Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Clark Museum (Williamstown, MA)

On Friday, August 15, I drove with my friend Ranya to Williamstown to visit the Sterling and Francis Clark Museum. In 2000, this venue hosted the well-received “Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930.” (Great catalog.) Among famous works in the museum's permanent collection are Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “The Snake Charmer” (very pale, very male) printed for many years on the cover of Edward Said's Orientalism, and John Singer Sargent's “Fumée d'Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris)” Lush, evocative, exquisitely detailed, and large, these works certainly reveal more about the artist's role and perspective than the actual subject, a reminder of how artistic vision always reflects its era and how easily one can see these limitations in retrospect. Also at the museum: "Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly," subtle, almost monotone works popular at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, just before World War I when interest in Orientalist art was waning in the United States (slightly later than Europe). Misty rivers, winter landscapes, moonscape over the open sea, and, even in the peopled scenes, loneliness and blurry light.

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