Art & Books in Omaha: “In Living Color” at the Joslyn Art Museum & The Bookworm

Andy Warhol's "Camouflage"

Andy Warhol’s “Camouflage” at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.

A friend’s abstract painting of a lake, the water and sky tousled by blues,  yellows,  greens, and purple, has changed the way I look at art. It calms me in the winter.  It helps me focus on the colors that will return in spring.  I don’t pay much attention to the prints I bought at museum shops.  All you need is one painting.

I have always enjoyed museums, but in recent years I have developed a more intense need to look at art. Sometimes I skim the art criticism in The New Yorker, though I don’t read it too closely, or it will make me unhappy, because I won’t have an opportunity to see the exhibits.

“Wouldn’t you like to go to New York to see the Matisse Cut-Outs show at MOMA?” I idly asked my husband.

Nothing will compel him to go to New York, but he will go on jaunts to museums in nearby cities.  Over the weekend we went to the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha to see the superb exhibition, “In Living Color:  Andy Warhol and Contemporary Printmaking.”

If you’re not a Warhol fan, you will be after you see this stunning exhibition. The show consists of more than 110 works by Warhol and other twentieth-century artists, among them Louise Bourgeois, John Baldessari, Helen Frankenthaler, Keith Haring, and Richard Diebenkorn.  Karin Campbell, the curator of contemporary art at the Joslyn Art Museum, selected these works from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation for a show centered on the theme of how Warhol’s “use of color impacts both subject and viewer, creating a dialogue between Warhol and nineteen contemporary artists who all use color to shape how we understand images.”

Seeing the screen prints “live,” so to speak,  gave me the thrill of the experience of Warhol’s powerful art.  I shivered looking at “Camouflage,” a series of prints based on cloth Warhol bought at a military supply store.  In the sixties, anti-war protesters had, and this is from the placard, “appropriated camouflage, turning it into a symbol of the unbridled power of the military industrial complex and the hubris of the American government.”  Warhol applied inorganic colors to the camouflage designs “to nullify its power of deception.”  The Joslyn displays seven of the camouflage prints, whose colors range from psychodelic to muted.  The camouflage becomes something altogether different when the colors are changed.

Warhol reacts to contemporary culture in his art, and nowhere is it more apparent than in his flamboyant portraits of pop icons.  The show displays nine of the Marilyn Monroe portrait screen prints, identical except for the color scheme.  I got a sense of the diminution  of character caused by celebrity.  The colors can make her look sad, vapid, depressed, worried, cruel, or ugly.   I have never been a Marilyn fan, but thesmudging out of her personality is painful, particularly in the green screen print at the bottom right.

Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe

Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe

We also saw  the Mao portraits, a portrait of Edward Kennedy commissioned for a campaign fundraiser, a lovely portrait of Liza Minelli, and the chilling Electric Chair series.

Yes, the flowers were there, too, and I want a bedspread with that beautiful print.

We were fascinated by three in the Cowboy and Indian series, Annie Oakley, Geronimo, and John Wayne.

You will see that I have written only about Warhol, but he has star power that few other artists do, and who knows when I’ll get a chance to see his work again?

THE BOOKWORM.   When we arrived at the site of The Bookworm in Omaha and found an empty store, we panicked. We love The Bookworm, one of our favorite indepdendent bookstores. Had it gone out of business?  Fortunately, no.  It has moved about a mile away to Loveland Centre, a new shopping center at 90th Street and West Center Road.

I love the new space, the light wood and the high ceilings.  It reminds me a bit of the old Borders stores.  I limited myself to one book this time,  Nicola Griffith’s Hild, finally in paperback.   I’ll be back.

A Trip to the Joslyn Art Museum, Coffee, & The Bookworm

Joslyn Art Museum

Joslyn Art Museum

We went to Omaha.

We go to Omaha to see the art. Oh yeah, you say,  Omaha.  Are you sure?

The Joslyn Art Museum, a beautiful Art Deco building, is one of the better museums in the Midwest. We know the permanent collection very well:  the Degas sculpture of the dancer, Mary Cassatt’s “Lydia Reading the Morning Paper,” Jules Breton’s “The Weeders,” Jackson Pollock’s “Galaxy,” the Native American collection,   and Jean-Léon Gérôme’s dreadful tiger painting, “The Grief of the Pasha.”

