Category Archives: North America 2016

Lego’s Frank Lloyd Wright Collection

This is new!

It is, Lego has released the latest kit in their architecture series, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, for the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. It is a new rendition of the building. The original interpretation of the building was released by Lego in 2009. The new set provides a much more realistic portrayal of the Wright’s original building as well as the 10-story limestone tower added by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects in 1992 (based on Wright’s original sketches). Arch and bow bricks make up the swooping lines of the main rotunda and the rounded edges of the base. Even the porthole side windows are represented, as well as little taxis — rendered as two yellow bricks each — and other street details.

We took the little model to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

The Lego Group and Adam Reed Tucker of Brickstructures, Inc. officially introduced the Lego Architecture line in 2008. In 2009, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation announced that the Lego Group was the exclusive licensed manufacturer of Frank Lloyd Wright Collection® Legp Architecture sets.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater models were shown at the opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Exhibit: From Within Outward at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2009, to commemorate the 50 years of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the museum.

Fallingwater is one of the most famous and ingenious houses in the world.

In 2011, Lego released a model of the Robie House. Robie House was the first property to be declared a National Historic Landmark based on its architecture alone.

In 2013, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was the fourth Wright design to achieve micro-scale Lego-dom. The Imperial Hotel was the first set in the Lego Architecture sub-brand that is no longer with us. Having survived both 1923’s Great Kantō Earthquake and the American bombing of Tokyo during World War II, Wright’s dramatic Mayan Revival-style structure proved to be no match for the wrecking ball when it was decided, not without protest, to raze the ailing H-shaped building in 1968 and replace it with a more space-efficient modern hotel tower. Portions of the hotel including the main entrance were, however, relocated and rebuilt at an open-air architectural theme park north of Nagoya, Meiji-Mura.

We’ve been there!

Time for cupcakes!

Neutra Village Silver Lake

Neutra Village is a concentration of architecturally significant houses located just off the Silver Lake Reservoir, at the intersection of Earl Street with Silver Lake Boulevard and Argent Place, that demonstrates the varied, yet cohesive modern style of Neutra in his mature career. The Neutra Village features the largest concentration of Richard Neutra’s architecture in the world.

This group of houses, built incrementally between 1948 and 1962, are archetypal of mid-century modern style with their rectilinear forms and flat roofs. They demonstrate Neutra’s interest in the indoor/outdoor aspect of architecture, which he could explore to the maximum in the mild southern California climate, using sliding glass walls to open up indoor spaces which lead on to generous roof top decks.

This unique living environment, sheltered within a park-like landscape, was not a planned development. Each residence is unique and was carefully executed one by one with the architect’s first ground rule being to provide by design for the happiness and well-being of each individual owner and their family. Neutra understood that well-being was tied directly to the idea of living in harmony with nature, neighbours and within the family unit itself. The result is a community with a sense of sensual, animated tranquillity, of accomplished sophistication rendered simply by mature hands.

This makes Silver Lake home to some of the most celebrated modernist architecture in the US, including Richard Neutra’s VDL Research House, where he lived for nearly 40 years, and John Lautner’s Silvertop.

The architecture of Silver Lake developed hand-in-hand with the film industry. Like a mighty wave, the creative individuals captivated by the magic of Hollywood were drawn by the thousands to Southern California to ‘make their mark’ seeking employment but also needing a place to call home. The beautiful hillsides of Hollywood, Los Feliz and Silver Lake were often the preferred locations for these early pioneers. As Los Feliz and the Hollywood Hills became too pricey, homebuyers and renters looked eastward towards Silver Lake. At the same time, as new architectural styles were coming into fashion, the architects who were designing them found greater acceptance for their often avante garde designs in the cultural mix of Los Angeles. As a result, the works of Modernist pioneers like Gregory Ain, Eugene Kinn Choy, Raul Garduno, David Hyun, R.M. Schindler, Raphael Soriano, Eric Lloyd Wright, John Lautner, Kemper Nomland and Richard Neutra are literally sprinkled throughout our hillsides.

Yew House
Yew House (1957)

Designed for Mr. and Mrs. Wong Yew in 1957, Neutra designed the house with a mind towards entertaining and the enjoyment of the view of the lake. The Master Bedroom features a roof deck which is served by a dumbwaiter from the kitchen. The kitchen itself features open shelves so that the lake may be seen at all times. This home reflects in a significant way Neutra’s desire to bring elements of the outdoors ‘inside’ so that one has the sense of always being connected to nature.

Kambara House (1960)
Kambara House (1960)

The Kambara House features walls of glass, typical of Neutra’s work which take advantage of the lake views, with the addition of protected balconies that run the length of the structure. That the Kambaras spent their entire lives here treasuring the house, and carefully maintaining it exactly as built, speaks to the success of the architect’s endeavour. The Kambara House went on the market in 2014 for the first time since it was constructed, with an asking price of $2.3 million.

Inadomi House (1960)
Inadomi House (1960)

The Inadomi House appears almost connected to its neighbour to the south, the Kambara House, built at approximately the same time, with which it shares a common pathway to the street before dividing at a small reflecting pool. It is a pure example of the International Modern Style, unadorned, with large expanses of glass walls to take advantage of the views of the lake across the street.

Sokol House
Sokol House

The Sokol house was the first house to be built and is distinctively different from the others. It is also one of the largest of the group, being 221 square meters.

Treweek House (1948)
Treweek House (1948)
Ohara House
Ohara House

A centrepiece of the Neutra Village, the Ohara House is a classic example of the work of Modernist Richard Neutra, set on a hillside which affords stunning lake and mountain views, including views to the Griffith Park Observatory and famous Hollywood sign. The west-facing site fills the house with natural light. Breezes from the lake flow up the hillside and throughout the house, cooling it in the process.

Neutra designed this house for June and Hitoshi Ohara and their two daughters. In August 1995, Patricia and C.J. Bonura became the second owners of this signature home. Maintenance of the house had been deferred since construction. However, while in need of restoration, all original finishes, colours and systems remained in the as-built state. Over the next eight years, Bonura Building proceeded to restore the house to the original specifications. What really distinguishes this house from the other Neutra designs in the Village is the landscaping which really enhances bringing the outside in.

The Ohara House has appeared in numerous books and magazines, and was the Miles’ House from The Holiday with Jack Black. The exterior of the house showed up only once and very briefly in the movie.

Ohara House in The Holiday
Ohara House in The Holiday
Flavin House (1958)
Flavin House (1958)

The Flavins admired the work of the Modernists and tried to buy two other existing Neutra homes first: the Alexander Meltzer House on Murray Drive and later, the Sokol House on East Silver Lake Boulevard. Not succeeding, they hired Neutra to start afresh which turned out to be a good choice. The Flavins were able to get the architect to build a home specifically for their personal needs which included a workshop at the northeast end of the house.

Akai House (1962)
Akai House (1962)
Dion Neutra Treetops
Dion Neutra Treetops Townhouse (1980)
Reunion House
Reunion House (1949)

Reunion House is the personal home of architect Dion & Lynn Smart Neutra. The house is the most private of all the homes in the Neutra Village; instead of exposed to the lake, it is hidden in a forest of trees and ponds, creating a most tranquil setting. It was designed by Richard Neutra in 1949 and remodeled by Dion Neutra in 1966.

VDL Research House II
VDL Research House II

The original Neutra VDL Studio and Residence, a living laboratory for architect Richard Neutra’s theories on residential design, was built for $8,000 (including the site!) in 1932. It was designed by Richard Neutra as a study in creating the perfect living space within a confined site. Neutra used natural lighting, great views to the landscape and mirrors as pivotal elements in creating a house that felt much larger than its actual size. The architect said: “I wanted to demonstrate that human beings, brought together in close proximity, can be accommodated in very satisfying circumstances, taking in that precious amenity called privacy.” He did this with clever design and use of modern materials.

After a disastrous fire in March 1963, the VDL house was rebuilt by Dion Neutra in consultation with his father, Richard Neutra, who was often out of town during those years. It was completed in 1966, and the elder Neutras enjoyed living in the newly constituted house until Neutra’s death in 1970. His widow continued in residence for yet another 20 years until her death in 1990. In the years since, Dion has continued to struggle to actualize the vision his family had when it determined to give this house in perpetuity to a university.

Today, this glass-walled paragon of modern design overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir is owned by California Polytechnic University, Pomona, and is an active part of LA’s design community and home to occasional art installations.

In addition to being designated Cultural Monument #640 by the City of Los Angeles, the VDL House was listed by the World Monuments Watch as one of the 100 Most Endangered World Monuments in 2000. It was one of only five sites in the US. The youngest of all the projects listed, the VDL joined such prestigious projects as the Valley of the Kings; Macchu Pichu; Beauvais Cathedral; and the oldest of the group, the Giraffe Rock Art Site in Niger, of 6th century BCE.

Richard Neutra was born in Vienna, Austria, into a wealthy Jewish family. He attended the Sophiengymnasium in Vienna until 1910, then he studied under Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner at the Vienna University of Technology from 1910 to 1918. In 1912 he undertook a study trip to Italy and the Balkans with Ernst Ludwig Freud (son of Sigmund Freud).

Neutra studied at the University of Zurich and worked briefly for landscape architect Gustav Ammann. In 1921 he worked as City Architect in the Planning Department of Luckenwalde, an industrial town in Germany. He also worked briefly for architect Erich Mendelsohn in Berlin.

In 1922, Neutra married Dione Niedermann, the daughter of an architect, and they moved to the US in 1923. At the funeral of Louis Sullivan, Neutra met Frank Lloyd Wright, who hired him in 1924 to work at Taliesin in Wisconsin while Wright was in Japan. Work ran out in 1925 and Neutra left Taliesin to work in California with Rudolf Schindler.

Among many projects, Schindler and Neutra collaborated on an entry for the League of Nations Competition of 1927; in the same year they formed a design firm with planner Carol Aronovici called the Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce (AGIC). Neutra and Schindler and their wives were very close; they shared space in Schindler’s house on Kings Road in Los Angeles from February 1925 until the Neutras left to tour Europe in May 1930.

The breakup of Neutra and Schindler is often accorded to Neutra “stealing” client Phillip Lovell for the Lovell Health House. According to Neutra’s son Raymond, it was not that simple. Schindler was busy with projects like the Buck House on Catalina Island and the unbuilt Transparent House for Aline Barnsdall. Phillip Lovell was grumpy about an earlier 1924 Schindler cabin that collapsed in the snow during its first winter. Schindler was also having an affair with Harriet Freeman, Lovell’s sister-in-law (who Lovell intensely disliked) and Lovell didn’t want the architect of his new Health house under her influence. Schindler was just as happy not to put up with Lovell, and the project shifted to Neutra. The Lovell House was the turning point in Neutra’s career, putting him on the architectural radar.

The hostility began in late 1930 when Schindler heard from friends that Neutra was not crediting him about the League of Nations project. It got worse when Schindler was rejected from the Philip Johnson’s MOMA International Style exhibition in New York which Neutra brought to LA for the 1932 Olympics.

