Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:47:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 American Original Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:46:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Jasper Johns’ subtle, enigmatic art has influenced many but can be practiced by no one but its creator.

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1967

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1967, encaustic and collage on canvas (three panels), 85.09 x 142.88 cm. Credit: The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection Art © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Jasper Johns, Untitled, 1992–94 Jasper Johns, Flag, 1967 Jasper Johns, Target, 1961 Jasper Johns, Untitled, 1975

In the only dream he has ever recounted, Jasper Johns saw himself painting the American flag. Having dreamt it, he did it. Flag (1954–55) is five feet wide, its stars and stripes meticulously rendered in encaustic, a medium consisting of beeswax melted and mixed with pigment. After the mid-1950s, Johns usually worked in oil paint or acrylics, and yet he returned to encaustic now and then, most notably in the Crosshatch paintings that preoccupied him during the 1970s. Quizzed about his preference for a medium that has been employed by very few painters since medieval times, Johns said he likes it because it makes a precise record of each touch of the brush. “It drips so far and stops,” he added. “Each discrete moment remains discrete.” This desire for control was remarkable in a time when Willem de Kooning’s brushwork and Jackson Pollock’s drip method were merging colors in surging, improvisatory currents. Their imagery was hot. Johns’ was cool. More than that, his paintings had a disquieting air of pensiveness. And they still do, as is evident at “Something Resembling Truth,” the Johns retrospective now on view at The Broad in Los Angeles (through May 13), presented last year by London’s Royal Academy.

In his early work, Johns did not impose a strict order on the rambunctious energy of the Abstract Expressionists so much as confine it to the linear patterns he found readymade in the American flag, the concentric circles of his Targets, and the repetitive angles of the grids through which he sent numbers and letters marching, zero to nine and A to Z. Traditionally a sign of sincerity, painterly painting acquired from Johns a tone of skepticism. The AbEx claim to heroic self-revelation vanished under a patina of irony. Yet we are not put off by Johns’ elusiveness. On the contrary, his sphinxlike presence in his art has exercised a persistent fascination, in part because it conveys a peculiarly American way of being—one of which certain artists and writers have long been aware, if only intuitively.

In Henry James’ case, of course, this awareness was hyper-conscious. James’ lengthy appreciation of Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1879, makes the point that the earlier novelist’s milieu was not as rich, not as dense with historical and social complexity, as that of his French or English counterparts. In America, wrote James, “The very air looks new and young; the light of the sun seems fresh and innocent, as if it knew as yet but few of the secrets of the world and none of the weariness of shining.” Like his friend, the painter John Singer Sargent, James was more at home in the labyrinthine subtleties of European society than in the improvised openness of American life. By contrast—and this is a contrast as consequential as the one that sets the agrarian Thomas Jefferson at odds with the mercantile Alexander Hamilton—Hawthorne felt at one with that openness, rife as it was with possibilities traceable to early American roots. Viewing the Old World with bemused detachment, he was a model of tolerance in comparison to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who expressed irritation at what he saw as the impacted stasis of Europe. The Grand Tour of its cultural monuments, he felt, is only superficially interesting; one’s time would be better spent by staying at home and cultivating one’s unique and inimitable self. The goal is to find “an original relation to the universe,” as Emerson put it in the introduction to Nature, his still-daunting essay from 1836.

Accepting no mediation from history or tradition, indifferent to cultural norms and social expectations, one creates one’s place in the world from insights prompted by the flow of personal experience. In the process, one creates oneself. Viewed soberly, this is dubious. We cannot, after all, step outside the culture to which we owe the ideas of self and originality. Illogical as it may be, Emerson’s exhortation is still stirring, especially in America, where belief in the possibility of thoroughgoing self-invention remains strong. Call it the Gatsby Syndrome. Turning to postwar American art, we see Jackson Pollock revising utterly the very act of painting. Removing what he called “the eyeglasses of history,” Barnett Newman saw his way to a radically new concept of geometric abstraction—one that extricated painting from the constraints placed on it by Piet Mondrian, who played in Newman’s scenario the part of an Old-World oppressor. To be American is to be free. By painting the American flag, Johns claimed that freedom for himself. Moreover, he joined Pollock and Newman and a few others in the small band of artists who can be said to have achieved an Emersonian degree of originality.

In 1958, Leo Castelli gave Johns his first solo exhibition. With its encaustic Flags and plaster body parts lurking in compartments above deadpan Targets, the show was that year’s sensation. Johns became the artist about whom it was necessary to have an opinion. Detractors saw him as an upstart bent on undermining everything passionate and authentic. Admirers were enchanted by all that surprised them in his paintings—the unapologetic banality of their motifs, the geometric rigidity of their structures, the rubbery elegance of their surfaces. Casting about for a label to apply, Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art came up with “Neo-Dada.” Like Man Ray, Francis Picabia, and other Dadas, Johns introduced the mundane into the realm of high art. Like them, he devised odd juxtapositions. But the label didn’t stick. The spirit of Dada was antic. Johns was calm, disquietingly so. The Dadas were in revolt against the past, bourgeois respectability, even art itself. Immersed in his own subtleties, Johns could not have been less militant. Turning inward, he had achieved at the age of 28 a full measure of self-reliance, that Emersonian virtue; and this gave him an “original relation” not to nature but to art. In the six decades since then, no one has tried to corral him in a stylistic category. Johns stands alone, distant even from the many artists who have borrowed and revised his strategies.

Among the most salient examples are Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and other Pop artists who learned from Johns that art has a place for the readymade iconography of the supermarket. Before there was a Campbell’s Soup Can by Warhol there were Johns’ three-dimensional renderings of a Savarin Coffee can and two Ballantine Ale cans, both from 1960. Lichtenstein’s comic-book images of love and war were preceded by Johns’s Alley Oop (1958), which deploys a field of orange paint as a backdrop for a multipaneled page from the comic strip by that name. Alley Oop and the other characters are masked by touches of paint that set them adrift in a border region between the abstract and the figurative. Dispensing with these ambiguities, the Pop artists opted for sharp edges and inflected patches of color. So did the Minimalists, whose further borrowings from Johns included grids, symmetries, and the literalism of his early sculptures.

The quasi-Minimalist patterns of Frank Stella’s black stripe paintings evolved directly from the red and white stripes of the Johnsian Flag. And Brice Marden’s early monochromes reprise, with slight shifts in hue, the blank passages in Johns’s early gray paintings. By the end of the 1960s, Johns was recognized as the era’s most influential painter, for he had established for that moment the look of serious art. This authority was unsought and of course many resisted it, yet the New York art scene of the following decade was crowded with newcomers performing ham-fisted variations on Johns’s sooty, ruminative brushwork. His influence did not, however, make him a chef d’école. Though there has always been much for other artists to learn from Johns, he has never displayed a teacher’s approachability. Artists must borrow from a distance, across the immense gap that separates his sensibility from theirs. It is possible to paint a Picassoid painting or de Kooningesque painting, but only Johns can paint a Johnsian painting.

Presiding over a landscape we cannot imagine sharing with him, a Flag by Johns is the symbol of an America of his own devising, a New World populated solely by him and built in part from old-fashioned objects and logos and typefaces recalled from his childhood in South Carolina. Thus, Johns takes his place in our imaginations by occupying a place far from the rest of us but very near our ideals of self-sufficiency. He exemplifies independence, his solitude moderated only by his use of motifs borrowed from other artists.

The first of these was Marcel Duchamp. Never officially a Dada, Duchamp was nonetheless sympathetic to the spirit of Dadaism, and his use of readymade objects and images seemed to find an echo in Johns’s Flags and Alphabets. Hence the attempt to attach the “Neo-Dada” label to these paintings. The “Neo” prefix implies a conscious development of an earlier style, as in Neoimpressionism or Neo-Geo. Yet Johns was unaware of Duchamp and his work until the 1958 exhibition at Castelli suggested a connection to artworld denizens on the look-out for historical patterns. “Everyone said my work was Dada,” Johns recalled in 1970, “so I read up on it, went to Philadelphia to see the Arensberg Duchamp collection, was delighted by it.” Soon afterward, the artists met and liked one another.

Duchampian devices began to appear in the young painter’s work—color charts, painted shadows, real objects in place of representations. A note in Duchamp’s Green Box (1934) describes a hinged painting. Johns used hinges to affix a small canvas to the surface of a big painting called According to What (1964). Swing the small canvas outward and one sees a Johnsian version of Duchamp’s Self Portrait in Profile (1958). Yet this homage did not make him Duchamp’s acolyte any more than his paintings of the stars and stripes made him a flag-waving patriot. Johns claimed the Duchamp portrait for himself by giving it a modest place amid the carefully deployed clutter of According to What—the alphabetical fragments, rendered here in raised aluminum; the wax cast of a leg seated on an upside-down chair; the photo-silkscreen of a newspaper page; the coat hanger; the gray scale; the emotionally reserved variations on Abstract Expressionist brushwork.

An incomplete list of Johns’s other sources might include Pablo Picasso, the 16th-century German painter Matthias Grunewald, Leonardo da Vinci, the illustrator Barry Moser, and an eccentric early 20th-century American potter named George Ohr. Regrets, a series of paintings and prints from 2013–14, takes a complex shape from a John Deakin photograph of the young Lucian Freud seated on a bed with an anguished hand pressed against his forehead. Identifiable only after Johns provided a clue, this form is anything but photographic now that he has subjected it to a multi-colored revision. Whatever Johns touches becomes his own, an emblem of him, whether it is an obscure borrowing or one of the body-imprints he transferred to paper in 1962. Fully present in his art, he is nonetheless its principal enigma. And his commentaries raise more questions than they answer.

Asked about the origins of his Crosshatch paintings, Johns said that he first glimpsed this pattern on a passing car, adding, “I only saw it for a second, but knew immediately that I was going to use it. It had all the qualities that interest me—literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of a complete lack of meaning.” Of course, that is only one possibility offered by Johns’s art. Another is an overwhelming plethora of meaning, an abundance all the more formidable because it is up to us to generate it from an immersion in his world. Johns is of course nearby. His shadow falls across all four panels of The Seasons (1987). Yet he is not about to step forward with any definitive explanations.

By Carter Ratcliff

Sculpting History Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:13:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition in Fort Worth, Tex., explores four European-born artists who made their careers in America.

Gaston Lachaise, Woman Seated

Gaston Lachaise, Woman Seated, modeled 1918, cast 1925, bronze, 12 in. (h).

