Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Thu, 24 May 2018 21:50:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 M.C. Escher: Impossible Possibilities Thu, 24 May 2018 21:50:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The eye-popping, mind-bending art of M.C. Escher goes on display in Brooklyn.

M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands

M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands, lithograph.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere M.C. Escher, Three Words M.C. Escher, Stars M.C. Escher, Day and Night M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands M.C. Escher, Relativity

On June 8, the largest exhibition of the work of Dutch 20th-century printmaker M.C. Escher ever mounted in the U.S. will open—not in a museum but in a huge converted warehouse on Brooklyn’s Sunset Park waterfront called Industry City. Over 200 works will be on view, in an exhibition curated by Mark Veldhuysen, longtime curator of the M.C. Escher Foundation Collection, and Federico Giudiceandrea, an Italian tech executive and one of the world’s top Escher collectors and experts. The show, titled “Escher: The Exhibition and Experience” (through February 13, 2019), is produced and organized by Arthemisia, an Italian company that has staged some 500 exhibitions since 2000.

An unconventional venue is fitting for an Escher show, since Escher himself never really fit into the mainstream art world during his lifetime (1898–1972). He didn’t have a retrospective until he was 70, and throughout his career he pursued his own aims and developed his own technique without particular regard for the directions the rest of the art world was taking. Nonetheless, some of his preoccupations—mathematics, visual paradox, distortions of space, and enigmas—were not at all alien to the modernist avant-garde, although his style of work—rigorously precise and polished printmaking with an Old Master feel—definitely was. In any case, Escher’s work has continued to delight the mind and eye of viewers around the world, including many who have no knowledge of modern art. Escher’s work has this universal appeal because it brings fundamental philosophical concepts to vivid life.

The son of a well-known civil engineer, Maurits Cornelis Escher studied decorative arts and printmaking with the Dutch Sephardic Jewish artist Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, a proponent of Art Nouveau. In 1922 Escher visited Italy, which greatly impressed him; he ending up staying there from 1923 to 1935, only leaving after the increasing harshness of the Mussolini regime made it unbearable for him to remain. The woodcuts Escher made in Italy are more naturalistic than the brain-teasing, mathematically-driven images he is most famous for, but there is a certain commonality between the bodies of work. His views of the Italian hill towns are vertiginous, the convoluted spaces handled in such a way as to make them look almost like physical impossibilities.

It was Spain rather than Italy that set Escher off in the direction of the really impossible impossibilities. In 1936, the tiles on Moorish buildings such as the Alhambra in Granada and La Mezquita in Cordoba got him thinking about tessellation, in which interlocking, asymmetrical geometrical elements are endlessly repeated to fill up a space without any gaps or overlaps. Escher’s absorption with this phenomenon reached the point of obsession; he wrote of being actually unable to tear himself away from working on it. One of the seven themed sections of the New York show is devoted to tessellation and the revolution it produced in Escher’s work. Usually, Escher engages in illusionistic tessellation, in which the shapes gradually transform into other shapes as they work their way across the composition. For example, in Regular Division of the Plane, a woodcut printed in red ink, a basic checkerboard pattern eventually becomes a pattern of interlacing birds and then flying fish. In Day and Night, the checkerboard pattern of farmers’ fields as seen from the air similarly morphs into two flocks of birds, one black, one white. Metamorphosis, a very long panoramic, multicolored woodcut, takes the concept to its ultimate development, joining together multiple spaces and even genres of art under the rubric of tessellation.

The illusions for which Escher is best known involve manipulations of space, or rather our perception of space, that make our eyes believe that something is real while our intellect, simultaneously, is telling us that it cannot be. In Relativity, notions of up and down and side to side are subverted in a gravity-defying way. The image, which is square, is equally valid no matter how it is oriented. In Belvedere, the perspective of the building depicted is off, such that two structures that are apparently at right angles to each other nonetheless line up as if they were parallel. As in many of Escher’s works, fantasy architecture is the backbone of the composition, and the buildings and the little figures that inhabit them suggest an Italian Renaissance of the imagination, a dream-world based on the Italian scenes that Escher imprinted during the time he spent living there.

One of Escher’s most indelible images is the lithograph Drawing Hands. Here we have a restatement of the chicken-and-egg paradox, with each hand drawing the other into existence, going from mere outline into fully-shaded illusionistic three-dimensionality. Whether one thinks of it as a meditation on creativity or as a sort of optical Zen koan, once seen, this work is hard to forget. In works based on reflections, Escher found distortions of space ready-made, in the way polished curved or spherical surfaces render an image. Hand with Reflecting Sphere is an eloquent self-portrait in which the artist’s hand is the only part of his body that is directly seen; his face and torso, as well as the room he occupies, are all magically encompassed, by way of reflection, in the metallic globe the hand is holding.

In keeping with the populist appeal of Escher, the “Experience” part of the exhibition provides play areas, scientific experiments and interactive, walk-in environments that are intended to help visitors understand and more fully experience the artworks. “Immersive photo booths” will allow visitors to place themselves inside some of Escher’s scenes, and a “relativity room” will confound normal ideas of size and scale. There will also be a section devoted to work that Escher did on commission for clients, such as bookplate designs and visiting cards, and one called “Eschermania” for works created by others—including comic books, advertising images, and record sleeves—that were directly inspired by Escher.

By John Dorfman

William L. Hawkins: A Geographer of the Imagination Thu, 24 May 2018 21:50:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The work of the American outsider artist William L. Hawkins is the subject of a major traveling retrospective.

William L. Hawkins, Red Dog Running #3

William L. Hawkins, Red Dog Running #3, 1984, enamel on board.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) William L. Hawkins, Union Station William L. Hawkins, Statue of Liberty Island New York William L. Hawkins, Red Dog Running #3 William L. Hawkins, Rattlesnake #3 William L. Hawkins, Juke Box William L. Hawkins, left: Neil House with Chimney #2

When it comes to outsider artists—otherwise known as folk artists, self-taught artists, vernacular artists, or any other number of terms that are used to describe creators with no connection to the traditional artistic establishment—one of the traits so many seem to share is a peculiarly strong drive to create. They feel compelled to compile cast-off materials and shape them into something new, to describe the world they see or imagine in visual terms, whether through painting, drawing, assemblage, or collage. For William L. Hawkins, the Columbus, Ohio-based self-taught artist who died in 1990, this need translated into a lifetime of creating bold, expressionistic paintings of landscapes, cityscapes, and animals, both extant and extinct.

This work is the subject of a broad-ranging retrospective exhibition titled “William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography,” which will be on view at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego from June 9–September 3. It includes pieces from every phase of Hawkins’ existing body of work, which spans roughly 10 years (although he created art throughout his long life), and offers examples from each of his favorite thematic areas. The show was originated by the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, and the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio.

Hawkins was born in 1895 in Kentucky and grew up on his grandmother’s farm with his brother. The natural world and the animals that lived in it formed an important backdrop during his youth. Hawkins and his brother were responsible for caring for the livestock on the farm, and they shared a strong connection with the animals they raised, cared for, and sold or slaughtered. When he was 21, in 1916, Hawkins left the farm for Columbus and never looked back. He had only a third-grade education, and no formal art training. During World War I he served in the military, then worked in a steel-casting factory, and relentlessly, continuously practiced his art.

Hawkins said he was “born an artist,” but his first known attempts at art-making—as an adult, that is, as he drew as a hobby throughout his childhood—were actually to help supplement his income. During the Depression, he began scavenging cast-off materials, including pieces of wood, that he would paint on with sign-painter’s paint. He sold these pieces to friends and neighbors for small amounts of money, managing to make art pay even when he was just starting his artistic journey. Even in his later years, when he was showing his art in New York and Columbus galleries and placing pieces in museums, Hawkins looked at his work as something with which to make a living and not by any means as art for art’s sake.

Hawkins was “discovered” in 1981 when he befriended the sculptor Lee Garrett, a young artist who had recently moved to the neighborhood where Hawkins lived and heard about him and his work from an acquaintance. Garrett was astonished by Hawkins’ paintings and encouraged him to enter some pieces in the 1982 Ohio State Fair. One of these, Atlas Building #2, took home the first prize in the professional category, although it had been entered in the amateur category.

After that, Hawkins quickly ascended to national prominence in the art world. That same year, he mounted his first gallery show at the Ohio Gallery in Columbus, and in the following year, 1983, he came to be represented by the Ricco Johnson Gallery (now the Ricco/Maresca Gallery) in New York. Museums also started acquiring his work. From the Columbus Museum of Art to the American Folk Art Museum, both regional and national institutions quickly became interested in this self-taught artist, who often used nothing but oil enamel and one single paintbrush on Masonite to create his bold and unusual paintings.

What is remarkable about the pieces in this particular exhibition is the range they display, even though they span only a decade or so. For example, visitors will see eight of the nine known versions of the Last Supper that Hawkins created. They will see not only his well-known paintings but also drawings, assemblages, a rare freestanding sculpture, and some of the equipment he used to create his art, as well.

That’s not to mention an item that true Hawkins aficionados will no doubt be interested in: the artist’s famous suitcase, in which he kept the magazine clippings, photographs, and other scavenged visual items that he called his “research.” He would pore over these images studiously, sometimes incorporating them as collage into his works, and sometimes using them as inspiration for a painting.

Hawkins’ place in the American art world has been firmly established for 40 years, but until now, what his work means in terms of its broad, overarching effects on outsider art and contemporary American art in general has not been studied. With this major retrospective, that lack is now being remedied.

