Go There: Matisse at MoMA

In a previous post about collecting I mentioned the idea of collectors and their ability to “go there,” meaning to hone in on an idea or an aesthetic and then to take it beyond any imagined limits. If you want to see an exhilarating example of this idea, go see Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MoMA. The pieces are simply beautiful and the choreography of the exhibit is thrilling–beginning with the artist’s small maquettes which he created while working out composition for bigger projects and finishing with giant scrolls of color and form dancing across gallery walls. It’s interesting to note that in 1942 Matisse wrote to his friend the writer Louis Aragon that he had “an unconscious belief in a future life…some paradise where I shall paint frescoes.” And, several years later, in 1947 Matisse talked about the “greater space” of Islamic art. This show expresses the confluence of Matisse’s aesthetic and his intuition and vision of that greater space, a realm that will lift you with its pure expression of joy and freedom. You cannot help but smile and skip on your way out.

The Collector’s Eye: Bunny Mellon

Rachel Lambert Mellon’s collection of fine art and decorative objects and furniture is on view this week at Sotheby’s (the sale begins on Friday) and it is topic “A” at Manhattan cocktail parties. I’ve even received a few emails today peppered with sign offs like “…I’m running up to Sotheby’s to see the Bunny Mellon collection,” or “I’ll meet you after I see the Bunny Mellon collection.”

The other night over dinner with some sophisticated French friends we got talking about the idea of taste and personal collecting in reference to the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were trying to define what makes a personal collection so unique and decided it comes down to an individual’s clarity of vision, the ability to “go there” as one of my friends put it, to build a collection–a story, really–around one aesthetic ideal. This may sound incredibly snobbish, but very few people have this kind of vision. Call it taste. Taste is discipline, the ability to say “yes” to one thing and “no” to another. (Ms. Mellon’s aesthetic has as much to do with her taste in art as it does with her idiosyncratic style, the pluck of hanging a Van Gogh over the bathtub, or an unframed Pissarro over the fireplace). The best collections express a depth of passion and a nimble instinct. You can tell, for example, just looking at a real collection, that the individual picked one piece not only because it was superior in some way to the rest, but because it spoke to them in a way that other pieces did not.

I’ve overheard people discussing their impressions of the Bunny Mellon preview exhibit–all ten floors of stuff–at Sotheby’s and it’s funny how the same observation is repeated over and over: the art is incredible, but the decorative pieces, on their own, don’t seem that unique or significant. How could they? Each piece is unique only as it relates to the whole. On it’s own a basket is just a basket. (Still, wouldn’t it be cool to bid on one of the baskets in her collection pictured above?) I suspect the reason so many people are running up to Sotheby’s to get a gander at the ensemble, has less to do with owning a piece of it and more to do with holding onto the last vestige of an old world, a world where this level of taste and kind of lifestyle was the norm. It’s gone now, we won’t see the likes of Bunny Mellon again anytime soon. We won’t hear or read about people who live with art and style the way she did. Here is a link to the Sotheby’s catalogue.

End of an Era: Oscar de la Renta, 1932-2014

I remember Oscar de la Renta best from moments like these, backstage at his New York Fashion Week shows, about to take his bow on the runway, always letting the models go first and lingering modestly in the back of the podium, always surrounded by smiling employees who were so proud to work for such a generous and elegant man. He understood, better than most designers, that style is about so much more than what you are wearing.

A Prima Ballerina’s final bow

Wendy Whelan, the prima ballerina and arguably the greatest ballerina of her generation, retired last night from the New York City Ballet. I wish I had seen her farewell performance, but I feel lucky to have seen her dance on so many other occasions. Most memorably in a rehearsal I was invited to watch back in 2004 when I served on a fund-raising committee at the NYCB. I remember being stunned by the beauty and perfection of Whelan’s dancing. Even in rehearsal, when other dancers simply “mark” steps, Whelan was so present and precise. Her timing was incredible and her performance–it was a performance more than a rehearsal–was sharp and crystalline. She was astounding to watch. I had once been an aspiring dancer so I had seen many great ballerinas perform–Suzanne Farrell, Merrill Ashley, Natalia Makarova. But this was different. There was something so unique about Whelan’s style and discipline. I rushed home and told my husband, who writes for the New York Times Magazine, that he had to write about Whelan. I couldn’t remember reading an in-depth piece on Whelan in any national magazine. (Here’s the link to my husband’s story) Whelan has retired from the New York City Ballet, but she’ll keep dancing. I’m excited to see what she does next.