- LACMA has a nice podcast of Picasso biographer John Richardson’s recent appearance there. Also: Watch LACMA install Tony Smith’s Smoke in time-lapse video. Fun note: People had to climb inside the sculpture to be able to install it.
- Anne Howard of the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds that a charity that included a comic strip in a fundraising email dramatically increased its response rate. I wonder if there are art-world parallels…
- The Nelson-Atkins is making some changes in their contemporary galleries. Check MAN tomorrow for a new N-A acquisition that will soon debut in KC.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for March, 2008
For several years now, modern and contemporary art museums of a certain age have rushed to the museo-Botox clinic in an effort to become a little younger. Contemporary art rules the moment.
The Whitney Museum of American Art is now mostly interested in being a museum of New York contemporary art. Under ex-director Olga Viso, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden focused intensely on contemporary art. The Walker, the Guggenheim and other museums have emphasized their contemporary programs and collections at the expense of art from before 1960.
One result of this trend is that museums spend an increasing amount of time chasing The Now with shows that could have been lifted out of Chelsea or Culver City galleries. Many curators are engaged in a frantic rush to immediately academicize fresh-from-the-studio art with ’scholarly’ catalogues or essays that treat the present as an historical era. Curatorial write-ups for these shows tend to use words such as ’semiotic’ and ’syntactic’ at every available opportunity — and at some opportunities that don’t seem to be available too. Other curatorial efforts substitute short explanatory essay-pamphlets for critical examination of work or art historical context. Too often jargon substitutes for depth, urgency overwhelms consideration.
So I was thrilled to discover and enjoy Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s, an attractive, occasionally revelatory show at the Amon Carter Museum. Prior to seeing it I was familiar only with a handful of Fort Worth Circle artists, thanks entirely to their regular inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth’s collection galleries. The Amon Carter show, curated by Jane Myers, flushes out a much more complete picture of post-war Texas modernism that while rarely inventive, was fascinatingly rich and vibrant. I’ll be talking about the show throughout the week. [Image: Cynthia Brants' The Cocktail Party (1947).]
- Doug Harvey reviews California Video at the Getty: You have to read it because who else uses a phrase such as “phenomenological lasagna,” or “As spectacular entertainers go, Caligula was right up there?”
- Two Regina Hackett posts with fascinating images: Artist Brian Tolle’s clever stump and Frank Gehry’s Abu Dhabi design looks like…
- The Chicago Trib’s Alan Artner is delighted that Mario Merz is finally getting some play in Chicago.
- The Cleveland Plain-Dealer’s website doesn’t make linking to this easy (you’ll have to hit ‘cancel’ on a print command), but Steven Litt examines how the Cleveland Museum of Art’s expansion is coming along. Starter facts: It’s over-budget and behind schedule, but no one seems to be complaining.
- I’m a big Philip Kennicott fan, but when an architectural firm presents a rendering of a proposed DC development that shows only white people in a proposed DC ‘neighborhood,’ the exclusion of people of color deserves more than a passing mention: It is the story. It is a defining characteristic, one that reveals unpleasant truths about how a developer wants to take a predominately African-American neighborhood in a people-of-color dominated city and whitewash it in an effort to create a place that middle-class, apparently presumably white suburbanites will feel “comfortable.” That’s pretty unpleasant. (Not to mention an inaccurate portrayal of the Washington area’s middle class.)
- In a related story, newspapers that run cultural criticism such as the above only on Sundays really diminish the impact their critics can have. Socio-cultural issues aren’t just Sunday pleasantries; they should be part of the daily discourse.
The Barnes Foundation is rightly known for its iconoclastic installations. Selected by Albert C. Barnes himself, they’re undeniably quirky: For example, the best painting in a gallery is frequently tucked into a corner, instead of in the center of a wall. Cases of antiquities or other objects frequently prevent a viewer from getting a good look at a canvas. And so on.
