterday, be going over my introductory remarks now. These last few years, Luiselli has been a writer who has mattered very [...] read more

Anni Albers Scripts

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

This week I seem to be thinking about art that thinks about writing. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to write about art. A reversal is interesting: how art considers writing. Earlier this week, I looked at Tara Geer, and at Alberto Giacometti, both of whom use line in ways that think about writing. Today when I woke up what was in my mind was Anni Albers Study for Six Prayers, IV , which I saw a few times at the Art Institute last fall, in their Weaving Beyond the Bauhaus exhibition. Going back [...] read more

Giacometti Difficult Hand-Writing

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Writing of Tara Geer’s work yesterday put me in mind of Giacometti, whose line in drawings and in paintings also has a quality of being written. This is from the Geer of yesterday: Giacometti's hand: He, too, is calligraphic: These details are from a Giacometti that I spent a fair amount of time with at the Harvard Art Museums, a portrait of the art critic David Sylvester. I wrote an entry about the portrait for this notebook in 2014, about the way the figure seems to coalesce from the background. I said this felt deeply [...] read more

Tara Geer At Home, Drawn

Monday, April 27, 2020

Tara Geer draws from life. There were some months, maybe years, where she spent hours up on the roof of her studio building on 133rd Street sketching the tar stains. She drew backpacks and socks, the buses in the city lot across the street, and the cobwebs in the freight elevator shaft. Right now she is sheltering with her family, and like many artists cannot get to her studio. The things she looks for are oblique, at odds. A relationship of the edges from two separate objects seen across space; a shape from wood grain but no [...] read more

Weekend Space Tara Geer

Saturday, April 25, 2020

I met the artist Tara Geer at the MacDowell Colony in 2002. For the next nine years or so, we were both living in New York, and I spent quite a bit of time at her studio, looking. Eventually, I came to have three of her works, which are drawings. This is one that does not have a title, done before May of 2013, probably in early 2013 or late 2012. It is work that takes attention very seriously, and I hope, even through these photos, will offer contemplation, at the end of another difficult week, looking ahead [...] read more

Delaney and Morisot Ochre: This Week in Self-Portraits

Friday, April 24, 2020

Yesterday, looking at pictures of Beauford Delaney’s Untitled , 1965, I noticed a kind of ochre in the corner that I hadn’t remembered being part of the palette. It's down in the lower right corner, near the rosy orange, under the diagonal of green. Beauford Delaney, Untitled, 1965. Art Institute of Chicago. Photo Rachel Cohen. I have also been going through Morisot paintings this week, and her self-portrait, with its ochre, came into view. Berthe Morisot, Self-Portrait , 1885, Musée Marmottan Monet. Photos Rachel Cohen. Ochre was so important that she used it to show her own palette, [...] read more

Beauford Delaney Close Looking

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I had about a half an hour with it. The kind people who work at the Art Institute of Chicago had arranged an appointment. It was in the director’s suite, behind an administrator, who typed away at her computer while I was looking and photographing. Which is by way of saying that the impression of calm is hard-won, mostly due to the painting, and to efforts of concentration. What a painting. It’s 21 x 26 inches (53.3 by 66 cm). A little taller than it is wide, a painting you could put your arms around. Here [...] read more

Poussin on Earth Day

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

It is Earth Day, and I want to think about the earth’s time. My colleague Kathleen Blackburn, who writes about the environment and works with the Fresh Water Lab at the University of Illinois, has drawn my attention to a book I have been thinking about without yet having read, Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. The thought is that we can understand and respond to crises with an immediate time horizon, but that we have a very hard time acting as if, even perceiving that, we’re in crisis when something is prolonged. This [...] read more

William Walker Public Art

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Today I want to think about public art. Art that I can still go visit, that anyone can still go visit, even though all the museums are closed. Often vulnerable and often unprotected, and also, beautifully, always there. Even in the dark of night, in snow, in a pandemic. In our neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, there is a masterwork at the 56th Street Metra Underpass. It is called Childhood is Without Prejudice , and it is one of the few surviving murals by William Walker, who was a foundational figure in mural art. Painted in 1977. [...] read more

Morisot – A Daughter at the Window

Monday, April 20, 2020

A daughter at the window is poignant. She is here with you, in the interior, but she is thinking of what lies beyond. Berthe Morisot, Cottage Interior, 1886. Musée d'Ixelles. Photos Rachel Cohen. Berthe Morisot painted and drew her daughter Julie probably several hundred times. There are masterpieces of Julie as a baby with her wet nurse, as a toddler swinging her foot in a chair, as a little girl with her father in the garden. I’ve studied three of Morisot’s daughter as a little bit bigger girl, with her auburn hair pulled back, near windows, looking out [...] read more

Glimpse Morisot

Saturday, April 18, 2020

For the weekend, you might like to look at Berthe Morisot's Cottage Interior , 1886. It belongs to the Musée d'Ixelles and was shown in the great Morisot retrospective of a couple of years ago. I photographed it in the exhibition at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec (MNBAC). Morisot's daughter Julie is looking out the window. May week's end bring you rest. [...] read more

Noemi Pérez Emphasis

Friday, April 17, 2020

Today I just want to show three more detail photos taken from Noemi Pérez's large scale murals Catatumbo Panorama . The works were made in 2012-2016, and in 2018, and were shown together at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago as part of their Routes and Territories exhibition, which is set to close in two days, on April 19, 2020, although it is already closed. In this one, you can see how a cloud of charcoal seems to hover, and interfere, to be the closest thing to you, but the vegetation doesn't exactly recede, some leaves seem [...] read more

Noemi Pérez at the MCA Chicago

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Time is short today, but what I want to begin thinking about are some mural-sized works of charcoal on canvas that I saw in February at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of their exhibition Routes and Territories . The artist is Noemi Pérez, who is from Colombia. Together, the set of pieces are called Panorama Catatumbo. She made them in two groups, one group from 2012 to 2016, the other in 2018. One of the 2018 panels was shown courtesy of the artist and Institut Vision; I believe the 2012-16 panels belong to the Museum [...] read more

Pissarro in Snow

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Snow this morning. This painting – Rabbit Warren at Pontoise, Snow by Camille Pissarro, 1879 – is a regular point of reference for me, one I visit fairly often at the Art Institute. I had thought that writing of it would wait until next year. (Will we be inside again? There are questions and predictions about future waves of the disease. Hard to grasp what the year will be.) Most winters I write a little about snow and painting because snow is painting in nature. Pissarro was a great snow painter. He painted nearly a [...] read more

Gray Bird and Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

This morning I woke early, went to the kitchen. Out the window, in the still-brown bittersweet vine, a small gray bird, its feathers puffed out against the cold. It was 31 degrees, cold for spring. At this time of year, we have many migratory birds that pass through our garden for a few days. I know these gray ones come around this time. Yesterday I was saying to the children that this unseasonably cold weather would be unexpected for them. But then, I added, where it is coming from or going to would be cold at some point. [...] read more

Cézanne and Ponge: Wooden Table

Monday, April 13, 2020

The painting is called Still Life with Commode . It’s from 1887-88, a strong period of Cézanne’s work. He was fighting hard with his canvases, and able to do some of what mattered to him. He made two very similar versions of this painting, which was unusual for him; there is only one other still life pair where he worked through the same arrangement twice. So, the elements and their arrangement here were of unusual interest to him. The back of the picture is the commode. Which is very wooden. The brown is so rich with this [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse Cézanne

Saturday, April 11, 2020

It is the weekend again, and I am leaving a few images from a Cézanne still life at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts for anyone who might pass by and be in need of a fine green, a modulating brown, yellow apples, and a sense of achieved stability. Wishing you peace, health, tranquility, resolve. [...] read more

Kemang Wa Lehulere: Sensibility

Friday, April 10, 2020

Late in 2016, when we had been living in Chicago for about six months, I went to the Art Institute, and wandered into a show of works by Kemang Wa Lehulere, who is from Capetown. The show was called In All My Wildest Dreams and was curated by Kate Nesin. [All photos are from the exhibition, I don't have titles for all the pieces.] In the first room there was a large installation. Old, small brown suitcases, some open, some closed. Cut pieces of green artificial grass. Porcelain dogs, something like German shepherds, but quite small, and with [...] read more

