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Guilty As Charged

Today, I'm going to break the unspoken rule of this program. I want to talk about the exhibition of an artist whose work I admire very much though, unfortunately, I haven't actually seen this exhibition which is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The name of the artist is Betty Woodman and her photograph in the New York Times makes me think about a deliciously wicked fairy tale godmother whose personal appearance is as unique as her art. Her outrageous and colorful ceramic sculptures often have the shape of vases with very complicated cutout silhouettes evoking the spirit of French artist Henri Matisse. Betty Woodman is one of the lucky people whose artistry slowly but consistently has been maturing through the years and has culminated in a spectacular body of work that betrays the age of the artist who is now 75 years old. Or, let me stand corrected: 75 years young. This exhibition, according to the press release, is the first time that the Metropolitan has organized a solo exhibition devoted to the art of a living sculptor working with clay.

In another first, the Metropolitan changed its long running tradition of presenting elaborate flower arrangements in Baroque niches of the Museum lobby. In place of the heavy formal urns, Woodman created huge ceramic vases which even in photographs radiate a sense of exuberance. A couple of years ago, an exhibition of her works was presented in Los Angeles by the Frank Lloyd Gallery. Even in a relatively small gallery space, one felt swept away by the theatricality and generous spirit of her work.

So, why am I talking today about a museum exhibition that I haven't even seen? Well, first of all I got seduced by the exhibition catalogue which not only looks attractive but feels like no catalogue I've ever laid my hands on. To the touch its hardcover reveals an unexpected soft, almost cushiony feel. How many books can you not only read but, on occasion, even use as a pillow? In lieu of the official portrait, the catalogue's backcover has an image of Ms. Woodman's feet. You should see it to believe it. There it is: crazy, colorful Chinese slippers, stockings with a tattoo-like pattern and the edge of the skirt with eye-popping stripes of red and blue. The moment I saw this catalogue I knew I simply had to have it. I can't remember another occasion of wanting so much to have a catalogue from an exhibition that I haven't seen. To my greater surprise, a good friend who had just returned from New York started to rave about this very exhibition the moment we met for dinner. I was so jealous. The only consolation I have of not seeing this show in person is that in a few days I am going to be in Tuscany not far from where Betty Woodman has a studio. I wonder if I'll summon up enough chutzpah to knock on her door.

Meanwhile, closer to home, I hope you will check out another excellent exhibition which opened recently at the Hammer Museum. "The Soci--t-- Anonyme" tells the early history of Modernism in America and brings together works of many forgotten artists along with such celebrated figures as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Paul Klee, Brancusi and Kandinsky. This exhibition is one of many in which the Hammer excels by educating and, at the same time, not being afraid to entertain its public. There is a flattering profile on Museum Director, Ann Philbin in the May issue of Art News magazine, which gives her well-deserved credit for turning the Hammer Museum into one of the leading art institutions in the country. I couldn't agree more.

"The Art of Betty Woodman"
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Through July 30
Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street
New York, New York

"The Soci--t-- Anonyme: Modernism for America"
UCLA Hammer Museum
Through August 20
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

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