Neutra and Schindler ended their partnership and co-residency and rarely interacted after that. When Neutra had a heart attack in 1953, he found himself in the same hospital room as Schindler. They made peace before Schindler died there of cancer. The hostility was on Schindler’s side and Neutra was happy to have the reconciliation.

Novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand based part of her character Howard Roark on Neutra in The Fountainhead. She was the second owner of Neutra’s Von Sternberg House.

Between 1927 and 1969, Neutra designed more than 300 houses in California and elsewhere. In 1949, Time Magazine featured Neutra on its cover and ranked him second only to Frank Lloyd Wright in American architecture. After that, Neutra had all the work he could ever want.

Neutra coined the term biorealism, which means “the inherent and inseparable relationship between man and nature”. Neutra hired several young architects who went on to independent success, including Gregory Ain, Harwell Hamilton Harris and Raphael Soriano.

In 1965, Neutra formally partnered with architect and son Dion Neutra as Richard and Dion Neutra and Associates. In 1966, he moved back to Vienna, Austria. He died in Germany in 1970 while in the middle of an argument with a client, according to grandson Justin, who later made a short film about Neutra. In 1977 Neutra was awarded the AIA Gold Medal.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Plaza Historic District, also known as El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Monument, is located at the oldest section of Los Angeles, known for many years as “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles”. The district, centered on the old plaza, was the city’s center under Spanish (1781–1821), Mexican (1821–1847) and United States (after 1847) rule through most of the 19th Century.

Panoramic view of the Los Angeles Plaza in 1876. The Pico House is the prominent 3-story white building at the center of the photo. The Los Angeles River can be seen in the background.
Panoramic view of the Los Angeles Plaza in 1876. The Pico House is the prominent 3-story white building at the center of the photo. The Los Angeles River can be seen in the background.

The Pico House is a historic building in Los Angeles, California, dating from its days as a small town in Southern California. Located on 430 North Main Street, it sits across the old Los Angeles Plaza from Olvera Street and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument.

Pío Pico, a successful businessman who was the last Mexican Governor of Alta California, ordered construction of a luxury hotel in the growing town. The architect was Ezra F. Kysor and it was constructed between 1869 and 1870. The resulting Italianate three story, 33-room hotel, dubbed Pico House (or Casa de Pico) was the most extravagant and lavish hotel in Southern California, and its opening was cause for much celebration. It had a total of nearly 80 rooms, large windows, a small interior court, and a grand staircase. In the days of the hotel’s primacy the courtyard featured a fountain and an aviary of exotic birds. Today Pico House belongs to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Monument. The ground floor is occasionally used for exhibits and other events.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Pico House (1869-70)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Pico House (1869-70)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Pico House (1869-70) and Merced Theatre (1870)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Pico House (1869-70) and Merced Theatre (1870)

The Merced Theatre was built in 1870 and is one of the oldest structures erected in Los Angeles for the presentation of dramatic performances. It served as the centre of theatrical activity in the city from 1871 to 1876.

The theatre was built by William Abbot, the son of Swiss immigrants who settled in Los Angeles in 1854. In 1858, he married the woman for whom he would name the theatre, Maria Merced Garcia, the daughter of José Antonio Garcia and María Guadalupe Uribe, who were long-time residents of the Los Angeles pueblo. The theatre was designed by Ezra F. Kysor, the architect of the Pico House.

On the other side of Merced Theatre is Masonic Hall, used by the Masons for their meetings until 1868 when they moved to larger quarters further south.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Pico House (1869-70); Merced Theatre (1870) and Masonic Hall (1858)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Pico House (1869-70); Merced Theatre (1870) and Masonic Hall (1858)

Freemasonry became popular in the United States in the 1850s and a lodge was started in Los Angeles in 1854. In 1858 Lodge 42 asked William Hayes Perry, a mason, and his partner James Brady to build a lodge room on the second floor of a building they were constructing at 426 North Main street for their carpentry and furniture-making business. Lodge 42 loaned Perry and Brady the money for the construction. The Masonic Hall was finished by November, after which the Masons paid a rent of $20 a month. The building was a two story unpainted brick structure with a symbolic “masonic eye” below the parapet.

Across Main Street from Pico House are the Brunswig Building and the two story Plaza House.

The Vickrey-Brunswig Building is a Victorian-era brick commercial building was among the earliest five-story buildings in Los Angeles. Commissioned by Los Angeles businessman William Vickrey as an investment property, the building housed ground floor retail with lodging on the upper floors when it opened in 1888. Prominent architect R. B. Young designed the building in a transitional Italianate style, varying the treatment of each story of the façade for greater visual interest. The windows of the upper floor feature Romanesque arches, while those of the third floor are embellished with turned posts that serve as the mullions between the grouped sashes.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Brunswig (1888)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Brunswig (1888)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Plaza House
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Plaza House

The County of Los Angeles purchased the Vickrey-Brunswig Building and the adjacent Plaza House in 1948 and renovated them for use by the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, County Superior Courts, Police Crime Laboratories and the County Sherriff’s offices through the mid-1970s. After three decades of vacancy and deterioration, the County rehabilitated both buildings to house LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a Mexican and Mexican-American cultural centre which opened in 2011.

The two-story Plaza House is one of Los Angeles’ few remaining commercial buildings from the 1880s. It was commissioned by Frenchman Philippe Garnier, whose name appears at the base of the decorative false gable parapet rising above the roofline. Garnier, who was a successful businessman, entrepreneur and early real estate developer in the El Pueblo area, retained the architecture firm Kysor & Morgan to design the combination hotel and commercial building. The firm’s founding partner, Ezra F. Kysor, had earlier designed the Pico House and Merced Theatre across the street.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument is near the site of the early Los Angeles pueblo or town where 44 settlers (11 families) of Native American, African and European heritage journeyed more than 1600 kilometres across the desert from present-day northern Mexico and established a farming community in September 1781. Since that time, Los Angeles has been under the flags of Spain, Mexico and the United States and has grown into one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas.

Today El Pueblo de Los Angeles is a living museum that continues to fulfil its unique role as the historic and symbolic heart of the city, reflecting the Native American, African American, Spanish, Anglo, Mexican, Chinese, Italian and French cultures that contributed to its early history. Of the monument’s 27 historic buildings, 11 are open to the public as businesses or have been restored as museums.

Los Angeles started out as a small farming town in an area inhabited by friendly Native American Indians. Under the orders of King Carlos III of Spain, a “pueblo” was founded in 1781 to grow food for the soldiers guarding this far-off territory of Spain.

As the town grew and prospered, retired soldiers were given large portions of land on which to graze their cattle. In 1821 Mexico declared her independence from Spain and successive governors of Alta California gave additional land grants to other settlers including new arrivals from Europe and the east coast of America who liked the climate and the life here. They joined the Californios in becoming ranchers, merchants and winemakers.

In 1846 the Mexican American War began and the United States troops took Los Angeles the following year. At first the town retained its customs and traditions but gradually, as the population grew, the professional heart of the city moved southwards. The plaza area then saw many changes. The old landowners who had owned houses around the plaza moved away, new buildings were constructed, and the area gradually changed to light industrial and business use. These changes brought in new settlers and the east side of the Plaza became the heart of the city’s first Chinatown. French and Italian settlers also arrived in large numbers. All this activity could not prevent the gradual decline of the former pueblo area which, soon after the turn of the century, turned into a slum.

In 1926 wealthy socialite Christine Sterling began a public program to restore the home and surrounding area, opening Olvera Street as a Mexican marketplace and historic centre.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Olvera Street
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Olvera Street
El Pueblo de Los Angeles - The Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – The Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Interior of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Interior of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Interior of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Interior of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Interior of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Interior of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)

The Avila Adobe, 10 Olvera Street, is the oldest standing residence in the city, built by wealthy cattle rancher Francisco José Avila, whose extensive 4,439-acre land grant covered much of Beverly Hills and the Miracle Mile district. Built of tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, clay from the LA River and wood from the riverbank, this adobe structure is located near the zandra madre, the original water source for El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles. A mix of Mission, Spanish and ranchero aesthetics are evident in the white stucco exterior and walls and large outdoor living space.

There is a large courtyard at the back of the home which encompasses a multi-purpose space of play area, workspace and kitchen, complete with outdoor oven for cooking.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Garden of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Courtyard of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Garden of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Courtyard of Avila Adobe (built ca 1818, oldest house in LA)

Francisco José Avila, a native of Sinaloa, was alcalde, or mayor of Los Angeles in 1810. Following his death in 1832, his second wife, Encarnación Avila continued to live in the house with her two daughters. The Los Angeles Census of 1844 lists Encarnación Avila, age 40, as a widow living in the house with one daughter. For a brief time, from January 10-19, 1847, the adobe was commandeered as a military headquarters by the invading North American army under Robert Stockton.

After Encarnación Avila died in 1855, the home passed to her two daughters, Luisa and Francisca and their husbands, Manuel Garfias and Theodore Rimpau. Francisca and Theodore Rimpau and their nine children continued to live in the adobe from 1855 to 1868 until they moved to Anaheim, California where Theodore served as the first mayor. From 1868 to the early 1920s, the adobe was rented and used as a restaurant, rooming house for transients, or was frequently vacant. The condition of the building deteriorated and was finally condemned in 1926 by the City Health Department, which caught the attention of Christine Sterling, who began a public campaign to save the adobe.

The Plaza Methodist Church is located on the site of the Tapia/Olvera adobe, which served as an early service building for the United Methodist Church mission in Los Angeles. The Methodist Church was also the founding agent in Southern California for Goodwill Industries. The adobe was torn down in 1917 and, nine years later, architects Train and Williams completed this Churrigeresque-style church. The building was altered in the 1960s.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles - Plaza Methodist Church (1925-26)
El Pueblo de Los Angeles – Plaza Methodist Church (1925-26)

In 1953 a strong effort to preserve the area resulted in the creation of a State historic park. The State of California and the County and City of Los Angeles joined together to purchase the buildings and sites around the plaza. In 1989, the Park was turned over to the City of Los Angeles. Now the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Monument, as it is called, is run by the City of Los Angeles.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Plaza
El Pueblo de Los Angeles
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Plaza

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles

Los Angeles has worked hard over the past 30 years to diversify its arts scene and develop a cultural world outside the film industry to as high a level as energy and money allow. As might be expected, the city’s cultural strong points are in performance and the visual arts. Downtown Los Angeles offers the most sophisticated in performance. The long established Performing Arts Centre now comprises 11 venues, including the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion which houses the LA Opera, the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre, presenting theatre acted and produced by some of the best actors the area can provide. And that’s a lot of actors.

LA Opera
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home of LA Opera

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the first and largest theatre of The Music Centre, was built in 1964 and designed by Welton Becket using a “Total Design” aesthetic. Everything from the building’s structure and engineering to its interior design — lighting fixtures, carpeting, typography, restaurant china and flatware — were designed by the firm for a unified and integrated look.

The interior of the theatre is an elegant five-story space draped in honey-toned onyx and features 78 crystal light fixtures including three stunning chandeliers each made with 24,000 individual pieces of hand-polished crystal from Munich.

