October 31, 2008

Promenades in Paris - Part I

Move over "Autumn in New York" - these past two weeks in Paris have given the old adage some competition! Despite, by all accounts, a dreadful September, the month of October has been absolutely perfect - crisp, cool days, falling chestnut leaves, the arrival of oyster season and a stronger dollar!

The art scene has been pretty amazing too with a plethora of outstanding museum exhibitions and some fun art fairs too. From The Renaissance to Futurism there is something for everyone! Here is a capsule review of some favorites, in close to chronological order:

The Louvre presents "Mantegna", a "poetic itinerary" of an artist who began his career in the feverish creative atmosphere of Padua, Italy, in the 1440's and went on to fame and fortune in his native land. Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) started painting as a very young man and achieved success quickly with his work on the Ovetari Chapel in 1453. His marriage to the sister of Giovanni Bellini earned him entry into the most important painting workshop of the time and the resulting collaborations influenced the destiny of painting in Northern Italy. He became the official painter of the Marquis Ludovico and under this patronage created some of his greatest works which in turn led to a commission to decorate the chapel of Pope Innocent VIII in the Belvedere of the Vatican. Mantegna was very influenced by antiquity and his drawings, paintings and engravings, are distinguished by their attention to historical detail as well as their superb execution. This extensive exhibition offers an in depth look at Mantegna and his circle and their major influence on the Italian Renaissance.

Across the Seine at the Musée d'Orsay are three special exhibitions that museum goers will not want to miss. "Masques: De Carpeaux à Picasso" explores the history and importance of masks in art and culture. Since early times, masks have been objects of fascination representing metamorphosis, religion, ritual, drama and decoration. Hidden by a mask, the face is highlighted - the object establishes a barrier, creates a mystery and allows the wearer an unparalleled freedom. Created from wood, ceramic, wax, metal, papier maché and pate de verre (a method of casting glass using a mold and a glass paste) and spanning the ages from the Italian Commedia Dell'arte to Japanese Nô, from Symbolism's "Strange Beauty" to Surrealism's obsession with Africa, there are masks of every variety imaginable.

Located on the main floor is "Le Mystère et l'éclat (Mystery and Glitter)" a fabulous exhibition culled from the Musée d'Orsay's own collection of pastels. Pastels first appeared in the 15th Century in France and Italy and were used primarily to give extra color to portraits. By the 18th Century pastels were the preferred medium for portraiture until the French Revolution brought an end to the popularity of this art form. Fortunately the beginning of the 19th Century saw a renewed interest in the medium of pastel as artists re-discovered its unique properties and effects. Many artists created some of their best works using pastel with Manet's nudes, Degas' ballerinas (see right) and Redon's flowers being particularly beautiful examples.

Also on the main floor is a small but quite interesting exhibition that explores two very different artists' interpretation of the same subject. "Picasso/Manet: Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" looks at the ground-breaking 19th Century painting by Edouard Manet and the profound effect it had on the 20th Century genius, Pablo Picasso. In 1863, Manet presented his work "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" (see above) at the Salon des Refusés where it was virulently criticized for portraying a nude woman lunching in the open air with two fully clothed men. The fact that it had been influenced by the Italian masters Giorgione and Titian did nothing to quell the controversy and the painting caused Manet much hardship. Fast forward to 1932 when Picasso sees the painting at a Manet retrospective presented at the Musée de l'Orangerie and it strikes him like a thunderbolt. Picasso went on to work with this motif in many paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints and even in life-sized concrete outdoor statues. The success that eluded Manet at the time, was bestowed upon Picasso many times over as this brilliant theme was recreated at a more appropriate time.

Picasso's "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe après Manet", 1960

Next blog, we will head back over to the Right Bank and explore the 20th and 21st Centuries with Emil Nolde, Jackson Pollock, Lee Miller, the Futurists and FIAC!! See you there!

October 12, 2008

Morandi in Manhattan

"Natura Morta", 1956

"What interests me the most is expressing what's in nature, in the visible world, that is." Giorgio Morandi, in a 1957 interview for the "Voice of America".

The Italian artist Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) was never a revolutionary painter, nor did he ever achieve cult status, but for those who know, his complex, contemplative works are considered some of the finest examples of 20th Century Modern art and forerunners to the Minimalist movement.

