Categories
Art Art & Architecture Uncategorized US (Missouri)

Ode to the Hudson River School

Photo: M. Yung

Wherein I kinda-sorta compare my silly little iPhone 8 photo to six sumptuous American masterpieces

I took the above photo yesterday afternoon at the Pomme de Terre River about six miles east of Bolivar, Missouri. After I posted it on Instagram and Facebook, a friend commented that it reminded her of paintings from the Hudson River School. I vaguely knew what she meant, but I wasn’t exactly sure.

So I did what we all do when we’re a little fuzzy on a subject: I googled. Two seconds later, I found this entry on Wikipedia,

“The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by Romanticism. The paintings typically depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the CatskillAdirondack, and White Mountains.”

Wikipedia

I also read that two of the more prominent Hudson River School artists were Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886) and Thomas Cole (1801-1848).

That Wikipedia entry rang a bell. In my mind’s eye, I could hazily recall Kindred Spirits, the masterpiece by Durand I saw a few years ago in the permanent collection at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Read my article about this fabulous collection here: There are no crystal bridges at Crystal Bridges: and other thoughts about the best art museum you’ve probably never heard of).

If you can’t picture Kindred Spirits any better than I could, here it is:

Kindred Spirits | Asher Brown Durand | Public domain | That’s fellow artist Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant talking on a ledge in the Catskill Mountains.

I can see what my friend meant by her Facebook comment. A few things give my photo that “Hudson River School” look:

  • The colors… All those gorgeous greens and golds.
  • The composition… That tree trunk on the left. Those leaves and branches that gracefully frame the sky.
  • The subject matter… America the beautiful, in all her glory.

The Wikipedia article also noted that…

In general, Hudson River School artists believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was a reflection of God.

Wikipedia

Even though the various artists of the Hudson River School differed in their beliefs or devotion to Christianity, they apparently shared an inclination to record a pastoral, peaceful co-existence between mankind and nature. The paintings accomplish that goal. They are uplifting, calming, and restorative… just like that little bend in the Pomme de Terre.

Just for fun, let’s look at some other Hudson River School paintings by Durand…

A Stream in the Wood | 1865 | Asher Brown Durand | Public Domain
The Catskills | 1859 | Asher Brown Durand | Public Domain

And now, three by Thomas Cole…

View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, After a Thunderstorm a.k.a. The Oxbow | Thomas Cole | 1836 | Public Domain
View on the Catskill – Early Autumn | Thomas Cole | 1836 | Public Domain
Daniel Boone at His Cabin at Great Osage Lake | Thomas Cole | 1826 | Public Domain

Who says social media isn’t educational?

Yesterday, I was just taking a pretty picture down by the river east of Bolivar. However, thanks to my friend’s comment, I learned a little about 19th-century American art. Hopefully, with this blog post (by the way, blogs are another form of social media) you learned a little, too.


Thanks for reading! Ever take a picture that you found later resembled a famous photo or painting? Click like, leave a comment, and let me know. Become a follower for more posts like this one or click on my menu of art-related posts at the top of the screen.

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy (Venice)

Photo Friday: A Venetian mosaic

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Photo: Katherine Yung

The travel is in the details

This unexpected mosaic tucked into a corridor in the San Marco sestiere of Venice, Italy will take your breath away. Even the wrought iron barrier is beautiful and provides a contrasting frame for this photo taken by my daughter in June 2019.

The design reminds me of a beautiful painting by the Venetian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini  that you’ll find hanging inside the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The basilica is located adjacent to the Venetian hospital Ospedale Civile.

The image on both the painting and the mosaic depicts the Christ child being carried by the patron saint of travelers Saint Christopher, a 3rd-century church martyr.


Thanks for reading! I plan to post a photo every Friday. Click “like” and become a follower to catch my next post and pictures! And don’t forget: the travel is in the details.

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy (Venice)

Venice doesn’t need another tourist like me

There’s a guard at a basilica who wants us to be better.

It just wasn’t as elaborate as I thought it would be, I thought as I surveyed the interior of Venice’s Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Yes, it was beautiful, just not as beautiful as I expected for a “Top 10” ranking in the little book about Venice I had at home.

A sign at the door had notified us of a 3.50€ entrance fee to enter. My daughter and I both agreed that this view from the doorway would suffice. After all, we had been in many other Venetian cathedrals or basilicas.

Just two days before, we had ventured inside the Chiesa di Santo Stefano in the San Marco sestiere.  The previous day, we had taken loads of photos inside Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna. The next day, a second tour inside Saint Mark’s Basilica was on the agenda. And then, two years earlier we had made time not only for Saint Mark’s, but also the Basilica dei Frari, Chiesa di San Zaccaria, and of course, the iconic Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. In short, we had seen many.

However, I liked the idea of at least a souvenir from Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The rotating stand at the edge of the entry steps might have one I could purchase. I spun the stand, picked out a couple of cards and stepped over to an ornate kiosk. From the back, a man entered the darkened kiosk.

