Art Feed

Charles Banks Wilson died

Oklahomans mourn our great artist, and my hometown of Miami mourns our most notable son.  Read the article in the Tulsa World.  

I still remember Charles Banks Wilson speaking to my elementary school and showing off some of his art.  He was a kind, gentle, good man.  His work has defined our Oklahoma history.  He has captured the images of our greatest figures, defining their look for generations to come.  If I was in Oklahoma City, I'd go to the Capitol to admire his work once again.  

Read the Miami News Record article.


A Strange Place to Call Home

A Strange Place to Call Home: The World's Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them HomeA Strange Place to Call Home: The World's Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another beautiful children's book I picked up at the museum store. This one combines poetry, biology, and beautiful collage to talk about animals which live in strange and dangerous habitats. The scientific details about the animals are at the back of the book, but each page is a beautiful work of art with a poem. The poems are also in various forms, which the poet discusses at the close of the book. So it is also a way to teach about poetry. Science, poetry, art, all together. Very nice.

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Musee de Cluny

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Room 14, on the second floor of the Musee de Cluny, and described in the guidebook as "Room of Paintings and Sculptures from the Late Middle Ages" was revelatory.  The guidebook said, "The sheer diversity of the materials, forms and themes of 14th and 15th century sculpture is amply illustrated in this room."

I have never seen medieval sculpture like what I saw there.  Nothing of that caliber either in skilled execution or in conveying emotion.  Normally medieval work appears flat, but these were fully developed characters.  There were also a number of figures displaying joy or delight, moreso than what one recollects of most medieval sculpture.  [Note: I didn't take pictures of much of it.  Not sure it would have been well-captured.]

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They Glow

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We walked into the newly redesigned galleries exhibiting the Impressionists and were amazed.  "They look backlit," Rob said.  And they did.  Eventually we determined that there was a new lighting technology being used.  Each painting had three separate, very different lights directed at it.  Each fixture emitted a slightly different colour of light.  Together they had the feel of natural sunlight.  

The paintings seemed to glow.  

If you've seen these masterworks before, but not in this light, then you've got to see them again.  They are a completely new revelation.

The entire Musee d'Orsay has not been redesigned like this, but a handful of other galleries have been (and have, thus, been moved around).  The Van Gogh in particular benefit from the new lighting.

For Rob and I, the new lighting of these paintings was the second best part of the trip.

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The Louvre

On the Monday morning of our trip, we finally went to the Louvre.  The French holiday weekend was over and the lines weren't as long.

We'd all been to the Louvre before, so we didn't feel the need to spend all day or tire ourselves out.  We'd focus on some things we hadn't seen before, and a few favourites.

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There is a new exhibit on Islamic Art, and that is where we headed first.  The area has been built in a courtyard.  The roof is undulating and suggests sand or tents.  The exhibits are very contemporary, suggesting what the 21st century Louvre will be like.  There were multi-media maps spread throughout the exhibit which illustrated the history of Islam and the successive waves of conquest from Central Asia.  

We spent a few hours going carefully through it.  Afterwards Rob said he had learned more about Islam than he ever had before.  One of the things we discussed afterwards was that almost none of the art came from Arabia; that has not historically been a culture center of Islam.

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Before lunch I ran through some favourite galleries in order to look again at some favourite paintings.

After lunch we went through the archaeological area where you can see some of the old medieval parts of the Louvre.  Tom had never been through it before, and I had, but not all of it (which I didn't realize).  

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Then, Rob took us to see his favourite sculpture.  On the way there we went through some ancient near eastern art, including discoveries from Ugarit and Mari.  We also saw the stele with the Code of Hammurabi.

Rob's favourite sculpture looks as if it comes alive at night.  

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Then we stood at a window and watched the rain.

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Bright is the noble work

It was Sunday morning of this French holiday weekend.  We had intended to get up earlier, but the night before we had enjoyed two bottles of wine with dinner and some more drinks following.  We didn't arise early.

Which was okay, because we didn't want to arrive at the Basilica of Sant Denis until after the morning Mass was over.  We seemed to have timed it well.

Riding out to Sant Denis took around 30-40 minutes on the Metro.  As we got more into the outskirts, the cultural make-up of the riders changed and became more diverse.  It was good to see this other side of Paris.