Friday Night at the Opera

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion http://chrisleephotographic.zenfolio.com
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
http://chrisleephotographic.zenfolio.com

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has been the site of unparalleled performances by stunning music luminaries and virtuosos. It was the home of the LA Philharmonic for decades and the site for more than 20 Academy Awards presentations between 1969 and 1999. It is now the home of the LA Opera, sharing its stage with Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Centre.

LA Opera has been under the artistic direction of Plácido Domingo since 2003 and, with impeccable taste, he and Music Director James Conlon have presented adventurous opera programming, lifting the company to international stature. Their program has them mounting new operas, such as the lovely Il Postino, composed by Mexican-born Daniel Catán, retrieving lost works, like those presented in the ongoing “Recovered Voices” series which presents operas by composers lost in the Holocaust, and developing educational and community programs. Domingo has done much to promote Spanish-speaking singers and music professionals, a logical choice for this city, where a whopping 47% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.

Little Puffles and Honey saw La Bohème at the LA Opera.

Waiting for La Bohème to start
Waiting for La Bohème to start

The Music Centre Plaza is a great outdoor venue. The Plaza has served as a location for many Music Centre arts events such as National Dance Day, LA Arts Month, festivals, live simulcasts and weekend activities for dance. It is also the site for many private and civic celebrations, special events and galas.

Music Centre Plaza
Music Centre Plaza

At the centre of The Plaza is one of the most iconic fountains in Los Angeles. With 280 jets systematically shooting water up into the air on a 14-minute cycle, The Music Centre Fountain invites visitors to watch its playful dance. At the centre of the fountain is “Peace on Earth” by Jacques Lipchitz. The sculpture portrays a dove descending to earth with the spirit of peace, symbolized by the Madonna standing inside a tear shaped canopy, supported by a base of reclining lambs.

Music Centre Plaza
Music Centre Plaza
Music Centre Plaza Fountain
Music Centre Plaza Fountain

The Dance Door, a bronze sculpture, was created in 1978 by Robert Graham. It consists of an ornamented life-size bronze door, hinged on a bronze frame and locked in an open position. Abstracted figures of dancers are cast in low relief on the door panels.

Music Centre Plaza
Music Centre Plaza – Dance Door

Across Grand Avenue from the Music Centre is Grand Park, officially opened to the public in July 2012. Dotted with fountains, picnic lawns, bright pink benches and plenty of nooks from which to sit and people-watch, Grand Park is a bright urban oasis. The park plays host to performances, gatherings and other community events.

Grand Park and LA City Hall in the distance
Grand Park and LA City Hall in the distance

The grand, white concrete tower that is Los Angeles City Hall has been a city icon since 1928, and today it’s the easiest way to take in an elevated view of Downtown and beyond. If you’re ever passing through the Civic Centre during public hours — weekdays 9am-5pm — you can visit the 27th floor observation deck.

Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, Grand Park with LA Opera in the background
Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, Grand Park with LA Opera in the background

The Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain looks great at night!

Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain
Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain – fully restored with choreographed water features

Grand Park has a large central plaza surrounded by gardens from each of the world’s six Floristic Kingdoms, including Australia.

Grand Park
Grand Park
Grand Park
Grand Park

Sitting next door to LA Opera, and part of the Performing Arts Centre, is the stainless steel–surfaced Walt Disney Concert Hall and the REDCAT Theatre, designed by architect Frank Gehry in ultra-modern reflective glory. Both inside and out, this is a terrific venue. The concert hall features a 2,265-capacity auditorium with an open platform stage.

On the stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall :smile:
On the stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall 🙂

An Evening with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Chief acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota combined the best aspects of orchestral halls in Tokyo, Berlin, Amsterdam and Boston in a bid to provide aural warmth and clarity; the result of his endeavours is a virtually perfect acoustic that has been lauded by everyone from audience members to critics to musicians. The hall has a concert organ, also lavishly designed by Gehry in consultation with organ and tonal designer Manuel Rosales. The Concert Hall is now home to the LA Phil, currently led by Gustavo Dudamel. Composer John Adams is the Creative Chair of the Symphony, and Esa-Pekka Salonen is Conductor Laureate. More crème de la crème.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Little Puffles and Honey attended a performance of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

The concert hall has very colourful chairs!

An Evening with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

The Blue Ribbon Garden is the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s rooftop garden.

Walt Disney Concert Hall - Blue Ribbon Garden
Walt Disney Concert Hall – Blue Ribbon Garden

Nearly an acre in size, the garden is enclosed by the dramatic, sweeping exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and filled with lush landscaping that blooms throughout the year. The garden features a Frank Gehry designed fountain that pays tribute to the late Lillian Disney and her love for Delft porcelain and roses. The fountain is a large rose covered in thousands of broken pieces from Royal Delft porcelain vases and tiles creating a one-of-a-kind mosaic.

Walt Disney Concert Hall - Blue Ribbon Garden
Walt Disney Concert Hall – Blue Ribbon Garden
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next door to Walt Disney Concert Hall is LA’s newest contemporary art museum, the Broad, the public home for Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection of 2,000 post-war works. The free museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, has added yet another cultural anchor to Grand Avenue.

The Broad
The Broad

The building features an innovative “veil-and-vault” concept. It has a porous white exterior with a honeycomb pattern, which is considered the “veil”. Inside this diaphanous case is an opaque mass that hovers midway in the structure; its rounded underside shapes the lobby area, and its flat top surface is the floor of the third-level galleries. This “vault” holds portions of the collection that are not on display.

Little Puffles and Honey thought the museum was a party place! 🙂

Jeff Koons, Party Hat @ The Broad
Jeff Koons, Party Hat @ The Broad

Visual arts are spread far and wide throughout the many museums of Los Angeles. From LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on the Miracle Mile to the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), in its three locations across the city, including Downtown.

MOCA - Chas Stainless Steel, Mark Thompsons Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, Gagosians Beverly Hills Space
MOCA – Chas Stainless Steel, Mark Thompsons Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, Gagosians Beverly Hills Space

The mammoth structure with an equally mammoth name, Nancy Rubin’s Chas Stainless Steel, Mark Thompsons Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, Gagosians Beverly Hills Space at MOCA, was installed as an outdoor feature at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001. The sculpture, made of all the parts mentioned in its name including stainless steel wire, airplane parts and more, is one of Rubin’s largest sculptures made of repurposed, recycled, and found objects, spanning over 16.5 meters.

MOCA
MOCA
Grand Avenue - Grand Tower and Wells Fargo Tower
Grand Avenue – Grand Tower and Wells Fargo Centre, One California Plaza and Two California Plaza

Within walking distance of the Performing Arts Centre is the Bradbury Building, the oldest commercial building (1893) remaining in the central city and one of Los Angeles’ unique treasures.

Bradbury Building
Bradbury Building

The Bradbury Building’s nondescript, brick exterior belies any sense of significance — a Sprint store and the lingering smell of Subway don’t exactly scream “architectural gem”. Walk through the archway entrance on Broadway, though, and you’re greeted with a stunning, light-flooded alley of wood, iron and brick. Movie buffs will recognize the zigzagging staircases from climax of Blade Runner.

Bradbury Building
Bradbury Building
Bradbury Building
Bradbury Building

The magical light-filled Victorian court rises 15 meters with open cage elevators, marble stairs, and ornate iron railings. The identity of the building’s final architect is a subject of debate. Lewis Bradbury, a mining and real estate millionaire, commissioned Sumner Hunt to create a spectacular office building. Hunt turned in completed designs but was replaced soon after by George H. Wyman, who supervised construction.

According to Wyman’s daughters, he was asked to take over because Bradbury felt that Wyman could understand his own vision for the building better than Hunt, although there is no evidence that Wyman changed the design. Wyman later designed other buildings in the Los Angeles area, but the Bradbury Building (if indeed it was designed by Wyman) was to be his only work of lasting significance, whereas Sumner Hunt went on to design many other notable buildings, including the Southwest Museum.

Bradbury Building
Bradbury Building
Bradbury Building
Bradbury Building

You’ll have to do all of your gawking from the ground floor (and half a flight of stairs) as the rest of the building is private office space.

Across the street from the Bradbury Building is the Million Dollar Theatre.

Million Dollar Theatre
Million Dollar Theatre

The Million Dollar Theatre was named for its then exorbitant price tag. In 1917 showman Sid Grauman commissioned architect Albert C. Martin Sr. to design a theatre for the ground floor of what would become the Edison building, a theatre worthy of a city that was the film capital of the world.

When the Million Dollar Theatre opened on 1 February, 1918, it was hailed as one of the first great motion picture “palaces”, a model for its future sister theatres, the Egyptian and fabled Chinese. Silent stars Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Charlie Chaplin walked under its ornate Churrigueresque terra-cotta arch to attend the opening night premiere, the Mack Sennett comedy, “The Silent Man”. Its success was instant and durable.

Million Dollar Theatre
Million Dollar Theatre

The building is designed in the Chicago style skyscraper and the exterior of the building exemplifies the elaborate Churrigueresque style, named after the 18th century Spanish church architect and sculptor Jose de Churriguera, whose designs favored this type of architectural embellishment.

Joseph Mora, son of the famous Spanish sculptor Domingo Mora, designed the theatre’s façade, which includes bison heads, longhorn steer skulls, allegorical figures representing the arts, and even girls perched on ledges strumming stringed instruments as their legs dangle above the street. The large, scalloped arch over the entrance once framed a stained-glass window, now plastered over.

Million Dollar Theatre
Million Dollar Theatre

Noted theatre architect William Lee Woollett designed the theatre itself. Many of the interior appointments were designed around the 1841 English fairy tale titled King of the Golden River by John Ruskin. The organ grilles, in particular, showcase images lifted from the book, including the evil brothers, the Golden Tankard, the South West Wind, and even the dog cited in the tale.

Million Dollar Theatre Auditorium
Million Dollar Theatre Auditorium

Hanging from the coffered dome ceiling is a chandelier that once hung in the lobby of the Woollett-designed Metropolitan Theatre (now demolished) on Sixth and Hill Streets.

Million Dollar Theatre
Million Dollar Theatre Chandelier

The massive, 30 meters wide balcony in the auditorium was a feat of engineering. It was supported by the world’s first reinforced concrete girder, developed because of a shortage of structural steel during World War I. Permits were withheld pending a stress test of this new engineering technique. With 680 tonnes of sandbags piled across the span, the girder passed the test.

Million Dollar Theatre Auditorium
Million Dollar Theatre Auditorium

In the 1940s, the theatre hosted jazz and big band stars such as Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw, and Lionel Hampton. In the 1950s, the Million Dollar became the first theatre on Broadway to feature Spanish-language variety shows (variedades), including headline acts from Mexico City and Latin America. The theatre served as a leading Latino entertainment venue for decades, featuring variedades and Mexican film premieres.

The lobby has been dramatically altered; the ceiling was lowered, and its walls were covered. Yet much of the lobby’s orignal ceiling and murals (also depicting the King of the Golden River fairy tale) remain intact behind the drop ceiling and walls.

Million Dollar Theatre Lobby
Million Dollar Theatre Lobby

After serving as a church, the Million Dollar was closed to the public. It reopened for performances and special events in 2008, after a year-long refurbishment, and now serves as an event and filming location.