Morandi was born and died in Bologna, Italy, and except for occasional trips to Venice, Florence, Rome, or his country house in Grizzana, was content to stay there and work on his still lifes and landscapes. He was a tall man, and by all accounts a very thoughtful one who maintained a low public profile despite his increasing prominence as an intellectual and influential artist.

This fall, New Yorkers have several opportunities to discover the work of this master for themselves. Through December 14th, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents "Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1964". This is the first retrospective of Morandi's career ever presented in the United States and should be a rewarding discovery for museum goers on this side of the Atlantic.

Morandi's early works are an exploration of the Metaphysical as influenced by Cézanne, and reflect a desire to "return to order" after the horrors of World War I. This period lasted until 1922 when he shifted to the style for which he is best known, the still life arrangements of bottles and other banal objects through which he examined the subtleties of volume, form, tone and balance. To a casual observer this may sound pretty dull, but a small effort on the part of the viewer will reveal surprising layers and intricacies.

To clarify the concept, the Met curators have presented "suites" of still lifes, comparable to musical forms of variations on a theme, where a set number of simple objects are arranged and studied in a particular light, then slightly rearranged and reexamined in a different light. At first glance the paintings are the same, but a second look will uncover a world of differences. "In the end, it is just a white bottle" Morandi is quoted as saying in 1962, but in fact the bottle has been reduced to a statement of volume and shape and an example of pure formal abstraction.

Two paintings on display at the Met are neither still lifes nor landscapes. They are 2 stunning self portraits, exceedingly rare and powerful works done in 1924 and 1925. Typical of Morandi's flat, warm style, they are intense and revealing in 2 entirely different ways.

"Still Life in Broad Strokes", 1931

Morandi was also known as a master print maker, in fact he was a professor of etching at the Accademia di Belle Arti for over 20 years. In a small but excellent show now on at Pace Prints, 32 East 57th Street, gallery goers can see a superb selection of some of Morandi's finest graphic works in both still lifes and landscapes.

If you still have a hunger for Morandi, visit the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue at 69th Street. In conjunction with the retrospective at the Metropolitan, the Institute is presenting "Giorgio Morandi: Watercolors and Drawings 1920-1963" a small but very worthwhile exhibition of works on paper by their esteemed native son.

Now that you've become more familiar with Giorgio Morandi, let me share one more little known fact with you - the director Federico Fellini honored his fellow Italian by featuring Morandi's paintings in his iconic film"La dolce vita". What finer tribute to this "artist's artist"!

October 07, 2008

"Art Deco Design: Rhythm and Verve"

The end of World War I in Europe marked the beginning of "Le style moderne" - a time of unprecedented creativity in the fine, decorative and performing arts that lasted, at least officially, until 1939. That period of vibrant expression has come to be known as "Art Deco", a term that resonates with energy, elegance and style just like the era itself!

In a small but superb exhibition now on at the New York Public Library, the curator pulls from the Library's extensive holdings of Art Deco graphics to put together an informative and visually stunning collection of prime examples of the period. With Gershwin music playing in the background, "Art Deco Design: Rhythm and Verve" explores the origins of the movement - its evolution from Art Nouveau into the machine age - and the impact on design that continues today.

This is one of my favorite periods in art history and visitors to my website already know that I always carry a selection of prints from the 1920's by such archetypal artists and designers such as Edouard Benito, Sonia Delaunay, and the fabulous Eugène Seguy, who are also represented in this show.

This exhibition showcases another one of my favorite subjects - the pochoir technique of printing. In this painstaking and labor intensive method of coloration artists used stencil plates (a separate stencil cut for each color field) and hand-applied vibrant watercolors and gouaches to produce luxurious prints that epitomize the boldness and intensity of the Art Deco movement.

Alas, times changed, the Great Depression and World War 2 ensued, and the era of bathtub gin and Josephine Baker came to an end. But the Art Deco epoch left an indelible mark on our psyche and remains the gold standard of romance and progress. Treat yourself to a visual feast and a quick trip back to the Roaring Twenties and visit the New York Public Library soon! The exhibition is free and remains on view until January 11, 2009.