Saturday, June 27, 2015

EXHIBITIONS: "Van Gogh in Nature" soars at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA

 Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890 
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington 

On a sunny June morning, we drove across Massachusetts' verdant Berkshires
-- a perfect route by which to approach the Clark Art Institute's 
much-heralded exhibition "Van Gogh in Nature". The show, which was 3 years 
in the making, is a beautifully curated stunner. Its nearly 50 paintings 
and drawings, sourced from thirty museums and worldwide 
private collections, are mindfully selected to show the artist's versatility in styles 
and influences. Thoughtfully-written wall notes add to  the viewer's understanding 
of the show, without being overly directive or highfalutin.

"In the face of nature, it's the feeling for work that keeps me going", 
Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo.

                                                                     Winter Garden1883, pen and brush and ink on paper
           This melancholic drawing was done when Van Gogh was living with his parents in Nuenen.  
 No matter the season, the artist was always fascinated with landscape. In one 
of his letters to Theo, he wrote about this garden, "It sets me to dreaming." 
                                                                                                               Image courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The exhibition is divided into six sections, representing the locations
where Van Gogh lived and worked during his all-too-brief lifetime: 
rural Holland (1881–1885), Paris (1886–1888),  Provence (1888–1890), 
Arles (February 1888–May 1889), Saint-Rémy (May 1889–May 1890)
and Auvers (for 3 months). Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, at the top
of this page, was painted just days before his death.

 Despite changes occurring over time in the artist's mood, palette and technique, 
his passion for nature remained a constant.

                           Farmhouse in Provence, 1888
This painting was done shortly after Van Gogh arrived for the first
time in the south of France. Its vivid, exuberant colors demonstrate that
he had "arrived" in more ways than one.
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 

 Hospital at Saint-Remy, 1889
With his mental health failing, Van Gogh admitted himself to an asylum in in the French
countryside. There, over time, he found serenity and artistic inspiration. During his yearlong stay at the hospital, he painted over 150 canvases. In a letter to his sister he wrote, 
"The last days in Saint-Rémy I worked like a madman ... great bouquets of flowers, 
violet-colored irises, great bouquets of roses."
Image courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA

                         Cypresses, 1889
Cypresses was painted shortly after Van Gogh arrived at the asylum in Saint-Rémy. 
He found these trees to be "beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk." 
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

Horikiri Iris Garden, woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige
Van Gogh was particularly inspired by the spare, contemplative art of Japan, and 
admired Hiroshige's work. Its influence can be seen in many of his paintings.
Gift of the Rodbell Family Collection, image courtesy Clark Art Institute

Trees in a Field on a Sunny Day, 1887, oil on canvas
P. and N. de Boer Foundation, Amsterdam

                                                                                       Pine Trees at Sunset, 1889, oil on canvas
                                                                                                    Image courtesy of Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands

The OliveTrees, Saint-Rémy, 1889
Image courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York 

"Oh my dear Theo, if you saw the olives just now ... the leaves,
old silver and silver turning to green against the blue.
And the orange-coloured ploughed earth. It is something quite different
from your idea of it in the North, the tender beauty, the distinction!
... the rustle of an olive grove has something very secret in it,
and immensely old. It is too beautiful for us to dare to paint it
or be able to imagine it."

One of my takeaways from seeing this emotionally rich exhibition
was the artist's utter humility in his encounters with the natural world.
Van Gogh's paintings are never about himself, despite his unique vision
they seem always to be looking outward, churning forward, keenly observing.

He sees even the tiniest creatures and plants  -- moths and sparrows, 
pansies and violets -- as being just as worthy of his passionate 
attention as panoramic landscapes.

                                                         Butterflies and Poppies, 1890
                                                                           Image courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 

Unfortunately, the same reverence for the natural world cannot be found
in architect Tadao Ando's reconfigured entryway to the Clark --
 always a primary statement in a public building's design. 
The formerly glorious view of hills and meadows that for decades greeted 
visitors upon approaching the venue's grounds is now perplexingly blocked  by 
an off-putting12-foot-high granite wall, which detracts
substantially from the arrival experience.

