December 27, 2014

"Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo" @ MOBIA

For nearly a decade The Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) has promoted art inspired by the Bible through scholarly exhibitions of historical and contemporary works.  Located at the corner of Broadway and 61st Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side, MOBIA's mission is not as a religious institution but as an interpreter of the Bible through the eyes of Jewish and Christian artists and artisans alike.

Their current exhibition is a perfect example of the power of biblical imagery in the world of prints.  "Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo" presents a select group of etchings, engravings and woodcuts from the Jansma Collection of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.  Not only are these exquisite examples of biblical illustrations, they are samples of printmaking at its finest.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
"Christ Carrying the Cross", 1512

When printmaking made its debut in Western Europe in the 15th century, it was suddenly possible to distribute multiple examples of identical images through the use of a matrix - either a piece of carved wood or sheet of incised metal which was then inked and impressed on a sheet of paper.  Rather than an expensive painting or icon, individuals could now acquire and carry cheaper and more portable devotional images thereby spreading the Word among a greater population.

Presented in "Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo" are pieces by some of the finest artists to work in the medium of print.  The exhibition opens with Albrecht Dürer and his exquisitely detailed suite of 16 engravings illustrating The Passion (see above) and continues with Rembrandt van Rijn whose small and charming "The Star of the Kings, a Night Piece" was a discovery for me, and the larger, more familiar "The Three Crosses" (see below) was impressive as always.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
"Christ Crucified Between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses)", 1653-55
4th State, Drypoint with burin

Another suite of etchings depicting "The Flight into Egypt" by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo not only illustrated a (now) very familiar story, it did so with careful attention to human expression making Mary and Joseph and the other characters seem like real people rather than fictional personalities.

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804)
"Joseph and Mary Seeing Shelter" 
Plate #5 from "The Flight Into Egypt", 1750-53

The British artist William Blake also interpreted The Bible and the complete set of 22 engravings for "The Illustrations of the Book of Job" is on view here.  Considered to be Blake's masterpiece, this series is almost an homage to Old Master printmaking with the melding of text and image as a modern illuminated manuscript and the use of the more laborious technique of line engraving as opposed to etching.

William Blake (1757-1827)
"The Lord Answering Job out of the Whirlwind", 1825

While Impressionist artist Edouard Manet may be better known for his beautifully colored paintings of Parisian scenes, he was also an accomplished print maker as the powerful etching and aquatint "The Dead Christ with Angels" will attest.

Edouard Manet (1832-1888)
"The Dead Christ with Angels", 1866-67
Etching with aquatint printed in brown ink

Finally, and most surprisingly, is a series of colored woodcuts illustrating The Lord's Prayer by the German Expressionist artist Max Pechstein.  Profoundly affected by the horrors witnessed while serving in the army during World War I, Pechstein retreated to a fishing village in Northern Germany to recover his sanity.  Although The Bible was not primary subject matter for him, Pechstein's interpretation of this fundamental Christian prayer is almost painfully personal and very moving.

Max Pechstein (1881-1955)
Title Page from "The Lord's Prayer (Das Vater Unser)", 1921
Wood cut with hand color

On this note I will wrap up this blog and this year with a deep gratitude for all the blessings of my life and many thanks to my wonderful readers.  I wish you all a very Happy New Year and look forward to sharing more adventures as we travel through 2015 together!

December 21, 2014

Metropolitan Miscellany!

I might be a little prejudiced, but in my opinion there is no place better than New York City at Christmas.  Yes, the weather can get ugly and the crowds are daunting, but you just can't beat the plethora of decorations and festivities during the holiday season.  One of my favorite places to visit at this time of year (well, at any time of year really but especially now) is the Metropolitan Museum of Art and yesterday I took a break from the cards and the wrapping to spend a few hours exploring some of the many exhibitions now on view.

I started with the special show dedicated to the major gift Cubist Art to the Museum from the collector and philanthropist Leonard Lauder.  Comprising 81 outstanding examples of works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, this is an impressive gift by any standards and effectively raises the Met's holdings in this category from very good to world class.  It is a superb show and as it continues until February and I would like to explore it further, I will save a real review until after the new year.

Bartholomeus Spranger
"Jupiter and Antiope", 1596

Stepping back about four hundred years to Bohemia and we come to the first major exhibition dedicated to Bartholomeus Spranger, one of the most important artists of the time.  Spranger (1546-1611) had the distinction of serving a cardinal, a pope and two Holy Roman Emperors during his remarkable career and "Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague" presents a selection of his paintings, drawings and etchings in a mini "Kunst Kabinet" setting.

