50 Things@50-#22

Number 22-Visit The Neue Gallery In Manhattan

I knew when I made this list that a lot of them were going to be seasonal. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to a few of the outdoors one before the cold weather settled in so I will focus instead on the ones I can do now through the remainder of fall and winter.  As several of them are more locally based, I hope to make a real dent in the list. I was therefore happy to cross Number 22 off the list.

Sometime back, I saw a documentary series on Netflix about the ‘business’of stolen artwork, particularly by the Nazis in World War II. One episode featured the story of Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Now I studied a bit of art history in college, and I enjoy going to art museums wherever I happen to find myself. There are an awful lot of artists, and even more great works of art out there, and I’m honestly not sure if I ever was aware of this painting before seeing the documentary. If I had seen it in an art book before I failed to notice its splendor. Once the camera panned in and out of view looking at the ornate details of the work I was mesmerized.

Klimt relied heavily on gold and silver leaf for the painting. Broad swaths of gold and smaller decorative motifs give it the feeling of a Byzantine work of art. As the documentary continued, I was surprised to find that it was actually housed in a museum in New York City. I made a mental note that one day I had to see it in person. So finally this past Sunday, I made my way up to Fifth Avenue and 86th Street (part of what is known as Museum Mile) to visit a new museum for me-The Neue Gallery.

Actually in terms of museums, the Neue Gallery is still quite young, having been established in 2001 and dedicated to twentieth century art from Germany and Austria. It sits within what was formerly the William Starr Miller House. As I get older I seem to find myself appreciating the smaller museums more and more. The big museums like the Metropolitan Museum Of Art have something for everyone of course, but I find myself overwhelmed and over saturated at times by the scale of it all. So smaller museums such as the Neue, dedicated to a specific type of art or era appeal to me now.

On Sunday I started meandering through the galleries. I remember going to the Louvre once and watching the mass procession to see the Mona Lisa ignoring everything else nearby. So I decided that I wanted to stumble upon Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I organically. To turn a corner and realize it was in front of me. When I did it was more magical than I could have imagined. The gold was just so much more vibrant than the pages of a book or a TV show could possibly show. There was a seat directly behind the painting and I sat for a few moments scanning every detail of the work. Even when I got up and began exploring the other paintings in the gallery, I kept glancing at it. Almost as if it was saying-you can’t look away. It is I feel one of the special paintings in all of the art world.

So special in fact that its legend seems to be growing more by the year. There are books and other documentaries and last night I watched ‘Woman In Gold,’ a 2015 film with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds about the true story of Maria Altmann’s (Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece) efforts to return ownership of it and several other Klimt paintings back to the Bloch-Bauer estate. Those efforts eventually led to the painting being purchased and now permanently housed in the Neue Gallery.

So I definitely recommend a visit to the Neue Gallery to see this little gem of a museum, but most of all to see the Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer. You will not regret it! https://www.neuegalerie.org/

Photo of Neue Gallery By Robert P. Doyle

Photo of Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer- Public Domain/Wikipedia

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Monochrome Mondays


Sometimes I feel guilty about the nature of photography. In many ways it can often be thought of as capturing someone else’s art in a unique way. Take a building or a bridge. Someone else designed and built those structures, but here I am taking a photograph of it, trying to get streaks across the sky but the focal point is someone else’s art. Take bird photography as another example. A bird is just doing what it does, flitting about from here to there and trying to survive when along comes a photographer with a zoom lens trying to capture the perfect blend of movement and light. Even street photography, which I have come to really enjoy seeking. I would never dream of profiting from a photo of someone else’s hard work, but there are others who probably do. In many ways the game has changed so rapidly the last few years since virtually everyone has a camera phone, even if they don’t have a camera.

But then there are rare days (or nights) when I am able to capture something unique, and something that I feel is closer to the origins of photographic art. It happened the other night. I was feeling a bit restless around midnight or so, and grabbed my camera and just walked a block or two down the street to some industrial buildings. I figured maybe with no one around I could do a little experimenting with camera settings. I did take a few shots that I was pleased with, but as I turned around and started heading back something caught my eye. Perfectly framed against the side of a building was the shadow of the street signs. It almost looked too unreal, like what you would see from a projector. Being Halloween time, it almost was a little spooky as well. I actually paused for a moment to think about if it was worth taking, but I figured why not. I have been trying to be more experimental these days anyway. When in doubt, the delete button on the camera works wonders after all. So I took the photo. A few minutes later I was viewing it on the laptop and it reminded me in a small way of some of the experiments early photographers like Alfred Stieglitz who was a master of light and shadow. The photo does not mean anything, I don’t think it gives off any particular vibe, but I just like it. It feels faintly surreal to me and unlike a bridge, bird, or street art photo, it is something I made my own. And I like that.