Mary Cassatt, "Lydia Reading the Morning Paper"

Mary Cassatt, “Lydia Reading the Morning Paper”

We were there for the new exhibition, “Renoir to Chagall:  Paris and the Allure of Color,” a collection of French paintings from the Dixon Galleries and Gardens in Memphis.

It is a remarkable show, and if you don’t live in a city with a great Impressionist collection (like Chicago), it provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time with Renoir, Matisse, Monet, Raoul Dufy, Gaston La Tuche, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bether Morisset, Degas, John Singer Sargent, and my new favorite painter, Jean-Louis Forain.

But can you talk about art? After reading a few placards, my husband can talk about brush strokes and color. I’m better at finding patterns in the exhibition (I call it the Carrie in “Homeland” thing).

My only original observation was that many (at least three-fourths) of the paintings had a water theme.   Take Gaston La Touche’s “The Joyous Festival (1906), a water scene with four dancing figures, Chinese lanterns, musicians looking as though they are almost in the water, and fireworks (or are those fountains?  I need new glasses).  La Touche knew and was influenced by Degas and Jean-Louis Forain.  He also drew from the Rococo outdoor scenes of Fête Galante paintings.

Gaston La Touche, "The Joyous Festival"

Gaston La Touche, “The Joyous Festival”

Monet’s “Port of Dieppe, Evening” (1882), a harbor painting, was a favorite of many of the women.  “I love that,” one woman said.  “I love that,” I said.  My husband liked it, but was more conservative about it.  Or I should say he was much more modern, because Chagall was his favorite.

Monet, "Port of Dieppe, Evening"  (much more beautiful when you see the painting)

Monet, “Port of Dieppe, Evening” (much more beautiful when you see the painting)

My new favorite painter, however, is Jean-Louis Forain.  I admired his watercolor on a linen fan, “Dancer with a Rose.”  His “Dancer with a Mirror,” pastel on wave paper with blue fibers, is even more beautiful.


Jean-Louis Forain, “Dancer with a Mirror”

Forain’s “Woman in a Cafe” (1885) is the most interesting portrait in the exhibition.  Although I am not that woman in the painting (the placard said she was possibly a courtesan), I recognize the anxiety of waiting, the tiredness. She is no longer young.   Divorced in our late thirties and forties, we all used to look like that in coffeehouses.  (I’m sure you remember.)

Jean-Louis Forain, "Woman in a Cafe" (1885)

Jean-Louis Forain, “Woman in a Cafe” (1885)

 Forain liked to paint “the world of the café, brothel, racetrack, ballet and other aspects of modern Parisian life in the late nineteenth century,” according to the Joslyn Art Museum mobile tour.  (I don’t have an iPhone, so I couldn’t listen to this at the museum.)  I wish I knew more about the tradition of the courtesan in la vie moderne.

The exhibition will be there until September 1.

And then coffee and books.  I feel very guilty, but we had coffee at Starbucks.  We wanted comfortable chairs, to read our books, and to be ignored.  The patrons did seem to know the baristas, though:  it was like a neighborhood coffeehouse.

And then we went to an independent bookstore, The Bookworm.

The Bookworm, Omaha

The Bookworm, Omaha

If you’re going to display Dan Brown’s Inferno, you might as well display Dante, too.  I was very interested in the Robin Kirkpatrick translation (Penguin Deluxe Classic edition) of The Divine Comedy, but realized that it would be ridiculous to buy it, since we already have a couple of good translations.  (The store has lots of Penguins.)

A display at the Bookworm.

A display at the Bookworm.

I liked this paperback display even more.  Everything from the new Pharos editions of “out-of-print, lost, or rare books” to David R. Gilham’s City of Women to Stav Sherez’s A Dark Redemption to Tracy Chevalier and Donna Leon.  Paperbacks for summer.

 We did not have time to stop at A Stitch in Crime (a mystery bookstore) or Jackson Street Booksellers (a used bookstore), but I already had God knows how many books on my e-reader that I didn’t run out of books on the way home.

A very nice day in Omaha.