April 26, 2017

"Georgia O'Keeffe" @ The Brooklyn Museum

The paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe are as familiar to the American audience as portraits of George Washington or Norman Rockwell magazine covers.  Indeed her flower paintings and her cow skulls have come to symbolize the Southwestern United States in all its Modernist splendor and reinforced her stature as an icon of Feminism.  But what most people don't know, is how carefully she crafted her public persona and how closely her life imitated her art, or vise verse.

On view now at the Brooklyn Museum is the special exhibition "Georgia O'Keeffe: Living Modern", a rather intimate look at the woman behind the celebrity. Tracing O'Keeffe's history from her childhood on a Wisconsin farm, through her early teaching years in Virginia and Texas and her beginning success as an artist to her ultimate renown as the doyenne of Modernism, the curators present an interesting perspective on who, exactly, was Georgia O'Keeffe.

By positioning O'Keeffe as an advocate of the Arts and Crafts philosophy of beauty being the sum of harmonious and visually pleasing pieces, the exhibition shows her to be a master of creating her own, unique personal and professional aura.  Fascinated with the power of clothing since her youth, O'Keeffe used her wardrobe not only as an expression of style but to establish herself as an independent woman and as an artist.  Examples of fashion illustration done when she was still in her teens show an accomplished drafts person and someone who already knew how to profit from her artistic talents.

"Woman with Blue Hat", c.1916-17
Watercolor and gouache

The first galleries are centered around groups of clothing probably made and certainly worn by O'Keeffe as a young woman in the 1920s.  These cream-colored tunic-style dresses are stunningly simple but feature exquisite details such as pin tucks and bows.

The black overcoats are more severe and dramatic but also show an eye for design.

The black and white palate was perfect for being photographed by the many artists who endeavored to capture her image on film, most famously her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, whose portrayals epitomize her elegance and style.

After Stieglitz's death in 1946, O'Keeffe was free to spend more time in New Mexico.  Her wardrobe reflected the move with the colors she saw, and painted, in the new landscape.  While black and white remained predominant, especially for photographs, there were occasional glimpses of blue (like the sky) and sometimes even red (like the mountains).

 "Hills - Lavender,  Ghost Ranch, New Mexico II", 1935

Especially interesting was the way that her clothing and paintings were intertwined.  Like the scalloped edge on this "Varjo" dress by Marimekko, circa 1963...

and the frame on this painting.

"Ram's Head, White Hollyhock-Hills", 1935
With sheet metal frame by George Ot

Or the deep "V" of this "Chute" dress by Emilio Pucci, circa 1954...

reflected in both Polaroid photographs taken by O'Keeffe on a river rafting trip in Glen Canyon in 1964...

 and painted in this abstraction of the view from her patio in Abiquiu, New Mexico...

Georgia O'Keeffe led a long and full life and carefully preserved her image right up until the end.  When she died in 1986, O'Keeffe still owned nearly a dozen bespoke black suits made for her by tailors in New York and Hong Kong and worn when traveling to cities or entertaining guests in New Mexico.  This highly curated wardrobe was of great importance in the identity Georgia O'Keeffe showed the world and helped solidify her iconic status among American artists which endures to this day.

April 09, 2017

Segers and Seurat at The Met

Print enthusiasts have a lot to be happy about this spring with the magnificent exhibition "The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers" now on view at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  While Hercules Segers (1590-1638) may not be a household name even among specialists in the field, he was greatly admired by none other than Rembrandt (who owned a number of Segers's works in his own collection) and is considered one of the most experimental and original practitioners of the craft.

Hercules Segers, "Still Life with Books", c. 1618-22
Counterproof (?) of a line etching printed in
blue-green on cotton with a cream colored ground

Segers was an anomaly in several respects.  A member of the artists' guild in Haarlem, Segers worked there and later in Amsterdam as a print maker, painter and also an art dealer.  He was one of the first artists to depict a still life in European graphic art (see above) and he is credited with developing the technique of "sugar-biting", now known as aquatint in print making.  Probably most importantly was Segers's unique approach to print making as another form of painting rather than as a means of producing a number of identical images.  To this end, he experimented with papers, cloths, and methods, sometimes etching several plates for a single image, so that, though similar, no two pieces were exactly alike.  For example, take a look at these five variations of "Valley with a River and a Town with Four Towers" done circa 1626-27.  Each is basically the same composition but due to differences in the support (cloth or paper), ground color (grey-green, yellow-grey, cream, brown-grey), printing ink (blue, black, dark green) and hand-applied enhancements, each is a unique piece.