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Gaston Lachaise, Man Walking Gaston Lachaise, Woman Seated Robert Laurent, The Bather, circa 1925 Elie Nadelman, Acrobat, 1916 William Zorach, Spirit of the Dance, 1932

A current exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, “A New American Sculpture, 1914–1945: Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman, and Zorach,” showcases four pivotal sculptors working in America during the first few decades of the 20th century. The show, which runs through May 13, features some 55 sculptures and 20 drawings by Gaston Lachaise, Robert Laurent, Elie Nadelman, and William Zorach. Each of these artists came to the United States as immigrants—Lachaise and Laurent from France, Nadelman from Poland, and Zorach from Lithuania—but helped define American art’s unique identity during the interwar period. Their innovative approaches to sculpture, in both concept and construction, helped shape modernism, while their widespread influences and pioneering collecting habits have had an indelible influence on fellow artists and collectors for decades.

The exhibition, which ran last year at the Portland Museum of Art (its co-organizer), is uniquely suited to the Fort Worth, Tex.-based institution. “Part of the Amon Carter’s identity is a strong sense of early modernism,” says Shirley Reece-Houghes, curator of painting and sculpture at the museum. “It was something Louise Carter Stevenson wanted to nurture at the museum.” The Amon Carter’s collection includes works by Lachaise, Nadelman, and Laurent. “We wanted to be able to contextualize some of our collection,” says Reece-Houghes.

One of the pieces in the museum’s collection, and a standout of the show, is Lachaise’s Woman Seated (modeled 1918, cast 1925). The sculpture portrays the artist’s wife and muse, Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he fell in love with in Europe and followed to America (Nagle was married when she first met Lachaise but eventually divorced and married the artist). The subject’s pose, with its legs crossed and arms folded, exudes regal confidence, yet there is a casual cool that seems oddly more American than European. The subject’s dress, shoes, and hairpiece are nickel-plated, which gives them a radiant sheen. Lachaise had training as a jeweler and typically worked in bronze casting. After he came to America, he became interested in electroplating, which was one of the ways in which he pushed sculpture forward. As in Woman Seated, Lachaise’s electroplating techniques allowed for a variety of patina, sheen, and color—a variation from most bronze cast sculpture, which is all of one color.

Another innovative piece in the exhibition—and in the Amon Carter’s collection—is Head (Abstraction), a 1916 sculpture by Laurent made of carved mahogany. Laurent’s talents were recognized by art connoisseur Hamilton Easter Field when Laurent was just 12 years old, and Field brought him to New York in the 1910s. This piece was made within years of Laurent’s arrival in America and was one of his first direct carvings in the round. “There was no plan, no sketch, “ says Reece-Houghes. “He took a block of mahogany and started carving away.” Of the process of direct carving Laurent said, “What I enjoy the most is cutting direct in the materials, starting generally without any preconceived idea, preferably into a block of stone, alabaster or wood having an odd shape…It keeps you awake, looking for something to show up.”

Zorach also experimented with carving directly and responding to materials spontaneously. Young Boy, a 1921 sculpture in the exhibition, is an early example of his use of the technique. The artist, who moved with his family from Lithuania to Ohio as a child, left America to train as a painter in Paris in 1910. In New York in 1912, he married Marguerite Thompson, an American artist he met in Paris, and both artists were represented the following year in the famous 1913 Armory Show. Zorach was highly aware of the trends in Paris but forged ahead to create something new in America. “Gauguin had started hand-carving directly onto a block of wood, so the technique was part of a modernist momentum that started in Europe,” says Reece-Houghes. “But through the idea of truth to materials, Laurent and Zorach revitalized sculpture in America.”

It wasn’t just technique that shaped these artists’ unique brand of modernism; it was also their influences, particularly those that were considered “primitive” at the time. Zorach attended a show of African art at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in 1911—Young Boy seems particularly indebted to African and Oceanic art—and examined Aztec, Mayan, and Inuit carvings at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. His admiration of Cycladic and Egyptian figures can be seen in The Artist’s Daughter, a 1930 piece directly carved from marble. Laurent was also impressed by African sculpture, which he observed as a youth during a visit to Picasso’s studio. The characteristics of African masks and the markings of Japanese woodblock ukiyo-e prints, which were also a leading influence on Laurent, appear quite clearly in Head (or Mask) (circa 1915, walnut on marble base). Nile Maiden and Princess, both circa-1914 carved wood panels, reference Egyptian and African art rather directly in both subject and style.

However, one influence in particular set these artists apart from their peers in Europe and America—American folk art. At the turn of the 20th century, most American artists and collectors were completely uninterested in folk art, but these artists saw the tradition with new eyes. Laurent, who established a summer art colony with Field in Ogunquit, Maine, began collecting American folk art from local sales as a means to furnish the fishing shacks the artists were living and working in. Zorach, who also had a house in Maine, looked to carvings in the American folk art tradition for inspiration. “These immigrant artists were some of the first to delve into folk art,” says Reece-Houghes. “They were trying to assimilate to American culture, but it was also part of the modernist sensibility to look at a lot of sources.”

Nadelman became deeply entrenched in American folk Art as both an inspiration for his own work and as a lifelong collecting passion. The Polish artist amassed a collection of thousands of pieces with his wife, the heiress Viola Flannery, and erected the Museum of Folk Arts in Riverdale, N.Y., in 1925. Nadelman is best known for his cherry wood sculptures, which he created models for and had craftsman execute. As with Chef d’Orchestre (circa 1919, cherry wood, stained and gessoed), a sculpture in the show and the Amon Carter’s collection, Nadelman would create a weathered look by applying a gesso made of plaster of Paris, glue, and color. “He was inspired by his collection of cigar-store Indians and painted wood sculptures,” says Reece-Houghes. “He was meshing ideas of modernist tech with historical appearance.”

Dancer (1918), a cherry and mahogany sculpture by Nadelman, referenced the trade and shop figures in the artist’s collection. The piece is actually modeled after Eva Tanguay, a vaudeville dancer renowned for her high kicks. Dance is a major subject for these artists, either in the modernist vein à la Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis or popular American entertainment like Minsky’s burlesque or the circus. Many works in the show directly address dance and acrobatics: Nadelman’s sprightly Acrobat (1916, bronze) and playful Tango (circa 1920–24, painted and gessoed cherry wood)—based on the partner dance that had made its way to America from Argentina in the 1920s and become an absolute craze; Lachaise’s gravity-defying Acrobat (1927, bronze) and Two Floating Nude Acrobats (1922, bronze); and Zorach’s dramatic Spirit of the Dance (1932, bronze). But even when not so literal, the notion of portraying bodies in motion captivated these artists, which is palpable in the show’s selection of drawings. Some works in their own right, others studies for sculptures, the drawings beam with exuberant examples of life captured in graceful lines.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Grant Wood’s Ride Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:09:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new exhibition shows the full evolution of a thoroughly American artist.

Grant Wood,  Spring in Town, 1941

Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1941, oil on wood, 26 x 24.5 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1941 Grant Wood, Spring Turning, 1936 Grant Wood, Lilies of the Alley, 1925 Grant Wood, Self-Portrait, 1932/1941 Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930

The Whitney Museum of American Art didn’t plan for its highly anticipated Grant Wood retrospective—“Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables” (March 2–June 10)—to open during this specific moment in our culture. “It’s luck more than planning,” says Barbara Haskell, the exhibition’s curator and a longtime curator at the Whitney. “It just happened that the world that Grant Wood flourished in is so similar to the world we’re living in now.” The exhibition acts as a “springboard,” says Haskell, for conversations that pervade the current moment as they did Wood’s 1930s, such as the divergent concerns of urban and rural life, notions of anti-elitism, and a general reinvestigation of what the country values. Fortuitous as it may be, the show is also long overdue—Wood hasn’t had a major museum retrospective in New York since the early ’80s (a 1983 show at the Whitney, actually) and barely a handful of surveys outside the Midwest since 1935.

Wood, along with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, led the charge of Regionalist painting. A Virgil-like figure, he helped shape the American mythology of the 1930s and ’40s, in part by looking backward to a seemingly simpler, idealized past. He painted scenes of late-19th-century Midwestern farm life that he culled from his Iowa childhood. Though Wood was a bona fide farm boy—he famously said, “All the really good ideas I’ve ever had came to me while I was milking a cow”—his work, with its pristine, rolling fields, endless sunlight, and noble farmers, falls prey to the enduring human folly of nostalgia for a time that didn’t really exist. Far from making it a sham, however, this aspect of Wood’s work is what makes it uncannily relatable; his paintings don’t mirror American life, they mirror the way Americans think about American life.

This month, nearly every painting from Wood’s mature period, 1930–45, will be on view at the Whitney. Many of them will be leaving Iowa for the first time, and the ubiquitous American Gothic (1930) will join them, making a rare trip from Chicago. The painting catapulted Wood to fame after it was first exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1930. Since then, it has been recreated and riffed on endlessly. In fact, it stands to reason that even if one has been living under the proverbial rock, there’s probably a parody of American Gothic scratched under there somewhere. “It’s the American Mona Lisa,” says Haskell, who adds that the museum is prepared for viewers to take a lot of selfies with it. “It’s so American; it’s a stereotype; it’s humorous; it seems real—Wood had an extremely well-honed formal sensibility that gives it a sharp, almost photographic realism; and there’s a sort of mystery about it,” says Haskell. “But it’s not an outlier, it’s emblematic of the other work.”

The “other work,” including The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, a 1931 oil on Masonite painting that entered the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950, is fairly famous in its own right. Taking its subject from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1863 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” the painting depicts the American patriot and silversmith dashing through a colonial Massachusetts town on horseback. The scene is shown from bird’s-eye-view and illuminated with Hollywood-style spot lighting. Its geometric greenery and block-like houses seem almost like the pieces of an architectural model or play kit. Yet it’s this stylization that makes it seem like such an important part of Americana, as if it were a page in the scrapbook of the country’s history. In Daughters of Revolution (1932, oil on composition board), which travels to the show from the Cincinnati Art Museum, Wood provides a satirical view of American history. It is said that the Daughters of the American Revolution criticized Wood after he sourced glass from Germany, America’s enemy in World War I, for a stained-glass window at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (the window is represented at half-scale in the show). Five years later, Wood painted three models as DAR members in front of a depiction of Washington Crossing the Delaware, a heroic painting created by a German artist. A few critics have also suggested that the three women are in fact depictions of Founding Fathers in drag.