Next door to the Million Dollar Theatre is the Grand Central Market, an European-style food hall that has been operating on the ground floor of the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917, making it Los Angeles’ oldest food market. Even if you’re not there for the food, it’s worth a trip; people from all corners of LA mix and mingle among rows of spices, produce and vintage neon signage.

Homer Laughlin Building
Homer Laughlin Building

The Homer Laughlin Building was the Los Angeles’s first fireproofed, steel-reinforced structure. The original six-story building was designed in 1896 by architect John B. Parkinson. In the 1920s the building served as an office for the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Homer Laughlin Building also used reinforced concrete and the sandbag stress test (56 tonnes) was used to satisfy building inspectors that the floors were of adequate strength.

Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market
Grand  Central Market - Wexler's
Grand Central Market – Wexler’s
Grand  Central Market - Wexler's
Grand Central Market – Wexler’s
Grand  Central Market - G&B Coffee
Grand Central Market – G&B Coffee
Grand  Central Market - G&B Coffee
Grand Central Market – G&B Coffee

A Tour of MoMA Masterworks

A Tour of MoMA's Masterworks

Art is anything you can get away with.

So said Andy Warhol. He should know, he got away with a lot. Little Puffles and Honey are wandering around MoMA to find out what other artists have got away with 🙂

Water Lilies, by Claude Monet (1914-1926, 3 panels) at MoMA
Water Lilies, by Claude Monet (1914-1926, 3 panels)

Monet’s three giant mural-sized Water Lily landscapes dominate the room where they are displayed. It is an immersive experience for anybody, it is like being drowned in pinks and purples, violets and greens. Monet painted the triptych, which measures nearly 13 metres across, towards the end of his life, having spent days and months and years studying his beloved water garden at his home in Giverny. It was the effects of the ever-changing light on the surface of the water that so captivated the elderly artist. His eyesight might have been fading, but his sharp brain and gift for handling paint were just as present as they had been when he was a young man, as was his inclination to innovate. Traditionally landscape paintings place the viewer in an ideal position with clear visual points of orientation. Not so with Monet’s late ‘grand decoration’, where we are plunged into the midst of a pond without edges or corners, among iris plants and lilies, leaving us with little option other than to give in to his layers of mesmerizing multi-coloured paint.

Water Lilies, by Claude Monet (1914-1926, 3 panels) at MoMA
Water Lilies, by Claude Monet (1914-1926, 3 panels)

Claude Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of his painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), which was exhibited in 1874 in the first of the independent exhibitions mounted by Monet and his associates as an alternative to the Salon de Paris. Within the context of modern art, the more traditionally minded consider the Impressionists the last group to produce ‘proper art’. They didn’t go in for all that ‘conceptual nonsense’ and those ‘abstract squiggles’ that came later, but produced paintings that are clear, beautiful and refreshingly inoffensive.

Art critic Louis Leroy wrote in Le Charivari in his review of the exhibition that “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished” than Impression, soleil levant. Luckily history has a way of dealing with such cynics and it caught up with M. Leroy very quickly. His vitriol towards Monet made a good splash on the day, but very soon he found that his poisoned pen had not only failed to kill off Monet and his friends, but had in fact given birth to the most famous art movement to have existed since the Renaissance: Leroy gave Impressionism a name and an identity while at the same time diminishing the role of the art critic.

Monet’s friends did not escape the vitriol either. “Do you remember Olympia by M. Manet? Well, that was a masterpiece of drawing, accuracy, finish, compared with the one by M. Cézanne.”

The Impressionists were the most radical, rebellious, barricade-breaking, epoch-making group of artists in the entire history of art. They underwent personal hardship and professional ridicule in dogged pursuit of their artistic vision. They ripped up the rulebook, metaphorically pulled their trousers down and waved their collective derrières at the establishment before setting about instigating the global revolution we now call modern art. Many 20th century art movements have been billed as subversive and anarchic, but in truth were far from it. The respectable-looking 19th century Impressionist painters, on the other hand, were the original outlaws; they really were subversive and anarchic. Not in a predetermined way, but because they had no other choice. Here was a band of artistic brothers and sisters who had developed an original and compelling way of painting in and around Paris during the 1860s and 70s, but then found their path to artistic success blocked by an oppressive art establishment. What were they to do? Give up? Perhaps, if it had been another time and another place, but not in post-revolutionary Paris, where a spirit of rebellion continued to fire the souls of the city’s inhabitants.

Vincent van Gogh arrived in Paris in 1886 and … vive la différence! Theo, his brother, introduced him to the Impressionists’ work and Vincent had an epiphany. The lights had been turned on in his eyes and suddenly he saw colour. And lots of it! He wrote to a friend, saying that he was ‘seeking oppositions of blue with orange, red and green, yellow and violet, seeking the broken and neutral tones to harmonize brutal extremes. Trying to render intense colour and not grey harmony.’

Vincent practised the Impressionist skill of the spontaneous brushstrokes, had his first dabbling with impasto painting (a technique where paint is applied so thickly to the canvas that it stands proud, resulting in a three-dimensional effect), and found that his love of Japanese woodblock prints, first developed in Antwerp, was shared by almost all avant-garde artists in Paris.

Van Gogh’s art is as familiar to us as his life story, although it was largely unknown when he was alive. But familiarity does not prepare you for your first encounter with one of his paintings. It’s like the first time you hear the Berlin Philharmonic play or visit a Frank Lloyd Wright house: another dimension is added by being in the presence of a great life force. Such entities can only be truly experienced unmediated: you have to be there.

Many of Van Gogh’s great paintings are not simply pictures, they’re more like sculptures. From a few metres away some of his later paintings start to take on a three-dimensional quality. Move a bit closer and you can see that Van Gogh has shovelled great lumps of brightly coloured oils on to his canvas. He’s caked on the paint like a drag queen on a Saturday night, and then shaped it, not using a brush, but with his palette knife and fingers. The technique wasn’t new. Rembrandt and Velázquez had both used impasto. But in Van Gogh’s hands its effects became more pronounced and dramatic. He didn’t want the paint simply to depict part of the picture, but to be part of the picture. Where the Impressionists had sought to expose the truth by painting what they saw with rigorous objectivity, Van Gogh wanted to go further and expose deeper truths about the human condition. So he took a subjective approach, painting not just what he saw, but how he felt about what he saw.

The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889) at MoMA
The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889)

Van Gogh’s night sky is a field of roiling energy. Below the exploding stars, the village is a place of quiet order. Connecting earth and sky is the flame-like cypress, a tree traditionally associated with graveyards and mourning. But death was not ominous for van Gogh. “Looking at the stars always makes me dream,” he said. “Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.”

The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889)
The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889)

The artist wrote of his experience to his brother Theo: “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.” This morning star, or Venus, may be the large white star just left of center in The Starry Night. The hamlet, on the other hand, is invented, and the church spire evokes van Gogh’s native land, the Netherlands. The painting, like its daytime companion, The Olive Trees, is rooted in imagination and memory.

The Olive Trees, by Vincent van Gogh (1889)
The Olive Trees, by Vincent van Gogh (1889)

He started to distort his images to convey his emotions, exaggerating for effect like a caricaturing cartoonist. He would paint a mature olive tree and emphasize its age by remorselessly twisting the trunk and disfiguring the branches until it looked like a gnarled old lady; wise but cruelly misshapen by time. He would then add those large clumps of oil paint to accentuate the effect, turning a two-dimensional picture into a 3-D epic: a painting into a sculpture. Van Gogh wrote to Theo, referring to a mutual friend who was questioning his move away from accurate representation: ‘Tell Serret that I should be desperate if my figures were right … tell him that I have a longing to make such incorrectness, such deviations, remodellings, changes in reality, so that they may become, well – lies, if you want – but truer than the literal truth.’ And in so doing he inspired one of the most significant and enduring art movements of the 20th century: Expressionism.

The Master of Aix, as Cézanne was nicknamed by his contemporaries after choosing to exchange the gaiety of Paris for nearly forty years of self-imposed isolation in the area around his family home in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, inspired another significant movement of the 20th century: Cubism. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all”.

Cézanne’s often repetitive, exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of colour and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields. The paintings convey Cézanne’s intense study of his subjects.

Like Monet in Giverny, or Van Gogh in Arles, Cézanne became captivated by studying the landscape around his family home. He preferred to paint entities that didn’t move: motifs at which he could take a good long look, that afforded him the chance to have a proper think about what he was seeing. He was an artist determined to figure out how a painter could represent a subject with complete accuracy: not a fleeting moment like an Impressionist landscape, or the one-view-fits-all accuracy of a photograph, but accurate in the sense of it being a true reflection of a rigorously observed subject. It was an issue that tormented him. Asked what his greatest aspiration was, he replied with just one word, ‘Certainty’. The old masters’ starting-point was, ‘This is what I see’, whereas Cézanne’s was, ‘Is this what I see?’

Cézanne realized around 130 years ago that seeing is not believing: it is to question. It was a philosophical insight that links the end of the Enlightenment’s Age of Reason with the 20th century’s Age of Modernism. It was the insight that would change the face of art. And like many flashes of genius, Cézanne’s revelation is not only simple, but also staggeringly obvious.

We humans, Cézanne reasoned, have binocular vision: we have two eyes. What’s more, our left and right eyes do not record identical visual information (although our brain amalgamates the two into one image). Each eye sees things slightly differently. Added to which, we have an inclination to fidget. When we examine an object we move about: we crane our neck, lean to the side, bend forwards, and raise ourselves up. And yet art was (and is) almost exclusively produced as if seen through a single, static lens. That, Cézanne deduced, was the problem with the art of his time and of the past: it failed to represent how we truly see, which is not from one perspective, but from at least two. The door to Modernism had been opened.

Still Life with Apples, by Paul Cézanne (1895-98)
Still Life with Apples, by Paul Cézanne (1895-98)

With Still Life with Apples, Cézanne demonstrates that still life — considered the lowliest genre of its day — could be a vehicle for faithfully representing the appearance of light and space. “Painting from nature is not copying the object,” he wrote, “it is realizing one’s sensations.”

The artistic revolution begins. Cézanne has painted the jug from two different perspectives: one in profile at eye-level, the other from above looking down. Some areas of canvas are left bare, and others, like the drape of the tablecloth, appear unfinished. The wooden table is tilted towards the viewer in order to show more of the apples (also painted from two angles). If the rules of mathematical perspective as established in the Renaissance were applied, the fruit would be rolling off the table and tumbling to the floor. But perspective’s loss was truth’s gain. That is how we see. The view Cézanne is presenting is a composite of the differing angles we all enjoy when studying a scene. He is also trying to convey another truth about how we take in visual information. If we see apples spread on a table we do not ‘read’ what is in front of us as individual apples, we register a single unit: apples on the table. For Cézanne the overall design of the whole tableau was of more importance than the component parts. Still Life with Apples is more than an imitation of life — it is an exploration of seeing and the very nature of painting.

Still Life with Apples is a painting that demonstrates how Cézanne changed art for ever. His abandonment of traditional perspective in favour of a commitment to overall pictorial design and the introduction of binocular vision led directly to Cubism (where almost all illusion of three dimensions was abandoned in preference for maximizing visual information), Futurism, Constructivism and the decorative art of Matisse.

