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Time for Culture

When I was working, it seemed like there was just not enough free time to explore the cultural opportunities that an urban location provides. Now that I’m retired, I’m making a list of museums, parks, gardens, etc. that I would like to visit. I have been surprisingly busy and have just this week finally found time to make a trip to the top of my list — the Phoenix Art Museum for their special exhibit, Keeping Shadows: Photography from the Worcester Art Museum.

They had photographs and equipment from the earliest photographers up to very modern digital images of a human fetus in its mother’s womb. There were some 180 photographs by 180 photographers. There were both famous and lesser known photographers. The photo at the right was taken by Matthew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer. The gentleman in the center is General Robert E. Lee after the surrender at Appomattox. The man at the right is his son and the man at the left was on his staff.

The exhibition showed the progression of early photos that were purely record shots then “art” and later merchandising and glamour (think Hollywood) to the full spectrum of photographic art today.

Hopefully, you always learn something when you visit a museum and my trip was fruitful in that respect. Ansel Adams (who was naturally included in the exhibit) was the co-founder of the f/64 group with Edward Weston in 1932. This was the first time I have ever heard of the group — but “f/64” in the name referred to the smallest aperture setting on the large format cameras that they used. This provides the sharpest focus of the images but may require longer exposures. Now when you look at an Ansel Adams print (such as the one at the left), you will notice that everything is in focus — both foreground and background — and now you know why.

Another special exhibit was Collecting the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The exhibit features 12 exceptional paintings by the Impressionist masters and some of the most familiar names in art — Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, and Edouard Manet. I am not an art expert so I will simply quote from the museum website. “From stunning landscapes by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro to one of Edgar Degas’ finest paintings of a ballet rehearsal, from a figure study by Berthe Morisot and a still-life by Edouard Manet to the elegance of a Renoir portrait, this exhibition showcases the best in French Impressionism from one of the most impressive collections in the world. It was amassed by Sterling and Francine Clark — the scion of the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and his French-born wife — and is now housed in the museum they founded 50 years ago in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Many of these outstanding works of art have never before left the Clark.” The painting at the right is The Duck Pond by Claude Monet — this was one of my favorites — I love the feeling (or impression) that it conveys without the extreme detail that a photograph provides.

And you never know what new experience you might encounter. Mine was You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies by Yayoi Kusama, who is a Japanese Conceptual Artist. This “piece” consists of a dark room filled with a maze of mirrors and various colors of LEDs hanging from the ceiling that appear to go off into infinity (due to the mirrors). As you walk through the maze, the lights change in hue and position (when you brush against the wires hanging down). It was a haunting but positively cool experience.

And last, but certainly not least, I was tremendously moved by a work of art that graced the lobby and main hallway. It consisted of more than two thousand small glass vases, most of which contained a single white carnation. They represent the brave young American men and women who have died in Iraq. The empty vases represent those yet to die. I was moved — moved to tears for the loss — and for those who we will lose before it is all over.

It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com