April 24, 2013

Great Day in Quito

You know when you have those days where you just feel like you need to be outside. Well, the weather in Quito usually pretty good, but today was PERFECT! I know, talking about the weather is a little clique, but after a week of rain you would feel invigorated too. Ayelet and I enjoyed a warm walk in park today as the Sun set behind Pichincha (you've seen it in previous posts).

Now, luckily I am in a career that allows me to get outside as much as needed. And today just happened to be a day that we needed a 70 meter long stretch of grass. My middle school students were doing a lesson that I like to call "Space Race," where they create a scale model of our solar system. Here is a little taste of our backdrop from school on a clear day from Quito after a long stretch of snow being dumped on the mountains. Remember, we are surrounded by a bunch of old volcanoes that create amazing views.

Cayambe (the pointy one in the next few pics)
View from my classroom
Students setting up the inner solar system. The tree is the Sun. 
On our scale, Neptune is 60 meters from the Sun
Everyone enjoyed the view. 
Mars was 3 meters from the Sun. 
Antisana from my class. Supplies about 10% of water to Quito. 

April 23, 2013

Latin American Artists in Nueva York: Orozco and Tamayo

Alright, we left off at Jose Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo, two great Mexican artists. Orozco was considered one of "los tres grandes" (three important ones), referring to the three great muralists of that time: Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco. Siqueiros also was in New York at this time, but since I'm not a huge fan of his work, I won't go much more into him - beyond the little tidbit that he influenced Jackson Pollack with his use of industrial paints, like airplane paint, in his art. Ok, on to Orozco.

Orozco on the East Coast
Orozco lived in New York for a while - 1927 until 1934 and then again in 1940 and 1946.

One of his amazing murals is in a basement room in Dartmouth College. You'd be right to say that Dartmouth isn't in New York; it's in New Hampshire. But the mural he painted there is so amazing - I just have to write about it. It's called "The Epic of American Civilization" and it's 92-feet long. It portrays American civilization from the invasion of Mexico during the conquest to the Mexican revolution to scenes in the United States during the 1930s.

One segment of "The Epic of American Civilization", Jose Clemente Orozco, 1934, via Dartmouth
Orozco also painted scenes of New York life, such as "The Subway." Greg said it's like a jail cell. The dark and dreariness of the scene is very much like Orozco - his themes often have an apocalyptic overtone to them.

What stuck out to me is that the people look blurry and faraway, just like they would if you were trying to avoid seeing other people on a subway car. Beyond just the need to have space in a big city (even if it's only mental space), there's also a survival need there. You never know who you might meet on the subway and whether they are sane, unfriendly, or even short-tempered to the point of being murderous. Orozco shows the distance we place between ourselves and others in this painting.

"The Subway," Jose Clemente Orozco, 1928, via MoMA

Rufino Tamayo in New York

"I went to New York to get to know what painting really was... We were blind here, and New York made me aware of all the trends and currents that existed in those years. It showed me what art was."- Rufino Tamayo (via this New York Times article)
During the late 1920s, Tamayo was being eclipsed by the three great Mexican muralists of his time. There was really no need because Tamayo was an excellent painter who painted in a more universal style than the muralists. He wanted to base his art in principles of modern art, meaning flat compositions and abstract forms. Tamayo lived in New York between 1926-1928 and again in 1936 until 1950.

He exhibited in several galleries in New York and also had a major retrospective at the Guggenheim museum in New York in 1979. Not convinced? Here are two of his paintings that he did while in New York:

"Animales," Rufino Tamayo, 1941, via MoMA
Tamayo painted Animales right in the middle of WWII. It clearly communicates the fear and uncertainty that was rampant at this time in the world. These dogs are clearly hungry (see picked-clean bones at the bottom) and inspire fear in whoever would encounter them, especially in a dark alleyway somewhere. The animals are displayed with cubist lines and sinister colors. These are not your average domestic dogs here.
"Woman with a Pineapple," Rufino Tamayo, 1941, via MoMA
In total contrast, this peaceful scene of a woman with a pineapple. You can really see the influence of Picasso and cubism here. The colors also are interesting - you may never find a face with those types of colors (or shapes) in real life, but that's why it's art. Also, the subject matter evokes Gauguin with his island women.

Next up: Miguel Covarrubias and Joaquin Torres Garcia! Hope you're enjoying my presentation over many blog posts.

April 20, 2013

Latin American Artists in Nueva York: Diego Rivera

Now we can start on the artists - like I said before, I've got more information on Mexican artists than others so this is heavily skewed to them. There were plenty of other Latin American artists in New York during this time period, but not as much info on them. So, first up is Diego Rivera...

Diego Rivera in New York

He came to New York with his yet-unknown-artist/wife Frida Kahlo - nowadays more people know her than him, but back then, it was the other way around. He was fascinated by the modern technology that the city was using. Because he leaned heavily towards leftist politics, Rivera thought modern technology would free up the workers from hard labor tasks. 

The reason he saw all this modern technology at work was because the city was expanding greatly. It was the age of the skyscrapers in New York. Rivera created a three-piece mural for his successful MoMA exhibit in 1931-1932 and the subject had to do with this modern technology.