He had just finished setting up for the day—repositioning the “No Photos” sign, stacking up the 1€ kimonos available for purchase by bare-shouldered women, arranging a selection of votive candles.

I slid the two postcards under the slot in the kiosk’s Plexiglass shield. The man looked intently at each one and then met my eyes.

“Did you see the originals?” he asked.

“No.” How could I explain in my non-existent Italian that we had already seen so many churches in this great city? He straightened the cards in his palms with a tap on the marble counter.

“Okay, you must see the originals.” He stepped out from the kiosk and stepped around to meet us. Grabbing the velvet partition rope, he said, “Come with me.”

He handed me the postcards, and we followed him into the cool darkness of the basilica. He strode purposefully to a mammoth collection of oil paintings on the large wall to the right.

As he walked, he spoke over his shoulder, “It’s a crime to come to Venice and buy a postcard and not see the original because you don’t want to pay three-fifty Euro.”

Ouch, I thought.

Here was a Venice enthusiast if I had ever met one. Flashing his dark eyes from beneath even darker curls, he continued: “I will show you the two paintings on your cards.”  He stepped over to the wall behind the oil paintings and tapped a small plastic rectangle. Click. Light saturated the paintings.

My daughter reached for my postcards for a closer look. “This is a Bellini—those are why this church is on the list. These are special,” she whispered.

“Here is the Bellini,” he called from the light switch.”You look at this one, then go over to that one”—he pointed further into the nave directing our eyes to the darker painting of Christ with the apostle Thomas by Leandro da Bassano— “and then come back and see this one again. You turn on the light if you need to.”

“We will. Thank you,” I told him.

We looked at San Cristoforo and the assemblage of Giovanni Bellini paintings. Each one was large on its own. Framed in gold, the entire altarpiece composition (called the Saint Vincent Ferrer altarpiece, I later learned) spanned nearly nine feet in height.

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San Cristoforo by Giovanni Bellini (1464-1470)

I’m not an art historian, but a little online research revealed these paintings were not made with oils, but tempera paint on wooden panels. This particular one shows the Christ child being carried by Saint Christopher, a 3rd-century church martyr executed by the Roman emperor at the time.  The painting glowed under the light, and reminded me of another glowing Bellini at the Basilica dei Frari. It seems Bellini knew the tempera medium well.

We walked to the other painting we had been permitted to see at no charge.

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L’incredulita di S. Tommasso by Leandro da Bassano | Notice the books falling to the ground along the lower edge… to show the surprise of the onlookers when they realized that they were in the presence of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

This second painting,  L’incredulita di S. Tommasso by Leandro da Bassano was near the front of the church. It was dark and partially obscured by a screen of sorts. It shows Christ showing the doubtful Thomas his crucifixion wounds, proving the resurrection. I later learned that Leandro da Bassano was a famous painter who followed in his artist father’s footsteps and was later knighted by the Doge of Venice. Many of his works are confused with Tintoretto’s and are difficult to date.

We returned to the Bellini and switched on the lights one more time.

“Oh, thank you,” said a tourist staring at the painting who had entered after us.

We decided our visit was over. As we left, my daughter selected another postcard and paid. She offered the guard 5€ to thank him for allowing us in.

“No, no, you keep,” he said. “I just want to show you what you want to see. A postcard isn’t good enough. It’s how I make you… what to say… better tourists,” he said, smiling and shrugging his shoulders. I could tell he meant no offense by his remark.

He continued. “You know… when you’re inside a church here, tell the guard that you want to light a candle and say a prayer and they will let you in.”

Did I hear him correctly? I asked myself.

Still, I’m not Catholic, and using prayer as my ticket inside a church seems disingenuous. However, I did appreciate his candid tip and his enthusiasm for La Serenissima, the traditional name for the Venetian Republic.

We left the church and entered the campo, the large square outside. I knew I wouldn’t forget this brief encounter in a city coming to grips with the effects of mass tourism. Two weeks before, according to the blog La Venessiana, tugboats had allowed an out-of-control cruise ship to strike an occupied river cruise boat instead of Santa Maria della Salute. To compensate for the wear and tear that throngs of summer tourists wreak upon the city, officials are devising new tourism taxes.

In reflection, the guard at Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo was merely doing his part… politely doing what he could to help visitors he met to “be better tourists” in his city on the sea.

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The entrance to Venice’s Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Thanks for reading! I really enjoyed meeting this guard and hearing his frank ideas and suggestions. It’s easy to tour Venice and not exchange words with a local. Please feel free to click like, leave a comment, and follow my blog for more stories from Venice and Greece.

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy (Venice)

A Visit to the Venice Biennale 2019

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A photo of my daughter from the Venezuelan pavilion.  I liked that she was out of focus.

“May You Live in Interesting Times”

In interesting times, artists create. In uninteresting times, artists still create. Regardless of the global political climate, the Venice Biennale—the Olympics of art where countries each exhibit in their own pavilion or exhibit space—continues. Sure, some countries may decline to participate from year to year or may be late in readying their exhibits (such as tumultuous Venezuela this year); however, for the Biennale… the show must go on.

