Friday, September 20, 2013

Day 65: The Joslyn Art Museum, and the Holy Shrine

Lincoln to Omaha—53.4 mi, 49 minutes

The first time we passed this way on our art travels, we spent a few days in Lincoln and enjoyed various local tourist attractions, in addition to making a trek to Omaha to see the Joslyn Museum of Art. This year we stayed in Lincoln for sentimental reasons, but we only allowed time to see the museum in Omaha. The advantage was that the trip between cities was through bountiful farm country. The weather was crisp and sunny.

The Joslyn is an example of a well-run museum that serves the whole community and creates a great art experience. It renewed my appreciation for the huge gift that private art philanthropists make to their community by operating a fine art museum with care. Admission is free. Photography is permitted. Maps, lockers, restrooms and elevators are handy and easy to find. The museum's layout is easy to understand and the galleries are numbered according to a clear plan. Food service is limited but tasty.

Entrance to the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska

The architecture has several remarkable features. The original building was designed in 1931 as a sort of art deco temple by little-known Omaha architects, John McDonald and his son Alan. Uniquely among American museums, it is clad in warm pink marble from Europe, like a Donald Trump sky-scraper. In 1938 it was voted one of the hundred most beautiful buildings in America.

Its new wing is a featureless, windowless block, clad in matching marble. It's only architectural excitement is the soaring, sky-lighted atrium that connects the old and new wings. It forms a very inviting place for all sorts of guest services, especially the café. It shouldn't have surprised me to learn that it was designed by Norman Foster, since glass-covered atriums are characteristic of his work.

The atrium shows two huge works by Dale Chihuly, one at either end. We have seen a lot of Dale Chihuly, and I was sure I'd seen all his basic shapes and textures multiple times, but both these works have unique features. The one at the entrance is different in having the glass units affixed to a triangular structure. The one at the other end, where it enlivens the eating area, actually looks like plastic instead of glass.

Dale Chihuly, b. 1941
Chihuly: Inside Et Out, 2000

Dale Chihuly, b. 1941
Glowing Gemstone Polyvitro Chandelier, 2000

The original building also had a lovely atrium.

Tile fountain in atrium of old building

The collection has several strong points. For Dan, the big draw is major paintings by two of his favorite artists, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. The two were contemporaries, and both were from the midwest, but their styles were very different. Benton's work is dynamic, with energy bursting in fluid curves. Wood's work is stylized and idealized; Dan bought a print of Stone City from the museum bookstore.

Thomas Hart Benton, 1889-1975
The Hailstorm, 1940

Grant Wood, 1891-1942
Stone City, Iowa, 1930

The museum has several masterpieces by 19th century American painters. Thomas Moran is best known for his views of the Western landscape, but he was also fascinated by Venice.

Thomas Moran, 1837-1926
In the Teton Range, 1899

Thomas Moran, 1837-1926
The Pearl of Venice, 1899

A contemporary of Moran's, John George Brown, specialized in life on the streets of the city for the nation's poor children; his view is both gritty and idealized, and generally light-hearted.

John George Brown, 1831-1913
The Card Trick, c. 1880s

In 19th century Europe there was quite a fad for paintings of the exotic Near East that was called Orientalism. Many painters journeyed to Egypt or Turkey, soaked up the atmosphere, and made that the subject of many paintings. The museum was showing several works from this trend. Of these the best by far were those by Gérôme.

Jean Léon Gérôme, 1824-1904
The Grief of the Pasha, 1882

Surprisingly, the Joslyn has a set of significant Old Masters from Europe, including El Greco and Veronese. Of these, the most unusual was a piece by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo. Domenico is the son of the famous artist, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and his work sometimes seems an imitation of his father's, but the perspective on this image is dramatic and intimate, conveying a flood of emotion.

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1727-1804

The museum was also showing a good collection of 20th century painting, both American and European.

Kay Sage, 1898-1963
Men Working, 1951

Frantisek Kupka, 1871-1957
Untitled, c. 1910-13

The Joslyn is a nice museum, but it is not huge, and we were finished about three o'clock. We emerged into a beautiful afternoon, and spent awhile enjoying the garden. The main feature is a thematic water installation consisting of a black granite reflecting pool, three column fountains of red granite, and a granite water wall. Designed by Jesús Moroles, one of my favorite contemporary sculptors, it was called The Omaha Riverscape, 2009, and the path of the river was actually carved into the reflecting pool, so that children could wade along it. Unfortunately, I got caught up in making movies of the children playing, and neglected to take still shots.

I did get a good shot of a delightful bronze sculpture by Tom Otterness. Its subject makes it appropriate for Nebraska, while its style gives it appeal to children, and certain wry details appeal to cynical adults.

Tom Otterness, b. 1952
Large Covered Wagon, 2004

On our return way back to Lincoln, we decided to investigate a strange wooden structure that we had noticed on a hill on the way to Omaha. It was a framework, like something to hold hay, but much larger than that. As we had passed it, I had noticed a standing crucifix, so I knew it was something religious. Then we saw a sign for Holy Family Shrine, so as we were driving back I searched for that on the iPad mapper, and we drove directly there.

After we got off the Interstate, we took a gravel road through beautiful corn country. We arrived about 4:30; the shrine closes at 5 p.m.

The shrine is located on a large piece of land on a hill amidst flat corn country. The grounds are landscaped with a combination of flowering shrubs and very tall native grasses.

An artificial grotto houses a small entrance hall with holy water and pamphlets.

A path paved with natural stone and bisected by an artificial stream leads to the shrine.

It has a large open wooden super-structure like the framework of a barn, except that it fans outward in great sweeping arcs.

The apparently wooden framework is supplemented by a slender black steel framework shaped in graceful arcs. The structure is large enough to hold about thirty backless benches; sometimes they have concerts there. There is an altar on the freeway end, the point of the hill. Above it is a large etching of the Holy Family. The walls are glass so everywhere you look, you behold rolling cropland, except for the freeway.

Outside the shrine, perched on the highest point on the hill overlooking the freeway, a towering crucifix calls to the passing drivers, as it did to us.

The purpose of the shrine is to remind you to pray, so I did. It is always helpful to be quiet and tune into the higher energies. The Shrine was a beautiful concept and beautifully rendered.

For dinner we hoped to eat again at La Paz, the Mexican restaurant across the parking lot, but it was suffocatingly packed and the wait for a table was indefinite. I gave up and went back to the motel, which was just as well for my health. Dan finally gave up and walked over to Patty's Pub and Grill which was next to the Mexican restaurant. There he got the last seat at the bar and had a fairly good little steak with decent wine. He said that he enjoyed talking with the other customers.