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6.6.09

Imagining Yoko Getting Catty with James

John? Yoko? John? Yoko? ...eerily the recorded voices surround visitors as they enter Imagine, the Peace Ballad of John & Yoko exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Art. I must admit I cringed when I heard of this show. I'm still struggling with the Yoko thing, and the eerie voices didn't help. But after a while, viewing the photos of their lives, the film footage of the time and memorabilia of an era that I actually lived through (as a small child, of course) my crusty, curmudgeon's heart slowly softened.

The woman actually gave the man a second life. After the Beatles Lennon was kind of lost: Yoko became the collaborator he needed, and their total immersion in the peace movement was a beautiful circus that included the infamous Bed In, which took place in Montreal, and the recording of the iconic Lennon composition Imagine, a song that we learn is derived from Yoko's poetry. Lennon revealed just before his death that he was too macho to admit it and she should be co-credited.

It's been 40 years since the Lennon/Ono collaboration for peace and awareness, quite timely and yes, even for me, a very moving exhibit--peace.

When you have a collection as amazing as the stodgy old Frick, all you need to do is dust and move things around every once in a while. For a summer treat curators have assembled have assembled four full-length portraits plus The Ocean canvas by James Abbott McNeill Whistler -- the first viewing together in twenty years -- in the Oval Gallery, as well as etchings and pastels Whistler produced in Venice, shown in the tiny cabinet space.

Henry Clay Frick collected more of Whistler's work than anyone else, all purchased after the artist's death. They couldn't have been more different personalities but probably equals in ego and passion for their professions. It's a treat indeed to have the five portraits together.

Look at me for an instant longer and you will look forever.

Whistler to the Comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac
Sitting, or in this case standing, for a Whistler portrait was a torturous affair, lasting several sessions. Rosa Corder recounted that she posed some 40 times, lasting on two occasions until she fainted. To view a Whistler portrait is far from torturous, though: they're fluid, light, and dream like. Beauty dose have its price.

Then, as now, music took the popular center stage in the arts, so Whistler titled his paintings accordingly. The Ocean was first titled Symphony in Gray and Green. The luscious portrait of Mrs Leyland peering over her shoulder in a Whistler-designed gown (pictured) is Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink. Dueling with Mrs Leyland is the more lavish ruffled frock of Harmony in Pink and Gray: Portrait of Lady Meux. There could be a cat fight in this room before the summer is over -- meow.

On the opposite wall are two very different Goya/Rembrandt-inspired portraits in shades of black and brown, one of the Symbolist poet and social dandy Comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac [the model for Proust's Baron de Charlus--Ed.] and another of the artist Rosa Corder, who was supposedly the lover of Whistler's agent. What a tangled web of social intrigue -- what a simple time of leisure -- Gossip Girl without the texting!

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