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A ticket good for entry at the Giardini and Arsenale portions of the Biennale cost 25€. You purchase them at a row of red ticket counters shown at left in this photo.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Venice Biennale, here’s a quick summary from the Biennale website:

The Venice Biennale has been for over 120 years one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Established in 1895, the Biennale has an attendance today of over 500,000 visitors at the Art Exhibition. The history of the La Biennale di Venezia dates back from 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. In the 1930s new festivals were born: Music, Cinema, and Theatre (the Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival in history). In 1980 the first International Architecture Exhibition took place, and in 1999 Dance made its debut at La Biennale.

An over-arching theme characterizes each Biennale. This year’s theme, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” encourages people to avoid the quick judgment, the stereotype, the single-lens viewing of current world events.

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A collection of brochures I collected during our visit. The Biennale brochure reads, “May You Live in Interesting Times.”

According to Biennale President Paolo Baratta, “the expression ‘interesting times’ evokes the idea of challenging or even ‘menacing’ times, but it could also simply be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity, an invitation, thus, that appears to be particularly important in times when, too often, oversimplification seems to prevail, generated by conformism or fear.”

Another way to put it: allow art to show you the many ways of looking at the world.

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Inside the Swiss Pavilion, we watched the video entitled, “Moving Backwards.”

Last Friday (June 14), I visited the Biennale with my daughter, who is an intern in the United States Pavilion. The United States’ participation is primarily a function of the Department of State, which “supports official U.S. participation at select international art exhibitions called biennales. The Department’s support ensures that the excellence, vitality, and diversity of American arts are effectively showcased abroad and provides an opportunity to engage foreign audiences to increase mutual understanding.” In other words, exhibiting at the Biennale is another way to build and maintain positive relationships around the world.

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The Canadian Pavilion is shown on the left in photo above. Their media company showcasing inside is called Isuma. The German Pavilion stands on the far right.

As for the U.S. Pavilion’s intern program, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a well-known modern art museum in Venice, handles the hiring of the interns who provide guarding of the exhibits, inform visitors about the various works, and generally are the main points-of-contact for visitors touring through the pavilions. (Two years ago, my daughter served an internship at the museum; when they issued a call for former interns interested in returning to work the Biennale, she quickly applied.)

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The German Pavilion exhibit: industrial, cold, and futuristic.

We arrived at the portion of the show held on the ground of Venice’s Giardini (Italian for garden). Visitors can see another section of the show at the adjacent Arsenale. In addition, more pavilions are scattered throughout the city. For example, we walked by the door to the Mongolian exhibit in a dark, narrow street somewhere in the San Marco area of the city.

From the Russian Pavilion. These figures were only one component to the entire Russian offering, which was inspired by Flemish painters.

During our three-hour visit, we saw fourteen exhibits out of the 79 participating in the Biennale this year. That doesn’t sound like that many, does it? Especially when you know there are art lovers who allot several days to see all the exhibits. To them, I say, “Go you!”

However, since I only had four full days in Venice, and one of those was spent in Bologna (see my next post!), we prioritized.

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Waiting in line to the British Pavilion.

Plus, we knew that a visit to the best gelato in town, Suso, was in order for the afternoon. This would require a thirty-minute vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal from the Giardini. Sheesh… the price we pay for good gelato!

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Works by Cathy Wilkes inside the British Pavilion.

Enjoy these photos! I’ve attempted to add some details in the captions and, looking back now, I should have written this post immediately after our visit to better capture the ambiance of our visit. But when one is in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, you want to get out and see it—not stay in and write about it.

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The front of the U.S. Pavilion, which features the work of Martin Puryear.
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And now, the back of the opening piece.
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A red Phrygian cap, also known as a French liberty cap. This is made of wood. My daughter says everyone wants to touch it.

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A Confederate Civil War cap. Look in the crosshairs to see yourself.
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Bronze, but doesn’t look like bronze.
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Detail of the bronze.
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The gallery label for the Martin Puryear exhibition inside the U.S. Pavilion. I do not have photos of every piece in the show. There were several more.
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I figured that if we are visiting Greece this summer, we should probably go see the Greek pavilion.
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Walking on glass cups inside the Greek pavilion.
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Countries from around the world participate. Here’s the Uruguay Pavilion. Not sure why I don’t have a photo from inside. No offense, Uruguay.
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Work inside the Czechoslovakia Pavilion.
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The Nordic countries participate in one exhibition hall. Every Biennale, one of those nations also has its own additional pavilion. This year, it was Finland’s turn, but I did not take pictures of that show. 
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Inside the Nordic Pavilion.
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This assemblage inside the Belgium Pavilion was eerily irresistible.
This installation within the Belgium Pavilion was eerily fascinating. Every figure is moving and making something… pottery, bread, cloth, music, a painting. The taskmaster controls it all with the ringing of the bell.
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The Egypt Pavilion
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Japan Pavilion
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A video piece inside the Japan Pavilion.
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We walked over this canal to see the back portion of the Giardini area of the Biennale.