"Pneumatic Drill", Diego Rivera, 1931-2, via MoMA
 The first painting was called "Pneumatic Drill." This depicts the construction done for the Rockefeller Center, a place that will factor scandalously into Rivera's life a little later. The workers all have indistinct faces that imply they are simply hired hands. I found it interesting how the modern machine is in the front, but there are men using old technology (axes and such) in the background. It shows how old technology is the past and the new technology is the future.

"Frozen Assets", Diego Rivera, 1931-2, via MoMA
The next painting, "Frozen Assets," shows the city on three levels. The uppermost level is the newly-built skyscrapers in New York. The middle level shows a warehouse or homeless shelter full of homeless men, packed together and watched over by a guard. They were most likely the workers on these skyscrapers. In this painting, it appears that they are the foundation of the skyscrapers in the way they are positioned. In the bottom level, the rich are in a bank's safety vault, storing or reviewing their enormous wealth. Notice how this painting contrasts the few rich people at the bottom level with the vast number of homeless in the middle level.

"Electric Power", Diego Rivera, 1931-2 via MoMA

The last mural, "Electric Power," depicts workers in the Hudson Avenue Power Station where they generated steam power for the city during that time. Again, the workers aren't showing their faces, but two of them are looking at sources of light, which could signify that they are hopeful for the future.

Although Rivera was successful in New York at this time, he also was plagued by scandal. He was commissioned by Rockefeller Jr. to create a mural in the Rockefeller Center titled "Man at Crossroads." After placing Lenin's face in the mural, there was such an outcry in the press that Rockefeller was forced to tear down the mural. Or so they say...

"Man at Crossroads," Diego Rivera, 1934, via PBS

Another version that has been hypothesized is that Rockefeller was actually okay with Lenin's face on the mural. But what he didn't approve of was his own face on the mural. Rivera may have painted him in, drinking and dancing with women. Considering Rockefeller was religious (a Baptist) and a Prohibitionist, this personal insult was too much for him. This hypothesis may be true because Rivera later recreated the mural in Mexico and it had the scene with Rockefeller partying in it.

Lending credence to this belief of the personal slight is that Rockefeller ordered the mural destroyed while he was in negotiations with the MoMA for them to take the mural off his hands. Why would he have not sold the mural to the MoMA if only Lenin's face bugged him? He was a business man after all. 

Stay tuned for info and analysis on Orozco and Tamayo next time!

April 17, 2013

Latin American Artists in Nueva York: Intro

I recently gave a 30-minute (more like 45-minute) presentation to my art history class on Latin American artists who lived or passed through New York during the 1920s-1940s. You probably immediately think of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo's husband, the legendary Mexican muralist if you've seen the movie about Frida. But there were lots more. I did end up focusing more on the Mexican artists during this time, but there were some from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, and even Ecuador (you might remember I mentioned Camilo Egas here).

I'm going to break up this post into at least two different posts so stay tuned for the rest. For now, enjoy learning a bit about the New York art scene during the '20s, '30s, and '40s, and how Latin American artists were treated during this time...

New York Art Scene in the 1920s

Art during this time was still relatively conservative in New York. The center of the modern art world was still Paris (and would be until WWII). The only gallery in town that was really showing modern art was Alfred Stieglitz's Gallery 291. H tried to get an avant-garde movement going in NY and would show more than just photography in his gallery. Even though New York wasn't known for its modern art yet, the US as a whole was known as an advanced and modern nation. Also, in case you forgot, Prohibition went from 1920-1933.

New York Art Scene in the 1930s

In the 1930s, the Great Depression raged in the US and around the world. In response, the art movement called social realism that displayed poverty and struggle grew in New York. Some American artists were given support by the government through the Works Projects Administration to create public art at this time. New York also experienced the immigration of artists and intellectuals from Europe who were fleeing unstable situations across Europe. They brought modern art movements with them, such as cubism for example.

New York Art Scene in the 1940s

During this decade, abstract expressionism grew in New York. The city also became a modern art center of the world because Paris was stuck in the middle of WWII. Lots of artists, both North American and Latin American, were influenced by leftist politics.

Latin American Artists Specifically

What I found really interesting was that Latin American artists who came to New York during the twenties/thirties/forties often were already well-known artists in their own countries and in Europe before they arrived in the US. What they did in New York added to their fame, but it didn't start their careers. Museums, like the MoMA, and galleries held exhibits for these artists.

North Americans during this time saw Latin American art, especially art from Mexico, as something exotic and picturesque, even though the artists were following the same art trends that North American artists were following. They just added their own Latin touch to the artwork and North Americans loved it! The Latino art also inspired North American artists and writers to visit Mexico and Cuba to experience the landscape and culture for themselves.

Also, President Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy tried to build better relationships with Latin American countries using cooperation and business, rather than military force, to stabilize the region. The government sponsored some exhibits of Latin American art during this time period, too.