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Striding On Thu, 24 May 2018 21:49:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The enduring art of Alberto Giacometti gets a home in Paris and a starring role in New York this season.

Alberto Giacometti, Dog

Alberto Giacometti, Dog (Le Chien), 1951, bronze, 44.2 x 96.8 x 15.7 cm;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Alberto Giacometti, Three Men Walking Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man I Alberto Giacometti, Nose Alberto Giacometti in his Studio, circa 1960 Alberto Giacometti, Caroline in a Red Dress Alberto Giacometti, Dog

The film Final Portrait (directed by Stanley Tucci), released in theaters this spring, depicts the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti as a chaotic, self-doubting genius. Based on James Lord’s 1965 memoir A Giacometti Portrait (published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York), the film tells the story of Lord (played by Armie Hammer) enduring an 18-day sitting for an aging Giacometti (played by Geoffrey Rush). Working on what is considered his last great painting (Portrait of James Lord, 1964), the artist, who today is known more for his sculptural work, is engaged in a complicated dance between his outsized ego and his insecurities. While many filmic depictions of artists juxtapose the ease of creativity with the drama of life, this portrayal shows how harrowing the creation of a work of art can be for an artist—and how hard Giacometti was on himself. He described his Sisyphean relationship to art making thus: “All I can do will only ever be a faint image of what I see and my success will always be less than my failure or perhaps equal to the failure.”

Regardless of his feelings about failure, when looking through the lens of the art world at large, Giacometti is the epitome of success. He is, for one, the most expensive sculptor in history. When his celebrated bronze L’homme qui marche I (1961) sold for $104.3 million at Sotheby’s London in February 2010, it was not only the first sculpture to sell for more than $100 million, but also the most expensive work of art sold at auction up until that time if the price is expressed in British pounds. Five years later, L’Homme au doigt, a 1947 bronze by the artist, set the new record for sculpture at auction, selling for $141.3 million. But the artist was never a poor performer in the auction room—at Sotheby’s in the early 1980s, Chariot fetched approximately $1.4 million, a price that wasn’t a record but was extremely high for sculpture at the time (it sold for $101 million in 2014). These days, the vast majority of Giacometti’s work commands eight figures.

But sales aren’t the only indicator of his success. A film is certainly one, but so is the large number of exhibitions popping up around the world. Last year, the Qatar Museums Authority paired Giacometti in an exhibition with Picasso, the Tate Modern held a hulking retrospective of the artist (the first in the United Kingdom in two decades), and the Swiss pavilion at the Venice Biennale staged an exhibition dedicated to its countryman. Since then, the Giacometti Foundation, led by Catherine Grenier (a former director of the Pompidou Center), has been busy co-organizing exhibitions at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec (closed May 13), the Beyeler Foundation in Basel (through September 2), the Musée Maillol in Paris (September 14–January 20, 2019), and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (October 19–February 24, 2019).

On June 21, the Foundation puts down some roots of its own, opening the Giacometti Institute in Paris. The Institute will stage shows in its permanent exhibition space that draw from the Foundation’s rich collection of 350 sculptures, 90 paintings, and 2,000 drawings, as well as etchings and decorative art objects. The space also has a reference library that will make the vast archives and ephemera in the Foundation’s collection accessible to scholars and the public alike.

The Giacometti Institute is housed in an early 20th-century townhouse in Montparnasse, the same neighborhood where the artist had his studio. The Foundation called upon the architect Pascal Grasso to redesign the space, which had formerly been the studio of the Art Deco furniture designer Paul Follot. With this project, the Institute has done something Tucci also did in Final Portrait—it has recreated Giacometti’s studio as it was in the 1960s. As in the film, the result is a chaotic, artistic bunker of sorts. Giacometti’s studio, which was a diminutive 65 square feet, was replete with a mess of art materials, sculptures and drawings. After his death in 1966, his widow, Annette Giacometti, conserved it as it was. Photographers such as Robert Doisneau, Sabine Weiss, Gordon Parks, and Ernst Scheidegger also liberally documented the space, effectively creating a blueprint for the Giacometti Foundation to use as a guide. The re-imagining of the space will feature over 70 sculptures in plaster, clay, and bronze, many incredibly fragile and never before seen by the public. The last clay pieces Giacometti was working on prior to his death will also be on view. Additionally, the re-creation includes the artist’s furnishings, as well as the renowned murals he painted on the studio walls.

The Institute’s inaugural exhibition, “The Studio of Alberto Giacometti by Jean Genet,” examines the relationship between the Swiss sculptor and the French writer, with the studio as stage. The exhibition, which runs through September 16, is named after the text Genet wrote about the many hours he spent at Giacometti’s home base. After being introduced by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1954, the two luminaries began to hang out there regularly. In Giacometti’s studio their admiration for each other grew, and the artist wasted little time before he began painting the writer’s portrait. In Jean Genet (1954 or 1955), an oil on canvas in the collection of the Tate, a seated Genet emerges through rusts and blacks. Small, fitful brushstrokes detail a roughly hewn portrait-bust-like depiction of the writer. Texturally, it resembles the sculptures Giacometti is so famous for.

The artist stars in another type of blockbuster this month: an exhibition in the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Opening on June 8, “Giacometti” is another ambitious co-production with the artist’s Foundation. It will put more than 175 sculptures, paintings, and drawings on view, as well as archival photographs and ephemera (through September 12). It is in some ways a family reunion, with series of elongated standing women, striding men, and bust-length portraits coming together for the first major American museum exhibition of the artist in some 15 years.

Underscoring this notion is the museum’s long relationship with Giacometti. It was his work that furnished the Guggenheim’s earliest significant exhibition of sculpture. The show was staged in 1955 at a temporary location and was also Giacometti’s first-ever museum presentation. A posthumous retrospective ran in the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in 1974, less than a decade after the artist’s death. Works by the artist entered the collection in the ’50s under the auspices of director James Johnson Sweeney. Beating him to it, however, was Peggy Guggenheim, Solomon’s niece, who began amassing a personal collection in the 40s that is now part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

The Guggenheim’s exhibition in New York spans the artist’s career, which effectively began in Paris in the 1920s when he himself was in his 20s. He came from an artistic family (his father, Giovanni, was a painter, his brother Diego became a furniture designer and his model and studio assistant, and his brother Bruno became an architect) and was encouraged early on. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and the École d’Arts et Métiers in Geneva and traveled throughout Italy before settling in Paris and studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière between 1922 and 1925. Sculpture was what Giacometti became most drawn to, and he studied classical sculpture, the Cubist idioms, and the work of Constantin Brancusi. He studied and sketched prehistoric female figures in the collections of Parisian museums.

African art, which was widely exhibited in Paris at the time, became a prevailing influence for Giacometti, as it was for many artists of his generation. This inspiration led to one of his first mature works and a highlight of the Guggenheim’s exhibition, Spoon Woman (Femme cullière, 1926, cast 1954, bronze). Based on a type of anthropomorphic spoon carved by the Dan people of West Africa, the totemic sculpture depicts a female figure as a symbol of fertility. The figure’s large oval curvature is representative of both the concave area of the spoon and a woman’s womb. The art historian and theorist Rosalind Krauss wrote, “By taking the metaphor and inverting it, so that ‘a spoon is like a woman’ becomes ‘a woman is like a spoon,’ Giacometti was able to intensify the idea and to make it universal by generalizing the forms of the sometimes rather naturalistic African carvings toward a more prismatic abstraction.” Elements of the piece jive with Giacometti’s Western influences of this period, as well: the sculpture’s sense of abstraction, though very much like African art, recalls Brancusi, and its block-like head, chest, and feet nod to the geometry of Cubism.

Another work in the show, Surrealist Composition, a circa-1933 ink on paper, is representative of both Giacometti’s drawing practice and his links with the Surrealists. He began participating in André Breton’s Surrealist group activities in 1929 but was acrimoniously cast out of the circle six years later because his depictions of models were too “realistic.” Still Nose (Le Nez), a 1947 bronze wire, rope, and steel sculpture and another touchstone of the exhibition, seems to hold on to some remnants of Surrealist tendencies. In the sculpture, a head hangs by a string from a crossbar in a rectangular cage. The head’s long, protruding nose and long neck form the shape of a cartoonish, yet menacing gun. The work’s expresses a caged yet threatening sense of violence and virility. The figure’s mouth is agape, as if in the midst of a scream that goes nowhere, a notion that fits well within the context of the postwar existential angst described by Giacometti’s friend Sartre.

It was around this period, in the years immediately following World War II, that Giacometti began creating the signature form of expressionist sculpture for which he is most popularly known. His elongated, erect figures, almost skeletal in their thinness, became largely symbolic of the horrors of war and the disaffection of postwar life. Intensifying their eerie appearance, Giacometti shrouded the figures in layers of matte gray or brown paint. Their resonance with modern life feels equal to their acknowledgement of classical art—the walking man like the striding kouroi of Greece, the standing woman like those of Egypt, the bust like the portrait busts of Rome. Three Men Walking (Large Square) (Trois hommes qui marchent [petit plateau]), a bronze from 1948 in the exhibition, shows Giacometti early in this practice. The sculpture’s three figures, which are affixed to their platform with the artist’s signature large feet, are all striding in each other’s directions, threatening to collide. Yet, so seemingly intent on their own path, they fail to acknowledge or even notice each other. Walking Man I (Homme qui marche I), a 1960 bronze, made by an older Giacometti, almost appears to be an older, less vigorous figure. He is portrayed mid-stride, and yet he seems to be going nowhere.

