Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Thu, 26 May 2016 17:18:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 American Art By Mail Thu, 26 May 2016 17:18:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> How one company brought fine art into homes across the country.

James Chapin, Boy, That’s Tobacco, 1942

James Chapin, Boy, That’s Tobacco, 1942, oil on canvas, 36 x 44 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) A Treasury of Fine Art Masterpieces Created by Famous American Artists to Bring Beauty and Better Living into Your Home. Signature Fabrics advertisement showing Vogue dress pattern James Chapin, Boy, That’s Tobacco, 1942 Irwin Hoffman, El Jibaro, Puerto Rico, 1940 Jackson Lee Nesbitt, Farm Auction, Jackson County, 1947 Berta Margoulies, Pioneer, 1950

Grant Wood’s oil on masonite painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931) can be seen in Gallery 900 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Further downtown, however, at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, the picture is also on view—that is, printed on a vintage piece of fabric (1952). The textile hangs in the downstairs room of the gallery’s current show “Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists, 1934–2000” (through July 9). On it, the painting is reproduced over and over in undelineated row and column. When turned into a pattern, Wood’s characteristically exaggerated perspectives become almost cartoonish, and here his colonial Town Square appears to form multiple blocks of one larger, steeple-dotted city. The effect is almost dizzying—and Revere’s route seems to wind like the Alps-traversing legs of the Tour de France. No fabric seems better suited to dress the bedroom windows of a kid growing up in 1950s America—the type who watched Lassie and played cowboys with a holster and toy gun.

Shortly before his death in 1942, Wood was commissioned by Reeves Lewenthal, the founder and president of Associated American Artists (AAA), to create fabric designs for The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and Spring Plowing (1932), but Lewenthal couldn’t find a fabric manufacturer interested in making them. However, after the rationing of World War II, consumers were thirsty to spend, and well-known artists—such as Alexander Calder, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso—began to produce high-end artist-designed home furnishings, including fabrics, wall panels, china, and ceramics. Lewenthal struck a deal with Riverdale Fabrics and released a line of fabrics and drapery in 1952 with coordinating Stonelain ceramics designed by “America’s Famous Artists”—among them, of course. was Wood, who as a recognized name, was a great selling point. The line, titled “Pioneer Pathways,” included seven other designs, all with motifs connected to American folklore and culture. Named after a design produced by Russian-born muralist and painter Anton Rifrigier, the line offered multiple colorways of readymade draperies, bedspreads, pillows, and lampshades or fabric available by the yardage. The collection was given a weeklong debut at Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, after which it was available at over 100 stores nationwide—a cross-country ride for Paul Revere.

Lewenthal began AAA as an art print publishing company in 1934. In July of that year he met with a group of 23 American artists, including Doris Lee, John Steuart Curry, and Thomas Hart Benton in Benton’s Manhattan studio and developed a plan to commission prints directly from artists and sell them to a wide audience. The company, which effectively did just that until 2000, started selling prints by Benton, Curry, and Wood, who at that time were well established in the art world and known by those outside of it. The prints were priced at $5 (approximately $88 today) and published in limited editions of 250, with the artist getting $200 when an edition sold out.

Early on, Lewenthal’s company benefited from a lack of competition. Artists, whose ability to make money from their work suffered during the Depression, profited from AAA’s production and promotion of their prints. To the middle-class consumer, Lewenthal offered a slice of the American Dream—making it possible to hang a piece of fine art in even the humblest of abodes. Regionalism and the etching revival, which were all the rage at the time, formed the bedrock of AAA’s inventory. Prints like Curry’s John Brown (1939, published 1940) and Benton’s Frankie and Johnnie (1936), which were wildly popular, cemented the idea that AAA was selling the American scene to the American people.
AAA used a direct-to-consumer model, much like the e-commerce businesses of today. The company produced a mail-order catalogue with reproductions of the prints alongside descriptions. The catalogues often teased that print runs had sold out or were about to, hoping to invoke a “better act now” mentality in the consumer. AAA also took out advertisements in periodicals and on the radio and set up displays in
department stores.

All of AAA’s materials promoted the idea that collectors were buying “Fine Art,” and strove to help collectors enjoy their budding collections. The catalogues even ran instructions on the right way to hang art. “AAA promoted its patrons, too,” says Gail Windisch, a California-based collector of AAA catalogues and ephemera who was instrumental in organizing “Art for Every Home.” “There’s a catalogue from 1946 that features a woman from North Carolina on the cover. She’s sitting in her living room reading, and she’s saying to the world ‘I’m sophisticated and educated—I’m reading a book and I have fine art on my wall.’” The photograph was sent in by the woman herself, an AAA collector, and the company, smartly highlighting their prints in action, chose to run it on the catalogue’s cover.

In 1936, AAA opened its eponymous gallery on Madison Avenue (it moved to Fifth Avenue in 1956). There, gallery goers could view museum-quality exhibitions and also buy prints. Says Windisch, “It was the largest public gallery in New York City at the time—it was more akin to a museum even though it was a commercial enterprise. They even had living room furniture set up, and prints on a pulley system, so you could see what they would look like on your wall.” The gallery would also provide framing services and boxes to store purchased works.

Lewenthal, a skilled marketer, used various devices to sell and promote prints. Benton’s mural in the Missouri State Capitol, A Social History of the State of Missouri (completed in 1936), which featured 235 individual portraits, captured the state’s people living and working, suffering hardships and enjoying simple pleasures. Benton received harsh criticism for his depiction of the Midwest, which Lewenthal used to his advantage when selling prints of the mural. “The mural had some images that weren’t positive,” says Elizabeth Seaton, the show’s curator and a curator at the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University (where the exhibition was first installed), “and AAA promoted their editions as ‘the controversial prints from the mural.’” Wood’s Sultry Night (1939), which pictured a farmer in the buff bathing after a long day of work, was banned by the United States Post Office for sale by mail order. AAA had 100 impressions of the image made and sold them at their gallery.

Lewethal also worked with corporations throughout the ’40s. Companies such as Maxwell House and Standard Oil commissioned AAA artists to create imagery for their ads. The American Tobacco Company commissioned 19 AAA artists to produce art for them, including James Chapin, whose painting Boy, That’s Tobacco (1942) was featured in an ad for Lucky Strike. The painting, which features a burly, denim-clad farmer holding a large tobacco leaf, creates an idealized picture of American agriculture.

Acknowledging that Regionalism wouldn’t be in vogue forever, the company began courting international artists after World War II. In 1946, AAA established the Department of Latin American Art, and in 1947 it released Mexican People, a portfolio of 12 lithographs by 10 members of the Taller de Grafica Popular, a group from Mexico City that promoted social change. Around this time, Lewenthal began making deals with consumer goods companies, as with the Riverdale Fabrics and the “Pioneer Pathways” collection. AAA released its first ceramics collection with Stonelain in September 1950. In 1953, M. Lowenstein & Sons produced a line of clothing fabrics with patterns designed by AAA artists. The following year, United Wallpaper did the same thing with wallpaper patterns. Other collaborations, with companies like Steuben Glass and Castleton China, came and went over the years.
By the time AAA closed in 2000, it had published some 2,600 prints by 600 artists. However, its legacy was not well tended. According to Seaton, who eventually borrowed prints from over 25 museums for the “Art for Every Home” exhibition, many museums have AAA prints in their collections without even knowing it. The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art was gifted a collection of about 200 AAA prints from the widow of an insurance salesman who lived in a small town in Kansas. Seaton became interested in putting together a show about AAA.

In 1999, Windisch found a print that came with an AAA biography card (AAA prints often came with cards that provided information on the artist and the piece). Curious about the company, she started purchasing AAA catalogues on Ebay. Later, with the help of print dealers and Sylvan Cole Jr. (Lewenthal’s successor at AAA), she began the arduous task of putting together a catalogue raisonné of AAA prints. Seaton was given Windisch’s name at a print fair in 2007, and in 2008 the two got in contact.

Around the same time, Karen Herbaugh, the curator of the exhibition’s textile component and the curator at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass., began researching AAA textiles. “A textile dealer brought us a couple of pieces that were AAA in the late ’90s,” says Herbaugh, “and on the selvage, it actually said ‘Associated American Artists, designer, title of piece.’ This was unheard of—designers, typically unsung heroes, rarely get individual credit.” Finding no information online, Herbaugh, used the sparse holdings she could find in the Archives of American Art and in the Syracuse University library, pieced together a presentation on AAA textiles. “When you Google AAA textiles, you see my early presentation,” says Herbaugh. Seaton did just that, and the two curators connected. Slowly, over time, the exhibition began to come together.

When walking through the presentation at the Grey Art Gallery, the viewer is confronted not only by a cache of incredible prints but also by a picture of 20th-century American life: its imagery, its consumerism, and its industry. Lewenthal, an enthusiastic proponent of contemporary American art, was also an incredible businessman. He used all available resources to support his artists or wares. When asked whether Lewenthal would have used the Internet to promote his business, Seaton, who relied heavily on the connecting power of the web to put together the show, said without hesitation, “absolutely.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

Birth of the Modern Thu, 26 May 2016 17:16:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Intended as interior design for the “common man,” so-called Biedermeier style turned out to be uncommonly prescient.

Suite of four Biedermeier side chairs attributed to Josef Danhauser

Suite of four Biedermeier side chairs attributed to Josef Danhauser, solid maple with mahogany inlays, Vienna, circa 1830, 35 x 20 x 20 inches;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Biedermeier secretary, cherrywood Suite of four Biedermeier side chairs attributed to Josef Danhauser Pair of Biedermeier barrel-back bergeres, 1820s Biedermeier chaise lounge, Vienna Biedermeier sewing table with lyre base 201606_biedermeier_04 Globe Table (Globustisch), Austrian Biedermeier sofa attributed to Josef Danhauser

Biedermeier furniture didn’t have a name when it was new, and didn’t receive one until decades after it ran its course. “Biedermeier” comes from the moniker of a fictional village-dweller who starred in satirical German-language poems of the 1850s. His surname translates to “common man” or “everyman,” and the term didn’t stick to the early 19th-century European furniture until the 1890s. But unlike other aesthetic movements that win their names in hindsight, Biedermeier’s original meaning does not capture the qualities that we treasure in Biedermeier furniture now—its clean, sleek modernism, achieved centuries before modernism arrived on the scene. “A lot of the forms, when you look at them, they look 20th-century,” says Adam Brown, principal of Iliad, a Manhattan gallery that specializes in Biedermeier. “It’s in keeping with the modernist aesthetic that’s all the rage right now.” He points to a circa-1825 pearwood veneer Biedermeier pedestal table, dubbed a “trumpet” table for the shape of its base and its single central support. “It could easily be mistaken for 20th-century design,” Brown says, noting that the trumpet table inspired Eero Saarinen to create the tulip table in 1957.