One last interesting thing (and then you'll just have to wait until the next installment) was that art during this time influenced one another. As mentioned above, the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz exhibited modern art work, including caricatures by Marius de Zayas in his gallery. The Mexican caricaturist, Miguel Covarrubias, was influenced by Jazz and Blues music, as well as African-American dancing. And Frida Kahlo loved watching movies and included a famous actor in one of her paintings when she was in New York.

I'll leave you with that wealth of information until next time. I'll list my bibliography at the end of this series so you all can research more.

April 15, 2013

The Air is Thin Up Here

Continuing on our weekend journey from Riobamba, we decided to climb Chimborazo, the world's highest mountain (taller than Mt. Everest due to the earth's bulge at the equator). From the center of the earth, Chimborazo is 6,384 meters/20,944.9 feet high. Everest loses by 2 kilometers/6561 feet. It looks pretty imposing when you drive up to it.

Did we get to the top? Heck no! That would take hours and require amazing levels of fitness that I, for one, did not have.

What you do is you drive into the park and go about 8 kilometers by car along a very bumpy, gravel road. Along the way you see vicunyas, special alpine llamas-meet-deer, and fog rolls in and out. We were lucky because the top of Chimborazo came into view a few times for us.

You park your car at the car park at the first refuge, which is at 4785 m/15,700 feet, and then start walking to the second. You can literally see the second refuge up there. It also seems closer than it is because the air is thinner up there and things appear clearer because of it.

The two buildings are the two refuges -
they're not that far apart, but it feels farther when you're hiking it at altitude.
Another side effect of the air being thinner is that you have a hard time catching your breath and your heart starts racing. At least mine did. I was the slowest member of our group, but I did make it up without feeling too sick or out of breath.
V for Victory!

The second refuge is at 5000m/16,400ft. high. A lot of the Ecuadorians were going a little further up to play in the snow since they hardly ever get to see snow. However, I was ready to get back to slightly thicker air so Greg and I hiked back down to have some tea and cookies in the first refuge. Our friends joined us and then, we got ready to go. Little did we know that we had left the car with its lights on while we were hiking.

Chimborazo's summit peeking out for us
We get in the car and -lo and behold!- it doesn't start! We're stuck at 15,700 feet with a drained car battery. So we get out to push it down the hill so it can charge the battery. Keep in mind the air is thin up here and our arms/legs get tired more quickly. We push and push, and at some point, another guy comes to help take my spot pushing because my arms felt like limp noodles.

The car starts to roll down the hill and it turns on! I know most of you who know about cars were probably thinking "well, duh" at this point, but I had no idea if this pushing idea would really work or not.

The rest of our trip down Chimborazo and back home was fairly uneventful. We did pass the most beautiful river valley I've ever seen, but nothing was as exciting as pushing a car down a mountain. And there were friendly llamas, which always make life better.

Enjoy the llama cuteness!

April 12, 2013

Riobamba, Frio-bamba

Riobamba was our overnight stop on our weekend trip with our friends. Having never been there before, we had only heard it was really cold there. The whole night we kept asking ourselves if it felt colder than Quito or not. Hard to tell! 

We didn't do a whole lot in Riobamba, except walk around a bit and eat dinner. This church stood out though. The info poster called it a mestizo baroque church. 

As you walk closer to it, you can definitely see both styles in it. There are quite a few pre-Colombian symbols on it and it is quite overdone in areas, which indicates baroque style. Many Latin American countries like their baroque style, but Ecuador does go a bit overboard with it. Most of the churches in Quito have baroque touches to them. 

Of course, any church worth its communion host has its additional structures outside: 

a lovely fountain before the church

detail on the fountain

April 9, 2013

Getting Away from Quito for a Weekend

A lot happens last-minute in Ecuador. For example, a few days before the weekend, we were invited by friends to go away that weekend. They didn't have an exact plan, but had heard about these lakes in a national park about 5 hours away that they wanted to check out. We jumped at the chance to get out of Quito and explore an area we hadn't been to before. And it was beautiful!

The lakes are called Lagunas de Atillo and they are a chain of lakes in Sangay National Park. The park is huge in itself (and I found out, it's listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Sangay has three volcanos in it: Sangay, Tunguruhua, and El Altar (you might remember I mentioned El Altar in my post here). Sangay and Tunguruhua are both active volcanoes, but we didn't see them on this trip. We went up the largest inactive volcano/mountain the next day, but I'll tell you more about that later.

We got to Lagunas de Atillo in the early afternoon and hiked down almost to the lake. It looked steep on the way down, but the ground was covered by these strong grass bushes that you could step down on easily. At first glance, it looks like it's just those bushes. But as you're walking down, you start to see different types of flowers and wildlife. I'm sad we didn't get to see Andean condors who live in this area. They can have wingspans that are 10-feet long!

After the lakes, we had a classic Ecuadorian lunch and headed to Riobamba to spend the night. More on this later.... for now, enjoy our pics!

Indigenous boy riding a horse down the road - this horse did not want to be ridden

Greg relaxing at the laguna

Waterfall above the lagunas

Here you can see the bushy grass we were stepping on