Serendipity

September 18, 2009

September is the beginning of a new season, new opportunities and new challenges. Fall arrives September 22nd (in the northern hemisphere that’s the date when night and day are nearly the same length and the sun crosses the celestial equator). As trees are changing color and leaves are falling, it is a time to embrace the unexpected. Happy accidents are a good thing. A recent museum going experience made this abundantly clear. So the blogging journey begins celebrating Serendipity. Serendipitiy – it’s a word defined as the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.

I’m writing about a trip I organized in August to Williamstown and North Adams, MA with a colleague who works in another medium. It was an amazing trip – all Serendipity – everything that we did, everything we saw, even the good weather happened in ways that could never have been planned – and were we happy for it! Imagine the creative energy generated when 2 artists spend 3 days together viewing 3 world-class museum collections and also get to attend a wonderful live theater performance. Heaven!

A trip to Massachussets can be offer opportunties to see world class art outside urban centers. We planned to see CIRCLES OF INFLUENCE (Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove) at the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute one day, MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) a second day, and PRENDERGAST IN ITALY at the Williams College Museum of Art on a third day.

Our first was the biggest surprise. Maurice Prendergast (American, 1858-1924) was also a master draughtsman – his drawing was the architecture that supported the paintings. What paintings! You  had to feel the emotion and imagine the reaction of his contemporary audience. Prendergast’s watercolor paintings celebrated an historic moment. The painterly brushstrokes communicated the raw energy of the people experiencing the “new” Italy with over 60 views of Venice, Rome, Siena and Capri in exquisite detail. Watercolor is a difficult media to master, and it is hard not to be blown away by the color and technical brilliance of all the paintings, journals and monoprints at PRENDERGAST IN ITALY. I was surprised at how I reacted to the small, elegant Impressionist watercolors in the show. I am sure what I learned that day was to think in a new way about the art I saw: Impressionism was modern art in that day and Prendergast was one of the most contemporary artists of his time, and his concept is still modern.

Prendergast in Italy (July 18-September 20, 2009) was organized by the Williams College Museum of art in partnership with the Terra Foundation for American Art and travels to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (October 9, 2009-January 3, 2010) and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX (February 14-May 9, 2010

prendergast in italy

PRENDERGAST IN ITALY at the Williams College Museum of Art – well worth the trip and a surprise!
See http://www.wcma.org/modules/prendergast/about.html for images and a link to the “Interactive Map” which gives European Space Imaging views of Venice and the actual paintings Prendergast did onsite.

The second day of the trip, Sunday, August 23rd, we planned to visit the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art – MASS MoCA – and, with any time and energy left over,  to explore the art scene in No. Adams, and the Eclipse Mills, a warehouse converted to live/work studios, also in No Adams (http://www.eclipsemill.com/userPage_2_About-Us.htm).

If you’ve been to MASS MoCA, you already know it is one of the largest centers for contemporary visual and performing arts in the US (19 galleries and 10,0000 sq. ft). It’s a converted 19th century factory where every gallery is a cavernous light-filled space, some with floor to ceiling windows, towering brick walls, steel trusses, concrete and wood floors.  If you love to be in spaces with raw, natural materials, industrial antecedents, and huge art, this is the place for you.

Information, images and dates for 11 gallery exhibitions you could visit at MASS MoCA are at http://www.massmoca.org/search_results.php?st=2&search=11

Our primary goal that day was to see ANSELM KIEFER: Sculpture and Painting, and SOL LE WITT: A Wall Drawing Retrospective..

The Kiefer exhibition  is online at http://www.massmoca.org/event_details.php?id=333.

We stood in awe in front of  enormous landscapes (30 feet across?), a floor installation of concrete sculpture, and one gallery with a floor to ceiling installation of a Joseph Beuys sculpture (Kiefer studied informally with Beuys in the 1980s). I loved that gallery because the light filtered into the space and added a mysterious aura to the Beuys. You still have time to visit the exhibition. The show continues through March 2010.

I am a great fan of Anselm Kiefer’s work. He is a brilliant contemporary artist, maybe the greatest living artist today. Born in Germany in 1945 at the end of WWIIm his works are protean and connect matter, history and time. They say he is a poet of war.

The Independent, in a review of Kiefer’s February 2007 exhibition at London’s White Cubes Gallery wrote: “Great art is about transformation. And transforming experience and transforming materials are what Anselm Kiefer specializes in.

anselm kiefer

The exhibition included his earlier works – huge,  grey, monochromatic landscapes that you sense are about charred earth. The subject is war- either implicit or explicit. In more recent landscapes (see above) new color is flowering across the ruined earthy topographies. My reaction was a sense of renewal and (maybe) hope. The best gallery was one that combined Kiefer’s paintings and the Beuys sculpture.

SOL LE WITT: A WALL DRAWING RETROSPECTIVE is an enormous installation that occupies nearly an acre of specially build interior walls that were painted by a team of 65 artists and art students per LeWitt’s instructions and includes works on loan from private and public collections, including the Yale University Art Gallery.

See http://www.massmoca.org/event_details.php?id=27 for images & text.

sol le witt at mass moca at 72 dpi

The “drawings” range from straight lines in black graphite pencil to wavy lines in colored pencil, to black-and-white geometric forms, to bright planes in acrylic paint, to vibrant orange lines on a green wall, and much more. A black and white Sol LeWitt drawing is shown above.

Forms appear to be flat, or to recede in space, or to project into the viewer’s space. We walked and walked through the rooms and were enveloped in color, non-color, and pattern. An on-site video explained how the drawings were prepared and installed by artist/student teams and explained LeWitt’s concept.

LeWitt (1928-2007) changed our understanding of what drawing is and can be. He is an important artist to other contemporary artists. He transformed the relationship between an idea and the art it produces. For LeWitt, what’s important is the ideas behind the work, not the work itself.

Our last day was dedicated to DOVE/O’KEEFFE CIRCLES OF INFLUENCE (June 7-September 7, 2007) at Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA.

The Clark has huge collections, ranging from Renaissance to early 20th century, with emphasis on 19th century French Impressionism and a lot of Renoirs. It needs a full-day to do it justice. We flew through the permanent galleries, only taking enough time to compare the Clark collections to art we knew from the Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art in NYC. We really wanted to spend time seeing how O’Keeffe influenced Dove and how Dove influenced O’Keeffe. It was the premise of the show (and the recommendation of the review that brought us to Williamstown and the Clark Art Institute).

dove fog horns at clark

I really enjoyed seeing all the works side by side, but I am not sure how the artists influenced each other. I also love Dove’s work more than I love O’Keeffe’s work. You may disagree. The work above is by Arthur Dove, titled Fog Horns.

You can read the curator’s commentary about Dove’s influence on O’Keeffe and how she discovered his work as an art student in New York in 1907/1908  at http://www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/dove-okeeffe/content/new-york-modernism.cfm

There’s also commentary on how Dove kept works by O’Keeffe and was inspired by her watercolors.

This is a good year to see O’Keeffe (1887-1986). She will have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of Contemprary Art in NYC titled O’KEEFFE: ABSTRACTION, September 17, 2009-January 17, 2010, with over 130 paintings, drawings, watercolors and sculpture as well as photographs of O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz (her husband). The exhibition travels to The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., February 6-May 9, 2010, and to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, May 28-September 10, 2010. To read more about the exhibition, see http://whitney.org/www/exhibition/okeeffe.jsp.


Our marathon art weekend ended with a wonderful surprise. We climbed a steep path from the Clark to a new facility called the Stone Hill Center, a pavilion designed by Tadao Ando. We saw an exhibition titled Through the Seasons: Japanese Art in Nature, with paintings and breath-taking ceramic vessels by young, contemporary Japanese artists – like nothing else I’ve seen. I’m a collage  artist. My work is geometric abstraction. My colleague is a ceramic artist, so it was an incredible treat for her – and for me to hear her comments. And then we had lunch on the terrace, inspired by the art and bucolic view of the Taconic Range and Green Mountains in front of us. Imagine how good the food tasted with that view!