In Caroline in a Red Dress (Caroline avec une robe rouge), a circa 1964–65 oil on canvas, the artist, very near to his death, depicts his young girlfriend. Caroline, sat for Giacometti frequently during this period, as in Figure I (Caroline), a 1962 oil on canvas. Both paintings are strikingly similar in composition, but in Caroline in the Red Dress, the figure’s face is darkened and nearly scratched out. What can be seen of her eyes shows them widened, and what can be seen of her mouth revels almost a vortex or black hole. The figure, whose body is constrained by brush strokes as if in a straightjacket, seems quietly in anguish.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Bo Bartlett: American Stories Thu, 24 May 2018 21:49:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Bo Bartlett brings the narrative painting tradition up to date, merging the historical with the personal.

Bo Bartlett, Homeland, 1994

Bo Bartlett, Homeland, 1994, oil on linen, 134 x 204 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Bo Bartlett, Open Gate, 2011 Bo Bartlett, OutRider, 2018 Bo Bartlett, The Whale, 2017 Bo Bartlett, Homeland, 1994 Bo Bartlett, The Dowry, 2005 Bo Bartlett, The Gatherer, 2009

Bo Bartlett is an American realist painter, rooted in figurative traditions from his own country—Wyeth, Rockwell, Eakins, Homer—and from Europe, going back to the Renaissance. Unlike many contemporary artists who work in a realist mode, he doesn’t trade in postmodern irony, and his is not an appropriation art. Bartlett uses classical visual language to tell stories. Some are personal and some are public, or at least have a public aspect. In fact, Bartlett is one of the few contemporary painters to work in what used to be called the Grand Manner, large-scale, epic depictions of dramatic events that deploy the entire arsenal of academic art—elements of figure painting, portraiture, landscape, and still life all combined in one stage-managed scene. However, unlike the Grand Manner canvases of the 18th and 19th centuries, Bartlett’s “history paintings” don’t tell one official story. Rather, they are open-ended, and the artist has said that he wants viewers to engage with them imaginatively and not hold back from reading their own meanings and stories into them.

Take, for example, Homeland, a massive work from 1994 that measures 17 feet in diameter. A group of people depicted life-size, presumably refugees of war, are riding in the back of an open military truck across a wide-open, typically American landscape. The way the truck is rendered, most of it lies below the bottom edge of the canvas, so that at first glance it might almost seem to be a boat lying low in the water. That is, of course, intentional, because the figures are packed tightly together in a manner reminiscent of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, one of the most iconic American history paintings. A girl standing in the front, supported by a cloaked man, takes the place of George Washington, and the pieces of white cloth streaming from the hands of some of the figures suggest the flags and oars in Leutze’s composition.

Bartlett acknowledges the similarities, but adds that it has other art-historical sources, including Eugénè Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. “I threw it all in there, but it’s not an intentionally postmodern game. It’s not meant to be an homage or a pastiche. Dreams and real life were sources, too. I put all my best friends in the back of the truck—my therapist, my minister, musicians I knew, everybody in my life.” The inscription on the side of the truck, “IGN 5594,” encodes Bartlett’s birthday, and the “IGN” is an enigmatic “personal insignia” that occurs in many of the artist’s paintings and that he declines to explain.

Some of the figures in Homeland are wearing a timeless sort of garb that could be anything from Biblical to early American, while others are wearing the clothing of today. The overall effect is to make the narrative transcend time, so that it could represent any journey—heroic, beleaguered, hopeful—that any viewer could imagine himself or herself being a part of, along with his or her community. This timeless, archetypal quality pervades Bartlett’s oeuvre; his single-figure paintings are usually portraits of his family and friends, and yet the figures, who are not named in the titles, perform symbolic, ambiguous roles. Often, they turn their faces away from the viewer, which accentuates the impersonal nature of the image. Sometimes one element in a painting suffices to lift it out of the realm of the everyday. In Homecoming (1995), the bonfire behind the high-school football players and their girlfriends is just a little too big, on the verge of going out of control, suggesting the invasion of this primal American scene by uncanny, overwhelming forces.

In Hiroshima (1994), another of Bartlett’s large-scale history paintings, the destructive force of fire is present in its absence; what we are seeing is the moment before the atomic bomb struck. The three figures, two adults and a child, stand in a peaceful farm’s field; one looks up, as if seeing something up above. The sky glows a smoky pink, which is a real sunset but also, because of what we know, an anticipation of the deadly illumination that is about to occur. The figures are Japanese, but this could easily be an American farm, a farm anywhere in the world.

Growing up in Columbus, Ga., the son of a furniture-maker, Bartlett was exposed to art only through mass media. “If it wasn’t on the cover of Time or Life, I didn’t know about it,” he recalls. That meant Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth, Picasso, and occasionally Dalí or Magritte. Traces of all these artists’ influences can be found in Bartlett’s work, but especially the first two. As a child, Bartlett was slow to speak but quick to draw; he was constantly sketching what he saw around him, using line to communicate his perceptions. His mother, who worked for a medical journal, used to show him anatomical illustrations in the hope that he would take up that line of work. After high school graduation, though, he was down to three choices—a circus clown, a preacher, or an artist. He chose art, and immediately set out on his own for Florence.

Part of the reason he chose Florence was that during high school he had read Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev. In the novel, Asher, a young Hasidic boy growing up in Brooklyn, is powerfully drawn to art, but it is forbidden to him because of his religion’s aversion to image-making. In the end, he breaks away and goes to Florence to pursue a career as a modernist painter. Bartlett, who grew up in a devout Protestant community (which didn’t ban art but regarded it with some suspicion), deeply identified with Asher, whose imaginary portrait he painted decades later. In Florence, Bartlett ended up studying with a fellow American, Ben F. Long IV, who took him on as an apprentice in fresco painting. Long was part of the circle of Pietro Annigoni, a contemporary Italian artist who aligned himself with the Renaissance tradition. Bartlett says it was in Florence that he “really learned to draw, pretty much alone but under great tutelage.”

Back in the States, he went to Philadelphia, where he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the standard-bearer of a great American figurative tradition dating back to Benjamin West and continuing through Thomas Eakins. Bartlett also spent time at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he got to do some dissection work. “I actually cut up bodies,” he recalls. “Not only do you learn where all the insertions go, you really discover what life is by spending enough time with what the opposite of it is.” In this respect he emulated Eakins, whose famous painting The Gross Clinic is a paean to anatomical science.

For a long time, Bartlett was a peripatetic student, picking up influences everywhere he went. A traveling scholarship to Copenhagen acquainted him with the work of Vilhelm Hammershoi, and the lone female figures, sparse rooms, and open windows of Bartlett’s contemplative interiors, such as Dreamcatcher (2006), clearly show a debt to the late 19th-century Danish painter. The Wyeth influence is visible throughout Bartlett’s career, in the rural landscapes and farmhouses and in the ambiguous implied narratives.

Bartlett became close friends with Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, but by a circuitous route. In 1976, when he moved to Pennsylvania after returning from Europe, Bartlett, with the courage of his 19 years, opened up the phone book and cold-called his idol, arranging a visit to Chadds Ford. When he got there, Andrew was out (“probably off painting Helga,” Bartlett quips) but Betsy was in; confronted by the shaggy-looking young man, she was uncertain who he was and sent him away. “I scared her; I looked a bit like Rasputin,” says Bartlett. “I felt sort of jilted. I was young, I went back to Philadelphia and studied with Nelson Shanks instead. Many years later, the Wyeths called me, and we hit it off and were best friends.” In fact, Betsy eventually asked Bartlett, who studied filmmaking as well as painting, to make a documentary about her husband. “From studying film I learned so much about lighting,” says Bartlett. “Mise-en-scène is the starting point for me and has always been a big part of the way I organize my painting. So many things I learned in film school I’ve been able to translate into painting.”

Like Wyeth, Bartlett found inspiration in the Maine landscape and spent many years traveling back and forth between Maine and Philadelphia. Recently, he has reconnected to his hometown of Columbus, setting up the Bo Bartlett Center on the campus of Columbus State University. The Center is partly a museum for Bartlett’s own work, including rarely-seen mural-sized paintings, as well as other artists’ work, and partly an educational and outreach organization that will be working with local schools and mental health facilities to give support and guidance to students who are interested in painting and drawing. Among the works by Bartlett that will be accessible to the public are sketchbooks and archival materials that shed light on the artist’s growth and work process.

Based on a multidisciplinary approach, the Center will also feature music, film, and lectures by visiting artists. It is housed a former cotton warehouse on the Chattahoochee River that has been redesigned by architect Tom Kundig of the Seattle-based firm Olson Kundig, with 23-foot ceilings and clerestory windows that allow daylight to illuminate the artworks. Its director is David Houston, formerly Chief Curator of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Director of Curatorial at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Master classes at the Center will be taught by Bartlett himself, as well as by visiting artists.

Bartlett likes to start his lectures with a quotation from a novel by one of his favorite writers, Robertson Davies: “Let your root feed your crown.” He says, “It means to paint your life. Let it run up through you like a tree that’s flowering and blossoming. It all comes from being true to your temperament and existence and where you’re from. If you do that, your work will be true to all your DNA and your experiences, it will be real and true and original. That’s what I charge my students with.”