Thanks for reading! As you can see, there is too much to see at the Venice Biennale without spending days there. In addition, to really study the art and understand its motivation and full message deserves much more time than we were able to devote. Still, if you have the desire to see art on a global scale, the Venice Biennale is where you need to go. Click like if you enjoyed this post, and feel free to leave a comment or follow my blog for my next post from Bologna!

Categories
Art & Architecture Greece (Skopelos)

A Visit to Rodios Pottery in Skopelos

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A Greek pottery master continues a family legacy

Yes, you can call Nikos Rodios a Greek pottery legend, but you can also call him the juggler of Skopelos. When we arrived at his studio Saturday morning in Skopelos Town, Rodios was waiting for a large bowl to dry on his “extra” potters wheel. (He uses a traditional kickwheel for the majority of his work. ) The bowl was slowly acquiring the malleability needed to remove it from the wheel without collapsing. It wouldn’t be long. The mild Aegean breeze flowing through the open doors of the studio would see to that.

At the same time, Rodios was also polishing and finishing a load of pottery that had been unloaded earlier from his brick kiln (it burns olive tree wood) that stands just outside the door behind his studio. The pieces were arranged on a counter… an assortment of vases, animal figures, and bowls. And then some visitors walked in: us. See what I mean when I use the term juggler?

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Jill Somer, associate director of Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, and Mitch talk with Nikos Rodios about a vase made by his grandfather.

But juggling is the nature of ceramics… it’s a busy, start-and-stop process that requires both flexibility in one’s routine, and a keen eye for scheduling and working a medium that waits for no one and simultaneously takes its own time. The Rodios family knows this routine very well.

Our visit had been arranged by Jill Somer, associate director of the island’s Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, also known as Skopart. Somer interpreted conversations about techniques, clay bodies, and terra sigilattas (slip-like liquids) between Rodios and my husband, Mitch, who is serving an artist’s residency at Skopart.

Rodios and Mitch are each testing the practicability of using terra sigillatas with both Skopart’s red earthenware clay, which Mitch is using during his residency, and Rodios’ proprietary claybody.

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The family has printed this brochure in both Greek and English.

Fans of ceramics in general and contemporary Greek pottery in particular revere Nikos Rodios for carrying on a tradition begun by his grandfather, Nikolaos Rodios. In the early 1900s, Nikolaos focused on producing decorative forms reminiscent of classical Greek pottery.

At the same time, he desired that his work feature a permanent, bold black surface. After experimenting to find the precise combination of clay bodies, colorants, and firing temperatures—potters are chemists in disguise, if you didn’t know—Nikolaos was awarded a patent for his technique in 1930. You can view the patent certificate, assigned the number 2981, on display in the workshop.

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Rodios inspects some pieces from his most recent firing. On the wall near the door, you can see the patent certificate awarded to Nikolaos Rodios in 1930.

As the years continued, Nikolaos passed the family secret to his son, who in turn passed it down to today’s Nikos Rodios.

After we spent a short while admiring Rodios’ newly fired pottery, he led us to a large wooden display case hanging on another wall.

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This case contains pottery made by Nikos Rodios’ grandfather and father.

It contains a diverse collection of pottery made by the previous two generations of Rodios. Vases of all heights are on display. Some are short and bulbous, others are elongated and elegant. Each alludes to classical Greek forms.

It’s humbling to witness the current members of a family respect the hard work and innovation accomplished by their ancestors. It’s also gratifying to know that the next generation, Nikos’ daughter Magda, is building on the legacy left to her.

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Magda spends time in the studio alongside her father, Nikos.

At a workbench near the sunny back window, Magda helped her father polish some of the items from the kiln.  She adds her own creative flair to the family business with bright, colorful earthenware mugs, serving pieces, jewelry, and decor items.

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Mitch shares images from his Instagram accouint with Maria, Rodios’ wife.

After greetings us, Magda took a break from her work to retrieve a plastic water bottle that she had filled recently with a mixture of water and a local black clay. She explained that she hopes the mixture will someday soon yield an interesting clay. She brushed a bit of it onto a pottery shard. The watery part of the mixture instantly soaked into the shard and left a gritty residue on the surface.

Who knows? With time and attention, the sludgy, gritty solution may indeed transform itself into a native Skopelos clay.

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Art enthusiasts will find their own Rodios creation in the gallery.

We then walked across the street to the pottery shop that bears the Rodios name. The shop carries a wide variety of both decorative and functional ware, from wall hangings to coffee mugs and jewelry.

Inside, Maria, Rodios’ wife greeted us and spoke briefly with her husband about the wares he had carried over from his studio. He added a few pieces to the stone-and-glass shelving units, and agreed to motor over to Skopart in a few days for a quick visit with Jill and the artists working there (students from Gulf Coast State College, painter Victoria Phillips from Macon, Georgia, and Mitch).

Then he said his goodbyes and sauntered back to his studio across the street. He had some more juggling to do.