Sant Denis was an important town in the past.  It was an economic center besides being the home to the abbey and basilica.  It was conquered by the Vikings, who rode their boats this far down the river.

The basilica is the first Gothic building, designed by Abbot Suger.  It is also the place where the Kings and Queens of France were entombed.  I had never been before; Rob insisted we go.  As I wrote in the opening post of this series, it was the true highlight of the trip.

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The cathedral and town square is nothing fancy, nor is the facade of the church all that striking.  However, as one enters, there is a plaque telling you that Jeanne d'Arc presented her arms here in 14 something or other.  I get excited thinking about being in places where great events and great persons have been before me.

Then, upon entering the nave, I was immediately struck by the great beauty of the place.  I had assumed that the first Gothic building wouldn't be quite as light, airy, and colourful (and some of what you see did come well after Suger -- many of the stained glass windows are a post-Revolution "restoration").  The building soars and invites you to soar as well.  You can't stop looking up and enjoying the dazzle of light and colour.

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There is little to draw your attention to the chapels along the nave, except for the coronation robes and crown of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (odd place to exhibit them).  To enter the chancel and crypt area you must pay a price (or have a museum pass, as we did).

Entering the area where the royals are entombed, the first thing I noticed was a rather large one that had a most interesting feature.  Atop the canopy were images of the royal family alive and dressed, but on top of the sarcophagus were very detailed, realistic images of their corpses!  Here were the twisted toes of a Queen of France!  There would be two more such monuments.

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Later I would reflect on the contrast of the dazzling play of light (suggesting mystical qualities) with the startling realism of the corpses of the statues.

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The bodies of the royals are not in their vaults.  During the Revolution all the bodies were removed and desecrated and combined in a pit.  Post-Revolution, they were dug up and collected in a ossuary in the crypt.  But most of the sculpture remains, including of such prominent early rulers as Charles Martel and Clovis.  Clovis I, the first King of France, had bird droppings on his sculpture.  Clearly, there are republican birds in the basilica.

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The crypt is a dark, mysterious place.  Here one encounters the tomb of Saint Denis, patron saint of Paris.  Currently there is an exhibit about St. Denis explaining his story and its development over time and the resulting art based upon it.  Denis was a third century Christian missionary to the Franks who was martyred.  The original stories had him martyred where the basilica is, but later the legend was that he was beheaded on Montmarte (hence the name) and then his body revived and carried its own head out to where the basilica is.  He is represented in art carrying his own detached head.

In the choir one does encounter some of the original Suger-era windows.  They are a delight.

We tarried in the church, admiring the light and colour and the architectural delights.  "Bright is the noble work," indeed.

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Black Elk - Neihardt Park

Yesterday I participated in a funeral in Tekamah, Nebraska, which is a small town about an hour north along US 75.  It was a cold, wet, gray, blustery day.  The burial was atop a hill overlooking the Missouri River valley, and it was very cold.  [Note: this photo is from later in the day atop a different hill in Blair.]

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On the way back to town I stopped at the Black Elk-Neihardt Park in Blair, Nebraska.  The website describes the park as "a place where Black Elk Speaks is realized in time and space, a place to contemplate the mystery of existence."

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At the crown of the park sits the Tower of the Four Winds, a Christianized version of Black Elk's vision of the two paths, the sacred hoop, and the four winds.  It is a beautiful piece.  I too feel great spiritual power in Black Elk's vision and have described it as "the eschatological vision of the Plains."  I too want to merge it with my Christian theology and identity.  It was interesting to see someone's else take on the same themes.

The commemorative plaque at the base includes these words:

The universal Messiah with outstretched arms blessing all people stands within the tree of life.  Around them is an ever-widening circle of light forming the hoop of the world which holds all living things.

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"The Contested Color of Christ"

A good essay on the history of race and the representation of Jesus in America.

As is often true, both the rhetoric and the silence speak volumes. Time and again throughout American history, what has been said about the color of Christ (and what has been left unsaid and displayed through art) highlights some of the most profound struggles within the nation.

How is it that a Jewish prophet from the Roman era could become so entangled with the American obsession with race? How could the color of Christ be invoked throughout American history to justify some of the worst atrocities of white supremacy as well as to inspire some of the most heroic civil-rights crusades?