Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day 59: The St. Louis Art Museum

Early Saturday morning I went back to Central West End to get a latte at Starbucks and to enjoy the wonderful light.

Central West End is symbolized by historical street lamps
 and colorful plantings.

This humorous sculpture is in front of Starbucks

The Chess Hall of Fame is next door

Then we drove into Forest Park, a huge and lovely park nearby that is the home of the art museum.

Forest Park offers many cultural attractions.
This lawn is often the scene of a community event.

The original museum has a Beaux-Arts style,
as imposing as a Roman temple.

St. Louis has a great art museum. Since it is smack in the middle of the country, and its collection includes works by some of our favorite artists, we have visited it several times on our travels. On the previous two visits, the museum was seriously disrupted by an expansion and renovation project; galleries were closed, traffic patterns were disrupted, the lunch counter was rudimentary. Touring the museum was a struggle. So we were excited when we heard that the new wing would be open for this year's visit.

New wing of St. Louis Art Museum
Architect David Chipperfield

We were especially interested to see the work of the architect David Chipperfield because on a previous trip we had admired another of his museums, the Figge in Davenport, Iowa. Chipperfield is an extreme minimalist—he designs disappearing buildings. Lines and shapes are simple, materials are industrial and unnoticeable, the colors are white and gray, trim and decoration are lacking. Function is maximized, form is minimized. The light throughout is perfect for art.

Interior of new wing

The new building is used for late twentieth century art. Their collection is a joy. It's not exactly that I like every piece, but the effect of the whole is delightful—all that intense experimentation with line, space, color, and ideas. The abstract painters, such as Jackson Pollock, Ellsworth Kelly and Mark Rothko were grouped together. Sculptures by Richard Long and Louise Nevelson complimented each other. Minimalist buddies Donald Judd and Dan Flavin were shown together, as were the contemporary German artists,  Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, and Sigmar Polke.

Ellsworth Kelly, b. 1923
Spectrum II, 1967

Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956
Number 3, 1950, 1950

Tony Smith, 1912-1980
Free Ride, 1962

Fortunately, the old museum was much as it was when we first visited years ago. It was satisfying to see all the paintings back in their proper galleries. I always keep my eyes open for art by women, and they have some important masterpieces.

One of the earliest women painters to make history was Artemisia Gentileschi, who lived in the first half of the 17th century. This painting of a woman in ecstasy during a visit by Zeus in the form of "a shower of gold," in accordance with the myth of Danaê, has extraordinary intimacy and realism. It's hard to believe she was only nineteen years old when she painted it, as some scholars think.

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1593–c.1654
Danäe, 1612

From the flourishing period of women painters in France in the late 18th century, the foremost was Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. She is best known for her idealized and romanticized portraits of women, but when she painted men of her acquaintance, her work showed more strength and character.

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755-1842
The Artists’s Brother, 1773

In the next generation, the artist Louise Drölling continued in the neoclassical style, but with less success.

Louise-Adéone Drölling, 1797-1831
Interior with Young Woman Tracing a Flower, c. 1822
In the early 20th century, Paula Modersohn-Becker, created ground-breaking images that were important in the early development of expressionism.

Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1876-1907
Two Girls in Front of Birch Trees, c. 1905

In the field of abstract art, women have done some very edgy and striking experimentation.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986
Dark Abstraction, 1924

Helen Frankenthaler, 1928-2011
Draft, 1969

As for sculpture in the 20th century, women have produced bold and challenging work.

Louise Nevelson, 1899-1988
New Continent, 1962

Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010
Cell (Three White Marble Spheres), 1993

Anne Truitt, 1921-2004
Morning Choice, 1968

To finish this survey, here's a quilt that combines craft with allusions to masterpieces of art and pop culture.

Faith Ringgold, b. 1930
Jo Baker’s Birthday, 1993

Another aspect of art that particularly interests me is social settings—pictures that show groups of people interacting in a historical setting. This officer's ball by Andre Derain portrays a funny story, as well as recording an historical period.

André Derain, 1880-1954
At the Suresnes Ball, 1903

During the 1930s, depictions of regional scenes was a significant trend. In this pair of paintings, John Steuart Curry depicts desperate conditions, while his friend Thomas Hart Benton dreamed of a bountiful harvest and harmonious work.

John Steuart Curry, 1897-1946
The Mississippi, 1935

Thomas Hart Benton, 1889-1975
Cradling Wheat, 1938

This painting of miners taking a break by regional artist Joe Jones has a strong composition to represent the men's strength and somber color to evoke the drabness of their lives. The raised fist is a symbol of the union movement in mining.

Joe Jones, 1909-1963
Miners, 1935

The museum has many other high points. The have a great collection of German Expressionism, and an extensive presentation of Max Beckman. They have four great paintings by van Gogh. Their presentation of Picasso is significant. American art gets good coverage. To represent this great treasure, here is an Old Master that has fascinated me for years.

Giovanni Panini, 1691-1765
Interior of St. Peter’s, Rome, 1731

In celebration of their new wing, the museum commissioned a sculpture that seems to take its cue from this painting. It consists of free-standing sandstone arches crowded into the space between the old and new buildings. In pre-historic times, the Midwest was covered by sea with an underlying bedrock of limestone.

Andy Goldsworthy, b. 1956
Stone Sea, 2012

As for eateries, the new building has a gourmet restaurant called Panorama that serves gourmet versions of local dishes. Unfortunately my pork dish turned out to be too spicy. They also have a nice little cafe in the basement of the old building, same as before. I had a Diet Coke there in mid-afternoon.

In the evening I wasn't hungry but I really wanted to chug a beer while I looked at my photos, so I joined Dan at Little Saigon. We sat by an open wall to enjoy the night air. It was very pleasant.

A warm night at Little Saigon Restaursnt

Friendly locals at Little Saigon