Cable Cars, Copley and the American Dream: AHA Alum Cassia Price explores Boston’s MFA

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, was the third stop on my US travels of Summer 2013

 The polar opposite of the first stop on my US travels, Los Angeles, Boston is small, quiet, and pretty. Perhaps due to its colonial past or proximity to Europe it has excellent collections of paintings and sculpture in comparison with its West Coast cousins. There is the feeling of quality rather than quantity throughout the city, felt nowhere more than at the MFA. Housed in a building not unfamiliar to eyes accustomed to the British Museum and National Gallery, it exudes sincerity in devotion of art and design. Spacious and airy throughout, rather than empty as the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco felt, it has a diverse and extensive collection. Discouraged at first by the poor range of European art on the ground floor, restricted to two rooms of eclectic 19th and 20th Century work, the more I walked, the more impressed I became. Some beautiful Dutch work, and a striking Turner in one of the main galleries, which was a dynamic change from the surrounding still life immediately overshadowed the interesting but unfinished Gainsboroughs I had seen earlier.

Front view of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Knowing very little about American art, I found the 18th and 19th century American portraits engaging and totally different in tone from what I had picked up from my AHA course in Northern Italy last Summer and from  English work of the same period. I felt that John Singleton Copley in particular, with his interesting range in technique and subject matter, differed from the European tradition. His subjects’ faces are often openly smiling and friendly, though they maintain a enigmatic and subtle quality that I found particularly appealing in my favourite painting from the gallery, a portrait of Mrs Richard Skinner.

Mrs Richard Skinner (Dorothy Wendell), John Singleton Copley, 1772

Another artist I was struck by was Singer Sargent: there is an unmatchable intimacy to his style that certainly merited the dedication of a whole gallery in the MFA to his work.

Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882

 

The Hippie Chic exhibition that was on at the time of my visit was underwhelming, but that may be a result of my frequent visits to the V&A. The single room had little atmosphere and said little about the design and background of the clothing on display. The exhibits were jolly but felt strikingly out of place. Despite this one flaw, the Boston MFA impressed me hugely, as possibly the most comprehensive and well-curated museum of its kind in the States.

2nd and 3rd pictures thanks to Museum of Fine Arts website

Cable Cars, Copley, and the American Dream: AHA Alum Cassia Price explores San Francisco

San Francisco, California, the second stop on my US travels of Summer 2013

 

 

San Francisco, California, has a much more complete world-view than my previous stop, Los Angeles. The feeling here is that San Francisco, leaning out into the Pacific, would rather find itself in Europe than the West Coast of the USA. The excellent Chinese food and surprising availability of decent tea marks this as an international city.

 

The entrance to Chinatown in central San Francisco

 

Where LA’s culture is reduced to its dominant industry, SF is alive with a variety of museums, ranging in subject from Japanese to Jewish culture. The latter was what I explored on a blustery, autumnal day (I am told every day is so in San Francisco). The Contemporary Jewish Museum was, as many of its kind are, quiet and bleak. It was not a weekend day, so its lack of business was excusable, but entering the white silence of the building was uncomfortable. If this was the purpose of the architect, it was crushingly effective, especially for someone visiting alone. The exhibitions themselves were interesting, with the Allen Ginsberg Beat Memories gallery revealing some poignant work, and the Beyond Belief pieces well-organised and emotionally captivating. However, I left both without buying post cards, which I see as the mark of an unsuccessful museum trip.

 

Photograph of Jack Kerouac taken by Allen Ginsberg in 1953

 

Despite the engaging photographs and wide range of spiritually inspired work, I think the use of space in the museum was designed in such a way that it was hard not to feel tense about any exhibition. This was the only building, apart from the distant Alcatraz, that made me feel this way in the city.

 

Our view of Alcatraz from the sea front in northern San Francisco

 

The rest of SF lived up to my considerable expectations. The architecture shows off its international origins, the tram (cable car) system was just as romantically dangerous as I had hoped (clinging to a railing and hoping not to crash into passing cars), and the city, renowned for its hippy culture, seems to indulge in art for the sake of fun.

 

A San Francisco cable car - romantically dangerous

 

Without the glorious weather that the rest of the state enjoys, the street art and places like Lombard Street (see below) shine instead. San Francisco has had a history of crime and difficulty, but having been scrubbed up by generations of hippies and hipsters, it is now not only safe but also alone in the happy atmosphere that may or may not have something to do with the city’s marijuana leniency.