Several of the 130 works in the exhibition showcase Wood’s work outside of painting. Wood began his career as a decorative artist firmly rooted in the Arts and Crafts Movement (these beginnings helped form his view that art is democratic and should be for everyone). His Hanging Lampshade with Peacock Motif (circa 1910–20, stained glass, metal, and wood) reflects the period between 1910 and 1920 when he studied at the Handicraft Guild in Minneapolis, joined the Kola Arts and Crafts Community House, and opened the Volund Crafts Shop and showed jewelry and metalwork at the Art Institute of Chicago—all before moving back to Cedar Rapids in 1916. His Corn Cob Chandelier for Iowa Corn Room, a fixture he made in 1925 that is bound to be a crowd pleaser at the Whitney, shows Wood embracing his home state as subject matter. But his decorative work wasn’t limited to the period before his painting career took off in 1930, as evidenced by his Steuben glass vase, his Spring Plowing fabric design, armchair and ottoman, and the book covers and illustrations, such as those for the Sinclair Lewis novel Main Street.

The exhibition also features several examples of the artist’s Impressionist paintings and commissioned work made prior to the development of his mature style, such as The Runners, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris (1924, oil on composition board) and Market Place, Nuremberg (1928, oil on canvas). Wood traveled abroad four times during the 1920s, seduced by the long-held belief of many American artists that Europe was artistically superior to their home country (later Wood would say, “In time, American art will be as different from European art as is American life. . . . Culture can’t be an imported product”). Though the French Impressionists were his leading influences for the first two decades of his career, the work of Northern Renaissance painters, such as Hans Memling and Albrecht Dürer, began to steer him toward the more detailed and orderly style of his mature period, as seen in the pivotal work Portrait of John B. Turner, Pioneer (1928/30, oil on canvas). A 1921 commission for the National Masonic Research Society building in Anamosa, Iowa, The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry (oil on canvas), is particularly evocative of his art viewing in Europe. The triptych’s three panels represent the three degrees; in its left panel Wood reproduces a 1915 sculpture by a Czech artist, in its right Rodin’s The Thinker, and in its center Michelangelo’s David is doubled to symbolize the duality of man.

The Whitney will showcase examples of Wood’s murals through various means. Three panels of Fruits of Iowa, a seven-panel mural Wood painted to decorate the coffee shop at the Hotel Montrose in Cedar Rapids in 1932, will be in the exhibition. The museum will have original film footage of Wood’s celebrated “Ames murals” at Iowa State College at Ames projected in the gallery. Wood’s monumental figures and the way he depicted the back-breaking work of rural farmers as pure and beautiful were hugely influential for WPA artists. “Artists were imitating his work nationally,” says Haskell. “I’ve found articles that refer to his copy cats as “Grant Wood-ers”—and it’s true, that very crisp style that he inaugurated is in almost all of the WPA murals.”

During the early 20th century, critics were calling for American artists to break free from the European canon and create work that was intrinsically American. Wood was hugely instrumental in shaping what seemed like purely American art during the Depression and the advent of World War II, and reciprocally he felt a sense of responsibility to American culture. “Roosevelt said in a speech to Congress that it was important for the people to defend what they believed. Wood took that to heart and thought it was up to artists to revive patriotism,” says Haskell. Parson Weems’ Fable (1939, oil on canvas), which depicts the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, was part of a planned series of paintings focused on renewing American folktales. With the rise of Fascism, Wood decided to create a series of paintings that showed fellow Americans what they stood to lose. Spring in the Country (1941, oil on composition board) and Spring in Town (1941, oil on wood), both in the show, were the only two paintings he completed in that series and the last two he made before he died. In both paintings the sun shines, flowers bloom, and the people work.

Lurking under Wood’s Arcadian confections, however, is an undeniable disquietude. “He represents this bucolic world—the ordered fields and Midwestern archetypes—yet there’s this frozen, airless solitude,” says Haskell. “Both these things operate together to give the work an intensely emotional aspect.” Wood was deeply devoted to the landscape of his home state and the imagery of his country, but he was a shy, deeply closeted gay artist. He was successful but also an outsider, which likely resulted in the unshakable sense of alienation and sorrow in his work. Yet, if one thing has been proven through 241 years of culture, social rigors aside, it’s that America holds special regard for outsiders.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Empire Style Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:03:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In Napoleon’s palaces and beyond, aesthetics served politics but also achieved greatness.

Andrea Appiani, Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte

Andrea Appiani, Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul, in the Uniform of a General in the Army of Italy, 1801, oil on canvas.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Sèvres Imperial Manufactory, Tea service called “green ground, groups of flowers,” Pierre-Antoine Bellangé, Presentation armchair for the Grand Salon of the King of Rome’s apartment at the Tuileries Sèvres Imperial Manufactory, decoration painted by Joseph Deutsch Joseph Franque, The Empress Marie-Louise Watching Over the Sleeping King of Rome Andrea Appiani, Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte Bust-length Portrait of Napoleon in Ceremonial Robes

The French Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville observed, was “so inevitable yet completely unforeseen.” The crisis of 1789 was inevitable because the social and intellectual life of 18th-century France had fallen “out of kilter” with its oligarchic political system and its indebted economy.

The development of the Revolution from reform to regicide and democracy to tyranny might have been foreseeable in theory. Plato had warned in the Republic that oligarchic government decayed into democracy and tyranny. In 1790, when the Revolution was still in its first phase of constitutional reform, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France had predicted that France would become a modern tyranny.

Still, the Revolution, Tocqueville wrote in 1856, represented the birth of a “new and unknown kind” of politics. There had been revolutions before, but never of such “immoderate, violent, radical, desperate, audacious, almost mad, and nonetheless powerful character.” Perhaps the two decades of war that followed could have been foreseen. The other European oligarchies feared democracy, and the revolutionaries dreamt of exporting their experiment. The European wars that followed fulfilled the fears and dreams of both sides and produced the modern spectacle of “the nation at arms.”

No one, though, could have foreseen the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte from provincial artillery officer to emperor. Bonaparte embodied the attributes that Tocqueville detected in the Revolution, but in fulfilling its aspirations for a new society Napoleon destroyed its ideal of liberty. The Revolution that began with liberté, égalité, fraternité led to mass executions, civil war, and secret police, and then, in 1804, to the rise of a modern Caesar.

“Napoleon: Art and Court Life in the Imperial Palace,” on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through May 6, reconstructs the iconography of Napoleon’s brief but transformative residence at the Château de Fontainebleau, near Paris, through more than 250 objects. Curated by Sylvain Cordier of the Montreal MFA, with the participation of the Musée Château de Fontainebleau, the exhibition is a lavish visual demonstration of the historical paradox that Tocqueville saw at the heart of the Revolution.

Before 1789, France had been a centralizing autocracy, fostering an uneasy mixture of Enlightenment ideals and a cult of hereditary leadership. After 1804, it became one again. The distribution of land and authority had changed, and so had the legal code and the ruling dynasty, but the state remained paramount and the centralization of power had intensified. The velocity of change after 1789, Tocqueville believed, had derived from the accumulated momentum of reform before 1789.

Before the Revolution, Fontainebleau served as a stage for the Bourbon monarchy’s more relaxed performances. Etiquette was less strict than at the Palace of Versailles. Each autumn, the estate offered ideal country for hunting and riding. The château’s attractions included a theater and a Classically-themed silver Boudoir de la Reine, a private space between the king and queen’s bedchambers in which Marie Antoinette could receive her friends. After 1789, the royal furniture was sold off and Fontainebleau converted into a military academy.

In November 1803, Napoleon visited to inspect the academy and its cadets. Napoleon was then the first among equals of the three Consuls who ruled France. Pursuing his Classical theme, he was preparing to declare himself emperor and the Bonaparte family the fount of a new dynasty. In June 1804, he gave orders for the restoration of Fontainebleau as an autumnal hunting lodge, just as it had been under the Bourbon kings. He returned in November 1804, when he was en route for Paris and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, where he expected Pope Pius VII to crown him Emperor of the French.

When the pope wavered, Napoleon crowned himself. Fontainebleau bore the fingerprints of France’s kings: Francis I’s long gallery, with its frescoes by Rosso Fiorentino; Henri II’s ballroom, with the arms of his wife, Catherine de’ Medici, on the walls and ceiling, along with the discreet monogram of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers; Henri IV’s wing and his Jeu de Paume indoor tennis court; and Louis XIV’s Grand Parterre, said to be the largest planned garden in Europe. Napoleon, the legislator who remade France and Europe, now remade Fontainebleau in his image as a key institution of his empire.

The imperial initial “N,” surrounded by a laurel wreath, was welded onto the front gates. Egyptian motifs recalled the loot and ambitions of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1795, though not its ignominious end in 1798, when the hero sailed for France, leaving his plague-sick army behind. A wing was pulled down to make the entrance more stately. A new empress, Josephine, installed new furniture in the silver boudoir.

The Empire Style predated Napoleon in inspiration, and postdated him in terminology. The formal roots of French Neoclassicism lie in the glorification of Louis XIV (1643–1715), who centralized his power at the Palace of Versailles and glamorized his Bourbon family by association with the arts of ancient Rome. French Neoclassicism was named “Empire Style” during the Second Empire, the reign of Napoleon’s nephew Louis Napoleon (1851–71), a triumph of style over content whose rule ended, like that of his uncle, in defeat at the hands of the Prussians and exile in a location chosen by the British. The stage for Napoleon’s empire was that of Louis XIV, explicitly in the Tuileries Palace in central Paris and with greater subtlety at Fontainebleau.

Long before 1789, the French refurbishment of Classical motifs had spread across the courts of Europe. Through Napoleon’s conquests, the aesthetic handbook had taken political form. By writing a new European corpus of law, the Napoleonic Code, and dispatching his brothers and sisters to fill the thrones of his subject kingdoms, Napoleon recast Europe in the legal and dynastic image of France. The French Classical style now embodied Europe’s new order. The combination of imperial imagery and a dynamic emperor was capable of shaping political reality. In 1806, when Napoleon retaliated against Britain’s blockade of France’s ports by declaring the Continental System, he created the first unitary European economy since the Roman Empire.

Napoleon’s official architects, Charles Percier and Pierre-Léonard Fontaine, had already updated the austere lines and lavish gilding of Bourbon Classicism for the Empress Josephine’s chateau at Malmaison, near Paris. They intended Fontainebleau to become the quintessential expression of the French style. The emperor’s relatives arrived to flesh out the dynasty, and an army of servants established the Imperial Household, a new court which both revived and reinvented the royal household.