While Hercules Segers's name may be doomed to obscurity, his influence on the history of graphic art is profound and this exhibition is a well deserved homage to this important artist.

On a more popular note is the concurrent exhibition "Seurat's Circus Sideshow" centered around The Met's marvelous painting of the same name "Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque)" by pointillist painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891).

Many 19th and 20th century artists were captivated by the circus and explored the spectacle's sociological narrative with a mixture of fascination and revulsion.  Seurat's look specifically at the sideshow, the lead-in to the main event, exhibits the same intrigue but with the added anticipation factor - the promise of what is to come.

Seurat was not alone in this obsession with the tease, and this exhibition presents, in a circular gallery setting (much like the ring at the circus), a selection of works on the theme by himself and his contemporaries.  Like the circus and its patrons, the pieces on display range from publicity posters to oil paintings, spanning the spectrum from common to highbrow.

Colorful publicity posters invite us to enter the magical world behind the curtain like this 1897 lithograph by Georges Redon...

A more sinister view is this etching by Marcel Roux taken from "Danse Macabre", 1905, entitled "The Fair:  Those Death Takes by Surprise"...

Seurat's genius with conté crayon on paper is revealed in these precursor to "Circus Sideshow" depicting two clowns in "Sidewalk Show (Une Parade)",  1883-84...
A rather brutal glimpse into the life of a sideshow performer is seen here in Gabriel Boutet's 1885 oil painting "The Fair at Montrouge"...

While Pierre Bonnard offers a more humorous vision as this clown seems to tiptoe off the stage in "Fairground Sideshow (Parade)", an oil on cardboard done in 1892...

Though Seurat's "Circus Sideshow" is a study in elegance and stillness, it was perhaps not the most accurate description of the world of the parade.  Here, in the massive mural "Grimaces and Misery - The Saltimbanques" by Fernand Pelez, we see a more realistic depiction of life as an itinerant entertainer.

Despite the dark undercurrents, the color and excitement of the circus and its sideshow have an enduring appeal - maybe not to artists but to the general public who are flocking to this exhibition like it's the "greatest show on earth"!

March 31, 2017

Bonjour Paris!

Spring has arrived in the City of Lights and with the new season comes a host of wonderful new exhibitions.  Here, in no particular order, is an abbreviated tour of some of the highlights.

Probably the hottest ticket in town is "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting" which opened in February at the Louvre.  It is the first blockbuster show presented by the museum in many years and has been so popular that timed-entry tickets became mandatory for crowd control.  Whatever the wait, it is worth it as we will probably never have the chance to see twelve of Vermeer's paintings (about a third of his entire œuvre) in one place again.

Organized in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art, Dublin, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, this is a magnificent show featuring some very familiar images, like "The Milkmaid", c. 1658-61, on loan from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, as well as some less known works like "The Geographer", c. 1668-69, lent by the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt.

The paintings are arranged according to theme, "Love Letters", "Night and Day", or "Aphrodisiacs", for example, and along with Vermeer's masterful paintings are works by his contemporaries who echoed, but never quite attained, his command of interior scenes.  Though Vermeer's nickname of The Sphinx of Delft implies a solitary painter toiling in isolation, there was, in fact, a real network of Dutch genre painters working at that time.  This exhibition gives visitors a unique opportunity to compare the similarities of technique and style between Vermeer and other artists like ter Borch, Netscher and Dou who, despite being spread throughout The Netherlands, were operating very much in tandem.

Caspar Netscher "The Lacemaker" 1669-70

A little to the east of The Louvre, in the Marais District, is the Musée Picasso where a brand new exhibition looks at the life of Pablo Picasso's first wife, Ukrainian-born Olga Khokhlova.  Thanks to a recently discovered treasure trove of personal letters and documents, the curators of this landmark show offer visitors an incredibly intimate look at the highs and lows of life with the greatest artist of the 20th century.