On the other hand, New York dealer Karl Kemp points out that the clean simplicity of Biedermeier was an inheritance from ancient Greek and Roman furniture. In the book he co-authored, The World of Biedermeier (Thames & Hudson, 2001), Kemp observes that “Biedermeier was the paring down of the complex aesthetics of Classicism to essential moods, which resulted in designs that are extremely refreshing, relevant, and timeless.”

Michael Flick of Bonnin Ashley Antiques in Miami points to another 21st-century advantage of Biedermeier. “It also lends a warmth. If you go to a contemporary environment and see antique Biedermeier pieces, they work, but they have warm, beautiful woods,” he says. Referring to the use of French polish, a labor-intensive period finishing process that enhances the appeal of Biedermeier, he says, “It’s so different than anything used today. It does not obscure the beautiful grain, which was what [Biedermeier] was about—the celebration of beautiful grains.”

Peter Janowski, owner of Biedermeier-Vienna, a gallery with locations in Chicago and Vienna, Austria, identifies three aspects that make Biedermeier what it is: “Design, the beauty of the veneer, and its functionality.” Design shines through in the proto-modernist nature of Iliad’s trumpet table. Beautiful veneers might be the most visually alluring detail of Biedermeier; while its practitioners were not the first to decorate with wood, the advent of mechanical and steam-driven saws in the 1820s let cabinetmakers cut thin slices from woods that were too difficult to cut veneers from by hand. “The way Biedermeier uses veneers is unique,” says Tanya Paul, Curator of European Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) in Wisconsin, which has a strong Biedermeier collection. “You don’t see anything like it before that point.”

The Biedermeier style’s reliance on wood grain to shoulder most or all of the decorative work reaches its zenith with table tops. Janowski has a walnut center table, dating to 1820–25, with a stunning top. It is a fine example of bookmatching, a woodworking technique in which pieces of veneer mirror each other like the pages of an open book. “It shows how sensitive people were to the beauty [of the wood], and they knew how to use it,” he says, going on to explain how the otherwise unadorned tabletop approaches modernism—its grain has “almost abstract forms, something that people can put their eyes on and look for shapes.”

Functionality is another issue. Biedermeier was built to be used, and with the exception of some of the more delicate chairs, it can still be. Certain varieties of furniture seem especially far-sighted in an era where trophy apartments in world hubs can sell for more than $500 per square foot. Virtually all Biedermeier tables, including Iliad’s trumpet table and Biedermeier-Vienna’s walnut center table, have tops that tilt from a horizontal position to a vertical one. Owners who need to convert the dining room to a dance floor can tilt the top and store the table against a wall, regaining precious space. Janowski says he “tries to convince clients to use [Biedermeier pieces] the way they were used 200 years ago,” and he’s had success on this score with “vitrines, armoires, chests, the most heavy-duty pieces.”

The generally accepted brackets on Biedermeier’s lifespan are 1815–48, but these brackets are political, not aesthetic. The year 1815 marks the Congress of Vienna, when most of the city-states and countries whose cabinetmakers advanced the Biedermeier style haggled and redrew their borders in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, and 1848 was the year in which rebellion and revolution blazed in most of those same places. This accounts for the retro aspect of the retroactive naming of Biedermeier; to Europeans looking back over the 19th century, the period appears relatively peaceful, even if it did not seem that way at the time. Of course, the forces that were tamped down in 1815 and burst forth in ’48 simmered throughout the years in between. Simple, unfussy Biedermeier furnishings shaped the private spaces where Austrians, Germans, Prussians, and others hashed over the prickly, complex, controversial issues that they couldn’t safely talk about in public. And though it is described as a style for the middle class, and certainly was, Biedermeier was not exclusively a middle-class phenomenon. Napoleon’s wars destroyed a lot of wealth, and broke aristocrats found much to like in Biedermeier’s avoidance of ormolu and other gilded fittings, which could cost as much as the piece itself (or more), and in Biedermeier’s favoring of fruit woods and local timbers over exotics like mahogany, which had to be imported from distant lands and were taxed accordingly.

Despite everything, a few people nonetheless had the finances to commission lavish furnishings in the Biedermeier style. Right now, MAM has two spectacular pieces on display: An Austrian globe table from the first quarter of the 19th century and a Viennese writing cabinet dating to 1810–15. The globe table, or Globustisch, is a rare Biedermeier form and a cherished one; most examples reside in museums. While it has a function—it was made for storing sewing gear—Paul observes that it is “too specialized, too detailed, and too elaborate to be a practical piece of furniture. There is not a surface that’s unornamented.” Within the camouflage-like decoration on the legs are sections of root wood, one of those woods that could only be cut into veneers with the new generation of saws. “[Root wood] has very pronounced grain in it. That’s why it’s so highly prized,” Paul says.

The oval-shaped writing cabinet is a decorative hybrid, reveling in its choice woods (maple veneer, ebonized pearwood, mahogany) as any good Biedermeier piece does, and reveling just as exuberantly in its Empire-style touches, which include gilding, elaborate hardware, and figurative elements. “To me, the thing that’s most interesting about it is it has a foot in both worlds,” Paul says. “It harkens back to the Empire style and it looks to Biedermeier style.” Both the globe table and the writing cabinet will be on view at the museum until Thanksgiving, and possibly after that.

Biedermeier furnishings were produced in many workshops across Europe, but it is the Viennese designs that tend to have the most modern-looking profile. Proto-modernism’s reign in Vienna might be a product of keen competition. Research shows that more than 950 registered master cabinetmakers were active in the city in 1823. Chief among them was Josef Danhauser, whose furnishings are much sought after today. “He was one of the most innovative cabinetmakers in Vienna,” says Heinrich “Heinz” Leichter of Ritter Antik, a New York gallery that has handled Biedermeier since 1968. Referring to a walnut-veneered sofa he has that was created between 1810 and 1820 and matches known Danhauser drawings, Leichter says, “There is nothing from other periods to see in this sofa. The total design of the sofa is very modern. Only Danhauser was able to do this.”

Leichter had the sofa cleaned, had its French polish rejuvenated, and chose a colored fabric for its upholstery that meets contemporary tastes. Choosing more up-to-date fabrics is common among Biedermeier dealers, and a look at a period-correct piece illustrates why. MAM reconstructed the upholstery of a circa-1815 Danhauser settee in its possession from actual surviving drawings, which called for a cream-white fabric with green accents. “The form of the piece has a real modernity to it, but it has a fussy swag,” Paul says, while agreeing that white was a dangerous choice of color and likely indicative of the wealth of its original owner. “It’s not a functional thing in that sense. You’re not going to eat off it,” she says, laughing. “It’s not something meant to be used very heavily.” The settee may go on display at MAM after the globe table and the writing cabinet rotate out.

While Biedermeier spanned several decades, most acknowledge that its aesthetic shifted after 1830 and became less modernistic. “You start to have a transitional style,” says Flick. “It still retains some of the austere values of what Biedermeier was, but it starts to become more decorative.” Coco House and Company of West Palm Beach, Fla., has a mid 19th-century satinwood secretaire, possibly from Sweden, that hints at the shift. Its minimized hardware and the emphasis on the beauty of the wood speak of Biedermeier, but the crown, or top, features scrolls and other neoclassical-like details.

Daring and cutting-edge in their time, Biedermeier furnishings will continue to find a place in 21st-century interiors because they fit into them seamlessly while losing none of the authenticity of their 19th-century origins. “Biedermeier has always been the hub of any well-composed environment,” says Brown. “It always stays in taste. You can pair it with hard-edge contemporary art to midcentury modern. It’s timeless. It doesn’t really fade away, and it hasn’t yet.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

White Gold Dialogues Thu, 26 May 2016 17:16:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition of Chinese ceramic at the Met calls traditional categories of export and non-export into question.

Garniture (West Lake), Qing dynasty

Garniture (West Lake), Qing dynasty, ca. 1700, porcelain painted with cobalt blue under a transparent glaze, 3 covered jars: height: 41 in. (103.5 cm), 2 vases: height: 37 in. (93 cm);

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Garniture (West Lake), Qing dynasty Set of five dishes in the shape of oxen, Ming dynasty Ewer, Ming dynasty, Jiajing period Ewer, Yuan dynasty, 14th century Crescent-shaped Kendi, Ming dynasty Dish with Crucifixion, Qing dynasty

In the 3rd century B.C., around the time the fires began to burn at the great Chinese porcelain kiln complex at Jingdezhen, logician Gongsun Long created his infamously brain-twisting linguistic puzzle, “A white horse is not a horse.” At first glance the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibition “Global by Design: Chinese Ceramics from the R. Albuquerque Collection” (through August 7), might leave visitors—especially Western visitors with ideas about Chinese porcelain formed by 19th-century exports—with questions akin to those the “white horse dialogue” poses concerning the nature of the Chinese porcelain objects aimed at European tastes and sensibilities and how to understand them. The exhibition, like much of Chinese philosophical thought, however, proves simply that seeing without presuppositions can open doors to complex and subtle intricacies and hopefully lead to a more complete understanding of the world, the things in it, and how they connect.

Connection is a major theme of “Global by Design” and resonates on multiple levels throughout the exhibition—culturally, historically, aesthetically, and personally. The personal aspect of the show stems from a collaboration between two curators, Jeff Munger of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and Denise Patry Leidy, Brooke Russell Astor Curator of Chinese Art. Munger and Leidy have been discussing the idea for the current exhibition since their “days as baby curators at the MFA Boston,” says Leidy. She jokes, “We’re still fighting some of the same fights, we’re having some of the same discussions.”

The next personal connection came in the form of Brazilian collector Dr. R. Albuquerque, whose collection of stunning Chinese ceramics, acquired largely in Europe provided the perfect representative nexus where Munger and Leidy’s respective expertise and passions meet. Albuquerque put it together with his own personal, cultural, and historical hopes for connection in mind as a Brazilian in a former Portuguese colony. “I was actually contacted by the Brazilian owner of this collection and invited to go down and see it,” says Leidy. “When I saw it I realized, this is of great interest to Jeff’s department, as well. So then he and I went to Brazil together and studied it together and started thinking about what we could do that would allow us to tell a story we were each fascinated with in a slightly different way.”

The collection, which is being shown publicly for the first time, provides visitors with a view of 60 rare Chinese ceramics of unparalleled quality and highly unusual character, offering a valuable snapshot of cultural and commercial exchange frozen in time. These porcelain treasures are quite literally the point of exchange, both as artifacts of global trade and as fine and complex works of cultural-aesthetic fusion captured in delicate and beautiful “white gold.” The ceramics, with their give and take (and sometimes head-on collision) of Chinese, European, and Islamic sensibilities and traditions, begin to rewrite the history of global trade, illuminating a level of sophistication not commonly associated with the cultural and economic exchange of the 17th century. “It does make us rethink the whole issue of global trade,” remarks Munger. “You realize how advanced and sophisticated it was centuries ago and that there’s sort of nothing new under the sun. They were remarkably adventurous and commercially driven and savvy.”