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The Greek letters spell out “Rodios Pottery” on the front of the family-run gallery.


Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this interesting and click “follow” for daily posts from our “workation” in Greece. After the residency concludes, we’ll be continuing our visit on the mainland and south to Crete (we think).

Categories
Art & Architecture US (Southwest) US Travel

Frank Lloyd Wright Wronged

 

 

When your eyes become accustomed to an architectural wonder

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Outinaz [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

It’s important to see the beauty in our midst.

One day many years ago when we lived in Phoenix, my husband and I were invited to visit an acquaintance and her young daughter who happened to be occupying a house designed by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

While cruising down Camelback Road, we would often look up and scan the cactus-dotted hillsides to spot the house nestled in the rugged terrain. We would admire its unusual appearance with its exterior winding walkways, circular windows, and austere concrete block masonry. Wright originally designed the 2,300 square foot structure for his son, David, and his wife, Gladys. It was built in 1952.

The home was intriguing and beckoned a closer look, so we took up our friend’s offer one sunny afternoon to visit the home, whose design was named by the senior Wright, “How to Live in the Southwest.”

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In recent years, the home was restored and made available for tours. | Photo: for Media Use | http://davidwrighthouse.org/media/

We’re not sure about the arrangement between the homeowners and our acquaintance. Maybe she was renting it or acting as a caretaker while the owners were away temporarily. We can’t even recall her name now.

Perched in the Camelback Mountains, the spiral home was indeed stunning and modern and magical.

It was also trashed.

Bedroom floors held oceans of wadded-up loads of laundry. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen counters. Smudges and stains sullied the bathroom mirrors and floors. Crumpled junk mail littered the hallways. We were dumbfounded.

All this disappointment obscured the home’s jaw-dropping features: an entrance preceded by a spiral walkway ramp, ubiquitous concealed built-ins, custom carpets, a rooftop deck, panoramic views of the rocky desert terrain, and Philippine mahogany ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture.

As we roamed through the home, with its desert views, calming circular design, and ingenious use of space, our acquaintance apologized for her poor housekeeping habits. “Oh, well… yeah,” we answered, laughing nervously, embarrassed for her—and the house.

A few years ago, I was curious about the status of the home and wanted to see what had become of it since our move to Missouri about a year after our tour. So I googled the house while my husband and I reminisced about our Phoenix experiences.

Yes, the house did survive that messy time. And many people today care about the newly named David & Gladys Wright House’s existence and condition.

 

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The kitchen as seen during public tours. | Photo: for Media Use | http://davidwrighthouse.org/media/

After the Wright’s deaths in 1997 and 2008, concerned citizens protested the house’s demolition, which was planned by a developer who had purchased it. In 2012, a Las Vegas attorney devised a strategy to preserve and operate the home and grounds for tours and cultural performances. However, concerns about traffic and noise from the surrounding neighborhoods blemished the whole affair. Eventually, the home was donated to benefit Scottsdale’s The School of Architecture at Taliesin, formerly known as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. However, those agreements have been abandoned. The home is now for sale for just under $13 million.

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The exterior in recent years. Photo: for Media Use | http://davidwrighthouse.org/media/

And to think our friend had trashed it all those years ago. How did she not revel in the structure that couched her every daily activity in architectural significance? Was she, like many of us, too distracted? Depressed? Too concerned with meeting daily obligations to notice? Too busy being human?

It’s understandable. Life happens.

But it’s still important to try to see the beauty in our midst. The beauty of a yellow leaf resting against a rusty brick sidewalk. The beauty of the intricate shell of a snail. The beauty of an architectural wonder your all-too-human eyes have become accustomed to.


Thanks for reading! Ever had a similar experience? Feel free to leave a comment or click “like” to show that this story resonated with you. Also—click follow or enter your email address to receive a notification when I publish a new post. 

Categories
Art & Architecture US (NYC) US Travel

Stop, Gawk, and Drool

The NYC subway’s newest mosaic stunner: Funktional Vibrations

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The outside wall of Funktional Vibrations above the escalator at the main part of the station. | Photo: M. Yung

You’re a lost cause.

When you push against the turnstile to exit the subway at 34th St.-Hudson Yards in New York, you can’t help it. The brilliant cobalt of Funktional Vibrations snags your attention and stops you in your tracks. That’s okay. In an hour or so, this last stop on the 7 line will be bustling and you’ll have to get out of the way. But for now, go ahead and gawk.

After all, you came all the way over here, one day before parts of the Hudson Yards complex even officially open, to see the latest and one of the largest additions to the public art collection of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Funktional Vibrations is a mammoth mosaic (2,788 square feet, according to artnet news) that fills the ceiling of the station’s mezzanine and then oozes outside onto the wall surfaces above escalators.

Created and designed by fiber artist Xenobia Bailey, Funktional Vibrations riots on a field of cobalt blue within its dome.

