Sunday, March 16, 2008

First Night/Second Day in Amsterdam

After a snack at New York Pizza, we went to a gay bar called Montmartre, off Halvemaanstraat. It was smoky, and decorated in a jungle theme. Parrots flew through or hung from fake creepers and branches in the ceiling. Two small disco balls provided the discordant note. We got a table near the front of the bar, which gave us a great view of the entire bar. The crowd was mostly white guys in their thirties and forties. The regulars were obviously familiar with the playlist and sang along. A few younger guys danced spontaneously.

We looked into Entre Nous, just across the street, but it was empty. I remembered reading that the partying crowd here moved together from bar to bar, and so guessed it was not time for Entre yet. We walked down Reguliersdwarsstraat and tried Soho. Soho was done up in a poshed-up English pub style. It was jam packed with muscular guys bulging in tee-shirts and jeans. We went next door to ARC, which looked very much like a bigger version of NYC's G Lounge. The men there were quite well-dressed too, but in a casual way. I had a Corona and appreciated the very good-looking men.

Our last stop for the night was the dance club Exit. It played different music on its three levels, but the music was all American. The second level was done up in kitschy Chinese Buddhist decor. The clientele was younger and more ethnically diverse. The Quarterback and I had a good time dancing on the main dance floor before walking back home.

I woke up at eleven this morning, and we got some lunch at another brown cafe along Utrechtsestraat. The server/bartender served us the wrong orders, and gave us our second order of coffee and cappucino free. We walked along the Prinsengracht towards the Museumplein. While lining up to enter Van Gogh Museum, we saw, as we had been warned, horizontal rain. Both of us were outraged by the fact that only one out of the three ticket counters was open, though the line snaked round the entire block.

The van Goghs were sublime. Arranged in stages of the artist's life, the paintings showed clearly his artistic development. I wished the curatorial notes gave less biography, and more art criticism and history. For example, a section displayed paintings which copied the black-and-white prints of Masters he admired, like Remebrandt, Millet and Delacroix. But that section was silent on what he admired about those painters, and how his own differed from theirs. A peasant woman harvesting, and a boy binding sheafs of corn, in two paintings copied after Millet, reminded me of Michelangelo due to their statuesque figures. That strength is seen over and over again in other paintings, in the vigorous brushstrokes and in the energetic embrace of the world.

Sunflowers, 1889
Oil on Canvas, 95 x 73 cm

The sunflowers are mouths and eyes and fangs, but they are not surrealist. They are not nightmarish symbols of our unconscious, but sunflowers. Their power lies in this. This van Gogh is familiar. A van Ggoh new to me is one of great delicacy, as can be seen in this painting given to his brother Theo on the birth of his son, Vincent Willem.

Almond Blossom, 1890
Oil on Canvas, 73.5 X 92 cm

The special exhibition was on John Everett Millais, a nice contrast with van Gogh. Van Gogh learned to draw and paint late in life, whereas Millais' artistic gift was recognised very young. Van Gogh painted mostly rural figures whereas Millais painted high society portraits. Van Gogh did not sell a single painting in his lifetime, but Millais was rewarded with critical praise and commissions. Van Gogh painted nature whereas Millais painted art. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Millais exhibition. His realism is breathaking, his insight into human psychology acute.

A Huguenot on St. Bartholomew's Day refusing to shield himself from danger by wearing a Roman Catholic badge, 1852
Oil on canvas, 36.5 × 25.25 in

A Huguenot impresses by the extreme economy with which it depicts the couple's love and difference. The sumptuousness of the clothes matches the detail of the plants.

Another painting I liked very much is The Order of Release, 1746. The Scottish wife is tired but triumphant in securing the release of her husband from the English prison. The dog is left alone to express its animal joy.

The Order of Release 1746, 1852-3
Oil on canvas

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