By John Dorfman

Thomas Chippendale: Self-Made Man Thu, 24 May 2018 21:48:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Thomas Chippendale’s story of entrepreneurship arrives at the Met.

China table, England, circa 1755-60

China table, England, circa 1755-60, mahogany, overall: 28.25 x 37.75 x 26.5 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Workshop of Thomas Chippendale, Side chair (from a set of fourteen), London, England, circa 1772 Tea chest, British, circa 1760 Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown for Knoll International, Incorporated, #662 “Chippendale” Chair with “Tapestry” pattern upholstery China table, England, circa 1755-60 Thomas Chippendale, Ribband Back Chairs, 1754

The world of 18th-century cabinetmaking is perhaps not the first place one would think to look for a story of ambitious self-promotion and successful entrepreneurship. And yet, that’s exactly what is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this season in the exhibition Chippendale’s Director: The Designs and Legacy of a Furniture-Maker. On view through January 27, 2019, the show will feature original Thomas Chippendale drawings alongside furniture, from a range of eras, inspired by Chippendale’s designs.

Chippendale was a London-based cabinetmaker who became one of the most influential furniture designers of his time. In fact, he was so influential that his designs were still being looked to for inspiration as recently as the 1980s. His designs were largely inspired by the ornate French Rococo tradition, which he anglicized—in other words, toned down—to appeal to his fellow countrymen and women. He also created designs inspired by both the Gothic and Chinese traditions, although his English Rococo designs remain the best known.

One major reason for Chippendale’s huge influence on Western furniture design is that he took a bold and unusual step in order to promote his cabinetmaking business. He wrote, published, and disseminated a groundbreaking book of designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director. Released in 1754, the book featured 160 designs for chairs, tables, beds, and other furniture, showcasing Chippendale’s skill as a designer as well as establishing him as an authority in the design world. The Director was a first of its kind—a manual for the middle and monied classes that helped define “good taste,” as well as a hugely successful marketing campaign.

The book is the entry point for the current exhibition. Visitors entering the galleries will first view the Met’s first-edition copy of the Director, alongside three Chippendale chairs from different eras: one from Chippendale’s own London workshop, one made for a wealthy Philadelphia merchant by colonial American craftsmen in 1769, and one created by the influential present-day architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. The range, in both geography and time, speaks to a core point of the show.

“We wanted to show how deeply the Director impacted the rest of the Western world,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Alyce Englund, Associate Curator of the Met’s American Wing. “This book truly presented Chippendale as an authority on design, placing him in the sphere of designers operating on the continent.” While the book itself is remarkable, both for the quality of its designs and for being the first of its kind, the circumstances of its production are no less impressive. “What’s amazing about this book is that Chippendale produces it when he’s 36, and he’s already got lots of responsibilities,” Englund says. The cabinetmaker had several children by this time, and he’d taken out debt to finance his new workshop. Chippendale needed to do something that would make people come to his shop instead of to one of the hundreds of other cabinetmakers’ shops in London. Creating the Director was a major endeavor—and one that could easily have failed.

Of course, it didn’t fail. In addition to promoting Chippendale’s designs, the book also helped establish a truly British style of decorative arts that could compete with, but also converse with, styles from continental Europe. While many people may have seen Chippendale furniture—or at least replicas of Chippendale furniture—few will have seen the original drawings that will are part of this show. The Met acquired one of the largest collections of Chippendale drawings in 1920, but these are rarely on view. “They’re kept in albums and are really hard to display,” says co-curator Femke Speelburg, Associate Curator, Drawings and Prints. “This is the first time since the Met has owned them that we’ve decided to take them out of the albums to display on the gallery walls.”

The drawings that will be on view preceded many of the actual furniture pieces we know as Chippendale, as most of them were done in preparation for the book. They’re significant for another reason, as well. “These drawings help tell the story of this man who was an entrepreneur, a cabinetmaker—and he could draw,” Speelburg says. “For a long time, scholars thought Chippendale hired someone to do these; they didn’t think someone who was a furniture maker could also make these beautiful drawings.”

Together, the furniture and works on paper on view at the Met will offer viewers a more comprehensive, more nuanced understanding of the famous cabinetmaker’s legacy than many may have had before. “Chippendale was an extraordinarily talented designer, but he also had this great business sense,” says Englund. “And he was a very talented craftsman.” That’s what it takes, it seems, for a design tradition to endure for 300 years.

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Charles Arnoldi: Problem Solved Thu, 24 May 2018 21:46:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Charles Arnoldi’s intricate career is traced in an exhibition at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

Charles Arnoldi, Group Think, 1996

Charles Arnoldi, Group Think, 1996, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 120 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Charles Arnoldi, Group Think, 1996 Charles Arnoldi, Soft Ice, 1989-90 Charles Arnoldi, Untitled, 1981 Charles Arnoldi, Untitled, 2018 Charles Arnoldi, Welfare, 2011

Throughout his five-decade career, celebrated Southern California artist Charles Arnoldi has approached abstraction from seemingly innumerable angles. He has experimented with line, shape, and color through wood and sticks, through acrylic and oil paint on canvas and linen, through copper and aluminum, through ink, gouache, pencil, charcoal and tape on paper. He has based series around potatoes, windows, and eclipses; he has created non-representational work inspired by Hawaii and the 15th-century rock formations of Machu Picchu—and this list doesn’t approach being exhaustive. And yet, regardless of the various elements that come and go in his work, Arnoldi’s series lead into one another like stops on a languid train ride—in order for the train to move forward it must pull through each successive, scenic station. In an interview with the Santa Fe Arts Journal last year, Arnoldi touched on his evolution elegantly, saying, “In abstract painting, an artist invents a problem and solves it.” For Arnoldi, just as one problem is seemingly solved, another becomes apparent, necessitating and inevitably leading to a new technique for visual problem-solving.

Part of what can make a museum retrospective so powerful is its ability to provide a bird’s-eye view of an artist’s metamorphosis. “Charles Arnoldi: Form, A Fifty Year Survey,” a current show at the Bakersfield Museum of Art in Bakersfield, Calif., does just that. The show, on view through January 5, 2019, includes over 50 works, including more than 20 large-scale paintings and sculptures. Each of these larger pieces represents a unique body of work, beginning with Arnoldi’s celebrated stick constructions and chainsaw wood relief paintings of the 1970s, and leading up to his most recent work, the aforementioned Machu Picchu series. Works on paper make up the difference; this section of Arnoldi’s oeuvre includes drawings and prints that are highly experimental, complete works in their own right, and preliminary sketches that served as exercises for larger pieces. It is through the works on paper that the viewer feels the machinations of both Arnoldi’s problems and his solutions.

Arnoldi was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1946, but he arrived in Southern California—the region with which he is most closely identified—in 1965. A stint at the Art Center in Los Angeles ended quickly, the environment far squarer than one might expect of California in the late ’60s (the male students, it turned out, had to wear ties). After transferring to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1968 and spending eight months there, Arnoldi decided he was done with formal education. The dress code at the Art Center notwithstanding, this period was an extremely exciting time for California art. Minimalism and the Light and Space and Finish Fetish movements were challenging postwar art’s definition of abstraction. Artists such as Larry Bell, John McCracken, and Robert Irwin were creating works that manipulated the onlooker’s point of view through light, mass, and, in many cases, the use of plastics and industrial materials. Arnoldi got in on the act, using lacquer and Plexiglas to create Untitled (1969), one of his earliest works. However, his breakthrough involved a much older, more natural, yet still revolutionary material: wood.

In the 1970s, Arnoldi began creating wall-mounted works in which he essentially drew with sticks. Found in the woods and stripped of their bark, the sticks were pieced together by Arnoldi on his studio floor. The stick drawings, such as the sparse Untitled (1971) and the denser, diamond-like Untitled (1973), though largely flat, suggested three-dimensionality through their composition, not unlike Cubism. Several drawings in the show, rendered in gouache, watercolor, and pencil, show Arnoldi playing with the possibilities of the sticks as clean, rigid lines. As Arnoldi began experimenting with painting the sticks various colors, the sense of depth only increased. He also began liberating the already-sculptural works from the wall, creating full-fledged sculpture, as with the minimal Television (1971, enamel on sticks). With the colorful and cacophonous 1980 sculpture Second Chance, a highlight of the show, Arnoldi captures the rambunctious energy of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists (not surprisingly, viewing this work in New York inspired Arnoldi to go to art school).

Arnoldi’s work was guided into the ’80s by happenstance: when foraging for sticks, he came across discarded pieces of wood that had been cut by a chainsaw. Inspired, he picked up the chainsaw himself, carving texture and line into small blocks of wood. These carvings became wall-mounted wood sculptures that were painted with tonal passages of hotly colored acrylic paint. In Untitled (1982) and Untitled (1981) of this period, a totemic, almost ancient quality in form and texture meets the distinctive geometric lines and day-glow coloration prevalent throughout the visual culture of the ’80s.

