Mornings at the Museum

Hellooo friends! In the midst of a jam-packed art modeling schedule of late I’ve still managed to see the Michelangelo exhibition at the Met … twice! Eight years in the making, works loaned from 50 museums and private collections around the world, and it shows. And they let you take photos! Why does that excite me so much? Because I’m now the owner of a brand new iPhone 7 which has a superb camera. I’m gonna have fun with this device, and it’s good for Museworthy too. Better pics!

This piece was a real treat, and it exemplifies why artists love to look at drawings even more than paintings – observing a master’s hand at work as he explores ideas and formulates his vision. These are Michelangelo’s studies for the arm of God in the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. Interesting how he tested two different gestures. And since Michelangelo wasn’t wasteful and reused paper, we can see the faded centaur sketch in the background:

I posted those arms to Instagram. Yes I’m on Instagram now! You know, with all the cool kids 😉 I’m at artmodelnyc if any of you would like to follow me there.

Here’s another drawing that my art model readers will appreciate. The paper is in poor condition but the pose is intense. A male model (all of Michelangelo’s models were men) doing a deep torso twist, turned head and pivoted shoulders. Not easy! The model was most likely one of Michelangelo’s stone cutters or studio assistants:

And a little more fun with my camera in black and white, the Athena Parthenos in the Met’s Great Hall. I posted a video about this sculpture’s installation last year. She’s a beauty:

Survival Instincts

I came home from work so tired the other night I had no energy to make anything to eat other than a piece of toast with olive spread that I ate standing at my kitchen counter. That would have to suffice as ‘dinner’. All I wanted to do was get into bed under the covers and find something to watch on TV, as long as it wasn’t cable news. So I stumbled onto “Baboon Queen” on the National Geographic Wild Channel, which had already started 15 minutes prior. The program followed the life of Tubu, a female baboon in Botswana. These shows which focus on the trials and travails of a single animal are really effective at making the viewer feel emotionally invested in that individual. Because by the end of this thing I was bawling my eyes out, my head on the pillow, dabbing my cheeks with tissues. It was an embarrassing display.

The last days of Tubu’s life were heartbreaking. Old, lanky, and slow, she became separated from her troop, grunting out distress calls to them from tree branches to no avail. Tubu was left behind. The last images of Tubu show her despondently stooping down into the reedy backwaters under the golden African sun, and disappearing. She had had enough. She was done.

In my sobbing state, I was reminded – with the help of the program’s narrator – that Tubu had lived an extraordinary life by baboon standards. She reached an amazing 25 years of age, had multiple children, became a grandmother and a great-grandmother. The queen of her baboon troop. Over the years she grieved the losses of vulnerable newborns who didn’t make it and the murdered deaths of other family members. She battled with leopards and other predators, got sprayed with the venom of a poisonous snake and was temporarily blinded. The life of Tubu was marked not just by hardships and survival-of-the-fittest clashes, but also by tight-knit community, familial bonds, and affection. It’s because her life was so incredible that her demise was particularly heart-rending. After all she had survived in the wilds of Botswana, to die lost and alone like that . . I couldn’t handle it 😥

From the Metropolitan Museum collection, baboon ointment jar, ca. 1800-1550 B.C., Northern Upper Egypt. This is so cute. Can I have this? 🙂

Wildlife shows are illuminating in many ways. Apart from their standard educational value they can often evoke deeper, more universal truths. Survival instincts are not exclusive to wild animals on the African plains. Females everywhere require vigilance, acumen, and determination to preserve their lives. Big cities like New York are metaphorically called ‘jungles’, and they are. Whether it’s in an urban jungle, a workplace jungle, or a literal jungle, females have to protect their bodily safety and the safety of their children. Predators and dangers are out there .. everywhere. Tubu the baboon knew it, and she fought tooth and nail for her survival. We do what we have to do.

One of my favorite videos on YouTube. Watch this mother elephant protect her baby while crossing the road. The adorable little one is naturally curious and trusting toward the tourists in a jeep with their clicking cameras. Mama knows better. Check out the death stare look in her eyes around :37. It’s like she’s saying, “Try me. Just try me.”

I want to wish Museworthy readers a very happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for all of you! Enjoy your extended weekend if you have one. I know I’ll be enjoying mine, maybe watching more nature shows 🙂

Predecessors

Mr. Buonarroti is coming to town! That’s a guy more familiarly known as Michelangelo. Renaissance dude, I think you’ve all heard of him 😉 Here in the Big Apple, the Met Museum is gearing up for what surely sounds like a spectacular exhibition. “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” will open on November 13th. Knowing my artist friends they will not only see it within the first week but will return for second and third viewings.