The Imperial Household consisted of six departments, each headed by a grand marshal. The grand chaplain negotiated matters spiritual, the grand master of the hunt organized matters equestrian, and the grand marshal of the palace, the grand master of ceremonies, the grand chamberlain, and the grand equerry choreographed the orbit of pageantry around the emperor’s body.

Napoleon was not an absolute monarch like Louis XIV. “L’état, c’est moi,” the Sun King had said: “I am the state.” The Revolution had replaced custom and divine right with a constitution. Though Napoleon frequently displayed authoritarian contempt for procedure, he was technically a constitutional monarch. If Pius VII wavered in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, it was because Napoleon had gained authority by might, not right. He had not been sanctified by royal birth or sacred inheritance, like the kings of the Ancien Régime.

The display of Napoleon’s legitimacy changed to reflect his inheritance of the Revolution. Historically, sacred inheritance had been staged in the site of its reproduction in the private royal apartments: the royal bedchamber. In the Grand Appartement du Roi at Versailles, Louis XIV had Classicized this medieval model, with a sequence of increasingly impressive chambers leading to the center of the mis-en-scène, the royal bedchamber, with the bed as its altar of consecration.

In Napoleon’s Fontainebleau, however, the throne room became the central stage. Authority, instead of being constituted in the body of the king, was legally conferred upon the sovereign by the constitution and by enthronement. Before the Revolution, the royal bedchamber was attended by the aristocracy; now, the throne room is the apex of the institutions of government. The emperor in his throne room is a spectacle of modern power.

In 1701, Hyacinthe Rigaud’s Portrait de Louis XIV en costume de sacre had represented the Sun King in his “sacral robes” of coronation. The throne before which Louis XIV stood was merely a chair, and the Classical setting was as grand and unreal as the mythological activities on the foreshore of a Claude sunset. Monarchic power was wherever the monarch happened to be, and the throne was wherever he sat.

In 1806, it was not sufficient that Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres depicted Napoleon enthroned in his sacral costume. The frontal presentation and scepter in Ingres’ portrait echoed the Olympian Zeus of Phidias, the pantocrator (“world-ruler”) of Byzantine iconography, God the Father from Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, and Charlemagne, the medieval Holy Roman Emperor.

This modern spectacle resurrected the trappings of sacred legitimacy from the costume trunk of the older orders. The tasks of the Imperial Household included the commission and funding of a new iconography. The opening sequence of “Art and Court Life in the Imperial Palace” describes the mutation of Napoleon’s image. The First Consul is the general who has become the head of state in order to save the republic and finish the Revolution. One portrait, reflecting the search for a new imagery of republican power, echoes Gilbert Stuart’s full-length 1796 portrait of George Washington. After 1804, the republican image dissolves rapidly, and the figure of the imperial monarch emerges. An explicit historical precedent is a bust of the Augustus, the emperor who became a god, loaned to the exhibition from the Louvre.

Napoleon disapproved of the Ingres portrait. Ingres erred by an excess of Classicism. In flattering earthly power, he had revealed the heavenly sources of political legitimacy. The Revolution had annulled the Church’s sanction when it had nationalized the Church’s lands and sacked the altars. Did Napoleon dismiss Ingres’ image for its clerical nostalgia, or because it revealed his usurpation?

In 1846, the art critic for the Corsaire Satan, Charles Baudelaire, reviewed an exhibition of Neoclassical paintings from the years of the Revolution and the First Empire. The art seemed as “harsh and despotic as the revolution from which it was born.” Baudelaire particularly enjoyed Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801–05), and his Assassination of Marat (1793). “Cruel like Nature, this scene has all the perfume of the ideal.”

Napoleon preferred the contemporaneous portrait by François Gerard. As the pupil of David, the official artist of the Revolution, Gerard had the right aesthetic pedigree and the right iconographic impulse. Gerard’s Napoléon I en costume de sacre is staged in the throne room at Fontainebleau, in front of the real throne. The emperor’s head may have been painted after the Louvre’s bust of Augustus.

“It is legal because I wish it,” Louis XIV had explained. But Napoleon’s imperial wish was not fulfilled in law. His empire lasted little more than 10 years before he met his Waterloo. Many of Percier and Fontaine’s designs for Fontainebleau remained paper dreams. Fontainebleau, Napoleon said, was “a house for the ages,” but he was not able to remake it for his age and image. The Napoleonic additions to Fontainebleau exist in the ambience of Louis XIV. As “Art and Court Life in the Imperial Palace” illustrates with loans from McGill University, a counter-flow of images cartooned Napoleon as a tyrant.

In 1814, his enemies having taken Paris, Napoleon fled to Fontainebleau. Deposed by the Senate, he attempted suicide and made a farewell speech to the officers of the Old Guard from the palace’s central staircase. In 1815, during the Hundred Days that revived and then dashed his hopes of restoration, he returned to Fontainebleau for two hours on the road to Waterloo. In his final exile at St. Helena, Napoleon pined for Fontainebleau, “the true abode of kings.”

By Dominic Green

Making Impressions Tue, 27 Feb 2018 18:56:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Modern and contemporary artists prove that when it comes to printmaking, there is no place in the world quite like Japan.

Shuji Wako, Open Secret (Mt. Fuji)

Shuji Wako, Open Secret (Mt. Fuji), lithograph

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Kawase Hasui, Zojoji Shiba, 1925 Shuji Wako, Open Secret (Mt. Fuji) Hiromitsu Takahashi, Moshitsu, stencil print Shiko Munakata, Our Benefactor in the Mountains Keisuke Yamamoto, A Cloister, 2013, lithograph

The classic era of the Japanese woodblock print—created by artists such as Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, and Kuniyoshi—came to an end just before the 20th century began. Western art and technology, as well as the social and economic conditions of the Meiji period, created a new world of art and publishing in Japan, which did not have room in it for the old-style prints, or ukiyo-e. However, printmaking as a medium never died out; it reinvented itself, melding tradition with modernity, remaining fully Japanese while also belonging fully to the international contemporary art world. The craft of printmaking, in particular, continues to thrive in Japan. “Nobody prints the way the Japanese do, with such a sense of craft and tradition,” says Allison Tolman, a dealer of Japanese prints based in New York and Tokyo. “So many foreigners go there to print and learn printmaking.” In fact, one of the noteworthy features of the contemporary Japanese print scene is the presence of Western artists who use Japanese methods and whose work openly shows influence from Japanese culture.

Around a decade after the death of the last great master of ukiyo-e, Yoshitoshi, in 1892, two new movements in Japanese printmaking were launched, shin hanga (“new prints”) and sosaku hanga (“creative prints”). The latter was actually the first to emerge, although it took several more decades for it to really establish itself in the art world. In traditional Japanese printmaking, the artist created the design, while the blocks were carved by a different artisan and the inking and printing was done by yet another person. The whole process was a publishing enterprise rather than an act of individual self-expression. By contrast, sosaku hanga was DIY printmaking—“self-designed, self-carved, self-printed.” The first Japanese print of this kind is thought to be Kanae Yamamoto’s Fisherman (1904), which owes a great deal to Western woodcut technique and, in contrast to the wildly chromatic ukiyo-e, uses a muted two-color scheme, like a European “chiaroscuro” print. Sosaku hanga didn’t catch on with the buying public at that time, and it wasn’t until after World War II that it came into its own as the dominant school of printmaking. In 1951, when two sosaku hanga artists, Yamamoto and Kiyoshi Saito, won prizes at the São Paulo Biennale, international as well as Japanese recognition came to the school, and from then on, one-artist work has been the norm in Japanese printmaking.

From around 1915 through the war years, however, shin hanga was the standard, favored by Japanese as well as American print collectors. Shin hanga (“new prints”) tended to return to many of the themes of earlier Japanese printmaking—landscapes, cityscapes, beautiful women—but with a more explicitly “luxury” approach to the finish of the inked surfaces and with a certain indebtedness to European art styles such as Impressionism. Unlike sosaku hanga, shin hanga were executed the old way, by team effort. Kawase Hasui’s Zojoji Shiba (1925), a memorable image of a woman walking into a snowstorm, is emblematic of shin hanga, with its slightly updated, technically polished take on an old subject. It is worth noting that, in a prefiguration of what is happening today, some of the earliest shin hanga were by Western artists, who were commissioned by the pioneering print publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. Today’s Western-born artists on the Japanese printmaking scene include Daniel Kelly, Sarah Brayer, and Joshua Rome.

To the extent that Japanese printmakers drew inspiration from foreign sources, sosaku hanga, especially in the 1950s, looked to European avant-garde modernism, including abstractionism, in contrast to the more conservative Western models for shin hanga. But both schools, as well as many (but not all) contemporary artists, remained very connected to Japanese traditional religion, history, and aesthetics, which in the case of certain sosaku hanga artists manifested itself in a fondness for folk-culture imagery. Shiko Munakata (1903–75), for example, often depicted Buddhist subjects in a folk or naïve style, as can been seen in his print Our Benefactor in the Mountains. He also made works such as Banri Hen-un Nashi (Cloudless), that refer to traditional Zen calligraphy. Yoshitoshi Mori (1898–1992) made many colorful prints of grotesque, humorous figures from Japanese legends, such as Devil’s Drum. Kiyoshi Saito (1907–97) took a more austere approach, frequently making works that refer to modernist architecture and sculpture. Junichiro Sekino (1914–88), also found architecture alluring, but in his case the subjects were often old Japanese temples framed by flowers and ponds.

Works by these four printmakers were recently on view in an exhibition at Ronin Gallery in New York titled “Modern Masters: Collecting Memories of Post-War Japan.” David Libertson, the owner of Ronin, says, “All of these artists are interpreting their material in different ways, but all speak to the passage of time and state of flux in Japanese society. All incorporate Western elements, but all are proud to reference their heritage in a truly modern and contemporary way. Pride shines through in every one of these works.”

As for today’s printmaking world in Japan, the keyword is diversity, according to Tolman, a second-generation dealer whose parents came to Tokyo with the U.S. Foreign Service, became obsessed with print collecting, and stayed. “Today’s printmakers are mining the internet for inspiration; they’re in touch with so many more things than ever before.” Artists are responding to current events; Tolman mentions that the 2011 earthquake and tsunami generated many dark and disturbing prints, and cites Mayumi Oda as an artist who combines inspiration from Buddhism with an interest in environmentalism.

