Saturdays are for Day Trips to The Portland Museum of Art

 

Going to school in Cambridge, MA means I'm extremely close to Portland, ME - a quaint area known for a burgeoning art scene and the ease of weekend trip-ability. This past Saturday, courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums Student Board & Student Guide program, my friends and I took a bus to check out all the fuss for ourselves. 

Given that the semester is coming to a close and that senior spring nostalgia is hitting (despite the fact that I'm a junior and fully have another school year ahead of me), escaping campus provided unexpected relief from some self-imposed woes. It took exploring the Portland Museum of Art to make me feel at home, in a city I had never visited before. And to catalyze that comfort, I have Joan Miró to thank. 

After scoping out the Biennial Show in which I found photographs by John Harlow who spliced his imagery with his wife's journal entries, Anne Buckwater's innovative mounting method for her paper works, and Becca Albee's intriguing commentary on feminist literature by condensing her annotations per chapter on one page, I peeled away from my peers and travelled upstairs. 

John Harlow,  Garish Sunlight , 2016

John Harlow, Garish Sunlight, 2016

Anne Buckwalter,  The Republic of Hysteria,  2017

Anne Buckwalter, The Republic of Hysteria, 2017

Becca Albee,  RADICAL FEMINIST THERAPY: Working in the Context of Violence,  2016

Becca Albee, RADICAL FEMINIST THERAPY: Working in the Context of Violence, 2016

Seeking fresh air and a moment of silence, I found myself face to face with a time machine. No, not actually. But I stumbled upon a Miró I had never seen before. But the gestural and jovial marks familiar to this artist transported me to my grandmother's apartment circa 2003. I'm sitting in her kitchenette eating turkey and butter sandwiches on challah rolls, and laughing at something my sister said that my grandmother must not have found as amusing. While I'm no longer 6 years old nor in my grandmother's Miami Beach apartment, standing in front of this Miró provided me a momentary glimpse into my past. 

Joan Miró,  Untitled,  circa 1981

Joan Miró, Untitled, circa 1981

This is what I love about art: it's ability to transport and to resonate. Art has a way of making you feel something, and allowing you to see in abstraction what you're looking for. And what I was looking for, in that moment, was comfort. And comfort I found in this untitled "chickadee" looking work. 

(left) Joan Miró,  The First Spark of Day III , 1966   (right) Adolph Gottlieb,  Green Ground , 1968

(left) Joan Miró, The First Spark of Day III, 1966 

(right) Adolph Gottlieb, Green Ground, 1968

In another room on a different floor, I encountered a corner that instantly made me smile. Perhaps it was the brighter colors to contrast my somber mood, but I also found it shocking that the painting that most moved me was another Miró. This one, entitled The First Spark of Day III simply made me happy. And having it juxtaposed with Adolph Gottlieb's Green Ground created an instant happy place (or corner, at that) for me in the museum. 

Other works in the museum were less heart striking, but I still enjoyed encountering new artists and new mediums. Like this Porch Mattress by Duncan Hewitt - it's made entirely of painted wood! Or this René Magritte painting that had me doing a double take at first, before I noticed the slight of hand ;) 

Duncan Hewitt,  Porch Mattress,  2000

Duncan Hewitt, Porch Mattress, 2000

René Magritte,  The Tempest , circa 1944

René Magritte, The Tempest, circa 1944

So I'd say that the two hour bus ride to Portland was well worth it, given that it brought me instantly closer to home - and that trip is usually a 3 hour flight. 

The Harvard Art Museums Student Board & Student Guide Program, 2018. Courtesy of @harvardarthappens. 

The Harvard Art Museums Student Board & Student Guide Program, 2018. Courtesy of @harvardarthappens. 

Xx, Maia 
 

How Emotionally Resonant are Rothko's, Really?

 

If you know me (or have kept up with recent posts), you know how intrigued I am by color. So much so, I'm probably writing my senior thesis about it. I'm particularly curious about how different uses of color in art can accelerate emotional connectivity and convey artist's messages in a more experiential way. As an intangible element of art, color has several characteristics that come into play when discussing how it affects viewers.

Unlike some other more upbeat and whimsical employments of color, Mark Rothko explores the darker side of color's capabilities. "Darker” not only represents the harsher tones and somber affect present in the works of Mark Rothko, but also how the content dealt with in his work tends to be heavier, his execution more rough and visceral, and his desired message to convey is more desperate.

Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist working in the 1940’s-70’s, painting massive color field canvases to expel the tension and despair he dealt with throughout his life. After being diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm, Rothko began using materials that reflected the instability of his condition. Therefore, his paintings tend to degrade at a quick rate, and have been subjected to various conservation techniques; most excitingly that of the Harvard Art Museums in 2015 who projected corrective light on the canvas to restore their original appearance.

Photo courtesy Peter Vanderwarker

Photo courtesy Peter Vanderwarker

Looking at several of his canvases on display at the MFA, it’s interesting to pick apart the elements of his works that contribute to the particular feeling of experiencing them in person. Taking into consideration materials, size, and color palette, we can begin to understand what’s at play in a Rothko painting.

Rothko himself described his works as transcendent. Evidenced in No.9 (1948), a more jovial painting in color scheme, the colors act an actionable agents.

“I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers. They have been created from the need for a group of actors who are able to move dramatically without embarrassment and execute gestures without shame.”

(Mark Rothko quoted in MFA Wall Text)

No. 9  (1948)

No. 9 (1948)

This canvas depicts movement and the vibration of layered swatches. The colors, here, pulsate, perhaps due to the technique of watering down some of his pigments to allow for transparency in layering.

In Untitled (1949), Rothko starts to move towards a darker palette familiar to his “classic style.” Here, the colors struck me more personally, instantly eliciting a nostalgic memory of eating rainbow cookies in my childhood. Thus, the canvas managed to depict the colors of my heritage and helped me connect in an overtly symbolic manner.

By No.1 (1961), Rothko employed darker colors described in the wall text as, “the artist contrasts two muted green rectangles with a third, smaller shape of fiery red, all set against a somber maroon ground.” (MFA Wall Text) Notice how the descriptors of the colors are all emotive: "muted," "fiery," "somber."

No. 1  (1961)

No. 1 (1961)

Lastly, in No.8 (1964), the wall text emphasizes how:

Rothko’s black paintings are often discussed in terms of the artist’s own struggles with illness and depression. But in the visible spectrum, black is the absorption of all colors - look closely here for the variations in tone and hue across the painting’s dark surface.” (MFA Wall Text)

Here, more so than in any of the other works on display, Rothko forces viewers to immerse themselves in close looking - for with just a cursory glance, they might miss the subtle differences in the black paints used.

No. 8  (1964)

No. 8 (1964)

In my brief time at the MFA, I was able to witness, firsthand, how people’s experiences of Rothko’s differ. Some people scrutinize with close looking. Some people sit and contemplate. And some people stand, get consumed by the canvas, and cry. The emotions of the viewer, thus mirror the emotions imbued in the canvas - in Rothko’s case, with color. 

No. 10  (1949)

No. 10 (1949)

Xx, Maia