Since Manet (and Degas, Monet and Cezanne), artists have sought to undermine the illusion of space that had ruled painting since about 1425. Spatial illusion was increasingly seen as a defect that reduced the integrity of painting. But as the earlier painters of the avant-garde have shown, ridding a painting of illusion is almost impossible. The audience is trained to expect three dimensional space and sees it given the opportunity. This is Matisse’s challenge. He meets this challenge – the destruction of spatial illusion – in three stages – the colour red, illusionism and the figure-ground relationship.

The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911) - The plate on display was in Matisse's studio and is featured in the painting
The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911) – The plate on display was in Matisse’s studio and is featured in the painting

Red is often thought of as the most aggressive color. It has the most punch, and that’s what Matisse needed here. The red is an attempt to find a color that is forceful enough to resist the illusion of deep space by pushing to the surface. The red is, of course painted onto the flat canvas but actually fails to remain there visually. Instead, the red becomes the walls and furnishing of the room seen in space. Illusion triumphs.

Objects on table (detail), The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911)
Objects on table (detail), The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911)

“Where I got the color red—to be sure, I just don’t know,” Matisse once remarked. “I find that all these things… only become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red.” This painting features a small retrospective of Matisse’s recent painting, sculpture, and ceramics, displayed in his studio. The artworks appear in color and in detail, while the room’s architecture and furnishings are indicated only by negative gaps in the red surface. The composition’s central axis is a grandfather clock without hands—it is as if, in the oasis of the artist’s studio, time were suspended.

This triumph of illusion is due in part to the linear perspective that defines the table, chairs, and the walls and floor of the studio. But look! Matisse has constructed some of the worst linear perspective ever seen. Receding lines should converge, but look at the chair on the lower right. The lines widen as they go back. And look to rear left corner of the room. The corner is defined by the edge of the pink canvas but above that painting, the line that must define the corner is missing! Matisse is literally dismantling the perspective of the room but it makes no difference, we still see the room as an inhabitable space. Illusion still triumphs.

Chair (detail), The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911)
Chair (detail), The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911)

Although it is very difficult to see in reproduction, if seen in person at MoMA, it is clear that the whitish lines that define form in the red field are not painted on top of the red. Instead, they are reserve lines – the white lines are actually the canvas below. Matisse painted the red planes up to the line on either side, leaving a narrow gap of white canvas in between. The white line is actually emerging from below the red. It is beneath.

Painting and dresser (detail), The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911)
Painting and dresser (detail), The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse (1911)

Matisse has realized that illusion is almost certain to triumph no matter how aggressively he tries to undermine it. We, as the audience, will see space if given the slightest opportunity. So if we see illusion at such a basic level, what hope does Matisse have of destroying it? In fact, his reserve lines are his really brilliant solution. The chairs, the dresser, the clock, each object, or figure in The Red Studio is constructed out of the canvas below. At the same time, the ground which supports those figures is constructed out of a plane of red that is physically above the canvas. What Matisse has done then is reverse the figure ground relationship. He has made the figure out of the ground (the canvas) and made the ground out of the figure (the red paint on top). When seen in person, the recognition of this does finally destroy illusion, Matisse triumphs!

Matisse’s ability to make a simple mark on canvas that makes an immediate and memorable connection with the viewer elevates him from the good painter to the great artist. The balancing effect of his contrasting shapes, and the coherence of his compositions, have been matched by very few artists in the history of painting. It just so happens that one of those rare talents who could stand comparison was living in Paris at exactly the same time.

Pablo Picasso was a precocious young Spanish artist who had quickly made his mark on his first visit to Paris in 1900 when still a teenager. By 1906 he was a resident of the city, a star of the avant-garde, and a frequent visitor to the Steins’ art-filled apartment. It was there that he saw Matisse’s latest work and went as green as Madame Matisse’s painted nose. The two men were outwardly polite to each other but inwardly voraciously competitive, and made it their business to keep a keen eye on the other’s work. They privately recognized that it was going to be a straight fight between the two of them for the title of Greatest Living Artist, a title that had recently become available following Cézanne’s death.

The friendship both artists had developed with the Steins was to provide the catalyst for one of the greatest advances in modern art ever to take place. There are many claims to ‘big bang’ moments in art, where the course of painting and sculpture supposedly dramatically and permanently changed. Following a meeting with Matisse at the Steins’ apartment, Picasso went to the ethnographic Musée du Trocadéro to look at their collection of African masks.

Picasso’s meeting with the masks caused one of the most fundamental shifts of all. Within hours the artist had rethought a painting that he had been working on for some time. Much later he reflected that on seeing the masks ‘he understood why he was a painter’. ‘All alone,’ he said, ‘in that awful museum, the masks, the Red Indian dolls, the dusty mannequins, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon must have come to me that day, but not because of all the forms: but because it was my first canvas of exorcism – yes, absolutely!’ Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is the painting that led to Cubism, which in turn led to Futurism, abstract art and much, much more. To this day it continues to be regarded by many contemporary artists as the single most influential painting ever created.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, by Pablo Picasso (1907)
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, by Pablo Picasso (1907)

When standing in front of the painting, the viewer is confronted by five naked women staring out from a giant canvas 2.5 metres square, their crudely painted bodies marked out from the palette of browns, blues and pinks by a series of razor-sharp angular lines applied in a way that shattered the image like a broken mirror.

Picasso was inspired by Cézanne and determined to continue the Master of Aix’s line of enquiry into perspective and ways of seeing. Which he did to incredible effect in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a painting that built on Cézanne’s ideas and led to a new art movement. There is little sense of spatial depth in Picasso’s picture. Instead, the five women are two-dimensional approximations, their human bodies reduced to a series of triangular and diamond shapes that could have been cut from a piece of terracotta-pink paper. Details have been simplified to the extreme: a breast, a nose, a mouth or an arm consists of little more than a short angular line or two (in much the same way that Cézanne would depict a field). There is no attempt to mimic reality – the two women on the right of this macabre, grotesque group have had their heads replaced by African masks; the woman on the far left has been turned into an ancient Egyptian statue; while the two central figures are little more than stylized caricatures. All their facial features have been rearranged as a multi-angle composite: their elliptical eyes misaligned, their mouths contorted.

The painting induces a feeling of claustrophobia in the viewer, due to Picasso’s dramatic foreshortening of the background. We do not experience the traditional illusion of the image receding into the distance; instead the women aggressively jump out from the canvas like a scene frozen in a 3-D movie. This was the artist’s intention. Because these women are actually propositioning prostitutes who have lined up in a ‘parade’ for you, the client, to make your selection. The Avignon in the title refers to a street in Barcelona known for its prostitutes (not the picturesque town in southern France). At their feet is a bowl of ripened fruit, a metaphor for the human delights on offer.

Picasso called it an ‘exorcism painting’. In part this was because Les Demoiselles expunged some of his own artistic past and therefore represented a bold new direction, but he was also alluding to the stark messages contained within the picture, which were about the dangers of instant gratification and sleeping with prostitutes. They were temptations that some of his friends had paid for twice: once with their money and later with their lives. It is a dark warning of the perils of venereal disease, which was rampant in the artistic bohemia of fin-de-siècle Paris (it had already accounted for Manet and Gauguin). In his early preparatory sketches there was a cast of seven: the five prostitutes plus two men – a sailor (the client) and a medical student holding a skull (a symbol of death). Picasso’s original intention was perhaps for a more obviously moralizing picture, demonstrating the ‘wages of sin’. But he found that removing narrative elements from the composition increased its visual power.

Hearing of the unfavourable opinions of his friends to the painting, Picasso stopped work on it, although he considered it unfinished. He rolled the canvas up and placed it at the back of his studio, where it remained for a very long time, gathering dust. It was eventually bought sight unseen by a collector in 1924, but even then it was largely kept out of view and rarely exhibited until the late 1930s, when it was purchased by MoMA.

Even the painter Georges Braque, who, like Picasso, had gone to Cézanne’s posthumous show and been transformed and transfixed, could not see what the Spaniard was trying to achieve with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. But unlike the others, who came and saw and sniggered and then left, Braque returned a little while later to offer Picasso his thoughts and help. In what he would describe as an artistic odyssey comparable to ‘two mountaineers roped together’, and that Picasso referred to as a ‘marriage’, the two young artists formed an intimate creative partnership out of which Cubism emerged. It was a partnership whose output would define the visual arts of the 20th century, leading to the Modernist aesthetic of stripped pine floors and Anglepoise lamps. It was a partnership that began in 1908 and ended with the unwelcome arrival of the First World War.

Homage to J.S. Bach, by George Braque (1911-12) at MoMA
Homage to J.S. Bach, by George Braque (1911-12)

The term Cubism adds a further complication to an already complicated art movement. Cubism might reasonably describe some of the Cézanne-influenced paintings Braque produced at L’Estaque in 1908, but it completely fails to reflect the nature of the pioneering work he and Picasso undertook from that autumn onwards. The term is a misnomer: there are no cubes in Cubism – quite the opposite.

Cubism is about acknowledging the two-dimensional nature of the canvas and categorically NOT about trying to re-create the illusion of three dimensions (a cube, for example). To paint a cube requires the artist to look at an object from a single perspective point, whereas Braque and Picasso were now looking at an object from every conceivable angle. Their intent was to stir the viewer’s brain into action and prompting the viewer to pay some attention to the everyday and the overlooked.

Cubism is also about presenting a more accurate picture of how we really observe an object. Which is a concept we can put to the test by looking at Georges Braque’s Man with Guitar. He produced the painting during the first phase of Cubism, known as Analytical Cubism (1908–11) – named as such because of their obsessive analysing of a subject and the space it occupies.

Man with a Guitar, by Georges Braque (1911)
Man with a Guitar, by Georges Braque (1911)

Braque realized, as did Picasso, that only by using a muted palette could he successfully blend multiple viewpoints of the same subject on a single canvas – a variety of bright colours would be impossible to configure for the artist and would present us with an indecipherable mess. Instead, they devised a technique where a straight line would mark a change of view, while subtle tonal shading would demonstrate to the viewer that a transition was taking place. The added benefit of this approach was an overall design that was balanced and coherent.

This is an important aspect of Cubism. For the first time, art was being produced whereby the canvas was no longer pretending to be a window – an instrument of illusion – but was being presented as an object itself. Picasso called it ‘pure painting’, meaning that the viewer was to judge the picture on the quality of the design (colour, line and form), and not on the quality of an illusory deception. The most important thing now was the lyrical and rhythmic pleasure to be enjoyed by the eye as it roamed the angular shapes laid out before it on the canvas.

Of which there are many in Braque’s Man with Guitar. He has deconstructed the guitar into several pieces and then reassembled it in loosely the correct shape, with each element depicting a different viewpoint. The guitar can now be seen from both sides, from the front, even from behind: all at the same time. This is not the sort of straightforward representation a camera could produce, or the mimicry of previous art, but a totally new way of portraying and seeing the musical instrument. Braque has brought a static object alive.