After a delicious lunch in the Petrie Court Café overlooking Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park it's time to continue my tour.  The next stop also involves a 16th century artist but this one is mainly known for his tapestries.  "Grand Design:  Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry" is an amazing assembly of 19 large format woven tapestries designed for the crowned heads of Europe by Pieter Coecke (1502-1550).  I can't truthfully say that tapestries are my "thing" but these examples are magnificent and very imposing in their size and imagery.  Also on view is a selection of his drawings, prints and altarpieces, which, taken together, leave no doubt as to his artistic genius.

"Seven Deadly Sins:  Gluttony"
Woven circa 1550-1560
12'9" x 22'3"

A quick walk through the Met's European Art galleries to say hello to some favorite Impressionists and down the stairs to the Robert Lehman Collection and we come to another small but truly outstanding special exhibition entitled "Madame Cézanne".  

Paul Cézanne
"Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair 
(Madame Cézanne in a Striped Dress)", 1877

Paul Cézanne did not paint a wide variety of subjects.  Instead he chose to portray people, places or things he knew really well and could examine artistically over and over again.  One of the few individuals he portrayed was his lover and later his wife, Hortense Fiquet, the mother of his only child.  While they did not have the most romantic of relationships, she was his most painted model - a total of 29 times over a twenty year period.  Remarkably, the curators of this exhibition have assembled 24 of these canvases as well as several sketches and watercolors of the same subject.  It is a fascinating psychological study as the woman with whom the artist was most close is portrayed in a variety of settings and poses but never in a flattering light!  Alternating between grim and detached, Hortense appears long-suffering and alone while remaining devoted to her husband and child.
There are still a few more special exhibitions on my checklist but I've seen a lot already and there is one stop that I absolutely have to make.  For me, Christmas just isn't Christmas without a visit to the Met's magnificent Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche.  Situated against the imposing backdrop of a 1763 choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid, Spain, the Met's Christmas Tree manages to maintain its resplendent beauty even after the umpteenth visit.  And so, from the serenity of the Met's Medieval Sculpture Hall, I wish you and yours a peaceful and joyous holiday season.

December 20, 2014

"Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne" in Palm Beach

After the whirlwind of Art Basel Miami Beach and its related fairs and events, I was happy to take a little break from the Modern and Contemporary scene and drive up to Palm Beach where a new exhibition had just opened at The Society of the Four Arts.  "Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne: Paris 1880-1910" is a wonderful look at Paris in its heyday - the thirty year period around the turn-of-the-century when to be considered "Parisian" was the ultimate compliment.

Regular readers of my blog will think I'm repeating myself what with the blog posts "Paris 1900 - La Ville Spectacle" in June and "The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec @ MoMA" in August (and it's true, it is my favorite period) but this exhibition is a little different.  Drawn primarily from a private collection in The Netherlands with a few important museum loans, this traveling show presents 185 drawings, watercolors, paintings, books, posters, programs and zinc shadow puppets that taken together give a comprehensive view of the arts at that time.

While the prolific painter and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is the headliner of this exhibition, it is really a tribute to the many lesser known artists who collectively set the tone of la Belle Epoque.  This generation furthered the artistic liberation begun by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist schools to reflect the modernity of the new century.  Movements such as Symbolism, Naturalism, The Incoherents, and The Nabis existed to capture the up-to-the-minute modernity of Paris at that time.  It was an era of confidence and optimism, of new inventions and new societal norms, of prosperity and liberty - and all of this demanded a fresh approach to art.

At this time Paris was the cultural center of the universe and Montmartre was the hub.  Here, in this hilly village on the northern edge of the city, artists, writers and entertainers came together to push their creative limits to the max.  Scenes of everyday life by Mary Cassatt, Charles Maurin and Georges Lemmen, and landscapes by Henri Rivière, Charles Lacoste and Charles Guilloux (see below) explored traditional subject matter with fresh eyes.

"The Notre Dame Cathedral Seen from the Riverbank", c. 1894

"Parisianism" was also explored through the world of entertainment as cabarets, circuses and café concerts became part of modern life.  While actors and performers were still considered somewhat déclassé, the lure of these types of live spectacles was irresistible to many otherwise "respectable" citizens.  Naturally, any forward-thinking artist wanted to participate as well and the work of Louis Abel Truchet, Jacques Villon, Louis Legrand (see below), among many others, is well represented.

"Bar Scene: Portrait of Prince K.", 1899        

The "Nabis" (the term means "prophet" in Hebrew and Arabic) was a group of young, avant-garde artists who sought to revitalize painting, as "prophets" of Modern Art, in fin-de-siècle Paris.  Characterized by flat planes and colors, the most well known members of the school include Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson and Henri Ibels (see below). 

"Mère Moderne", 1893

The Symbolists were another artistic group who converged around this time but they were definitely not avant-garde.  In fact they represented a reaction against realism as they strove to incorporate spiritualism, or the supernatural, into their imagery.  Artists like Fernand Khnopff and Leon Spilliaert, both Belgian, are prime examples of this particular style.

