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Art Finds

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Debut of Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum

Multiculturalism is the main reason why I return to Toronto as often as possible, a half-dozen times in the past decade. I love the diverse population—chatting to an Eritrean taxi driver about the struggles in her country, dining on sublime dim sum with a Hong Kong-born chef whose har gow (shrimp dumplings) arrives orange thanks to a mix of butternut squash (more on the restaurant Luckee later this week), to shopping for vintage clothing in Little India. So it came as no surprise to me that the Aga Khan Museum, the first North American museum devoted exclusively to Islamic Art, made its debut in mid-September in the northeastern part of Toronto. 

 
Aga Khan, the imam and prince of the Ismaili branch of Shia Muslims, who number some 15 million across 25 nations, spent more than $300 million to fund the museum. His renowned collection of art, over 1,000 pieces that span a millennium, has been on view at the Louvre in Paris and Hermitage in St. Petersburg, but now he has a permanent home worthy of the works. It took 18 years from conception to completion, but the debut of the Aga Khan Museum couldn’t have come a better time. With media constantly bombarding us with all the atrocities happening in the Muslim world, it’s downright therapeutic to walk into an exquisite setting bathed in natural light and be dazzled at the beauty of these objects. 
 
The collection is housed in a building created by the Pritzker Prize winning octogenarian, Fumihiko Maki. Artifacts are displayed on two floors, in high-ceilinged white rooms with teak floors. The galleries are centered around an open-air courtyard, which is open to the public free of charge if they simply want to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and Turkish sweets. Before viewing the works, walk up the lapis-stone stairway into the auditorium, an explosion of teak wood already starting to garner attention for its excellent acoustics. 
 
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art might have a larger collection of Islamic Art, now housed in its new wing, but the Aga Khan has a good eye for objects. The museum is designed chronologically and starts with a blue Koran from 9th century Iran, calligraphy written in gold. The geometric patterns, whether circles found on the 12th-century robe of a Mongol warrior or a 9-pointed star seen in the woodwork of a 14th-centurty Spanish squinch, are mind-boggling. A rare piece of Iznik ceramics from the Ottoman Empire shows how the color red suddenly appeared in the predominantly “blue and white” patterns of the day. My favorite part of the collection was the brilliantly illustrated pages of the Persian epic, Shah-Nameh, a colorful portrayal on each page, which will be turned every three months in order not to damage the manuscript. An easy 20-minute taxi ride from downtown, the Aga Khan Museum is a great addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ryerson Image Centre, and the other noteworthy art found in Toronto. 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/21/14 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lausanne’s Bounty of Museums

For a city of only 140,000, Lausanne is blessed with 22 museums. Actually 23 museums if you count the archaeologist I met yesterday who opened a one-room museum devoted to the history of shoes, including her recreation of a Neolithic shoe. Home to the International Olympic Committee or IOC, Lausanne’s best known museum is the Olympic Museum, now double in size after a two-year renovation. The three-floor display first looks at the pageantry of the Olympic Games, displaying every torch used since 1896 and showcasing the elaborate structures cities created to constantly up the ante, like the Bird’s Nest Stadium built for the Beijing games. The second floor was my favorite, showing memorabilia from the games, like Jesse Owens running shoes from the ‘36 Games in Berlin, Michael Phelps swimsuit, Sergey Bubka’s pole vault, goalie Jim Craig’s jersey from the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” game, Roger Federer’s racquet, Usain Bolt’s jersey, and Michael Johnson’s gold sneakers. The last floor, you can try your hand at shooting a gun in the biathlon, see the medals awarded at every Olympics (the Vancouver Winter Games medal were very stylish), and stand on the podium from the Sydney Games. 
 