As the decade went on, Arnoldi went bigger in scale and experimentation. The show features many sterling examples of large-scale chainsaw-carved works, achieved by layering several sheets of plywood and strategically cutting into them. In these pieces, Arnoldi really plays with negative space, creating cut-out passages in the wood and around its edges. Here, paint is also a casualty of the chainsaw, and it seems to seep from the wood and bleed into it. White Knuckles (1987), though one piece, feels like a Pangaea of disparately colored, geometric shards of wood. Arnoldi’s “Sticks II” series saw a return of his sticks, but not to the minimalism of his earlier work with them. These decidedly maximalist works were as dense as any Ed Moses grid painting, featuring passages of sticks thickly layered on plywood to form shapes and patterns. The result was work that seemed rustic, yet cleanly abstract, with the textural dimensionality of sculpture and the presence of a large-scale oil on canvas. The sticks suggest vibrant action and seem to leap off the wall, and in Scorched Pistons (1988, acrylic, modeling paste and sticks on plywood) Arnoldi creates movement with both passages of sticks and bright color, in a work that is so electric it seems to have its own force field.

Works like Soft Ice (1989–90, oil on canvas) mark Arnoldi’s jump headlong into painting at the end of the ’80s. Like the “Sticks II” works, Soft Ice seems to pulse with a current of energy. Arnoldi’s brushstrokes also seem to take on the thin, piecemeal nature of his sticks, an effect that in turn elucidates how apt a conduit the sticks truly were for paint. But Soft Ice, with its blurred quality, seems to find Arnoldi reveling in the use of pigment on canvas. Free from the straight lines and angles of the chainsaw and sticks, Arnoldi uses curvilinear forms for the first time during this period, creating works such as Deep Breath (1990, oil on canvas) and Miracle Spread (1992) that, like de Kooning’s late work, feature thick, gestural curves. Throughout the ’90s, Arnoldi spent time in Hawaii, creating richly hued works that push the curved forms of tropical flora and fauna into abstraction. Group Think (1996), a highlight of the exhibition, pivots into his “Organics” series and seems almost to zoom into the Hawaii pictures, enlarging their bulbous, colorful shapes and piling them on top of one another.

Since the turn of the century, Arnoldi has created nearly 15 series of work. Some, like “Ellipses” and “Windows,” have a similar zoomed-in look, with form and color stretching in large, sometimes layered, swaths across the canvas. The “Arcs” series, made towards the end of the 2010s, features half-ovals in rectangular fields. Arnoldi pulls and drags the paint, seeming to create distinct views of the same image. In Backbone (2007, acrylic on canvas), a dynamic curve of black paint on stark white seems to be examined at different angles, as if looking at a disorienting collage of photographs from the same shoot. In “Medals,” a simultaneous series, the artist harkens back to the ’60s, with an updated look at Minimalism and experimentation with materials. Various shapes in aluminum or copper are joined together to create sculptural wall-mounted pieces. The results, as with Untitled (2005), are vibrant works that seem at once deconstructed and like combinations of blocks.

Throughout the 2010s, Arnoldi’s series took him in all different directions: he returned to chainsaw works, made paintings that recreate the hectic, linear patterns of “Sticks II,” and delved into entirely new series. Works from a 2013 painting series simply titled “Paintings” are densely packed with layers of straight, multicolored strokes, mimicking his sticks in paint. In a 2015 series, also under the moniker “Paintings,” geometric shapes in solid colors seem to pop out from the canvas. In Victory (2015, oil on linen), a standout of that series, thin, colored lines form a sort of support system for blocks of color, producing an illusionistic three-dimensional effect. In “String Theory,” a 2016 series, the artist returns to curvilinear forms. He paints continuous loops of color charged by the movement of his wrist, elbow, and shoulder. In these paintings, the whirling dervish-like energy of Arnoldi’s gestures jumps out at the viewer immediately. But as in works like, Slide Bite (2016, oil on linen) with its hot oranges and reds and cool blues, color is of paramount importance. As with all of Arnoldi’s works, his facility with color generates pieces that set a mood, having almost a mind-controlling effect. Struck by the intensity of his work, the viewer is often lulled into Arnoldi’s illusionary abstracts, not realizing how the artist’s control over line, shape, and color is controlling his or her point of view.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Top of the Rock Thu, 26 Apr 2018 01:24:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Christie’s auction of the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection opens a window on elite collecting tastes in the 20th century, while providing an opportunity for today’s collectors to follow in the Rockefellers’ footsteps.

Claude Monet, Nymphéas en fleur, circa 1914-17

Claude Monet, Nymphéas en fleur, circa 1914-17,
oil on canvas, 63.375 x 71.125 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) David and Peggy Rockefeller on May 13, 1979 John Singer Sargent, San Geremia, 1913 Selections from a Sevres Porcelain Dessert Service from the “Marly Rouge” Service made for Napoleon Iere Willem de Kooning, Untitled XIX, 1982 Henri Matisse, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, 1923 Claude Monet, Nymphéas en fleur, circa 1914-17 Pablo Picasso, Fillette á la corbeille fleurie, 1905

David Rockefeller was the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the founder of the Standard Oil Company and one of America’s first billionaires. David, who was born in 1915, died last March at 101 with a fortune that Forbes estimated at $3.3 billion. During his lifetime, he served as chairman and chief executive of the Chase Manhattan Corporation and formed the Partnership for New York City. The banker also served as director to the Council on Foreign Relations, helped form the Council of the Americas, and had strong political ties—he had connections with the CIA and frequently met with foreign rulers and American presidents (John F. Kennedy was a Harvard buddy, and Rockefeller even dated Kennedy’s sister Kathleen). He married Margaret “Peggy” McGrath in 1940, a union that lasted 56 years and produced six children.

The marriage also generated an incredible collection of fine and decorative art representing a large array of interests. David’s mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, helped found the Museum of Modern Art in 1929, and David inherited a strong passion in Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern painting from her (he continued to support the institution, giving, for instance, $100 million in 2005). A trip to China in 1917 ignited Abby’s enthusiasm for Asian art, a taste David also acquired after an excursion to the country in the early 1960s. Peggy’s love for art was bolstered by a deep appreciation of the natural world—she wrote the six-volume Wild Flowers of the United States and was an avid gardener, farmer, and staunch supporter of conservation causes. Said David of their collection, some time after Peggy’s death, “My late wife Peggy and I really bought things together. We both felt, wisely, that if we should live with things we should both like them.”

The Peggy and David Rockefeller collection is being auctioned at, appropriately enough, Christie’s Rockefeller Center Galleries in New York. The auction house will hold a series of sales dedicated to the collection on May 7–11 and will stage concurrent online sales with some estimates starting as low as $200. The sales’ many highlights, however, boast much bigger price tags—and appropriately so, as many rank in the top tiers of their respective collecting categories. A Matisse in the sale, for instance, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias (1923), is expected to vanquish the celebrated French artist’s current world auction record. With sterling examples of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Modern and American paintings, as well as pieces of English and European furniture, Asian works of art, European ceramics and Chinese export porcelain, silver, and American decorative arts and furniture, the Rockefeller cache not only features a roster of future record-setters but also reads as a guide to what the American elite considered good taste in the 20th century.

The Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé, which achieved over $400 million at Christie’s Paris in 2009, holds the title for most valuable collection offered at auction. The Peggy and David Rockefeller collection is poised to achieve similar results. As with the Parisian sale, the money generated from the Rockefeller auction will be used for philanthropic purposes. Rather than donating pieces of the collection to museums or, as is the vogue now, creating a stand-alone institution for the collection, the Rockefellers decided to sell their collection and direct the earnings to causes including the American Farmland Trust, Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard University, Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve and the Museum of Modern Art.

Many of the pieces in the collection went on public view in advance of the sale. Early highlights were revealed in Hong Kong, and beginning in February, Christie’s toured different groupings of works at their flagship galleries in London, then Paris, Beijing, Los Angeles, and finally Shanghai. The collection went on view in New York on April 28 and will remain up through May 11.

The aforementioned Matisse, which was painted by the artist in his Nice studio in 1923, had pride of place in the living room of the Rockefeller’s Hudson Pines home. The vibrant nude is a representation of the artist’s favorite model, Henriette Darricarrére, languidly reclining in a sunlit room. The work is a feast of vibrant color and light—the artistic equivalent of a ripe, juicy orange. The Rockefeller’s acquired Odalisque couchée aux magnolias from Leigh Block, a Chicago-based modernist collector, in 1958, likely with some influence from Alfred Barr, the director of MoMA and a beloved advisor. Thought to be one of the finest paintings by Matisse in private hands, it is currently the highest estimated work by the artist ever to come to auction (estimate on request).

Barr and his wife, Margaret Scolari Barr, were instrumental in the development of the Rockefellers’ taste in modern art and their acquisitions of works. For instance, in 1966 Barr guided the Rockefellers into the purchase of Eugéne Delacroix’s Tiger Playing with a Tortoise (1862). Delacroix, who was fascinated by tigers, would often watch them at the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris and represented them several times in his work. The rendering of the animal here, with its restless brushstrokes and incredible coloration, shows the artist at the height of his powers. The painting, which had its own wall in the couple’s Upper East Side townhouse, is estimated at $5–7 million. With Barr’s encouragement the Rockefellers purchased a cache of important Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modern paintings. Several are featured in Christie’s sales, such as Claude Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur (circa 1914–17, estimate on request), which the Rockefellers purchased from Parisian dealer Katia Granoff in 1956 almost immediately upon seeing it.

