A Most Amazing Day

Corrado Bakery has good bread and a nice chocolate mousse

I met the Curator from the Lucio Fontana show at the Met Bruer

I learned all about Pierre Bonnard

I watched a wonderful documentary on HBO The Price Of Everything

I recorded as I stood in the met galleries

I resisted temptation to buy a new jacket

What a day, where to begin

Perhaps with a few words “there are three kinds of people: Those who see; those who see when they are shown; those who will never see” something about it. I feel I am in the second category. I want to see, and sometimes I am fortunate enough to see when shown. I think I need to know more in order to see clearly.

It started with a search on google for art exhibitions in London for my trip next week. I searched around and though most of the museums are free I stumbled across ArtFund.org which sells a pass to get in free to many UK museums and gives you a discount on most of the shows that require tickets. As I stumbled through the site I saw that at the Tate Modern there is going to be a Pierre Bonnard exhibition. Who is Pierre Bonnard and is there any of his work here in NY that I might see.. as a preparatory step I watched a few youtube videos, a presentation by the curator of an old Bonnard show at The Met, I read his profile on ArtStory.org, and I listened to a Modern Art Notes Podcast (Matisse and Decoration, Kimball’s new Bonnard (at 1:01) as I walked across town.

Then….While waiting at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 79th Street I look up and I recognize the woman standing with me. I asked her is she a curator? Yes, she ( Iria Candela, Estrellita B. Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art, The Met) curated the Fontana exhibit I saw yesterday! We walked the few blocks together chatting. I can’t remember a thing she said.. I was so star struck!)

What I learned: Bonnard was a contemporary of Matisse. He used vibrant colors, he had two women in his life who were his loves and his models. He bought a house in the Seine valley between Normandy and the Île de France, not far from Giverny. He painted there and today I would see some of those paintings. It was suggested to me by a new friend that I try to record my impressions on the spot and write about them.. the following is an edited version of what I was trying to see and experience today.

…I arrived at the Met Museum and walked up to Gallery 905 to take a quick look at Bonnard’s woman taking a bath and there was a second painting of his on the gallery, the Dining Room, in front of it an artist had her easel set and was painting a portion of it. Why just a portion? are there museum rules? was this an assignment? I didn’t spend much time looking but I do plan to go back down.

I’m now upstairs in gallery 828 on the walls are about 8 of Bonnards paintings. There is one large painting in the center that catches my attention.

The Terrace at Vernonnet

From all that I can gather and have read Bonnard spent many years in the house painting scenes like this from memory. The woman are the focus of his love and affection. In the gallery are also three paintings by Eduard Vuillard and one by Henri Matisse 

There should be more Matisse nearby , no? So I head to look in the adjoining galleries and wonder where are the other paintings by Matisse? are they close by? But i dont find them in any of the adjoining galleries so I return to Bonnard, gallery 828. When I stand in front of the largest painting again, the Terrace at Vernonnet, I notice all the colors and the clarity of the faces but it is an illusion, there is nothing clear about them but the use of color seems to trick the eye into seeing them clearly until you look closely. it’s true what I heard this morning, the faces of the people are not a natural color at all, and you can tell that the women’s faces have some expression. But it’s in the color contrast that he uses rather than in the brushstroke.

There’s a part of me that just wants to stand here longer – trying to figure out how to see what it is about these paintings, why the greatness. In the videos this morning there was a large discussion about Bonnards feeling about white. There was one painting they showed that isn’t here, it was a scene and at the center was a large white rectangular table, they called it a canvas,. And you could see that it could have been a picture on its own.

Just now I looked for it, The Table, and there is yet another site, this one full of his paintings and so much to read.


Seems I might see it at the Tate as that is the website where I captured this image.

As I’m talking and wandering through the room I look over my shoulder there it is again, Henri Matisse’s The Goldfish Bowl. I should have a closer look. It does have a white bureau with things on it – a goldfish bowl a bottle of juice and fruit. And I think: is this the same sort of thing, a canvas? I notice up in the corner in the wallpaper are two women in a what could be a small painting hanging on the wall. The perspective though seems to make it impossible for it to be a painting on the wall. And I don’t know, is this important? does it matter? Or is it just something else that he was scribbling. I’m standing in this moment listening to a podcast from the Kimball museum (i think in Dallas) where they have just acquired a large Bonnard. The curator is talking about how they’re not sure what’s the provenance of the painting is. Was it a commission? Was it a piece that he sold off to a friend? or was it intended for the trash heap? There is so much not to know. Why did Matisse paint this? why the women in the corner?

So I think I’m going to take a minute and stand with one of the paintings. It’s really beautiful, the one that seems to have caught my attention now is the Green Blouse. You can see out the window to the gardens, the curtains are multi colored, the woman sitting looking out at you, what is she thinking? and the other woman standing to her side.

If he did all this paintings from memory how to choose what to put on the table. He must’ve seen this woman sitting at this table day after day, so why when he painted is did he choosese to put a box on the table? to include a big bowl of fruit on the table? or the other woman standing at the side?

So often we are told that the artist is trying to convey something. A feeling or emotion, but don’t we need to know something if we are to find the meaning? was he just feeling the love of the closeness or the emptiness of these women. Perhaps it’s just his way of getting rid of it. Getting rid of the picture or what he is feeling after seeing this scene over and over in his days. Maybe he stands in the studio and this is the thought he needs to get out of his head, get it down on paper and now his head is clear for something else… has he been holding on to it? and now his head is clear for something else to enter?  

I’m back down and gallery 905 where the woman is painting. There is a crowd watching her paint, but I came to see the After The Bath. As I look at it I am thinking about a podcast I heard the other day about mirrors. We would see Bonnard in the reflection if he was there, he would have to be standing where I stand to see the reflection in the back. If that is a mirror behind her? Or is it a shadow, a door to another room. I can’t tell.. what does that say about me?

I notice as I leave that in the corner of his painting of the dining room is a little dachshund puppy. And the two women appear again, and again the view of the outside, this time through an open door.

The Dining Room, Vernonnet

Funny, I’m on my way out walking past dozens of paintings and I see another Matisse here near Gallery 905.

There’s a mirror, there’s a bather, there’s a scene outside and not quite straight lines on the floor. you can see outside, and there is an actual canvas…all things familiar from Bonnard. And then I notice the repetition – the wallpaper that I’ve seen before…in The Goldfish Bowl.. and why not?

I am ready to go home, I wander back through the exhibition, its titled Reimagining Modernism and up and down and through and there it is

and it strikes me as again similar. This is artists building on one another…

I have definitely had enough.. I must go home…

But wait! Fontana.. someone has taken his idea of light, hung it crosswise on a wall, and it is art? It is Dan Flavin… I know that name.. Dia Beacon. I love when I can make a connection, and i hope one day to own all this in my mind in a way that I can use.

Finally outside and on my way home…along the way I saw some fun / interesting things.. do read the sign in the right hand window.

I do make it home, and I stay with the writing and I feel good about it. I have to go back as there is another Bonnard in gallery 823, and then I can look again and do a bit of reading on Matisse. I like when I am interested in something, I like to focus, but I find it hard to find balance, a little art, a little exercise, a little reading, a bit of shopping…. ahhhhh, its a good life. Better than that of Nathan Hale!

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