Saturday, December 26, 2009

And how many years...

How many years must a man be married
Before he can say all the things that need to be said?

And, how many years can a man find wedded bliss with a woman?

And, how many years can one man feel appreciated by one (special) person?

And, how many years can one share a love of art with a co-collector?

And, how many years can one man be tolerated for his passion of baseball and Bob Dylan?

And, how many years can one man expect someone to listen to him say "Lunch on the deck" in almost any weather above 50 degrees?

And, how many years can one man be married to someone who lets slide sooooooo many grumpy morns?

And how many years can one man have a life partner willing to visit any bakery in any town in any country (sometimes the same bakery more than once in the same afternoon)?

And how many years can one man have a friend willing to seek common ground on the most emotional of issues when he is a non-emotional kind of guy?

And how lucky can a man be to find a terrific travel companion?

The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the blog of THB,
The answer is blowin' in the blog...

Forty is magic, I am blessed...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Philadelphia - Day 7

Day 7
- Quote of the day
- Barnes Collection
- One last private collection
- Back to blue skies

Henri Matisse: I have always tried to hide my own efforts and wished my works to have the lightness and joyousness of a springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it cost.

A late start is scheduled for our last day. We board the bus with our bags packed for the airport dropoff later, and head for the Barnes Collection visit. The Barnes is in Merion, a very upscale residential area and large buses are not allowed, so we rendezvous with a 25 seat van and switch over for the last 2 miles.

The Barnes lives up to its eclectic reputation. The neighbors have fought it for years because of the crowds, and now that the will has been broken and the collection is moving downtown the neighbors are upset and we see “Keep the Barnes in Merion” signs on lawns. Hmmmmmmm….seems like the neighbors can’t quite make up their minds. There are many Cezannes, Renoirs, Soutines, Matisses, Picassos, and a smattering of other less well-know impressionists and post-impressionists. Matisse came (and mis-measured) the space for a set of dancing figures panels that are stunning in the main gallery room, as are several of his other paintings. The paintings are mixed in with African artifacts, tribal pieces and rugs, two terrific tapestries by Picasso, and bunch of metal “decals” that are placed above and between the paintings, and a collection of antique furniture.

Overload doesn’t quite explain what it feels like to wander through the two stories of rooms. These pictures, some the finest of their period, are crammed together with other work that in some ways complement and in others just clutters your view and appreciation.

We then head out for lunch at the Merion Cricket Club, which now is primarily a grass tennis court club. Lauren and I stayed right near here over 10 years ago as part of a pre-college visit to Haverford and Bryn Mawr, and I remember seeing the Cricket Club and wondering what such a huge space was for (not really believing that anyone in US actually plays cricket now).

Pictures are of the Merion Cricket Club

After lunch, our last stop of the trip is at a farm house where the owners have a terrific ceramics collection as well as a significant overlap with DB’s art jewelry collection. In its own way it is just as crammed as the Barnes: there are a huge number of pieces displayed all throughout the house. We hear a story of their visiting the crafts fair in Rhinebeck in the 70s and finding many amazing pieces. We have the same story, probably were at the same fair; that was a golden age for emerging craft artists.

At the airport, 23 of the 25 remaining members (one left early for a wedding) of the tour depart the bus and head for the plane, we are all on the same United flight back to SFO. Of course, the plane is hot again and this time I wander back to the stewardesses and they explain that a) they have asked the cockpit several times to cool it down and b) that they believe that not cooling the cabin saves on fuel usage, and for ecological reasons (hah, something tells me it is the cost savings) they are keeping the cabins warmer. We’re in early and home by 10:20pm, local time. And, just like the flight out, there are technical difficulties, they have to stop the film half-way through and restart it: Julie and Julia, twice baked, and turn off the lights a couple of times to get them all working.

It’s been a great trip, easier to pick out the one or two things that didn’t work than decide on what the ultimate highlight was for each of us, quite a compliment to our tour planners and guides.

Thanks again to Raine for the pictures, to Evans and Judy, our well-earned "best guides" award, and to the bus driver on day 5 for providing some semblance of an "adventure"

Philadelphia - Day 6

Day 6
- Quote of the day
- Murals everywhere you look
- Snyderman-Works Gallery
- Clay Studio
- Cookies and more galleries
- Dinner at the Union League

Jean Michel Basquiat: Believe it or not, I can actually draw.