When Pablo Picasso met Olga in Rome in 1917, he was designing the decorations and costumes for the ballet "Parade",  and she was the prima ballerina.  It was love at first sight and they were married the next year.  In true honeymoon style, this early period was filled with parties and balls, Pablo's career was surging and the couple's son Paulo was born in 1921.  Olga was the ideal muse and Picasso first portrayed her as a melancholy figure, concerned about the plight of her family trapped in Russia during the Revolution, before softening her features to reflect her new motherhood and their domestic joy.

All this changed however when Pablo Picasso met and became obsessed with the much younger Marie-Thérèse Walter.  By 1929, portrayals of Olga had turned from elegant and womanly to tortured and grotesque, a not-so-subtle commentary on the state of their marital union.  Though the couple separated in 1935, they remained legally married until Olga's death twenty years later.

Enriched with a wealth of letters, photographs and other personal papers, "Olga Picasso" is far more than an art exhibition, it is an in depth look at a woman and her relationship with a very complicated man with a few fabulous paintings thrown in.

Now let's head over to the Left Bank and the Musée Maillol where "21 rue La Boétie" opened to large crowds on March 2.  The curious title refers to the address of what was the most famous and respected Modern Art gallery of the early 20th century.  It was owned by art dealer extraordinaire Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959), who represented, and collected, some of the great masters of modernism including Léger, Matisse, Braque and Picasso.

Though the exhibition features about 60 superb examples of Modern Art drawn from private and public collections throughout Europe, the intention is more than just presenting some nice pictures.  The far more compelling theme is the story of Paul Rosenberg himself, whose biography reads like a thriller but with lasting ramifications. 

Paul Rosenberg with Matisse's "Odalisque", 1937

The sons of an antiques dealer, Paul and his brother Léonce both followed in the family footsteps and became respected gallerists in their own rights.  Paul set up shop at 21, Rue La Boétie in 1911 where he became known as both an innovative and very ethical dealer and his stable of artists included both European and American Modern masters.  Everything was going swimmingly until the late 1930s when the Rosenbergs' Jewish heritage began to spell trouble.  Though Paul had taken preemptive action, in 1940, when the Nazis invaded France, he was forced to flee to America, via Lisbon, leaving approximately 2000 works of art behind in Paris.

Paul Rosenberg went on to establish a new gallery at 79 East 57th Street and in doing so, relocated the center of Modern Art from Paris to New York.  Though he returned to France after the war, his son Alexandre took over the 57th Street gallery and continued the family tradition. This exhibition is a wonderful tribute to the foresight and the true courage of conviction of Paul Rosenberg and his enduring contribution to Modern Art.
Finally we come to what was probably the highlight of my museum visits on this trip, "Beyond the Stars:  The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky" now on view at the Musée d'Orsay.  I had been very eager to visit this exhibition and I was not disappointed.  From the first gallery where visitors were greeted with four examples of Claude Monet's "Rouen Cathedral" paintings each painted in a different light, and all from the collection of the Musée d'Orsay, it was obvious that this would be something special.
 Claude Monet "La Cathédrale de Rouen, Harmonie Bleu", 1893

 Claude Monet "La Cathédrale de Rouen, Harmonie Brune", 1892

 Claude Monet "La Cathédrale de Rouen, Harmonie Grise", 1892

Claude Monet "La Cathédrale de Rouen, Plein Soleil, Bleu et Or", 1893

Now, it was no real surprise to find great French Impressionist paintings in Paris.  But what was a surprise was to find a large portion of this exhibition dedicated to mystical landscapes by Scandinavian and especially Canadian artists (with a few Americans thrown in!).  It was a surprise, and for this native-born Canadian a great delight, to find the regionally famous but otherwise  little known "Group of Seven" very well represented...

Tom Thompson "The West Wind", 1916-17

Emily Carr "Indian Church", 1929
Though landscape painting has been around since the beginning of art, more often than not it is pedestrian and, let's face it, rather dull.  This fresh approach to the genre with its focus on symbolism, surrealism and the cosmos is a refreshing look at how we, as humans, co-exist with the natural, and super-natural, worlds.