Traditional themes and concepts are being presented in more and more innovative ways. For example, Shuji Wako’s Open Secret looks at first glance like a bunch of colorful textiles thrown over a black backdrop. On closer inspection, one suddenly realizes that the negative space is the outline of Mount Fuji, one of the most iconic Japanese print subjects, hiding in plain sight. In Japanese Classic Calendar, Katsunori Hamanishi uses classic imagery—fans, a folding screen—to express the four seasons and their traditional lore in a clever, elegant fashion. Unlike a traditional print, though, this one is almost monochrome, in shades of gray with some bluish-green, and it is not a woodblock or even a lithograph but a mezzotint—a hugely labor-intensive older European technique that is particularly good at rendering dark shadows and that is now being rediscovered by younger printmakers in the West and in Japan.

Another younger artist who favors monochrome is Keisuke Yamamoto. Her large-scale lithographs of chairs standing in empty rooms, resemble black and white photographs. “They are so calm, they make you feel centered,” says Miranda Metcalf, director of Davidson Galleries in Seattle, which represents the artist. She adds that for many contemporary Japanese printmakers, there is a greater “focus on composition, line, and technique” than on color. Another artist who uses black and white to striking effect is Katsutoshi Yuasa, who transforms photographs into woodblock prints. His Tokyo Story is a take on a scene from the great film of the same title by Yasujiro Ozu. Yuasa’s work is available from Ronin Gallery. Another experimenter with media is Yuko Kimura, who exploits the intriguing patterns in the paper of old books of prints that have been eaten by worms. Michael Verne, a specialist dealer in Cleveland who shows her work, says, “Most ukiyo-e dealers are giving away books with wormholes in them. Kimura cuts up these books and collages them back together again. She’s one of the younger artists to watch.”

Contemporary Japanese prints are attractive not only for their creativity and beauty but also for their affordability. “They tend to have a low price point compared to other work with that level of skill,” says Metcalf, who ascribes it to the present strength of the dollar against the yen and to a weak print-collecting scene in Japan, where wall space tends to be scarce. “Customers often say, ‘I can’t believe these are so accessible.’ They’re great for young collectors. It’s a really wonderful side of the printmaking world.”

By John Dorfman

Treasures for the Future Tue, 27 Feb 2018 18:40:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Rubin Museum of Art celebrates the legend and legacy of Padmasambhava, who is credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet.

Portable Shrine (Tashi Gomang) of Padmasambhava’s Palace on the Copper-Colored Mountain

Portable Shrine (Tashi Gomang) of Padmasambhava’s Palace on the Copper-Colored Mountain, Bhutan; 18th–19th century, painted and gilded wood with sun-dried clay figures, 76.5 x 30.48 x 30.48 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Scenes from the Life of Padmasambhava, Bhutan or Tibet, circa 18th century Padmasambhava, Tibet, 19th century Scenes from the Life of Padmasambhava, Tibet Padmasambhava as Nyima Ozer, Tibet Portable Shrine (Tashi Gomang) of Padmasambhava’s Palace on the Copper-Colored Mountain

According to legend, Padmasambhava was a divine being with magical powers who emerged fully-formed from a lotus blossom at the age of eight (his name means “the lotus-born one” in Sanskrit), brought tantric Buddhist teachings to Tibet, battled local gods and demons who resisted the new religion, and deposited hidden treasures to be found by future generations. According to the historical record, or what remains of it, Padmasambhava was born like anyone else at the age of zero, either in what is now western Pakistan or what is now eastern India, and traveled through Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet during the 8th century spreading Buddhism, supervising translations of scriptures, and winning the favor and occasionally the enmity of the local aristocracy. There is also a possibility that he never existed, at least not as a single person. In any case, the figure of Padmasambhava—sometimes called “the second Buddha”—looms large in the world of Himalayan culture, to the point where it is impossible to imagine its art without him. Biographies, the first of which was written in the 12th century, credit him with single-handedly bringing Buddhism to Tibet, and accordingly, depictions of Padmasambhava and his legendary deeds dominate the iconography of Tibetan painting and sculpture.

At the Rubin Museum of Art, a unique institution in New York dedicated to Himalayan art in all its forms, “Padmasambhava wins by a big margin over Shakyamuni Buddha [the founding figure of Buddhism itself] in terms of numbers of images in our collection,” says curator Elena Pakhoutova. “He occupies a lot of bandwidth in Tibetan culture.” Fittingly, then, in February the Rubin opened “The Second Buddha: Master of Time,” an ambitious exhibition focusing on artistic depictions of Padmasambhava, drawing not only on its own first-class holdings but also on loans from public and private collections around the world, including some pieces from Switzerland that have never before been shown publicly. After remaining on view for the rest of 2018, the show will travel to the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which co-produced the exhibition catalogue with the Rubin.

“The Second Buddha” features 41 works in various media, dating from the 13th century to the 20th. In addition, the exhibition deploys augmented-reality technology to reveal subtleties and hidden motifs in the paintings, analogous to the secret treasures (known in Tibetan as terma) hidden throughout the Tibetan landscape by Padmasambhava himself. “The Second Buddha” is an immersive experience that communicates the enduring power of this sacred figure within the Tibetan imagination and suggests its relevance for all human beings.

One important genre of Padmasambhava art is the panoramic biographical painting, which encompasses all the major episodes of his life as well as the various forms under which he manifested himself. In such paintings, mythographic completeness and visual unity take precedence over chronology, so that multiple times and places are portrayed within one frame. In a sense, this approach also indicates Padmasambhava’s ability to transcend time. A representative example is Padmasambhava, His Eight Manifestations and Life Story, a 19th-century pigments on cloth painting from Bhutan. In the center of the composition sits Padmasambhava, enclosed within a rainbow (indicative of the “rainbow body” of light achieved by enlightened beings according to Tibetan Buddhism). Around him are little vignettes depicting scenes from his life, beginning with his miraculous birth at the upper left and continuing clockwise with his life as a wandering ascetic in India and his exploits in Tibet subduing demons and teaching tantra. Scattered between these scenes are eight somewhat larger figures representing Padmasambhava’s manifestations.

Other paintings in the exhibition concentrate on specific episodes in the life and career of Padmasambhava or depict him in one particular role. For example, in Scenes from the Life of Padmasambhava, a 19th-century Tibetan pigments on cloth painting, shows the discovery of the new-born teacher, floating on the water on his open-petaled lotus, by the childless King Indrabhuti of Oddiyana, who had been on a voyage in search of a magical wish-granting jewel. The king then raised the boy as his own son. The narrative, perhaps tapping into universal archetypes, seems to echo the biblical story of the infant Moses. In the center of the composition is a related scene that shows Padmasambhava again on a lotus, in a later incident in which he emerged miraculously regenerated on the flower after having been burned at the stake by anti-Buddhist zealots.

Padmasambhava has numerous other names that indicate various aspects of his being, as well as roles and guises he assumes. A gilt copper alloy sculpture made in Tibet during the 18th century, on view in the Rubin exhibition, represents him as Nyima Ozer (“Rays of the Sun” in Tibetan), an ascetic who practices tantric yoga at burial grounds while wearing a garland of skulls, surrounded by serpents, and holding a mirror in the shape of the sun disk. Despite the deathly iconography, the figure is serene rather than eerie, raising his right hand in a gesture of reassurance and benediction. Acceptance of death and knowledge as to how to navigate post-mortem stages of existence are key elements of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, another 18th-century Tibetan painting in the show, Peaceful and Wrathful Deities of the Intermediate State (Bardo), represents this after-death world (or worlds), in which souls encounter frightening visions that are the result of their bad karma. If the soul recognizes them for what they are—illusions, projections of the mind—they will no longer stand in the way of the attainment of enlightenment or at least a favorable reincarnation. A major body of Tibetan Buddhist literature, including the famous Bardo Thodol or “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” is built around detailed instructions for the soul to follow for successful navigation of the post-mortem realms.

One positive after-death outcome is for a soul that does not achieve liberation in this life to encounter Padmasambhava in his realm on the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain. There the Buddha can directly liberate the soul from illusion and bring it to enlightenment. This mountain, which is conceived by Tibetan Buddhists both as a physically real place and a symbolic one representing an inner journey, is the subject of Padmasambhava in His Pure Realm, the Copper-Colored Mountain, a 19th-century cloth painting from Kham Province in Eastern Tibet (illustrated on page 18). Here the savior inhabits a palace with intricately depicted complex architecture within a hexagonal walled city atop the reddish mountain, which in turn is surrounded by a sort of moat or circular river. The Copper Mountain is also depicted in a fantastic painted gilt-wood portable shrine from 18th–19th-century Bhutan, on loan to the Rubin from a private collection.

Another persona of Padmasambhava is shown in a ground mineral pigment on cotton painting from 19th-century Tibet. Here he is simply a teacher, the “Precious Guru” who generously brings the Buddhist doctrines and meditation techniques to Tibet, represented as a snow-bound land inhabited by red-faced barbarians—which is how the Tibetans, rather self-effacingly, portray themselves as having been before the civilizing influence of Buddhism. The inscriptions on the painting speak of bridging the past, present, and future. Herein lies a major theme of the exhibition: the hidden treasures, or terma, which Padmasambhava planted in Tibet as a way of helping secure the future of the people, and ultimately, of the whole world. Terma are particularly important in the Nyingma tradition within Tibetan Buddhism, which traces directly back to Padmasambhava, but they are important in other Tibetan Buddhist lineages and even in the still-existing pre-Buddhist Bön religion, all of which pay homage to Padmasambhava.

Terma can take the form of manuscripts or ritual implements, and they are said to have been secreted in caves or under rocks or within crystals. They can even be hidden in trees, under water, or in the sky. The idea of concealment is not just physical; essentially it symbolizes the hiddenness or latency of the teachings in the mind, from which they cannot emerge until the recipient is ready. In other words, certain ideas and practices in Tibetan Buddhism are conceived of as emerging only when the time is ripe. Some of the teachings are legacies for the future, and the future depends upon the past. The connection between past and future is built from faith and love, which is symbolized in one of the paintings in the Rubin exhibition as an iron bridge built by Padmasambhava.

“Padmasambhava could see past, present, and future as they exist,” explains Pakhoutova. “He saw that Tibet would have a very difficult time and that traditions would be lost, so he concealed some teachings that he thought would be useful in objects and in memories embedded in the minds of disciples. He projected his teachings forward into the future and made them accessible in our own time.” The presence of terma is denoted in some of the paintings as handprints and footprints that Padmasambhava left behind, symbolically marking the landscape of Tibet and rendering it sacred geography. In addition, the exhibition represents terma treasures in the form of ritual objects such as a dagger (kila) and a scepter (dorje).

The Rubin curators have taken an unconventional and very of-the-moment way to help visitors understand the concept of terma—augmented reality. The AR technology deployed in the exhibition uses digital reconstructions and animations, which will be viewable by using iPads. Pakhoutova says, “We wanted to convey the idea of the hidden or the not apparent; we wanted viewers to have the experience of discovery. The AR is being used to reveal something which is not apparent in the artworks. The paintings will come to life.”

By John Dorfman

It’s Alive Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:17:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new exhibition at the Tate Britain examines how British artists of the 20th century represent human life in their work.

Cecily Brown, Boy with a Cat, 2015

Cecily Brown, Boy with a Cat, 2015, oil, pastel on linen, 1092 x 1651 mm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Cecily Brown, Boy with a Cat, 2015 F.N. Souza, Two Saints in a Landscape, 1961 Francis Bacon, Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1966 Lucian Freud, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, 1996 Paula Rego, The Family, 1988

In an often-quoted interview with David Sylvester, the celebrated Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon said, “Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses.” The response came to Sylvester’s prodding about the correlation between the artist’s depictions of hanging carcasses of meat and crucified human figures. Bacon, side-stepping a bit, instead discussed how the human body—he cites, for instance, a Degas pastel in the National Gallery, London, that articulates the top of a woman’s spine and x-ray photographs—can look rather similar to the meat found in a butcher shop. He added that the slight protrusion of the women’s spine in the Degas pastel (After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, circa 1890–95) makes the viewer “more conscious of the vulnerability of the rest of the body.”

One of the most arresting aspects of Bacon’s own work is just that—the vulnerability of his figures and their bodies. Bacon’s figures suffer trauma and mutilation; they are twisted and shuffled around; they shriek and shout with open mouths. The experiences and the suffering his figures seemingly undergo are representative of the ancient Greek concept of pathos as defined by Greek philosophers even before Aristotle’s Rhetoric. The viewer is moved emotionally by what seems to be a plea from these figures and feels a deeply—yes, almost ancient—human response to their plight. This is made perhaps most clear with Bacon’s repeated portrayals of crucifixions—in which a body suffers and it is understood, in a historical sense and in the sense of the viewer in a gallery, that others look on.

When Bacon recreates the textural material of the human body in paint he showcases the vulnerability he saw in the Degas pastel. This perceived vulnerability has the ability to create an intoxicating horror in the viewer. If our bodies are so pliable and putty-like and our feelings are so primal, then are we not at any time susceptible to agony and mutilation? Or worse, to the soulless state after death when our body parts are little more than the carcasses Bacon referred to? It is this vision of the human body that the goriest horror films succeed in imparting—one that Bacon’s paintings can certainly share.

The portraits Bacon painted of his close friends are similarly celebrated for expressing a sense of vulnerability. Bacon painted his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud, who also famously portrayed the realism of the human body in paint (Freud painted Bacon, as well). The German-born British painter said, “I want the paint to work as flesh does.” In Freud’s work the paint lusciously recreates skin, musculature, fat, bone structure, and hair. In the 1950s, he set his focus on portraiture, but it wasn’t until the second half of the 1960s that he began creating the works for which he is best known: full-scale nudes. Freud’s treatment of the nude human body marries the detail of Renaissance studies with the personality of modern portraiture—balancing a sense of intimacy with the sitter and a cold, almost clinical look at the human physique. In favor of honesty, Freud’s nudes lack the mythological, otherworldly, or idealized qualities of the nudes that populated art history from the Classical period through the 19th century, and at times even lack a sense of dignity. Instead, Freud’s figures portray how harrowing and yet how banal it can be to inhabit a human body.

Capturing humanity in paint is the subject of “All Too Human: Bacon, Freud, and a Century of Painting Life,” an exhibition that opens at the Tate Britain on February 28 (through August 27). Using Bacon and Freud as anchors, the show will examine the portrayal of the human experience in art and provide an expansive picture of figurative painting in the 20th century, particularly in Britain. The exhibition features some 100 works by artists such as Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, R.B. Kitaj, Leon Kossoff, Paula Rego, Jenny Saville, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and many others.

Through examining the careers of Bacon and Freud, two of the most revered artists working in Britain during the 20th century and also famous drinking buddies, the show reveals what ties their work together and what separates it. One major difference is their process. Freud worked from life, with his models typically making large time commitments to sit for him. His studio, which frames the sitters in his work, serves as both a stage and a subject for his paintings. The repeated use of his studio as setting also brings awareness of Freud’s physical presence in it—it seems vital to remember that the sitter and Freud were occupying the same space and that the view we have of the model was Freud’s view. In Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, a 1996 painting in the show, Sue Tilley, a frequent subject of Freud’s in the 1990s, is seen draped in a chair. Her face, overcome by sleep, is scrunched into her hand—a position perfected by most of us in an airplane seat. Freud himself seems very close, looking on silently, as a birdwatcher or biologist might watch a sleeping species of interest. Behind her, crouching lions can be seen on the motif of a carpet—the kings of the jungle seeming so inferior to this larger, more majestic animal.

Freud’s portrait of fellow British painter Frank Auerbach (Frank Auerbach, 1975–76), also features a rather close, intimate view. Freud depicts the artist on a downward angle from the crown of his head to the top of his green t-shirt-clad chest. Freud’s brush delights in every detail of Auerbach’s face—emphasizing the thinning of his hair, the tonal disparities of his skin, the furrows of his brow and cheeks, and the teeth-grinding scowl of his mouth. The painting captures what appears to be a moment of anxious frustration or intense concentration—the type of moment we typically have alone. For the viewer, it feels like a rare and intrusive look at man’s face and state of mind. Freud’s presence, which hovers over Auerbach and the painting itself, simultaneously exposes and soothes the other artist.

Unlike Freud, Bacon used photographs as a starting point for his paintings. Of this process Bacon said, “What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance.” Bacon frequently used the work of friend and Vogue photographer John Deakin for his paintings. Deakin, who was in the habit of photographing the figures of the mid-century Soho art scene, such as Freud, Auberbach, and Eduardo Paolozzi, also took portraits for Bacon on commission, including the source material for Bacon’s 1963 Portrait of Henrietta Moraes and the 1969 work Three Studies of Lucian Freud. Deakin’s photograph Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (circa 1966-67), which was commissioned by the painter, was used to create one of Bacon’s most celebrated paintings, Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho (1967). Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, a 1966 painting in the exhibition, also depicts the inimitable Rawsthorne, a painter, designer, and model for Picasso and Giacometti.

Works by other members of Bacon and Freud’s circle also appear in the show. Auerbach’s 1967–68 painting Primrose Hill is a highlight. The oil on board work is essentially an abstract landscape, inspired by Auerbach’s frequent visits to the park at Primrose Hill in north London. The artist compiled an excess of 50 working drawings for the painting, made during all four seasons and all different times of day and night. Working on it daily for over a year, Auerbach fell into the nearly incessant process of scraping paint away and adding more. The result is a pan-season, pan-weather, pan-hour, expressionist rendering of life, both observed and lived.

The show isn’t limited to a single generation of artists. Walter Sickert’s Nuit d’Été (circa 1906), for instance, with its chilly portrayal of a female nude sprawled on a bed, is a perfect precursor for viewing Freud’s work. Sickert, a member of the Aesthetic movement and student of James McNeill Whistler who is thought by some conspiracy theorists to have been the serial killer Jack the Ripper, painted a series of nude women in sparsely decorated, cheap London bedrooms. Unlike the intimacy of Freud’s work, Sickert’s paintings are dark, distant, and even a bit menacing at times (perhaps there is something to those rumors?).

The exhibition also features several paintings by women artists. Paula Rego’s The Family (1980), depicts a group of figures in action within a bedroom setting. A man, dressed in a grey suit, sits on the edge of an unmade bed, his cuff and jacket being fussed over by two women—perhaps a maid and his wife, or his wife and older daughter. A girl, who is presumably a young daughter, looks on from several feet a way, standing in front of an open window. In the corner near the bed sits a Portuguese retablo depicting St. Joan and St. George slaying the dragon, while on a chest below it, an image of Aesop’s fable The Fox and the Stork is illustrated.

Cicely Brown’s 2015 oil and pastel on linen Boy with a Cat quickly brings Renoir’s ghostly 1868 nude The Boy with the Cat to mind. However, Brown’s chaotic, reclining nude takes from de Kooning’s work the sense of forms appearing within abstraction, and it is oddly exhilarating to watch the faces and bodies of cats emerge and recede in the painting as one looks at it. The artist sops up the machismo of Abstract Expressionism only to wring it out as one would a wet washcloth. What’s left is an engrossing, erotic work that surges with energy and playfulness.

Another more recent work in the show and a painting in the Tate’s collection is Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s 10 pm Saturday (2012). Yiadom-Boakye, a London native of Ghanaian descent, looks to the historical European tradition of portraiture but paints largely fictional characters. Born of her imagination, her figures are typically placeless and timeless and are left susceptible to the interpretations and readings of the viewer. 10 pm Saturday shares with many of Bacon’s portraits a dark, vacuum-like background. Yiadom-Boakye’s figure stands in profile, looking side-eyed past the viewer over his own shoulder. Wearing a red and white striped shirt and black pants, he seems so familiar and yet he is a man who has never lived.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Out of the Shadow Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:17:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> One of the great innovators in “allover” painting, Lee Krasner eclipsed her own career in order to advocate for that of her husband, Jackson Pollock.

Portrait of Lee Krasner by Paul De Vries

Portrait of Lee Krasner by Paul De Vries, circa 1960–61, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers, circa 1914–1984, bulk 1942–1984. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution © 2017 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Lee Krasner, Sun Woman I, 1957 Portrait of Lee Krasner by Paul De Vries Lee Krasner, Another Storm, 1963 Lee Krasner, Fourteenth Street, 1934 Lee Krasner, Portrait in Green, 1966 Lee Krasner, Seated Figure, 1938–39

Lee Krasner’s Another Storm (1963) is nearly 15 feet wide and therefore big enough to justify her claim to a place in the ranks of the Abstract Expressionists, those maestros of the expansive canvas. Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and of course Jackson Pollock—Krasner’s husband until his death in a car crash in 1956—were among the Abstract Expressionists who abandoned the easel painting to work at a scale that verges, often, on that of the public mural. When the Museum of Modern Art sent selection of the paintings on an eight-city tour of Europe in 1958, critics were shocked by their sheer size. As a Spanish critic noted, one of Pollock’s canvases were only able to enter the Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporaneo, in Madrid, after the main doorway had been enlarged.

Among the 17 artists included in this show, the only woman was Grace Hartigan, a member of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Krasner, who had found her distinctive variant on the style before the end of the 1940s, was unrepresented. She did, however, lend two of Pollock’s paintings to the exhibition, earning herself an acknowledgment as “Lee Krasner Pollock.” Even now, she is sometimes seen more as Mrs. Jackson Pollock than as a painter in her own right and a major contributor to the development of the first genuinely American art movement.

Krasner made the first of her “Little Image” canvases in 1946. With their small, flat forms deployed in rows, these come very close to qualifying as allover paintings—that is, they exchange the thrusts and counter-thrusts of a traditional composition for an expansive and potentially infinite field of imagery. Though the term was first applied to Pollock’s airy webs of dripped and spattered color, his brushwork had begun to imply alloverness several seasons earlier. Krasner’s “Little Image” paintings were strikingly original responses to these implications. She and Pollock stood as equals on the frontiers of pictorial possibility. If their equality is rarely noted it is in part because, toward the end of the 1940s, she set aside her own career to advance his. This was an extraordinary sacrifice, for Krasner was among the most promising painters in the New York art world of that era.

A Brooklyn native, she was born in 1908 into a family indifferent to art. Her interest in drawing and painting appeared early and yet, when quizzed by an interviewer in 1964, she could not account for it. Nonetheless, she believed that she would become a painter, and chose to study at Washington Irving, in Manhattan, the only New York high school that offered a major in art. Upon graduation, she enrolled in a women’s art program at the Cooper Union, the celebrated art and science institute on Astor Place. After several years, she went uptown to study at the National Academy of Design. The curriculum was doggedly conservative at all three schools. Only after long semesters of foundation work and drawing from plaster casts of ancient statues were students permitted to paint from living models. Krasner excelled at none of these disciplines, yet she persevered and eventually found her way into the present—not in the classroom but in exhibitions where she first saw the paintings of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso. and Georges Braque.

Her exposure to modernist art was, as she said, “like a bomb that exploded.” In the wake of this shock, art “came to life in some magical way.” Living in Greenwich Village now, she was primed for a place in the classes taught by Hans Hofmann, a German émigré and a painter with roots in the Parisian avant-garde. Invited in 1931 to teach in the United States, the rise of the Nazis persuaded him to stay. Settled permanently in New York by mid-decade, Hofmann opened a school on West Eighth Street, in the Village, and became a mentor to several generations of American painters. One of Hofmann’s best students, Krasner absorbed his belief that painting is not a discipline to be learned but a set of formal possibilities to be reinvented nonstop.

As a young Hofmannite, Krasner was at the center of Manhattan’s downtown art world—a milieu inhabited by such figures as Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and John Graham, a painter and visionary impresario. Toward the end of 1941, Graham asked Krasner to lend work to a show of American and French painters he was organizing for the McMillen Gallery. The names of the participating artists, which ranged from Matisse and Picasso to de Kooning and Stuart Davis, were all familiar to Krasner, with one exception: Jackson Pollock. Puzzled, she tracked him down in his Eighth Street studio, invited herself in, and, as she said on many occasions, was “completely bowled over.” Soon they became a couple and Krasner took on, step by fateful step, responsibility not only for Pollock’s troubled life but for the advancement of his art, which in 1947 had surged into new territory. His drip-and-pour paintings had no precedent in the history of Western art.

Shy when sober and unmanageable when drunk, Pollock had no talent for art-world politics. Convinced of his importance, Krasner took on the task of persuading critics and dealers to take him seriously. Peggy Guggenheim was her greatest challenge and most significant early success. An American heiress who had immersed herself in the Parisian avant-garde, Guggenheim returned to New York soon after the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1942, she opened Art of This Century, a gallery on Manhattan’s West 57th Street. At the urging of Krasner and others, including Marcel Duchamp, Guggenheim gave Pollock a solo exhibition; and not so much urged as badgered by Krasner, she loaned the couple enough money to buy a house on Fireplace Road, in Springs, a small settlement at the Eastern end of Long Island. Krasner hoped that, away from the Cedar Tavern and other Greenwich Village hangouts, Pollock would stay sober and focus on his art. For three years, her hope was realized, and it was during this time that Pollock broke through to his mature work.

Due in part to Krasner’s advocacy, Pollock became the subject of contending theories by Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, the two most influential art critics of the era. Asked in 1950 to select three of the six artists to represent the United States in that year’s Venice Biennale, Alfred Barr, of the Museum of Modern Art, chose Gorky, de Kooning, and Pollock. The previous year, Life magazine had shown Pollock posing in front of a recent drip painting. Above, a banner headline asked, “Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?”—a question prompted by the art-world buzz Krasner had done so much to generate. She helped in the studio, as well.

Talking in 1969 with the critic and biographer B. H. Friedman, Krasner recalled that Pollock would sometimes crop a canvas and, as confident as he felt when slinging his colors, wasn’t always sure how to take this irrevocable step. “Sometimes,” said Krasner, “he’d ask, ‘Should I cut it here? Should this be the bottom?’ He’d have long sessions of cutting and editing, some of which I was in on, but the final decisions were always his.” By making herself so important to Pollock, in the studio and in the larger world, Krasner eclipsed her own career. That she did so willingly should not, however, obscure either the intensity of her ambition or the significance of her achievement. Her version of the allover image is among the most powerful to emerge from the first generation of Abstract Expressionists.

At Hans Hofmann’s school, Krasner mastered a curriculum derived from modernist precedents: Cubist structure merged with Matissean color. His sensibility tinged by mysticism, Hofmann spoke of art as a high road to “the Real”—a concept he never explained, though his visionary writings suggest that it was an avant-gardist painter’s variation on the Platonic ideal of transcendent Truth. There is no sign that Krasner responded to this thread in the complex fabric of Hofmann’s teaching. She was bent chiefly on learning how to make a painting “work,” as New York artists were beginning to say in those days. This was a formalist approach, and Krasner’s command of her strictly pictorial options prepared her to understand, as few others did, Pollock’s achievements.

During the mid-1930s, Krasner painted cityscapes with a faint—one might say, carefully measured—tinge of Surrealism. Later in the decade, the formal lessons she learned from Hofmann inspired elegantly structured quasi-abstractions. Then she met Pollock and put his career ahead of her own. Yet she never entirely stopped painting. The “Little Image” paintings appeared and, after them, a series of experiments that Krasner found unsatisfactory and destroyed. She was a ruthless editor of her own work. As the 1950s began, she launched the first of her collage paintings. Invented by Picasso and Braque, collage brings with it the small scale and compositional devices of early Cubism. Krasner freed herself from this historical baggage by expanding the size of her paintings—she was working now on immense lengths of canvas unfurled across the floor—and by dismissing all traces of traditional composition. From this rejection of art-historical precedent emerged the fully realized alloverness foretold by the “Little Image” paintings.

Since the early Renaissance, Western painters have worked to reconcile disparate forms in balanced compositions. When they succeed, their images are not only harmonious; they also rest comfortably within the frame. When Krasner, Pollock, and other painters in New York dispensed with the machinery of the well-composed picture, their works were often seen as chaotic—fields of disorganized imagery devolving into a meaninglessness infinite. Yet the absence of an overarching composition does not necessarily produce chaos. In Krasner’s allover paintings, each form prompts the appearance of the next, generating a field held together by localized incidents of order. Rather than resolving forms into harmonies, stable and enclosed, she creates images that remain open and filled with energies that take them, in the sympathetic viewer’s imagination, far beyond the limits of the frame. Like Pollock and other allover painters of their generation, she charges her imagery with the optimistic openness of American space.

Pollock’s allover paintings assert his grandly idiosyncratic gesture. Still gives alloverness a dark, heavy, almost geological feel, and Newman built his open structures from an austere geometry. By startling contrast, the lines and blots and spatters of Krasner’s allover painting have an unmistakably floral quality. Yet there is nothing delicate, nothing conventionally feminine, about her allusions to petals and stems and leaves. Some of her paintings are quiet. Some are raucous. All of them draw us into zones of pulsing, organic energy. Her imagery is not feminine but female, as challenging as it is seductive, and heroic not only in ambition but also in its impact.

Nonetheless, to be a female artist is to be hindered. When feminist protest disrupted the 1970s Whitney Annual, Krasner had no patience with those who argued that the art world had gotten over its gender biases. Any women who says that she faces no discrimination should, declared Krasner, “have her face slapped.” By then she had been given a retrospective by the Whitechapel Gallery, in London, and in 1978 she was finally accorded her rightful place alongside Pollock, Rothko, and the others in Abstract Expressionism: “The Formative Years,” an exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York, and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, at Cornell University. In the decade before her death in 1984, Krasner received a full measure of honors, awards, and exhibitions. She had become, at last, a fully recognized member of her generation. Yet her fierceness never abated. It is there to be felt even in her most subtly painted canvases.

By Carter Ratcliff

Through a Glass, Brightly Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:16:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Michael E. Taylor’s abstract glass works draw us into the invisible realms of subatomic physics and computer code.

Michael Estes Taylor, Probing for Innovative Clarity

Michael Estes Taylor, Probing for Innovative
Clarity, laminated cast optical cadmium and
copper glasses, 55.9 x 55.9 x 35.6 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Michael Estes Taylor, Probing for Innovative Clarity Michael Estes Taylor, Tantric Landscape, 2009 Michael Estes Taylor, Rocketeer, 2014 Michael Estes Taylor, Quantum Disorder, 2012 Michael Estes Taylor, God Particle, Higgs Boson, 2016

Glass has been used since as early as ancient Egypt, and its fascination is evinced by the material’s central position in our holiest of places, in the form of stained glass. The translucence of stained glass appears to have been both a practical choice (people enjoy seeing) and a clear means of expressing the nature of the spiritual mysteries that permeated the lives of worshippers and the world around them like so much light. Novelist and art theorist André Malraux wrote in his critical manifesto, Voices of Silence: “Stained glass is not indifferent to the changes of light which, when our churches were thronged with worshippers at successive hours, endowed it with a vitality unknown to any other art form…. Stained glass has an immediate appeal to us, by reason of its emotivity, so much akin to ours, and its impassioned crystallization.” Despite this lofty exaltation of stained glass as medium, an artist who deals with glass in the context of sculpture could either take the ineffable quality of the material as self-evident or make it the very core of their work and practice. Artist Michael E. Taylor has chosen the latter.

Rather than simply being objects filling an inert space, Taylor’s forms, much like a sacred pane of stained glass, give a material presence to what is unseen but always there. His geometrical forms seem to grow in space, recalling Malraux’s “impassioned crystallization”; they are time-lapse crystals in a state of becoming. The transparency of Taylor’s work invites the viewer to consider its place in space and to question what exactly that space is and what fills it, beyond the sculpture being viewed. Non-transparent sculpture may negate or work within a space, but with a definite beginning and end to its form. Glass sculpture, on the other hand, harnesses light and allows us to see form without obliterating the space it inhabits. The result is a shaping of light and space, as if a trowel could scrape and pull the air into pure form.

The experience of looking at Taylor’s 2015 laminated optical and pigmented glass sculpture, Positron, is akin to putting on a pair of special goggles that allow the viewer to see physics in action. There is a powerful illusion of motion in the work that is conveyed by a series of transparent three-dimensional rectangles that move further clockwise along the same axis with each successive repetition of the form. The result is a freeze-frame of motion that evokes the most fundamental subatomic phenomena or a string of DNA under construction. The very nature of the work brings to mind spirit photography from the turn of the 20th century—faked images that purported to provide evidence for the belief in life after death.

Both the hoax of spirit photography and Taylor’s work give form to a belief. In Taylor’s case it is the belief that our world is governed by an immutable set of scientific laws that correlate with physical realities. Positron (an antimatter particle) however, differs from a spiritualist’s photograph, in that the reality of what it “believes”—that we exist in a world of matter and particles governed by invisible laws that, as we continue to learn more, cannot be perceived by the naked eye—also makes its existence possible.

In an exhibition currently on view at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., titled “Michael E. Taylor—Traversing Parallels” (through May 12), the artist’s artistic and technical innovations are on full display. Taylor’s career as an artist and educator spans 50 years, and his experimentation and mastery of glass (particularly his pioneering work with cut and laminated glass) have enabled him to ask pressing contemporary questions about our rapidly changing world. The world Taylor sees is framed and understood through science and abstraction. His geometrically surprising forms present the beauty and uncertainty of the human perspective quickly dissolving into a collection of data and unseen algorithms and laws. His 2014 laminated optical and pigmented glass sculpture, Rocketeer, seems to beg the viewer to be understood on its own terms. There is a life to the work, which is made up of a collection of blue half-circles surrounding a large diamond-shaped base. The physical laws of the work are strange and unexpected, yet there is a character, a personality to it that, while not human, still communicates with the viewer. Rocketeer stands like a wild creature in a post-human age, a peacock-like abstraction that is unfamiliar but friendly.

The 2014 sculpture Artificial Intelligence Code, made from optical, borosilicate, and other laminated glasses, gives a physical form to something that is regarded as ostensibly non-physical—computer code. The collection of colored glass makes a pretense of clear organization, but this organization is indecipherable to the viewer. The sculpture evokes the clean design of a consumer product, but it is nonetheless “useless” for any practical purpose. It is inhuman, holding within itself its own logic. Contemporary philosophy is reckoning with this hyper alienation from “thinking machines” and a growing world of objects. Object-oriented ontology is a school of contemporary philosophy that does not privilege the human place in the order of things. It is a rejection of what it regards as anthropocentrism, and instead sees the world as a place filled with people and objects which share the same level of reality outside of our perception of them.

With Artificial Intelligence Code, and much of the rest of his work, Taylor takes a step toward giving form to this post-human reckoning with the world. His creations seem to move and think, but maybe most importantly, simply to be. The rules of their existence are beyond the comprehension of our naked eye and, more and more, beyond the grasp of our intellectual conceptions of reality. Now, in much the same way that stained glass gave form to the mysteries of the spirit, Taylor’s work gives form to the mysteries of being in a world that refuses to fit into a human-shaped box.

By Chris Shields

Inside the Ancient World Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:16:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new gallery space gives a historic collection a fresh look.

Ennion Cup, Sidon, Lebanon, Roman Empire

Ennion Cup, Sidon, Lebanon, Roman Empire, circa 40-50 C.E., Roman mold-blown glass.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Votive head, Cyprus Coffin lid of Henet-Mer, Thebes, Egypt, 21st Dynasty Foundation Brick, Qantir, Egypt, reign of Ramesses II Mirror, Egypt, Middle Kingdom Bastet, Egypt , bronze and gold; Ennion Cup, Sidon, Lebanon, Roman Empire

On December 8, The Newark Museum in Newark, N.J., opened “Art of The Ancient Mediterranean: Egypt, Greece and Rome,” its relocated and reinstalled ancient-art gallery. The move was prompted by the renovation of the museum’s front entrance, which had been closed to the public for 20 years before reopening last month. A portion of the viewing space that housed the Ancient Mediterranean collection for 28 years is now allocated for the new ADA-accessible entrance lobby, and the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman works have found a home in the museum’s South Gallery.

The collection’s new real estate is about as prime as it gets, positioning the works as the starting point of the museum’s permanent galleries and a springboard for the understand of Western art history. What’s more, the Ancient Mediterranean collection is now parallel to the Arts of Global Africa Permanent Collection, which has relocated to the museum’s first floor. The proximity of the two collections helps acknowledge a point that is often disregarded by museums and the art-historical canon: that the art of ancient Egypt is just as important to the history of African Art as it is to that of the ancient Mediterranean.

Ulysses Grant Dietz, Interim Co-Director, Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts at the museum, points out that the new Mediterranean gallery opens with a passage from Plato’s Phaedo, reading: “I believe that the earth is very large and that we who dwell between the Pillars of Hercules and the river Phasis live in a small part of it about the sea, like ants or frogs about a pond, and that many other people live in many other such regions.” The geographical area Socrates mentions (the Pillars of Hercules are the promontories marking the entrance to the straight of Gibraltar and the River Phasis is the modern day Rioni River in Western Georgia), though he notes it was just a slice of the ancient world, was immensely fertile ground for trade, thought, war, architecture, art and craft, with the waters of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa feeding the rise of civilization and culture. Says Dietz, “This period, and what the gallery showcases, is really an early version of globalization, an iteration with all of these cultures—Egypt, the Etruscans, the Cypriots, the Greeks, and then finally Rome.”

Though the museum’s classical collection comprises over 4,500 objects dating from 3000 BCE to 600 CE, the new gallery’s focus is on the pieces that factored into daily routines. “The gallery isn’t just full of sculptures and tomb objects, though there are some there,” says Dietz. “Objects from everyday life—ceramics, glass, silver, jewelry, and metalwork—are what we’re highlighting.” The curator is quick to point out that a piece that is featured prominently in the gallery, a 6th century BCE Attic red-figure amphora depicting one of the labors of Hercules, was conceived as an object of practical use. “We don’t have painting from the Greek world, and very little sculpture survives, so the pottery is seen as art,” says Dietz. “But even though this pot represents mythology, heroism, and the warrior, its function was to serve wine to the men at a symposium as they reclined on their couches, got increasingly hammered, and discussed philosophy.”

The museum’s classical collection is an integral part of its early history. Mrs. Samuel Clark gave the institution a large group of objects representing everyday life in the ancient world in 1924. Shortly thereafter, Louis Bamberger, the Newark department store magnate and the benefactor of the museum’s Jarvis Hunt-designed building (the newly refurbished front entrance will be renamed “the Bamberger Entrance” in his honor) began buying Cypriot pieces that were being de-accessioned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cesnola Collection. In fact, his first purchase, a votive head from Cyrpus, circa 700–680 BCE, which he gifted to the museum in 1928, is a highlight of the new gallery.

In 1950, the Newark Museum received a colossal gift from Eugene Schaefer, a chemist and collector from Bergen County, N.J., of some 2,000 objects, two-thirds of which are glass. As a result, Newark has one of the most important ancient glass collections in the country; it showcases the history of glass and glassmaking technology from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Islamic world from 1500 BCE through 1400 CE.

One standout of the Schaefer glass collection is the mold-blown glass Ennion Cup (circa 40–50 CE), from Sidon, Lebanon, under the Roman Empire. It represents a major achievement in glass-making, when artisans working within the area of Jerusalem at the end of the 1st century BCE realized that glass could be inflated at the end of a tube—thus discovering glass blowing. Ennion, perhaps the most proficient of all glassmakers in the art of self-branding, incorporated his name into the designs of his cups and vessels, making him one of the few Roman glassmakers we know by name. The Schaefer gift catalyzed many additions to the museum’s glass collection over the course of decades. One fine example in the gallery, a Roman glass skyphos (circa 0–50 CE), was purchased in 1975. Here in deep blue glass, the skyphos shape was developed by the Greeks in the Geometric Period as a two-handled wine cup, often, as with this example, on a low flanged base. A related shape, the kylix—a shallower two-handled cup with a longer stem (like a champagne coupe with training wheels)—can be seen in the gallery in the Greek black-figure pottery style. The Kylix Drinking Cup with Horseman, made in Athens circa 525 BCE, features a rider on horseback on its exterior, with Greek lettering.

Speaking of lettering, the hieroglyphic detail on another standout, the Coffin Lid of Henet-Mer, is astoundingly bold and detailed. Made in Thebes, Egypt during the 21st Dynasty (1075–945 BCE) of sycamore fig wood, gesso, and paint, the lid reveals that Henet-Mer (“Mistress of Love”) was married, a singer, and a priestess of Amon-Ra, the Egyptian sun god.

An item more suited for the lives of the living, an Egyptian mirror, can also be found in the gallery. From the Middle Kingdom, 13th Dynasty (1783–1715 BCE), the piece is wrought of bronze and gracefully carved wood. A pair of ivory clappers from the 12th Dynasty (1981–1802 BCE) are also on view. This curious set of objects, carved in the shape of human hands and arms up to the elbows, at first resembles an elegant alternative to the inflatable, percussive sticks we often use at sports games. Instead, the clappers were proper percussion instruments beaten to keep time during dances or musical performances.

By Sarah E. Fensom