Monday, July 31, 2017


Alexander Calder mobile at the entrance to the East Wing of the National Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is a city designed for tourists, especially around the National Mall. On a warm sunny day at the end of April I spent a day walking the Mall, visiting a number of the many museums. I took the Metro from my hotel in Bethesda, and got off at the Smithsonian station, not far from the “castle” that was the first Smithsonian museum, and now the headquarters for what has sometimes been called “our nation’s attic”. Nineteen museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoological Park, make up the Smithsonian museums and eleven are on the National Mall, the park that runs between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol. Obviously, I did not have time to visit all of them in one day, but I did stop in at several.
Brushstroke, sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein in front of Hirshhorn Museum
 My focus for the day was art museums, the first being the Hirshhorn Museum, which specializes in contemporary art and was featuring a large exhibit by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama called Infinity Mirrors. (See my post for last week.) In a futuristic looking building, shaped like a giant donut, the galleries form a circle around a large open courtyard.
Natural History Museum viewed from Hirshhorn Museum window (dots are an extension of the Kusama exhibit)
From the upstairs windows one can look across the mall to the Natural History Museum and the Museum of American History, both favorites of mine but not on my list for the day.
Frederic Bazille was a French painter in the early days of the Impressionist movement
I then crossed the Mall and walked through the National Art Gallery, with its much more formal display of traditional art from various historic periods (including a perennial favorite, Young Dancer by Degas), for lunch at the cafeteria on the ground level. In a small gallery on that level I visited an interesting exhibit of early impressionists, focusing on the French artist Frederic Bazille.  I then rode the level walkway through the long underground corridor to the East Wing where one of the featured exhibits was of the work of sculptor Alexander Calder, with giant mobiles hanging overhead and smaller pieces displayed below.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art
Then, as I circled back across the mall to the Metro Station, I stopped at two smaller museums in facing symmetrical buildings–the Museum of African Art, where I stopped to view some of the masks and to enjoy the air conditioning, and the Freer/Sackler Museum, which specializes in Asian art. The special exhibit there was of a newly discovered painting by a eighteenth century Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro, one of three large panels he had painted of geisha life.
In late April spring flowers were at their height in the Smithsonian gardens
All along the mall, between the museums, are many beautiful gardens, with shady paths, benches for resting, and labels to identify the plants. It was a lovely spring day and in between my museum visits it was a pleasure just to walk outdoors and enjoy the sunshine and spring flowers.

Monday, July 24, 2017

POLKA DOTS: Yayoi Kusama at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. and Four City Tour

Inside the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.
“Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos.” Yayoi Kusama, 1968.
Polka dots were everywhere when I visited the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. in April and peeked through the open doors to the crowded galleries exhibiting the amazing artwork by this 87 year old Japanese artist.
Video of Yayoi Kusama is part of the exhibit
Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn was just the first of a five city American tour of Yahoi Kusama’s amazing work. It will be at the Seattle Art Museum (June 30–Sept. 10, 2017), The Broad in Los Angeles (October 2017–January 2018), the Art Gallery of Ontario (March–May 2018) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (July–October 2018). It is a show not to be missed.
Paintings and whimsical sculptures
The Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the nation's many Smithsonian museums.To quote the Smithsonian news release: “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” provides visitors with the unique opportunity to experience six of Kusama’s most iconic kaleidoscopic environments at once, alongside large-scale, whimsical installations and key paintings, sculptures and works on paper from the early 1950s to the present. It also marks the North American debut of numerous new works by the 87-year-old artist, who is still actively creating in her Tokyo studio.”
Looking into the Obliteration Room, where visitors apply multicolored stickers to walls and furniture
Tickets were so popular that I was not able to get one for my short stay in Washington. Luckily, the design of the Hirshhorn museum (like an oversize donut) is such that open doorways from the outer circular gallery provided a good look into the rooms where her art was displayed.
Polka dot balloons
And there was much more to see. In addition to the Kusama exhibit, there was an amazing display of orchids from the Smithsonian greenhouse on the main floor near the entrance, ranging from sprays of tiny blooms to giant flowers.
Orchids from the Smithsonian greenhouses
On the walls of the inner gallery on the second floor of the museum there were a series of large photographs of public clocks from around the world, one from every one of the world's time zones and each photo taken at exactly 1:55 p.m. It was a trip through time when time has stopped.
World Time Clock by Bettina Pousttchi
And on the third floor of the museum I viewed a varied display of modern paintings and sculptures, ranging from those by self-taught artists to pieces by many of the iconic names of the twentieth century.
Holy Mountain III, by self-taught artist Horace Pippin
So, even though I couldn’t get a Kusama ticket, my visit to the Hirshhorn was more than satisfying. And, I will get a second chance to see Infinity Mirrors when the show comes to Los Angeles in the fall.

