Saturday, August 1, 2015

Andy Warhol Book Exhibit at Williams College Museum of Art

We are lucky to have so many cultural gems around southern Vermont, upstate New York and the Berkshires: MassMoca, Bennington Museum, Tang Museum, Clark Institute of Art, Hyde Collection, Salem Art Works, etc. Add The Williams College Museum of Art to this wonderful list. It's a great museum housing several floors of artwork, from ancient to contemporary. In addition to the Warhol exhibit described below, there were current exhibits on Maurice and Charles Prendergast, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, three centuries of American art, and art dating from the time of and subsequently inspired by The Trojan War.

I recently visited the Museum to catch the Warhol by the Book exhibit, which is an extensive survey of Warhol's early book illustrations, his artist's books, his hilariously satirical French haute cuisine cookbook, his pop-up "children's book for hipsters", and other books by and about the late artist.

I've had some interesting Warhol illustrated book jackets and books come into the shop over the years, but I hadn't realized how prolific a book artist he had been throughout his career. On display were early Warhol illustrations for novels by Douglas Firbank, whimsical artwork for various volumes of the Best in Children's Books series, collaborations with poets, candy-colored prints of cats, erotic print pairings of flowers and penises, and the intricate book/toy "Andy Warhol's Index" with its lenticular plastic cover, pop-ups, balloon to blow up, and origami duodecahedron on a string.

Printed on some of the walls above the exhibits were some interesting bookish quotes from the Great Provocateur, like: "I never read, I just look at pictures." A separate room styled as a living room contained a recreation of Warhol's personal library, which he apparently and perversely shelved fore-edges out. The library recreation contained a number of fairly mundane titles, ranging from Sandra Boynton's "Chocolate: The Consuming Passion" to the 1957 edition of "Ladies' Home Journal of Interior Decorating" to Roger Vadim's "Memoirs of the Devil". From cozy armchairs, one could peruse Warhol's books on several Rolodexes or flip through recently purchased copies of his book favorites, many of which still contained their "ThriftBooks" and other penny seller labels on their covers.

I'll be headed back to the Museum this coming Thursday, August 6th at 4 pm to catch the Warhol and Collecting Books lecture by Museum Curator Kathryn Price and Bookseller Andreas Brown, formerly of the Gotham Book Mart. According to the Summer 2015 museum guide, it's a chance to "Celebrate Warhol's birthday with a distinguished bibliophile. Brown and Price consider the legacy of Warhol's book work, the lure and collectability of books, the book as art object, and Brown's experiences running a bookshop." Cake and a toast to what would have been Warhol's 87th birthday follow.

Warhol by the Book will be shown at the Williams College Museum of Art until August 16, 2015, after which it will be packed up and moved to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh for exhibition in October.

The Williams College Museum of Art is open every day during the summer from 10 am to 5 pm and on Thursdays from 10 am to 8 pm. And it's FREE admission. Make sure to patronize the nice selection at the Museum gift shop to acknowledge this great little museum.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Literary and Other Treasures at The Bennington Museum

When last I toured the Bennington Museum at the eastern gateway to the beautiful city of Bennington, Vermont, it was a darker, cluttered, dusty sort of place. This was probably twenty years ago. I remember a lot of cases full of brown and yellow Bennington Pottery poodles and jugs and lots of brightly painted works by just-across-the-border artist Grandma Moses. I always thought Grandma Moses herself was pretty darn cute,

but her artwork just never caught my fancy.

There are still lots of Grandma Moses paintings in the museum collection, an interactive schoolhouse where kids can touch and play with reproduction items that comprise a schoolhouse circa Moses' childhood, and even an exhibition of Moses-inspired paintings of the bucolic upstate New York and Vermont hills transformed into a post-industrial apocalypse over  years of potential hydro-fracking by Linda Finch.

A case of print type and pamphlets and books printed in Vermont
A couple of rooms are still devoted to examples of Bennington Pottery and those weird pottery poodles, but the Museum is so much larger and brighter now and has so many new rooms of all kinds of art and historical objects. There are wonderful folk art portraits, maps, a room of cool household furnishings, Victorian hair jewelry, antique toys, patent medicine bottles and cabinets, scientific and musical instruments of all kinds,

Medicine cases, home pharmacies and an 1862 broadside advertising the the medical talents of  Mrs. Richardson, the "celebrated doctress", who had spent many years ministering to the Indians. 

Bibliophiles and history geeks will enjoy the display cases featured many early Vermont imprints on religious, historical and educational subjects, and there were two shelves devoted to hymnals and other music books, including some very interesting shape note singing books.
 Other galleries featured artwork of Vermont and by Vermont artists, including this scene of Mount Equinox by Old Saratoga Books favorite, Rockwell Kent.

There is currently a special exhibition of artwork by various Bennington College art professors, including Dan Shapiro, who also merited a small showing of his prints in a new gallery space adjacent to the Museum gift shop.
Another exhibition focused on Alcohol in Vermont, from temperance banners and court documents to photos of gently inebriated Green Mountain State residents, syllabub glassware and one of Ethan Allen's hefty bar tabs.

Why is the man on the right posing with a shredded umbrella? Apparently this accessory was de rigueur at this well-marinated Labor Day Clambake.

Dan was lusting over the lines of this antique Martin-Wasp automobile

but I most loved this painting of "Charley Smith and His Barn" by Francis Colburn, circa 1939.

The Bennington Museum also maintains a library of Vermont history and genealogy, so this really is quite a splendid museum.

Hours: Thursday through Tuesday, 10 am to 5 pm.