Georgia O'Keeffe "Red Hills, Lake George", 1927

And now, unfortunately, my landscape will shift from beautiful Paris in the Springtime to New York at the end of winter.  But I leave with my head full of wonderful impressions and great anticipation for the new season ahead.  I hope you'll join me!

March 14, 2017

It's TEFAF Time Again!

Of all the art and antiques exhibitions and fairs I go to every year, the one I most look forward to is The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) held each March in the tiny town of Maastricht, The Netherlands.  Established in 1988 as a venue for dealers in Old Master paintings, TEFAF has grown and expanded to its present coterie of 275 international specialists presenting rare and wonderful works from Egyptian mummies to French wall papers, all thoroughly vetted and all for sale.

Last week I spent two very full days exploring the fair's myriad offerings and enjoying its unique ambiance.  One of the features that make this event so special, and something that the organizers pay extra attention to, is the flowers.  After all, this is the land of the tulip, and every visitor who comes through the entrance is expecting to be wowed by the floral displays.   This year's main installation was like a giant disc by Anish Kapoor, but instead of mirror, it comprised of thousands of test tubes, each suspended with a silver wire and each containing one or two stems in various shades of rose, lilac, green or white.  The effect was stunning, and set the stage for the magic that was to come.

With the tremendous variety of objects and artworks on view it was a challenge to choose the highlights.  So here is a short, extremely subjective selection of some of my favorite things...

"La Ville de Paris" is carved entirely of ivory and stands about 15" tall in its glass case.  It was made in Dieppe circa 1790 and can be found on the stand of Galerie Delalande, Paris...

This ornate ormolu-mounted parcel gilt and polychrome painted ivory, ebony and rose-wood cabinet was made in Augsburg circa 1650 and stands 33" tall.  It is offered for sale by Peter Mühlbauer, Pocking, Germany...

Looking for something a little simpler?  How about these inlaid side chairs designed by Wiener Werkstätte artist Kolomon Moser in 1902/03.  The pair of glass mosaic wall decorations are also by Moser and were made for the reading room at the Beethoven exhibition of the Vienna Secession XIV.  These items are on display with specialist Yves Macaux, London...

On a royal note, Didier Aaron, Paris/London, is presenting this larger than life ceremonial portrait painting of Louis XIV in his coronation finery by Antoine François Callet...

More modern princess fantasies can be indulged with this charming diamond tiara made in France in 1905.  Enquiries can be made at S.J. Phillips, London...

Another impractical but rather amazing piece is The Fabergé Potato on display at A La Vielle Russie, New York.  Made in St. Petersburg circa 1890 by workmaster Michael Perchin, the potato-shaped box is carved of pink-brown agate with a "sliced" lid...

This large seated Buddha exudes serenity.  Carved, painted and gilded during the Ming Dynasty (14th century), this massive (750+ lbs) Buddha is offered for sale by Dutch Oriental Art dealer Vanderven...

On the smaller side of the Buddha coin is this much smaller but equally intriguing black Delft Buddha officially titled "A Figure of Pu-Tai-Ho-Shang (Bodhisattva)" and attributed to the Metaale Pot Factory, Delft, circa 1700.  This rather jolly figure of Buddha can be viewed at Salomon Stodel Antiquités, Amsterdam...

My absolute favorite item offered for sale in this plethora of the fantastic, is, without a doubt, the marvelous Dutch dollhouse filled with 17th century Dutch silver miniatures on the stand of John Endlich Antiquairs, Amsterdam.  This large-scale dollhouse, made of walnut with mother-of-pearl, glass, paper, porcelain and damast was built and decorated in The Netherlands and China and was a real crowd-pleaser.  It was sold within the first hour, reputedly to an American buyer, at an asking price of nearly two million Euros.

Once again, I have enjoyed every single moment of my visit to Maastricht.  From the flowers to the furniture, the paintings to the pearls, it has been another voyage of amazing discoveries.  And though I am always sad to finish a visit to TEFAF, I am already looking forward to the next one!