December 11, 2015

What's On At MoMA

It seems like ages since I last visited the Museum of Modern Art so the other day I devoted a couple of hours to at least cover the special exhibitions before they go away.  First on the list was the star of the fall season - "Picasso Sculpture" a survey of this prolific artist's three dimensional works that covers the entire fourth floor exhibition space.

Although Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was trained as a painter, his sculptural work comprises a major component of his artistic output.  He approached the creation of sculpture with almost an amateur's enthusiasm unencumbered by the restraints of formal instruction and technique.  As a result, the works are completely original and are characterized by a certain freedom and joy that is uniquely Picasso's.

"Woman in the Garden, Paris", 1929-30
Welded and painted iron

As is typical of Picasso's paintings, his sculptures passed through many periods and there were often long gaps between works.  This exhibition brings together over 100 sculptures and is divided into eleven galleries each devoted to a specific time in his career allowing the visitor to easily follow the evolution of his expression.  One exceptional installation is a group of six different "Glass of Absinthe" sculptures like the one shown below.  Created in 1914, these works are made of painted bronze, each with an absinthe spoon, in the Cubist style.

Fifteen years later, in the Boisgeloup Sculpture Studio, Picasso's works became more massive and abstract like the plaster "Bust of a Woman", 1931, seen below.

We pass through the years of World War II when his work was dark and often made of bronze and the post war period in Vallauris when he began to incorporate ceramics and found objects into "assemblages" like this whimsical group of "Bathers", below, to his final sheet metal sculptures created in the 1950s.

Interestingly, Picasso kept most of his sculptures for himself and lived with them almost like members of his household.  Whether made of metal, or wood, or clay, or sand, these objects were truly personal creations, almost alter-egos, and it is a remarkable opportunity to be able to see so many examples brought together in this show.

Moving upstairs we come to an exhibition of another Spanish artist, albeit a South American one.  "Joaquin Torres-Garcia:  The Arcadian Modern" is a complete survey of the work of this Modernist painter and illustrator who is not so well known here in the United States but was an important contributor to various avant-garde movements in the early 20th century.

Early works in Torres-Garcia's career, like "Urban Landscape, Barcelona", painted in 1918 (above) and "Hoy (Today)", 1919 (below), show clear signs of the geometric Modernist style he is most famous for.  Themes such as clocks and telegraph lines are already evident and are repeated throughout his lifetime.
Typical of the Modernist artists confronted with the social, technological, environmental and political changes of the post World War I era, Torres-Garcia strove to capture the energy and dynamism of this new machine age while recognizing the conflict and disquiet that this evolution evinced.  After living in Spain and Paris he moved briefly to New York before returning to a more pastoral lifestyle in Europe.  But the march of Abstraction and Modernism continued and was reflected in his work.  By 1929, Torres-Garcia had developed the "Cercle et carrĂ© (Circle and square)" theory of form and color structure, that became his signature style.

"Estructura en color", 1930

Torres-Garcia (1874-1949) eventually returned to his native Uruguay and continued to experiment with abstract forms.  Though his work is unquestionably modern, it holds a certain reverence for the past thereby earning him the moniker an "Arcadian Modern".

Finally, we move back downstairs to the second floor where a small but impressive exhibition is dedicated to the master of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock.  Culled entirely from MoMA's own holdings, "Jackson Pollock:  A Collection Survey" tracks the development of Pollock's signature "drip" paintings from 1934-1954.  

Beginning with rarely seen silk screen prints and pen and ink drawings, and continuing with early oils like "The Flame" 1934-38 (above) we see a clear trajectory from a traditional painting, i.e. strokes applied with a brush, to the revolutionary method he is so famous for today.

By 1945, Pollock was experimenting with different types of paint (household and automotive for example) and different methods of application.  The painting above, entitled "There Were Seven in Eight", is one of the first indicators of what was to come.  Painted in layers with an all-over composition veiling the figurative images beneath, it is almost a transition piece before he created the first "drip" painting, "Full Fathom Five", below, complete with keys, nails, buttons, coins and various other objects that he incorporated into the mix.

By 1947 Pollock was working with the canvas on the floor rather than on an easel, and was actively pouring, spraying, dabbing and dripping the paint in a sort of choreographed performance.  For a few years he was a super-star in the art world, but he was also tortured by self-doubt, alcoholism and depression.  In 1952 he tried to move beyond the "drip" painting but was so blocked that he only produced ten paintings in the three years before he was killed in an automobile accident in 1956.

"Number 1A, 1948", 1948

It is a testament to the vast holdings of New York's Museum of Modern Art that they can put together a retrospective of this importance without a single outside loan!  And it is one of the great joys of living in a city like this where one can visit three major exhibitions under one roof on a quiet Thursday afternoon!

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