Saturday, January 30, 2016

Rocky Steps To The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I've not yet seen the film "Creed" for which Sylvester Stallone is an Oscar nominee.

But I have seen the movie's final scene, which has one of the best closing lines of any recent feature release. For this writer, it's actually the second or third to the last line that's perfect, but who's counting?  

For the uninitiated, like the original "Rocky" released 40 years ago, "Creed" (the former's sixth sequel) features Philadelphia, a city I had, until recently, only experienced from an Amtrak seat in 1994, an Interstate drive en route to New York in '96, and a flight connection to Stamford, Conn., in 2009. 

As mentioned on a previous post, this month finally provided time to explore the City of Brotherly Love following some work travel to the Keystone State. 

Though it was not the only destination on my Philly wish list, the outstanding Philadelphia Museum of Art is probably my favorite. 

Like its peer museums the Chicago Art Institute, The Met in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington and The Getty in L.A., the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a massive, historic structure filled with treasures (more than 225,000 in its collections) -- I was on campus for nearly five hours and only experienced half of its main building! 

But before describing the richness within its galleries or other nearby museum-managed venues, a few notes on the approach. 

My trek to the museum was blessed with good weather on a sunny Saturday morning. If time permits and a clear sky is forecast, arrival at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by foot may be the best approach. Given the chance again, my choice in the future may be to hike from the city center to the museum, which sits prominently atop its own hill. 

In my case, I set an Uber driver on a course from my hotel (the fine Club Quarters) to the three-way corner of 23rd Street, Spring Garden and Pennsylvania Ave., then walked a few blocks to the lawns along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at the foot of the museum's famous "Rocky Steps." 

Three things surprised me facing the Philadelphia Museum of Art. First, there is a bronze statue of Sylvester Stallone. Second, that statue is now on view at the base of the steps the actor made famous (more specifically, folks lined up to hold up their fists in victory to the right side or eastern corner of the museum grounds). And third, though not entirely surprising, there were a lot of people running up the ascent to the museum plaza's spectacular views into downtown. 

Like hailing a cab in New York, sampling toasted ravioli in St. Louis or wading in the Malibu surf, every American should at least once take their jog up these steps. And, yes, plenty of folks had Bill Conti's Oscar nominated theme song "Gonna Fly Now" playing on their phones.

Inside the museum, prepared to be amazed.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art's enormous Great Stair Hall atrium provides a glimpse of what it may have been like to stand inside the Parthenon in its Athens heyday.

Dozens of marble steps, soaring ceilings, and giant columns frame a 14-foot sculpture titled "Diana." I learned later, this work was originally a weather vane atop Madison Square Garden.

Alexander Calder's monumental mobile "Ghost" dangles from above, with its curved metal taking aim like the archery bow in Diana's grasp.

Acknowledging my schedule would not permit a race through every single gallery, I focused on the Modern and Contemporary Art galleries, the American Art section and on a search for every Georgia O'Keeffe on view.

The very first painting to greet my eyes featured hometown Philly and American hero Benjamin Franklin and his shocking discovery of electricity.

This small canvas was familiar as it appeared on a U.S. postage stamp collected in youthful philately days.

I was impressed by the giant canvas "The Gross Clinic" and the similar, latter painting 'The Agnew Clinic" by Philadelphia's own Thomas Eakins.

These paintings vividly depict surgeries in progress, and they are so real as to induce a wince and cringe by me (just like a female covering her eyes in "The Gross Clinic").

Eakins also created the Stallone-free boxing scene "Between Rounds" that took me back to portraits by N.C. Wyeth viewed two days earlier at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Like the Wyeths, Eakin's boxing figures may have inspired Texas-based contemporary artist Bart Forbes' creations featuring Olympic athletes playing their sports.

An unusually moving find was an in-gallery fireplace, mantle and door, which I mistook for a Frank Lloyd Wright but turned out to be a hearth and entry created by Philadelphia-born designer turned sculptor Wharton Esherick. This guy carved the handles, trim and everything surrounding the hearth -- beautiful woodworking.

Across the museum in Gallery 50, a single room houses a collection of Modern American Landscapes, where three outstanding O'Keeffes jump off the wall.

From the playbook of Slow Art Day, I must have spent 10 minutes studying "Red Hills and Bones" and its skeletal spine, then the artist's "Birch and Pine Tree No. 1" with its forest green foliage and ghostly white trunks, and finally "Red and Orange Streak," an early abstract reminiscent of arriving late to a sunset.

If the gallery walls could talk visitors would mingle with voices from Stuart Davis, Charles Sheeler, Arthur Garfield Dove, Marsden Hartley and Francis H. Criss, all artists I had previously seen but seldom explored (this museum visit and their works in this collection inspired further study of each).

Almost every room of the Modern and Contemporary Art wing featured multiple showstopping works. Salvador Dali's "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)" is somber yet filled with rich details not previously known from books on the artist (yes, I was a bean counter).

Rene Magritte's "The Six Elements," Jackson Pollock's "No. 22" and Picasso's "Woman and Children" each had small groups of visitors in queue for a closer look, and spotting a blond woman painted by Roy Litchtenstein felt like running into an old friend.

My favorite room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (so far) is filled with several works by Jasper Johns spanning his career.

Imagine this blogger's delight in finding the most colorful work in the room -- "Painting With Two Balls" -- actually includes a 1960 winter Olympic article as part of the artist's collage!

From what I can tell, this five-ringed headline was ripped from a small town newspaper and perhaps only by accident the artist did not paint broad strokes of color over its black, white and read all over lettering.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp completing "Etant donnes," a closet-sized mixed media piece viewed through peep holes on a wooden door.

The work, created in secret during a 20 year span (1946 to 1966), gives the viewer more than a wink from the artist and his Brazilian lover who served as a model for its life size female nude figure.

The gas lamp she holds aloft slightly evokes an Olympic torch, but I must admit my eyes focused more elsewhere ... on the waterfall.

Yeah, that's it. I focused on the waterfall. See it there to the right of the gas lamp? Of course that's where most eyes naturally wander while gazing upon Duchamp's work.

Since the journey to the museum I've been kicking myself for sleeping in at the hotel and booking an afternoon versus evening flight home -- could have used several more hours on site.

I also regret missing the two Diego Rivera works in the Grand Stair Hall, but these creations, another O'Keeffe (and a Howard Finster) not on display, and the entire second floor of the museum -- as well as the other nearby museum buildings (including the Rodin Museum) -- give multiple reasons for a return to Philly soon.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver


TNL said...

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benilhalk said...

Wow!! These paintings look amazing and artists did a fabulous job here. Being a painter and artist I really admire this kind of creative art work and that is why I also attended at show at venues in NYC last day. Keep posting such amazing information dear!

Lura jordan said...

the painting is really good . I got another one from google like this

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