Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Art Crawl

A few weeks ago I received an emailed invitation to the Cleveland Museum of Art's first Art Crawl, an after hours wine, hors d'oeuvres and conversation event open to members at the Fellow level and higher.

I wasn't sure what to expect but my ladyfriend and I eagerly RSVPed, and tonight was the night. At 6:30 pretty intimate gathering of probably fewer than 120 people met in the lower level of the Museum's north wing and were further into even smaller groups of perhaps thirty each for talks with museum staff and then wine and food nearby (but not in the actual galleries for obvious reasons!)

Our group had the following itinerary:

Icon of the Mother of God and Infant Christ (Virgin Eleousa) by Angelos Akotantos with Dean Yoder, Conservator of Paintings. Followed by Boutari Kretinos Red and White wines, Domas Yolandi (Grape leaves stiffed with herbs and rice, tzatziki sauce), Spanikopita: Sauteed spinach, garlic, feta cheese, minted greek yogurt)

Mr. Yoder's discussion brought light to the importance of this icon, how it came to be attributed to the artist (somewhat rare for works of that type from that period). Particularly interesting to me were the challenges of the condition for a painting that's nearly 600 years old and the techniques used to clean, stabilize, and generally conserve the painting -- something I've been interested in since I first became really aware of the art at a Cleveland Museum of Art Member's Appreciation Day two years ago, a Science Cafe event last year. As my ladyfriend's career goal is conservation, I've been slowly learning even more lately.

A View from Moel Cynwich: Looking over the Vale of Afon Mawddach and Toward Cader Idris by William Turner of Oxford. Heather Lemonedes, Curator of Drawings. Followed by Osbourne Amantillado Sherry; Cilantro curry and spinach dip, crispy pita chip; Smoked salmon "tartar", English cucumber cup, creme fraiche.

Ms. Lemonedes discussed her role as curator of drawings while standing in front of a magnificient watercolor. Seem nonsequeter? We learned tonight that the museum considers anything on paper to be a drawing -- including watercolors. Beyond that Ms. Lemonedes discussed the importance of this particular work, and her interest in expanding the museum's holdings of British drawings to compliment the already impressive collections of other nationalities. Particularly interesting was the social nature of art acquisition, and the respect Cleveland has in the art dealer world. Ms. Lemonedes's enthusiasiam bubbled over.

The sherry was a bit too strong in both taste and smell for me, barely surviving two sips, but the cilantro curry and spinach dip on crispy pita was great. My ladyfriend and I both thought it had a hit of something familiar but couldn't quite place it.

The Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin. William Robinson, Curator of Modern European Art. Latur Ardeche Chardonnay, Latour Valmoissine Pinot Noir; Micro baked bire, apricot compote, baguette; Duck confit, apple chip, sour cherry puree.

Topping the previous curator's impressive enthusiasm, William Robinson was clearly a curator passionate about his work. Though the Age of Bronze was the center of the discussion, it ultimately included the museum's relationship with Rodin while he was living: The casting of the Age of Bronze in Cleveland's discussion was overseen by Rodin personally and the last casting while he was living -- the patina was chosen specifically to be a "crushed grape" look unlike the patina of the same piece in the Met's collection which was overseen by the French government and Rodin felt was all wrong. Interestingly, unlike many other collections, the vast majority of Cleveland's Rodin holdings were cast while the artist was alive; many other museums collections consist posthumous castings.

While I didn't really love any of the wines, the Latour Ardeche Chardonnay was my favoirte from the evening, being farily light and not overly dry. Disappointingly, this stop's food offerings were the ones I was most looking forward to--but they had completely run out by the time my group made it to this stop.

Bringing Forth the Fruits of Righteousness From Darkness by Damien Hirst. Paola Morsiana, Curator of Contemporary Art. Menage a Trois Red and White. Trio of soup sips: cantaloupe, avocado, strawberry rhubarb.

At the peak of enthusiasm, Curator Paola Morsiani jovially declared herself the queen of the contemporary galleries and discussed Damien Hirst's monumental Bringing Forth the Fruits of Righteousness From Darkness -- a triptych made up entirely of butterfly wings arranged to resemble stained glass windows in a Gothic church -- from an angle I hadn't previously considered: The commercial nature of contemporary art, and how Mr. Hirst is aware of the business of art, and the art is a product of that business environment... in other words, he knows how to make money from his art.

Like the other curators, Ms. Morsiana eagerly and happily answered questions following her brief talk, and I took the opportunity to enquire about how a work of that scale -- on loan from an anonymous collector for 5 years, and Ms. Morsiana is not bashful about admitting that she'd be thrilled to have the collector donate the piece -- gets loaned to the museum.

Reception with Director David Franklin and Membership staff.

Following the conclusion of the groups, everyone assembled on the lower level of the East wing for a light reception and even more conversation: Perhaps most interesting all of the curators who had given their time throughout the evening seemed to remain for the reception and were just as eager to continue answering questions.

The longer I live in Cleveland and the more time I spend both in my "home" galleries and of those of museums I encounter in my travels along the way, I'm increasingly appreciative of both the strength of Cleveland's collection (and reputation) along with the pure passion of its staff at all levels.


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