In Chinese porcelain Europe found a strange and beautiful emblem of the “Age of Exploration” along with a major technological advancement. True porcelain dates back to the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.), and eventually found its way into the hands and imaginations of Europeans. Before the introduction of porcelain, European dining ware was something much more crude, and the introduction of porcelain presented an attractive and hygienic alternative. Beyond its practical and commercial desirability, however, porcelain seemed to cast a spell over European explorers and merchants, and the Chinese welcomed and exploited the material’s mesmeric hold on foreigners and in some instances tailored objects to foreign tastes. This is what one finds captured in some of the most fascinating objects in “Global By Design.” Munger says, “These are actually incredible. They’re not distinctly European, they’re not distinctly Chinese, but they’re something entirely original and something other. Something shared.”

To today’s viewer the cross-global connections represented in a piece such as an early Qianlong-period tureen (circa 1740) with cover and stand can be truly mind-bending. The rococo shape of the tureen, inspired by a Meissen porcelain model, is clearly European, as are the faces and reserves that decorate the object. The Chinese elements are impossible to ignore, though, from dragon-like scaled feet to pink lotuses, an umbrella-like lid, and a small pagoda detail. Both cultures struggle for the aesthetic and formal upper hand in the delicate material and reach, at the very least, a unique compromise. Each time the visitor turns their attention to the tureen its character shifts from European to Chinese, and back again. In the most exhilarating moments, however, both cultures speak at once in a language both old and new, one of ancient ingenuity and global exploration, and visitors are left to decide whether they are hearing a European tongue with a Chinese accent or vice versa.

The Qing-dynasty figure of a European woman (circa 1735–45) depicting a German Jewish woman in a bonnet and ruffled collar (garments connected with Jewish anti-sumptuary laws), is European in subject but Chinese in material and execution. At the time paintings of foreigners were popular in China, and the figure seems to be an embodiment of this curiosity about other cultures, people, and places. The figure represents cross-cultural psychology and wonder made manifest, and for Western viewers the experience of seeing themselves (or maybe one of their ancestors) re-represented to themselves could be a strange but enlightening one.

The quality and rarity of the pieces on display are remarkable beyond simply anthropological and discursive concerns. The large Kangxi-period five-piece garniture (circa 1700) at the center of the installation is one of only two known existing sets, the other in the Zwinger Museum in Dresden. Impressive in its size and decoration, the scene represented in varying shades of blue underglaze is, according to the show’s catalogue, “typically Chinese” with its “drooping young willow branches” and appears to be based on the “Ten Views of West Lake” theme, whose popularity with Chinese artists dates back to the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). The detail and effortless flow of the magnificent pieces that comprise the garniture are a testament to a wholly Chinese art, and it’s easy to see how such stunning objects could lodge themselves in the minds of foreign travelers and spark a hunger for similar objects adorned with European images and words.

The exhibition itself establishes the final, contemporary connection, that of American audiences with such rare and important pieces. The passport of the objects on display has been stamped in many ports and traces a history of global trade and cultural exchange that echoes the connections found within the objects themselves. What better place to end such a long and storied trip than New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art? When asked how he feels about his collection being shown at the Met, Dr. Albuquerque laughs, smiles, and provides one last tribute to the power of gesture across language and culture, saying in Portuguese that is clear to anyone open to understanding, “Well, The Metropolitan is the Metropolitan.”

By Chris Shields

Language of Light Wed, 11 May 2016 16:25:11 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A Guggenheim retrospective of László Moholy-Nagy examines the full breadth of the Bauhaus artist’s oeuvre.

In 1916, while serving in the First World War, the Hungarian artist and Bauhaus teacher László Moholy-Nagy’s entire battery perished in a battle along the Isonzo River in Venezia Giulia, in northern Italy. Moholy-Nagy alone survived, fleeing with a shattered thumb. His injury soon turned to rampant infection, and Moholy-Nagy, who was then in his early 20s, spent a great deal of time being treated in military hospitals. In early 1917, while convalescing, he wrote a personal doctrine on vision. An excerpt reads:

…Precarious balance—time, material, space—
Resting on nothingness and meaning everything.
But human brain, so pitifully small,
Pierced through the darkness of the void, and tied
Material, space and time to Light contours,
To Light eternal, Light the striding life.
And nothingness, so vainly measured out
In time and space, transforms the darkened man—
Light, total Light, creates the total man.

László Moholy-Nagy, A 19, 1927

László Moholy-Nagy, A 19, 1927, oil and graphite on canvas, 80 x 95.5 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) László Moholy-Nagy, Photogram, 1926 László Moholy-Nagy, A II (Construction A II), 1924 László Moholy-Nagy, CH BEATA I, 1939 Cover and design for Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, and Farkas Molnár, Die Bühne im Bauhaus László Moholy-Nagy, Photogram, 1941 László Moholy-Nagy, A 19, 1927

Moholy-Nagy, a utopian artist who believed that a union of art and technology could create a better world, devoted his career to representing light’s relationship to material, space, and time. A true interdisciplinary worker, Moholy-Nagy explored a number of media—many of which he advanced—in the service of this phenomenon and his principle that light “creates the total man.”

As a result, many of Moholy-Nagy’s works deal quite literally with light, both as effect and product. His photograms, which are perhaps his most widely-known works, are cameraless photographs in which light-sensitive paper is exposed with objects layered on top of it, producing a ghost-like record of the objects and the movement of light through them and around them. Moholy-Nagy’s kinetic sculpture Light Prop for an Electric Stage (1929–30) creates light architecture, producing patterns and reflections in the space around it. His experiments with oil paint on incised Plexiglas—such as B-10 Space Modulator (1942) or Papmac (1943)—rely just as much on the transparency of Plexiglas, or rather, the material’s ability to simultaneously reflect light and let it permeate it, as they do on the colors and forms of the paint.

Examples of these works will be on view at “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present,” a major retrospective of the artist, which opens at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York on May 27 (through September 7). Co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (the show travels to the former in October and the latter in February), the exhibition amasses some 300 works from public and private collections in Europe and the United States, including paintings, photographs, film, documents, and ephemera. The first retrospective of the artist in America in 50 years, the show is not only a momentous occasion for scholarship and the conservation of Moholy-Nagy’s work, but also a rare opportunity to see so many of the artist and teacher’s thoughts and experiments at once.

“We wanted to show the breadth of his work, and that he’s not just a Bauhaus artist and not just a photographer,” says Karole P.B. Vail, associate curator at the Guggenheim and the museum’s organizing curator of the show. “We’re showing how interdisciplinary he was.” To that end, the show, which like any exhibition at the Guggenheim must interact rather particularly with the museum’s architecture, will not be separated by medium. “We will not have just one floor for his paintings and so on,” says Vail. “What I’m doing is trying to integrate the work as much as possible, to show how he was working on paintings and photograms at the same time, and how he was using different mediums simultaneously.”

After being discharged from the army, Moholy-Nagy returned to Budapest and focused his energies toward becoming a painter, creating paintings driven by harsh lines and primary colors. Disillusioned with the Communist regime he once supported for its inability to use nonrepresentational art as a revolutionary weapon, the artist briefly relocated to Vienna. Already embracing a Constructivist approach, Moholy-Nagy found no contentment among the Symbolists and Expressionists in the Vienna cafés, and in 1921 he arrived in Berlin.
Working through collage, the artist arrived at his first big breakthrough, in which he proved to himself that pure color and form are the essential elements in any medium. He also codified his belief that Constructivism was the true art of a society under reconstruction. Art—“the language of the senses,” as he describes it in his treatise “Constructivism and the Proletariat” (which appeared in the Hungarian revolutionary magazine MA in May 1922)—was the true mirror of the times, succeeding where words and their associations failed; it needed to embrace the technological, mechanical, and political nature of the 20th century. “Constructivism,” Moholy-Nagy wrote, “is neither proletarian or capitalistic. Constructivism is primordial, without class or ancestor. It expresses the pure form of nature—the direct color, the spatial rhythm, the equilibrium of form. The new world needs Constructivism because it needs fundamentals that are without deceit. Only the basic natural element, acceptable to all senses, is revolutionary.”

In these early years in Germany, Moholy-Nagy met Kurt Schwitters, the German artist who created his own style of Dadaism called Merz. Schwitters impressed upon Moholy-Nagy the potency of humor in political collage and an interest in typography, more specifically the disassociation of letters from their formal uses in the alphabet. Moholy-Nagy’s fascination with typography would persist throughout his career, but manifested itself in 1921 in the canvas Gelbe Scheibe, 1921 (Yellow Disc, 1921), in which the artist arranged the letters of his name MOHOLY as a Constructivist experiment. Soon afterward, Moholy-Nagy discovered the photogram.

Embracing the Dadaist assertion that any material was of pictorial worth, Moholy-Nagy captured kitchen utensils, household objects, plants, fruit, and body parts, namely hands (Photogram, 1941, which appears in the show, is one such example). Through the photographic process and the making of photograms in particular, the artist was able to achieve the “concretization of light phenomena,” and represent visually the way light moves through space. He wrote in the catalogue of his first photo exhibition in 1923: “The photogram is the realization of spatial tension in black-white-gray. Through the elimination of pigment and texture it has a dematerializing effect. It is writing with light.” The artist believed that just like a Constructivist painting, the photogram was capable of “evoking an immediate optical experience” and thus constituted a supreme form of both art and information. Throughout the rest of his career, Moholy-Nagy would champion he photographic medium through his work, writing, and teaching.

Moholy-Nagy joined the faculty of the Bauhaus in Weimar in the spring of 1923. The school’s focus on an interdisciplinary practice, which fused the practical creation of craft and an analysis of material and form within the fine arts, gelled with the artist’s pre-established beliefs and helped to push his work forward. There, he furthered his investigation of photography, typography, and painting and explored printmaking and industrial design, while also solidifying his interest in pedagogical theory. He left the school in 1928 and enjoyed success in Berlin as a commercial artist, exhibition and stage designer, and typographer. After the Nazis came to power, Moholy-Nagy fled with his family to the Netherlands and then to London.

He finally relocated to Chicago in 1937 and never returned to Europe again. There he became the director of the New Bauhaus, a school which functioned on the same tenets as the German original. A year later, the New Bauhaus lost its funding and closed. In 1939, Moholy-Nagy opened the School of Design, which became the Institute of Design in 1944 and became a part of the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949, three years after Moholy-Nagy died of leukemia.

The Guggenheim, which opened in 1939 as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, amassed a substantial collection of Moholy-Nagy’s work under the advisement of artist Hilla von Rebay. “Solomon Guggenheim started collecting Moholy-Nagy’s work, and it was nearly always on view. They were friends and correspondents,” says Vail. She notes that Guggenheim was keen to collect the artist’s most recent work, and that the museum now has the benefit of that close relationship. “We know how his work should be lit in the space.”

The exhibition will include a contemporary fabrication of Moholy-Nagy’s Room of the Present. Conceived by the artist in 1930 but never realized in his lifetime, it contains examples of Moholy-Nagy exhibition and product designs. In it will be a replica of Light Prop for an Electric Stage. The sculpture, which is powered by an electric motor, is the subject of Ein Lichtspiel: schwarz weiss grau (A Lightplay: Black White Gray), an abstract film created by Moholy-Nagy as an attempt to fabricate the act of seeing from several viewpoints at once. These works, which hatched out of the influential 1927 book Malerei, Fotografie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film) that Moholy-Nagy co-edited with Walter Gropius, were designed to showcase his belief that photography and film had surpassed painting, creating a “culture of light.” The utilization of new materials—be it photography, film, or otherwise—was inherent to Moholy-Nagy’s work. “He believed in using the materials and means of one’s time,” says Vail. “He wasn’t interested in repeating the past; instead, he was curious about new materials. I’ve been told he had the curiosity of a scientist.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

Designs of the Times Wed, 11 May 2016 16:15:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As the barrier between design and fine art crumbles, today’s artist-designers are giving their imaginations free rein.

Gregory Nangle, Forrest Bowl, 2015

Gregory Nangle, Forrest Bowl, 2015, cast silicon bronze leaves, cast bronze, 15 x 7 inches;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Vivian Beer, Ruffle Chaise, 2013 Laura Kishimoto, Yumi Chair II, 2014 Vivian Beer, Anchored Candy No. 6, 2014 Philipp Aduatz, Melting Chair Alex Rasmussen, Blue Lunar Console, 2016 Ball Nogues, Music Leg Glob Lamp, 2012 Gregory Nangle, Forrest Bowl, 2015

A delicate skein of openwork bronze leaves and branches coalesces to form a bench or a chair. A sinuously curved steel construction coated with auto-body paint is a chaise longue. What looks like an asteroid fragment glowing with cosmic rays is actually a floor lamp. With creations like these, today’s emerging designers are playing havoc with the modernist mantra “form follows function”—unless the function is to provide delight as well as utility, to stimulate the imagination as well to support the body. The design scene is being pervaded by a spirit of exuberance and playfulness, and something more—a sense that the traditional separation between design object and work of fine art is arbitrary and obsolete.

Some pieces seem at first glance to be sculptures but then turn out to have a functional aspect. Others may be non-functional (at least by the traditional definition) but are made by people who come out of the design world and show at galleries primarily dedicated to design. “It’s been my experience over the last 20 years that the lines drawn between artist, sculptor, designer have become increasingly porous and that the individuals in those categories are open to exploring other territories,” says Edward Cella of Edward Cella Art & Architecture in Los Angeles. “As a dealer, it’s been fascinating.” Lewis Wexler of Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia, which specializes in design, glass art, and ceramics, concurs: “The lines are blurred between fine art, design, and craft. The field has really changed. Fifteen years ago there weren’t design fairs at all; now at those fairs they would like you to show art as well as design. It’s a very exciting time to be in.”

To some extent, both the market and the museum world are simply ratifying what collectors are already feeling and doing. “Clients and collectors don’t tend to see the difference,” says Cella. “Go to Design Miami, and you see works by artists who are showing in museums next to design objects that are also in museums. Many museums are doing installations that combine art with design. At the Art Institute of Chicago or MoMA, you may see a Frank Lloyd Wright chair next to a contemporary piece, next to a painting, next to sculpture, with a rug underneath—an assemblage of objects with varying degrees of functionality and decorativeness.”

Thinking of fine art and design objects as being arranged along a spectrum of “functionality and decorativeness” is a good way to make sense of the diversity of today’s design. Toward the far end on the “fine art” side are works such as the ceramics of South African designer Andile Dyalvane, which will be on view in a solo show at the New York design gallery Friedman Benda from June 23–August 19. Some of the pieces have an opening at the top, giving at least a nod to the traditional concept of a vessel, but others are closed, which essentially makes them sculptures. The artist–designer incises the surfaces with patterns that allude to Xhosa ritual scarification, and to express the mixing of cultures in South Africa, some of those marks are made with fragments of 20th-century technological detritus found in street markets. The Friedman Benda show will also include a monumental ceramic-and-wood screen that recalls the forms of skyscrapers going up in Cape Town.

Another artist represented by Friedman Benda, Adam Silverman, also creates ceramic vessels, egg-shaped or asymmetrical, with differing degrees of functionality. A former architect, Silverman is having his first show at the gallery this month (May 5–June 11). Director Carole Hochman says, “To the question ‘are they functional,’ I would say they fall on either side of that line. He’s now starting to do groupings of open and closed vessels, so there’s a narrative between those elements. What I think is so incredible is his experimentation with surfaces—altering the thrown surface by pummeling, slashing, repeated firings and scraping away. It’s hard to classify him, but I don’t think that’s really important.”

Some of the non-functional pieces that are shown in a design context are made by people who come out of the design and architecture worlds and now are being given the chance to create works free from the constraints of function. Cella represents an L.A.-based collaborative team called Ball Nogues, led by architects Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues, who formerly worked for Frank Gehry. Known for producing large-scale outdoor installations, they now “take architectural methodologies and design skills and apply them to fine-art work,” says Cella. Some of the pieces have domestic functionality, like the glowing, rock-like floor lamps mentioned above, but others are pure aesthetic expression, like their wall-mounted rectangular pieces made of folded and crumpled strips of steel. These present themselves to the eye as framed abstract pictures, but the materials speak of the construction and thought processes of architecture and heavy industry.

The support of dealers who give designers the opportunity to make fine-art pieces has been instrumental in forming and sustaining this trend. Hochman says that at Friedman Benda, “the goal is to work with the designers so they have the freedom to develop new bodies of work. What you’re seeing with all these people is exuberance and energy; that’s what’s driving them. Our collaboration helps them get the freedom and time to experiment and push the limits, to come up with something new and fresh.” Wexler comments that this kind of freedom has been a longstanding need on the part of designers. “A lot of craftspeople always wanted to be in the fine-art world,” he says. “Talk to Wendell Castle—he wanted to be a sculptor. We’re about freeing up artists to create a body of work that doesn’t necessarily have to meet the confines of functionality, giving them the freedom to experiment with many different things.” Occasionally the process goes in the other direction—one of Wexler’s designers, Gregory Nangle, who makes the bronze-leaf furniture, was originally a glass artist and then wanted to do something functional.

One of the things that a lot of younger designers are experimenting with is materials—in particular materials typically used for mass production or industrial fabrication but now worked on by hand for unique or limited-edition pieces. An example is Alex Rasmussen, who makes tables, chairs, benches, trays, and more out of a patented colored anodized aluminum product that his family’s business, the Neal Feay Company of Santa Barbara, Calif., has been making for six decades. Rasmussen, the third-generation owner of the company—which started out making dental instruments and stereos—has fabricated pieces for designers including Marc Newson and Peter Marino and is now designing his own pieces. “He does hand-drawn design and digital design,” says Cella, “milling the aluminum himself. He knows that material like nobody else. There’s a kind of hand to it, a kind of intimacy; that is what connects it to art making process. The Jeff Koons model is a whole other thing.”

Vivian Beer, who is represented by Wexler, also uses industrial materials and processes. She works with welded steel and automotive paint in what Wexler calls “hot-rod colors” to make innovative pieces of furniture such as her “Anchored Candy” series of chaises longues. She has also made some chairs and benches out of steel tubing and a kind of artificial concrete composite called ferrocement. “She is one of those who bring a certain excitement to the design community,” says Wexler. “She’s incorporating car culture and also fashion.” Beer, who recently won “Ellen’s Design Challenge” hosted by Ellen De Generes on HGTV, spent a good part of 2014 researching the history of American industry, architecture, and transportation with a fellowship at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

A different kind of materials experiment is being made by Great Things to People (gt2P), a design, architecture, and art studio in Santiago, Chile. In partnership with Friedman Benda, they recently made a table that merges marble with bronze in one smooth finish. The marble is given a cutout treatment, and the resulting gaps are then filled in with bronze, which seems to spread like liquid across the table’s surface and then down into the legs. While these two time-honored materials have often been used together in pieces of furniture, this almost biomorphic interpenetration of the two is something new. Hochman says that Gt2P, which the gallery introduced at Design Miami, “are very energetic, using 3-D imaging techniques and pairing them with traditional techniques and local sourcing from Chile.”

One aspect of the exuberance of today’s design is a strong dose of fantasy, playfulness, or humor. Misha Kahn, a 27-year-old American who just had a show at Friedman Benda, makes wildly colored pieces of furniture and mirrors than look like they should be squeezably soft but are actually made of hard resin or concrete—sort of a tactile version of trompe l’oeil. He also works with bronze, plywood, epoxy, and even sawdust. Philipp Aduatz, an Austrian designer who shows at Wexler, made a black-chrome chair that is perfectly solid but looks like it’s melting. And nendo inc., a design firm founded in Tokyo in 2002, has created a series of 50 polished aluminum “Manga Chairs” that play with the visual language of comics. The series debuted last month in Milan at the Basilica Minore di San Simpliciano, in conjunction with the Salone del Mobile, Milano. Some of the chairs look like they have speech bubbles emanating from them; others have straight or curved lines of metal sticking out to one side indicating movements like spinning or zooming. Each can stand on its own, but together they form what Friedman Benda calls “a collective narrative.” In fact, says Hochman, all the pieces the gallery is showing “are more than just design. They all have some sort of narrative to them.”

But those narratives are inherent to the pieces; they’re not narratives about design becoming art, or art becoming design. “It’s not necessary to label,” says Hochman, “it’s how the pieces are realized. You have collectors who want to furnish and collectors who want more sculptural pieces to be juxtaposed with their art collections. Some are more concerned with function, some less. We don’t define it; we present it.”

By John Dorfman

The Collector Wed, 11 May 2016 16:07:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Claudio Bravo used Old Master-inspired techniques to create a modern and very personal body of work in which the roles of artist and collector seem to merge.