There are two other museums in town that should not be missed. Collection de L’Art Brut is an art museum that rose to prominence from artist Jean Dubuffet’s wildly imaginative collection of art from outside the mainstream. Searching for purity in art, he collected naïve works, primitive works, and simply works by the insane or incarcerated. Many of the bios start the same way—said artist was abandoned by his father, raised in poverty by his mother, and ended up in a mental institution. The works are fascinating, like the whimsical paintings of the Lausanne-born artist, Aloïse, who imagined she was having an affair with an emperor. She would use rose petals, toothpaste, and crushed leaves to create her pairs of lovers. Pascal-Désir Maisonneuve would create masks entirely from shells. Other works are so detail oriented like the paintings of Augustin Lesage that it wasn’t much a stretch to think of the artist as mad. 
 
We were fortunate to be in Lausanne during their annual Night of Museums, when all the museums in town stay open until 1 am and folks crowd the streets strolling from museum to museum. We took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Fondation de l’Hermitage, a 19th-century estate on a hillside above town (not far from Coco Chanel’s and David Bowie’s former home) that specializes in 19th-century art. We toured the museum’s collection of European art, including works by Degas and Caillebotte, then entered a special exhibition on 19th-century American art, like the Hudson River School painters and the Luminists. Outside, the American theme continued as a DJ played old-school hip-hop like Grandmaster Flash and people danced. The museum was packed both inside and I was delighted to see numerous families checking out art until the wee hours of the morning. I would love my hometown of Boston to host a similar type of event! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/30/14 at 04:00 AM
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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Lake George Week, A Landscape That Inspired Georgia O’Keeffe

In the mid-90s, I was hired by Art & Antiques Magazine to write a story on the period of time painter Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, lived on the shores of Lake George. This was to coincide with a photography exhibition of Stieglitz’s work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. I knew renowned abstract sculptor David Smith lived in Bolton Landing, but I honestly had no idea O’Keeffe lived in Lake George, since she’s far better known for her New Mexican motif. From 1918 to 1934, O’Keeffe would spend a good portion of her summer at the lake. She would return to Lake George for the last time in 1946 to spread Stieglitz’s ashes at the foot of a pine tree on the shores of the lake. Today, those ashes lie on the grounds of the Tahoe Motel. Next door, the house they lived in, Oaklawn, is still standing at The Quarters of the Four Seasons Inn. On a wall next to my desk, I have a poster of a dreamy mountain and lake landscape simply titled Lake George (1922). My brother, Jim, purchased this for me at the San Francisco Museum of Art, where the original O’Keeffe oil still hangs. 

O’Keeffe wasn’t the only artist inspired by the majestic Lake George landscape. In the 1860s, most of the noteworthy Hudson River School painters, including Thomas Cole and Jasper Cropsey, descended on the shores of the lake to put oil to canvas. Exquisite works by 19th-century American landscape painters like Albert Bierstadt and William Merritt Chase can be found at the Hyde Collection, a gem of a museum in nearby Glens Falls. I returned to the Italian Renaissance-style villa yesterday, only to be blown away once again by the bounty of impressive works that include paintings by Rembrandt, Botticelli, Raphael, El Greco, Rubens, Renoir, and Picasso.
 
A special treat was an exhibition on contemporary sculptor Larry Kagan. Kagan twists tubes of steel into abstract shapes that, when illuminated, project shadows on the wall into images of a bald eagle or a stilletto. I love the images that pay homage to artists Andy Warhol and Keith Herring. Bring the kids--this is an exhibition for all ages to enjoy. Much has been made about the reopening of the Clark Art Institute this summer in nearby Williamstown, Massachusetts. Art lovers should make one additional stop to tour the Hyde. You’ll be happy I sent you! 
 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/07/14 at 09:00 AM
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Friday, April 04, 2014

Art Lovers Will Savor The Alfond Inn, Winter Park

It’s not everyday that I turn around to peer at a piece of art hanging from the walls of a hotel. Usually it’s some commercial print of ocean and seabirds. But last week, while spending the night at the Alfond Inn in Winter Park, Florida, I found myself walking aimlessly through the hallways just to check out the art. When I found an ethereal print by Neeta Madahar, repped by one of my favorite galleries in Boston, Howard Yezerski (now Miller Yezerski), I had to dig a little deeper to see what’s up. I found out that the Alfond Inn, a 112-room boutique hotel debuted last August, thanks to a $12.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation. Profits from the inn will go directly to Winter Park’s Rollins College for a scholarship fund. Harold Alfond founded Dexter Shoe Company, and his son Ted and wife Barbara are both Rollins alumni. Barbara serves on the board of trustees at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the couple is recognized by ArtNews as two of the 200 most important art collectors in America. With the assistance of independent Boston-based curator Abigail Ross Goodman (who once ran the Judy Rotenberg gallery in Boston), the couple amassed a 100-piece contemporary art collection solely for The Alfond Inn. Not too shabby. 

