Art and Travel

Art and Travel

A key element of our travel planning includes checking out what is happening at specific art venues at our destination or planning the trip focused on a particular art site.  All major destinations boast public, private and commercial contemporary art collections and so it doesn’t require much research to find something that might interest you.  It is always exciting to come across a retrospective of the work of an artist that you have heard of or one that catches your attention.  Larger public galleries may have several examples of an artist’s work but when you get a chance to view a large cross-section of that artist’s production over time you have a chance to learn and appreciate what it is that he/she has been interested in the past and how that has influenced the current work. In fact attending a retrospective of an artist provides the added bonus of a one-shot crash course.

Other than the obvious attraction of popular museums/art galleries (Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; and the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver) and private collections (Martin Z. Margulies, Miami, and Phillips Collection, Washington), I have listed below a few of my favourite special destinations to tempt you in your future travel plans.

The Murals of Mexico City

Over a span of six visits to Mexico City, two under the guidance of a friend who introduced me to the wonders of the Mexican muralists, I came to learn about the work of David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco, Rufino Tamayo and, of course, Diego Rivera.

Some of the major mural sites in Mexico City include the Palace of Fine Arts, the National Palace and the Ministry of Education.  Among the most famous are the Rivera murals that cover the interior courtyard walls on the three floors of the Ministry of Education.  Starting in 1923, under the patronage of the then Minister of Education, Rivera spent four years completing 128 panels (separate murals) covering a total of about 17,000 square feet.  The murals, representing a pictorial history of Mexico, begin with scenes from the 1810 revolution and the liberation of Mexico from Spain and conclude with an idealized vision of the workers and peasants marching to paradise under communism.

In the images below you see a view from the courtyard and detail of one of the murals (Distributing Arms).  The female figure in the middle of Distributing Arms is Frida Kahlo.  More details about the work of Rivera will be the subject of a future posting.

Storm King Art Center 

Sixty miles north of New York City between Schunnemunk and Storm King Mountains sits a 500-acres sculpure park showcasing over 125 works of the best-known contemporary sculptors.  Developed on a private estate in the 1960s, the Storm King Art Center boasts a spectacular display of large-scale outdoor sculptures by such distinguished artists as Alexander Calder, Mark Di Suvero, Andy Goldsworthy, Robert Grosvenor, Sol Lewitt, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra and David Smith.

It is truly a mind-altering experience to ramble the vast grounds of the Center and marvel at the impact of this remarkable collection and the sheer beauty of the setting.  Two examples of the sculptures on display are reproduced below.  The first example is by Di Suvero (Mon Père, Mon Père) and the second by Calder (The Arch).

With any number of excellent B&Bs in the area it makes for an ideal trip especially if you combine a visit to Storm King with a visit to Dia:Beacon almost directly across the Hudson River (see below).


One of New York based Dia Art Foundation’s many locations, Dia:Beacon is situated 60 miles north of NYC on the Hudson River in Beacon, NY.  This 240,000 square foot exhibition site was once a Nabisco box factory and now houses spectacular, large-scale installations from the foundation’s vast collection of art from the 1960s to the present.

The works at Beacon include multiple pieces by John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Andy Warhol and Lawrence Weiner, to name a few.

It is only in a space like Dia:Beacon that 72 of 102 panels of Warhol’s “Shadows, 1978-79” could be displayed to its full effect on the four walls of a very large gallery (see photo below).

The picture below is of Heizer’s “North, East, South, West, 1967”.  This installation covers 142 feet of gallery space to a depth of 20 feet. It has been explained that the sheer dimensions of the piece and its incorporation into the physical structure of the building “… force an entirely different viewing experience from that of traditional sculpture in the round, an experience that is a function less of movement to allow multiple viewpoints than of the extended journey in time and space required to comprehend it”.

Marfa, Texas

If you are a fan of the work of Donald Judd, then having to fly into George W’s hometown of Midland, Texas, in order to start your pilgrimage to Marfa is a small price to pay.  Marfa is located in the scenic high desert of West Texas near the Rio Grande.

Before Judd started buying up real estate in 1971, Marfa’s claim to fame was being the location for the 1955 movie Giant and for the Hotel Paisano where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean stayed during the filming.  A future posting will go into more detail about this remarkable artist and the environment he created for his art.

By the time of his death in 1994 Judd had amassed several houses and commercial buildings, as well as an abandoned army fort and barracks all in and around Marfa which he refurbished into studios, a residence and gallery spaces.  The spaces were modified to allow for large-scale surveys of his work and those of his friends who figured prominently in his life from the 1960s onward: John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenburg and John Wesley.

The main reason behind Judd’s creation of these exhibition spaces and the installation of his and his friends’ work was the belief that he had to rectify the inadequacies of curators and museums.  He wrote in a 1977 essay entitled In Defense of My Work, “The space surrounding my work is critical to it: as much thought goes into the installation as into the piece itself.  My work, and that of others, is often exhibited badly and always for short periods.  Somewhere there has to be a place where the installation is well done and permanent.”  And that is what he accomplished in Marfa.

To appreciate the work of Judd and the other so-called “Minimalists” (a term he never liked as the label he felt “… suggested exclusion or a reduction of potential”), you really do have to make the pilgrimage to see, among other installations, the two artillery sheds that Judd remodeled and filled with a hundred aluminum boxes (see photos below).  The boxes are identical in size and each one is different.  In the light of a Texas afternoon the configuration and placement of the boxes create extraordinary effects.

On the List to Visit

Two site-specific destinations that are on our list for visiting include Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field – our visit is planned for May 2011. This man-made forest of 400 stainless-steel poles, 1.6 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide, is situated in the desert of western New Mexico.  The second destination, with a tentative visiting date of 2012, is Burning Man and the instant city of 48,000+ created in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert each August dedicated to art and self-expression.

Let me know your favourite art-related destinations and what is on your wish list.


About George

My long-time interest in Canadian and international contemporary art has led me to write and reflect on the artists I've met, the exhibitions that I've seen and the catalogues that I've read (I've been told I'm the only person that actually reads exhibition catalogues cover to cover). My interest began in the mid-1960's when I was searching for easy credits and I stumbled upon "Art Appreciation 101", and the rest, as they say, is history...
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3 Responses to Art and Travel

  1. Kristina says:

    Great post – can’t wait to hear the report on the lightning fields (and Burning Man should be a pretty entertaining one too!).

    My first memorable experience at an art-related destination was at 16 on an exchange in Paris – rather than the Louvre, Orangerie or the Pompidou (although they were all pretty spectacular) it’s the Rodin museum that I remember most, a converted estate with beautiful gardens, and seeing the sculpture ‘Two Hands’ and actually feeling like time stood still for a moment as I was overcome with the physical sensation of the two fingers meeting in the sculpture. Fifteen years later I went back to the same museum and this time felt a connection with ‘The Tired’ where it looks like the person is melting into the ground beneath them. I’m amazed at how an artist can capture so well a physical feeling through otherwise cold and static materials.

    The Tate Modern in London also blew me away – but in this case it was the building itself (a converted power station) that I found inspiring – massive, modern (or is it contemporary?) and minimal. Very cool.

    Next on the list: Madrid – the Muntadas show!

  2. Brian says:

    Great suggestions.
    Makes me want to get in the mini and start driving.


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