Claudio Bravo, Tríptico beige y gris/Beige and Gray Triptych, 2010

Claudio Bravo, Tríptico beige y gris/Beige and Gray Triptych, 2010, oil on canvas, center panel: 59 x 47 inches, side panels: 59 x 24 inches, overall: 59 x 95 inches;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Claudio Bravo, Tríptico beige y gris/Beige and Gray Triptych, 2010 Claudio Bravo, Khabyas, 2002 Claudio Bravo, Cascos/Helmets, 2009 Claudio Bravo, Minerva and Arachne, 1981 Claudio Bravo, Onions, 2002

The wrinkles in a sheet of brightly colored, crumpled paper. The sheen of the lead glaze on a painted Moroccan jar. The individual fibers of a skein of wool yarn before it is transformed into a carpet. A virtuoso at rendering reality in oil paint with exactitude, the Chilean artist Claudio Bravo, who died in 2011, was a painter of rare talent whose use of color, lighting, and textures was in many ways unmatched.

But to dismiss Bravo as an impressive draughtsman is to miss the point completely. Despite whatever eye-fooling effect one takes away, these works are anything but simple, static, dry copies of a perceived reality. Certainly, at first glance a canvas by Bravo strikes one with the attention to minute detail that underlies his technique but, in fact, he sought to communicate something much more meaningful and personal. Indeed, Bravo’s oeuvre speaks to the emotional power of color and light, the lens of his own lived experiences, his own informal and largely self-given artistic training, and his role as a collector, both of things and of histories.

An exhibition of selected works that was recently on view at Marlborough Gallery in New York highlighted the simultaneous effect and affect with which Bravo infused his art by means of masterly technical precision but perhaps more importantly through a singular use of color inspired by quotidian life in his adopted home of Tangier, Morocco, and the depiction of the art that he collected and maintained while living there. These paintings, several of which have never before been exhibited or published, cover nearly every phase of the artist’s career, with the exception of his portraits—wrapped package paintings, including three massive triptychs; numerous still lifes and trompe l’oeil works, like that which depicts faithfully the back of a canvas and its stretcher peeking through; and plein air studies of Moroccan towns.

Born in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1936, Claudio Bravo grew up on his family’s farm. His father saw his artistic interests as frivolous, but his mother, a painter herself, nurtured his budding talent, and in 1945, while at Jesuit school, Bravo made the acquaintance of the artist Miguel Venegas Cienfuentes, from whom he received his only formal art education, that being to copy, copy, copy. Venegas insisted that Bravo closely examine and replicate art history’s masterworks, from those of 15th-century Florence to 17th-century Netherlands, an influence that remained an undercurrent throughout his long career. At just 17, he was offered his first solo exhibition in Santiago, Chile.

Having achieved local success as a portrait painter, Bravo decided to leave South America for Europe in the early 1960s. In Madrid, the artist attached himself to the capital’s elite social circles and continued to produce portraits, fashioning himself as a sort of mid-century John Singer Sargent. (His apartment eventually became the first home of Marlborough’s Madrid outpost.) The Spanish Baroque painters which he encountered at the Prado Museum, particularly Francisco de Zurbarán, left an indelible mark on him. Despite this indebtedness to the Old Masters, it was during this time that Bravo first experimented with the novel modernism that came to define his oeuvre—that is, his wrapped package paintings, which were initially exhibited in 1963 at the Galerìa Fortuny. After moving to New York, Bravo gained fame there in 1970 when these works were shown at the Staempfli Gallery.

By 1972, Bravo left the West for good, moving to Tangier, where he would spend the rest of his life. His adopted home and the new way of life it enabled for him entirely altered the course of his art, and the works in the latest exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, which has represented Bravo and his estate since 1981, span the last 20 years of his career. These paintings reveal a deep affinity with the Mediterranean’s distinctive quality of light and color palette, as well as to half a millennium of European art history. Canvases as seemingly varied as his still life Cascos / Helmets (2009), the North African landscape seen in Casbah de Tiout (2008), and the minutely detailed Marruecos triptico / Morocco Triptych (2009) are all imbued with the memories of a lifetime spent across three continents, immersed in diverse cultures, histories, religions, and traditions and finally emphasized through Morocco’s vivid hues.

This connection to Tangier was even made the subject of the 2004 exhibition “Claudio Bravo and Morocco” at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. As Edward J. Sullivan wrote in the catalogue for that show, “Bravo has found in Morocco not a distant or ‘exotic’ visual culture, but rather a confirmation of the enduring visual realities that have permeated the human artistic experience throughout the ages.” With this in mind, and given the place of Moroccan landscapes, weavings, and pottery in his work, one might consider Bravo a 21st-century Orientalist, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Bravo consciously eschewed the term and separated himself from the lineage of 19th-century artists in North Africa who, as he saw it, were concerned not with accurately representing the Arab peoples and their culture but rather with exoticist and colonialist storytelling.

Likewise, some critics have also made the mistake of aligning Bravo with the Photorealists and Hyperrealists. In 1970, New York Times art critic John Canaday lauded Bravo’s “staggering technical exercises,” and the following year, Canaday reversed his praise, accusing the artist of cheapness and vulgarity in what he saw as his Hyperrealist and even pseudo-Surrealist subjects. Doug McClemont, director of Marlborough Gallery, says that to include Bravo among the Photorealists is to misrepresent everything the artist believed in. “The Photorealists painted from photographs and Bravo worked with virtuoso skill, from life.” “From life” is the operative phrase here, not only in the sense of rendering objects arranged directly in front of one, which was Bravo’s daily practice in his Morocco studio, but also because those very objects were the ones he chose to live with. McClemont continues, “The goal was to create a positive aesthetic experience and in his own words ‘to capture the rarity in nature.’ He felt that art was communication and perfection too cold.”

This communicative aspect is perhaps best conveyed by Bravo’s still lifes, many of which contain objects collected and arranged by the artist, from a fragment of a Roman marble head to a bowl filled with ostrich eggs. Seeing works like Khabyas (2002), featuring a collection of covered jars set atop a Hispano-Moorish painted wooden chest, juxtaposed with the Lucio Fontana-esque Green Paper on Green Background (2007) draws out such artistic, emotional dialogue while reminding the viewer that everything from the antique earthenware to the detailed rendering of a pierced and crumpled piece of paper was an integral part of Bravo’s daily life. These were the things, both tangible and intangible—that is, intangible until brush met canvas—that Bravo effectively collected at his home and studio in Tangier.

Labeling Bravo a Photorealist or an Orientalist would be an error, but he could be considered a collector, both in the traditional sense and more unconventionally in his amassing of an internal assemblage of histories, artistic impressions, and cultural experiences from which he constantly drew and which manifested itself in his output during the last decades of his career. It was during the last half of his life Bravo avidly acquired art objects with which to populate his environment and his art. These included African and Asian textiles, Moroccan ceramics, Greek bronzes, and Roman marble sculpture purchased during his time in New York. McClemont notes that these “work[s] from his own collection often found their way into his paintings,” as well as his prints and works on paper. In 2000, he donated 20 Classical marbles and bronzes to the Prado Museum, the institution that he spoke of as having “continually nurtured [his] imagination.” In an image that successfully combines Bravo’s art with his passion for collecting, the cover of the catalogue commemorating the Prado donation even depicted a Greek bronze foot superimposed, and seemingly floating in space, over a detail of a hanging fringed shawl from one of his paintings.

Walter Benjamin wrote that a collection’s meaning is lost when the collector is lost. But Bravo’s artistic oeuvre makes it clear that the meaning behind a collection, whether it is physical or not, can also shift when the collector is himself a maker. Bravo memorialized his collections of objects and a lifetime of encounters through their incorporation into his own work, which culminated in his move to North Africa. Thus, the art of painting communicates that which might have otherwise been silenced; that is, a lifetime of collecting itself. Even after Bravo’s death, up to which point he had continued to paint tirelessly, the significance of his collections and the associations that he felt with each of them remain. In fact, Bravo’s masterful two-dimensional works perhaps even strengthens those links. Irises (1990) expresses the melding of objects, histories, memories, and Bravo’s embrace of Arab culture. Four glass vessels and one wooden bucket, each containing sprays of the purple flower, are set upon a rough-hewn table nonchalantly draped with a woven multicolored textile. A set of shears, along with the remains of cut green stems, have been left on the table. The scene is set against the backdrop of a hanging with motifs inspired by Islamic architecture. The glasses, the flora, the textiles, the wooden surface, and even the shears each have a place in Bravo’s arrangement. In this micro-collection, one can unpack a great deal of personal importance.

Bravo is by no means the only artist to have commemorated his collected objects and memories in his artwork. Nevertheless, it feels as though he particularly wished to share some intimate secret with us through the medium of oil paint by offering us a window, both literally and theoretically, into his private world in Morocco and his own collection of things, of lived experiences spread across the globe, and of impressions left from his own exposure to art and nature. Bravo would want us to study the imperfections of the glazed surface of the jar in the corner, to roll the yarn laid out across his table between our fingers, to hear the crinkling of sheets of paper in his studio—all while remembering that this is a painting, his painting.

By Martina D’Amato

Brother Act Thu, 28 Apr 2016 17:57:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The realistic yet mysterious paintings of the Le Nain brothers get a rare showing at the Kimbell Art Museum.

Le Nain, The Last Supper, 1650s

Le Nain, The Last Supper, 1650s, oil on canvas.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Le Nain, A Quarrel, circa 1640 Le Nain, Three Men and a Boy, circa 1647–48 Louis Le Nain, Peasant Family in an Interior, circa 1642 Le Nain, Peasant Interior with an Old Flute Player, circa 1642 Le Nain, The Last Supper, 1650s

The Le Nain brothers, Antoine, Louis, and Mathieu, who flourished in France in the early 17th century, are among the most mysterious Old Master painters. In terms of biography, very little is known about them, and that small amount only serves to increase the mystery. None of the three artistic siblings ever married or had children, and they not only lived together but worked together, signing their paintings with their last name only, so that it has always been extremely difficult for art historians to figure out which brother painted which picture. Most likely the Le Nains would have wanted it that way; over time their individual abilities and styles apparently merged into an artistic celebration of family. Among Old Masters, only the Carracci of Bologna—two brothers and a cousin who worked a generation before the Le Nains—come close in terms of collectivity. The phenomenon of the Le Nain brothers reminds one of the observation that in harmony singing, the voices of people who are related to each other by blood blend best.

The subject matter for which the Le Nains are most famous is, if not mysterious in the sense of weird or arcane, at least question-provoking. The brothers devoted painting after painting to genre scenes of French peasant life, rendered with painstaking, delicate realism. However, they were not completely realistic in terms of social observation—the Le Nains’ peasants, while painted with pathos, are just a bit more trig and comfortable than one would expect them to be. In Peasant Interior With an Old Flute Player (1642), the walls are bare and gloomy gray and the faces are somber (except for one mischievously grinning boy catching the viewer’s eye), but there’s a nice glass of red wine on the table, brass andirons (an expensive item at the time) in the fireplace, and the dog and the cat look well-fed. This is typical of the Le Nains’ peasant scenes—what we get is a kind of heightened, if not hopeful, reality in which the dignity and soulfulness of the rural poor are rewarded with an unusual level of prosperity.

