Alma Thomas: Studio Museum of Harlem

Alma Thomas, Wind, Sunshine, and Flowers (1968), acrylic on canvas, (71 3/4 x 51 7/8 in.)

Alma Thomas, Wind, Sunshine, and Flowers (1968), acrylic on canvas, (71 3/4 x 51 7/8 in.)

As you walk into the main gallery space at the Studio Museum of Harlem you are immediately struck by the large color paintings in the middle of the gallery. Although this isn’t the beginning of the Alma Thomas exhibit, it’s the most impactful work in the show.

Alma Thomas

Alma Thomas

Thomas (1891-1978), began her artistic career after retiring as a school teacher at the age of 69. Not only was her age remarkable, but she succeeded as an African-American woman within Washington D.C.’s largely white and male artistic community. What’s so engaging about the large, mostly acrylic paintings, are both her color choices and the negative spaces between the shapes.

Alma Thomas March on Washington, 1964 Acrylic on canvas, 31 × 39 in.

Alma Thomas
March on Washington, 1964
Acrylic on canvas, 31 × 39 in.

The exhibition features works from every period in her career, including rarely exhibited watercolors and early abstractions, as well as her signature canvases drawn from a variety of private and public collections. The exhibit is on view through October 30th. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday (when it is free).

“Visual Storage” at the Met

When I first became a Visitor Services volunteer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I was taken on a tour of the museum. It was the beginning of my training to learn about the museum so I could help visitors find their way around. The day was mostly a blur, but the one place I never forgot, and return to over and over again, is the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art. Commonly known as the Visual Storage area, these rows upon rows of objects represent American fine art and decorative art objects that are not currently on view in the Museum galleries and period rooms.

Hennry R. Luce Center, Met Museum

Hennry R. Luce Center, Met Museum

Objects are arranged by material (oil paintings, sculpture, furniture and woodwork, glass, ceramics, and metalwork) and within these categories are organized by form and chronology. Not only are the individual objects beautiful to look at but the spectacle of the volume of objects is beautiful too.

Henry R. Luce Center, Met Museum

Henry R. Luce Center, Met Museum

The Luce Center is located on the mezzanine level of the American Wing. Very few people find their way there so it’s very quiet and I find it very peaceful. There are computer displays at the end of each row so you can look up any of the objects you see. This is necessary because the objects don’t have the usual information cards next to them.

Next time you are at the Met, be sure to investigate the The Luce Center.

Surprised By Stephen Powers at the Brooklyn Museum

Whenever I visit The Brooklyn Museum — and it’s not often enough — I’m always reminded that it’s a great place to see art. Located on Eastern Parkway, it is 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan and offers a comprehensive permanent collection that includes ancient Egyptian masterpieces, African art, European painting, and contemporary art. The museum’s special exhibitions also make it an important destination for local and international visitors.

From This Place - Wendy Ewald, At Home, photograph by Amal, Negev Desert 2012

From This Place – Wendy Ewald, At Home, photograph by Amal, Negev Desert 2012

What brought me there recently were two well-publicized exhibits. This Place, (on view through June 5) is an exploration of Israel and the West Bank through the eyes of twelve internationally acclaimed photographers.  I particularly liked Wendy Ewald’s contribution. Ewald gave cameras to 14 groups of diverse people and asked them to capture their lives through their photographs.

From Coney Island - Swoon, Early Evening, Linoleum print on mylar (2005)

From Coney Island – Swoon, Early Evening, Linoleum print on mylar (2005)

The second exhibit I came to see was Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008  (on view through March 13). The exhibit uses Coney Island as a vehicle for examining shifts in artistic styles and national moods through approximately 140 objects. There are photographs, paintings, carousel horses, postcards and film clips, among other representations. My favorite was a three-dimensional installation by Swoon. There are 18 pieces made from linoleum print on mylar and mixed media. The piece makes you feel like you are with the people she has brought to life.


Stephen Powers creating new "sign art" at the Brooklyn Museum

Stephen Powers creating new “sign art” at the Brooklyn Museum

While those exhibits were interesting and comprehensive, I was more surprised and delighted by Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull).  Presented in conjunction with Coney Island, Power’s  site-specific installation pays homage to the birth of new public art in Coney Island, and the  unique  “Coney Island style of painting.” In a video shown at the exhibition, Powers describes his fascination with the craft of sign-making.  In his work, he uses logotypes that have a superficially commercial look, combining them with his own text to create messages that have more emotional meaning.

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For this exhibit, Powers has partnered with other artists and sign makers to create the installation on view. He calls it “ICY SIGNS,” a traveling sign shop he first conceived in Coney Island in 2003. It’s visually engaging and lots of fun to read through. But what made the exhibit really special was the artist himself creating new “signs” while we visitors watched. Not only was it interesting to watch his steady hand paint out his messages but he was open to questions and readily engaged in conversation. Powers is there several days a week painting along with one or two other artists. The exhibit is on view until March 13.

