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Nassau County Museum of Art hosts 'Garden Party' - and all are invited!

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The landscape may still be white with snow, but at the Nassau County Museum of Art, Spring has sprung. Those seeking relief from winter blahs - which is just about everybody - will be revitalized at the museum's new exhibit, "Garden Party" - a feast for the eyes and the soul - and all are invited.

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Garden Party is on view through July 6, 2014.

Though all the works have a common element of a flower, the profusion of creativity in styles, perspectives, approaches, and media create this tremendous energy and excitement not normally associated with "still lifes." These art works are emphatically "unstill" and lively.

Inasmuch as gardens go back to Adam and Eve, it is remarkable to see how the floral and garden themes span art history, epoques, periods with the most marvelous juxtapositions - indeed, the way the exhibit has gathered pieces and the way they are hung in the rooms by guest curators Franklin Hill Perrell and Joann Olin, in a way that evokes new insights and reactions from the viewer - is itself a work of art.

Most exciting of all are the iconic and renowned figures - like Chagall, O'Keefe, Rivers, Rosenquist - alongside newcomers (and even not so new artists) whose works will be new to many of us. Some of the canvases and works displayed are as recently created as 2013 and even 2014 ("Virginia Garden," an installation piece by Carson Fox) - the paint seemingly barely dry. When you "meet" an artist you had never known before, you experience that thrill and excitement of discovery.

I was so excited to see two paintings by Dean Cornwell - Two Women with a Parasol, (ca. 1920) and An Old Fashioned Picnic (1917) - each one at opposite ends of the great all of this great mansion that is now the art museum.

His marvelous painting, "Two Women with Parasol" is set off by Marc Chagall's "Le Repos", a work from 1980 (from Dr Harvey Manes' private collection) and Maurice Prendergast's "The Promenade."

One of my favorite paintings in the show, "The Blue Cloth," is by an artist I had never heard of before, : Max Kuehne. As I am admiring the way it evokes Matisse's textiles and perspective and the Pointillist technique, with the most magnificent frame also decorated by the artist (he makes furniture, also), which I imagined would have been from the 1920s or 1930s, I find I am standing next to the man who owns it, who tells me how his aunt had met the artist in Connecticut and bought it from him in the 1960s. The painting has never been exhibited in public before.

Another painting that paid homage to Matisse - but with a 3-D twist is Larry Rivers' Matisse Still Life: Violet Robe and Anemones (1997).

Many of the works in the show come from private collections and from the artists themselves - and it is a tribute to the guest curators, Franklin Hill Perrell (who was the NCMA's senior curator for many years) and Joann Olin, curator emeritus at the Museum of the City of New York, who knew the collectors and the collections and put together the show.

"How to capture the vibrancy of how people experience," Perrell tells me. "Three dimensions – moving around, the variety of angles. Generally a show of paintings are flat. this one is perceptual and participatory."

Clearly, he had fun creating interesting juxtapositions of artists, media, and themes.

He points to Hunt Slonem's "Monkeys and Monsters" (2006), acrylic and resin on wood, "it looks fresh, immediate, like he is 17 years old, but he has been at it for 40 years." It is placed in front of Janet Fish's "Monkey Business," (2005), a vibrant, energetic painting that shows just a hint of a monkey having dashed through and disrupting a picnic.

"And the two artists are friends!" Perrell notes.

And in the vein of old and new, in one of these fabulous juxtapositions, the oldest work we could find - two still lifes by Martin Johnson Heade from 1883-4, bookended two archival prints of a similar traditional still life but in the new medium, by Sharon Core in 2011.

Then too are the different media that work with one another - like the magnificently designed dresses set against breathtakingly beautiful monumental murals.

Robert Kushner's Spring Scatter Summation (2005), is a spectacular, monumental mural, seven feet high and 46 feet long, 10 panels in all in oil, acrylic, gold leaf and glitter on canvas - filled with Japanese influences - that takes up the entire wall of the great room, which in the grandest tradition of art, has to be experienced in person to be properly appreciated.

That's saying something because it is opposite a stunning leaded glass window, "Song of Springtime," by the Tiffany Studios, part of the NCMA's permanent collection - there isn't a finer piece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And if that isn't enough, in another gallery, Nancy Lorenz' "Rock Garden Room," (2004), nine feet high and 36-feet long, is exquisitely and meticulously created with silver leaf, mother-of-pearl inlay, pigment, gesso and shellac, takes your breath away.