This Peasant Interior is one of around 50 works—not only genre pieces but history and devotional paintings, landscapes, and portraits—that will go on view late this month at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Tex., in “The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of Seventeenth-Century France” (May 22–September 11). The first Le Nain show in the U.S. since 1947, it is only the second in the world to give a comprehensive account of the brothers’ work; the first was a retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1978–79 that was organized by the great art historian Jacques Thuillier. The current show, organized by the Kimbell’s C.D. Dickerson III and Esther Bell of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, was originally conceived as a survey of Le Nain works in U.S. collections, but then the Louvre expressed interest in lending paintings and partnering with the American museums to create a truly encyclopedic international exhibition. The breadth of the show (which will travel to San Francisco and to the Louvre’s outpost in Lens, in northern France) is such that viewers will be able to judge for themselves what the brothers’ artistic intentions were and even try to match wits with the curators, who have used all available physical and documentary evidence, plus connoisseurship, to distinguish the artistic hand of each brother and attribute specific works to each wherever possible.

Born at the turn of the 17th century (the exact birthdates are unknown), the Le Nains themselves came from a relatively well-off farming family, in the northern French province of Picardy. Their father, Isaac, was probably a wine-grower, and the family lived in the city of Laon, where the boys took their first steps in art around 1618. After about 10 years of painting there, they moved to Paris, where they redefined themselves as urbane artists with a high-end clientele that included Anne of Austria, mother of the future king Louis XIV. Membership in prestigious artists’ associations followed; Antoine, Louis, and Mathieu were among the first to join a new organization, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which sought to enhance artists’ independence as against the traditional guild system, which imposed restrictions on them and treated them like skilled tradesmen rather than creative artists.

In Paris, where Italian art was popular and patronized by the Queen, the Le Nains absorbed influence from Italian masters such as Caravaggio and Orazio Gentileschi, more than from their fellow French painters. The sometimes brutal realism and sympathy for the common people that characterize these Italian Baroque artists were more appealing to the Le Nain brothers than the austere, Classicizing purity of Poussin. One French artist they did admire was Georges de la Tour, whose habit of illuminating his domestic scenes with a single candle flame inspired the Le Nains to attempt similar feats of contrasty, dramatic lighting. But as the curators of the show point out in their catalogue essays, the Le Nains changed their styles fairly frequently in response to the public’s shifting tastes, before settling on the rustic realism for which they are now remembered. As for their single-subject portraits, only one has survived, so it is hard to assess their work in this vein (a number of small group portraits are extant, including a collective self-portrait of all three brothers.)

Based on extensive research and analysis, the curators of the present show have isolated three distinct hands in the oeuvre of the Le Nains, which they label “brother A,” “brother B,” and “brother C.” They have not been able to go further, however, and definitively match each letter with a named brother—although they have a strong presumption toward identifying B with Louis, who French art historian Pierre Rosenberg calls “the unquestionable genius of the family.” To him the curators ascribe such masterworks as The Forge (circa 1640), which shows a blacksmith at work against a background of fire emitting sparks, surrounded by a group of companions, male and female. The fairly loose paint handling and the way some of the figures lock eyes with the viewer are considered typical of the B painter, as is the dynamic, slightly off-center composition. The aforementioned Peasant Interior With an Old Flute Player is also given to brother B.

To brother A (probably Antoine) is attributed The Card Players (circa 1640–45), a genre picture that directly inspired Paul Cézanne’s famous series of Card Players paintings of the 1890s. After seeing the Le Nain painting, the modernist pioneer said, “That is how I would like to paint.” Cézanne was not alone among 19th-century French painters in his admiration of the Le Nains. Around the time of the revolutions of 1848, there was a resurgence of enthusiasm for their work, which was thought to incarnate some elemental quality of Frenchness as well as a kind of leftist, proto-revolutionary concern for the masses. New apostles of uncompromising realism such as Courbet and Manet were inspired by the Le Nains. Writing in the 1850s, the critic Champfleury dubbed the brothers “worker-painters.”

This is all a far cry from the polished courtier-painter image that the brothers themselves cultivated in their business life, but it does touch on something important and essential in their work. The Le Nains’ style was not social realism, but it was psychological realism, an attempt to see the true humanity and individuality in the poor rather than casting them as victims to be pitied or types to be categorized. The Le Nains clearly wanted to give their peasant subjects dignity, and the intimacy of their portrayals invites us to think of ourselves as right there alongside the poor, not different from them in any essential way.

The brother act came to an end in the fateful year of 1648, when Louis and Antoine died within days of each other. Mathieu lived on until 1677, and it must have been a very lonely existence. He continued to have success as a painter and was even elevated to the nobility, but his work from those later years shows a sad falling off in originality and verve. Without his brothers in blood and in paint, Mathieu’s creativity withered away.

By John Dorfman

Out of the Earth Thu, 28 Apr 2016 17:46:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Contemporary Native American ceramicists take the refinement of traditional art and add another ingredient—innovation.

Nancy Youngblood, carved miniature pottery jar

Nancy Youngblood, carved miniature pottery jar, circa 2000;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Tammy Garcia, parrot motif jar, 1995 Diego Romero, Hero Twins on Mountain Tops, Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano, Tulip Pot, 12 x 10 inches. Nancy Youngblood, carved miniature pottery jar Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano, Infinite Loop jar; Virgil Ortiz, Watchman: Luminus

It starts with the clay, as it must. Native American peoples of the Southwest gathered it from places that they knew, prepared it, and transformed it into pots. They didn’t use a potter’s wheel—that technology appeared when the Europeans did. Instead, Native American potters rolled the clay into slim coils and placed them on top of each other to build the shape of a piece, smoothing the coils into a cohesive whole with their hands. They painted the pots with slip, a type of pigment made from liquid clay. They carved designs into the pots, and they polished them with riverbed stones to impart a sheen all over or to select areas of the pot’s surface. They fired them in the open air or in shallow pits.

Native Americans have made pots this way for ages; the earliest ceramics discovered in the Americas date back roughly 7,000 years, and those from what is now the southeastern U.S. date back to around 2,000 B.C. The Pueblo cultures of the Southwest have long been recognized for their pottery. Contemporary Native American artists from the region rely on many of the same materials and techniques as their ancestors, but they find novel, exciting ways to challenge, play with, and update them.

Then, as now, it starts with the clay. “It’s rare when Southwestern ceramic artists work with clay they buy online,” says Karen Kramer, curator of Native American and Oceanic Art and Culture at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. “They work with clay they dig with their hands.” Clay-gathering is also the point at which the intensely familial nature of Native American pottery first becomes obvious. Good clay spots are part of a family’s lore, and families will venture out together to collect it. Charles King, founder of King Galleries in Scottsdale, Ariz., notes that artist Virgil Ortiz “brings all his nieces and nephews. Even if they don’t make pots, they know where the clay is. Everybody goes, and everybody participates.”

Family is fundamental to Native American ceramics, including Native American contemporary ceramics. Almost every active artist has blood ties to current or past artists who introduced them to the time-honored craft and helped them troubleshoot their rookie mistakes. Ortiz, who won his first Santa Fe Indian Market award at 14, learned from his mother, Seferina Ortiz. Lisa Holt, half of a ceramic-artist team that includes her husband, Harlan Reano, is the granddaughter of Seferina and the niece of Virgil. Al Qoyawayma, lauded for his exquisite, technically complex ceramics, studied with his aunt, Polingyasi Elizabeth Qoyawayma, also known as Elizabeth Q. White. Nancy Youngblood is the sister of ceramic artist Nathan Youngblood and the granddaughter of Margaret Tafoya, a legendary 20th-century potter from the Santa Clarita Pueblo. Tammy Garcia is the great-great-great granddaughter of Sarafina Tafoya, and the great-great granddaughter of Margaret Tafoya. “It’s culturally a shared experience,” says Denise Phetteplace of the Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., a contemporary art gallery that represents several Native American ceramicists. “The knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. There’s a real understanding of history and tradition in Native American ceramics.”

This is not to imply that wannabe Native American contemporary ceramic artists can prosper just by leaning on a family tree. “You may have a famous last name, but you had better be doing something interesting,” says King, whose gallery specializes in contemporary Pueblo pottery. “In order to get a career out of it, you have to be doing your own style of work.”

The break between the contemporary artists and their forebears begins with the level of craftsmanship on display, which only people who are free to pursue pottery-making full time can hope to achieve. “I think what you see in this work and other work we’ve been talking about is perfection,” says Diana Pardue, curator of collections at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. “They’re perfectly balanced and perfectly shaped. There’s nothing out of line here, and they’re all formed by hand out of coils on clay, nothing thrown or shaped on a wheel.”

Tammy Garcia explores and extends the traditions of the Santa Clara Pueblo to which she belongs. After the Dance, a 2002 piece in the collection of the Heard, is somewhat atypical for her in shape and hue (Garcia is more likely to favor red or black over tan, which reflects the natural color of the clay used for this piece) but conforms in other respects. “The deep carving is typical of her community—deep-carved work and high polish, leaving some areas matte,” says Pardue. Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano keep a traditional division of labor, she doing most of the pot-making and he handling the graphic design and painting, but their work is very much a collaboration. Their Endless Loop jar, which earned an Honorable Mention at the 2015 Santa Fe Indian Market, shows how far Holt has advanced as a potter. It was difficult to shape and difficult to fire with traditional methods. Reano may not have painted the jar right away, however, possibly preferring to hold the shape in his mind for a while before picking up his brush. “Sometimes a piece will sit there, and he won’t design it for several months,” says King. “Finally he tries something, and it’s the perfect design.”

Al Qoyawayma (pronounced ko-ya-wy-mah), who has Hopi ancestry, takes his aunt’s inspired idea of adapting the French metalworking technique of repoussé to Native American ceramics and carries it farther than she or anyone else could have imagined. He patiently blends and works his clay to produce bewitching vessels that feature detailed miniature pueblos rendered in relief and jars with a single animal or human figure that juts forth from their surfaces. “Al started creating traditional pieces, but he added a lot more definition and refinement to the technique,” says Phetteplace. “Certainly his aunt never did anything like this. His style has evolved from what she did.” Before he turned to ceramics, Qoyawayma was an accomplished engineer, and his approach is informed by a respect for precision that comes from his scientific background. “The carving, the slip work, the polishing, it’s so refined and beautiful,” says Phetteplace. “He’s experimented with over 100 different types of [pueblo] clay to find the best combination to make his pots. He’s that kind of person.”

