Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Brooks McCormick Bequest

Two kinds of people run American cultural institutions: the wealthy, blue-blood philanthropists -- and the arts management professionals whom they hire.

And Brooks McCormick, whose collection just came to the Art Institute, was about as blue-blood as it gets in Chicago.

On his father's side , his great-grand uncle was Cyrus McCormick who invented the mechanical reaper. On his mother's side, there was William Deering, whose agricultural equipment company merged with the McCormicks in 1902 to form International Harvester.

Both families gave extensively to the Art Institute.

Brook's uncle, Cyrus McCormick Jr., was a trustee of the Art Institute in the early decades -- and he was later joined on the board by Brooks' father, Chauncey McCormick, who served as trustee from 1925, and then as President from 1944 --- until his death in 1954 -- at which time Brooks became a trustee himself until his retirement in 1986.

Might one say that the Art Institute was something of a family business ?

It looks like Brooks will be the last McCormick to be in the museum business -- as he was the last McCormick to work in International Harvester. He was CEO in the seventies, and soon after, the company stopped making agricultural equipment, changed its name to Navistar, and started making trucks. An era had ended.

He also served on the boards of First National Bank of Chicago and Commonwealth Edison (our local Gas company), the Chicago Community Trust, Rush University Medical Center, the Chicago Urban League, and the Chicago Campaign for the United Negro College Fund.

But I'll bet that his real love was for riding horses on his estate -- and he was benefactor to many environmental causes, both locally and in Australia. He assembled an enormous collection of rare books about birds -- the proceeds of its recent sale being donated to the cause of bird loving.

But what about art ?

Was he really that excited by it ?

Given his resources and connections -- and looking at the following collection that he gave to the museum upon his death --

I'd say he'd rather be hunting foxes than collecting painting and sculpture.

Matisse, 1938

This is a late piece (Matisse was 70)
and although it's nice,
it feels a bit generic to me.

like something that was just tossed off,
while working up something more ambitious,
like this "Music" done in 1939.

Actually -- I think this looks
better as a small reproduction,
because the surface quality of the much larger original
just isn't there.

This is more like graphic art,
it should have been a print.

Giovanni Boldoni (b. 1841) portrait of Lina Cavalieri

This feels like a quick sketch,
and it would be perfect
for the lobby of an opera house
(Calvalieri was a famous soprano)
where people will be walking past it
as quickly as it was painted.

But it doesn't survive a longer look.
It's dull and ordinary.

J.S. Sargent, portrait of Madame Escudier

On the other hand,
this is very exciting painting
by a very young painter (Sargent was 26 at the time)

It's kind of rough,
the tones and often the drawing
aren't quite right,
but it's so exciting,
as he holds those extremes
of daylight value
into the deep space he's creating.

This belongs in a room filled with Sargents,
either in a special exhibit,
or on permanent display
(Sargent is very important to contemporary
traditional painters -- he should have his own room)

Cezanne "standing bather" 1879-82

Accompanying notes tell us that
this was cut from a larger composition
like this one from 1890.

This one is a nice little painting,
and I think Cezanne gets into trouble
when he adds more figures.

But still,
this is something that belongs in
an art museum in Rockford or Peoria,
not Chicago.

Degas, Horse with Jockey 1870's

This is the kind of piece that
really infuriates me,
because there were so many good sculptors in that era,
and in the 70 years that followed,
while Degas didn't even intend
to make this work public --
it was an aid to his pictorial design.

Is it nice ?
Yes, it's nice,
Degas could draw ---
but how about looking for
people who could sculpt ?

Degas 1876, pastel over monotype "cafe concert"

A not especially attractive scene
of people doing
not especially attractive things
(these are Johns picking up whores)

it's a slice of life,
and it belongs in some
kind of thematic show or
Degas retrospective,
but I think it's headed
for the museum basement.

Manet, 1882 "man with dog"

I'll bet that Brooks loved dogs
(to run beside his horses)
and a dealer probably made him
a very happy man when this
was showed to him.

It's a nice little sketch,
but let's face it,
it's not very exciting,
and another piece that's
either destined for the basement
or should be.


And that's it.

A modest collection of safely acceptable
modern art C. 1900,
the sort of thing that Brooks' grandfathers might
have used as stocking stuffers.

I don't think he cared much one way or the other.

And now,

I've found this precious quote,
from his father, Chauncey, back
when Mrs. Frank Logan,
wife of the former Vice-President of the museum,
complained about the painting
which received her annual "Logan Award"
given by the Art Institute in 1935:

"We are merely trying to let the public see
what is being painted in the United States today.
A newspaper doesn't endorse murder
when it prints the news of a murder."

Do you get that message ?

By 1935,
the wealthy civic leaders who were
running the Art Institute
were no longer responsible for the
moral or spiritual quality of the
work being shown.

Mrs. Logan and her rich, conservative friends
needed to start their own museum
of contemporary but traditional art,
and the shame is that they didn't.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


It's a disaster!

All of the American art (1900-1950) has been removed,
and the entire second floor of Regenstein Hall
at the Art Institute of Chicago
has been given over to
Jasper Johns


There's every gray painting he ever made,
a true monument to
the pretentiousness of vacuity.

Why Jasper Johns ?

Why has the Art Institute
given him the largest exhibit of any living artist ?

Is there something especially intellectual,
art theoretical,
about the color gray ?

(none of those intense, populist colors of
say, a Gerhard Richter, whose one-man
show got a small fraction of this floor space)

They certainly are art theoretical,

because there's nothing but theory
(especially the Institutional Theory)
that privileges the textured gray paint on the canvas
from the
textured, painted surfaces of the gallery wall on which they hang.

I remember how the previous A.I.C. director,
James Wood,
had a special interest in Johns.

Since it's all about art theory,

it's my theory that Johns

is the kind of contemporary art that's appropriate
for the more sedate, patrician, established Art Institute

(while the pop and shock artists belong a mile north,
in Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art

And how symbolic,

to have the largest Johns exhibit ever mounted
temporarily replace
the permanent collection of 20th C. American art
which will be reinstalled
into to the new
Modern Wing
that will open next year
in direct competition with the M.C.A.

Why not just leave Regenstein Hall empty
for a year ?

Wouldn't that vacuity be even more profound?


Note: I didn't see any point
to illustrating this post
with images of Johns' dreary grayness,

so instead I've posted images just taken
from a newly installed room of Whistler,
who also specialized in gray.

But there's gray....
and then there's gray.


And here's a revelatory questionnaire
that the artist just completed for Vanity Fair.

What do consider the most overrated virtue?
Virtue itself

On what occasion do you lie?
When I think it is useful

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
no one, no thing

What is your most treasured possession?
my refrigerator


And what better color for him,
than gray

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cavatina Duo

The hands of Eugenia Moliner

Click here for more videos of
the Cavatina Duo live on stage.

(it's so hard to get them to play for us in person,
but we did get Denis to do some incredible solos after dinner,
last Thanksgiving)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

S.O.F.A. 2007

Gordon Crosby

Here's my stroll through the 2007 S.O.F.A. exhibit
(Sculptural Objects Functional Art)

There's never much in these shows that appears to me
to be either sculptural or functional (except as Bling)
.. but I enjoy walking through them anyway,
and fantasize finding them
in the upscale apartments of fashionable young ladies
who have invited me up for a cup of tea.

This time,
in the manner of "The Antiques Road Show"
I've recorded the prices,
as well as the other info on the tag

Gordon Crosby, born 1938, $1000

Naturally, I'm the most attracted
to the understated,
the traditional,
the pieces that seem to point to healthy,
quiet lifestyle of contemplation

Ryoji Koie

Ryoji Koie, born 1938, teabowls, $1900 each

Sam Herman, 1960, $5500

So, I'm partial to the old guys,
like this British fellow,
and I have no idea
what qualities the abstract painting
of the past 50 years
might have that can't be found
in his blown glass.

Sam Herman, 2007, $1250 and $2450

Sam Herman

I think I began to appreciate this kind work
about 50 years ago,
with my small, but choice
collection of marbles.

Bjorn Ekegren, born 1955, Sweden

What kind of woman would own this piece ?
Tall, lithe, blond, athletic,
probably into sailing.

Tali Daton, 2007

And what kind of woman
would show these in her apartment ?

Tali Daton, 2007, $5900

obviously one
with a great sense of humor

Michael Lucero, 2007, $27,000

Moving on now
to the most outrageous things.

(this show had plenty of outrageous -
it's not especially what I like,
but I thought it should be documented -
sort of like ---
a magnificent train wreck)

so if you saw this is a person's home,
nothing they could say or do
would surprise you

Shayna Leib, $27,000

Shayna Leib

This kind of thing
is actually very relaxing for me,
and I'd love to find it
in a doctor's waiting room

Walter Zimmerman
"Incident", 2007, $950

But what are we to make of these things ?
(there were about a dozen of them,
stretched out across the gallery wall)

Walter Zimmerman

They do, indeed
seem to record an "incident",
one that no man
would like to experience

Joel Masewick, Acrylic and steel on canvas, $7,000

This piece is just so whacky,
it needs to go somewhere, but where ?

the waiting room
of an auto repair shop ?

Marvin Lipovsky, 2006, $36,800

I discovered Marvin last year,
and I keep on liking him.

This piece reminds me
of one of the color-swirly party balloons,
that's just popped !

and how is this detail one bit less profound
and meditative
than a painting
by Mark Rothko ?

Chris Antemann, $3200, porcelain, decals, luster

Moving on now to the figure sculpture,
there basically two kinds in SOFA:
the cute and the ugly.

This one comes the closest to
having some of the best qualities
of European porcelain,
while it's narrative
is wonderfully goofy
(please don't spill that hot tea !)

Dorit Levi-nstein, $7000

Doesn't this feel way-too French ?
I love it.
(and like it better than most contemporary figure sculpture)

The piece has been cast in bronze
and then painted

Mike Moran, $4500

O.K. -- this figure is just plain ugly

but it's a promising approach:
concrete modeled on top of rebar
to make an inexpensive,
life size

Philip Soosloff, "Closing Time", $3400

This illusionistic relief
is much more effective in person

Rudy Autio, "Currents", 1997, $48,000

Rich people like to have living rooms
that are way too large,
and there's plenty of empty space left,
even after they put in the mammoth sofa and coffee table.

That's what this kind of large, 36" high ceramic is for.

It's an elegant space filler.

Rudy Autio, "Daedalus", $60,000

Which is not to disparage this
figurative work.

The quality reminds me of
the figurative ceramics commissioned
by leading artists 100 years ago,
the golden age of early modernism.

Toshiko Takaezo, 1997

Back to the ceramic pieces,
I guess I feel that that the whole point
of this genre is to simplify shape
and explore surface.
And who's better than the Japanese ?

Yasuhiro Kuhara, b. 1954, 12" high

I find this sort of thing so relaxing

Jay Strommen

Americans, on the other hand,
like a looser, more homey feeling.

I would love to drink hot chocolate from these cups.

Melanie Brown, $2200 for the set

.. and I think these eccentric ladies need
each others company.

Wouldn't you expect to find this
in the home of a Thai Buddhist priest ?

Samy-David, $5000

Samy-David has opened ceramic boutiques
throughout Israel -- and now into Europe.
Oprah is a fan -- and so am I.
(but I don't think those flames
will keep the pot warm)

Sara Flynn, "Vessel Council", $2090

This might be the portrait
of some kind of women's health

Thomas Schmidt, "Origins", $1500

Young Mr. Schmidt has crossed over into sculpture here,
and it reminds me of those gnarly rocks or pieces of weathered wood
that Chinese collectors have mounted for display.

Agathe Larpent, "Tourbillon", $6100

I like this piece,
but I would really like to cut off a slice
and serve it with butter and jam

Edward Eberle

This looks like a homage to the 1950's

Eva Kwong, "Bacteria , diatoms, cells", $10,000

Absolutely perfect
for a doctor's waiting room.
(or... maybe not)

Gretchen Ewart

Not too many bowls
favor the inner to the outer.

One might expect the owner of such a piece
to be a woman of high integrity

Jane Jermyn, $2650

Wouldn't you like find an apartment
filled with dozens of these things ?
What kind of a person would make
such a collection ?

Bill Nasogaluak (Tutuyakyuk)

Why is this the only gallery of ethnic art at S.O.F.A.

Is that Eskimo art is somehow higher class
than the decorative arts of Africa, Asia, India etc ?

Or --- is it just that Galerie Elca (Montreal)
was the only ethnic gallery
that could afford a booth ?

They had a good exhibit of Inuit pieces that,
overall, were much better than what is mostly found on the internet.

Though it's not quite up to the best that I've found elsewhere ,
especially my favorite, Ashevek Tunnillie

All of these are pieces made in 2007 (or 2006)

Mark Pitseolak (Cape Dorset) $2000

Nuna Parr (Cape Dorset) $7200

Toonoo Sharky (Cape Dorset)

Lino Tagliapetra, $35000

Back to the glass,
this is one that I would actually like to own,
since it's quiet, elegent
and most importantly,
easier to dust

Loretta Yang

This Taiwanese woman
is apparently a film star
as well as a glass maker,
and there is a kind of sensual
munificence that feels so Chinese
(like -- I know that I can't afford
to even look at it)

Nad Vallee

For some reason,
the gallery watcher
was very nervous about me
taking this photograph.

Perhaps I was stealing its soul ?

Noel Hart

What is it about this piece
that makes it feel so Austalian ?
(and not, say, Brazilian)

Jack Richardson

Before I read the label,
I thought this was glass,
but, of course, it's stone
that's been turned on a lathe.

Wouldn't this make THE perfect receptacle
for the funerary ashes
of an elegant woman ?

Bennett Bean, 5' x 7' wool rug

Bennett Bean

Mr Bean is a delightful aesthete
who seems to have a perfect sense
for what wealthy Americans want in their homes.

What says wealth and passion more than red and gold ?

John Kuhn, $45,000

This piece belongs on the officer's deck
of the starship Enterprise

Jorg Zimmermann

And this set of jars
were only partially transported
(during a malfunction of
a teleportation machine )

Jose Chardiet, 1987

It's very difficult to look at this
without a chuckle

Cesare Toffolo

The only figurative
glass I found in this show


Browngrotta arts, 1990

And now on to the other strange materials --
this is acrylic and dyes on rayon

Mayme Kratz

and these are corn flower husks
fixed in resin.

Cheerful, isn't it ?