The lengthy trudge along this severe wall, from the parking lot to the 
poorly-identified entrance, is especially unwelcoming to elders and disabled visitors.

If you treasured the warm, gracious gestalt of the"old" Clark, 
be prepared for a shock upon arrival! But don't lose heart; the lovely reflecting 
pools on the new building's upper level, the plethora of footpaths winding up the 
museum's sculpted 140-acre grounds, and -- especially -- the treasures 
awaiting within will make a long, leisurely visit well worth the effort.

“Keep your love of nature, for that is the true way to understand art more and more.” 
... Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh in Nature runs through September 13, 2015.

And more ...

In celebration of the Clark's 60th anniversary this year, there will be a summer-long array of special exhibitions, lectures, musical programs, guided nature walks and family events. A free concert series will begin on Tuesday, July 7, running weekly through the end of the month. Tree-lovers' hikes will be offered on Fridays at 11 AM in July and August; and a Van Gogh and Nature Family Day will take place on July 26 from 11 am–4 pm. Admission to the galleries, grounds and all activities will be free on that date.

For more information on the Clark's summer concert series, link here.

~ oOo ~

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

EVENTS: Hot Hot Hot: Design Miami/Basel 2015 - June 16 to 21

Colorful! Pizzazzy! Marketplace! Happening!
June 16 to 21

Pierre Frey, "Chromatropic" textile for Design Miami
"We wanted a design that conjures the heat and the excitement of the city."

Design Miami, a collaborative international design marketplace and conversation forum, 
is holding its 10th annual exhibition in Basel, Switzerland, running from June 16 to 21.
It will also be on show in Miami, December 2 to 6. 

                Pierre Frey "Colors", embroidery on linen

Pierre Frey, "Nuit et Jour"
Nuit et Jour is a collection of bold fabrics in a monochrome palette that 
takes inspiration from the style of the 1920’s.

New this year, the Swarovski "Designers of the Future" Award honors emerging designers and studios that embrace and expand on the use of technology in design. The award’s inaugural year winners include Tomás Alonso of London and textile artist Elaine Yan Ling Ng from Hong Kong. Commissioned by Swarovski, new work from these winners will debut at the show. 

                                                                                                   Swarovski cardinal necklace     

Alonso handmade "Pétanque" barware
These vodka glasses, made from copper and glass,
use the conductive properties of copper to keep the vodka cooled
to the perfect drinking temperature without watering it down.

Elaine Yan Ling Ng, "The Cluster", mixed textiles
The Cluster creates a moving surface that changes in response to nearby movement. 
Each cluster is made up of different compositions of "shape-memory material", so their movements are independent from one another, mimicking the behavior of leaves on a tree. 

To learn more about the Basel event, June 16-21, link here.
To learn more about the Miami event, December 2-6, link here.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

EXHIBITION: Dwell on Design LA

Mad for Mod's multitalented West Coast correspondent Joemy Wilson 
spent a day at the recent Dwell on Design exhibition, May 29-31, held
 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. She filed this report, 
along with the photos. Thank you, Joemy!

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Outdoor display, with swings and Groovebox
The Groovebox is a new flat-pack, multifunctional outdoor living
"product system" that can be used as a fire pit, barbecue, table, 
stool, bench, planter and more. 

I knew that Dwell on Design would be fun, and that it would feature fabulous designs. Indeed, I fell in love with many jazzy lighting fixtures, fountains, and furniture, not to mention the idea of "glamping" (glamorous camping).

         Glamping tipis, designed by by David Bromstad, 
                     with Rockpillows in foreground

Vendor demonstrates proper technique for use of a Rockpillow. Glamping!