The Power of the Line

Two exhibits, as different as night and day, bring to life the power of a line. The first is Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions at the Morgan Library and Museum.

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Martin Puryear is a living American sculptor who works primarily in wood and bronze creating elegant pieces that have subtle impact. This exhibition is the first to highlight the important role that drawing plays in his practice. Featuring about 70 works, the exhibition explores the evolution of Puryear’s ideas across different media. Most of the drawings come from the artist’s collection and have never been exhibited before. His drawings, but even more so his sculptures, use simple shapes and lines that have depth and volume.

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The second exhibit brings to light the exquisite drawings of Renaissance artist, Andrea del Sarto, and can be found at the Frick Museum. Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action has nearly fifty drawings — red and black chalk figures, expressive heads, and compositional studies — and three related paintings that explore the important role of drawing in Andrea del Sarto’s paintings. “By showing drawings with their completed paintings and by bringing together works that relate to specific commissions, the exhibition sheds new light on the artist’s creative process,” according to the exhibition notes. The works on display provide insights into the artistic process and serve, almost as a masters class, in drawing.

Both exhibits are on view through January 10, 2016.

Jacob Lawrence: A Visual Story Teller

There are many reasons to visit the new Whitney Museum including enjoying the art in the spacious and inviting galleries; the Renzo Piano architecture; and the views from the 7th and 8th floor terraces.  But what I was not expecting was to see Jacob Lawrence’s War Series.  Lawrence (1917-2000) was an Africa-American painter known for his depiction of African-American life. He’s best known for his narrative collections that he painted in story format using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colors.

Lawrence served in the United States Coast Guard during World War II.  The fourteen panel War Series describes his first-hand  “sense of regimentation, community, and displacement” that he experienced during his service.  The “story” alternates between vertical and horizontal formats, literal and abstract depictions; and individuals and groups. The series supports Lawrence’s belief that one cannot “tell a story in a single painting.”

I’m not sure I would have examined these as closely had I not experienced Lawrence’s equally compelling Migration Series on view at  the MoMA. Created in 1941, The Migration Series tells the story of the Great Migration, the multi-decade mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North that started around 1915. The series is comprised of 60 small tempera paintings with text captions that read like a children’s story book. The color palettes in the two series are very similar, but the text in the Migration Series is much more evocative. It’s the first time all 60 panels have been shown together.

The Migration Series is only on view until September 7th while The War Series is, for now, in one of the Whitney’s permanent galleries.

The Summer of Van Gogh

Paintings by Vincent Van Gogh were the first works of art to really have an impact on me. I loved his use of color and the feeling of constant movement that his lines evoked. This summer there was an opportunity to delve deeper into Van Gogh’s work with two shows — one very small and one large, both closing soon. The first is Irises and Roses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (closes August 16). Painted on the eve of his departure from the asylum at Saint-Rémy, the group includes two paintings — an Irises and a Roses — from the Metropolitan Museum’s permanent collection, and one each from the National Gallery of Art in DC and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The exhibition reunites the four paintings for the first time since the artist’s death.  It opened 125 years to the week that Van Gogh announced to his brother Theo, on May 11 and 13, 1890, that he was working on these “large bouquets,” according to the Met. The paintings are beautiful but they no longer carry the original colors that Van Gogh selected when painting them. To learn more about this, and other details behind the paintings, you must watch the terrific videos on the wall opposite the paintings.

A much larger Van Gogh exhibit can be seen at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.  Van Gogh and Nature (on view through September 13) contains fifty works including iconic paintings such as A Wheatfield, with Cypresses (1889, National Gallery, London), The Olive Trees (1889, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), and The Sower (1888, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo). As the Clark describes it, the exhibition focuses on Van Gogh  as a “thoughtful and meticulous student of nature who found solace and personal fulfillment in studying and enjoying the natural world.” What I found surprising about some of these paintings was the use of  a different color palette than one expects with Van Gogh’s works.

If you’re a Van Gogh lover like me, you can also see 15 additional works by Van Gogh in the permanent collection at the Met. Additionally, the Moma and the Guggenheim also have a few Van Goghs on view.

The Frick: Go for “Flaming June,” Stay for the Collection

Frederic Leighton (1830–1896), Flaming June, ca. 1895. Oil on canvas

Frederic Leighton (1830–1896), Flaming June, ca. 1895. Oil on canvas

As you walk through the Frick Collection’s Garden Court, towards the Oval Room, you immediately see in the distance, the bright orange color of Frederic Leighton’s stunning “Flaming June.” The closer you get, the more striking it becomes. Not only because of the intrinsic qualities of the painting itself  — the color, the lines, the abandonment — but also because it is unlike anything else at the Frick.

Garden Court at The Frick Collection

Garden Court at The Frick Collection

Built in 1913, the house was designed to accommodate paintings and other art objects collected by Henry Clay Frick, the Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist.  The intention was to one day leave the house, and Frick’s art collection, to the public. After Mrs. Frick’s death in 1931, family and trustees of The Frick Collection began the transformation of the Fifth Avenue residence into a museum. Additions were made to the original house, including two galleries (the Oval Room and East Gallery), a combination lecture hall and music room, and the enclosed Garden Court, originally the location of the home’s driveway. It opened to the pubic in December 1935.