The final section of this show focuses on portraiture and here we find depictions of some of the great characters of the day.  My favorite example from the exhibition is an 1893 aquatint by Charles Maurin of the man of the hour himself, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: 

Contrary to historical examples of portraiture, these are realistic depictions of people, warts and all, rendered in lifelike situations.  It was a fundamental departure from the glorified portrayals of men and women traditionally commissioned in the past, and a prime example of the radical ideology of turn-of-the-century Paris.

If you can't make it to Palm Beach before January 11, 2015 do not fear!  "Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne" will be traveling to Sacramento, CA, Arlington, TX and Baton Rouge, LA, before heading back to Europe at the end of next year!

December 06, 2014

The Tale of the Turtle

One of the best parts about visiting Art Basel Miami Beach is that is gives me an opportunity to go to the beach in December.  While New York City is cold and grey, even an off day in South Florida is good enough to walk on the beach and take a dip in the ocean.  But this morning was very special even by Sunshine State standards.  This morning, just as we started on our regular after-breakfast beach walk, we came across a little brown creature stranded on the sand.  At first I thought it was a crab, but when we got closer we realized it was a baby sea turtle.

The first thought was to put it back in the sea, but the waves were so rough that the little turtle kept coming back to shore.  My husband quickly realized that this was a protected species and sent me to get the hotel pool lifeguard who knew a thing or two about sea turtles and would know what to do with this little one in distress.  I ran to get John who dropped everything to come back with me to the water's edge.  He immediately called the hotline for the "Turtle Truck" and sure enough within two minutes had a call back from the turtle expert, Selina.  She told us not to put the baby back into the ocean but to put it in a bucket with wet sand and that she would be by within the hour.  We went back to the pool and grabbed a sand pail and shovel to make a new, temporary home for the little turtle.

Our little charge seemed to be uninjured and would move all of its flippers if turned over on its back.  It was about 6 inches long and had quite a beautiful pattern on its shell.  John knew that this was an endangered species and told us that this little creature would grow into a great big turtle of about 2-3 feet across.

So we waited with our little charge until a white truck with flashing lights arrived on the scene and out jumped Selina and her husband Bill.  Maybe the first clue that they were "turtle people" was the turtle t-shirt and pendant worn by Bill.  Or maybe it was the turtle tattoos on the ankles of Selina, but it just took a moment to understand that they were completely devoted to the well being of these marvelous sea creatures.

Working under the auspices of the Florida Sea Grant College Program and its protocol of Sea Turtle Conservation in Miami-Dade County, Selina and Bill come to the rescue of sea turtles up and down the Miami coastline.  From protecting turtle nests, to rescuing turtles in distress, to lobbying for laws to make modern day development more friendly to these prehistoric creatures, the Sea Turtle Conservation Program has raised awareness of this endangered species and made a lot of progress towards ensuring their survival.

But back to our little foundling.  Selina took one look at the baby and was happy to see that it seemed uninjured and quite healthy.  She estimated that it was about 2-3 years old but could not say if it was male or female although she told us that it is very rare to find a male.  Selina and Bill both thought that we had found a Loggerhead Turtle, but did not rule out the possibility of it being a Hawksbill Turtle either.  And yes, both species are endangered.

The next step in this little turtle's life was to be taken to a rehab center at the University of Florida where it would be nourished, examined and monitored.  Selina and Bill had noticed two little spots of algae and a tiny razor barnacle attached to its shell.  Then, if all went well after a couple of months, the little turtle would be taken out to the kelp line, about 10 miles offshore, where it would be released to the wild.

Getting back into the Turtle Truck with the little one still in his plastic bucket with wet sand, Selina and Bill thanked us and assured us that it would now have a fighting chance at survival.  We are now Turtle Rangers with one accredited "Save" and I've never been prouder.

December 05, 2014

The Shoe Parade at Art Basel Miami Beach!

Greetings from sunny South Florida where Art Basel Miami Beach is now in full swing!  This event has grown exponentially since its inception in 2002 and is now a major event that drew over 75,000 visitors over a five day period last year.

I have had the good fortune to attend Art Basel Miami Beach every December from year one and while the art is certainly the main draw, it is also a prime opportunity for people watching.  So this year, instead of focusing on what's for sale and on view, I'm going to give you a First Choice view of the footwear fashion on parade.

So here, in no particular order, are some of the most glamorous, outrageous, intriguing, amusing and a la mode examples of shoe styles, photographed surreptitiously with my iPhone, at the VIP preview...

And just to show you that I really was looking at art, here are two works based on, what else - SHOES!

Lia Chaia "Setamanco", 2009

Joel Otterson "My Shoes", 1988