We took a trip into Cleveland yesterday to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum has been undergoing a major renovation and expansion since 2001 and has been essentially CLOSED for years. It's been a bit like having a good friend locked up in jail. But as the expected completion date of 2012 draws near several areas and wings that have been completed have been reopened to the public.
The new East Wing, which holds the museum's outstanding collection of modern and contemporary art and photography, recently opened on Father's Day and I was excited to visit it because it is my favorite section of the museum, and I expected that the Calder mobile that was acquired just before the construction began (which I had never seen) would be on display.
I was not disappointed. Most of my old favorites were there, and there were some wonderful surprises as well; some great pieces by Claus Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and Lee Krasner that I had never seen before, as well as TWO pieces by Alexander Calder: a medium-size mobile entitled "Two Systems" and a fine stabile named "White Loops and Red Spiral on Black". Neither one of them was showing any movement at all. I tried to lean close and blow on the stabile to get it moving but I set off some type of laser alarm that started beeping until I stepped back. In fact, various beeping alarms were going off in that gallery for the entire time that we were inside it, and it was a bit annoying.
The mobile was fairly complicated.
I really loved the base of the stabile.
My wife mentioned something that had struck me before about many of the Calder pieces that I have seen in museums - the paint looks horrible. On the stabile, the "white loops" had taken on an ugly yellowish cast as if they had suffered the abuse of a heavy cigar smoker for many years. And I noticed that in some spots the workmanship was a bit shoddy, especially on the mobile, I saw some sloppy painting and crude metal work. Calder was a prodigious artist and I think that he worked very fast, especially on pieces that he may have considered minor.
Even so, there is still something wonderful and amazing about his work, even when it shows some wear and tear and isn't the best that he has done. I could make an exact copy of that mobile and make the paint job absolutely perfect, and it still wouldn't look as great as the motionless Calder ones that were in the museum. That is a lesson that I have to remember - craftsmanship is important, but it is not paramount.
Another highlight of the trip was seeing the famous George Bellows boxing painting "Stag at Sharkey’s". This is a painting that we always admire every time that we visit, but we were excited to see it again because my daughter Bridget wrote a class report on Bellows this year and we learned a lot about him and this painting. The true name is "Stag Night at Sharkey’s" (i.e, men only). It is an amazing action painting.
One disappointment was the new cafe, which I hope is just a transitional thing during the construction. It's the first thing you see as you enter the museum (ugh), and it has absolutely no character and crappy food. I missed the old cafeteria that used to overlook the courtyard filled with sculptures by Snelson and Moore, the great coffee, heavy china, and tasty sandwiches.