I’ve never fetishized Barnes’ hangings. The installation now at the Barnes is the one Barnes left behind when he died. Barnes regularly changed the hang while he was alive, and so far as I know there’s no particular reason to believe that this was The One he wanted to leave behind. Most of the installations are spectacularly uninteresting and sub-ordinary.
Except for one Cezanne hanging, which I think is extraordinarily smart. This week I’ve been talking about Cezanne’s male Bathers and how much I think they’re about balance. Yesterday I wrote about the Barnes’ Bathers at Rest, pointing out the ways it is a dreamy painting with a tremendous equilibrium.
I think Barnes thought so too, and here’s why: Directly across the gallery from Cezanne’s Bathers he installed a fantastic still life from 1892-94. As you can see above, the surface on which the still-life sits is dramatically tilted, falling off to the left. But because this is a still-life the objects on the table remain in stasis, in a rather unlikely state of balance. It’s still-life as stop-motion, as magical suspension in both place and time. It’s the antithesis of Bathers at Rest.
(There are lots of Cezanne still-lifes, at the Barnes and elsewhere, in which Cezanne plays similar tricks. Usually he’s up-tilting plates or objects toward the picture plane, flattening space. That’s not what he’s doing here.)
So why did Barnes place these two remarkable paintings across a gallery from each other? I think that he was trying to make a point about balance in Cezanne’s art.
Related: Barnes and his curator Violette de Mazia wrote a book about Cezanne, but I don’t own a copy and it’s not searchable on Google Books.
If Cezanne’s Bathers at Rest (1875-76) was in any collection in America except the Barnes’, it would be more broadly known as the greatest Cezanne in the US, maybe anywhere. It is the painting that birthed Cezanne’s solitary male bathers, about which I posted yesterday.
There’s so much I love about this painting: There’s the way each of the four figures in the painting are self-contained, but still relate to each other and to the landscape in which they’ve been dropped. There are the kinds of echoes that Matisse would later love to emphasize in his work: The tree to the right of the woman in the background echoes the way her left elbow points to the sky, the tree at the far-right of the painting echoes the cloud behind it, the collarbone of the monumental bather in the foreground echoes the horizontal peak of Mont Saint-Victoire behind him, the triangle on the grass that echoes the position of the three left-hand figures, and so on.
But most of all there is remarkable balance throughout the painting. The stolidity of the foreground male bather balances the mountain in the background. The triangle of light to the left of him balances the darkness of the painting’s foreground. Man and nature, earth and sky.
All of which brings me back to yesterday’s post and the way scholars have tried to ’solve’ Cezanne’s male bathers. To me, the male bathers are all about balance — and the rest of that pop-Freudianism is superlatively unnecessary bunk. I think that the Barnes’ painting shows that Cezanne had balance in mind right from the outset. And I think Albert Barnes thought so too… which is where I’ll pick up tomorrow.
- Thirty-eight days after the NYT editorialized against drilling near Spiral Jetty, the NYT’s national pages send a writer to cover the story the culture newsdesk didn’t. (And better yet, the national types get the headline right.)
- Last week I said that the Indy Museum had a fine idea: It encouraged its community to start Wikipedia entries about outdoor sculptures in its collection. I also said that the museum should offer gratitude greater than a mere link. Well, now it is: The first five Wikipedia-entrants will enjoy lunch with IMA director Max Anderson at Wolfgang Puck’s museum restaurant. The first entry oughta be a gimme. Sounds like a perfect bit of fun for some high school (or college) art class.
- Speaking of which, this Peter Dobrin piece in the Philly Inky is this morning’s must-read: Why aren’t big arts organizations prioritizing getting arts education back in schools? Hey non-profits: Mobilize your members and your visitors. Plus you can use up to 10 percent of your annual expenses lobbying legislators…
- Earlier this month I told you that the Albright-Knox had acquired a Tom LaDuke painting. PORT says that the Portland Art Museum has too.