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Funktional Vibrations in the mezzanine. | Photo: M. Yung

It’s colorful. Abstract. Lava lampy. Kaleidoscopic in color and pattern. And you notice there’s an Atlantic vinyl record, too, tucked into the design. (It’s the black dot on the left side of the photo below.)

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A closer shot. | Photo: M. Yung

To your eye, Funktional Vibrations pulsates with life. “Bailey sees the work as speaking to the universal idea of creation and has created artwork that vibrates with energy,” according to an MTA website article. “(Bailey) refers to her accumulation of materials as in the tradition of African-American art—reflected in the music of the 60’s she grew up with—and its material culture and design, where one made do with what was available and made it into something new and wonderful.”

So that explains the Atlantic record, you think… an earlier era’s musical relic retrofitted for contemporary times. It fits perfectly—seamlessly even—into the mandala-like charms and spheres that vibrate all shape-shifty and cloud-like across the glass mosaic cosmos.

Bailey, originally an ethnomusicologist (here’s what that means!), worked in costume design before transitioning to fibers, specifically crochet, as noted by Manhattan’s Museum of Arts and Design. She is known best for her colorful crocheted hats and mandala design. Funktional Vibrations evokes that aesthetic, which observes African, Native American, and 70’s funk motifs.

So how does an artist who specializes in fibers transform her designs onto glass tile? With the assistance of mosaicist Stephen Miotto of Miotto Mosaic Studio in Carmel, NY. In fact, Miotto’s team have helped many artists selected by MTA’s Arts and Design Program craft and install their mosaic interpretations.

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A detail shot of the outer wall surface. | Photo: M. Yung

You learn later that Funktional Vibrations includes a total of three—not two—mosaic installations by Bailey. You vow to return another time to photograph the third. For now, you revel in the vibrancy, the touch of the human hand, and the simple rush of this subway stunner.

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Funktional Vibrations was worth the search. | Photo: K. Yung

I went to New York City with my daughter for spring break. I’m still tripping out over the mosaics (and the tile work in general) that adorn the entire subway system. How did I not know about this underground art museum? Follow my blog for more posts on subway artworks.

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Art & Architecture Italy

Sins of the flash in Torcello, Italy

The quiet rebellion of women who take pictures anyway

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Photo: Joel Valve on Unsplash

When you visit the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon, you observe a sign inside the basilica that forbids photography. Ugh, you think. But it’s so beautiful. Inside, the apse—a half-dome of sorts—is encrusted in gold mosaic. The Virgin Mary resides in its center, alone, regal, royal. It’s graphically arresting and elegant in its simplicity; it contrasts with the opposite wall, a riot of colors, shapes, lines… Biblical scenes of the Last Judgment.

The cathedral is exquisite. One simply must have pictures to remember. So you plan to purchase them in the form of postcards from the adjacent gift shop when you leave. Problem solved.

Why then, the click? Why then is that woman over there snapping away? Lost in thought, she roams the chapel, gazing at the art, studying the expressive scenes, recording her visit on her sleek 35mm Canon.

Your immediate thought: she must have special permission. She must be a researcher working on a project. You explain as much to your husband. No, he says, she’s just ignoring the sign. His nonchalance startles you. As if this is just what people do, and in this case, a woman.

Oh, you reply, secretly envying this woman’s quiet rebellion that allows her a certain freedom that you will never claim. Disobey a sign that clearly states no photos? You shake your head. It’s right there in 96-point Times New Roman even. You roll your eyes at her audacity. This disregard for convention and rules astounds you.

You wonder how much inevitable damage each click does to the Byzantine masterpieces. Over the decades, who knows? She could be causing irreparable harm, you think. This should go down on her permanent record, wherever those are.

You ask your husband about the inevitable damage. Probably doesn’t hurt the art at all, he explains, adding something he read reported most cameras have filters that limit or remove UV waves.  Doesn’t damage a thing, he says.

Here I’ve been, you think, following all the rules all this time.

You continue to stare at this renegade designing her destiny, staking her claim with a few flashes that you still cannot bear to sneak on your measly iPhone. It’s true, you think, this woman has shown you to be the fool that you are.

She clicks another shot and checks the tiny screen. It must have been good, you think.

Her crimes finally and fully committed, the woman strides purposefully across the nave, stuffing her camera into a turquoise canvas tote bag. On the side of the bag is a design: two kitschy, feathery angel wings protruding from behind a shield. The design is cliché and you abhor that about things.


Thanks for reading! This is another story generated by a week-long trip to Italy I took in 2017. There are more stories on the way. Feel free to leave a comment and click follow for more.

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy

How I found connection in the Basilica of San Vitale

Of tenacity and Easter cupcake sprinkles in Ravenna, Italy

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These aren’t paintings, but mosaics made of thousands and thousands of tiny glass tiles known as tesserae. The gold tesserae are actually two clear glass tiles that sandwich a layer of gold leaf. The entire surfaces of these walls are mosaic; the only areas that aren’t mosaics are the windows and the marble columns.  | Photo: Katherine Yung

Here’s a scenario: Your daughter requests sprinkles on the Easter cupcakes you’re baking. However, pretend the shaker needed to sprinkle on the dotted decorations has not been invented yet, and the only way to get the sprinkles perfectly placed and evenly dispersed on the cupcakes is not by scattering them with your fingers, but by applying them one by one… with tweezers perhaps.