 
I wish I could have spent more time in Winter Park, a great walking town of boutique shops and restaurants, just outside of Orlando. The Alfond Inn also houses a rooftop pool and a great Southern restaurant, Hamilton’s Kitchen, where I dined al fresco on chicken and grits that evening. I’d happily stay there again, just to walk the hallways. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/04/14 at 10:00 AM
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoreau’s Maine Woods, A New Exhibition at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s “The Maine Woods,” the Harvard Museum of Natural History is showcasing the works of photographer Scot Miller. Miller has traversed the state of Maine for seven years retracing Thoreau’s epic exploration. The exhibition, on view through September 1, 2014, will also feature a snowshoe made for Thoreau by the Penobscot Indians and a beautiful new illustrated edition of Thoreau’s book. As an outdoors writer based in New England, I’ve also spent a good deal of time following in Thoreau’s footsteps. You can see my story in Sierra Magazine on paddling a similar route Thoreau used while writing “The Maine Woods.”

(Photograph by Scot Miller, courtesy of the Harvard Museum of Natural History) 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/21/13 at 11:00 AM
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Eureka Art Scene

They say Eureka has more artists per capita than any other place in California. A walk around town Sunday introduced me to many of the impressive local wares. My first stop was the Morris Graves Museum of Art housed in the circa 1904 Carnegie Free Library. A jazz quartet was playing to a packed crowd in the atrium as I wandered over to the Humboldt Artists Gallery to see the inviting watercolors of poppies and hydrangeas by Karen Berman, photographs of the seascape by Jim Lowry like Camel Rock, a favorite surf spot in the region. In the upstairs gallery, Corey Drieth creates mesmerizing geometric shapes of gouache on wood. From Morris Graves, I walked down to the historic Old Town waterfront district of Eureka and stopped in at the First Street Gallery. Run by Humboldt State University, the fine arts gallery features the works of students, faculty, alumni, and visiting artists. Inside, Don Gregorio Anton’s 3D Lazergraph produced intriguing faces and mist etched in glass, while Teresa Stanley’s “The Waters No. 6” was an enticing play of color and geometric patterns, all created on yupo paper. 
 
That evening I wisely chose to spend the evening at The Hotel Carter, one of four Victorians that form the Carter House Inns near the shores of Humboldt Bay. The hallways are lined with contemporary art, a sign that owner Mark Carter is a longtime supporter of the local art scene. Carter is perhaps best known as a winemaker in Napa Valley. Paired with a sublime beef tenderloin, I had the pleasure of sampling his 2006 Carter Cellars Cabernet at Retaurant 301. A perfect way to end a perfect day. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/17/13 at 10:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Put Naumkeag on Your Berkshires Must-Do List

If you’re heading up to Tanglewood this week to catch the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on Thursday night or Harry Connick, Jr. on Saturday night, make a slight detour and check out what’s happening at nearby Naumkeag in Stockbridge. Formerly owned by the Choate Family of New York before it was bequeathed to The Trustees of Reservations in 1958, Naumkeag is a 44-room Berkshires “Cottage” from the Gilded Age, filled with arts, antiques, and collections around from around the world. But it’s the outdoor gardens that truly inspire, a masterpiece of 30 years of collaborative work by former owner, Mabel Choate, and her dear friend, Fletcher Steele, one of America’s first modern landscape architects. 