There are three great Cezanne Bathers, and one of them is at the Barnes Foundation. Spending time at the Barnes on Sunday got me thinking about not just Cezanne’s Bathers, but about Barnes’ oft-eccentric hangings. But before we get to Barnes’ installations, some Bathers background…
Cezanne’s paintings of solitary male bathers have that quality the separates great art from legendary art: They are richly mysterious. We can discuss them for decades and never agree on what they ‘mean’ or why Cezanne painted them. [This is Bather with Outstretched Arms, which is in a private collection.]
The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s indispensable 1996 Cezanne catalogue naturally includes a summary of Bathers scholarship. It cites Theodore Reff writing that the figure above might be “a projection of Cezanne himself, an image of his own solitary condition.” Reff wrote that maybe it was “possible to link [this painting] with a specific theme in [Cezanne's] own fantasy life.” Joseph J. Rishel, the PMA’s catalogue essayist, posits that Reff could be referring to Cezanne’s
“…sexual anxiety, fueled by unresolved conflicts with his authoritarian father, from whom he kept his liaison with Hortense Fiquet a secret as long as possible. The theme is essentially a projection of the artist onto his youth as a means of sexually liberating himself from the oppression of his father and his own marital conflicts… a consensus has emerged that the picture’s dominant theme is the longing for individual release, a breaking away, an act of liberation that would literally come to rest with the lowering of the arms and the squaring of the figure’s shoulders, as in [MoMA's version of the bather].”
I’m the first to agree that biography can be useful when considering an artist’s work, but if that isn’t pop pseudo-Freudianism worthy of an eye-roll, I don’t know what is. Instead of playing psycho-babble guessing games I like to look at the art and see where it leads me. The Barnes’ installation of its Bathers painting provides such an opportunity.
But first, let’s get all the Bathers JPEGs in pixels: The second great Cezanne of a solitary male bather is the famous Bather (c. 1885) at the Museum of Modern Art, shown at right. It dates to 7-8 years after Bather with Outstretched Arms… which means that Cezanne’s first great painting featuring a male bather was the Barnes’ Bathers at Rest. I’ll bring it into the discussion tomorrow…
If you haven’t read Ed Schad’s post on El Anatsui and Barbara Pollack, don’t miss it. (Schad’s post responded to what I wrote here yesterday.) A couple things: I like Schad’s argument, but Pollack didn’t make it in her piece. She rested on a stereotype without providing explanation or context, and that’s still problematic.
I think Schad’s point on Arman is well-taken. I disagree with him that Rauschenberg’s incorporation of previously-used objects into his work — especially his Combines — isn’t “culturally specific.” I think they often recall the migration of the rural semi-poor to urban centers in the immediate post-war years. Sure, the Combines are often intensely autobiographical, but I think part of the reason those works are so great is because they speak to a shared experience. And still: The Rural Studio comparison, which is probably the closest match…
The Corcoran is welcoming spring with a grab-bag collection show called The American Evolution: A History Through Art. I haven’t figured out the show’s title, but it was nice to see the Corcoran’s excellent 1975 Diebenkorn, its 1973 yellow-and-red Ellsworth Kelly, and a terrificly fierce Lee Bontecou.
Also on view was Anne Truitt’s Insurrection, complete with ‘cell phone audio tour’ snippet provided by Project Runway maestro Tim Gunn, Corcoran class of 1976. (Gunn majored in sculpture. The Walter Hopps-curated Truitt retro was at the museum in 1974, when Gunn was a student.) You can hear Gunn on Truitt by calling (202) 747-3462 and entering ‘152#’ at the prompt.
- In case you missed it this AM, I’m on the LAT’s op-ed page today, writing about MOCA, development in its neighborhood, and the museum’s need for space.
- Sam Hunter talks about how curators acquire with their regions in mind;
- Courtroom sketch-art by Holbein?
- From the ’someone-explain-please?’ file: Daniel Libeskind builds a terrifically ugly building across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and his Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco features a giant cross.
- Also: Philly blogs are up in the blogroll.