And now I’d like to share a vintage photo of an artist’s model being tortured, in the atelier of French sculptor Henri-Marius Petit, sometime during the 1930s. As you can see, she is holding the pose for the work ‘La Maternité’, without the breastfeeding baby of course. The leaning forward movement? That means eventual lower back pain. Her bent left leg and foot against the hard slab? That kills after an hour. This woman is in art modeling hell. And the men are all sitting around doing nothing while she does all the work! It must have been worth it though. The sculpture won the silver medal at the Salons des Artistes Français in 1934 and was purchased by the city of Metz, which renamed it ‘Monument to the French Mothers’.

This work – this arduous art modeling work – never changes, and I love it for that. The model in this photo is my ‘sister’. All the nude figures in art created from life are immortal images of my brethren. From Michelangelo’s men to Degas’ women, to all the men and women in academy studios and life classes throughout the world today and every day, we artist’s models keep carrying on …

The Dancing Satyr

Imagine being an Italian fisherman and sailing off in your boat like you do every morning, to catch netfuls of squid, shrimp, mussels, etc – all the ingredients for ‘frutti di mare’, the sumptuous seafood dish that Italians prepare so well. Then imagine discovering a 2000 year old, barnacle covered bronze sculpture tangled in your fishing net along with the day’s haul of crustaceans and seaweed. You’d surely sail back to shore excited about your archaeological find. I know I would! That’s exactly what happened to Francesco Adragna and his fishing crew 50 miles off the southwest coast of Sicily in 1998.

The same fishing crew had found the left leg of the sculpture months earlier. They wondered when, if ever, they would pull the torso of the relic from that same spot in the Mediterranean waters. They did. And it was named ‘Satiro Danzante’, or the ‘Dancing Satyr’. What a beauty this is:

The ancient artifact, believed to be of Greek origin from the 3rd or 4th century B.C., was painstakingly cleaned and restored and determined to be a copy in the style of Praxiteles, or maybe even an authentic Praxiteles. The condition of the face is exceptionally good, and the active gesture of the body is both vigorous and graceful.

The ‘Dancing Satyr’ is on display at a museum in the Sicilian town of Mazara del Vallo. For more about this marvelous discovery, check out this New York Times article.

Spirit Animals

The Cathedral of St John the Divine is a true beacon in the city of New York. Not only is it the ‘mother church’ of the Episcopal Diocese and seat of our Bishop, but it is also a breathtaking monument of Gothic Revival architecture, a vibrant cultural center, a tireless provider of social services, and an inclusive religious community famous for its interfaith advocacy and welcoming spirit. Located at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Morningside Heights, it counts Columbia University and Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital among its nearby neighbors. A cavernous, awe-inspiring space, the Cathedral’s nave spans the length of two football fields. On September 11th, 2001, hundreds of people converged at St John the Divine in a spontaneous gathering to pray, cry, and comfort their fellow New Yorkers in the hours immediately following the terrorist attacks. The Cathedral was host to funeral services for Duke Ellington, Nikola Tesla, writer James Baldwin, and actor James Gandolfini. On the lighter side, the gardens of St John the Divine are home to three resident peacocks – Jim, Harry, and Phil – who roam freely and strut their stuff on the Cathedral grounds to the delight of visitors and tourists.

I went up to St John the Divine the other day to see their “A Blessing of Animals” sculpture exhibition, a juried show organized by the National Sculpture Society. The Cathedral is the perfect venue for such a show as it celebrates animals in so many ways. Their annual Feast of St Francis Blessing of the Animals service is an event to behold, with a festive animal procession that includes not just dogs and cats but creatures of all types; goats, sheep, horses, ducks, bunnies, snakes, geese, guinea pigs, owls, alpacas, you name it.

I have a few pictures to share – just a sampling of the show – but you can certainly visit the National Sculpture Society’s exhibition page for excellent photos of all the pieces. I apologize for the grainy quality. I’m still in the process of deciding on a new camera purchase – one that I can afford within my budget. But I think the outstanding work of these talented artists is evident in my pics here.

River Mates, by Tim Cherry:

Scottish Stag, by Wesley Wofford:

Wild Instinct, by Joshua Tobey:

Stella, by André Harvey:

Flying Heron, by Darrell Davis:

Bobcat, by Rosetta:

Circle of Friends, by Gary Lee Price:

The Peace Fountain, which greets visitors to the Cathedral, on the garden grounds along Amsterdam Ave. It was sculpted by St John the Divine Artist-in-Residence Greg Wyatt:

After its run at St John the Divine, the Blessing of Animals exhibition will travel down to Naples, Florida where it will be on display at the Botanical Gardens through January 2018. So Museworthy Floridians, check it out! It’s an absolute delight.