Diego Romero’s marrying of pop culture and traditional designs is as stark as it is thought-provoking. His childhood was divided between life in Berkeley, Calif., the home of his mother, and summering at the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico, the home of his father. His Never Forget series of ceramics spotlights Native American heroes such as athlete Jim Thorpe and Ira Hayes, one of the six Marines who raised the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II.

Virgil Ortiz unites traditional Cochiti shapes and motifs with modern imagery to great effect. A jar in the Heard Museum collection, which he created in 2008, enlists native clay and pigments pressed to depict a female face that could easily belong to a fashion model—a world Ortiz knows well, having collaborated with Donna Karan in 2003 and having created his own fashion line in 2006. A stargazer “Tsin” jar from his Modernly Ancestral series boasts graphics as bold as those from a rock show poster. The jar employs traditional clay, traditional pigments, and traditional firing and has a Cochiti decoration around its neck that is known as a “spirit line.” It also has a less traditional profile of a man with spiked hair and a male figure shown full-length in what may as well be a leather jacket.

The labor-intensive nature of contemporary Native American ceramics is rarely evident on first glance. Nancy Youngblood’s ribbed jars and pots are easy on the eyes but definitely not easy to create. She uses a ruler and standard math (not a computer) to ensure that the ribs are equal in size. Polishing the ribs to her own exacting standard is the real pain—Youngblood can complete three per day. “She’s very much a perfectionist in what she does, and she does it all herself,” says King. Indeed, most contemporary Native American ceramicists do all the work involved in producing their ceramics—from digging the clay to sculpting to polishing to firing to painting—themselves, with no assistants, not even for the most tedious tasks. Understandably, this practice seriously limits their output. The artists under discussion generally produce between one dozen and maybe a bit more than three dozen pieces per year.

While the ways of their ancestors remain important to Native American contemporary ceramicists, some have confronted the limitations of traditional materials and techniques and have chosen to step beyond them. Faced with the choice of toiling over her red clay pieces only to subject them to the risks of outdoor firing, Garcia began employing an electric kiln around the year 2000. “She wanted to create an aesthetic and a particular look, and kiln-firing was the way to do it,” says King. “She spends a lot of time making [her works] and she didn’t want to lose them. She’s very upfront about it, and it’s had no impact on her popularity or her sales.”

Ortiz has ventured even further from Native American ceramic traditions for his ongoing Pueblo Revolt 1680/2180 series. He wanted to create figures that measured two feet or more, but Native community clays aren’t elastic enough to support artworks of that size. Instead, Ortiz turned to commercial clay to achieve his aims, and he fired these larger works in an electric kiln. Watchman: Luminus, which is 28 inches tall and 15 inches wide, is a compelling piece that would not have been possible to make otherwise. King expresses confidence that collectors will accept the new Ortizes “because it’s Virgil, and there’s a reason behind it. He’s doing something so different that couldn’t be done with normal clay. I think people will go along with him.” King notes that these Ortiz pieces are “selling fairly well.”

Garcia, Youngblood, Romero, Qoyawayma, Holt and Reano, and Ortiz manage the trick of honoring the past without letting it constrain or dictate their artistic visions—which bodes well for the future of their chosen art. “Part of what separates artists from craftspeople is that artists push themselves to be more creative, more innovative, more refined, and they keep pushing themselves in that direction,” says Phetteplace. “People tied to tradition may be more refined, but they may not be more innovative. The artists we are talking about are both more innovative and more refined.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Windy City Wonders Thu, 28 Apr 2016 17:37:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Chicago’s rich art scene offers prehistoric art, contemporary works, and everything in between.

Anna Kunz, Untitled, 2016

Anna Kunz, Untitled, 2016, gouache on Sakamoto paper, 13 x 15 inches;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Mace heads, Chavin culture, Peru John James Audubon, Frigate Pelican Francesco Pergolesi, Pino, Spoleto, 2013 Gabriele Munter, Blumen Mit Wisser Rose, 1950 Bill Traylor, Untitled Spotted Cat Puck’s Monthly Magazine and Almanac, June 1905 Anna Kunz, Untitled, 2016 Restorer Matt Bergbauer inpainting a portrait of General Ulysses S. Grant

Chicago has long been a haven for public and outdoor art, with its excellent city-sponsored public art program providing more than 700 pieces throughout the city. So it should come as no surprise that Chicago’s indoor art offerings, from galleries to museums to artist workshops, are just as impressive. You’ll find the city’s art scene in general weighted slightly toward modern and contemporary works than traditional; however, the depth and breadth of options will leave even the most strident traditionalist satisfied.

Art enthusiasts visiting the Windy City should start in the River North neighborhood, which has the highest concentration of galleries in the city. Contemporary painting, Outsider art, fine art prints, photography—you’ll find plenty of this and more in River North, and all within walking distance.

A standout in River North is the Catherine Edelman Gallery (CEG), one of the best galleries devoted to photography in the entire Midwest. Opened in 1987, the gallery focuses on showing prominent contemporary photographers alongside emerging talent. CEG’s next show is the American debut of Italian photographer Francesco Pergolesi. Titled “Heroes,” Pergolesi’s exhibition is a series of photographic tableaux that pays homage to his memories of growing up in Spoleto, Italy. He creates both traditional prints and small photographic boxes that are lit from within. Edelman came across Pergolesi’s work last summer while in Arles, France, says gallery director Juli Lowe. “Catherine saw the work and was completely taken with it. His [photo boxes] are really interesting—they’re these beautiful, unique little objects.” Pergolesi will be in attendance at the May 6 opening reception from 5–7 p.m. The show runs through July 1.

After viewing the Pergolesi show, try stepping into the brand-new Rivera Contemporary Fine Art Gallery. Judith Rivera is an abstract landscape painter who depicts the American Southwest and Mexico, reveling in the textures and colors of the Arizona-Sonora desert. Born in Sonora, Mexico, Rivera studied there and at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende, where, she says, “they taught me the techniques of the Mexican master painters, like José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo.” Rivera achieves a three-dimensional effect by using a very heavy impasto and overlapping many layers, reinforcing the desert effect by adding sand to her paint. “I do extensive research on pigments and the optics of colors,” she says. “I’m not a lazy painter.”

Although River North has the highest concentration of galleries, it’s just one of many places in Chicago to get your fine art fix. For a change of pace—and time period—head to the Douglas Dawson Gallery in the South Loop, a fascinating collection of ancient and historic ethnographic art from Africa, the Americas, and Asia. The Douglas Dawson Gallery takes a slightly different tack to showing tribal art than many in the industry. Co-owner Dawson decided to echo contemporary art gallery models, offering the standard art gallery opening reception for his themed exhibitions, along with more scholarly events like lectures. In May, the gallery will open the show “Stone: Prehistoric Hand Tools.”

Other notable galleries include the Michael LaConte Gallery (MLG), which specializes in contemporary paintings and photography. In June and July, the gallery will host a group Impressionist show featuring artists Andrea Harris and Aubrey Barrett. In addition to a roster of more than 30 artists, the gallery offers a selection of sculptures from Indonesia and antiquities from China and Africa, which LaConte selects and brings back from his frequent travels.

At the Carl Hammer Gallery, on North Wells Street, art enthusiasts can find a stimulating mix of Outsider, American Folk, and contemporary art. Founder Carl Hammer, a true enthusiast himself, says that when he opened the gallery in 1979 he showed exclusively self-taught artists. “But the gallery has evolved in terms of representing emerging, academically trained artists as well as picking up some that have established track records both here in Chicago and nationally,” he says. “It’s a happy blend. The aesthetic I developed was focused on self-taught and Outsider, and that has definitely has educated my eye.” Hammer has works by Outsider masters such as Bill Traylor, Henry Darger, and William Edmondson, while the contemporary non-Outsider artists featured include Irene Hardwicke Olivieri, Marc Dennis, and Michael Hernandez de Luna, whose exhibition “Philatelic Adventures” is up through May 14. Visitors will also be intrigued to see Hammer’s selection of circus sideshow banners, which he put together during trips through rural America looking for Outsider artists. “I saw the potential of it being treated seriously as art,” Hammer says. “The Chicago Imagists were into it even earlier than I. It’s a perfect fit—it fits Chicago and that kind of very honest aesthetic.”

Visitors should also stop in at the McCormick Gallery, run by the enthusiastic former antiques picker-turned-paintings dealer Tom McCormick. The gallery specializes in mid-century American abstract paintings, and offers a large selection of works by an equally large number of artists. McCormick’s emphasis began as something of an accident. During his early antique-picking years, he had to find relatively cheap pieces, as they were all he could afford. Over time, he began seeing a renewed interest in the Abstract Expressionist era. “I realized this was important material that merely needed to be put into context and presented, or really re-presented to a wider audience hungry for affordable, vintage work from an important historical period,” McCormick says. He now represents several contemporary painters and sculptors as well. “In the past year I’ve become more interested in our contemporary program, and we have added some exciting new members to our family of exhibiting artists,” McCormick says. Many of those artists will be participating in the gallery’s summer exhibition, a group show curated by the independent curator Jessica Cochran.

And more great contemporary art —along with fine jewelry, furniture, decorative arts, and much more—can be found on the auction block at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. This major house will host several auctions in the months of May and June at its headquarters in Chicago, as well as at their various other locations throughout the country. On May 24 there will be a Fine Prints sale, featuring a Chuck Close color silkscreen Self-Portrait from 2000 (est. $80,000–120,000) and Roy Lichtenstein’s The Sower, a lithograph, woodcut, and screenprint from 1985 (est. $30,000–50,000). Also on the 24th, Hindman will hold a Postwar and Contemporary Art sale, and on the 25th an American and European Art sale, highlighted by Gabriele Munter’s floral still life Blumen Mit Wisser Rose, from 1950 (est. $60,000–80,000) and Ralston Crawford’s Smith Silo, Exton, from 1936–37 (est. $300,000–500,000).

Bird and nature art lovers will want to visit Joel Oppenheimer, Inc., a landmark for natural history art. Located in the historic Wrigley Building, the Oppenheimer gallery offers exquisite antique botanical, ornithological, and other prints by Mark Catesby, John James Audubon, Edward Lear, Basilius Besler, and other major contributors to the field of natural history. Oppenheimer also offers art conservation and restoration services.

Another excellent art restoration company is Restoration Division, LLC, which handles everything from classical paintings to historic textiles and contemporary assemblage. They’ve recently started an initiative to locate and restore regional works of historical significance housed in small, regional museums and foundations. “So far, the project unfolds well,” says owner Dmitri Rybchenkov. “We’ve found a historically significant banner that came from Philadelphia—it’s about 140 years old. We’re finding interesting artworks and presenting them, raising awareness so that we can restore them.” Restoration Division hosts occasional art shows and installations, as well.