David and Peggy inherited Lilas et roses (1882), a petite, 13 x 10-inch oil on canvas by Edouard Manet, 10 years after Abby’s death. It was during this time that the matriarch’s furnishings were being redistributed, and David and Peggy drew lots for the painting, of which they were “especially fond.” The painting had been purchased at the New York gallery M. Knoedler & Co. and subsequently hung in Abby’s private sitting room. The painting, which depicts two roses among sprigs of lilacs, was painted within the last six months of the artist’s life. Manet was in the habit of painting still lifes of flowers or fruits to gives as gifts to friends; Lilas et roses was a gift for the daughter of his doctor, Ginevra Hureau de Villeneuve. It is estimated at $7–10 million.

The Rockefellers’ acquisition of a Rose Period Picasso is owed in part to luck. Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (estimate upon request) was painted by the artist in 1905 and purchased the same year by siblings Leo and Gertrude Stein. After Gertrude’s death in 1946, the painting remained with her partner, Alice B. Toklas, for 21 years—the remainder of her lifetime. In 1968, a group of art collectors convened in order to acquire Stein’s collection. When a felt hat with numbered slips of paper was passed among the collectors, David drew the first pick. Fillette à la corbeille fleurie, which would go on to hang in the library of the Rockefeller’s New York townhouse, was naturally his first selection.

The Rivals, a large-scale oil on canvas in the sale, marked the beginning of the Rockefeller family’s relationship with Diego Rivera. The painting was commissioned by Abby and finished by Rivera while he and Frida Kahlo were on a boat sailing to New York in 1931. It was featured in Rivera’s landmark solo exhibition at MoMA that same year but has rarely been exhibited since the 1930s. Instead, it was passed down to David and Peggy in 1941 as a wedding present and subsequently hung in their home in Ringing Point, Maine. Soon after the completion of the painting, Rivera and the Rockefellers began a storied history. In 1933, Rivera started work on Man at the Crossroads, a fresco planned for the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. However, after Rivera refused to remove images in the fresco of Vladimir Lenin and a Soviet Russian May Day parade, his commission was revoked. The fresco was removed from the wall in 1934. The Rivals, a richly colored representation of a local Oaxacan festivity, is estimated at $5–7 million. Having been exclusively in the Rockefeller family collection, this will be the painting’s first time on the market.

The sales include several important American paintings, as well, such as John Singer Sargent’s San Geremia (1913), estimated at $3–5 million, and Edward Hopper’s Cape Ann Granite (1928), estimated at $6–8 million. Another highlight, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Near Abiquiu, New Mexico, was painted in 1931, just two years after the artist’s first trip to New Mexico. The Rockefellers acquired the stunning Western landscape in 1997 (a smaller version, painted in 1930, is in the collection of the Met). David spent his 11th birthday in Taos during a family railway trip across the Southwest in the summer of 1926. Perhaps a stronger connection to the painting, however, was forged through his mother, who frequently acquired work from The Downtown Gallery, which was owned by her friend Edith Halpert. The dealer was an early proponent of O’Keeffe’s and was the first to sell the painting. Near Abiquiu, New Mexico is estimated at $3–5 million.

Untitled XIX (1982, oil and charcoal on canvas), a late-period work by Willem de Kooning, entered the Rockefeller collection in 1996 after the passing of Peggy that year. Following a spell of ill health, de Kooning returned to the studio in 1981 in a burst of turbulent creative energy. The result was a series of paintings, including Untitled XIX, with free and expansive—almost calligraphic—gestures. The works are now considered a high spot in the career of the artist, who was in his 80s when he made them. David’s acquisition of the Untitled XIX shows a continued interest in challenging, avant-garde work. The painting is estimated at $6–8 million.

The decorative artworks in the sales are just as exciting as the paintings. The Rockefellers amassed an incredible collection of Chinese export porcelain. Some pieces were inherited—David’s mother and his aunt, Lucy Truman Aldrich, were both avid collectors in the field, and David’s father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was fond of porcelain from the Ming and Kangxi dynasties (his first major art purchase was 65 pieces of Kangxi porcelain from J.P. Morgan’s significant collection in 1916)—and others were acquired by the couple over the years. A circa-1775 Chinese export “Tobacco Leaf” service passed through several members of the Rockefeller family: it belonged to Lucy Truman Aldrich, was acquired by Nelson Rockefeller in the ’60s or ’70s, was sold by Nelson before his death in 1979 to his younger brother Laurence, and then purchased from Laurence by David and Peggy in 1990. The service, which is painted in the traditional chrysanthemum version of the “tobacco leaf” pattern, is estimated at $150,000–250,000.

David’s father had an eye for “palace ware,” a pattern richly decorated with Chinese court scenes—each scene being unique—and intricate gilt borders, and began acquiring examples of the pattern in the 1920s from London dealer Alfred Rochelle Thomas and New York dealers J.A. Lloyd Hyde and Yamanaka. Through American scholarly publications, the pattern began to go by the moniker of “Rockefeller porcelain.” In 1955, David inherited several pieces of the pattern from his Aunt Lucy, and five years later, he acquired a portion of the service from his father’s estate. David and Peggy also purchased eight pieces featuring the pattern from the New Orleans auction house Morton’s. The Jiajing Period “Rockefeller Service” (circa 1805) is estimated at $100,000–150,000.

A Sévres “Marly Rouge” dessert service (circa 1807–09) is also coming on the block. The service was made for Napoleon I and was so beloved by the military leader that he insisted on taking it into exile with him in 1814. The following century, Abby acquired the largest single collection of the “Marly Rouge” service, and many pieces have not been on the market since (for context, only one dolphin-footed compote and six plates are in the collection at Fontainebleau). David’s brother Laurence inherited the service in 1948, and David acquired it in 2004. It is estimated at $150,000–250,000.

David also acquired a pair of Meissen porcelain models of hoopoes from his brother Laurence’s estate in 2004. Johann Kändler, the greatest European porcelain artist of his period, modeled the hoopoes in 1740. The birds, which were displayed in the dining room of the Rockefeller’s New York townhouse, are estimated at $20,000–30,000. Peggy spotted a pair of Chelsea porcelain plaice tureens in 1963 at the New York showroom of the Antique Porcelain Company. David bought the tureens, which were made around 1775 by the Chelsea Porcelain Factory in London, for Peggy as a Christmas present. The knobs on the lids of the playful trompe l’oeil fish-shaped tureens are pieces of seaweed, and their ladles are eels with scallop shells in their mouths. Fewer than 10 examples of the dishes survive (The National Trust, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum all have examples). The Rockefellers’ examples are estimated at $80,000–10,000.

Several works of fine Asian art will be featured in Christie’s sales. A gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus made in the Imperial workshops by order of the Kangxi Emperor (reigned 1662–1722) leads the Chinese works of art. The Kangxi Emperor, a devout Buddhist established the tradition of Tibetan-style Buddhism in China. The bronze, which was likely a gift to a family member, depicts Amitayus, a god of long-life, seated in dhyanasana (meditation pose) on a double-lotus base with his hands held in dhyanamudra. He is adorned in intricate jewelry and wears an elaborate tiara. The piece is estimated at $400,000–600,000.

By Sarah E. Fensom

T.C. Cannon: Cannonical Works Thu, 26 Apr 2018 01:14:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Peabody Essex Museum kicks off a traveling retrospective of T.C. Cannon, a seminal figure in contemporary Native American art.

T. C. Cannon, On Drinkin’ Beer in Vietnam in 1967, posthumous edition, about 1988–89

T. C. Cannon, On Drinkin’ Beer in Vietnam in 1967, posthumous edition, about 1988–89, hand-painted etching (after 1971 drawing).

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) T. C. Cannon, woodcut; Collector #3, 1974 T. C. Cannon, Waiting for the Bus (Anadarko Princess), 1977 T. C. Cannon, His Hair Flows Like a River, 1973 T. C. Cannon, Self-Portrait in the Studio, 1975 T. C. Cannon, On Drinkin’ Beer in Vietnam in 1967, posthumous edition, about 1988–89

The work of one of the most interesting, visionary Native American artists of the 20th century is being celebrated with a exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. “T.C. Cannon: On the Edge of America” (through June 10), which will go to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla., and the National Museum of the American Indian after closing at the PEM, is the first traveling retrospective of Cannon’s work since 1990. It includes over 30 major paintings (out of a total of around 50 that the artist completed before his death in a car crash at the age of 31 in 1978), supplemented by drawings, woodblock and linocut prints, poems, and musical recordings. Together, the nearly 90 works on view reveal a masterful painter and a voracious mind fully engaged not only with his own Native American culture and history but with the diversity of mainstream American culture as it went through the transformative turbulence of the 1960s and ’70s.

Cannon is best known for vibrantly colorful canvases that portray American Indians both as they were in traditional times and as they are now—sometimes within the same picture. With a strong component of satire and humor, his paintings juxtapose traditional imagery with the contemporary scene, and his Indians are conflicted figures who seem to inhabit two worlds, sometimes incongruously or awkwardly but always with pride and verve. Cannon himself did originate “on the edge of America”—he was born in a small farming community in southern Oklahoma, the son of a Kiowa father and a Caddo mother, and was given the Kiowa name Pai-doung-u-day (meaning “one who stands in the sun”) and the English name Tommy Wayne Cannon (though he would be known later on as “T.C.” rather than “T.W.”).

After graduating from high school in 1964, he went to Santa Fe to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts, which had been founded only two years before and was funded by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. In high school, Cannon had attracted attention for his drawing skills; here he was exposed to the Euro-American art tradition as well as to a Native American artistic renaissance that was getting underway. One of Cannon’s teachers was Fritz Scholder, a pioneer of the new sensibility in Native American art; Cannon’s work bears certain resemblances to Scholder’s—its emphasis on portraiture and its satirical take on mixed identities. But it is also very strongly influenced by non-Native art, especially Matisse, whose color ideas and compositional schemes are sometimes clearly visible in Cannon’s work. In fact, Cannon’s Collector #3 (1974) is an out-and-out homage to the French modernist master; a bare-breasted Indian odalisque reclining on a Navajo rug in wallpapered room, with artistic attention duly lavished on the textiles. Other important influences were Van Gogh and, from his own era, Robert Rauschenberg.

In 1966, while still in school, Cannon made a splash with his painting Mama and Papa Have the Going Home Shiprock Blues, which showed a Navajo man juxtaposed with two small portraits of themselves in the foreground. The figures are wearing sunglasses and smoking cigarettes, which gives them a contemporary air. On the wall is written the word “Dineh,” the Navajos’ word for themselves. This painting is considered to have kicked off the New Indian Art movement.

In 1968, as the art world generally joined in the counterculture’s rejection of the U.S. war in Vietnam, Cannon, inspired by the Kiowa warrior tradition, enlisted in the Army and spent a year as a paratrooper in Vietnam; for his service in the Tet Offensive he won two Bronze Stars. He was disillusioned by his experiences there and channeled those feelings into his work, which was verbal and musical as well as visual. In a song lyric intended as a companion piece for Mama and Papa, he sang, “well i’ve been out there where the v.c. [Viet Cong] stay/i write home most every day/it don’t seem to ease my pain at all/‘cause i long for the sand and the piñon trees/sheep manure up to my knees…/oh mama, papa’s got those blues again/oh mama, papa’s got the shiprock blues again.” A drawing in the show, On Drinkin’ Beer in Vietnam in 1967, shows two Indians in uniform, each with a Plains warrior-style feather in his hair.

After his return home, Cannon resumed his career, rising to higher and higher heights in the art world. In 1972, he was invited by the National Collection of Fine Arts (now part of the Smithsonian) to do a joint exhibition with his old teacher Scholder, to be called “Two American Painters.” The show was wildly successful and went on a world tour, and then New York dealer Jean Aberbach bought most of Cannon’s work right off the museum walls and signed him to her gallery.

Success didn’t spoil Cannon, and throughout the ’70s he produced ever-more-complex works. In his incredible Epochs of Plains History (1976–77), Cannon encompassed myth, history, and present-day life into one panoramic canvas and put it all into cosmic context by bookending the composition with super-sized, symbolically enhanced images of the moon and sun. A rainbow, a bald eagle, a legendary white buffalo, and figures from a Plains ledger-style drawing compete for attention with warriors from a wolf society and brightly-clad figures from past and present. At the far right is a contemporary Indian in jeans, Western shirt, cowboy hat, and sunglasses, who bears a strong resemblance to a self-portrait Cannon did in 1975. In that painting, Self-Portrait in the Studio, the similarly-clad artist sprawls in a chair, relaxed but somehow confrontational, with a picture window framing a mountainous desert landscape in back of him, an expensive-looking Southwestern rug beneath his feet, and pictures from his collection on the wall. Here is the confident Native American artist-collector of today, surrounded by the symbols of his art and his success. It was all to be cut tragically short just a few years later, and who knows what Cannon would have gone on to produce, what thoughts he would have expressed about the changes in the Native American world and the art world that have taken place since then? He may have been born at the edge of America, but by now it should be clear that T.C. Cannon belongs at the center.

By John Dorfman

Where the Gods Were Born Thu, 26 Apr 2018 01:06:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition at LACMA reveals the art and history of the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan.

View of Teotihuacan

View of Teotihuacan;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) View of Teotihuacan Tripod Vessel with Goggle-Eyed Figure, 450–550 Mask, 300–600, Listwanite Standing Figure, Tlalocan [tunnel under Feathered Serpent Pyramid], Teotihuacan, Mexico, 200–250 Incensario (incense burner), La Ventilla neighborhood, Teotihuacan, Mexico, 350–450 Feathered Serpent Eccentric

About 25 miles northeast of Mexico City lies the site of Teotihuacan, an ancient city that flourished from around 100 B.C. to 550 A.D. and was once the largest in the Americas and the sixth-largest in the entire world, with a population as high as 250,000. Dominated by two massive, stepped pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, the nine-square-mile city was laid out on a grid structure and boasted the world’s first apartment-housing complexes. Later Mesoamerican cultures were fascinated by Teotihuacan; the Aztecs looked to it for inspiration, considering it to be the locale of their creation myths, “the birthplace of the gods”—which may be the meaning of the word “Teotihuacan” in Nahuatl, the Aztec language.

In any case, Teotihuacan cast a very long shadow throughout the region, influencing cultures as far away as Guatemala, the ancient Maya in particular. Its origins have long been mysterious, but recent research indicates that Teotihuacan was multi-ethnic, with various populations inhabiting distinct sections of the city. The art of Teotihuacan, on the other hand, was remarkably uniform in style, the most immediately recognizable works being a characteristic type of obsidian mask.

The art, history, and urbanism of Teotihuacan are being presented to the American public in a massive exhibition, “City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan,” which runs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through July 15. It was previously on view at the de Young Museum of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which co-organized it with LACMA and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH). The last major exhibition devoted to Teotihuacan in the U.S. took place in 1993; the current one not only showcases the high spots of the city’s art but reveals what has been discovered in the excavations that have been going on there in the past quarter-century.

“‘City and Cosmos’ presents objects found over the last few decades—including some even in the last few years—by archaeologists from Mexico, the U.S., and Japan,” says Megan E. O’Neil, LACMA’s associate curator of art of the ancient Americas and curator of the museum’s installation of the exhibition. “These archaeological projects have uncovered remarkable objects in contexts that help us understand the city’s chronology as well as more complex societal questions such as religion, civic identity, and relations with other areas of Mesoamerica.”

For example, in 2003 a Mexican team led by archaeologist Sergio Gómez Chávez found a tunnel running under Teotihuacan’s Feathered Serpent Pyramid, its ceiling covered with the mineral magnetite, which conveys the impression of glittering stars in a night sky when light shines on it. This subterranean sector, which is believed to symbolize the sacred underworld, was filled by the people of Teotihuacan with ritual objects, such as rubber balls, pyrite disks, seeds, and feline skulls. In a chamber at the end of the tunnel were placed four sculptures of precious greenstone that Chávez’s team believe represent the legendary founders of the city and may have been used in divination ceremonies. Two of these hieratic, proudly erect figures are on view at LACMA.

The feathered serpent to whom the pyramidal temple was dedicated was a universal figure in Mesoamerican mythologies. The god’s symbolism indicated its dual nature—with its feathers it could fly in the heavens while its serpentine body enabled it to traverse the earth. Various kinds of feathered-serpent sculptures have been found at Teotihuacan; for example, a three-inch-long undulating snake carved so that its exterior bristles with feathers, is one of 18 small obsidian objects that were placed together in the Moon Pyramid (18 being a significant number in Mesoamerican calendrical schemes).

Most of the objects on view in the LACMA show—including mural fragments with a characteristic rich, pinkish red, as well as the carved-stone works—are amazingly well-preserved. However, a large standing marble figure, found in Teotihuacan’s Xalla Compound, which may have been the site of elite artists’ studios, was deliberately smashed. One of the largest precious-stone pieces from Teotihuacan, the sculpture may represent a deity. While archaeologists are not certain, it is considered likely that the destruction of artworks in Teotihuacan took place around the time the city was abandoned following some cataclysmic event or sequence of events. We know that around 550 A.D., the ceremonial center of the city was burned; the fire was probably set by the inhabitants. What else occurred to bring about the sudden collapse of a seven-century-old civilization is not known, but the most likely candidates are soil exhaustion and climate change rather than invasion from the outside. The gods may have been born in Teotihuacan, but they did not die there. They migrated and settled elsewhere in Mexico and beyond, bringing culture and art with them.

By John Dorfman

A Treasure Trove of Images Thu, 26 Apr 2018 00:56:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In the Italian Renaissance, mythological and historical iconography found its way from paintings to prints and finally to maiolica pottery and bronzes.

Workshop or follower of Francesco Xanto Avelli, lustered in the workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, Shallow bowl on low foot with the death of Laocoön and his two sons, 1539

Workshop or follower of Francesco Xanto Avelli, lustered in the workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, Shallow bowl on low foot with the death of Laocoön and his two sons, 1539, tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica), diameter: 27 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Francesco Xanto Avelli, Pilgrim Flask with Mercury and Psyche, 1530 Agostino de’ Musi, called Agostino Veneziano, The March of Silenus, circa 1520 Workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, Shallow bowl with Hercules overcoming Antaeus, 1520 Workshop or follower of Francesco Xanto Avelli, lustered in the workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, Shallow bowl on low foot with the death of Laocoön and his two sons, 1539 Giovanni Antonio da Brescia, Hercules and Antaeus, circa 1490–1500 Deruta or Faenza Basin with geometric patterns and dragon, circa 1480/1500

In 1770, a German amateur art historian by the name of Christophe de Scheib hypothesized that the maiolica plates and tazze (footed bowls) made in Faenza were simply too beautiful and too close in composition to prints and drawings by Raphael not to have been painted by Raphael himself. Scheib’s thoughts on maiolica came a half-century before the Renaissance would begin its ascent toward a rediscovery and romanticization of epic proportions and some 75 years before French historian Jules Michelet would even coin the term “Renaissance.”

