Arrived in Allentown during a thunderstorm. Crossed the 8th Street Bridge (a bike rider in green claimed the right lane), drove past residences built in a style I’ve come to associate with what little of eastern Pennsylvania I’ve seen (Federal style?), along St. John St. between Zandy’s Steak House (housed in a peach-stucco “small, depression-era theater” and Double Decker Records, to the Allentown Art Museum (AAM).
The AAM is full of little surprises. Anton Woensom von Worms’ “Suitors of Mary” (1541), based on a story from the apocryphal Book of James; Hans Moller’s Matisse-like “Lemons” (1949); Maurice Richard Grosser’s “Red Cabbages” (1939); and Sidney Ed Dickinson’s “Mary and the Studio” (1924). A security guard played (at my request) four of Harry Bertoia’s sound sculptures—“expensive wind chimes,” he said—though he did not completely dismiss them; he was keen for me to hear how the sound came from the base and played the sculptures in a sequence meant to impress (the final sculpture clanged like church bells). I liked Jesus Rafael Soto’s “Multiple V” (1969) sculpture, which appeared to vibrate and Nelson Shanks’ portrait of “Nancy” (1974).
An exuberantly painted landscape by Franz Kline, a mural painted for the American Legion Post 314 hall and removed to the museum in 2016. I like Kline’s magnified black brush stroke paintings from the 50s; I didn’t like this, though I gather it’s a characteristic example of his work from the 30s – 40s. He’s from Allentown. The video about moving the mural is fantastic.
Upstairs, is Carl Joe Williams’ “Waiting” (2016); I wasn’t initially drawn to it—though colorful, it seemed flat. But: the scene, a man wearing a Nike sweatshirt and a woman seated with her baby, the sign “checks cashed” above her is full of radiating circles—halo-like around the subjects’ heads—and like ripples in water. AND, it’s painted on a twin mattress, the sort you find as detritus in economically depressed cities (Hartford, CT, where I lived for 7 years, for instance—maybe Allentown?). From Williams’ site I see he paints on doors, palates, fencing, and, television sets—but the mattress, that’s brilliant. Grossly intimate, awkward. Next to the Williams’ was Romare Bearden’s “Circe” (1978), which looked to me like wall-to-wall carpet. The image echoes Manet’s “Olympia.”
I was curious about Didier William’s “La Croix a Samedi” (2016)—it appears to be damaged. I asked a guard—he didn’t know. A spot where the wood look worn through. Compare it with “Mawon”—which is clearly not damaged.
When I left AAM, the sun was out, the sky blue, clouds cumulus and massive, and North 5th Street was brilliant. Sorry to go.
My consolation: I caught a fantastic broadcast on WFMU—Vladamir Tarasov’s “Atto III: Drumtheater” from Experimental Sounds Behind the Iron Curtain. I put up the volume, rolled down the window, and basked in highway traffic, humidity, and Russian noise.