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Photo: Unsplash

Adding sprinkles to the cupcakes now will take days, weeks or longer. The task will be one of intense devotion and labor, simply because of the time involved and the perseverance needed to complete it.

Now imagine that each one of those precisely placed sprinkles is similar—I know it’s a stretch, but stay with me—to a shimmering miniature glass tile positioned into a mosaic inside the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, a city of 160,000 near the Adriatic Sea.

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A detail of Empress Theodora, from the mosaic in the apse of San Vitale. | [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One by one, each tile is placed into the scene. One by one, each tile forms a bit more of the image. This will take twenty years at least. It’s a painstaking process and creating the picture would be much faster with brushwork, but glass is the medium and a stunning mosaic is the goal.

Each tiny piece of glass—some are half the size of your pinky nail—symbolizes perseverance and an acute attention to detail and artistry, and—by extension—to Jesus Christ.

Cupcake sprinkles are the comparison that came to mind when I began to write about the mosaics inside the Basilica of San Vitale. My family visited the basilica in March of 2017, during a much too brief daytrip to Ravenna. The church, whose namesake was a Roman soldier martyred during the Christian persecutions, was begun in 526 and consecrated in 548.

The mosaics of San Vitale are so well-known in art history circles that they have earned the basilica the description, “the most glorious example of Byzantine art in the West,” according to Ravenna: City of Art.

On the morning we visited, the interior of San Vitale glowed in the sunlight that streamed in through the windows of the church.

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A photo from across the basilica. Notice the intense patterning even in the marble floor. It’s difficult to stand close to the tesserae at San Vitale. Most of the mosaics are positioned above eight feet. The patterns you see below the windows are mostly marble mosaics. | Photo: M. Yung

As I stood in the grandeur of San Vitale, sheer awe at the handiwork overtook me.

Sheer wonderment… 

…at the dedication and tedium.

Sheer astonishment…

…at the skill and collaboration it required to not only conceive the images contained in the mural, but also to source the materials, create the artwork, and execute their application and installation on the high walls of this old, old church.

In the sunlight, the golden tesserae dazzled.

These are actually pieces of gold leaf sandwiched between pieces of clear glass. When they were pressed into place by medieval workmen, the gold tiles were angled to best reflect the sunlight, or the glow of a candle or lantern.

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A closer photo of the apse and the mosaic that shows Jesus Christ resting on a globe surrounded by angels. The far right figure in brown carries a miniature version of the basilica, offering it to Jesus in service. | Photo: M. Yung

As we took our self-tour, I stared up and pondered the mosaics and felt nearer to those laborers and artists who spent many years of their lives creating these mosaics. I marveled at their tenacity to produce these works without power tools and machinery, electricity, plumbing and other conveniences.

Would this sort of devotion be practiced today?

I don’t think so, but then maybe it was different for these medieval workers.

Even though creating the mosaics may have been their “job,” would the tedium of producing these masterpieces have been more endurable for those to whom the time of Christ was only four hundred years earlier? True, four hundred years is a long time, but wouldn’t the time of  Christ have been within their mental grasp?

To compare, would I find it easier to devote myself to glorifying the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock? I don’t know of anyone from that era, but I do feel a connection of sorts. I know about their concerns and their motivations. I can identify with them to a degree, while I find it nearly impossible to identify with people of Biblical times. Perhaps medieval workers could.

As I continued in my thoughts, my husband and daughter sought the two mosaics-within-the-mosaics below.

The mosaics of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora are considered the masterpieces of San Vitale.

The first photo below shows Justinian surrounded by his court, clergy members and soldiers. The emperor holds a bowl that contains bread for the Eucharist. Justinian never visited this basilica, according to Dr. Steven Zucker in this Khan Academy video lesson, but this mosaic was his way of asserting his power and authority from Constantinople, the Byzantine capital.

The figures in both mosaics are highly stylized. Laura Morelli, art historoian and author of The Gondola Maker, explains it this way:

“A more eastern aesthetic characterizes the mosaics completed in Ravenna during this early period. Elegant, slender, flattened figures on a shallow spatial plane stare out with huge, staring eyes.”

The two famous mosaics clearly reveal this style.

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The mosaic that shows Emperor Justinian with his court, clergy, and soldiers at left. Even the borders and frames that surround the central image are mosaic. | Photo: Katherine Yung

The mosaic of Empress Theodora rests on the opposite side of the apse and mirrors Justinian’s mosaic. In this piece, the empress carries a chalice of wine for the Eucharist. Wearing a finely detailed gown, Empress Theodora is surrounded by her imperial court and attendants. She wears elaborate jewelry, and, like Justinian, is surrounded by a halo.