Scheib’s hypothesis was quickly, and rightly, denounced. It was already well known that maiolica vessels were the products of workshops distinct from those of painters but working from circulating printed images of painters’ masterpieces. More than two centuries earlier, Giorgio Vasari had already explained the use of prints after Raphael by potters in Urbino. Nonetheless, 19ht-century historians noted that even if these wares weren’t painted or designed by Raphael, their beauty and historical importance made them worth careful study. “They preserve what we do not have elsewhere; that is, the many different thoughts of Sanzio [Raphael] himself,” wrote French archaeological and architectural theorist Quatremère de Quincy in 1835. “We have in them an infinity of other things by Raphael and his school that no longer exist.”

With that in mind, one cannot forget that the very sources from which 16th-century potters were drawing inspiration had been attempts by contemporary artists to surpass the ancient masters. And what better way to do just that in a relatively new medium like maiolica than to mine the circulating imagery of classical antiquity as reinvented by those modern Renaissance masters? After all, as “the pottery of humanism,” as art historian Bernard Rackham called it in 1930, maiolica was capable of breathing new, polychromatic life into the recently reprinted texts of antiquity and the monochrome lines of copperplates and woodblocks.

The National Gallery of Art’s latest exhibition, “Sharing Images,” surveys this translation and transmutation of humanist, as well as biblical, ideas by painters and printmakers in Italy and northern Europe from print to pot and from print to bronze. The result of the 2015 acquisition of the William A. Clark maiolica collection from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the exhibition draws on the National Gallery’s formidable strengths in Italian and Northern Renaissance prints, drawings, ceramics, and bronzes in order to provide a focused window in on the interactions between print culture and workshop practices. “Sharing Images” and its accompanying catalogue focus in large part on the Gallery’s own impressive stores of maiolica, which make up about one-fourth of the exhibition and which actually reflect more on the taste for istoriato (history-painted) and heraldic maiolica among American collectors of the Gilded Age and beyond, such as William Clark himself, as well as Joseph E. Widener and Samuel Kress.

In “Sharing Images” Jamie Gabbarelli, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum and Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral curatorial fellow at the National Gallery of Art (2015–17), has found a surprisingly little-explored area in the otherwise well-trodden path of study of early modern prints and their influences on maiolica and bronze production. He considers the movement of pictures and ideas from the decorative arts back to prints, rather than only the other way around, in addition to the use of multiples as the primary source for creation of a common visual language across media in the Renaissance. He asks which prints were used most often and how fast these images were integrated into the repertoires of bronzemakers and potters. The exhibition catalogue’s preface by Jonathan Bober, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Art, provides a cogent synthesis of Gabarelli’s detailed study in the chapters that follow.

At the center of these questions are the many varied representations of subjects from prints in istoriato maiolica. Other 18th-century writers, evidently better informed than Scheib, had called istoriato vessels “libri dipinti” (painted books), because the depicted literary and artistic scenes were often so detailed and complex. Istoriato was the term given in the 16th century to the richly and delicately painted narrative-style maiolica that was widely collected throughout much of the 16th century and provided evidence that these ceramics should be viewed as a legitimate art form beyond the “applied” or “minor” arts. Unsurprisingly, istoriati were prized not only by later collectors enriching museums but also by elites and the bourgeois alike in the Renaissance, because of the level of technical skill required of their painters.

Before the rise of this type of painted decoration, maiolica had for the most part maintained a mostly muted palette of blue, yellow, orange, and purple-brown, as in one 15th-century plate depicting a whimsical dragon basking in a cool-hued sun surrounded by concentric guilloche bands on the rim. (Italians only figured out a recipe for iron lustre, used for centuries in the Islamic world, around 1460.) The rainbow spectrum and nuanced gradients of color on “historiated” wares would have been especially hard to master. Mistakes were nearly impossible to correct, as glazes were quickly absorbed into the unfired surface and their colors could not be seen until after firing. In his circa-1557 treatise The Three Books of the Potter’s Art, perhaps the most important surviving source for information on maiolica production, Cipriano Piccolpasso gave specific recipes for mixing pigments when painting istoriati.

One famous example of istoriato is the set presented to Isabella d’Este by her daughter, Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, in 1524. Executed by the celebrated painter Nicola da Urbino, who was known as “the Raphael of maiolica painting” and who occasionally even signed his wares, the set depicts scenes from Ovid and Virgil, as well as other mythological and biblical events. A plate from the series, now in the Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reproduces the drunken carousing of the coterie of a sleeping Silenus as seen through the eyes of printmaker Agostino Veneziano. But the painter, who was known to freely interpret and combine sources, truncated Agostino’s scene to fit the rounded, concave surface by moving two figures; at the far left, a man pours wine from the spout of a wineskin, unmistakably phallic in shape and location, into another drunkard’s mouth. Nicola framed the whole scene with the huge, gnarled trees from which the families’ stemme (coats of arms) hang.

The exhibition also highlights the varying approaches to print sources used by potters in different regions and even workshops, as in one plate in the Smithsonian probably made in the workshop of perhaps the second-most important maiolica painter, Orazio Fontana. Known from numerous extant maiolica versions, the composition depicts the contest of song between the Muses and the Pierides recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and taken from an engraving by Gian Jacopo Caraglio after an oil by Rosso Fiorentino. Unlike painters in the Casteldurante workshops of Fontana and his father, Guido Durantino, who illustrated the entire grouping, Urbino painter Francesco Xanto Avelli extracted Rosso’s nudes for use in other istoriato compositions in what Gabarelli calls “his cut-and-paste approach.” Though not explicitly addressed in the catalogue, the extent of Avelli’s method makes for a fun game of spotting sources. On a 1532 plate from the Clark collection that shows the obscure tale of the sinking of Seleucus’ fleet, commissioned as part of the Pucci Service, Avelli included a hunched-over nude male from the pornographic woodcuts and sonnets of I Modi (The Sexual Positions or “The Sixteen Pleasures”) by writer and satirist Pietro Aretino, after Giulio Romano and Raphael’s engraver and printer Marcantonio Raimondi. (Luke Sysan and Dora Thornton previously identified the figure as such from its appearance on another plate by Avelli at the British Museum.)

This use and reuse across media, from print to bronze to ceramic and back again, is a theme throughout the show. Artists who are known to have possessed maiolica themselves, like Andrea Mantegna, were copied by potters and bronze-makers. Mantegna’s workshop engravings enjoyed particular success. Likewise, the Laocoön and its finding in 1506 was a seemingly endless source of inspiration among artists, spurring not only the famed 1510 contest to create new arms for the main figure but also countless spinoffs in other media. Versions in ceramic and bronze in “Sharing Images” take from two engravings of the group by Marco Dente, which provided the models for Christ in the bronze relief of The Flagellation by Galeazzo Mondella, called Il Moderno, as well as for the clothed and unclothed father figure in tin-glazed variants from the workshop of Francesco Xanto Avelli. Other maiolica painters depicted the sculpture without extremities, in its found fragmentary state. In fact, the marble’s image was so enduring in the early 16th century that Titian caricatured it, turning the father and sons into a family of monkeys; the woodcut after Titian is attributed to Niccolò Boldrini. Print, the ape of fine art!

Although the show focuses on these istoriato maiolica and bronzes, it also explores the sources of unusual non-narrative imagery, including music. Ritual was often an important aspect of displaying or utilizing maiolica, be it to adorn a credenza during a banquet or as presentation pieces given to a new mother during her convalescence (and often containing prescribed foodstuffs for her). Gabarelli discusses one extant bowl containing in a central cartouche meticulously transcribed music and verse of a song from a songbook printed in 1507. Scholars surmise that the set originally included four vessels, with musical notation for four different voices, and may have been used during or after dining, not for food but instead as entertainment, to engage guests and bring song to the table.

“Sharing Images” speaks as much to these 15th- and 16th-century traditions and trends as to those in our own current moment in history, when word and image are infinitely reproducible and more accessible than ever. The connections to the present, and particularly to consumer culture, resonate even more when we think of the ways in which Renaissance artists embraced or rejected the transmission of their designs in the early days of print, and even dealt with the subsequent copyright issues. Raphael was no doubt aware of the big business in the still-young print industry when he began his collaboration with Marcantonio Raimondi in 1508, while Albrecht Dürer, whose engravings were widely used by potters in Faenza and Gubbio as well as bronze-makers, famously sued Raimondi for the transalpine success of copies of his engravings, monogram and all. Copies in other media, or illegal copies, may not have brought financial security to artists, but, as Quatremère de Quincy noted, it ensured that their compositions had a lasting and memorable impact.

What comes across in “Sharing Images” is how thoroughly modern the conception and execution of maiolica and bronzes could be during the Renaissance, when these arts were still in the process of being reshaped by the medium of print. One might even liken the two-way street of the transmission of print culture to the viral impact of new media and consumerism today. Just as people of all tax brackets today are keen to own the latest gadgets, 16th-century consumers strove to acquire the newest technological advancements. While bronzes may have been out of reach to anyone not among the cultured and moneyed elite, print and tin-glazed earthenware provided two relatively affordable and increasingly accessible examples of true novelty and ingegno (invention or genius). “Sharing Images” suggests that, through the acts of transmission and translation, copy and commodification, and going far beyond iconography, maiolica and bronzes may have still more similarities to the prints that inspired them than scholars have yet considered.

By Martina D’Amato