Sargent Stone Water Stone Paper

Thursday, April 9, 2020

In 2013, a show of John Singer Sargent watercolors. I saw it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; it was co-organized with, and also shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. These two institutions have the two finest collections of Sargent watercolors. These first details are from I Gesuati , ca. 1909. [Works shown in this post belong to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; except for two, belonging to the Brooklyn Museum, noted below.] It interested me that walls were so beautiful in his hands. Some of what he showed were walls of houses that [...] read more

Hiroshige's Views of Kyoto

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In December of 2019, I went to New York for a few days and various reasons, and I went twice to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was covering their show Kyoto: Capital of Artistic Imagination , for which they had reinstalled their Japanese galleries with works from their permanent collection that partake in the long Kyoto tradition. Kyoto was for many centuries the capital of Japan – this capital was eventually shifted to Edo, which is now called Tokyo. The two cities were connected by a famously beautiful road, the Tokaido Road, and many artists traveled along [...] read more

Lorenzetti and Neighborhood

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

This week, the week of Passover and Easter, is a strange one. I think of it as a place in the year where time folds over itself. In our family, we observe Passover, the commemoration of the exodus. The story of enslavement and liberation told over and over down the generations. That story, the ritual of its retelling at a meal, is then the setting for the last supper, the prelude to an execution, and the foundation of the new testament, also celebrated in our family, by some devoutly, by others with colored eggs. Every year, a [...] read more

Xu Longsen and the sense of touch

Monday, April 6, 2020

Over the weekend, I set out some pictures from Xu Longsen’s Light of Heaven exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. The exhibition was installed throughout the museum’s rooms devoted to art from China and was in complex relationships with the other works. Xu Longsen  works in series and groups, and from my photographs and the museum's documentation, I can’t tell which pieces had which names. All the works are from 2016-2017 and are in the collection of the artist, Beijing. When I stumbled into it the first time, I was impressed by these tall [...] read more

Xu Longsen at the Art Institute

Saturday, April 4, 2020

On weekends, I'm going to post some glimpsed works that I can take up in more detail come Monday. These are from an installation of works by Xu Longsen at the Art Institute of Chicago called Light of Heaven , which ran from Feb 1 - June 24, 2018. At the end, I am also including a photo of the wall text that gives the names of the installations that were in this space, a series of painted columns made of felt, all several feet taller than a person. [...] read more

Jan Brueghel the Elder Dance

Friday, April 3, 2020

Yesterday I spent some five hours talking to people through screens – a zoom faculty meeting with twenty-five writers at their desks, facetime with my oldest friend, also a writer at a desk, zoom family meet-up for nine with breakout room for cousins. The day closed with a zoom nightcap for my husband and I and a dear friend in Cambridge. Grateful for friends, colleagues, family, health, nevertheless, by the end I was reeling with insubstantiality. This morning I followed my subconscious through the folders of my art photographs, choosing a trip to France six years ago, the [...] read more

Delaney Self-Portrait Sketches

Thursday, April 2, 2020

This morning I went for groceries, had a zoom faculty meeting, the man came to help cement the cracks in our back foundation through which the mice are coming; my husband did the kids’ school and meals, wiped down the groceries… It’s a sunny and beautiful day, New York is running out of ventilators, Chicago is on the edge of serious trouble, I am probably already too anxious to write clearly. For the last few weeks, I have had an hour or two, even three, to write, and have been able to write first, before the world [...] read more

Sophie Calle and Rembrandt at the Gardner

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Yesterday I wrote about a Rembrandt self-portrait that is still to be seen at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Today, thinking of recent news of a painting stolen from a coronavirus closed museum, I want to write about a Rembrandt self-portrait that isn't still to be seen at the Gardner. Seven years ago, there was a Sophie Calle installation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was a reconfiguration of an earlier project, done in 1990, immediately after the theft of thirteen important works from the Gardner’s collection. In 1990, Calle had been in Boston quite a bit, [...] read more

Rembrandt in Gray at the Gardner

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

I wish I could say that I knew this painting well, but the truth is that I walked by it a few times when we lived in Boston. I went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum fairly often, because I was writing a book about Bernard Berenson, who was one of her most important advisors in building the collection. But Berenson was focused on Italian paintings, and when I went to the museum I spent a lot of my time in the Italian rooms. On most visits, I never even went around to the side of the museum [...] read more

A little more late Manet

Monday, March 30, 2020

Yesterday, I began from Manet’s morning glories and nasturtiums to arrive at a letter he sent to Marthe Hoschedé, with a water color of a horse chestnut on it. Letter to Marthe Hoschedé, Decorated with a Chestnut , October 10, 1880, private collection. Detail photo Rachel Cohen. In the exhibition, at the museum, next to the letter with the horse chestnut, there hung a watercolor of plums. Today I’m going to begin there. Three Plums , 1880. Collection of Cecille Pulitzer. Detail photos Rachel Cohen. Believed to have been made for an autograph album or a collector, but [...] read more

Late Manet

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Last summer, the summer of 2019, the Art Institute of Chicago had a Manet show, Manet and Modern Beauty which I reviewed for Apollo Magazine . The paintings in the show were mostly from the late 1870s and early 1880s, a period when Manet’s touch and palette were lightening, he was interested in flowers and fashion, and he was also dying of complications of syphilis. Thus the tone was an odd combination of lightness, fluidity, melancholy, and decay. It was a very sad show. I had not realized that Manet was only fifty-one at his death, and [...] read more

Pissarro and Public Spaces

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Yesterday in Chicago the lake front and many of the public parks closed. A day or two earlier, there had been a beautiful warm day, and too many people went out to the places we always go to. Jackson Park was closed, too, where the children and I have been going to keep track of spring, and to run around the perimeter of what they call ‘the circle garden.’ This morning, I am thinking about the relationship between museums and public parks, places whose colors we see, year in and year out, changing and constant. Camille Pissarro [...] read more

Frankenthaler Woodcut Color

Friday, March 27, 2020

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) worked with many kinds of material. Two springs ago, the Art Institute of Chicago held a show of her prints: Helen Frankenthaler Prints: The Romance of a New Medium . I went a couple of times, and once took our daughter, for whom colors are living presences . Frankenthaler started working seriously as a high school student, with artist Rufino Tamayo as her teacher. Tamayo, born in Oaxaca, painted in an abstract style, and was influenced by surrealism. Octavio Paz said that to say in one word what distinguished Tamayo’s work from that of his [...] read more

iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman Further Looking

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Yesterday I turned up a subject – a pavilion at the Venice Biennale with works by iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman, curated by Benno Tempel. I decided to follow it through in the order of my experience: seeing the pavilion in June of 2019, having the sense of interest quickened, documenting something of what I saw, being offered materials which I glanced at, but kept, and then, some nine months later, paying another kind of attention, internet attention, which let me put together other layers of meaning. The installation was set up like this: The pavilion, designed [...] read more

iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman at the Venice Biennale

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Last summer, in 2019, we went to Venice with my mother. My father had close colleagues at the University there, and my mother still goes regularly to see them and the city. I had not been back since we scattered my father’s ashes there, six years earlier. Now our daughter was seven, our son four. They loved Venice. They loved that there was a boat for everything – for garbage, for fires, a UPS boat, one with a crane for construction, gondolas and pleasure boats and water taxis. The world was aqueous, as it is in certain places [...] read more

Turner Looking

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

I am interested in the time layers of paintings. I always go back to J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), painter of hundreds of oils (radical landscapes, history paintings, the abolitionist Slave Ship , scenes from his teeming imagination), of thousands of watercolors (a lingering soft touch, delicate effects of light, hundreds of studies of Venice, an inspiration to the Impressionists), and artist of some 30,000 works on paper (wonderful sketchbooks, studies in history, architecture, travel.) Turner died, impoverished and strange, in London in 1851 and a huge bequest went to what is now the Tate Museum in London; when [...] read more

