Last week I hopped on an early morning Amtrak train from Penn Station to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. The short trip on the Northeast Regional is common for commuters, but unusual for me. I was in New York on business, and I had reserved a full day for art viewing in Philadelphia. My day-long plan included a timed-entry ticket to the Cézanne and Beyond exhibit, a tour of the collections in the Philadelphia Museum, and a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art.
I arrived in plenty of time for Cézanne and Beyond, a show that made me believe again in painting, museums, and exhibitions. It’s worth every inconvenient wait, and it’s worth every moment when your view gets blocked—that’s the way it is with blockbuster shows. This brilliant exhibit juxtaposes and connects the painters that follow Cézanne’s pivotal move into the flattening of space, the structure of painting, and repeated study of subject matter. I was blown away by room after room, but especially struck by the last sequence. Ellsworth Kelly, Piet Mondrian, and Jasper Johns followed the shifting density and light of Cézanne’s painting of a large pine. It was a stunning juxtaposition—simply categorized as “Trees”.
I thought about writing more about the Cézanne and Beyond show, but wound up becoming overwhelmed by the crowd and the chattering acoustiguides. As I’ve noted before, I like my museum experience to be a bit sparer. So it was best for me to retreat through the other galleries—with superb collections but without so many people.
I wandered upstairs to find the Art of Japanese Craft exhibition, a delightful collection that is the gift of connoisseur Frederick McBrien III. It is in 3 galleries, just off the large skylight indoor garden area that contains the Japanese teahouse. How wonderful to come to a quiet area within the building, and what a great location for the show. This is a sensitively assembled collection of a true connoisseur, our gallery friend and patron, Fred. The wide range of works extends from a waterfall ink drawing on silk scroll to exquisite lacquered containers, as well as contemporary ceramics.
The nature-based imagery of Japanese craft of the Meiji period (and beyond) is strongly represented in this collection. The emphasis on the revival of Japanese craft shows in the delicate woodcarving and extraordinary inlaid lacquer ware. More recent porcelain vessels evoke nature through shape and process, and present new reflections of the craft.
There is a wonderful description and video of the tea ceremony just outside the special exhibit, which tells the function and purpose of the tea ceremony. Since is it based in the deliberate observation of detail and the contemplation of nature, the tea ceremony celebrates the imperfections and processes of nature. The Way of Tea teaches appreciation of fleeting moments; concentration on the sounds and the movements teaches attention to detail. I had found a respite from the urban environment and the crowds.