Monday, July 17, 2017

MILAN, ITALY: Guest Post by Cathy Bonnell

Gothic Cathedral, Milan, Italy
My friend Cathy Bonnell, a school librarian (now retired) in Phoenix, Arizona, loves to travel. Recently, she went to Italy, visiting Florence, Siena, and Milan with her daughter Courtney. I thank her for sharing the joys and discoveries of this special trip and for being one of my most faithful followers of The Intrepid Tourist. Here is Part 3, about her visit to Milan.

….and last but not least, Milan

Upon arriving in Milan I took a picture of public art—a colorful knot—that later I would find out had significance to one of the most famous Italian artists, Leonardo da Vinci.

The Last Supper by Leonardo De Vinci
In order to see his most famous work—the Last Supper-- we needed to book a tour of the Santa Maria delle Grazie which, in the end, I’m glad we did.  Our group’s fifteen minutes with the tempera-painted wall was fascinating.  In Italian, the part of Leonardo’s name Nardo means knot. 

Knotted tablecloth
Instead of signing the huge piece, the lower right hand corner of the image’s tablecloth is a painted knot.  These tidbits told to us by our guide enhanced the experience.

Frescoes salvaged from the remodel of our Milan Hotel
Like many parts of Italy, Milan was heavily bombed in the war.  Instead of trying to save artifacts and buildings, much of the city was merely bulldozed to make restoration quicker.  Our wonderful little hotel had salvaged pieces of frescoes adorning most of its walls.
Lovely library around the corner from our hotel
Many historic buildings remain, but the stark concrete architecture of the 50’s newer buildings are built right up next to them. 
Inside the Duomo
Surprises around every corner stunned us, including the huge Gothic Duomo with its numerous spires.  After heavy security we were finally able to see the many giant pillars inside and all the spectacular stained glass.
Stained glass window in the Duomo
Since most everything in Milan is closed on Monday, we took a train that day to Varenna, not far away, to enjoy the Lake Como area.  

Snow on the Alps from Lake Como
Snow on the Alps, spectacular villas hugging the lake’s shore, and a beautiful landscape made for relaxing sites along the ferry we took back to Como after lunch on the water.  The whole trip had the most glorious weather and this day was sunny and warm.
Serene landscapes of Lake Como
I can wholeheartedly say this trip was the most wonderful way to celebrate a BIG birthday—many thanks to my fabulous daughter Courtney.

Monday, July 10, 2017

SIENA, ITALY, Guest Post by Cathy Bonnell

View of the Duomo, Siena, Italy
My friend Cathy Bonnell, a school librarian (now retired) in Phoenix, Arizona, loves to travel. Recently, she went to Italy, visiting Florence, Siena, and Milan with her daughter Courtney. I thank her for sharing the joys and discoveries of this special trip and for being one of my most faithful followers of The Intrepid Tourist. Here is Part 2, about her visit to Siena.
After a short train ride from Florence we arrived in Siena and checked into Villa Scacciapensieri Hotel on the outskirts of town. 
Grounds of the Villa Scacciapensieri
We felt like we were in the forest with lots of trees, manicured gardens and a beautiful rooftop terrace.   
Campo area of Siena with view of the Palazzo Pubblico
After a short bus ride back into Siena, we headed for the Campo area and the huge sloped brick piazza. The sunny day brought out “hundreds” of people, kids and dogs, who were sitting, lying and enjoying the site of the Palazzo Pubblico—the spectacular town hall.  We spent several hours viewing the frescoes inside.  An interesting site back on the piazza was the end-of-term students in their robes rollicking in the many open air restaurants and bars and driving their oddly adorned old cars around the square.
Inside the Duomo in Siena
A short walk away is the huge Duomo—very striking in its Romanesque-Gothic architecture holding so many sculptural masterpieces by Donatello and Michelanglo and others.  The black-and-white striped marble pillars are almost contemporary looking and the inlaid marble floors are stunning. 
Baptismal font by Donatello inside the Siena Duomo Baptistry
The smaller Baptistry is even more stunning with a spectacular baptismal font by Donatello.  So much beauty, effort and money poured into these churches over the centuries still made me pause to think if some of that could have gone in to helping people have better lives.
Unique Italian pottery vase found in Siena
One of the few treasures I purchased on the trip was a colorful pottery vase in a unique style—from the Ceramiche Tombelli shop behind the Baptistry.  It was shipped home and arrived in perfect shape.
Two intrepid tourists with San Gimignano and its famous towers in the background
I long wanted to make this trip to see the art I had missed years ago but in the end I think my most favorite part of the whole trip was the next two days spent with a private driver touring the many medieval villages and seeing the lush green rolling hills of the countryside –one day to the south, the next day to the north. 
Fountain in Montepulciano with Medici coat of arms at the top
The perfectly groomed vineyards, red poppies in bloom, as well as the typical Tuscan cypress tree landscapes were so soothing to these desert eyes.  
At the Castellina family winery
AND, also some of the best meals I’ve ever had were the two lunches our driver treated us to—one at the Querceto di Castellina family winery, cooking school and hotel in the Chianti area, and the other at a five star rated restaurant near Pienza with a breathtaking 180 degree view.  Pasta, pasta, and more pasta but so delicious. 
Winery buildings in foreground and traditional Tuscan home beyond

Monday, July 3, 2017

FLORENCE, ITALY: Guest post by Cathy Bonnell

Michelangelo's David, replica in the Piazza della Signora, Florence, Italy
My friend Cathy Bonnell, a school librarian (now retired) in Phoenix, Arizona, loves to travel. Recently, she went to Italy, visiting Florence, Siena, and Milan with her daughter Courtney. I thank her for sharing the joys and discoveries of this special trip and for being one of my most faithful followers of The Intrepid Tourist. Here is Part 1, about her visit to Florence.
In 1976 my husband and I spent one night in Florence Italy.  About all we managed to see there was the replica of Michelangelo’s David in piazza della Signoria.  Over the years I must have mentioned quite a few times how I would like to go back to Florence to see all the art I’d missed so I shouldn’t have been surprised when my 31 year old daughter gave me a trip there for my upcoming 70th birthday.  She planned it all AND paid for it all, went with me but made sure we went where I wanted to go.
Michelangelo's David, Galleria dell'Academica
One of our first stops was the Galleria dell’ Academica to see the “real” David.  Just spectacular!  Art students lined the walls near David sketching away.  Other works by Michelangelo are housed in this museum, many unfinished.  Also two Madonna paintings by Botticelli thrilled us.  Nearby is the Museo San Marco with the fabulous frescos that quickly became my favorite medium.  Each cell of the monks once housed there had small, simple frescos on the wall.
Fresco, Museo San Marco
A small group walking tour took us easily into the famous Uffizi Gallery where we saw just about every important Renaissance artist’s  work.  VERY crowded but our tour guide steered us to the important pieces and; in almost four hours I felt I saw what I’d been yearning all these years to see.  A beautiful view through a window showed us the Ponte Vecchio where we headed next.  I found a fabulous stationery store there and; many beautiful cards as well as a small etching of the Ponte Vecchio.
Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno
The next day we set off for the Palazzo Pitti only to discover a very long line due to free admission day.  With a scrumptious gelato in hand to wait we got in just as it started to rain so we didn’t go through the gardens but had a view of them from the second floor of this home of the Medici family .  My eyes were beginning to blur after seeing all the opulent art on the walls and the ceilings covered in gilded art.
Duomo, Florence
Next on to the Porcellino market where we saw and rubbed the nose of the bronze boar though we had not seen the original at the Uffizi.  We bargained with the many sellers in the stalls & found treasures to bring home.  Nearby we had a meal in a sidewalk cafĂ© with views of fabulous statuary in the external niches of Orsanmichele church.  Each statue is a copy (real ones inside the church in the museum) of the patron saint of the city’s guilds.  We never stopped marveling at the age of these buildings (1300’s) that we walked by each day.
Basilica of St. Mary of the Flower, Florence
Of course there’s no missing the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.  Its majestic size rises above all the surrounding buildings with the colorful and intricately patterned marble sparkling in the sunlight.  I really could have just sat in one of the many sidewalk cafes, listening to street musicians, sipping prosseco and looking at this 13th century edifice all day (I did sit for about an hour doing just this while my adventurous daughter climbed the tower).  But of course one must see inside and marvel at all the frescoes and precious items in the museum including the original wood models.  Along with the gorgeous frescoes in the Duomo, the stunning Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery were my favorite.  Again, copies adorn the outside but we saw the originals in the Museum.
View of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo
Our last view of beautiful Florence was from the Piazzale Michelangelo with the spectacular views of the whole city. 
External Guild Statuary of the Orsanmichele Church, Florence, Italy