Beauford Delaney and Ella Fitzgerald: In Yellow

Monday, March 23, 2020

In February, I went to a conference at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, organized by Amy J. Elias, called In a Speculative Light: The Arts of James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney . Some of the speakers were to give the first talks of their careers and others were people of great renown; all, feeling the significance of honoring the friendship between Baldwin and Delaney, and wanting to have the chance to give real attention to Delaney’s less studied work, had carefully prepared. We arrived at overlapping considerations, the conversation was layered, and had a quality of movement [...] read more

Morisot Following Black

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The first Morisot I ever really paid attention to was a small watercolor from the Clark Institute of Art (currently closed) that I happened upon in an exhibition of works on paper at the Frick (closed) in New York. Berthe Morisot, Before a Yacht, 1875, Clark Art Institute, 8 1/8 x 10 9/16 inches. I was taken by it. And then, that afternoon, saw five of her paintings in a show on Impressionism and fashion at the Met (closed). By this fortunate set of circumstances, I was, in a single day, persuaded that I had missed one of [...] read more

Hokusai Turned Sideways

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Because it was behind glass, I could only photograph it sidelong. It came as a great relief. In the Art Institute of Chicago’s show of 2018, Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection . Room after room of courtesans – the highly-paid ones in their graceful rooms which they still could not leave unless a patron could be persuaded to purchase their contracts; and the ones who worked the docks at night, with stalls for quick transactions – all posed for a viewer’s eye, and, also, for my eye. The figures were very beautiful, [...] read more

Faith Ringgold at St. Tropez

Friday, March 20, 2020

Thinking of intense experiences of color in the last few months. Immediately Faith Ringgold. Her painted canvas and quilt On the Beach at St. Tropez , from the series of twelve story-quilts The French Collection , which came as a revelation in the Smart Museum of Art’s show called Down Time: On the Art of Retreat this past fall. You walked into the gallery and were literally flooded with color. Ringgold paints on canvas then stitches the canvas to quilt, finishes the backs with cotton batting. A bravura painter, years of careful experiments with pigment to [...] read more

Cézanne Still and Blue

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Today I’m going to work on how Cézanne’s blue resolves. One sense of resolve is to determine to go forward. Cézanne’s perennial project. Famous for destroying his canvases, for painting them out and scraping them off and beginning again, for going out on the road every day to set up his easel and work again at the view of the bay, the view of the mountain. Speaking to few, often frustrated, lonely. The resolve took great force of character because it was full of uncertainty. He never was sure. Which points back toward an earlier sense [...] read more

Blue of Paul Cézanne

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Yesterday, I wrote about Beauford Delaney’s blue, green, and yellow – the way the blue filters down through the trees; the radiant effect of combined green and yellow. Today, I want to pursue blue. I’ve taught Rebecca Solnit’s essay on blue from her Field Guide to Getting Lost , and I’ve taught Maggie Nelson on blue in her book Bluets. Blue runs through many fields of study – those two writers and many others have traced its threads in landscape, in vision, in philosophy, memory, sorrow, tranquility. Today I’d like to think about blue as a color of [...] read more

Beauford Delaney in Knoxville

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I just saw it for a minute. It was low down on the storage rack, and I had to crouch down to get to it. My one attempt to photograph the whole of it is clearly angled from above. Watercolor on paper. Even in this poor photograph, the sense of the colors is not far from the actual. 12 ½ inches high and 9 ½ inches wide. A little larger than an ordinary piece of paper. The curator at the Knoxville Museum of Art, Stephen Wicks, tells me that it is similar in style and subject to [...] read more

Arriving at Beauford Delaney

Monday, March 16, 2020

In the last few months, I've twice gone into the storage facilities of a large museum – once at the Art Institute of Chicago, once at the Knoxville Museum of Art. In storage, you can see what curators and conservators and art handlers know: all the contingencies and arrangements that get cloaked with inevitability once a painting is on a wall. It's my idea that the collection I'm making here could be a kind of storage facility. It is a special moment, when the door opens to a museum’s storage facility. You had taken the elevator down, walked [...] read more