 
Described by the Library of American Landscape History as a “playground for the imagination,” The Trustees have just completed Phase 1 of an extensive 5-phase, 3-year, $3 million garden and landscape restoration project designed to rejuvenate the gardens and bring them back to Choate and Steele’s original vision. The transformation includes the renovation of Fletcher Steele’s iconic Blue Steps, one of the most photographed features in 20th-century American landscape design, celebrating its 75th Anniversary this summer.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/28/13 at 10:00 AM
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spending a Night at the Shaw Festival

Long before people headed to Niagara on the Lake to sample the world-class chardonnays and rieslings, and prior to outfitters like Butterfield & Robinson arriving on the scene to design exceptional day rides, there was the renowned Shaw Festival. Held from the beginning of April to early November, the theatre festival celebrates the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. More than a dozen productions are performed each year at four stages from works created by Noel Coward, Arthur Miller, Oscar Wilde, Lillian Hellman, and a slew of other noteworthy playwrights. This year, expect to find Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls, Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, and Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. Last night at Royal George Theater, I took in Our Betters, a rarely performed play by one of my favorite writers, Somerset Maugham. Set in 1920s London, the play is based on a familiar story line from the popular television show, Downton Abbey, where a down on his luck British aristocrat marries a well-to-do American gal for her money. Yet that’s where the similarity ends. Our Betters is much more of a satire, a predictable romp that gets big laughs. Though it’s not Maugham at his finest, it’s still a delight to watch due to the exemplary acting, absorbing sets, and the art deco costumes that take you back to the Roaring 20s. Kudos to the Shaw Festival for continuing to produce plays where biting wit and rapid-fire repartee entertain. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/23/13 at 10:00 AM
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Monday, April 29, 2013

Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition Comes to the Hyde Collection this Summer

At first glimpse, Lake George’s narrow width could be mistaken for a long rambling river. It’s not until you veer downhill from the honky-tonk shops and hotels of Route 9N to the docks below that you appreciate the grandeur of this body of water. Step foot into a sailboat, like my family has done for the past 35 summers, and the narrow passage becomes an immense lake dotted with pine-studded islands and shadowed on either side by the verdant mountains of the southern Adirondacks. 

 
The cool waters and green hills that serve as solace and repose for me have been a source of inspiration to many artists over the years including the early American Luminists of the 1850s, sculptor David Smith, and most notably, Alfred Stieglitz and his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe. This June, The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York will unveil a blockbuster summer exhibition featuring 58 paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George,” organized by The Hyde Collection in association with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will explore the influence that living and working in Lake George, New York had on the art and life of the famous American painter. 
 
O’Keeffe's art was introduced to Stieglitz on his fifty-second birthday, January 1, 1916.  By the summer of 1918, they were involved in one of the most sensual and artistically symbiotic relationships in the modern era. For the next 16 years, she would spend a good portion of her summer in Lake George with the man she would eventually marry in 1924.  The romance with Georgia O’Keeffe drove Stieglitz into a picture-taking frenzy.  O’Keeffe's sexually evocative flowers and leaves filled her canvases while every inch of her body filled the lens of Stieglitz’ camera.  
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/29/13 at 12:00 PM
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Visit Boston’s MFA

Over the past decade, pundits have criticized Malcolm Rogers, the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for sending priceless Monets to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and staging questionable exhibitions like the display of Ralph Lauren’s sports cars, as a veiled attempt to raise money for the museum’s expansion. The launch of Rogers’ monumental endeavor, the $504 million Art of the Americas Wing in November 2010 has silenced most critics and cements Rogers’ legacy. Foster + Partners designed a 4-story building with adjoining pavilions on either side to house the 53 new galleries. Walk into the soaring glass-enclosed courtyard, where trees and holly bushes have been planted just outside its windows to mirror Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace. Then journey through three millennia of North, South, and Central American works, from pre-Colombian gold on the Court Level to the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe on the top floor. Highlights include the galleries devoted to the works of John Singer Sargent and John Singleton Copley, and the Roswell Gleason parlor and dining room, two mid-19th century period rooms taken intact from a house in nearby Dorchester and never displayed to the public before.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/24/13 at 12:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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