GET THEE TO A LIBRARY: What’s on at the Morgan?

Josef Albers, Color Study for White Line Square, oil on blotting paper with gouache, pencil and varnish, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, inv. no. 1976.2.22.

The Morgan Library and Museum stands tucked away from the noise and crowd of Midtown. Like its cousin, the Frick, Morgan takes its name, original building, and collection from a 19th-century American financial baron with impeccable taste and the funds to suit it. The Morgan is also the latest museum to participate in the Arts Initiative’s Passport to NY, with free admission available to current students.

And it’s worth the trip to 36th and Madison. Step into Pierpont Morgan’s library—complete with a steel-enforced literary panic room for the really good stuff—to admire the Museum’s three (three!) Gutenberg bibles, signed manuscript copy of Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain,” or original edition of Byron’s Fugitive Pieces. The 2006 addition by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which expands the exhibition space of Pierpont Morgan’s McKim-designed brownstone and library, elegantly complements the initial structures with its coolly lit atrium and small, well-used galleries.

The Museum’s original curation currently casts a light on the experimental painting of Josef Albers, the Bauhaus artist and Black Mountain College professor best known for his monumental abstract works Homage to the Square. “Josef Albers in America: Painting on Paper” features sixty studies of oil on blotting paper that Albers painted leading up to his Homages, a testament to the artist’s meticulous experiments with colour, line, and perspective. Cranberry bands run across subtly distinguished rectangles of blue, grey, and green; dull ochres and golds layer against each other in a captivating series of permutations; vivid illusions leap out from the paper as shapes seem now to project, now to recess, and white boxes drawn through nested squares trick the eye into seeing more shades than are present. Albers wrote of his own work, “Every colour, every form should speak with its own voice”; the Morgan’s curation lets these little paintings sing.

In another gallery, the Morgan is screening the 1976 minimalist opera Einstein on the Beach, with score by Philip Glass and direction by Robert Wilson. Black lights bathe the small room, allowing the spectator to view the original storyboard and score for the opera, which flank the footage on left and right. The juxtaposition reveals close parallels between direction and music, as the visual grace of Glass’s minimalist score plays against the musical development and exposition that the storyboards suggest.

The Morgan’s library is more museum than reading room: you can browse but not handle the piled shelves of books, and the institution offers no place to sit and read on your own. But the fine curation and bibliophilic treasures make this trip to Midtown worth the time, especially with Passport to NY at your back. What are you waiting for? Get thee to the library.

Gavin McGown, CC’13

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