Puerto Rico – more than just beach


The skies in Puerto Rico know how to put on a damn good show. I don’t recall being away on vacation and spending so much time looking at clouds. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Hurricane Gonzalez was in the neighborhood but the clouds were spectacular whether they were aflame with the last rays of sunset, white and puffy or heavy with grey menacing underbellies. If you want to see beautiful art on the island, look no further than Puerto Rico’s natural resources.

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I did see a few galleries in Old San Juan that are definitely worth a visit. I was curious to check out The Butterfly People Art Gallery that specializes in artworks created using exotic butterflies from around the globe. I had visions of dark walls lined with dusty pinned Lepidoptera, so I was unprepared for the light-filled Spanish colonial whose crisp white walls were decorated with a kaleidoscope of multi-colored butterflies in flight. It was a unique and exquisite sight.

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Before you get squeamish about the thought of these gorgeous creatures being abused or endangered, rest assured. The Butterfly People have been in operation for over three decades, working exclusively with farm raised butterflies and adhering to all permit and licensing procedures enforced by the US Fish and Wildlife Services. The gallery’s charming owner, Cirene Revan, represents the third generation in her family to find their life’s passion in butterflies. Once I was reassured of the gallery’s ethics, I was able to fully appreciate the beauty of the work and the artistry of the butterfly compositions, many of them created by Cirene’s husband, Resat Revan.

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Just a few blocks away I wandered into Galeria Botello. Besides showcasing Angel Botello’s bronze sculptures, the gallery also features an array of local contemporary artists working in a variety of mediums. I was drawn to the works of Julio Cesar Diaz. He combines figurative clay sculpture with finely worked wood.

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Galeria Botello will be featuring a solo show by this artist opening November 13, 2014. And if you’re looking to buy one-of-a-kind accessories by local designers and jewelers, I would recommend dropping into a little sliver of a store by the name of Luca at 255 Cruz Street Old San Juan. 

If any reader has art recommendations for Puerto Rico, please add a comment. Buen día!

PS. Check out my latest international exhibitions on www.liliannemilgrom.com

Showing some skin and is there a point to social media?

You have to hand it to the d’Orsay Museum in Paris. They know how to titillate the senses and draw the crowds with promotional material that whets the appetite and borders skittishly on the pornographic. Check out this commissioned video to promote their upcoming show inspired by the Marquis de Sade (whose erotic writings gave birth to the term sadism). Watch the 60-second video – it’s glorious!

The d’Orsay Museum is not averse to controversial art. Several years ago, I spent six weeks at the d’Orsay Museum in Paris as the first authorized copyist of one of the most iconic erotic paintings in the history of art – Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (1866) . During my stint as a copyist I also filmed the highlights of one of my days copying what is essentially a close-up, peep-show view of a woman’s vagina.

Speaking with a visitor a the d'Orsay Museum during my stint as a copyist
Speaking with a visitor a the d’Orsay Museum during my stint as a copyist

I’m proud to announce that this documentary will be screened later this month at the Institut Courbet in Ornans, France to coincide with their annual copyist week in honor of Gustave Courbet. This is a huge validation of my work, and I feel quite excited about this exposure (no pun intended!). However, I was positively speechless when I found out that a trailer for my documentary had amassed close to 1,500,000 views (that’s right – one and a half million views) on the The Great Nude website that focuses exclusively on the nude in figurative art.

After feeling giddy about these statistics for a full ten minutes, I came down to earth when I realized that nothing actually resulted from all those views. Even if we dismiss one million of the views as voyeuristic lechers, out of the remaining five hundred thousand viewers you might think there would be one or two art critics, or gallerists or artists who might have contacted me with some exciting creative proposal. Nada. Not a one. Which begs the question – is there really a point to social media? So what if a gaggle of people have viewed the video? Does exposure really lead to anything concrete or positive? Maybe I’m missing the point. Love to hear from you.

For more about my work with L’Origine du monde click here.

Road map for enjoying your next museum visit

Tate Blues by Lilianne Milgrom  Gouache on board
Tate Blues by Lilianne Milgrom Gouache on board       FOR SALE $650

Is this scene all too familiar? By now it should be no secret that I am gaga over art, but museums are daunting. They are tiring. They can be boring. Many visitors confess to dragging themselves around for hours just to feel like they are getting their money’s worth or, in the case of the free Smithsonian museums, visitors feel guilty if a day’s visit to a museum fails to produce swollen ankles and blisters on their feet.