First up is a tour of murals throughout the city. This city is loaded with murals! The tour is a two-fer, we get to see a ton of the city, many parts of which tourists would not normally be viewing, and we get an explanation of how all these murals came to be from one of the employees of the official organization that has built up a huge community involvement process for getting the murals up on walls. Check out for more information. This is basically a version of Habitat For Humanity, involving many members of the community in something that turns out to be far larger than just putting up pictures (houses) around town. Very impressive, and hard to believe more cities have not sponsored something like this. The group has helped put up over 3,000 murals, and has a waiting list of 2,000. Interesting fact: most murals put up now are painted on 5x5 sections of parachute material and then “fixed” to the walls with an acrylic gel. You don’t see any graffiti on these murals, so much of the community is involved it has become hands-off.

Pictures: Various murals around town, can't you just see one of Dr J here in our town...okay, maybe Dr Suess, Dr Oz, Dr No (hey, it's E-ville, so Dr No would be a good choice!).

Next we head to the best crafts gallery in town, Snyderman-Works. Appears to be plenty of buying action from our group, we own a number of artists represented by the gallery and thus don’t end up buying anything. Lunch is served upstairs on the second floor where the Snyderman’s live, so we also indirectly get another home tour. Another two-fer!

Next up (and a few short blocks from Snyderman-Works): the Clay Studio, which along with a gallery space and shop, has three more floors dedicated to teaching and sponsoring residences for ceramicists though sponsored residents do not have to stick just with clay, they can branch out: we saw one piece in the gallery where it was basically grass and a heat lamp for relaxing during the winter months.

DB and I take advantage of the time between the Snyderman’s and the Clay Studio to wander the neighborhood, which includes one of the best preserved streets of old colonial era buildings anywhere. I also take advantage of the time to find a local bakery, Tarte, and make only two visits in under an hour. You stand at a takeout window and watch them work in about a 150 square foot space. The second visit turns out to be very rewarding as the snickerdoodles have just come out of the oven and are warm. I buy the entire batch (of eight) to share with my friends.

We then walk to the Locks Gallery to see more Kaneko dangos, several of which are in shapes we haven’t seen before, and several are very beautiful. We’ll be visiting Kaneko’s studio in Omaha next year with the Oakland Museum group, right in the middle of our national parks trip.

As we’re walking back to the hotel, another stop in Reading Terminal to pick up some more bakery goods for the flight home tomorrow, this time rolls from the highly recommended Metropolitan Bakery. Hmmmmmm…given a bit of free time, it seems that I have no trouble satisfying my passions, especially since baseball is now in hibernation.

Cocktails in the library followed by dinner in the Lincoln Memorial room, with an overview of the Barnes collection and new facility being built in downtown Philadelphia, very close to the Union League. They actually broke ground yesterday and, since this is one of the most controversial situations ever in the city, there were protesters. We’re guessing they were protesting the cost of the new grounds and facilities. With the Barnes, you’re never sure.

Philadelphia - Day 5

Day 5
- Quote of the day
- Home tour
- Business tour
- Esherick tour
- Bibou BYOB

Edward Hopper: If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.

The bus is late, turns out that our driver for the day has called in sick and a substitute driver has to be found. The new driver is new and has not been outside Philadelphia. After several missed turns and a few up and backs, we reach our first stop.

We start the day with a tour of a home of collectors that have a broad collection of modern art (Richter, Lichtenstein, Warhol, de Kooning, Johns lithos), ceramic, (Voulkos, Kaneko, Woodman), photography (Sherman, Kerstens – we saw his work in Leipzig), Serra steel sculptures, plus much more, all of high quality and well displayed. Our hostess is very gracious, tells some interesting stories about the work, and relays one (of several) fascinating stories: they had a de Kooning that had become too valuable to keep, even with insurance. So they sold it in 2006 (near the top of the market) and started a foundation with the proceeds.

On to our second stop, but first we take a scenic ride through Valley Forge. Given that it is very grey and lightly raining, the only thing missing is a lot of snow on the ground and a bunch of guys dressed up as rag-tag revolutionaries. We are again lost, and this time John’s I-phone GPS cannot save us because the address of our next stop often produces mixed directions (and objects in your side view mirror may be closer than you expect).

When we arrive, a buffet lunch is laid out, I decide to go veggie and stick with salad, roasted potatoes and asparagus. We are about to see one of the more unusual collections, that of Al West, founder of SEI, a company providing services to banks. Al has assembled 3000 items, most of them recent (last 15 years) acquisitions have been under $5,000 for most part, of which a number are on display around the company. The curator, Lee, is terrific and gives us a great tour. And, the work areas are all open, everywhere. And, all the furniture is on casters (shades of the loft!). And, the employees get to decide which works are displayed in their areas, and if a percentage don’t like the work it is sent to the Hot Hall where comments are posted via a terminal, some of which are printed out and displayed. Works can then be adopted by other units, based on another vote.

We see: giant shoes made of licorice, early Roxy Paine wall assemblages (his work is on top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY now), 10 foot sharks made of used tires, long murals painted on sheetrock, a giant 20 foot tall folding chair that actually works (ie folds up), and a hallway with 10 pictures of people posing for a contest to decide which was prettiest (the winner is the one with the most symmetrical face) juxtaposed on the opposite wall with Jill Greenberg monkey poses (showing “emotion”).

Two of Jill’s large photos are in the Hot Hall: two year olds that have been plied with lollypops that are then taken away by the mothers. Typical comments: I see crying children at home, it is cruel to make me look at them at work all day long. Another Hot Hall entry: a series of 6 cartoon like paintings that show a dog being thrown in a large trash bin and then a child is “missing” in the last panel except for a pair of shoes and the trash bin.

- Most of these are from our visit to SEI. My favorite piece is the one that looks like a head from Angkor Wat cut into 4 pieces. It's made out of left over phone books. A stunner (would look great in the loft!).
- The picture of the work space makes it seems like the floor is a lot more cluttered than it looks in person, the workers are actually given quite a bit of (personal) space.
- Also note the Jill Greenburg photo of the crying child, that's from the Hot Hall collection
- Last picture is of a few of the buildings from Wharton Esherick's property.

Lee gives us directions to our next stop, the home and studio of Wharton Esherick, a well-known wood maker from the first half of the 20th century. On the way, the bus passes below an underpass and loses the back pop-up air cover (amid much scraping). We are now air conditioned in a totally unexpected fashion, and fortunately it is not raining (it actually feels more like it will snow than rain). Something tells us that Lee didn’t realize what kind of conveyance we were in!

We visit the house and studio of Wharton Esherick, an innovative wood worker in the 1900s. What’s clear is the guy lived in small spaces that could be converted to other uses rather quickly. Lots of engineering in the house that reminds one of the ingenuity of boat builders.

Back to the city, the driver makes it with no missed turns or accidents. We head out for our “night off” to a place called Bibou BYOB. It’s a small place, maybe seats 35 at most, and traditional French menu. I have escargot in a dark rich (garlic, of course) sauce, served in a ceramic dish in the circle of a snail shell, followed by veal loin and veal sweetbreads, all delicious. Donna has green salad and scallops, also very good. John has saumon (smoked salmon) followed by fish, and Evans has salad and hanger steak, which I graciously help her out by finishing (excellent). Dessert of crème brulee (disappeared in under 45 seconds) and a small dense chocolate cake in crème anglais that we savor. Each couple brought a bottle from home. No corkage! Total comes to $190 with a generous tip. Quite a find, it was a tip from the NYT a few months back.

Philadelphia - Day 4

Day 4
- Quote of the day
- Museum of Art
- Donald Lipski studio visit
- Fabric Workshop
- Dinner at the top of the world

Marcel Duchamp: I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.

Another book recommendation: biography of Duchamp by Calvin Tomkins. Make sure you get past chapter 1, which is horrible. The rest is awesome! My take: Duchamp was THE artist of the 20th century, he led the way in all categories, there before the others. Didn't do a lot of work, what he did was truly inspirational to his fellow artists.

