I had my first visit to the Phillips Museum of Art at F&M College this past weekend. The permanent collection on display included a smattering of historic Pennsylvanian crafts in excellent condition – pottery, samplers, paintings, furniture, etc. There was an abrupt transition to abstract art, with two lovely pieces by Cleve Gray. I have a special love for giant paintings, especially when bold color is employed. Jonquil was hung in a darker transition area, at the top of the steps leading to the Rothman gallery. Its brilliant yellow filled the room, and quietly demanded attention. The placement of this piece was perfect — it is the sort of work that will make smaller works pale. Untitled Red was in the main collections room, and from a distance made me think of transient human forms. Color-field works can help cleanse the mind a bit after viewing works that require analytical thought. These are the sorts of work for which I will go through permanent collections repeatedly to see again.
In the Dana gallery there was a section of the Art for Life’s Sake exhibition which featured images of women produced by woman artists in the early 20th century. The works by Caroline Peart were particularly appealing. Languishing female forms, especially nudes, by male artists within the past two centuries have become a cliché, and I have a tendency to pass over them. I liked that the curator choose to create this grouping alongside the other images of early 20th century New York City ethnic life.
The Theresa Bernstein exhibit had a wonderful layout. The first room is biographical and contains photographs of the artist throughout her life. Many of the key paintings were referenced in this room, which made it easy to relate the work to the stage of her life. This helped to prepare and connect the viewer to the body of work on display in the next room. Instead of arranging the works chronologically, they were grouped by genre and by harmonious sets. Summer Picnic reminded me of a show I saw at the Philadelphia Art Museum that featured artist renditions of Arcadia. Bernstein’s offers a refreshing role reversal; the male figure was more undressed than his partner.
Many of the paintings from the 1910’s to the 1920’s have a looseness that gives the images a feeling of movement. Most people will get very close to a painting when they are in the act of appreciation. These require distance to fully understand the mastery of the artist. I was also intrigued by her employment of Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven as a model. What I gleaned of her life at this show has made me interested in searching for a biography on her life.
Both exhibitions complimented the other in location and time period, which helped me to think about the lives behind the paintings. The growth of ethnic neighborhoods, opera houses, rise of jazz, oppression of the poor, dramatic art movements all happening within a fifty year time period comes to life when you can see multiple artists portraying these themes.