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The mosaics of Justinian and Theodora are the “pieces de resistance” of Basilica San Vitale. They are found in art history textbooks as supreme examples of medieval Byzantine art. | Photo: Katherine Yung

Ready to finally move my gaze from the brilliance of the gold, I focused on the frescoes that cover the ceiling of San Vitale.

They were completed much later—in 1780—by artists from Bologna and Venice. While they are beautiful, they cannot compare, in my opinion, with the luster of the mosaics.

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Frescoes, water-based paintings on plaster, adorn the center dome of San Vitale. Photo: M. Yung

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My husband and son, at left, gaze up at the frescoes that surround the mosaic-drenched apse. | Photo: M. Yung

I felt our visit was coming to its end, and I noticed that even the floors of San Vitale were intricately decorated. Minuscule marble tiles did their best to distract me from the golden “eye candy” above. Over the centuries, the floor tiles do show some wear, but are amazingly colorful and durable. The most wear is to the floor surface itself, which, in some places within the basilica, contains depressions from heavy traffic patterns from worshipers and tourists.

The detail in the flooring reinforced my thoughts about the devotion of those early medieval artists; they spared nothing—not even the floor—in their pursuit to create a beautiful place to glorify God.

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Photo: M. Yung

As we exited the basilica, we took photos of its rustic appearance and its unusual structure of two stacked octagons. Its unusual shape does not follow cathedrals designed in the typical shape of the Latin cross, but instead evokes eastern influence from Byzantium.

From the outside, one would have no idea of the grandeur within.

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The contrast between the exterior and the interior of the Basilica of San Vitale is striking. The bricks were repurposed from demolished structures in Rome. Photo: M. Yung

Visiting the Basilica of San Vitale was a lesson in humility, reverence, and connection.

As I walked across the same floors, gazed up at the same artwork, and whispered in the same hushed tones that countless others whispered down through the ages, I knew that my visit was not about sprinkles on Easter cupcakes.

It wasn’t even about the magnificent golden mosaic masterpieces. It was instead about connecting to Jesus Christ and historical Christianity… and in a broader sense, to humanity.


Thanks for reading! Please click “like” so others can find this post more easily. Feel free to leave a comment about what your mind wanders to when you gaze at something truly beautiful.

Categories
Art & Architecture Life lessons Memoir & Narratives US (Southwest) US Travel

How Not to Live in the Southwest

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Photo: AZcentral.com

One day in 1992, my husband and I were invited to visit an acquaintance who happened to be occupying a house designed by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. We had seen the house from a distance and had admired its unusual appearance with its exterior winding walkways, circular windows, and austere concrete masonry. It was intriguing and beckoned a closer look.

Wright originally designed the 2,200 square foot structure for his son, David, and his wife, Gladys. It was built in 1952. We’re not sure about the arrangement between the homeowners and our acquaintance. We can’t even recall her name now. Maybe she was renting it or acting as caretakers while the owners were away temporarily. We accepted our acquaintance’s  invitation to visit the historic home and stopped by one sunny afternoon for a tour.

Perched near Camelback Mountain, the spiral home was indeed stunning and modern and magical. It was also trashed. Our acquaintance, who was fortunate to occupy Wright’s last residential masterpiece named ironically, “How to Live in the Southwest,”  was, in short, a slob.

Bedroom floors held oceans of wadded-up loads of laundry. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen counters. Smudges and stains sullied the bathroom mirrors and floors. Crumpled junk mail littered the hallways. We were dumbfounded. All this disappointment obscured the home’s jaw-dropping features: an entrance preceded by a winding walkway ramp; Philippine mahogany ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture; ubiquitous concealed built-ins; custom carpets; a rooftop deck; panoramic views of the rocky desert terrain. Without a doubt, we had seen it at its worst and even then, it was beautiful.

As we roamed through the home, with its desert views, calming circular structure, and ingenious use of space, our acquaintance apologized for her poor housekeeping habits. “Oh, well… yeah,” we answered, laughing nervously, embarrassed for her — and the house.

Not too long ago, I was curious as to the status of the home and wanted to see what had become of it since our move to Missouri about a year later. So I googled the house  while my husband and I reminisced about our Phoenix experiences. Yes, the house did survive that messy time.

And somebody, many people in fact, care about the house’s existence and condition today. After their deaths, the Wrights passed on the house to a granddaughter, who later sold it to a developer who wanted to demolish it. Concerned citizens stepped in, and the house was eventually saved. In fact, another developer is now devising a strategy to preserve and operate the home and grounds for tours, weddings, and cultural performances. It seems a fitting purpose for the architectural gem now known as the David & Gladys Wright House. Still, there is controversy surrounding the whole ordeal, which I likely don’t fully appreciate or understand, since I no longer live in the area. To find out more, go here. As I understand it, the developer wants to expand his concept and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are upset about the increased traffic and congestion they expect to occur.

I hope, even though they disagree on a number of points, that the developers, area residents and preservationists are united in their gratitude that the house previously survived a greater controversy: the disrepair and poor treatment it received when it was in the care of our acquaintance.