Monday, 17 May 2010
A Kook's Tour of St. Paul's Art
Carl Milles' God of Peace
In the melioristic tradition of "if you're stuck with lemons, make lemonade," St. Paul turns both frozen cheeks each end of January and stages an icy Winter Festival (Jan. 24-Feb. 4--phone 612-297-6985). I was recently spying there to see what the chicken-hearted, hot-blooded indoor types like myself could do to get in out of the cold. Here's the thaw plan.
The Minnesota Museum of Art has three irresistible shows on view for the temperature-timid. Begin at the Landmark Center, that floriously recycled Romanesque old Federal Building kitty-corner from the St. Paul Hotel on Rice Park. Benjamin Thompson's Ordway Theatre and Music Center and a beaux artsy Public Library complete the neighbors on the square at Fifth and Market.
Both the SPPL and the Landmark Center are prim pickup points for the free weeklies and other cultural orientation materials that distinguish St. Paul as one of the grandest self-promoting cities in the country.
The Landmark has (until January 28) a perfectly splendid show on one of my favorite sculptors, Gaston Lachaise, under the randy rubric, "20th Century Venus: Sculptures and Drawings by GL." Man, was that guy into nipples and labia. With one fell swoop of his pen his establishes the most erectile nipples in the long and often aroused history of femininity. The labia and monses also positively throb with a sweet sensuality.
I learned from the captions that this Paris-born and -educated genius (his woodworking father moved to the capital from the Auvergne) fell in love with a Canadian woman ten years his senior in the Luxembourg Gardens and lusted after her as far as Boston, where his money ran out.
He soon met and became the main aide of Paul Manship--he of the Rockefeller Center-sans Golden Prometheus. e.e. cummings, that funky poet who wished he was a better painter than he was, touted GL's early work in the influential Dial magazine. Lachaise did reliefs for the RCA Building in 1930, large plaster reliefs for Chicago's Century of Progress in 1932, reliefs for Rockefeller Center's International Building in 1934. Hell, while most American artists were on WPA relief, he sculpted reliefs for more than good dough.
The Philadelphia Art Alliance enjoys the distinction of giving the Deco-dent relief picturer his first one-man in 1932. MOMA in New York gave him a retro in 1935, the year he died. The Minnesota Museum of Art has the neat idea of getting its patrons to kick in enough dough (the museum is free) to buy a cast of his "Dolphins" (c. 1922), one of an edition of six, on display courtesy of the Kraushaar Gallery. I hope they make it.
Men who love women and their bodies we will always have with us, despite temporary aberrations like Andrea Dworkin and her fear-of-fucking cadre. ("Thou shalt not penetrate me," Ms. Dworkin moans, abusing herself selfishly.)
To prick her illusion, she should gaze at GL's "Dynamo Mother" (1933), which is all vulva, an expressionist romp over the woman's greatest blessing to man's kind: her capacity to nurture a fetus to term. Who cares about penis envy? GL's sculpture gave me instant vulva envy. Hey, if GL's love affair with the female body doesn't give you the esthetic hots, you deserve to die of the cold in St. Paul's exterior darkness.
Down the street, overlooking the river (yes, you geographically illiterate Americans, St. Paul is on the Mississippi), is the lovely Deco original Minnesota Museum of Art Jemne Building. It offers a great-view "Deco" restaurant on the fourth floor. Do a powerless lunch there. It also has two more first class art exhibitions.
"The American Landscape," a chrestomathy from Minnesota collections, has the usual national suspects, plus some unknown (to me, who is more than happy to have his ignorance relieved) locals--such as Mike Lynch (1938- )--whose blue-pink cast "Elevator--29th and Harriet" (1988) is more than a Sheeler updating, it's local color, colored locally--and John Moore ("Quarry," 1987).
And by all means don't miss James Daugherty's "Will Canfield's House." Its Oscar Blemner-like composition and ominousness is delicious.
Wait. There's more. "The Silent Language of Dress" is the kind of show that takes only an attic-full of clothes from all over the globe and an energizing curatorial vision. My fave is an Ainu kimono, not like the first Aino kimono I ever saw--in the Batchelder Museum in Sapporo, Hokkaido, woven of elm bark!--but on the same track, of heavy hemp cloth. Oh, those Ainus were aesthetically hairy creatures, taking the delicate traditions of their Japanese Conquerors and goosing them up most lovingly. They flattered by weirdly misimitating.
And save some time for building inspections. Like the centennial-celebrating St. Paul's Building at Fifth and Wabasha. It's Richardsonianized red sandstone. How I love the aura of that era! 99% of American architecture since has been a precipitate drop into the pits of speculation and peculation. Yucko.
And don't fail to have breakfast at Mickey's Diner, a National Hysterical Building--although its cuisine is better. I always have the "twos" when I drop off the Greyhound across the street: two eggs, two sausages and two pancakes.
Down the street is the headquarters of Minnesota Public Radio, where you can buy Garrison Keilloriana by the freight carload. That's the World Trade Center across the street, and emblem of former mayor George Latimer's ambition to position his blue-collar city in the international markets.
A good cheap, central place to stay is the Civic Center Motel, kitty corner from the Civic Center, except when rock concerts or dog shows (I often confuse the two) prompt them to raise their $40ish rates. The airport is straight out that street, where a $12 cab ride will get you into a bed. A city bus will do the same a little slower for 75 cents.
And don't miss the Ramsey County Court House across the street from MMA/Jemne. In it is Carl Milles' greatest statue, the soaring Mexican onyx Peace Indian.
I love St. Paul, and not just because my granddaughter Sonia lives there. She's just the latest, sweetest frosting on a basically great cake. Other attractions are the Science Museum, the Minnesota Historical Society (and its James J. Hill house), Cass Gilbert's State Capitol, and much more.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark: Hazard-at-Large, January 24, 1990