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The permanent collection began with one hundred thirty-seven paintings and also included sculpture, decorative arts, drawings, and prints. Today, The Frick houses a permanent collection of more than 1,100 works of art from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century. Artists represented in the Collection include Rembrandt, El Greco,Vermeer, Gainsborough, Turner, and Whistler. While the later acquisitions are able to be loaned to other museums, Frick stipulated that his original collection could only be viewed in his original home. My favorite room was the West Gallery where there are several JMW Turner harbor paintings and iconic Vermeers and Rembrandts.

Leighton’s Flaming June is on view through September 6th. The Frick is open everyday but Monday.

2015 Museum Mile Festival


This year’s Museum Mile Festival takes place on Tuesday, June 9th from 6-9:00pm. Nine museums from 82nd -105th Street are open late and free to the public. Fifth Avenue will closed to traffic; there’s street entertainment; and it’s a great opportunity to get a taste of art from different institutions. But beware – there can be long lines to get into some of the museums.

Thomas Hart Benton, City Activities With Dancehall

Thomas Hart Benton, City Activities With Dancehall

One of the most popular museums on Museum Mile is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’d recommend entering the museum at the 81st Street entrance — where school groups are directed — it will probably be less crowded. Only part of the museum will be open that night; primarily the new big exhibits like China Through the Looking Glass. These will be pretty crowded so if you can, seek out some smaller exhibits or work from the permanent collection. For example, the Met just reinstalled the ten-panel mural,  America Today, by Thomas Hart Benton.  Benton  painted this mural for New York’s New School for Social Research to hang in the school’s boardroom. It  depicts a sweeping panorama of American life throughout the 1920s. It was on view as a special exhibition but now is permanently installed in gallery 909 in the Modern Wing of the museum.


Making Design, Cooper-Hewitt museum

Making Design, Cooper-Hewitt museum

It’s also a good night to visit a museum that you don’t normally go to. Try Cooper-Hewitt Museum  which wasn’t open when last year’s Museum Mile event took place. One current exhibition to see is  Making Design. It’s the first in a number of exhibitions devoted to showcasing Cooper Hewitt’s extensive collection. It brings together some 360 objects, including furniture, lighting fixtures, tableware, clothing, jewelry, books, and posters, providing an overview of five key elements of design: line, form, texture, pattern, and color (red, for this initial installation).

Spring Art Events in NYC


There’s always new art to see in New York City. It’s good to plan ahead so you don’t miss out. This spring there are some great shows opening at the major museums: the 2015 Costume Institute extravaganza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “China Through the Looking Glass,” opening May 7th; Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum opening April 3rd;or Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 at MoMA, opening May 17th. And then, there’s the re-opening of the Whitney on May 1st in it’s new location on Gansevoort Street, off the Highline.

But there are also exciting art events and openings happening where you may not be looking. For example:

Russian Modernism: Cross-Currents in German and Russian Art, 1907-1917 , Neue Galerie, 5/14-8/31

The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld at the New York Historical Society, 5/22-10/12

Life Lines: Portrait Drawing from Dürer to Picasso at the Morgan Library and Museum, 6/12 – 9/8

Two art fairs that are worth checking out are:

Spring Masters New York at the Park Ave Armory, 5/8-12 – the fair will feature leading international galleries from the U.S. and Europe, exhibiting art and design from antiquity through the 21st century.

Frieze New York Art Fair, Randall’s Island  5/14-17 -Frieze New York is one of the few fairs to focus on contemporary art and living artists. The exhibiting galleries represent  artists working today from around the globe.


Toulouse-Lautrec at MOMA

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril. 1899. Lithograph, sheet: 22 1/16 x 15″

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril. 1899. Lithograph, sheet: 22 1/16 x 15″

If you went to MoMA in the past few months, it was probably to see the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibit which recently closed. But there’s reason to return soon, and that’s to see “The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec:Prints and Posters.” The exhibition is drawn almost exclusively from MoMA’s posters, lithographs, printed ephemera, and illustrated books by Lautrec.  It features over 100 examples of the best-known works created during the peak of his career.

 The exhibition is organized around five subjects that create a portrait of Lautrec’s Paris. One section is devoted to café-concerts and dance halls, including  the Moulin Rouge. Another group focuses on the actresses, singers, dancers, and performers who “sparked the artist’s imagination and served as his muses,” according to the exhibition notes.  There’s also a series of prints and posters focusing on prostitutes in their non-working hours. A fourth section is centered on Lautrec’s role in the Parisian artistic community. A final grouping shows Lautrec’s depictions of popular Parisian activities like horse racing at Longchamp and promenading on the Bois de Boulogne.

I was quite familiar with Lautrec’s dance hall posters but found that the simple lines of some of the lesser known works, really drew me in. The exhibit is on view through March 22nd.