Monday, December 31, 2007

Napoleon at MFA and Cool at OCMA

The thing I love about the holidays is the loosey-goosey schedule that allows for some catching up on exhibitions. We were in Boston a couple of weeks ago, and in between blizzards I managed to sneak (thanks to my sister-in-law) to the MFA to view Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800-1815. Although I would have loved to see more 2D work from the period, the furniture, dinner settings and - most of all - the Empire dresses were spectacular. Per usual, the MFA's web site offers a really terrific interactive component. Click here to view.

And then last Thursday, three girlfriends and I played hooky and ventured down to Orange County to check out Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury at the Orange County Museum of Art. This show has received quite a bit of buzz, partly because of the dedicated love of mid-century design in this part of the world, and partly because it takes a different approach to museum installation - it incorporates music! Imagine that! Art and music together! I often wish museum installations would have a musical component, because so often music is of great influence to an artist's work, and music also helps convey the feeling and vibe of a period of time.

So this show did just that, starting with the title: Birth of the Cool is, of course, a Miles Davis album from the 1950s, and its funky, groovy sounds greet visitors entering the exhibition. Throughout the show, there are listening and viewing stations where you can check out "cool" albums and TV shows from the same period. The whole experience really made me want to visit the Playboy Mansion and sip a martini.

My favorite part of the show was the gallery of paintings. I've long been a fan of Helen Lundeberg and Karl Benjamin, and this is such a great opportunity to see several of their dynamic works all together. I'm so happy to finally see Benjamin get his props - his work is so dynamic and is so relevant to what was going on in design and art in Southern California in the 1950s. He's quite elderly now but totally lucid, and I'm sure he's enjoying this much-deserved attention. This piece, Benjamin's Black Pillars from 1957, became the most iconographic image of the show, and rightly so, since it's geometric forms and unusual color combination are hallmarks of the designs explored here.

Happy New Year to you! Thanks for reading, and check back soon for more explorations!