We start a bit later than usual, end up at the Museum of Art made famous by the Italian Stallion climbing the steps in front and waving his arms in triumph (see day 3). We get a tour of the small crafts and jewelry section by the curator, a very passionate and vibrant supporter of the field. She also gives us a tour of the items in the “stacks” below the museum. The most impressive site (and sight): an unfinished subway station below the museum that Gehry is helping to redesign and make useful. Shades of the ghost U-Bahn stations of Berlin before the wall fell.

Then we get a tour of the Duchamp installation, a famous work that took him 20 years to construct and you view it through a set of “peepholes” in a door that enables you to think you are seeing a vast expanse with the nude body of a woman in the foreground and bucolic scene fading off into the distance. The museum also has one of Duchamp’s glass pieces, another stunner.

While the group is lining up for the Duchamp peepshow, I head over to see the Gorky exhibit, a retrospective of his work, maybe 20 or so pieces, with a number of studies he made for each piece also on display. Not sure how great the work is, the exhibit is terrific because of the studies and the brief notes that accompany each room (mostly displayed in chronological order). A great example of how a curator can make the work shine when placed in proper context and lighting.

A mediocre buffet lunch at the museum, and then on to a visit with Donald Lipski, an artist specializing in installations and large public art. Of course my favorite piece of his is a very large take of an Arp sinuous bronze: his version is a gigantic slimmed down version of a baseball with large red seams, set on a pedestal in front of one of the minor league spring training fields near Scottsdale. Special!

He is working on a series dealing with milk in bottles, just not the normal bottles and not just normal settings. As his wife says, he seems to be attracted to the line between beauty and lethal.

- Donald with his art
- One of Donald's pieces

On to the Fabric Workshop, where artists of all media are invited to work with the Workshop staff to do something with fabric: a very loose interpretation of fabric. Two young project managers give us a tour of the current exhibits and work-in-process.

The event of the week: dinner in the penthouse of a couple who are major supporters of the Philadelphia art scene and major collectors. It is surreal: open decks to vistas of greater Philadelphia, glass works by Chihuly and Ruffner in the ceiling, special cocktails, fascinating appetizers, lobsters swimming in poles filled with water, lots of glass works (including one by an E-ville artist whose work is based on subtle play on light and shadows and movement – we’ve met her and like her work a lot, it’s been chosen for display in the E-ville’s city hall), then dinner for 40+ (many of the people we are visiting on this trip are invited as well, a very nice gesture by our hosts) on handmade plates and silverware: lobster puddin’, squab with heads and feet placed to make it look like an early dinosaur is pressed into the plate, and a series of desserts, some of which are served up individually as we tour the kitchen. The veterans of Oakland Museum art trips say that they had never experienced an event like this; it was definitely above and beyond, over the top, at the top, etc.

Philadelphia - Day 3

Day 3
- Quote of the day
- City Tour
- Reading Terminal for early lunch
- Peter and Mari: minimalists, ich Berliners
- Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
- Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show

Donald Judd: I didn't want to get into something which is played out and narrow. I want to do as I like, invent my own interests.

Breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then out to the bus. Our guide’s first announcement of the day: her daughter is on front page of the NYT, she was one of the attorney’s that helped acquit one of the Lehman Bros employees on an insider trading case.

Off we go in the bus on a city tour, not very effective as the streets are very narrow and the bus is high enough up that we can’t see a whole lot. This city is definitely made for a walking tour, we (collectively) are too old and slow and the weather in November is also a factor.

Then to Reading Terminal, a giant food mall full of restaurants and food stalls. We settle on another cheesesteak for DB (better than first one) and a pulled pork sandwich with cooked spinach and roasted spicy bell peppers for me: excellent! Less than $20 for the two with drinks. (Yes, I know, some of you are desperately missing the amount we paid for each meal, there are only a few that are not included with the trip.)