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The Architecture Of Art

Almost a year ago I wrote a letter from the future me to the young me in which I proclaimed myself an artist. It was tough admitting those words without sounding pretentious but I realized that not so deep down it was true. What I began asking not long after was the next question-what type of artist am I? The answer was not so readily at my fingertips. I’m a photographer yes, and a few years in to this blog now, I can safely call myself a writer as well, one who is currently working on his first book. A few weeks ago I dug out the notes I took on the day almost four years ago where I wrote the two key words of this blog down-Soundtrack, and Photograph and married them together. At some point I even jotted down words in the margin like ‘unique’ and ‘never quite been done before’. The funny thing is I forgot that I had done that at this point as I approach the 200 post mark.

But I’m glad I revisited them again because really, what is my art?  I spent some time with the trusty notebook in front of me and realized that this space is truly unique in fact. I’m not aware of anyone else who uses a photograph he took, pairs it with a song written by someone else, which makes me want to write about it how both things relate to my own life somehow. Or to put it a simpler way-pairing songs with my own physical art form (photography) is my art. Could I label it something intellectual sounding like ‘visual music’ or ‘sound photography’? Or should I just stick with what I have done from the start and own that my art is a unique combination of audio with visual. Static by virtue of still photography, yet flowing and rhythmic with the aid of a variety of music from around the world.

It speaks of history ancient and recent. It speaks of emotions good and bad. It speaks of learning and lessons already learned. It speaks of anticipation and humiliation. Of success and disappointment. It says too much, and not quite enough. It lays it all out on the table, then snatches it away out of fear. After four years it has inextricably become ‘me’. I think about what to do, how to do, when to do. It satisfies me with a slap on the back, and punches me in the gut with a ‘not quite good enough kid’ feel. Yet it all is deeply and powerfully satisfying.

I have always spent a great deal of time exploring different types and forms of art, as I have written about here before. But in the past year since that post I really have been focusing on the art world more. Not always out of approval or even understanding of said piece , but in acknowledging that the exploration and ideas are what appeals to me, regardless of the end result. Foundations, be it of a color or of stone. Texture, be it of material or shapes. They all define everything from the most humble art of an ancient culture in a display case at a museum, to the latest multi-million dollar painting acquired by a collector. I have also come to realize that for some artists, both as a means of supporting themselves and for keeping the creative juices flowing, that change and evolution are valuable. As a photographer the same rule applies, but I think it is more difficult to maintain.

Painters might start with the fruit bowl and progress to figure study, and then to abstract shapes. Similarly, writers might start with poems then progress to short stories, and then to long brilliantly inspired tomes. But photographers? Though there are examples of gifted photographers who have stuck with only shooting scenes of nature (think Ansel Adams), or ones who shoot beautiful scenes of the ocean (my personal favorite being French photographer Phillip Plisson), variety is generally the key. Which is why you if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you will see lots of cloud photos. And flowers, And photos taken on the sea, river or lake because I love the water so much. And…to put it in the most simple terms, I also take a lot of photographs of what can only be termed architecture.

It is everywhere you look in big cities like New York. And I do mean everywhere. Subway platforms that have very different features from almost identical ones the next stop down the line. Bridges standing next to one another, one with a tower built of stone, one made of steel and wire. Neighborhoods comprised of row upon row of similar structures that have ever so slight variations if you look carefully.  Government and cultural institutions built to inspire such as Grand Central Terminal or The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.  But I think it is in the skyscraper, that popular icon of the New York skyline that we really think about the variety architecture that abounds. As I write this now, I can see a few of them lit against the night sky from out our balcony door.

They represent strength, power, resiliency and force. I think I have always been drawn to the sort of energy they give off. There are places where all that energy comes together as one. The other day, on a very hot Indian summer day while waiting on a sweltering subway platform, I took the photo at the top that shows some of these elements. The ‘canyon’ of glass, steel and concrete, the quiet streets below, the endless movement of cars on the bridge approach unifying the elements together. The shifting shadows of light, bathing the scene with warmth providing a natural contrast to the scene. The architecture feels palpable, the cars give it motion. Of course, buildings and bridges are designed to actually move. To compensate for the wind speed at the top of the building versus the still air at the bottom. In taking the photo, I felt a wave of power. It felt good, it felt right, it felt like me. I recently have been exploring some new ideas (together with the new theme here) both personal and artistic. As I was walking home after taking this photo, the words to a song came into my head and it all made sense.

I’ll leave it to you to listen to the song and find your own meaning perhaps, but Ani DiFranco’s song Buildings And Bridges suddenly meant so much to me, probably much more so than when I first heard it over 20 years ago. Those first couple of lines-

“Buildings and Bridges are made to bend in the wind,

To withstand the world that’s what it takes.”

I realized that for me, the song was telling me to keep challenging myself and my art. To keep experimenting and evolving. If I don’t bend, I break. If I don’t seek the new, and challenge myself, I become complacent. What worked for Ansel Adams was great, but I’m not him. I need to keep moving and finding inspiration wherever and whenever it strikes me. That is my strength and resilience. That is my architecture. That is my art.

Below in the gallery are a few other recent photos that focus on architectural views if you will. Have a look!

Buildings And Bridges-Written By Ani DiFranco

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle