Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Thu, 28 Apr 2016 17:57:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 Brother Act Thu, 28 Apr 2016 17:57:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The realistic yet mysterious paintings of the Le Nain brothers get a rare showing at the Kimbell Art Museum.

Le Nain, The Last Supper, 1650s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Dorfman

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

Nancy Youngblood, carved miniature pottery jar

Nancy Youngblood, carved miniature pottery jar, circa 2000;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

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

Anna Kunz, Untitled, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By By Elizabeth Pandolfi

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

Lino Tagliapietra, Africa, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Dorfman

Robert Mapplethorpe: Another Perfect Moment Tue, 29 Mar 2016 18:02:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A two-museum retrospective in Los Angeles highlights Robert Mapplethorpe’s enduring oeuvre and legacy.

Robert Mappletorpe, Orchid 1987

Robert Mappletorpe, Orchid 1987

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Robert Mappletorpe, Shoe (Melody), 1987 Robert Mappletorpe Robert Mappletorpe, Self Portrait Robert Mappletorpe, Ajitto (1981) Robert Mappletorpe, Orchid 1987

In the majority of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, sex is casually or rather blatantly present. In his black and white floral close-ups—such as Calla Lily (1988)—which are reminiscent of the studio portraits of Irving Penn or Richard Avedon, flowers have the supple sexuality of bodies. Photographs that depict nude bodies—such as Lisa Lyon (1981)—which harkens back to the Neo-Classicism of 19th-century Pictorialist portraits, take on the delicacy and unselfconscious beauty of flowers.

Yet others, such as the artist’s series “X Portfolio” on the underground BDSM scene in late 1960s and ’70s New York, or those depicting homoeroticism or simply the relationships between gay men, such as Larry and Bobby Kissing (1979), depict sexuality explicitly. The artist even depicted himself as a sexual fetish object, as in Self-Portrait (1980), where he is seen sitting in front of the camera, smoking and leather-clad, wearing the hairstyle of 1950s teenage rebellion: the pompadour. Photographs from the “X Portfolio,” which were on view in the 1988 exhibition “The Perfect Moment” at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, led to the indictment of the museum and its director, Dennis Barrie, for obscenity by the city of Cincinnati (the jury ultimately found Barrie and the CAC not guilty), and the eventual cancellation of the show at its next planned stop, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1990, is often associated, not only with the AIDS crisis but also with the culture wars of the 1980s and with gay life in general.

Yet regardless of content or cultural associations, Mapplethorpe strove to express the totality of his vision as an artist—to direct and capture images of what he found visually appealing: the slick sheen of leather, the glistening smoothness of musculature, the satin-like texture of flower petals. Beauty, with an emphasis on self-directed perfection, was Mapplethorpe’s ideal—an aesthetic that seemed to reach an apex in the art world of 1980s New York.

In Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids (2010), the author and musician recalls a day in the ’60s when she and Mapplethorpe, her boyfriend at the time, found sketches by Touko “Tom of Finland” Laaksonen among some used paperback in Times Square. The sketches, which showcased leather-clad, physically fit young men atop motorcycles, left a lasting impression on Mapplethorpe. Though he studied art at Pratt and was exposed to photography early on by his father, an amateur photographer, Mapplethorpe was not enamored of the camera or the photographic process. Born in Queens, N.Y., and coming of age in the New York of the ’60s and ’70s, Mapplethorpe was drawn to Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg—not only to the former for his fame and persona or the latter for his glamour-meets-grunge lifestyle, but to both for their use of the photograph in works that were not necessarily about photography. In his early work, such as Leatherman #1 (1970), Mapplethorpe used found images from gay porn magazines and scrap materials to create collages. The artist and filmmaker Sandy Daley lent Mapplethorpe a Polaroid camera in 1970. This was a pivotal moment in Mapplethorpe’s art-making process. With the camera, he effectively stepped into the role of auteur, conceiving of images and producing them to his standards of perfection rather than finding them and piecing them together.

“Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium,” a major retrospective co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, is now on view at both museums through July 31. “Mapplethorpe’s motive for art-making was not about medium, but about his idea of perfection,” says Britt Salvesen, curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at LACMA. “He said that in another era, he could have been a sculptor. However, our title addresses photography being the perfect medium for him.”

LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Trust made a joint acquisition of art and archival materials from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in 2011. Along with a joint gift from the foundation that same year, the acquisition privileges both institutions with the ability to stage the most comprehensive survey of Mapplethorpe’s work to date. Says Getty director Timothy Potts, “The rich photographic holdings in the Getty Museum and LACMA, together with the artist’s archive housed at the Getty Research Institute, make Los Angeles an essential destination for anyone with serious interest in the late 20th-century photography scene in New York.”

Further contextualizing Mapplethorpe’s work, “The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs,” a concurrent exhibition at the Getty (also until July 31), puts on view the collection of Sam Wagstaff—Mapplethorpe’s partner and an accomplished collector and curator. Wagstaff’s photography collection, which was acquired by the Getty in 1984, has served as one of the backbones of the Department of Photographs at the museum. Boasting classic works of photography such as an albumen silver print of Gustave Le Gray’s The Great Wave (circa 1857), an albumen silver print of Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (1867) by Julia Margaret Cameron, and a gelatin silver print of Philippe Halsman’s Dali Atomicus (1948), Wagstaff’s collection is a veritable history of photography.

Mapplethorpe, who did not print his own images but felt strongly about the photographic object, most certainly reveled in the quality of Wagstaff’s vintage prints. While Mapplethorope “wasn’t always forthcoming,” as Salvesen puts it, with his photographic influences, Wagstaff’s cache of prints by Man Ray, Edward Weston, and Roger Fenton were in his purview. In particular, the Boston-based 19th-century Pictorialist photographer and publisher F. Holland Day (whose photographs Wagstaff did collect) comes to mind when looking at Mapplethorpe’s portraits throughout the ’80s. A paragon of dreamy Neo-Classical portraits and the dandy lifestyle, Day has multiple examples of the African American male nude (or partial nude) in his oeuvre.

Like’s those of Day, Mapplethorpe’s photographs, such as Thomas (1987), Ajitto (1981), Ken Moody (1983), and Derrick Cross (1983), which all appear in the Getty’s iteration of “The Perfect Medium,” idealize the black male body as Greek sculptors did the bodies of athletes during the Classical period. Mapplethorpe, who had a fascination with black skin, used three models of different racial backgrounds in his 1985 photograph Ken and Lydia and Tyler (also on view in the Getty show) to evoke the ancient mythological trope of the Three Graces. Shot in black and white, as the lion’s share of Mapplethorpe’s photographs are, the gradation of skin color highlights not only the beauty of the three unique bodies but also the tonality of the image.

Mapplethorpe’s interest in highly developed bodies is well documented. His long-time muse Lisa Lyon, with whom he created 184 portraits over the course of six years, was a female bodybuilder Mapplethorpe met at a party in 1979. Of Lyon, the first woman to win the International Federation of Body Builders female competition, Mapplethorpe is quoted as saying, “I’d never seen anybody that looked like that before. Once she took her clothes off it was like seeing something from another planet.” Mapplethorpe’s work with Lyon culminated in the 1983 photography book Lady, of which multiple images can be seen at LACMA’s iteration of “The Perfect Medium.” Patti Smith, Mapplethorpe’s other female muse and of course his longtime companion, could not be physically more different than Lyon. (Though both women were androgynous in their own way, Lyon was muscular, Smith lanky and soulful.) Portraits of Smith, such as Patti Smith (1979), not only capture the close relationship between the two artists but also chronicle their life in the still-heralded, bygone days of Max’s Kansas City, the Chelsea Hotel, and the gritty, exciting downtown New York scene. In the LACMA show, the two short films Mapplethorpe made are both on view; one, titled Still Moving, stars Smith, the other Lyon.

Smith has had a lot to do with Mapplethorpe’s legacy, especially in recent years. “Patti Smith’s book reopened peoples’ eyes to Mapplethorpe and why he wanted to be an artist,” says Salvesen. “It is an honest portrayal of a young man who believed he had something to say and how he was going to do that.”

Though both museums certainly want to place the quality of Mapplethorpe’s work over content or controversy, the artist’s legacy as a social figure undoubtedly factors into “The Perfect Medium.” “We now have some social distance from the time period from which he was working and making statements about his lifestyle and life,” says Salvesen,” and the situation in our country with gay civil rights is totally different now, but it’s good to look back and recall those different circumstances. For younger people who weren’t around when the culture wars played out in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it’s important to remember that debate about freedom of expression.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

Hieronymus Bosch: Dark Past Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:49:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A celebratory exhibition in Hieronymus Bosch’s hometown doubles as a major art-historical achievement.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Last Judgment

Hieronymus Bosch, The Last Judgment, ca. 1495-1505.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Hieronymus Bosch, Saint John on Patmos Hieronymus Bosch, Saint John the Baptist Hieronymus Bosch, The Last Judgment Hieronymus Bosch, Allegory of Gluttony and Lust Hieronymus Bosch, Adoration of the Magi

Demons, ungodly beasts, and perverted, malformed humanoid beings—all over 500 years old—will assemble in a small town in the Netherlands this month. Their bodies huddled, shouting, being consumed, contorted, or tortured, they will be hung about the village for visitors from far and wide to see. These creatures, hatched from both heaven and hell, are neither plot twists from a network sci-fi drama nor the predictions of some medieval soothsayer. They are the characters that dot the canvases of the Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch (or Jheronimus Bosch). They come together in unprecedented number, not for a religious rite or cosplay convention but for a celebratory exhibition in Bosch’s hometown of ’s-Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch, as it is often called). There, the largest retrospective of Bosch’s work in history—20 paintings, 19 drawings, and a number of panels and triptychs—will be on view, bringing together the macabre, the absurd, and the unthinkably beautiful.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death. The highly imaginative work of Bosch, creator of his own unique visual language, somehow appeals equally to highbrow art fans and outré weirdos. One look at The Garden of Earthly Delights, a circa 1460–1510 oil on oak triptych widely considered the artist’s masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why: expertly rendered biblical motifs and nude figures challenge the eye and art historical analysis, while odd creations like a mobile blade propped between two ears navigating the torturous landscape of hell look like something straight out of an underground comic book. The exhibition “Vision of Genius” will run at the Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch through May 8. Simultaneously, the town will stage tours and events—a parade, light show, canal cruise, 3-D presentation, musical and theatrical performances, etc.—and will likely have something to please any type of Bosch fan there is.

Curiously, the idea for “Vision of Genius” came to ’s-Hertogenbosch’s mayor, Tom Rombouts, 15 years ago. After seeing “Jheronimus Bosch,” a 2001 exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam that also included immersive, festive Bosch-related programming, Rombouts wanted to bring the party to the artist’s hometown. Having no works by Bosch at the Noordbrabants Museum to loan when negotiating with other museums, the institution’s director, Charles de Mooij, and Bosch scholar Jos Koldeweij proposed a focused program of scholarship and conservation to the City Council in 2007. The Bosch Research and Conversation Program (BRCP) was thus established and did well not only to conserve and study the artist’s oeuvre but also to entice prominent museums around the world to loan works to “Vision of Genius.” Haywain, from the Museo Nacional del Prado, joins four Afterlife Panels from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Ship of Fools from the Musée du Louvre, and works from the Met, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Gemäldengalerie, and others.

The research conducted by the BRCP was “mainly technical,” says de Mooij, and included photography conducted in visible daylight, microphotography, infrared, and X-rays. “One of the important results is that it makes clear what was the hand of Bosch,” says de Mooij. The artist, who ran a successful studio and often received commissions from abroad, counted Pieter Bruegel the Elder among his followers—a fruitful situation for Bosch but not necessarily for scholars five centuries later. The team behind BRCP created a vast database of their photos of Bosch’s work. “By comparing all those photos and details, it became possible to distinguish the hand of the master,” says de Mooij. “I think that’s one of the most important results of their investigation.” These results have been published on the BRCP’s website, making it “possible for the public to compare for themselves and find their own conclusions,” says de Mooij. A print publication also accompanies the exhibition and research. A two-part monograph comprises a catalogue raisonné, which features all the works in the exhibition in text and image, and a volume published by the research team featuring all of BRCP’s technical studies, photographs, and results, giving readers the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the way Bosch’s paintings were created. Says de Mooij, “it’s cliché to say it’s richly illustrated.”

Nine of the paintings in the retrospective have been restored, six as a result of the BRCP’ efforts. Says de Mooij, this is “very remarkable, given the fact that the oeuvre of Bosch is so small.” With the restoration process came, of course, new discoveries and interpretations. “In several paintings,” says de Mooij, “there were more owls than before, after the restoration.” According to de Mooij, the presence of owls is closely aligned with Bosch’s fascination with the ever-looming possibility of damnation. “The owl is not only a bird of night and personification of evil, but it also means the devil is looking at us,” says de Mooij. “An owl is looking at an owl and also looking at us!”

The detection of an underdrawing in Death and the Miser (circa 1494 or later) was another breakthrough during the restoration process. The underdrawing features a man on his deathbed in the midst of a monetary exchange with the personification of death—he is either giving death money in exchange for more life, or receiving money from death. In the painting that Bosch ultimately painted, the one we know today, the dying miser’s actions are more ambiguous: as death looms through a doorway in the miser’s bedroom, the miser considers a sack of money being offered by a demon, while an angel, with his hand on the miser’s shoulder, points to a crucifix emitting a single beam of light. This is an example of what de Mooij considers Bosch’s optimistic nature. “The emphasis lies on the evil,” says de Mooij, “but there’s always the possibility to do the good.” A recurring theme of Bosch’s work is that the artist, who had a highly religious, humanistic upbringing, “always depicts man as a pilgrim going through life to the inevitable death,” says de Mooij. “There are all sorts of temptations, but in the end one can go to heaven instead of going to hell.”

Death and the Miser is not just notable for its restoration. The painting, which is on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is the inside right panel of the divided “Wayfarer Triptych.” The triptych’s side panels, long ago torn apart, are each in separate museums around the world—the Ship of Fools at the Louvre and the Allegory of Gluttony and Lust at the Yale University Art Gallery. While the central panel of the triptych was lost, the backs and fronts of the side wings were divided, with the outside of the wings forming the octagonal “Wayfarer painting” now at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. In “Vision of Genius,” the Wayfarer Triptych will be reunited with its other fragments for the first time since their separation, and the Ship of Fools and the Allegory of Gluttony and Lust will be able to be seen together as a single image. Pieces of the altarpiece of the Brotherhood of Our Lady from St. John’s Cathedral in ’s-Hertogenbosch will be brought from three countries to form another rare reunion.

But every painting in “Vision of Genius” will be having a long-awaited homecoming. Bosch, who was born in ’s-Hertogenbosch around 1450, worked and lived in and around his hometown his whole life. His father, Jan van Aken, was a painter, and his two brothers were trained as painters, as well. It is thought that Bosch, who rarely dated his paintings, painted at least 16 triptychs, of which eight are still intact and five are fragmented. A highly religious man, Bosch became a “sworn member” of the Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, an arch-conservative religious group with a limited number (some 40) of influential local citizens that held meetings at a private chapel at St. John’s Cathedral. It would be an understatement to acknowledge the influence Bosch’s religion had on his painting—not solely in his biblical motifs or blatantly Christian imagery, but also in his hellish monsters and creatures.

A sixth of the inhabitants of his town were clergy; there were monasteries with scriptoria, and printing presses: in short, Bosch was aware of the artwork and religious content that came before him. “He knew much more than we formerly assumed, so there were sources of inspirations,” says de Mooij. “He wasn’t the first to paint or draw a monster.” Still, this is not to take away from Bosch’s unnervingly innovative and at times bizarre creations. Surrealism took centuries to drink Bosch’s Kool-Aid. Yet, the surreal qualities of his inventions shouldn’t come at the expense of realizing his talents as a realist painter. “He was a master of realistic painting,” says de Mooij, “look at the birds he painted.”

Though “Vision of Genius” seemingly has a bit of everything, museum-goers should be warned that they won’t see The Garden of Earthly Delights in Den Bosch. Philip II of Spain acquired a group of Bosch’s paintings, including the triptych, in the late 16th century, which explains the ample collection of Bosch’s work at the Prado. Says de Mooij, “I didn’t even ask the Prado to lend it to us. In terms of fragility, it’s in remarkable condition, but it’s too important.” Let’s hope the aforementioned ear demon doesn’t feel too left out.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Morris Graves: The Zen of Painting Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:36:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Morris Graves’ mystical art is on view at LACMA.

Morris Graves, Time of Change

Morris Graves, Time of Change, 1944, screenprint, 60.96 x 76.2 cm.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Morris Graves, Morris Graves, Disintegrated and Reanimated Morris Graves, Time of Change Morris Graves, Majestic Dog Morris Graves, Cat With Red Cabbage

For a supposedly materialistic, mechanistic nation, the United States has produced an impressive number of visionary artists. From the early 19th century on, painters such as Ralph Albert Blakelock, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and Charles Burchfield saw nature in a light invisible to ordinary eyes. A latter-day link in this golden chain was Morris Graves, a 20th-century modernist who is surprisingly little known considering the quality of his contribution. Graves, who died in 2001 at the age of 90, lived and worked for most of his life in the rural Pacific Northwest and chose to keep his distance from the centers of the contemporary art world. Now an exhibition in one of those centers is bringing this sui generis artist new attention. “Morris Graves: The Nature of Things,” running through July 4 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a small but intense show of early paintings and works on paper, alongside a select group of classic Asian artworks similar to those that inspired Graves both artistically and metaphysically. (All are from LACMA’s collection, except for one loan from the Hammer Museum.)

During the 1930s through ’50s, Graves made many depictions of birds, animals, and flora, delicately drawn over abstract backgrounds of gently washed-on color. The debt to Chinese and Japanese painting is very clear. Fallen Leaf, a monochrome brown wash drawing from 1944, could almost be a Chinese painting. The stem of the leaf casts a shadow, but it’s not clear whether it rests on a surface or exists in a notional space. Spirit Bird (1953) has intense, startled eyes that lock with those of the viewer, while its feathery body blends with the background, which is heightened with gold leaf like an Early Renaissance Italian painting. The bird is not quite solid; it could be wisps of smoke or vapor coalescing into a bird.

To Graves, these creatures really were emissaries from the spirit world, a realm of being which he sought out in the silence of Fidalgo Island, Wash., about 60 miles north of Seattle where he built a house he called The Rock. He titled one of his pictures Bird Maddened by Machine Age Noise, and he must have felt that that bird was a kindred spirit. Living alone except for a dachshund named Edith, Graves meditated, listened to the surf, observed nature, and made his art. But he hadn’t always been so reclusive. As a teenager he dropped out of high school in Seattle, and his parents, unsure what to do with him, suggested that he and his brother Russell sign on as deckhands on a merchant ship bound for Japan. Virtually upon arrival, he established a connection with Japanese culture that lasted the rest of his life. “There, I at once had the feeling that this was the right way to do everything,” he recalled. “It was the acceptance of nature, not the resistance to it. I had no sense that I was to be a painter, but I breathed a different air.”

Returning to the States, Graves finished high school in Texas, where he lived with an aunt and uncle and began drawing and painting. Graves returned to Seattle, and through work on the WPA Federal Art Project he met Mark Tobey, whose calligraphic style influenced him deeply and who would remain a close friend for life. At the time, Graves shared a studio with Guy Anderson, also a close friend and eventually a fellow member of the so-called Northwest School of artists (the others were Tobey and Kenneth Callahan). Recognition came early for Graves. In 1936 he had his first solo show, at the recently established Seattle Art Museum. In 1942, Alfred Barr at the Museum of Modern Art included him in an exhibition titled “Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States,” and critical acclaim followed. MoMA bought 11 of his paintings, and collectors bought 34. At the same time as Graves was being feted in the East, back home the Army was after him for draft evasion; his application to be a conscientious objector had been misfiled.

Graves’ reputation remained high during the rest of the decade, but during the ’50s and the ascendancy of Abstract Expressionism, he (along with the other Northwest School artists) faded from prominence, which apparently bothered him not at all. He continued to work steadily at his art, thriving on solitude punctuated by the occasional visit to Seattle, during which he would meet with friends and art-world associates and sometimes perpetrate outrageous pranks—such as the time in 1953 when he invited the entire mailing list of the Seattle Art Museum to a bizarre and inedible banquet and watched their discomfiture from a hiding place.

Graves’ was always indifferent to the dicta emanating from the art-critical establishment. His guideposts were Asian art and philosophy—especially Zen, which he practiced assiduously—and of course, his own intuitive perceptions. Susan Power, research assistant in LACMA’s department of American art and curator of the present show, selected some Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan works from the museum’s collection to pair with some of the Graves works. She selected a Shang Dynasty bronze vessel (ju) to go with a tempera on rice paper painting of a bird of prey, Disintegrated and Reanimated (1947). The bird’s body is made of up of angular scroll-like designs reminiscent of the incised markings on archaic Chinese bronzes; its head, depicted naturalistically, emerges from the metallic-looking neck in a deliberately incongruous way, suggesting transformation and renewal. A 16th–17th-century Tibetan Buddha sculpture goes with a 1944 print titled Time of Change, in which a bird overlaid by three broad bands of color in sequence—black, red, and white—gazes at its own reflection. Power says, “Time of Change is about moving from darkness toward light, achieving a certain level of consciousness or enlightenment. The Buddha represents a similar idea of transformation. In this case the juxtaposition is not visual but conceptual.”

Ultimately, for Graves, spiritual realization was more important than art. Late in life he wrote, “My painted images have somehow only been very minor Shinto haikus trying to communicate my mind’s range of humanitarian, rational, and irrational experiences and ideas.”

By John Dorfman

John James Audubon: Bird Man Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:22:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]> With incredible persistence and artistic skill, John James Audubon made birds and other animals come to life on the printed page.

John James Audubon, Brown Pelican, plate 421 from The Birds of America.

John James Audubon, Brown Pelican, plate 421 from The Birds of America.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) John James Audubon, Mallard Ducks John James Audubon, Canada Goose John James Audubon, Flamingo John James Audubon, Snowy Owl John James Audubon, Brown Pelican, plate 421 from The Birds of America.

To understand why we’re bewitched by the work of John James Audubon, turn to page eight of Joel Oppenheimer’s 2013 opus, The Birds of America: The Bien Chromolithographic Edition (W.W. Norton, $350.00). The Chicago-based dealer wrote it to redeem the reputation of the Bien edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, an ill-fated folio produced in the mid-19th century by the artist’s son, John Woodhouse Audubon. Page eight tells you all you need to know about why Audubon’s masterwork keeps its mastery, and why the luxuriant, sprawling (the paper measured 26 1/2 inches by 39 inches) double elephant folio produced in the 1820s and ’30s by Robert Havell holds the record for the most expensive printed book ever auctioned.

The page features three hand-colored engravings of the Carolina parrot by three ornithological artists. The first was rendered by Englishman Mark Catesby circa 1739, the second by Scottish-American polymath Alexander Wilson and dating to 1808–12, and the last by Audubon, finished in 1826. Catesby’s and Wilson’s satisfy the minimum requirements; their images are meant to record the Carolina parrot, and they do. Audubon goes so much further. He portrays seven of the colorful birds on branches. They lift their feet, they spread their wings, they open their beaks to squawk. One looks directly at the viewer. Audubon’s vision is scientifically accurate, but his birds are alive in a way that the Catesby and Wilson versions simply aren’t. Audubon’s sensitivity and deftness is that much more poignant now that the Carolina parrot is extinct. His vibrant, carefully observed group portrait does the vanished bird justice and helps us understand what we have lost. “Alexander Wilson was the most famous ornithological artist before Audubon,” says Oppenheimer. “If you look at his work, it looks like it’s from the 17th or 18th century. When you look at Audubon, it looks like it’s from the 20th century. It’s such a leap, stylistically.”

This talent for capturing not just the scientific facts of the bird but its behavior and its personality elevates Audubon’s illustrations to fine art. Bill Steiner, a birdwatcher, collector of Auduboniana, and author of Audubon Art Prints: A Collector’s Guide to Every Edition (University of South Carolina Press, $29.95) knows firsthand what a genius Audubon was. Speaking of his Red-tailed Hawk, a dramatic and violent plate showing two predators battling in mid-air for possession of a freshly-caught hare, Steiner says, “I have seen that scene in nature three times. It was straight out of Audubon. He got it right.”

Audubon achieved this feat by venturing into the wild with his sketchbook and absorbing what nature showed him. The birds he shot aided his memory, but he had no photographs or video to help him in his labors. He also had no kerosene lamps, no SUVs, and no whiz-bang modern fabrics to keep him warm and dry. “I’m a nature freak. I’ve camped in the dead of winter in the woods. It’s kind of stunning what he had to put up with to accomplish what he did,” says Steiner. “You sit here today and look back and wonder how he did it.” Audubon was equally at home in the most elite settings imaginable, including the White House, where he dined with President Andrew Jackson in 1830. He sold the elites subscriptions to The Birds of America, convincing them to purchase a tome that cost $1,000, or as much as a handsome house did at the time. “Very few did everything as Audubon did,” says Oppenheimer. “He was an artist; he drew it. He was an entrepreneur; he sold it. And he published it.”

One detail that Audubon did not anticipate has shaped the market for the Havell double elephant folio: thanks to legwork by Waldemar Fries and other dogged scholars, we know that at least 171 complete, four-volume double elephant folio sets exist (or, in some cases, did exist), and we have a decent estimate for how many loose prints are floating around (about 91,000), issuing mainly from the 41 sets that were deliberately broken up during the 20th century. Breaking sets was common until 1989, when the Havell double elephant became more valuable as a whole. Only one has been broken and auctioned since then, and the outcome ensured that it will almost certainly be the last. Dubbed the Sachsen-Meiningen set after its owners, a German royal family who consigned it to Christie’s in 2004, it lacked 11 of the 435 images that comprise a complete set, which influenced the decision to sell its plates individually. But Steiner and Harry Shaw Newman II, co-owner of the Old Print Shop in New York and Washington, D.C., recall that a multimillion-dollar offer for the whole arrived not long before auction day. Whether the purchase was refused or the family decision-makers ran out of time to consider it, the sale went ahead as planned. Each man recalls different sums for the offer, but both numbers were larger than the $5.7 million auction total. “I predicted no one would ever break up a set again,” says Steiner. “I was wrong, but they paid for it.”

The Havell double folio of The Birds of America accounts for much of Audubon’s fame, but it is not his sole worthy endeavor. In 1839 Audubon released the first octavo edition of The Birds of America, a smaller version aimed at those with less-than-princely budgets; individual octavo prints today range from $50 to $2,500. The aforementioned Bien edition, named for its initial printer, was one of the earliest casualties of the Civil War; John Woodhouse Audubon spent much of the year 1859 traveling the South and signed up 70 subscribers there, only to see those accounts destroyed by the hostilities. The unfortunate turn of events forced the Audubon family to declare bankruptcy, and with it, they lost control of the rights to the late John James’ book (he had died in 1851). Subsequent publishers weren’t nearly as devoted to quality control as the Audubons were, and their slipshod product reflected poorly on the Bien. Prints from the Bien now range from $500 to $48,000, and whole Bien sets (a total of 150 plates, enough for a single volume, were produced before the war began) are about as scarce as Havell double elephant folios. Oppenheimer estimates that perhaps 10 of those Havells, and maybe half a dozen Biens produced before the Audubon bankruptcy remain in private hands.

Audubon also published a book on American mammals. Titled The Viviparous Quadrupeds of America and produced between 1845 and 1848, it features 150 hand-colored lithographs on imperial folio size (22 by 28 inch) paper of beasts such as the Rocky Mountain goat, the common flying squirrel, and the wolverine. It was the yield of Audubon’s last great artistic journey, an 1843 trip along the Missouri river in the company of his son, John Woodhouse, who ended up doing a fair amount of the work on the Quadrupeds after his father’s health began to fail. Its prints sell for between $800 and $35,000.

Other rarities emerge now and then. About two years ago, Newman handled an original watercolor of long-tailed ducks that Audubon had painted for The Birds of America and later rejected. It had remained with a Boston family from the 1840s onward, and was perhaps the only original preparatory watercolor for The Birds of America outside of the collection of the New-York Historical Society, which acquired them in 1863 from Audubon’s widow, Lucy, for $4,000. “It was a wonderful thing,” says Newman. “It sold very quickly for seven figures.” Steiner helped identify the watercolor. “I figured out where he painted it and why he went with a different painting of the same bird,” he says. “It was easy to authenticate. There was a signature on the back. With Audubon, in general, there are no grey areas. People who freak out over spending on anything other than real estate will calm down about it.”

Restoration and conservation, in contrast, is full of grey areas. Audubon conceived of his birds as parts of a multi-volume reference book, not as individuals printed for framed display. Even if he had hit upon the notion of presenting and selling the plates in that manner, his was an age before climate control and UV-resistant glass. For these reasons, a worn, torn, faded, or otherwise injured Audubon print isn’t automatically dead in the eyes of the market. “There is no line that can be absolutely drawn. It’s a question of representation and misrepresentation and how well things are done,” says Oppenheimer, who offers conservation and restoration services through his gallery. “You have to know what you’re doing and know what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”

Rescuing and rejuvenating Audubons can be a crapshoot. Newman recalls buying four prints that had been stored in a bank vault, including a much-coveted roseate spoonbill whose delicate pinks are vulnerable to fading over time. It had been mounted on board at some point in its past. “I gave it to my most competent restorer. She got it off without losing color,” he says. “We gambled and won, but it was still a gamble.”

Purists might grumble about repaired and recolored prints, but not Steiner, who asserts that “damn near anything” is acceptable when it comes to rescuing ailing Audubons. “If he saw the condition of some of the prints today, he’d be horrified and want somebody to fix them and bring them back,” he says. “The alternative is to throw it in the trash or display it in a compromised form, which would piss off Audubon. I like the guy. I want to do what he’d probably want to do.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Kim Keever: Fluid Dynamics Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:08:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Photographer Kim Keever exploits the properties of paint and water in his enigmatic creations.

Kim Keever, Abstract 10166, 2014;

Kim Keever, Abstract 10166, 2014;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Kim Keever, Abstract 13307b, 2014 Kim Keever, Abstract 10166, 2014; Kim Keever, Abstract 7824b, 2014 Kim Keever, Abstract 6196, 2013. Kim Keever, West 38g, 2007;

For nearly 177 years, photography and painting have been engaged in a complicated but ultimately fruitful relationship. They started out feeling threatened by each other: Painting wondered, will photography put me out of a job? Photography wondered, will the art critics ever take me seriously? Today, those questions are, if not resolved, at least less urgent, and the two media have drawn so close that they often seem to merge. We have paintings that look like photographs and photographs that look like paintings. Among the contributors to the contemporary art world’s boundary-breaking experimentation in media, Kim Keever has hit on something truly unique—a photographic art in which paint itself is both the medium and the subject.

The New York-based artist’s latest series of large-scale C-prints depicts amazing microcosms of swirling color and form that could just as easily be abstract paintings as abstractions found in nature, like Stieglitz’s “Equivalents.” The color combinations vary from soothing consistency to outrageous contrast. Contemplating Keever’s pictures, the viewer may see flowers blooming, landscapes above or below the sea, mushroom clouds, or storms in the atmosphere of another planet. The overall impression is one of vastness—aided by the fact that the photos are printed large, on glossy sheets 44 inches across—but actually, as Keever is happy to disclose, the action all unfolds inside a tabletop fish tank. The artist pours paints into it and, using a digital Hasselblad camera, photographs the pigments as they diffuse through the water, interacting with each other in countless, ultimately unpredictable ways.

Keever has control over the choice of colors, the lighting, and of course the moment of exposure. He also has created a mirrored backdrop inside the tank on which he can make marks with paint before the water goes in. Other than that, though, he relinquishes control and lets the laws of physics go to work. Sometimes the clouds of suspended paint come together to form something wonderful; other times, nothing much gels. Keever delights in the unpredictability. “It’s all random,” he says. “There are just so many possibilities. It goes its own way, and I have no control once I’ve poured in the paint. You can’t stir it or it just goes to mud.” When the paint is “flowing nicely,” he says, he’ll keep up a steady pace of shots; the day I visited his studio, in an East Village walkup, the shutter clicked about once every two seconds for a minute or two.

In general, Keever approaches his work with the wide eyes of an explorer. “There’s a dialectic in this between solid form and randomness, and you can get this ‘how the hell did that happen’ effect. These forms are so strange, which is what I’m always after. They’re mesmerizing to watch.” Not surprisingly, Keever has scientific training; he got his degree in thermal engineering and briefly practiced the profession before becoming an artist. He thinks about what goes on in his tank in terms of the science of fluid dynamics (the physical laws that govern how liquids behave) and Brownian motion (the random motion of particles suspended in a liquid, caused by collisions on the molecular and atomic levels). But if the behavior of his raw materials is random, the choice of which configuration to isolate and turn into an artwork is anything but.

At first Keever was a painter, concentrating on landscape, a genre to which he feels a deep connection (born in Manhattan and raised mainly in Chicago, he lived on a farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia for a few formative years as a child). However, he says, “I got bored with painting and was surfing around in my mind, trying to find something else. I started making tabletop models of landscapes, but couldn’t get any atmosphere. Everything looked like Mars.” A friend of his was throwing out an old tank, and that gave Keever an idea. He thought back to something his father showed him when he was a little boy—the way Carnation condensed milk behaves when poured into a glass of water. “Suddenly it made sense to me to take it all and put it in the tank,” he recalls. “The water disperses the light in a way that a landscape does. Water is compressed vapor, which is what we see when we look across the landscape. Maybe I’m compressing all that space and moisture into those two feet of the tank.”

After the tank-immersed landscape dioramas, Keever made some geology-influenced constructions, such as a mountain that eroded over time under water, which he photographed in progressive stages of decay. He then did the same for a sculpture of a human head, which perished similarly. Lately, he’s been experimenting with placing still life elements in the tank and letting the paints swirl around them. One of these was recently commissioned by The New Yorker, as an illustration for an article about edible seaweed. “They brought this big bag of seaweed from Connecticut,” says the artist, “and I just put it in the tank.” The result looks like the “forest primeval” displaced to the floor of the ocean. Keever also did a record-album commission last year; he did the design and illustration for indie-rock neo-folk musician Joanna Newsom’s Diver, which includes several tipped-in miniature versions of Keever’s most recent series of paint photographs. His works also appear in Newsom’s video for the album, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (of The Master and Boogie Nights fame).

Keever’s work has often been compared to that of the Hudson River School and German Romantics such as Caspar David Friedrich, but he is more inclined to cite Cindy Sherman and Roxy Paine as influences. He accepts the comparisons to classic landscape painters, but says, “It was more accidental; they just came out that way. My work basically came out of my own head.” He recalls, “When I was a kid, I would draw and sometimes copy things, and my dad would sort of shame me and tell me not to copy. I always wanted to make something new, and once I started working with tank, I felt I had reached the point where I was.”

By John Dorfman

Floating Earth Tue, 08 Mar 2016 17:50:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Contemporary Japanese ceramicists are transforming an ancient art while staying plugged into tradition.

Tokuda Yasokichi IV, Suicho, 2013

Tokuda Yasokichi IV, Suicho, 2013, porcelain with vivid colored glaze, 6 x 21 inches.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Takeuchi Kozo, Modern Remains, Incus, 2014 Suzuki Sansei, celadon globular jar, circa 1990–95 Tokuda Yasokichi IV, Saiyu Censer, circa 2002 Tashima Etsuko, Cornucopia 09-Y8, 2009 Miyashita Zenji, Yoru to asa no aida: Between Night and Morning, 2012 Fujikasa Satoko, Seraphim, 2015 Tokuda Yasokichi IV, Suicho, 2013

It wafts like smoke, or steam rising from the mouth of a rider-in-waiting on a brutally cold winter morning. It drifts. It undulates. It swirls. It floats like a ballerina in mid-pirouette. It seems light and airy enough to melt away in seconds, and yet it weighs 30 pounds, very much a product of the earth, and it is the product of months of 17-hour days bent over a table, shaping coils of clay by hand and supporting the wet tendrils with armatures.

“It” is Seraphim, a 2015 work of stoneware with white slip-glaze by the 35-year-old Japanese artist Fujikasa Satoko. Manhattan dealer Joan Mirviss’ first encounter with Satoko’s art couldn’t have been more dramatic. She was leading clients on a tour of the Hagi Uragami Museum in Hagi, Japan, in 2011 when a curator invited them to view a collection of pieces by a rising artist to whom they had just given a significant prize. He led the group into a large gallery where 22 of Satoko’s ceramic sculptures were displayed against backdrops of black. “Collectively, truly, there was an exclamation in unison—’Oh My God,’” Mirviss recalls. “Then, ‘Is it for sale? How do we get this?’”

Mirviss became Sakoto’s exclusive agent in the United States and gave her her first solo stateside show last fall. All the pieces in it, Seraphim included, found buyers before they were loaded on a ship for the trip across the Pacific—a first for Mirviss, who has handled contemporary Japanese ceramics since 1984. From April 27 ­­through May 27, she will devote a solo show to Fujino Sachiko, another Japanese artist who builds her alluring flower-like monochromatic works laboriously, by hand. “Neither woman is under any illusion that she’s having a dialogue with the clay,” Mirviss says. “Both these women are sculptors. Not potters, not ceramicists. They are sculptors whose medium is clay.”

Fujikasa and Fujino represent the cutting edge of a tradition with incredibly long and ancient roots; pottery shards discovered near Tokyo and carbon-dated in 1999 were revealed to be 16,000 years old. But old does not equal stale. Contemporary Japanese ceramic artists find inspiration in reinterpreting classic forms, such as the vessels of their culture’s venerated tea ceremony, and they are finding inspiration in simply exploring what clay, and what the alchemy of the kiln, can do. The parade of dazzling delights resulting from their efforts proves that there’s never been a better time to collect.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is embracing the bounty with Tradition Reborn: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics, which opened in July of last year and will continue through July 17. The 24 works in the exhibition distill the talents of multiple generations of Japanese masters; at least one piece is credited to an 11th-generation potter. It also includes the works of seven artists who have earned the title of Living National Treasure from the Japanese government. Among them is Maeta Akihiro, who begins on the potter’s wheel but relies on his uniquely well-honed senses to hand-finish the shapes of his sleek, faceted white porcelain vessels. “How minimal can you get?” says John Teramoto, the IMA’s curator of Asian art. “I’d call them objects of beauty.” Elias Martin of Gallery FW in Chicago, which has handled Maeta’s work for four years, explains the challenges that he faces with each piece: “His work is incredibly difficult [to create] as he strives to achieve a perfect form every single time. Simply creating a well-balanced form on the potter’s wheel is a feat for a master, but Maeta goes one step further, adding graceful lines to his vessels that challenge tradition and the perception of the viewer.”

Everything chosen for Tradition Reborn was made for a purpose. “The history of Japanese ceramic tradition is one of functional works,” says Teramoto. “The idea of ceramics as sculpture, as abstract, as non-functional, dates from the early 20th century.” That said, the definition of “functional” is fairly loose in certain cases. Teramoto says that Wind, a 2001 piece by the late Miyashita Zenji, is functional “only in the most tortured sense.” Small holes at the top of each side enable it to serve as a vase. Whether you thread a pair of cherry blossoms into those holes or you just stand back and glory in the gradations of Miyashita’s thin layers of colored clay—which call to mind misty predawn landscapes—depends on where you were born and raised. Beatrice Chang, art director of the Dai Ichi Arts gallery in Manhattan, offers a variety of vases and tea vessels, but she suspects that her Western clients place them on shelves and pedestals rather than filling them with flowers or tea. “I think sculpture is a Western notion, not a Japanese notion. That also affects sales. The most popular pieces in Japan are functional wares,” she says, adding, “They [The Japanese] don’t think it is not art because it is to be used.”

Dai Ichi’s Asia Week exhibition, which runs from March 10–19, will feature a cheeky and charming porcelain tea bowl by Ueba Kasumi, a 37-year-old artist based in Kyoto. The tea bowl is one of the most storied and venerated forms in Japanese ceramics; it’s not something you attempt until you’re sure of your skills as a ceramic artist. Ueba’s Tea Bowl, Skull & Poppy is a fresh take. “It’s extremely interesting. Her tea bowl structure is so different. It’s feminine and it’s today. The traditional Japanese arts are all blended in this tea bowl,” Chang says, noting that the bow on its rim is a reference to Harajuku, a vibrant, female-driven subculture of Japanese street fashion, and its golden interior recalls the portable gold-decorated tea room commissioned by the 16th century ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Also on display at the Dai Ichi Arts Asia Week exhibition will be a spectacular vase by Suzuki Goro, who works in the puckish Oribe tradition of Japanese ceramics. He employs the characteristic Oribe green glaze to color a vase that seems as alive as any of the evergreens flourishing near his countryside studio. “Each spike is twisted, rolled, and attached on a cylinder body,” Chang says. “The vase is full of energy. It’s like a big tree growing.”

Mirviss’ Asia Week production, which opens on March 10 and continues through April 15, also spotlights a revered class of Japanese functional objects. “A Palette for Genius: Japanese Water Jars for the Tea Ceremony” features 48 pieces by more than 30 artists who focused their attentions on the mizusashi (water jar). Though not as celebrated as the tea bowl—only one mizusashi is needed for a tea ceremony, and the tea-drinkers do not typically hold it in their hands at any point—the ritual can’t go ahead without one. The range of interpretations on view includes Kawase Shinobu’s 2015 celadon version with a black lacquer lid. The use of celadon glaze, which arose in the Sung Dynasty, and the choice of a black lacquer lid are perfectly historical, but the shape of the mizusashi is not. “If you took away its mouth, it would be very classical,” says Mirviss. “He tweaks tradition by pulling the lip open like a calla lily. It’s beautiful, but it references something classical.” Koike Shôko made her mizusashi in the same year as Kawase, but achieves something far more radical than he does. Her innovative shape reimagines the water jar as a rugged white shell, which is at once a bracingly new idea and clearly in tune with the regard for nature that permeates Japanese culture.

In looking at the most innovative contemporary Japanese ceramics, one fact keeps jumping to the fore: a gratifyingly large number of the finest pieces are the handiwork of women. The shift has been a long time coming, and it did not come easily or smoothly for its postwar pioneers. Tsuji Kyo, who died in 2008 and whose antiquity-inspired creations appear at Dai Ichi Arts, ultimately decided to lop the ‘-ko’ off her given name of Kyoko because the suffix announced her gender to critics and judges. Matsuda Yuriko, born in 1943, faced even more galling prejudice in her mid- 20th century youth. She wasn’t allowed near a wood-fired kiln, lest her womanhood somehow violate its Shinto sanctity. Undaunted, she learned to build her artworks by hand and skirted the taboo by firing them in gas-fueled kilns. From a studio near the quintessential Japanese landmark, Mount Fuji, she captured the mountain’s portrait in a porcelain cone and painted to depict it in fall on one side and spring on the other, with blossom-laden trees jutting off of its sides. Even now, the patriarchy’s barbs poke into the lives of female Japanese ceramic artists; if they are married, they can’t yet legally open a bank account in their maiden names, even if it’s the name that they use professionally. (Mirviss says that Japanese women continue to fight this antiquated state of affairs.)

Mirviss represented “very, very few” women when she began dealing in ceramics more than 30 years ago. Things finally changed in the mid- to late 1990s, when artists such as Tsuji and Matsuda came into their own. Today, Japanese women are legion in the ceramics programs of the country’s art schools, and the gender barrier has turned into a gender advantage. “They’re not the sons of sons. They can do what they want. They don’t have to make tea bowls like Grandpa,” Mirviss says. “Most of the creative work coming out of Japan is largely by women. They are doing things that their male counterparts are not doing.”

Maybe the strongest symbol of how powerfully the world of Japanese contemporary ceramics has been transformed is the tale of the two Tokuda Yasokichis—Tokuda Yasokichi III, the father and Living National Treasure honoree, and Tokuda Yasokichi IV, his daughter and the fourth generation of the family to carry that name. Tokuda Yasokichi III was and still is lauded for his contributions to colored glazes for ceramics, expanding the traditional five-hue palette of his father and grandfather to a spectrum of 250. His work, characterized by applying glazes to plates, jars, and other familiar forms of his design, is available through the San Diego, Calif., gallery Oriental Treasure Box, among others. Two pieces each by the father and the daughter appear as a foursome in Tradition Reborn.

Nana Onishi, founder and owner of the namesake Manhattan gallery, carries the work of both Tokuda Yasokichis. “She grew up in the studio, but he kept the family secrets from her. He didn’t want to pass them to her when he was active,” Onishi says. “She told me she asked him so many times. She wanted to make Tokuda Yasokichi ceramics. He would say, ‘You’re not ready.’ They were always fighting,” she says. “Just before he passed away—he was very sick—he called her to the hospital and told her where he kept those secrets in the house.”

The daughter’s first name had been Junko, but after her father’s death in 2009, she started proceedings to change her name to Tokuda Yasokichi IV, formally claiming the artistic mantle of her forefathers. “She uses the same techniques, but her work is more feminine. She uses more curving lines,” Onishi says. The dealer, who is roughly the same age as Tokuda, has convinced her to try new ways of making art. “I want to treat her work as contemporary art. I asked her for a wall piece, and she did it,” she says. “It’s something her father never did.”

The artwork, a 26-inch-diameter plate dubbed Blood Moon, departed from her father’s style in another obvious way by meditating on a single color, a radiant red. Onishi brought Blood Moon to the 2015 Scope Miami Beach fair, where it stirred interest. “She told me in the beginning that she wasn’t sure,” Onishi says. “She felt more comfortable putting more than three different colors [on it]. I said no, simple is better. Now she’s happy.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley