Thursday, March 19, 2015

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Bill and I visited Toronto's newest museum with our friend Nancy yesterday. The Aga Khan Museum opened last fall.
We're pleased to report that the collection is absolutely sensational. Item by item, the Aga Khan in Toronto matches or surpasses the many times larger Islamic collections at the Met, the British Museum and the Louvre.
The architect is Fumihiko Maki.
You don't need detailed historical knowledge to see the outstanding freshness of the painting on this beaker. Iran, 1200-19. Fritware, in-glaze and overglaze-painted.
Here's another ceramic from the room that houses the personal collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (Bellerive Room). What an amazing creature -- that face.
 Nancy and Bill looking at a map of historic Islamic empires.
Two Species of Sea Onion. Leaf from the Khawass al-Ashjar (The Characteristics of Trees). Iraq, 1200. Ink and colour on paper. Lovely. 
We soon realized that every item on display was a perfect example of its type. Expect to see one masterpiece after another. Sayings of Pythagoras. Probably Iraq, late 13th century. Ink, watercolour and gold on paper.
And look at the gorgeous calligraphy of this 11th century Qur'an. Ink, gold and opaque watercolour on paper.
Tunic. Iran, early 14th century brocaded silk. I can see myself in this. A man my age could use that corseted waist!
Some pictures to give you a sense of the overall lightness and clarity of the displays.
I need to go back and have a closer look at their collection of Qur'ans. Baghdad, Iraq, mid-14th century. Ink, watercolour and gold on paper.
Mansur's Anatomy. Probably Iran, mid-17th century. Ink and watercolour on paper.
Book of Ecstasy by 'Afefi (d. ca. 1449), copied by Shah Mahmud Neyshaburi. Iran, 16th century. Ink, watercolour and gold on paper.
A great title for all times: The Comfort of Rulers Confronted with the Hostility of their Followers, by Ibn Zafar al-Siqilli (d. 1165). Syria, 1340-50. Watercolour and gold on paper.
Story of Haftvad and the worm. Tabriz, Iran, ca. 1540. Opaque watercolour, ink, gold and silver on paper. Detail, below.
Must return for a longer look at the Aga Khan's superb collection of miniature paintings: more masterpieces. The quality of the composition, the line, the freshness of the colour jumps right out at you.

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Toronto art lovers can also rejoice in a half-dozen masterpieces by British painter Howard Hodgkin in the Inspired By India show, also at the Aga Khan (until June 21st). This painting In the Garden of the Bombay Museum is one of the finest Hodgkins I've seen. This snapshot only hints at this large (4 x 5 feet) painting's quality. 
Surf. 1990-91. Hand painted gouache on intaglio impressed Khadi paper. Find more prints by Hodgkin in Toronto at Metivier Gallery (until March 28th).
The mezzanine overlooking the main floor galleries is currently filled with Hodgkin's extensive collection of Indian paintings and drawings of the Mughal period.
We couldn't take pictures but we did buy the catalogue. Here are two highlights . 
I loved this portrait of Prince Aurangzeb. (c. 1653-55. Gouache with gold on paper.)
Bill drew my attention to this charming sketch: Balwant Singh and a Goose (c.1750-60. Brush drawing with light pigment on uncoloured paper.)
All in all, we had a fabulous time. We would consider the Aga Khan museum to be in the top five reasons to visit Toronto. Not to be missed. Note: the admission is $20. Allow two hours  to see the collection and any temporary shows properly.
Will return in the spring and summer, when the trees and fountains of the central plaza will be at their best. We also want to visit the new Ismaili Center, above, designed by Indian architect Charles Correa.

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Note March 20th: We just learned that the Aga Khan offers free admission on Wednesday evenings from 4 pm to 8 pm.
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Related post: Howard Hodgkin at Gagosian Rome.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Jeff Koons at the Whitney

The Whitney Museum closed the doors on their Marcel Breuer building last fall. Their final show was a retrospective of Jeff Koons which filled four floors.
A light rain wasn't enough to keep the crowds away when John and I visited last October.
The line-up stretched right around the block.
No surprise really. Koons is one of America's most successful artists -- financially at least.
Hard to pass up a chance to see an extensive collection of his work.
I can see from the sign over the elevator that there is Koons art all the way from the lobby to the fourth floor. As is our ritual, we started on the top floor.
That put us amidst highlights from the Whitney's  own collection. Myself and another visiter were caught by Pat Steir's September Evening Waterfall, 1991.
John and I are big fans of Brice Marden. Here's 3 Hydra Rocks, 2001-4.
And a detail.
The museum docent, facing us on the left, is explaining the two Ad Reinhardt paintings behind her.
The room featured a gorgeous Rothko. Four Darks in Red, 1958.
Here's the detail John's taking above.
Edward Hopper's fabulous Early Sunday Morning, 1930.
Gregory Crewdson's Untitled (north by northwest), 2004.
We can't resist Claes Oldenburg's drawings. In this proposal for a landscape sculpture the blueberry filling is slipping out of its crust.
On the way to the Koons, John caught this portrait in the Whitney stairwell.
We walked down to the fourth floor and at last entered the Koons Retrospective.
One of Mr Koons wonderful homages to kitsch with admirers.
That's John in the reflection.
We learned that some homages to kitsch are better than others.
We thought this stainless steel balloon rabbit was the best thing in the show.
Whatever else you may think of this image of Michael Jackson, it remains the largest ceramic sculpture ever fired.
We liked these glamorous sculptures. I guess we like the shiny ones.
Made in Heaven was an area of rampant 
exhibitionism and vanity. Love the "bouquet" though.
But when Mr Koons is "on", he can really surprise us with creatures like this majestic poodle.
It was fun to see these early works -- vacuum cleaners in glass vitrines.
Early shiny things.
Koons came by his love of inflatables early. These are some of his earliest works.
We'll leave you with this telling early work -- sponges and a mirror.