Like all of you, I am heartbroken over the devastation in Houston and southeast Texas from Hurricane Harvey. The scenes being broadcast from there of people stranded in the floodwaters, having lost their homes, clinging to their children, their pets, their loved ones, are hard to watch. One can’t help but worry about those who are especially vulnerable; the elderly, the disabled, babies and children. But the stories of folks being rescued by valiant, selfless fellow citizens who hooked up their boats, jet skis, and rafts and made their way over to those flooded neighborhoods give us all hope. Remember, saints are among us, living and serving, in everyday life, and are not just figures carved into church altarpieces or painted on canvases. Still, the trauma from such a severe natural disaster will linger for a long time, and the Gulf coast of Texas has many years of recovery in its future.

For those who are interested in donating, I’d like to suggest two other relief/rescue organizations that are in keeping with the theme of this blog post:

Episcopal Relief and Development

Houston Humane Society

Miss Gardner’s House

I took a day trip to Boston recently and if it turns out to be my only excursion out of New York this summer, that would be just fine. Because what a marvelous day it was! I took the train up to Beantown for two reasons: to see my dear friend Bill MacDonald and to visit, finally, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which was closed for renovations the last time I was in Boston a few years ago. The phrase “must see” might be overused at times, but in the case of the Gardner Museum it is truly appropriate. For art lovers of all stripes, the Gardner is absolutely a “must see”. What a great place! It is the embodiment of its founder – the flamboyant, eccentric art collector and philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner.

Painting of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Anders Zorn:

Bill led me first to the courtyard garden and I was instantly captivated. An exquisitely designed space that combines sculptural, architectural, and horticultural elements in beautiful, serene harmony. As I wandered around, it reminded me somewhat of The Cloisters gardens/courtyards in Fort Tryon Park.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City in 1840 to a well-to-do family. When she was 20 she married John Lowell Gardner, a successful Boston businessman, and the couple spent years traveling the world collecting art, furniture, objects and antiquities. After John Gardner died, Isabella began to fulfill their shared dream of building a museum to house their treasures and display them for the public. On a marshy plot of land in Boston’s Fenway district, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was built. The maverick spirit of its patron infuses the place. Isabella Stewart Gardner served champagne and donuts on New Year’s Day, kept a pet lion, drank beer, was a faithful Red Sox fan, and a devout Episcopalian. She was Boston’s “Bohemian Millionairess”.

Light conditions inside the Gardner are not very conducive to photography, as it leans toward the dim. But I’ll share some pictures I took anyway even though they’re less than perfect. This one will be familiar to many of you. Nestled in its own private nook is this John Singer Sargent masterpiece, his famous El Jaleo:

Beautiful wall tiles around the garden perimeter:

One of the Gardner Museum’s quirks – an endearing one in my opinion – is its seemingly haphazard arrangement of its art and objects. The orderly, heavily curated groupings we usually see at other museums don’t exist at the Gardner. Instead, the randomness of a religious Renaissance painting hanging a few feet from a Degas pastel, or a hunk of medieval stained glass in the near vicinity of a Japanese screen, provides a peculiarly pleasurable experience in which you are not having a structured art history lesson forced upon you. You’re just enjoying Isabella’s treasures and seeing them arranged as she wanted you to see them.

The Gardner Museum was the site of a notorious art heist back in 1990. The thieves got away with thirteen works of art, among them a Vermeer and a large piece by Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Bill showed me the empty spaces on the gallery wall where those missing works used to be. But there are other Rembrandts there to see, notably one of his finest self-portraits, along with works by Titian, Raphael, Whistler, and Fra Angelico. Drawings, prints, decorative arts, Islamic, Asian, European, American … a magnificent medley of tastes and genres. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is without a doubt in my top three favorite museums.

After the Gardner, my gracious host and Boston tour guide Bill walked us just a short way over to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. What treasures awaited us there? Oh just some paintings by a guy named Botticelli, and another guy named Matisse. It was a damn good art day 😉

The icing on the cake of that lovely day was the cooperation of Mother Nature. The weather could not have been more perfect. Sunny, warm but not hot, a little breezy. Warm thanks to Bill for taking the time to spend a few hours with me. You’re my Boston man!

Athena Comes to Town

Hellooooo Museworthy friends! I haven’t forgotten about you or about blogging – never!! I’ve just been – what else? – busily modeling in our fair city, as things are in full swing at our art schools, academies, and life drawing groups. Besides helping me to get my bills paid on time, modeling work has been fortifying me, and restoring me, as it always has.

I’d like to share this short video from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anyone who appreciates Hellenistic sculpture will enjoy this. It’s also a superb glimpse at how museums install large marble statues and the diligent process it involves. “Athena Parthenos”, (ca. 170 B.C.), on loan from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, is now gracing the Great Hall at the Met, greeting visitors as they enter the building, and will remain there until the fall of 2018. Welcome to the Big Apple, Athena. We’re honored to have you 🙂