More fabulous stuff:

           David Trubridge Lighting

Avalon Fountains by Mehrdad Tafreshi, an artisan from Surrey, England. 
Works in copper, bronze and glass

Kodama Zomes by Rickie Duncan, proudly made in the US by the designer's family 
and friends. He has resisted all efforts to have it manufactured overseas more cheaply.

As I wandered through row after row of booths chock full of high-tech, cutting-edge, luxurious and fun stuff, a surprising theme emerged: responsibility. Vendors of goods exemplifying environmental, social, corporate and personal responsibility were on display at every turn.

APLD, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, held court in the center of Dwell Outdoors, handing out guidelines for creating environmentally responsible landscapes and giving free consultations to local residents who were contemplating tearing out their water-guzzling lawns and putting in hardscape and native plantings. I had a lively, all-too-brief half-hour chat with Katrina Coombs of Outside InStyle, touching on elements such as decomposed granite, an irrigation system that would provide the three different watering areas my yard would need, and the fun stuff -- a dreamy color palette of lavender, orange and green around my 1930s Spanish house. Who knew that being environmentally responsible could be such fun?

Corporate responsibility (as well as commercial savvy) was demonstrated by Airstream, the venerable mobile trailer company. They have partnered with the Columbus College of Art and Design, to allow a group of gifted undergraduates to design an RV that would appeal to millennial types. The students came up with a new model called the Pursuit, in which a young creative artist, perhaps a photographer or designer, could live, work and play. Naturally, it included a hatchback – “What’s the point of working at the beach if you can’t see the beach?”

Airstream exterior (above) and kitchen (below)

The team built a mockup of wood and cardboard and went on to refine every detail of the interior, and the result was so professional that Airstream is currently discussing its manufacturing and marketing potential. Tom Gattis, dean of the School of Design Arts, who spearheaded the project, told me that this inspiring collaboration was “Corporate America engaging with academia to develop the next generation of design leaders.”

Social responsibility was exemplified by Method Homes, a Seattle-based company that builds custom architectural prefab. They teamed up with Brad Pitt’s foundation, Make It Right, which builds affordable housing for people in need and is best known for constructing homes in New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina. 

      Above and below: Method Homes exterior and interior
                        Photos courtesy of

The 3-bedroom, 2-bath model showcased at Dwell is a modern stunner that anyone would be proud to call home. Everything about it is energy efficient, from the solar roof to the AirRenew Gypsum Board, “the only drywall that cleans the indoor air by permanently removing formaldehyde.”(I’m breathing formaldehyde in my house? Who knew?)

Another Method Home on display at the expo was filled with Monogram luxury appliances. In the kitchen, an enthusiastic chef was busily handing out samples of her roasted chicken from the Advantium, a halogen-powered mini-oven that requires no preheating and cooks seven times faster than a conventional oven. Unlike a microwave, she told us, “it cooks from the inside out and crisps the skin perfectly.” One delicious bite proved her right.

Prefab fabulousness: the small oven in the background is the Advantium. 
Its halogen technology roasted that big chicken in 20 minutes.

On Monday following the show, a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum unit was packed up and sent to Fort Peck, Montana. It is the first of twenty homes being built for the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes that live on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Appropriately, the home’s walls were full of works by Native American artists, which were auctioned off in support of the artists and the housing project. Living room furnishings provided by Eklahome were advertised as “elegantly sustainable furniture made by hand in America.”

Personal responsibility? There’s Stir, the “Standingest of Standup Desks,” the desk that doubles as a personal trainer. We are constantly being reminded to take responsibility for our own fitness these days, and the Stir Kinetic Desk not only senses how many calories you’re burning, slaving over the budget report or that Great American Novel, but its Whisperbreath technology prompts you to change your position to match your preset movement goals and “lead to your most creative work.” And you thought your phone was smart!

It’s a mighty sexy design, too. Very inspiring. I think I might just need that desk, to sketch out my environmentally responsible new landscape.

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"Here to create an environment of love,
live with passion, and make our most 
exciting dreams come true ..." 

To read more about Dwell on Design 2015, link here.