Those in town with an eye for design can’t go wrong with the Pi Squared Collection, an interior design, home decor, and furniture company run by designer Susie Chiu. Chiu designs and imports furniture and decorative pieces from Asia, specializing mainly in exotic woods. One of her more distinctive specialties is petrified-wood sinks.

And a visit to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without stopping in some of its many fine museums. One of these is the Driehaus Museum, housed in the beautifully preserved Gilded Age mansion of Chicago banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson. Beginning on June 25, the Driehaus will host the traveling exhibition “With a Wink and a Nod,” a collection of cartoons from the Gilded Age (on view through January 8, 2017). The focus of the show is Puck magazine, a satirical publication focused on politics and society. “It’s very timely,” says director Lise Dube-Scherr. “A lot of the issues that they examine are many of the same issues we’re facing right now, today.”

Head down to the South Loop to visit the monolith of arts and culture, the Art Institute of Chicago. Founded in the early 1800s as both a museum and a school, the Institute has remained true to both of those missions throughout its history and is recognized today as among the top fine arts institutions in the U.S. The museum’s ongoing exhibition “The New Contemporaries” showcases 44 works by 20th-century icons from the Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art movements, tracing the course of these developments into contemporary times. Among the many other exhibitions on view are “Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and the Portrait Print,” showcasing portrait etchings and prints spanning the 1500s through the 1900s (through August 7); and “Aaron Siskind: Abstractions,” which exhibits 100 of the photographer’s most famous and influential images (through August 14).

Another notable exhibition is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago. “Diane Simpson: Window Dressing” runs through July 3. The show exhibits this Chicago sculptor’s window display-inspired installations, which originated as a commission for the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wis. “The show’s been getting a great response,” says curator Lynne Warren. “Simpson’s work is speaking to a younger audience for sure, as it has that familiarity—clothing, this idea that we are what we wear—along with this very vintage, Art Deco style, which is really popular now. And everything is handmade. The work has that fine Chicago craftsmanship that we’re so known for here.”

And through June, MCA will present the exhibition “Surrealism: The Conjured Life,” showcasing works by René Magritte, Max Ernst, and Leonora Carrington, among many others. To coincide with this show, fine art dealer and scholar Thomas Monahan will present works by the Surrealists Roberto Matta and Marcos Raya throughout the month of May at his gallery, Thomas Monahan Fine Art. The show will coincide with the publication of Monahan’s new book Matta: On the Edge of a Dream, which will be released on May 23 (Skira, $45).

By By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Lino Tagliapietra: Glass Act Tue, 29 Mar 2016 18:12:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Lino Tagliapietra has given two gifts to the art glass world—his own creative work and the techniques he has taught to generations of younger artists.

Lino Tagliapietra, Africa, 2015

Lino Tagliapietra, Africa, 2015, 19 x 19 1⁄2 x 10 inches;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Lino Tagliapietra, Concerto di Primavera, 2000 Lino Tagliapietra, Stromboli, 2015 Lino Tagliapietra, Bilbao, 2006 Lino Tagliapietra, dinosaur, 2005 Lino Tagliapietra, Fuji, 2013 Lino Tagliapietra, Osaka, 2015 Lino Tagliapietra, Africa, 2015

Lino Tagliapietra has been working with glass for 70 years—and he’s only 81. That’s because he started at the age of 11, as an apprentice on Venice’s Murano Island, home to a millennium-old tradition of glass craftsmanship. By 21, Tagliapietra was recognized as a maestro (master glassblower) and embarked on a career with a succession of storied Murano factories, which he pursued until 1989, when he became a fully independent artist, creating incredibly innovative and stunningly beautiful works the likes of which the world has never seen. His first solo show was in 1990. So in a sense, Tagliapietra has been both a prodigy and a late bloomer.

His work over the past quarter of a century has earned him distinction in two ways—first, for his creative work as an artist, and second, as a teacher and mentor. In the latter role, he has been hugely influential far beyond Venice, especially in the U.S. art glass community. The roots of that influence go back to 1968, when the American glass artist Dale Chihuly visited Venice and met Tagliapietra. The two shared ideas and techniques, and Chihuly brought what he had learned on Murano back to the U.S. In 1979, he invited Tagliapietra to come and teach at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., a place to which the Italian maestro has returned over and over again in the years since. He also maintains a studio of his own right outside Seattle.

Tagliapietra’s role in globalizing glass art is especially noteworthy in light of Murano’s legendary secrecy. While he is sometimes described as having divulged arcana that had never before been known outside the island, that is not, strictly speaking, true; however, Tagliapietra’s openness and accessibility (just about everyone calls him Lino) and his willingness to innovate based on time-honored techniques are typical of his personality and have made a major difference in the way several generations of glass artists go about their work. Tagliapietra is very often on the road, giving workshops and demonstrations—for example, this past February he spent two weeks blowing glass at the Hot Shop of the Tacoma Art Museum, where every day from early in the morning till late afternoon the public could observe him, Vulcan-like amid the furnaces, getting to grips with the red-hot material and working with his assistants to form the molten glass into astonishing works of art.

These works are extremely diverse both in form and color, and they stand on their own as pure sculptural expressions independent of any functional role as vessels. Since Tagliapietra remains just as active as ever, his most recent series show as much vigor as any over the course of his career. In the Ombelico series (2015), he causes long filaments of colored glass called canes in English and filigrana in Italian (the technique comes from Murano and dates back to the 16th century) to swirl concentrically through an oval shape, converging on a central point that evokes the idea of the “navel of the world” from ancient Mediterranean myth, the origin of life on earth. Some of the Ombelico pieces are monochrome, vivid orange or blue, while others combine myriad canes of different colors. The artist’s Nautilus series is, of course, inspired by the famous shell whose curves follow the law of the Golden Section. Tagliapietra says he found this particular form “very challenging, because it’s quite easy to make a mistake, and if you start with a little mistake you’re in trouble because it increases. I was scared to do it, but finally I found a way out.”

Tagliapietra’s art, in general, exists at the meeting point of abstraction and figuration (he himself has called it “a type of Impressionism with Venetian technique”). One of his recent series, the Dinosaurs, certainly doesn’t literally portray any prehistoric reptiles, but the elongated, curving shape of these pieces suggests the graceful neck of a water-dwelling pleisiosaur. Likewise, the energetic twisting of the Fenice (Phoenix) series somehow represents both the flight of a bird and the tongues of flame that consume the phoenix and from which it is regenerated. The Masai d’Oro series is based on the form of the shields used by the Masai people of East Africa, while the Fuji series is clearly inspired by the shape and constantly changing colors of Japan’s Mount Fuji, which Tagliapietra has visited and called “the most beautiful mountain in the world.” He is capable of drawing inspiration from any human culture or natural form and making it his own. One of his recent projects has been to create large, vertically mounted fused-glass panels that look like glowing paintings. These have often been compared to Mark Rothko’s abstract canvases, but Tagliapietra says they’re more indebted to Piet Mondrian, whose art he says he was “absolutely in love with” as a young man.

Growing up in Venice, Tagliapietra was first exposed to modern art through the city’s Biennales, where he saw work by such key artists as Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Mondrian, and, yes, Rothko. A particular favorite is Lojze Spacal, an artist from Slovenia (right over the Italian border from Venice), whose approach to graphic abstraction influenced the mosaic-like patterning Tagliapietra uses on some of his pieces. In the workshops of Murano, though, the young Tagliapietra was imbibing a very different set of attitudes and influences. The Murano glass world was very isolated from the contemporary art world, steeped in guild-based tradition, and it put up barriers to those wishing to enter.

Tagliapietra first saw glass being blown when he passed by the window of a Murano factory when he was six years old, and he immediately told his mother that he wanted to be a glassblower. Five years later, he dropped out of school to apprentice with the maestro Archimede Seguso at the Galliano Ferro factory, where for the first two years he was only allowed to carry water and sweep the floors. Eventually he mastered all the complex, intricate techniques and style that had been developing on Murano since the glass industry formally began there in 1291 (Venetian glassmaking actually dates back even further, to the early 10th century). During the 1950s through ’80s he worked at factories including Venini & Co., La Murrina, and Effetre International, which made functional vessels and decorative objects rather than works of fine-art sculpture. Throughout this period, due to postwar economic factors and cultural changes, the Murano glass industry was in decline. Passing its time-honored techniques on to the international contemporary art world turned out to be the best way to save them.

“It sometimes makes me sad because everybody apparently thinks I told the secret,” says Tagliapietra. In fact, some of the Murano techniques (labeled with technical terms such as zanfirico, reticello, pulegoso, inciso, and incalmo) had already been divulged by masters who traveled to London, Paris, Florence, and the U.S. earlier in the 20th century. (In the premodern era, glass masters were forbidden by law to leave Venice for fear of what they might give away.) Nowadays, even Murano has embraced openness; in 2002 the Abate Zanetti School was founded to teach ancient techniques to students from all over the world, and Tagliapietra himself has taught there.

For his part, Tagliapietra will use any method that will help him achieve the luminescence, form, and emotional impact he is looking for. He has adopted techniques he learned from Chihuly and other members of the American art glass movement that began in the 1960s, and in 2011 he collaborated with a team at MIT on a computer-based glass design project. The program was written to generate new cane forms beyond the standard ones, of which very few had been created in recent decades. Tagliapietra happily took some of the designs that the computer had generated, perceived that they could actually be realized in glass (for reasons having to do with physics, not all can), and made some large pieces with them.

For all that, Tagliapietra is still a very intuitive craftsman. He doesn’t even draw his design on paper before starting work, preferring to let the glass guide him. “I don’t do the drawing with a pencil but with the glass,” he explains. “I don’t draw very well, so I never express myself when I’m drawing. I need the glass in order to realize what I’m thinking. Actually, the glass helps you in many ways. You must give it the chance to express itself.” Like all glassblowers, he has to accept the unpredictable nature of his medium, which can cause pieces to collapse or fail to turn out, even at the last stage of a long and arduous work process. “When blowing glass, anything is challenging because it’s always possible to lose it,” he says. “The idea of the work represents the big conflict between the artist and the craftsman. The idea is wonderful, but you have to find the way to do it.”

In his ninth decade, Tagliapietra shows no signs of slowing down, either in terms of his work schedule or the speed with which he finds new ideas and inspirations. In a very basic way, he is a worker, formed in the factories, and he has to keep working. When he spoke with Art & Antiques, he remarked casually that earlier that day he had burned his hand on some hot glass in the Tacoma Art Museum’s shop. But it was O.K., he reassured us, nothing to stop him from doing what he needs to do. “It’s very important for me to work now,” he says, “to do different things with glass in the future, maybe with some new techniques. I have to go to work every single day.”

By John Dorfman