The prevalence of floral imagery in costume design is demonstrated with dresses designed by de la Renta, Mainbocher, and Traina-Norell, as well as in the motifs of exquisite Judith Leiber evening bags.

The exhibit includes artists so contemporary, they came to the opening!

Susan Zises is a former Great Neck resident, who previously had a show here in 1976.

We also meet Gloria Kisch, who created flower sculptures of exterior enamel on stainless steel.

You come away from "Garden Party" feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, definitely cheered. It is like being reborn, very much as Spring does for us each year.

A companion exhibit in the second-floor galleries, "AftermodernisM," features the work of work of Michael Bevilacqua, James Busby and Ridley Howard. What is Aftermodernism you might ask? (as I did). "A concept of fractured, asymmetric artistic concerns, furthering the range of this newly developed asymmetric vocabulary and running the gamut from the non objective to sharp focus realism, never relinquishing the importance of the abstract."

Yet another opportunity to learn something new.

The exhibits at NCMA are always enhanced by a rich educational program of lectures and events, including "Artists in the Galleries," "That Place, Those times, A Dramatic Performance" by Shirley Romaine.

One of the ongoing programs at the museum is to host people who have Alzheimer's, for whom the art evokes emotional connections, Laura Lynch, Director of Education, tells me.

Gold Coast Mansion, Gardens

The NCMA is a veritable jewel box of art. Here, you experience the art in intimate rooms of this Gold Coast mansion home.

"Garden Party" also takes exquisite advantage of the museum’s incomparable 145-acre property, richly embellished with beautiful gardens and sculpture, and nature trails.

In 1919, Henry Clay Frick, the co-founder of U.S. Steel, purchased the property once owned by the poet and preservationist, William Cullen Bryant, for his son, Childs Frick. The architect Sir Charles Carrick Allom was commissioned to redesign the facade and much of the interior of the home which the Fricks named Clayton. The younger Frick and his wife Frances lived at Clayton for almost 50 years.

In 1925, Frances Frick, an avid horticulturist and garden club member, commissioned famed landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin to create the Frick Estates Formal Gardens. Coffin considered these Formal Gardens to be among her finest creations. In recent years, the historic garden trellis and water tower have been restored to original condition. Additionally, many pathways through the 145-acre property are now marked as guided nature trails (they even offer bird watching for beginners programs).

Following Childs Frick's death in 1965, the estate was purchased by Nassau County which then converted it to a museum, now the Nassau County Museum of Art.

The 145 acres of the former Frick Estate constitute one of the largest publicly accessible sculpture gardens on the East Coast. Among the more than 40 sculptures sited on the property to interact with the natural environment are works by Tom Otterness, Fernando Botero, Chaim Gross, Alejandro Colunga, Masayuki Nagare, Richard Serra, Manolo Valdes and many others. The Sculpture Park was founded in 1989.

The delight of attending an exhibit opening, with collectors and artists and other luminaries can be yours as a member of the museum. Indeed, you will likely want to visit the exhibit more than once, and also take advantage of the educational programs and tours (docent-led family tours are offered Sunday afternoons at 1 pm). (Memberships are $45/students, seniors, military, $60/individual or educator; $80/couple, family; $50/supporting, $275/sustaining, $500, friend.)

Another way to support the NCMA is to become a volunteer.

Nassau County Museum of Art is located at 1 Museum Drive in Roslyn Harbor, just off Northern Boulevard, Route 25A, two traffic lights west of Glen Cove Road. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Docent-led tours of the exhibition are offered at 2 p.m. each day; tours of the mansion are offered each Saturday at 1 p.m.; meet in the lobby, no reservations needed. Tours are free with museum admission. Family art activities and family tours are offered Sundays from 1 pm; free with museum admission. Call (516) 484-9338, ext. 12 to inquire about group tours. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (62 and above) and $4 for students with ID and children aged 4 to 12. Members and children under 4 are admitted free. The Museum Store is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call (516) 484-9337 for current exhibitions, events, days/times and directions or log onto nassaumuseum.org.

Nassau County Museum of Art, governed by a privately elected Board of Trustees, is chartered and accredited by New York State as a not-for-profit, private educational institution. The museum’s programs and exhibitions are made possible through the support of Nassau County as well as memberships, admissions, special events, private and corporate donations, and government and foundation grants.

Karen Rubin, Long Island Eclectic Travel Examiner

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