Saturday, September 7, 2013

Day 52: Yale University Art Gallery

A great university should have a great art collection, and Yale does. We first toured the museum in 2006, but one of its buildings was closed for renovation at that time, so we saw only a portion of their collection. This visit, we were pleasantly surprised by how much good stuff they have.

Dan went directly to a painting by Vincent van Gogh called The Night Cafe that he first fell for in an exhibition at the Metropolitan in New York several years ago. He has a print of it hanging in his office, but the scene always seemed dreary and dull to me. The original is breathtaking; I couldn't walk away from it. The magic is in the hanging lamps and the effect of the light on different colors, and my iPad snapshot fails to capture it.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
The Night Café, 1888
On the adjacent wall is a completely different van Gogh, a placid garden path delivered in enough tiny brushstrokes to rival Seurat, the arch-Pointillist. It is astounding that van Gogh achieved such range within two years.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Square Saint-Pierre, Paris, 1887
The works of Claude Monet are so common that the experienced art traveler develops a certain resistance, but the works in Yale's collection are pretty irresistible. These two examples, painted seventeen years apart, show that his range extends far beyond hazy lily ponds.

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
Camille on the Beach in Trouville, 1870

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
Port-Domois, Belle-Île, 1887
Like Monet, Camille Pissarro had a long and productive career, and he was always relevant in developing art trends. A minor theme in his work is the life of peasant farmers. He conveyed his sympathy and respect very powerfully in this portrait, one of his best works.

Camille Pissarro, 1830-1903
A Seated Peasant Woman, 1885
The collection of American art has equally important works. Dan headed straight for Edward Hopper. It's wonderful to let your eye roam among several of his masterpieces; a real 'wow' experience.

Edward Hopper, 1882-1967
Sunlight in a Cafeteria, 1958

Edward Hopper, 1882-1967
Western Motel, 1957

Edward Hopper, 1882-1967
Rooms by the Sea, 1951
One of my personal favorites is Joseph Stella, and the museum definitely has his very best work.

Joseph Stella, 1877-1946
Brooklyn Bridge, 1920

Joseph Stella, 1877-1946
Battle of Lights, Conney Island, Mardi Gras, 1914
The full history of American art is represented. In fact, the museum was originally built to house their large collection of historical paintings and portraits by John Trumbull, one of the colonies' earliest painters. Moving forward, they have good works by Raphaelle Peale, Martin Johnson Heade, Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Their sculpture collection is smaller, but they have two upsetting works by Duane Hanson that make me wonder whether he is the most sympathetic or the cruelest of observers.

Duane Hanson, 1925-1996
Man in Chair with Beer, 1973
Duane Hanson, 1925-1996
Drug Addict, 1974
One of the special exhibits was photorealism, a special interest of mine. My favorite here was Walt's Restaurant, by Ralph Goings. I feel like I've had a soda in that very café, observed that insurance salesman taking a break between calls on potential clients, smelled those ashtrays, heard that screen door slam, watched that empty road.

Ralph Goings, b. 1928
Walt's Restaurant, 1979
Another special exhibit was "Red Grooms: Larger than Life." Red Grooms is best known for his pop art constructions depicting scenes of American life—comical, 3-dimensional models, but he did comical drawings and paintings as well. One of his themes was the contemporary art world. He paid homage to Picasso by showing him at work on his famous anti-war mural, Guernica, with comical renderings of other elements in his biography and paintings.

Red Grooms, b. 1937
Studio at the Rue des Grands-Augustins, 1996
More ambitiously, he skewered most of his contemporaries in the New York school of painting in one mural representing the bar where they hung out, including caricatures of Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and others, as listed along the bottom of the frame. For comical draughtsmanship and historical significance, it is very high quality work, remarkably rendered in colored pencil, crayons, and watercolor.

Red Grooms, b. 1937
Cedar Bar, 1986
A special treat for me was that much of the building's decor consisted of wall drawings by Sol LeWitt.

Sol LeWitt, 1928-2007
Wall Drawing #614, 1989
Sol LeWitt, 1928-2007
Wall Drawing #987, 2001
Now comes the bad news. Bad lighting, sometimes shadowy and sometimes glaring, and bad positioning of the work made many pieces hard to appreciate, much less photograph. It's a pity that Yale can't bring its museum-ship up to the level of its collection.

The gallery doesn't have any food service. A guard suggested Atticus Deli in the bookstore right across the street. My salad was exceptional in having a roasted chicken leg on a bed of spinach; the slightly fatty chicken was a good complement to the astringent spinach.

When the gallery closed we walked a few blocks into the campus—past the Skull and Bones Society—to photograph the Gothic style Harkness Tower. Just as we got into range, its Memorial Carillon began a ten-minute performance. It was quite pleasant in the late afternoon light.

For dinner Dan went to Jimmie's at Savin Rock, as he had on our last trip here. He had the swordfish, but it was over-grilled; the corn chowder with crab meat was good. He enjoyed the people-watching. The restaurant is on the shore of Long Island Sound. People stroll a long sidewalk to view the ocean, but it was too cold and windy for him.