Cézanne pushed the door to Modernism open; these two young adventurers blew it out of its frame. They weren’t copying real life: they were appropriating it. Analytical Cubism was turning into Synthetic Cubism, which is the official term given to Braque and Picasso’s introduction of papier collé, a term that derives from the French coller, to paste or glue. These two great pioneers of art had done it again: they’d invented collage.

And they had one more trick up their artists’ smocks: the three-dimensional papier collé. In today’s contemporary art-speak, these precarious compilations of string, cardboard, wood and painted paper would be called assemblages or maybe even sculptures. But back in 1912 the word assemblage didn’t exist, and sculptures were grand pieces of modelled or carved marble or cast bronze that sat on plinths.

Guitar, by Pablo Picasso (1912)
Guitar, by Pablo Picasso (1912)

When the poet and critic André Salmon visited Picasso’s studio in the autumn of 1912 and saw Guitar hanging on the wall he was nonplussed. The Spanish artist had made a three-dimensional likeness of a guitar by gluing together pieces of folded cardboard, wire and string.
‘What’s that?’ asked Salmon.
‘It’s nothing,’ replied Picasso. ‘It’s “el guitare!”’
‘The’ guitar, you notice, not ‘a’ guitar. Braque and Picasso had been making these three-dimensional models for a while to assist in the plotting of their Cubist paintings. Now they had simply promoted them from understudy to the lead role. It was a final break with tradition. Art could now be made out of anything!

We’ll skip right over Futurism, Orphism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Neo-plasticism, Dadaism (despite its 100th anniversary this year), Surrealism (so many -isms!) and jump straight to Abstract Expressionism.

Peggy Guggenheim was a passionate woman defined by her three great loves: money, men and modern art. Her love of money was inherited in the shape of a fortune that came to her as a child from her industrialist father, who perished on the Titanic. She developed her voracious appetite for men under her own steam, with a list of lovers running into the hundreds – if not thousands. When asked how many husbands she had been through, she replied, ‘My own or other people’s?’ As for her love of modern art, that was acquired through an inquisitive mind and a taste for adventure: a combination that prompted her to abandon uptown, uptight New York for downtown, bohemian Paris when she was twenty-two.

In 1943 Peggy Guggenheim organised a new exhibition Spring Salon for Young Artists at her gallery Art of This Century, which would champion emerging American artists. She relied on an impressively high-powered advisory committee consisting of Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian (now also living in New York) and Alfred Barr, the influential founding director of MoMA. On the eve of the exhibition Peggy went to the gallery to see how the preparations were coming along. She arrived to find many of the paintings still on the floor, leaning against the gallery’s walls waiting to be hung. She looked around the gallery and saw Piet Mondrian crouching down in one corner staring intently at one of the artworks awaiting display. Peggy breezed up to the esteemed Dutchman, knelt beside him and followed his gaze towards the object of his attention. It was a large painting called Stenographic Figure by an unknown young American artist.

Peggy shook her head. ‘Pretty awful, isn’t it,’ she said, embarrassed that such a hopeless picture could have slipped through the net. If shown, it would ruin her reputation in the art world, calling into question her good judgement. Mondrian continued to study the picture. Peggy criticized the technique of the painter who had produced it, declaring that the picture lacked rigour and structure. ‘You can’t compare this to the way you paint,’ she said, flattering Mondrian and hoping to divert his attention away from the oily mess on the floor. The Dutch artist paused, slowly lifted his head and looked at Peggy’s anxious face. ‘It is the most interesting work I’ve seen so far by an American,’ he said. And then, seeing the confusion in her eyes, he slipped into his role as art advisor and added, ‘You should keep an eye on this man.’

Stenographic Figure, by Jackson Pollock (1942)
Stenographic Figure, by Jackson Pollock (1942)

Peggy was astounded. But she was a good listener and knew when and from whom to take advice. Later on, when the exhibition had been hung and the private view was in full swing, she could be seen picking out favoured clients, taking them solicitously by the arm, and whispering into their ear that she wanted to show them something ‘very, very interesting’. She would then lead them to Stenographic Figure and explain with the enthusiasm of an evangelical preacher just what an important and exciting picture it was, and how the man who produced it was the future of American art.

She, with a little help from Mondrian, was right. Stenographic Figure by Jackson Pollock is not an abstract work, nor did it feature any suggestion of the famous ‘drip’ painting technique that he would later develop and make his name with. It owed much to Picasso, Matisse and Miró – the three European artists Pollock most admired. It depicts two spaghetti-like figures sitting at a small table facing each other. They are having a heated debate, gesticulating wildly with their red and brown arms, which cut into the red edges of the table and the painting’s light blue background. The way in which Pollock has tilted the table towards the viewer and formed his two elongated figures points to Picasso’s influence. The American’s regard for Miró can be seen in the scribbled letters (‘stenographic’ meaning the process of writing in shorthand) and the random shapes with which he has covered the image. They ape Miró’s automatism – his stream-of-consciousness Surrealist painting technique. Matisse’s presence can be felt in the bright Fauvist colour palette that Pollock has employed.

Later the same year, Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Pollock to paint a mural for her New York townhouse. Pollock was already thinking big having been inspired to do so by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (husband of Frida Kahlo), who had been invited by several American cities to come and paint his giant wall-covering artworks.

Pollock was delighted to have the commission, but had no idea what to paint. He had artist’s block. The months rolled by as he stared at his huge 6-metre-long blank canvas and waited for inspiration. He waited and waited and waited. Six months came and went and still there was not one mark of paint on his bare canvas. Peggy’s patience had run out – she told Pollock that it had to be now or never. Pollock chose the former. And so, in one ferocious all-night session of painting and passion, he set to. By the end of the following morning he had finished the painting, and, without knowing it, had started a new art movement that would be called Abstract Expressionism.

Mural, by Jackson Pollock (1943) at University of Iowa Museum of Art
Mural, by Jackson Pollock (1943) at University of Iowa Museum of Art

That is the myth, that Pollock had painted the epic canvas in one great, glorious burst of nonstop creative fervor. Science has busted the myth and a Getty paint study, coupled with other research, convincingly shows that the painting evolved over many days and perhaps even several weeks.

Mural has many of the hallmarks of early Abstract Expressionism, which at this stage was all about the raw physical mark, or ‘gesture’, made when an artist applied paint to the canvas. Quieter, more contemplative styles would come later, but at the beginning it was Pollock’s method of action painting that established the movement. His was an art made with a volcanic, instinctive power that erupted from deep within him and burst out in a fit of painting on to the canvas. An artwork like Mural was the result. It is both abstract and expressive. A swirling mass of thick white paint looks as if it has crashed into the canvas like a breaking wave. It is broken up by vivid patches of yellow that have been divided by loosely painted, but quite evenly spaced, vertical lines of black and green. There is no central area to which the eye is drawn: this is an ‘all-over’ painting. Imagine what 100 raw eggs thrown against a concrete wall full of graffiti might look like and you’d be on your way to visualizing Pollock’s Mural.

In November 1943 Peggy gave Pollock his first solo show at Art of This Century. The show started with all the paintings for sale and ended with all the paintings for sale. But it had attracted some notable potential customers. The most important of whom was Alfred Barr, the director of MoMA. He was particularly taken with Pollock’s painting The She-Wolf. And MoMA became the first museum in the world to buy a work by Jackson Pollock (for $650!!! or about $9000 is today’s dollars) .

The She-Wolf, by Jackson Pollock (1943)
The She-Wolf, by Jackson Pollock (1943)

Jackson Pollock made his first batch of drip paintings in 1947. The critics were unimpressed, dismissing the paintings as random, unrecognizable and meaningless. Back then you could buy one of the drip paintings for $150 (or $1000 in today’s dollars). And you could sell it now for $140 million!

In 1950, Hans Namuth, a German-born photographer, approached Pollock and asked to photograph him at work in his studio. The black and white photographs captured, for the first time, the painterly method and instinctive choreography of Pollock’s technique (the images were to be a precursor to performance art). They also helped create a romantic mythology around the artist. In the moody, mid-motion shots, Pollock was cast as a passionate and pensive artist and an all-action-man. Dressed in jeans and black T-shirt, with rippling forearms and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, he appears more like a James Dean type movie star than the clichéd image of a cerebral and detached artist. He is depicted as a heroic figure, working away on his own, desperately trying to express his feelings by marking the canvas beneath his feet with paint. People saw him pouring his heart out in his paint and felt his pain.

Jackson Pollock painting Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950 - Photograph by Hans Namuth
Jackson Pollock painting Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950 – Photograph by Hans Namuth
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock (1950) at the Met Fifth Avenue
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock (1950) at the Met Fifth Avenue

One, Number 31, one of the largest Pollock paintings, is considered another masterpiece of his “drip” technique. The work conveys great energy with an intricate web of tans, blues and grays lashed through black and white. There is no sign of any brushwork because there is none. He laid his canvas on the floor and vigorously dripped, poured and flicked household paint all over it. He attacked the canvas from its four sides: walked across it, stood in the middle – became part of the painting. He manipulated the wet paint with trowels, knives and sticks, added sand or glass or cigarette butts – stirred things up, threw things down: made a mess.

One: Number 31, 1950, by Jackson Pollock (1950) at MoMA
One: Number 31, 1950, by Jackson Pollock (1950)

Initially, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg only wanted to offer an alternative to what they considered to be the overpowering, testosterone-fuelled Abstract Expressionists. Both Johns and Rauschenberg felt that the Abstract Expressionists had lost touch with reality. They had become too wrapped up in themselves and had abandoned real subjects in favour of grand pronouncements of their own feelings. The two young Americans represented a new generation that wanted to reflect and discuss the reality of the humdrum life around them, which was modern America in the 1950s. From their New York studio they worked together, shared ideas, and critiqued what they produced. It was a partnership of two like-minded artists who helped each other reach new heights and break new ground in their own individual styles. The work that Johns and Rauschenberg produced paved the way for Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein: the two high priests of American Pop Art.

Johns’s famous early painting Flag owes plenty to Duchamp for the everyday, ubiquitous nature of the subject – the American flag. A cursory glance at Flag tells us that, yes, we are indeed looking at the Stars and Stripes, but go closer and look properly (something you have to do in front of the object in MoMA, as it is not possible to reproduce the effect in print) and you will see that Johns has not painted the image solely on to a canvas. It is actually a patchwork of layers, mounted on plywood, made from scraps of newspaper and canvas, painted using an ancient encaustic technique where molten wax is mixed with pure pigment. The combination of the different materials and textured paint gives the picture a lumpy, bumpy, bubbling surface, an effect that Johns has heightened by allowing his paint to drip down the canvas like wax from a candle.

Flag, by Jasper Johns (1954)
Flag, by Jasper Johns (1954)

Rauschenberg and Johns succeeded in the task they had set themselves in their New York studio during the 1950s. They had determined to free American modern art from the chilly grip of Abstract Expressionism, and that they had done. Their images of, and appropriations from, popular culture stopped being seen as a joke and started to be taken seriously. Influential curators from MoMA would make their way to Manhattan’s leading art galleries – such as Betty Parsons and Leo Castelli – to see at first hand the latest work by these two young Americans. There they would quietly peruse and identify pieces to purchase and add to their impressive collections of modern art.

