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Patti Smith

Artist, poet, singer, and songwriter Patti Smith lives and works in New York. Last year she published Just Kids, a memoir chronicling her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their pursuit of art and music in New York City, which won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction. Currently drafting the screenplay adaptation of Just Kids and recording a new album with her band, Smith opens an exhibition of her photo-based works, “Camera Solo,” at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 21. PHOTO: EDWARD MAPPLETHORPE, 2007.

  1. ROTHKO CHAPEL (HOUSTON)

    Celebrating its fortieth anniversary, the Rothko Chapel welcomes people of all faiths and lifts those with no faith at all. It is as manna, in the guise of architecture, sustaining the visitor and producing a sense of inner harmony comparable to communing with the sea. Through the balance and beauty of Rothko’s work, we are transported into the mind of this great painter. And though the chapel is suited for contemplation, it contains in its perfection a sense of action. Each time I go I do not want to leave, imagining myself escorting pilgrims through its portal like the eternal ferryman.

    *Visitors inside the Rothko Chapel, Houston, 1971.* Photo: Patrick Lopez. Visitors inside the Rothko Chapel, Houston, 1971. Photo: Patrick Lopez.
  2. “REMBRANDT AND THE FACE OF JESUS”

    The Philadelphia Museum of Art famously houses Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés, 1946–66—reason enough to visit. Earlier this fall, it also featured an exhibition (soon to open at the Detroit Institute of Arts) that focused on the visage of Christ as seen through the eye of Rembrandt. In his etchings, the Dutch painter executed pivotal moments of Christ’s teachings with clarity. In his portraits, he conveyed Christ’s utter love of mankind. So deeply did Rembrandt contemplate the Master that he was able to draw out his divinely fated death: a terrible and beautiful knowledge to contain.

  3. CY TWOMBLY, TREATISE ON THE VEIL (SECOND VERSION), 1970

    To be confronted with a masterpiece is to be infused with new blood. I witnessed this breathtaking painting at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The monumental work functions as the veil and the veiled simultaneously. At first one is confronted by a vast chalkboard. But in the changing light, the canvas gathers the illusion of shimmering color, like the mutable expanse of water lilies wrapping the walls of a room at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

    *Cy Twombly, _Treatise on the Veil (Second Version)_, 1970,* oil-based house paint and wax crayon on canvas, 9' 10 1/8" x 32' 9". Cy Twombly, Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), 1970, oil-based house paint and wax crayon on canvas, 9' 10 1/8“ x 32' 9”.
  4. WINGED BOY WITH A DOLPHIN AFTER ANDREA DEL VERROCCHIO (SAN SEVERINO MARCHE, ITALY)

    In this medieval comune, whose land tells a human history dating back to ancient times, there is a small museum (the Pinacoteca Civica “Tacchi Venturi”) that houses the holy slippers and cap of Saint Celestine V, the reluctant pope who died in a small stone cell for seeking freedom from the church. The relics are quite moving, but I return again to see the humble winged cherub, draped in ivy above the courtyard fountain. Part Puck, part Raphaelesque child, the little fellow seems the embodiment of love. The original bronze in the Palazzo Vecchio is flawless, but this weathered twin, with his bemused and benevolent smile, is the one that truly captures the heart.

    *Patti Smith, _Cherub, Fountain, San Severino_, 2008,* black-and-white photograph, 10 x 8". Patti Smith, Cherub, Fountain, San Severino, 2008, black-and-white photograph, 10 x 8".
  5. VIRGINIA WOOLF’S CANE AT THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

    Amid the rare manuscripts, the library houses relics of another sort: wondrous things such as Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk and Charles Dickens’s monogrammed letter opener. My favorite object is the cane of Virginia Woolf. It still possesses some part of her, as if it absorbed her solitary, stoic, and stubborn self, to keep her incessantly upright. One can well imagine it steadying her on her last walk—through the wet fields to the River Ouse, where she drowned herself on a chilly March afternoon.

  6. JULES BASTIEN-LEPAGE, JOAN OF ARC, 1879 (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK)

    This life-size depiction of the young Joan in her parents’ garden as she receives divine communication reminds us of her simple origins. She found the strength to don men’s attire, become a soldier, and rescue her king. And then this same peasant girl chose to burn at the stake rather than recant her belief in the origins of her mission. Some may regard the painting as sentimental, with its fanciful naturalism, but it has, through the years, unceasingly reinforced my own girlhood revelations.

    *Jules Bastien-Lepage, _Joan of Arc_, 1879*, oil on canvas, 100 x 110". Jules Bastien-Lepage, Joan of Arc, 1879, oil on canvas, 100 x 110".
  7. RIVERA AND SEURAT AT THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS

    The DIA is worth visiting just for its murals—the Detroit Industry fresco cycle executed in 1932–33 by Diego Rivera in the building’s beautiful Rivera Court. But the luminous 1889 View of Le Crotoy from Upstream by Georges Seurat is what I seek when I visit. Capturing the moment of low tide, washed in primary light—it’s absolutely perfect. It is also a rare existing example of a work for which Seurat executed a special frame painted with points, here in complementary colors.

  8. LOTHAR BAUMGARTEN’S THEATRUM BOTANICUM (FONDATION CARTIER POUR L’ART CONTEMPORAIN, PARIS)

    Driven by Hervé Chandès, whose view is that all creative impulses are interrelated, the foundation always presents innovative exhibitions. Yet the jewel in their crown is this seemingly unkempt garden, designed in the mid-1990s by Lothar Baumgarten. Eyeing an exhibition from within Jean Nouvel’s great glass structure—the untamed grasses without—one experiences the transposable freedom and logic of art and nature.

    *Lothar Baumgarten, _Theatrum Botanicum_, 1993–94,* mixed media. Installation view, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 1995. Lothar Baumgarten, Theatrum Botanicum, 1993–94, mixed media. Installation view, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 1995.
  9. P. J. HARVEY’S THE WORDS THAT MAKETH MURDER VIDEO (2011)

    The current trend in music videos is to pump them full of predators, pop sex, and outdated s/m imagery. In contrast, this unheralded piece (directed by Seamus Murphy) is a wisp of humanity celebrating the small things, including the wonderful singer herself.

  10. PÁVEL KOGAN, LOOK AT THE FACE, 1966

    All of us choose the things that move us. Sometimes it seems that we are chosen. In this short film, shot at the Hermitage using a hidden camera, the filmmaker Pàvel Kogan captures the common man viewing the Madonna Litta by Leonardo da Vinci. It was expected that their reactions would be coarse or disinterested, but instead, their emotions were beatific: The illuminated faces of the spectators had a splendor of their own.

    *Pàvel Kogan, _Look at the Face_, 1966,* stills from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 10 minutes. Pàvel Kogan, Look at the Face, 1966, stills from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 10 minutes.