 

Lombard Street, San Francisco

 

Examples of street art and architecture in San Francisco

Photographs thanks to The Contemporary Jewish Museum and my brother, Theodore Price

 

Cable Cars, Copley and the American Dream: AHA Alum Cassia Price explores Los Angeles

 

Los Angeles, California, the first stop on my US travels of Summer 2013

 

Junction of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard in central LA

 

It’s very odd not to feel foreign in a place you have never been to, on a side of the planet you have never touched. In the case of Los Angeles, California, everyone thinks they know what they expect from this place and everyone is right. It’s glamorous and grotty, expansive and cramped, and you really do see the rich and famous everywhere if you know how to look. It’s a little like a work of art that is viscerally ugly but has a truth and complexity that is essentially winning. It’s America via Cannes. This is my first experience of California, and I really thought I would be disturbed by its vulgarity. However, after the initial shock of the shimmer and dust of this fake world faded, the vulgarity turned to charm.

 

Poolside at the Beverley Wilshire Hotel

 

The architecture is diverse and interesting, particularly stylish in comparison to the Mexican-inspired sprawl that makes up a great deal of this part of the world. One area in particular that shone from an artistic perspective was Silver Lake. It is widely known as the Hipster area, and although I could not presume to be one of that crowd, the brightly painted buildings, each with at least one stunning graffito, were the main site of our celebrity-spotting. Within the run-down and apparently unloved exteriors, there are stylish restaurants which all have things like kale and samphire on the menu. After my brother had his photo taken with Kate Mara, everyone in our small party felt much more likely to instagram our food or get an alternative piercing.  This, I think, is the effect of LA. Like London, it has a magnetism which draws people in and allows them to find their place in the mess of studios, 24hr gyms and vegan juice bars. However, LA also brands you with it’s style, even if your visit is only two days long. I would have seen more of the architectural gems of the city, had my stop there been longer, but the Getty Center was sacrificed for the live announcement of the 12th Doctor on BBC America, and before I knew it we were driving down the freeway to Burbank with film studios on both sides.

 

View of a freeway heading into LA

 

In retrospect, one of the features of this city that struck me, other than its size and style, was its arrogance. It is a one-industry town in which everyone is acting, from those I passed in hangars, cameras on them, to each sweetly-polite and sickeningly attractive shop assistant. The permanent “what if?” that hangs over the city (what if this person I am serving is a casting director? What if this is my chance to make it big? – this is, after all, the American Dream) makes it self-centred and indifferent to the outside world. Expecting this attitude to create hostility, I was pleasantly surprised, finding that it added to its integrity. However, writing this from the plane, I have higher expectations of my next stop, San Francisco.

 

Photos thanks to my brother, Theodore Price, and downrightred.com

 

Why a Gap Year? AHA alum and Berkeley student Lucy Sundelson on what the experience meant for her

On the day I left for my gap year trip with Art History Abroad, I felt terrified.  I cried while I sat in the terminal, waiting to board my flight.  I was on my way to Italy, and for the first time in my life, I was on my own.

I had been accepted to UC Berkeley for the spring semester, rather than the fall, when my sister and all my friends would be starting.   Gap years are common in Europe, but not many American students take one.  I was worried.  What would I be missing?  Would I feel left behind?

As soon as I arrived in Italy, however, I knew that my time there would give me just as much as a semester of college, if not more.  My gap year course was my first chance to see the world as an adult.  It would teach me to make friends with people from across the world, to take care of myself, and to discover new passions. Every day felt like an adventure, as we ate, laughed, and learned our way through a dozen Italian cities, and I felt more independent and excited than I ever did in high school. I learned how to take risks: to get lost in the alleys of Venice, to dance in a nightclub, to sit in front of a monument or a sculpture and try to sketch it, despite the belief that I had absolutely no artistic ability.

I think it’s exciting that more American students are now taking gap years. College has been challenging and exhilarating, but I know that my experience with AHA is the reason I’m getting so much out of it. On the trip, I began to discover a new, independent identity—an identity I continue to explore in college. When I started at Berkeley, I already knew how to take care of myself and how to challenge myself with new experiences. My Italian journey is the reason I’ve been able to make so many friends in college, and it’s the reason I’m studying Urban Design. I’ve found the perfect niche in a place I never expected to feel so comfortable. I’ll remember my trip as not only one of the most exciting experiences of my life, but as one that helped me learn who I am and what I can do.

For more thoughts on taking a Gap Year and its benefits, see this article by founder of the AGA (American Gap Association) Ethan Knight.

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/10/prweb11231428.htm