Pulitzer prize-winning art critic Philip Kennicott wrote a very useful and quite hilarious article in the Washington Post’s museum arts section entitled HOW TO VIEW ART. I have provided the link to the article, but most people would rather have the abbreviated Cliff Notes of the five pointers Kennicott outlines. So here goes:

1. Take time

Obvious, right? But Kennicott points out that looking at art while distracted by our ubiquitous digital devices or thinking about competing demands on our time makes the museum visit a lost cause. As he puts it, “there is no hope that anything significant will happen.” In other words, don’t even bother.

2. Seek Silence 

You’ll get a lot more out of those quiet rooms hiding forgotten gems than you will crowding around the most famous artworks that have become a parody of themselves. Kennicott also warns of another danger in following the crowd: “Always avoid noise, because noise isn’t just distracting, it makes us hate other people”.

No crowds on my  recent visit to the Hirshhorn
No crowds on my recent visit to the Hirshhorn

3. Study up

What? He wants us to do our homework? Shouldn’t we just lazily sweep the walls and pedestals till our eye alights – for a fleeting moment – upon a work of art that ‘speaks’ to us? No, says Kennicott. The more you know, the more you will enjoy. I couldn’t agree more. I always try to time my visits with a tour and invariably learn interesting tidbits of information that heighten my enjoyment of the art.

4. Engage memory

Here Kennicott wants us to engage in mental exercises. He suggests that we try to remember a fact, or two, or three, about a particular work (artist’s name, year created, etc.) so that it will have some lasting power. Try this: observe a work of art, turn away from it and try to describe it in your head. Kennicott makes no bones about how he feels about those museum educators who dismiss the importance of remembering such details: “They are lying.”

5. Accept contradiction

Even the so-called experts flip-flop about how they feel about art. One can’t generalize or have just one response. “Art is inspiring and depressing, it excites and enervates us, it makes us more generous and more selfish.” And this is just as it should be. In fact, don’t expect a museum visit to cure the blues. Kennicott concludes that “If you feel better about yourself when you leave a museum, you’re probably doing it all wrong.”

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The Arts are not created equal

When Edouard Manet unveiled his painting of a reclining nude prostitute in the 1865 Paris salon, the crowds reacted with such hostility and contempt that this one work of art practically incited a riot. Charles Bernheimer writes: “Indeed the bourgeois public took such offense at this apparent affront to its morality that the painting had to be rehung high up out of its retaliatory reach (Manet’s Olympia:The Figuration of Scandal).”Manet Olympia

I have come across a number of works of art that over the centuries have caused widespread displays of public outrage and quite honestly, I long for those days. I try to imagine what it was like to live in a time when the public was so hungry for entertainment and distraction that a work of art that broke with tradition or dared to breach cultural mores would be set upon by a rabid crowd. How passionate! How exciting! What has happened to the power of art? In today’s world, visual art – even with its increasing shock value – simply cannot draw the crowds. But music still can and does.

Take yesterday for example. Upon hearing that violin virtuoso Joshua Bell was putting on a free half-hour concert at Washington DC’s architecturally impressive Union Station, I fought traffic and paid exorbitant parking fees to get myself down to the station. Me and hundreds of other music lovers packed the main hall like sardines to hear the barely audible strains of Bell’s $15 million 300-year-old Stradivarius. This video is as close as I got to the maestro:

Nonetheless it was a beautiful feeling of communal homage to sheer virtuosity. Bell did not need to shock his audience to draw the crowds. I doubt very much that a superb painting of unimaginable beauty executed by one of the world’s most talented artists could ever generate such a frenzy. Why? What does music do to our senses that visual art does not do? Or is it a question of music reaching a larger audience at one time compared to viewing a painting which is a more intimate, solitary undertaking?

These questions seem particularly relevant in the light of my most recent installation work in collaboration with sonic art composer, Juan Sebastian Vassallo. I hope to have it ready for exhibition in the coming months and in the meantime am keen to read your comments and thoughts on music and the visual arts.

PS. The AMEN: A Prayer for the World exhibition will soon be caravan-ing onto New York City.
  NYC AMEN Invitation