Here’s my summary:
Make room for Serendipity! The Kiefer paintings & installations at MASS MoCA were fabulous, Dove & O’Keeffe  were definitely worth the trip, but the best surprise was the Prendergast show at Williams College Museum.  I feel truly lucky to have seen it. It was that good! and if If you are near No. Adams, MA the weekend of October 17 & 18, 2009, visit MASS MoCA and include the Open Studios weekend: http://northadamsopenstudios.com/ and a visit to Eclipse Mills.

If you have seen the exhibitions, please email me your comments. I would love to hear them.

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20 Responses to “Serendipity”


  1. Nancy- your blog is great and inspires me to more art trips with my art girlfriends! I loved the way you provided links- I have always loved Prendergast and feel the same way about his work as you! YOu are amazing to do all you do and write a blog! as ever you are a beacon of light!!!! I enjoy this so much! Thanks for your sharing! All the best for a great productive fall!
    Nancy

    • nikkal Says:

      Thanks for your comments and compliment. Museum websites have gotten so robust, if you can’t get to the museum, you can almost feel like you’ve seen the show online. The Williams College Museum is definitely worth the trip, and you absolutely need to add the Clark Art Institute and MASS MoCA and Tanglewood, and Williams Theater Festival (and more). Plan a mini vacation of at least 3 days.

  2. Agatha Wyman Says:

    Hi Nancy,

    Do you include writer/art critic on your resume? You should: your blog is wonderful. The content and your comments are interesting, informative, and entertaining —and presented with a love for literature.

    Write on.

    • nikkal Says:

      Hi Agatha,

      I’m glad you liked the serendipity post and info on the musuem shows. It’s amazing how often the word serendipity is used, and I really love the story of Serendip! Thanks for your comments. I’m due to write the next post – soon. Hope you enjoy the beautiful weather and the color in the leaves. Nancy

  3. nikkal Says:

    are you open to surprise? It can be good or bad, but always leads to growth.


  4. Hi, Nancy,
    I enjoyed “traveling” with you –loved the comments and photos of the shows you saw in N.W. Massachusetts. A couple years ago my mom and I stayed a week near Stockbridge. We were pleasantly surprised to discover all the art in the area. We had come to see the fall foliage and discovered so much more.
    You have a wonderful website. Kathleen

    • nikkal Says:

      Kathleen, I plan to do the trip again-with the same friend-later this summer. Prendergast is the main artist to see at Williams and all the other venues for art (visual and drama) are terrific in NW MA.


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  6. I do not even know the way I finished up here, but I assumed this publish used to be good.

    I do not understand who you might be however certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already.

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  7. How long did it acquire u to publish “Serendipity
    art of collage”? It offers a great deal of wonderful material.
    Many thanks -Isidro

    • nikkal Says:

      Hi Isidro, I wrote Serendipity about a visit to see Maurice Prendergast’s art at the Williams Collage (MA) Museum. I took a lot of notes while at the Museum and I bought the catalog because the art was so amazing. When I wrote the blog, I referenced my notes (and the exhibition catalog) and got more information for online links. It did take time to pull all the ideas together. But it was not really hard because the exhibition was so amazing – and I felt so lucky that I was there to see it.

  8. Kristie Says:

    Wow, wonderful weblog structure! How long have you ever been
    running a blog for? you make running a blog look easy.
    The whole glance of your site is fantastic, as smartly as the content!

    • nikkal Says:

      Hi Kristie, Thank you for the compliments. Running a blog is not easy. It’s about writing (I enjoy writing). Blogs about art must include images and text that describes the images. Content must be fresh, compelling and consistent. I am passionate about art and my studio practice is collage. I love art history, so there are enough themes and topics to choose from.


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  11. Great blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew
    of any user discussion forums that cover the same
    topics talked about here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get feedback from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Appreciate it!

    • nikkal Says:

      Hi FLora, I don’t belong to an online discussion forum, so can’t recommend any to you. I investigate art and artists for my blogs, and read a lot for fun. Artists are a great resource – they share favorites (shows to see and books to read), and sometimes do book groups. Good luck with your search.


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