GERTRUDE STEIN AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
Yesterday I visited the National Portrait Gallery where I saw a Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories. The show presented an unconventional portrait of Stein's life through five different stories: Picturing Gertrude, Domestic Stein, Art of Friendship, Celebrity Stein and Legacies. The first is a great chronology of her life told through photographs of her alongside her famous "Rose is a rose is a rose." Perhaps my favorite part of the exhibition, "Domestic Stein" shares an intimate look at Stein's domestic life and relationship with her life-partner Alice B. Toklas. By bringing more attention to Stein's relationship the curators were able banish much of the myth surrounding Stein's independent, fragmented genius and bring a pleasant awareness to Toklas' role. Stein and Toklas are perhaps one of the most publicly documented gay couple of the twentieth century, and I appreciate the queer undertone the whole exhibition takes on, given that it was an immense part of Stein's life. In 1934 she wrote to a friend, "We are surrounded by homosexuals, they do all the good things in all the arts."
|Alice B. Toklas, left, and Gertrude Stein, shot in 1926 by Man Ray in their Paris home.|
It takes guts and a lot of character to achieve what Stein did in her era; attending the best universities in the country, relocating to Paris, engaging on a public life-partnership with another woman, befriending the most important artists of the 20th century and eventually becoming one herself. Stein has been known for embracing and encouraging, early on, Picasso's brisk flux from figurative representation to cubism. Which makes a great deal of sense given a lot of Stein's writing is cubist in and of itself. I was not terribly familiar with her writing prior to this exhibition, but listening to her recite her "If I Had Told Him a Completed Portrait of Picasso" is like watching one of his cubist paintings come alive before your eyes.
|Gertrude Stein by Picasso|
Other sections of the exhibition continue to relate the story of Stein as a taste maker, champion of Parisian Avant Garder, celebrity American writer and source of inspiration and creative legacy. I have known about Gertrude Stein from art history classes, museum visits and my own personal interest in early 20th century French painting, but there was so much that I did not know and this exhibition was a wonderful, wonderful surprise. I will now have to order a few of her books from the library.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART
The National Gallery of Art was the first large museum I ever visited, and it was great to be back. This time around I was tight with time and I went specifically to see Harry Callahan at 100, Harry Callahan remains to this day my favorite photographer of all times. It is quite possible that there are other artists out there whose works excite me more, but Callahan made me an artist. I first discovered his work in a book in my high school's library and it immediately took my breath away. I remember thinking, "this is what I want to do with my life," and continued to write about him in my creative writing class in high school. I then applied to college, studied photography and wrote my History of Photography final essay on Harry Callahan and his disparate obsession with both Ansel Adams and László Moholy-Nagy (I know right? weird). So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to see the work. It was a perfectly curated survey spaning his early years, Chicago, Eleanor, environmental abstractions and then his later years in color at RISD (which I actually quite dislike).
|Eleanor, Harry Callahan|
Callahan sees with brilliant precision, he places every element in strenuous conversation, edges meet taut and lines run ever so explicit only to be disturbed by the organic of Eleanor. Evident of his paradoxical love for Ansel Adams and Moholy-Nagy, Callahan mastered both the frigid urban landscape and the tender family portrait; it is when these met that I think he made his best work. I did mention above my dislike for his color work; I am a big fan of color photography, in fact, I shoot exclusively in color film myself. But when I see Callahan's color work I sense that it has been seen in black and white. Many of his color images contain tiny figures passing through a ray of light blazing across the asphalt, as many of his black and white images did, and in color they just don't hold up to the dramatic quality of the black and white (example below).
|Eleanor and Barbara, Harry Callahan|
On my way to the Callahan show I had to walk through an exhibition of the Chester Dale collection. I was not aware of this collection prior to this visit but I was blown away by it. Dale collected primarily late 19th century and early 20th century art, my favorite period in art history. This is amongst the most impressive and beautiful collections of art I have ever seen; Dale was challenged the Cone sisters in Baltimore whose amazing collection now lives at the BMA. Advised by Gertrude Stein the Cone sisters were pioneer collectors of 20th century French painting as well; they met in Baltimore when Stein was studying at Johns Hopkins.
|Chester Dale collection on display at the National Gallery|
The work shown ranged from impressionism to modernism with a focus on Matisse, Picasso, Corot, Modigliani, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Cassatt, Cézanne, Degas, Manet and van Gogh among others. I was in heaven.
Here's a little video about the Dale's.
I 'm going to share a few of my favorite pieces, but first I have to say that the following two Vincent van Gogh paintings almost brought me to tears. I have never been a big fan of van Gogh but for some reasons these two portraits really touched me and I couldn't get my eyes off of them, I went back twice to each.
|Vincent van Gogh|