Sunday, December 27, 2015

The main galleries of the Cleveland Museum of Art

No question the most compelling reason to get to the Cleveland Museum of Art is to see the special exhibit, which heavily features Monet's paintings of his garden, along with other key Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings of gardens.  There is just over a week left, so if you haven't already made plans, it may already be too late.  I spent a bit over an hour trying to soak it all in, and it was certainly worth the trip.

I haven't spent all that much time in Cleveland, though I went a couple of times for conferences in 2001 and 2003 (both times I snuck away to the Cleveland Museum of Art) and then I went once or twice for work probably around 2008 or 2009, though I don't think I had time to get to the museum.  I suspect I did not go, since the big renovation of the museum would have been happening at that time, and I certainly don't remember seeing a lot of construction activity.  The main difference is that the original building had its main entrance facing a small pond.  This has now become a secondary entrance and it was actually closed for the winter!

You had to walk around to the north side.  (That's a bit of a shame as people will generally miss out on seeing Rodin's The Thinker in what used to be the front of the museum.  It is only a small dark dot in the photo above.)

One quite important change is that the north entrance is lower, so that after you enter and go past the gift shop and the main atrium (note the long line of people trying to get tickets for the show), you start on what used to be the lower level (Medieval art and Asian art and Islamic art and even textiles).

I suspect with the new configuration, these galleries are visited slightly more often than before.  On the whole this is a good thing.  I knew I had very little time, however, and pretty much raced around the bottom in about 15 minutes.

I'm generally not much of a fan of Medieval art, but in honor of the season, I will post this Adoration of the Magi, which I thought was well done (if a bit out of focus).

Giovanni di Paolo, The Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1442

I then went upstairs and almost immediately was confronted with a very powerful Turner painting, depicting the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834.

 J. M. W. Turner, The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834, 1834-35

As it happened, no one at all was in the gallery with me, so I was able to soak it in (again, keeping one eye on my watch).  I took a few detailed close-ups, as it is just hard to get a sense of what Turner was doing without getting close to the paintings.

While from a selfish perspective, it was nice to have the painting all to myself, I think it a shame that the AGO couldn't convince the Cleveland Museum to loan them this painting for their Turner exhibit (perhaps they didn't ask), since the companion piece from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is in the show, and putting them side by side would be really quite cool.

J. M. W. Turner, The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834, 1834-35

I like both views, but I do have to give the nod to the painting held in Philadelphia as the contrast between the fire and the on-coming dusk makes it a bit bolder.  I think the composition is a bit more interesting as well.  I should be able to get over to the AGO for a short visit tomorrow, and I'll try to spend a bit of time in front of this painting if the crowds aren't too bad.

Anyway, the clock was ticking, so I headed out of the original 1916 museum building into the new galleries.  They were terrific with far too many paintings to detail.  I'll put up a few that really caught my attention without a lot of commentary.  In general, my photos came out pretty well with a few exceptions.  Fortunately, most of the ones that were blurred were ones that are in the new museum handbook, which I did purchase.  And indeed, many of the images are on the Cleveland Museum website, as is the case with an increasing number of museums.

Georges Braque, Guitar and Bottle of Marc on a Table, 1930

Paul Cezanne, Mount Sainte-Victoire, ca. 1904

Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees, 1889

Andre Derain, The Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge, 1906

Pablo Picasso, The Harem, 1906

Pierre Bonnard, Café Terrace, 1898

Edouard Vuillard, Café Wepler, 1908-12

I turned the corner and came to the gallery with the painting I was really looking for: Max Beckmann's The Last Duty of Perseus.  I don't really understand the painting, but it is definitely powerful if a bit too gruesome.  (I actually wasn't that sad not to have the kids with me as I couldn't really have taken much time in front of this painting with them around.)

Max Beckmann, The Last Duty of Perseus, 1949

At this point, the collection started turning towards surrealism and then the abstract expressionists.  While there were several important works here, I was most drawn to the Stuart Davis,* with its pop sensibilities creeping into abstraction, and the Guston, which is arguably a pop work.  (I probably wouldn't have been too upset if either of these paintings had gone back into storage, though I was certainly glad to see them.  I would have been quite upset, however, if the Beckmann wasn't on view.)

Philip Guston, Tour, 1969

Stuart Davis, Composition Concrete, 1957-60

It was probably just as well that part of Japanese art galleries were closed for renovation, and I kept moving around the ring to reach Indian art.  I took a minute to snap this photo of Ganesha (the god of travellers).  Who knows if that gave me just enough karma to catch my Greyhound bus out of Cleveland...

However, I knew I was living on borrowed time by the time I reached the American galleries back in the 1916 building.  In fact, most of these photos are blurred, but a few ones turned out reasonably well (both by Childe Hassam incidentally).

Childe Hassam, Fifth Avenue, 1919

Childe Hassam, Fifth Avenue Nocturne, ca. 1895

Then it was really and truly time to go, so I ran into the gift shop, retrieved my bag and set out onto the mean streets of Cleveland, hoping to find a cab to take me back downtown.  I certainly wouldn't be averse to returning to Cleveland and checking out the museum again, but I hope it will be in a few years when I can rent a car (probably driving the whole family there), so I don't end up in such a jam again.

* While researching something else, I learned that the Stuart Davis is the earlier study for a larger painting (33% bigger but otherwise almost identical) in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.  I've been meaning to get down one of these days, and I'll try to make sure it is on view when I do.

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