Andy Warhol would stand and look at the work of Rauschenberg and Johns and despair. What could he – a mere commercial artist working in advertising – do to match the impact being made by those two bold artists?

While Johns mainly chose objects so familiar that they were overlooked, Warhol would take images so popular that they already had mass appeal – he would be as bold and brash as the adverts and products surrounding him in Manhattan.

He couldn’t find a New York gallery to show his work, but he did in Los Angeles. In July 1962, at Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery in LA, thirty-two paintings by Andy Warhol of Campbell’s Soup Cans were exhibited. They were presented on thirty-two separate canvases, each depicting a different flavour in the Campbell’s range. Irving Blum had wittily hung them in a single horizontal line supported by a shallow white shelf, as if they were still in a food store. The intention was to sell each canvas individually for $100, but by the end of the show there were only five takers. By this time Blum had developed a taste for Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans. He liked seeing them en masse, and started to think that they worked better as an overall piece rather than as single units: the sum, he thought, was greater than the parts. He put it to Warhol that the work should be reconceived as one entity featuring thirty-two canvases. The artist agreed. Which makes Blum a co-creator of one of the twentieth century’s most famous artworks.

With Warhol’s agreement, the art dealer went about buying back the five previously sold Campbell’s Soup Can canvases – all of which had remained in the gallery awaiting collection once the exhibition had finished. As a unified work Campbell’s Soup Cans would not only define Warhol as an artist, but they would also define Pop Art, and the movement’s overriding obsession with mass-production and consumer culture.

Andy Warhol, Campbells Soup Cans, 1962
Campbells Soup Cans, by Andy Warhol (1962)

Warhol had succeeded in removing almost all evidence of his presence from the paintings; there are no stylistic ticks, no look-at-me flourishes in any one of the thirty-two canvases. The power of the work was in its dispassionate coldness, communicated by the apparent absence of the artist’s hand. Its repetitive nature parodies the methods of modern advertising, which aims to infiltrate the public’s consciousness in order to indoctrinate and persuade by bombarding us with multiple exposures of the same image. Warhol is also challenging the convention that art should be original with his studied uniformity of his Campbell’s Soup Cans. Their sameness goes against the traditions of the art market, which places value – financial and artistic – on perceived rarity and uniqueness.

Warhol’s decision not to create his own graphic style but to mimic that of the Campbell’s soup cans has a social and political dimension. It is a Duchampian rebuke to the art world for elevating artists to the role of all-seeing geniuses, as well as being a comment on the diminished status of individual workers in the homogenized world of mass-production. Warhol presses that particular point with his method of production. Although the thirty-two Campbell’s Soup Cans appear identical, they are in fact all different. Go up close and you will see that the brushwork is not quite the same on any one of the canvases. Look even closer and you’ll notice that at times the label’s design has been changed. Behind the apparent soullessness of the repeated motif is the hand of the artist, an individual whose task it was to make the work. Just as it is the efforts of individuals unknown and uncredited that are behind the creation of a can of Campbell’s soup.

Comics were obvious territory for the artists of the fast-emerging Pop Art movement to explore, and Lichtenstein and Warhol (and another painter called James Rosenquist) arrived at the same idea almost simultaneously. The difference between them, though, was Lichtenstein’s technical approach. Yes, he mimicked the graphic style, lettering and speech-bubbles of comic strips, but he also copied the printing process by which they were made.

In the 1960s, colour comics used a printing technique called Ben-Day Dots. It is based on the same principles as Georges Seurat’s Pointillism, whereby dots of colour are applied to a white surface with space left around them. The human eye detects a colour ‘glow’ surrounding each dot and takes on the task of mixing it with the other coloured dots in the vicinity. This was beneficial to printers and their comic clients. If the printer wasn’t covering all the paper in ink, but just dotting it with colour, there was a decent financial saving to be had.

Lichtenstein copied the system and in doing so happened upon a style that made his paintings instantly recognizable. In the autumn of 1961 he went to show his new work to Leo Castelli, the influential New York gallery owner. The astute Castelli liked what he saw. He knew Warhol was pursuing a similar path and therefore mentioned to the artist that he had just seen Lichtenstein’s dot paintings. Warhol immediately went to take a look at Lichtenstein’s canvases, studied them for a while, and decided to move away from comic-strip art for good.

Drowning Girl, by Roy Lichtenstein (1963) at MoMA
Drowning Girl, by Roy Lichtenstein (1963)

Lichtenstein’s Pop icon is at once a coolly ironic deconstruction of pulp melodrama and a formally dynamic—even moving—composition, thanks largely to the interplay of the subject’s hair (swept into a perfect Mad Men–era coif) and the waves (which seem to have wandered in from a Hokusai print) threatening her. The image, a crop from a panel in an early-’60s comic book titled Run for Love!, shows that Lichtenstein’s in full command of his style, employing not only by his well-known Ben-Day dots, but also bold black lines corralling areas of deep blue. It’s a complete stunner.

That concept of blurring the boundaries between art and commerce was ingeniously realized by the Swedish-born American artist Claes Oldenburg. His Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture is not at MoMA, but we did find some cherries 🙂

Cherries, by Philip Guston (1976)
Cherries, by Philip Guston (1976)

The Cherries are by Philip Guston, an example of his late style representational paintings.

In the 1950s, Philip Guston achieved success and renown as a first-generation abstract expressionist, although he preferred the term New York School. Guston used a relatively limited palette favoring black and white, greys and reds. It was a palette that would remain evident in his later work. In 1960, at the peak of his activity as an abstractionist, Guston said, “There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art. That painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, therefore we habitually analyse its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is ‘impure’. It is the adjustment of ‘impurities’ which forces its continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden.” In the late 1960s Guston helped to lead a transition from abstract expressionism to neo-expressionism in painting, abandoning so-called “pure abstraction” in favor of more representational, cartoonish renderings of various personal situations, symbols and objects. He is known to the world for his cartoonish paintings of an existential, lugubrious nature that used a limited palette and were created in the period after 1968.

Excerpts from ‘What Are You Looking At?’ by Will Gompertz.

On the Museum Trail in New York City

New York is home to some of the world’s finest examples of Ancient, Old Master, Impressionist, Modern and bleeding-edge contemporary work and there’s a museum for every taste and every interest. New York is especially rich in museum holdings of art, with something for everyone, even little bears!

You can usually expect a shoving-match just to catch a momentary glance at Van Gogh’s Starry Night at MoMA, but little Puffles and Honey got it all to themselves!

The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889) at MoMA
The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889) at MoMA

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” wrote van Gogh to his brother Theo, describing his inspiration for The Starry Night (1889). The window to which he refers was in the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where he sought respite from his emotional suffering while continuing to make art.

Known the world over as MoMA, the glassy Yoshio Taniguchi-designed Midtown building for the Museum of Modern Art houses one of the most influential collections of modern art in the world. Van Goch, Cézanne, Matisse, Magritte, Picasso, Pollock and Warhol are all here. But aside from the painting, sculpture and photography galleries there is also performance art, architecture, design and a collection of 22,000 films.

MoMA
MoMA

Founded in 1929, the MoMA is home to more than 150,000 pieces of Modern and contemporary art, from paintings and photographs to sculptures and films. It houses one of the world’s finest collections of art from the 18th century through today and some of Modern art’s most recognizable works: van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí (1931)
The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí (1931)
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, by Pablo Picasso (1907)
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, by Pablo Picasso (1907)

You could spend a day getting lost in the permanent exhibits, which showcase all manner of priceless pieces from renowned artists. But just as essential are this museum’s other elements, including an attached cinema that combines art-house fare and more accessible offerings, and a sculpture garden with works by Picasso and Rodin.

Sculpture Garden, MoMA
Sculpture Garden, MoMA

The bright, clean architecture of MoMA – all glass, open spaces and high ceilings – is a gleaming masterwork of contemporary design, and the perfect setting for viewing the greatest collection of modern art in the world as well as MoMA’s revolving series of retrospectives of past masters and shows from the leading artists of today. An $858 million expansion and renovation of the Midtown headquarters of the museum by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi was completed in 2004, doubling its size and adding an elegant granite, aluminum and glass façade and loftlike galleries.

The entrance to the Museum of Modern Art is tucked beneath a demure facade of granite and glass in Midtown Manhattan.

MoMA
MoMA

Its clean, regular planes mark Yoshio Taniguchi’s 2004 addition to the MoMA’s sequence of facades, which he preserved as a record of its form. Taniguchi’s contribution sits beside the 1984 residential tower by Cesar Pelli and Associates, followed by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone’s original 1939 building, then Philip Johnson’s 1964 addition. Taniguchi was hired in 1997 to expand the Museum’s space and synthesize its disparate elements. His elegant, minimal solution presents a contemporary face for the MoMA while adhering to its Modernist roots.

Up the concrete staircase, on the second floor, is the true heart of the new MoMA – the four-story-high Marron Atrium, which the New York Times called the “most prominent sign of the museum’s giddy embrace of the new and the next, of large-scale installation and video art, as well as performance art, generally of art as entertainment and spectacle.” Upstairs, there are architectural and photo exhibits and video installation rooms, which periodically showcase major retrospectives of master modern artists or comprehensive thematic exhibitions like Abstract Expressionism in New York.

MoMA, Atrium
MoMA, Marron Atrium

The fourth and fifth floors house the permanent collections, featuring such famous works as Jasper Johns’ Flag, van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, as well as a broad selection of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Rothko’s mood-altering canvases of pure color.

One: Number 31, 1950, by Jackson Pollock (1950) at MoMA
One: Number 31, 1950, by Jackson Pollock (1950) at MoMA
MoMA, Rothko Room
MoMA, Rothko Room

While moving through the galleries, visitors encounter unexpected views of New York’s streets and skyline.

On the Museum Trail in New York City

The MoMA Store is a curated treasure trove of products from top designers and a must-visit for cool souvenirs and gifts!

Across the street from MoMA is the Baccarat Hotel where little bears indulged at the Grand Salon.

Dessert at the Grand Salon
Lemon cherry tart at the Grand Salon

All fortified, Puffles and Honey went to check out the Gilded Age home of Henry Clay Frick, now an intimate museum filled with European masters. The former home is a remarkable Upper East Side mansion with a Roman atrium, garden courtyard, and an outstanding collection of works by the likes of Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Rembrandt and other renaissance masters. Most are still hung the way they were when Frick was alive.

Frick Collection
Frick Collection

Henry Clay Frick opened his New York City residence to the public on December 16, 1935. The Garden Court was created during the transformation of the mansion into a museum in 1935 by architect John Russell Pope.

Garden Court, Frick Collection
Garden Court, Frick Collection
Living Hall, Frick Collection
Living Hall, Frick Collection
Comtesse d'Haussonville, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1845)
Comtesse d’Haussonville, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1845)

“Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture” was a stunning exhibition of some 100 paintings, drawings and prints by the Flemish master on view at the Frick Collection.

On the Museum Trail in New York City

Henry Clay Frick had a passion for van Dyck’s work and was an early US collector of his portraits; the exhibition complements five outstanding subjects, including elegant women, such as the Genoese Noblewoman (1625-27) and Countess of Clanbrassil (ca. 1636), who are already at home at the Frick.