Next up: a tour of a private collection of minimalist art in a 4 story townhouse near downtown. The building was a warren of doctors offices now converted to a family residence. Perfect set-up for large pieces, windows on the front and back of the house, and large wall spaces on the few large rooms on each floor. The couple split up and each takes half the tour, and DB and I also split up to compare notes later; I go with Peter, DB with Mari. Collection includes: large black on white Serra’s, a Judd box set, and many other pieces. We get great explanations of the pieces; Peter (my guide) covers a few more pieces than Mari (DB’s guide). The conceptual understanding helps make the work come alive, and the collection overall makes a lot of sense. And, basically, Peter and Mari live on the first two floors (with much art) and the top two floors are given over almost entirely to art. They also sponsor an “artist in residence” who lives with them for a period of time, and have quite a few pieces by Brazilian artists. This is a great example of how coming with a group gets you into places you can’t get access to on your own!

Peter and Mari spend the summer months in Berlin, so Peter and I spend a few minutes of animated conversation (hey, he’s a minimalist in personality too) on how much we love Berlin.

Then on to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and a brief tour of the building an highlights of the collection, basically of a historical nature (and thus not too interesting for me).

After a brief rest at the hotel (and, for some, a change of attire), we head off to the gala preview party of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. The good news for us: the gala is sparsely attended; bad news is that it is a fundraiser. Very low butt brush factor! The food is quite good (uh oh, he’s talking about the food first), the drinks are free, and we roam around the show, which is halfway between SOFA and the ACC shows. No galleries, just individual artists, no big, expensive pieces, lots of affordable work. DB buys a set of flat, freshwater pearl earrings, subtle enough to not conflict with her more flamboyant necklaces. We also buy a set of 100 handmade business cards, now to figure out how to print our information on them! The cards are from Korea, the show is featuring Korean artists this year. While the work is interesting, the attire of the women from Korea is even more interesting and unusual.

- Claes Oldenburg Clothes Pin, which we see at least 3 times a day as we loop the area near the Union League
- The scene from Rocky (I, II, III, IV, V, VI and...) where Stallone climbs the steps. Our bus stops so we can climb the steps, get it out of the way early in the trip
- Reading Terminal Market, pic does not capture how big this is, full of food
- Jug Head again
- Isaiah Zagar did huge murals/walls/assemblages, made of anything he could capture, and become famous in Philly. A precursor to the murals all over town

And, the big news of the day: Hank Adams has sent prices on some of his older work that we were able to see during our visit to the Wheaton Art Center, and we decide to buy Jug Head. Now, we are buying one of the ones that he had stored in a bathroom at the school, a large glass head with a large squished jug on top. Yep, fits right in with our head collection! We haven’t decided if it will come out of the bathroom at the loft, it might fit right on top of the tool box we use as a cabinet.

After staying almost three hours at the show, we walk back to the hotel, it's only a few blocks even though it took the bus 20 minutes to get here!

Philadelphia - Day 2

Day 2
- Hank Murta Adams and Wheaton Art Center
- Outsider Art
- Le Bec Fin

Claes Oldenburg: I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.

Breakfast is included in our room charge so we are eating at the hotel, and the repast is quite nice: excellent pastries (though not Arizmendi or Lagkagehuset), eggs and waffle station, and cereal. No aerochino, so DB is drinking her coffee black.

Off to the Wheaton Art Center and Glass Museum, 45 easy minutes north of Philadelphia into New Jersey. The head of the Center is a well known glass artist named Hank Adams, who makes large whimsical glass heads. Hank has been working at the Center for 7 years, and is good friends with the co-leader Evans and her husband John; John did a workshop with Hank and subsequently helped him with demos, and John helps him (along with others at the center) with a great demo of poured glass while we eat lunch (deli sandwiches, quite good when dolled up with the peppers and peppercinis, and homemade brownies).

The pictures are as follows:
- Hank drawing a "map" on the concrete floor of where to build the piles of sand
- Jug Head, aka Bathroom Art
- Hank working on interconnecting the piles of sand
- Co-workers interconnecting the piles of sand while the tour watches (THB in there somewhere)
- Hank pouring
- Hank admiring the finished work
- A fine piece by Therman Statom

The glass museum is also fascinating, much to our surprise. Wheaton was originally a very large glass bottle manufacturer, and the center grew around endowments the owner made in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They have a display of Hank’s new work, individual pieces by many current artists, and then pieces going way, way back (we do the tour of the museum backwards, newest to oldest, so Hank can talk about his work and then go prep for the demo). In the “eccentric” category: a small glass casket and sample glass casket that salesmen carried around marketing to potential clients. Didn’t go over (or under) too well, these suckers are heavy!