Genoese Noblewoman, by Anthony van Dyck ( ca. 1625–27)
Genoese Noblewoman, by Anthony van Dyck ( ca. 1625–27)

The collection also includes one of the finest groups of small bronzes in the world, 18th century French furniture and porcelains.

On the Museum Trail in New York City

Portico Gallery, Frick Collection
Portico Gallery, Frick Collection

A leisurely 15 minute walk along Fifth Avenue from the Frick Collection is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum Mile, as it is known, is a stretch of Fifth Avenue, across the street from Central Park, where one can find many of the best museums in New York City.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Known simply as The Met, this iconic museum on the eastern side of Central Park is so enormous you’ll be overwhelmed if you don’t narrow your focus. The collection features Greek, Roman, African, ancient Egyptian and Byzantine galleries, as well as modern American art, and paintings and sculptures of the European masters – everyone from Rembrandt and Vermeer, to Van Gogh and Picasso. There are also musical instruments, costumes, antique weaponry and body armour.

Dating from the time of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (ca. 15 B.C.) the walk-in temple is a stunning example of the period. It is beautiful from afar, but get closer and you’ll see the intricate carvings of lotus blossoms, vultures and deities. It is also housed in one of the Met’s most beautiful rooms, and is framed by floor-to-ceiling glass with a stunning view of Central Park.

The Egyptian Temple of Dendur
The Egyptian Temple of Dendur
Greek and Roman Art, Met
Greek and Roman Art, Met
European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Met
European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Met

Impressionist master Edgar Degas is known for his many paintings of dancers, but his bronze sculpture The Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer is a standout. His model and muse Marie van Goethem was a ballet student at the Paris Opera and it is obvious he took great care with her depiction, particularly her stance. It is a rare departure from paint for Degas, and in interesting mix of media, with the skirt made of cotton and satin hair ribbon adorning the bronze figure.

The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, by Edgar Degas
The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, by Edgar Degas

Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) is another perennial favorite at the Museum. Autumn Rhythm is evocative of nature, not only in its title but also in its coloring, horizontal orientation, and sense of ground and space.

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock (1950) at the Met Fifth Avenue
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock (1950) at the Met Fifth Avenue

Little bears made a beeline for Brâncuși again.

The Met - Bird in Space, 1923 (Marble)
The Met – Bird in Space, 1923 (Marble)
The Met - Sleeping Muse, 1910 (Bronze)
The Met – Sleeping Muse, 1910 (Bronze)
The Met - Nancy Cunard, 1932 (Polished bronze)
The Met – Nancy Cunard, 1932 (Polished bronze)

🙂

"Smiling" figure Metropolitan Museum of Art Mexico; Remojadas 7th-8th century
The Met – “Smiling” figure
Mexico; Remojadas
7th-8th century

Another short walk along Fifth Avenue and Puffles and Honey reached Frank Lloyd Wright’s concrete edifice, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The iconic spiral is considered as much a work of art as the paintings it houses. In addition to pieces by masters such as Manet, Picasso and Chagall, the institution holds the most Kandinskys in the US, as well as one of the largest collections of Mapplethorpes in the world. The Guggenheim always presents interesting and innovative exhibitions, and the museum’s layout is like no other, as visitors experience the artwork along a huge ramp that spirals up around the entire interior of the cylindrical building. Apparently Wright intended that the visit begin at the bottom and wander around to the top.

Puffles and Honey decided to start from the top!

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Another Brâncuși!

Guggenheim Museum - Muse, 1912 (Marble)
Guggenheim Museum – Muse, 1912 (Marble)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

This month, the Guggenheim a toilet in one of the restroom with a fully functional replica cast in 18-karat gold, making available to the public an extravagant luxury product seemingly intended for the one per cent. The extravagant piece is a social commentary on the disparities between and the “haves” and the “have-nots” of the world — which visitors are invited to reflect upon whilst they “make use of the fixture individually and privately”.

America, by Maurizio Cattelan (2016)
America, by Maurizio Cattelan (2016)

Cattelan’s work has been compared to Marcel Duchamp’s piece Fountain (signed R. Mutt 1917), a porcelain urinal which caused ripples in the art world when Duchamp submitted it for the annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. It was rejected, but is now regarded as one of the most iconic pieces of 20th century art and on display at Tate Modern, London.

Across Manhattan in the Meatpacking District is the brand new home of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Whitney Museum of American Art Entrance
Whitney Museum of American Art Entrance

Planted at the foot of the Highline along Ganesvoort Street, the new Whitney building boasts some 6,000 square meters of both indoor and outdoor exhibition space. Founded in 1931 by sculptor and art patron Gertrude Vanderbilt, the Whitney is dedicated to presenting the work of American artists. Its collection holds about 15,000 pieces by nearly 2,000 artists, including Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper (the museum holds his entire estate), Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keeffe and Claes Oldenburg. Still, the museum’s reputation rests mainly on its temporary shows, particularly the exhibition everyone loves to hate, the Whitney Biennial. Held in even-numbered years, the Biennial remains the most prestigious (and controversial) assessment of contemporary art in America.

White Snow #3, by Paul McCarthy (2012) at Whitney Museum of American Art
White Snow #3, by Paul McCarthy (2012) at Whitney Museum of American Art
Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection
Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection

Human Interest: Portraits From the Whitney’s Collection is an enormous, dizzying mishmash of a show that’s big on weird and basically all about ego.

Standing Julian, by Urs Fischer (2016)
Standing Julian, by Urs Fischer (2015)

A larger-than-life wax portrait of the artist Julian Schnabel by Urs Fischer is on the sixth floor, near the terrace. There Mr. Schnabel stands, hands in pockets, dressed in painter’s duds, regarding his own reflection, along with that of Manhattan behind him, in an enormous mirror. Easy to miss at first is the small flame, a real one, burning atop his head. The spark of inspiration? The fire of genius? The sculpture is a giant candle, lighted daily, and slowly melting. Before this collection show finishes its run, comes down and is replaced by another, the portrait will be, if not entirely gone, melted beyond recognition, like a selfie snapped in bad light. So much, the piece seems to say, for the power of personality and the permanence of art, and its fashions and values, which is a healthy message for the Whitney to deliver in its new home.

Standing Julian, by Urs Fischer (2015)
Standing Julian, by Urs Fischer (2015)

Little Puffles and Honey thought the best thing about the museum was the view!

Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art

And even better is the best cherry pie at Bubby’s across the street 🙂

Best cherry pie in NYC at Bubby's High Line
Best cherry pie in NYC at Bubby’s High Line

A Week in Manhattan

The Big Apple

Jazz at the Lincoln Centre, Allen Room
Jazz at the Lincoln Centre, Allen Room
Jazz at the Lincoln Centre, Body & Soul
Jazz at the Lincoln Centre, Body & Soul
A walk in Central Park after dinner
A walk through Central Park to dinner
Dinner at Allegria, 66 W 55th St
Dinner at Allegria, 66 W 55th St
Avenue of the Americas, NYC - LOVE, by Robert Indiana, polychrome aluminium
After dinner rest 🙂 – LOVE, by Robert Indiana, polychrome aluminium
Welcome Parade, by Jean Dubuffet
Welcome Parade, by Jean Dubuffet
Chrysler Building
Chrysler Building
Chrysler Building Lobby
Chrysler Building Lobby
General Electric Building Lobby
General Electric Building Lobby
Channelling Marilyn
Channelling Marilyn
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal
Bellini at Cipriani Dolci, Grand Central Terminal
Bellini at Cipriani Dolci, Grand Central Terminal
Waldorf-Astoria, Peacock Alley Restaurant
Waldorf-Astoria, Peacock Alley Restaurant

Oz Manhattan

Something Cheeky

Around the Island Architecture Cruise
Around the Island Architecture Cruise
Around the Island Architecture Cruise - Statue of Liberty
Around the Island Architecture Cruise – Statue of Liberty
Lunch at Chelsea Markets
Lunch at Chelsea Markets
Dessert at Chelsea Markets
Dessert at Chelsea Markets
High Line
High Line
High Line
High Line
White Snow #3, by Paul McCarthy (2012) at Whitney Museum of American Art
White Snow #3, by Paul McCarthy (2012) at Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
Bubby's High Line
Bubby’s High Line
Best cherry pie in NYC at Bubby's High Line
Best cherry pie in NYC at Bubby’s High Line

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Cherry pies from Sarabeth's Bakery
Cherry pies from Sarabeth’s Bakery
Woolworth Building Lobby
Woolworth Building Lobby
Woolworth Building Lobby
Woolworth Building Lobby
Woolworth Building Lobby
Woolworth Building Lobby
Safe Deposit Vault in Woolworth Building
Safe Deposit Vault in Woolworth Building
Metropolitan Opera House
Metropolitan Opera House
Metropolitan Opera House
Metropolitan Opera House
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock (1950) at the Met Fifth Avenue
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock (1950) at the Met Fifth Avenue
The Met - Bird in Space, 1923 (Marble)
The Met – Bird in Space, 1923 (Marble)
The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889) at MoMA
The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (1889) at MoMA
MoMA Brâncuși Collection
MoMA Brâncuși Collection
Dessert at the Grand Salon
Dessert at the Grand Salon
Hans Christian Andersen Statue, Central Park
Hans Christian Andersen Statue, Central Park
The Mall in Central Park
The Mall in Central Park
Alice in Wonderland in Central Park
Alice in Wonderland in Central Park
Dinner at the Boathouse, Central Park
Dinner at the Boathouse, Central Park
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
United Nations Building
United Nations Building
Roosevelt Island Tramway
Roosevelt Island Tramway
Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island
Aladdin on Broadway
Aladdin at New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway
New Amsterdam Theatre
New Amsterdam Theatre
The Little Mermaid, Sebastian's hat and somebody's funny glasses :smile:
The Little Mermaid, Sebastian’s hat and somebody’s funny glasses 🙂
Lion King masks
Lion King masks
Lion King at Minskoff Theatre
Lion King at Minskoff Theatre
Lion King at Minskoff Theatre
Lion King at Minskoff Theatre
Star Trek Shuttlecraft Galileo
Star Trek Shuttlecraft Galileo at Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
OV-101 Enterprise Dates of service: September 1976 to November 1985 Missions flown: Five atmospheric glide tests Time in space: 0 Total orbits flown: 0
OV-101 Enterprise Shuttle at Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Fuller Building
Fuller Building
The Russian Tea Room
The Russian Tea Room
Dessert at The Russian Tea Room
Dessert at The Russian Tea Room
Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall
Christmas in New York Store, 530 5th Ave
Christmas in New York Store, 530 5th Ave
New York Public Library
New York Public Library
New York Public Library
New York Public Library
Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
Jane's Carousel
Jane’s Carousel
Jane's Carousel
Jane’s Carousel
The Cherry Orchard of Delancey St Station
The Cherry Orchard of Delancey St Station
Hall of Fame for Great Americans
Hall of Fame for Great Americans
Hall of Fame for Great Americans
Hall of Fame for Great Americans
M&M Store, Times Square
M&M Store, Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Lunch from the Halal Guys
Lunch from the Halal Guys

Cool in New York City

🙂