During the free time after the demo, Hank shows us some of his work, including pieces in the bathroom (functional, and periodically used, so we politely continue the discussion outside). We love his work, and have admired it for years. We end up really liking a piece, entitled Jug Head (well, who knew, another head for our collection?). Who knows, it may end up in our bathroom at the loft...same-same!

Back to Philadelphia, and before dinner we get a tour of a terrific collection of outsider (untrained) art on one floor of a law firm. The collection was put together by a local couple, and Sheldon was the firm’s managing partner for 10 years. He leads the tour, and clearly has a passion (obsession) for this “primitive” style of work, some of which you can easily see is done by untrained artists and some of it borders on hyper-modern museum quality as done by more famous “trained” artists, and some of these outsider artists are also collected by modern art museums.

Then on to dinner at Le Beq Fin, one of the more famous restaurants in town. The tour gets to eat here because (due to the recession) the restaurant bypasses their policy of only serving a six course meal and offers us a three course meal, which is excellent. The salad was actually made up of individual, super fresh leaves (almost crunchy), the salmon was perfectly cooked and complemented by a lentil base, and the chicken was luscious. The chocolate cake was a small (phew) square of intense chocolate frosting alternating with a strong chocolate layer cake. I had heard about this restaurant for many years and assumed it was overrated; definitely NOT the case.

During dinner, I am chatting up the woman on my right, Raine. She has been on many, many Oakland Museum tours. We have been on one. She was on the same tour we were on. We do not recognize each other. Hmmmmm...I could forget a woman named Rain? She could forget a guy that wore a baseball hat every day, one of the few men on the trip? After a few minutes, we remember that the New York/Hamptons trip had been oversubscribed and she was on Trip 1 and we were on Trip 2. Phew....or, maybe we had both had just a bit too much wine at that point and forgot what was obvious to others once we told the story.

Easy walk back to the hotel. In fact, the hotel is so well located that the more mobile of us can walk to our destinations because the town is so compact AND the bus routes are convoluted due to all the one way streets.

Philadelphia: Day 1

Day 1
- Quote of the Day
- In Transit
- Union League

Andy Warhol: Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job.

Off to Philadelphia on the Monday morning that the truck went off the Bay Bridge at 3:30am. We didn’t know that, just got alerts that the right hand lane on bridge was closed due to an accident. As we drove slowly by, we saw no emergency vehicles, just what looked like minimal Caltrans trucks and almost no people. Only later did we find out they were just sitting there, the real action was 200 feet down.

United flight took off with old crew of sterwards/sterwardess. Guess they have cut staff by seniority and young folks aren’t flying these easy routes. This crew struggled with the new “credit card only for food” devices (yogurt, we got no stinkin’ yogurt on this machine), couldn’t cool down the cabin, left the film (Up, how appropriate) stuck on credits for an hour or so. Oh, and had to be trained on how to get the individual seat lights to work. At least we didn’t end up over the Atlantic while the flight crew played video games.

We are staying at an old hotel/members club: Inn at Union League. Very old time feel, if you come in through the main entrance, men are supposed to be in sports coats! Damn, so that’s why I brought mine. And, the fitness center is mostly geared towards the external members, with the club offering up gym clothes in case you don’t want to use your own. It’s kind of nice, you can leave a pair of shoes and socks at the club and be all ready to go, no lockers full of not-so-clean-smelling gym clothes. My gym clothes turn out to be a direct match: dark blue shorts and a grey t-shirt. Mine get hung in our bathroom each day and clearly add to the aroma in our large room.

Number one best, absolutely best, feature: they have a cord for a FREE DSL hookup in the room, and I have brought the usb converter for the HP mini...we are cooking right here in the room. And, the number 516 is stenciled on our door, and yet we’re in room 501 as the plaque to the side of the door verifies.

Front desk guy recommended Philly cheesesteaks in south Philly; drier style, not as fatty, not as tasty (well, duh! Not as fatty...what was unclear about that).