March 31, 2012

What's on at the Centre Pompidou

There is a lot happening on the museum scene here in Paris with three interesting shows at the Centre Pompidou alone.

Let's start with a small but compelling exhibition "Josef Albers in America:  Paintings on Paper".  The German-born Albers (1888-1976) was one of the first teachers at the Bauhaus but as pre-World War II  pressure from the Nazis increased he fled Europe for the United States where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

Albers became known as an Abstract painter and color theorist with his iconic "Homage to the Square" remaining hugely influential on Modern and Contemporary artists to this day.  This series, begun in 1950, allowed Albers to explore his color theories with flat monochromatic squares arranged concentrically on Masonite.  His work inspired a generation of American artists who admired the simplicity and totality of these paintings.  Nonetheless, Albers remains largely unknown in Europe and this exhibition of 80 oils on papers is a long overdue introduction of his work to a new public.

Upstairs on the sixth floor is a new exhibition devoted to a master of 20th Century Modern art, Henri Matisse.  Not simply a retrospective, "Matisse Pairs and Series" explores his obsession with repeating compositions over and over but with different canvas' and treatments every time.  In an almost "practice makes perfect" philosophy, Matisse repainted and reworked his subjects in an attempt to achieve the ideal form, representation, relationship between design and color and surface area - seminal quests in the evolution of Modern art.

Representing each stage of his career, from Pointillism to Fauvism to his late paper cut outs, each painting is displayed accompanied by a sister work (or two or three) giving the viewer a fascinating insight into how the idea was developed.  This is a very engaging show and the best part is - it's coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this December!

Last but far from least is the marvelous "Danser sa vie - Dance and the Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries".  This show was a surprise hit with the catalogue sold out within weeks of its opening and it was so interesting that I went through twice, on two different occasions, just to make sure that I hadn't missed a thing.

 Using video, documentation, photographs, paintings, vintage costumes and even live performers, "Dance Your Life" looks at the very strong relationship between dance and the revolution of modern visual art.  The exhibition is organized into three main sections beginning with Dance as Self-Expression and a look at the pioneers of modernity including Isadora Duncan and Vaslav Nijinsky and how their rejection of traditional ballet set the stage for Expressionism. 

It continues with Dance and Abstraction and the reaction of the art world to the Industrial Revolution.  Now both dance and painting were simultaneously being pared down to their bare essentials – the simplification of movement and form.  Performance examples include Loïe Fuller’s Serpentine Dance and Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet while Sonia Delaunay’s rhythmic color symphonies and Gino Severini’s dynamic Futurist works echo these trends.  Wonderful film footage of the incomparable Josephine Baker shaking her feathers is juxtaposed with the geometric, machinist Mechanical Ballet while original Bauhaus costumes turn on a nearby pedestal (see right). 

The final section focuses on Dance and Performance starting with the reactionary Dada actions at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 and continuing through Fluxus, Conceptual Art, the Post Modern Era and on through Pop Culture.  Here we have video of Jackson Pollack performing his own stylized dance as he sprayed paint onto the canvas and in the 1960’s Yves Klein using nude women as paintbrushes.  Dance and art merged as one with no contradiction in terms.

I leave you with this photograph taken through an open window along the escalators that take visitors up to the top of the Centre Pompidou.  In the distance you can see Sacré Cœur and the cage in the foreground is for the window washers!  The view is really fantastic and you can see how absolutely gorgeous the weather continues to be.  I have one more blog to post from Paris – a visit to the Salon du Dessin and its treasure trove of beautiful drawings – so I hope you’ll check back soon for this trip’s final installment.

March 28, 2012

Two Views of the Nude

It's been a beautiful few days here in Paris - so warm and sunny that the chestnut trees, while not in blossom, are in almost full leaf!

The spring season has also brought forth a slew of new museum shows and I'm going to look at two of them here.  Let's start off at the beautiful Musée d'Orsay, the former train station on the banks of the Seine, and their new exhibition "Degas and the Nude".

In conjunction with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Musée d'Orsay is presenting an in depth look at Edgar Degas and his artistic evolution in the theme of the nude.  From his early, very academic drawings through his later, very modern interpretations, this show offers a remarkable view of the development of this singular subject.

Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas (1834-1917), along with his contemporaries Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, is considered one of the founders of Impressionism although he himself preferred the term Realist.  Famous for his depictions of ballerinas and race horses, Degas also devoted significant attention to the nude which he explored through a full spectrum of techniques.  The curators have brought together works from every medium - pencil drawings, oil paintings, bronze sculptures, monotype prints and his gorgeous pastels - to give an complete overview of the motif.  Tracing the thematic development from the classical body to brothel scenes to naturalist nudes and finally the late experimental works that were more solid and abstract in feel, we can follow Degas' exploration of this timeless theme as he takes the nude from traditional to avant garde.

"Degas and the Nude" will remain on view in Paris until July 1 and will reopen in Boston for the fall season.

For another perspective on the nude, you just have to walk a short distance to the Musée Rodin to see "Capturing the Model - Rodin 300 Drawings".  Now, while Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and Edgar Degas were certainly contemporaries, they had completely different styles.  Rodin was primarily a sculptor with "The Thinker" being probably his greatest achievement and one of the most recognized statues in the world.  But during the years 1890 until his death in 1917, Rodin virtually abandoned sculpture and focused almost entirely on drawing.

As the Musée Rodin is currently closed for renovation (it re-opens on April 2), the curators used the down time to promote this less well known facet of Rodin's œuvre.  On display in the welcome center are 300 drawings and watercolors, culled from the museum's archive of over 6,000 works, that epitomize the artist's obsession with drawing the nude.  The exhibition is divided into categories including early naturalistic sketches, cut-out collages of simplified bodies, erotic portrayals that leave nothing to the imagination, a group of Cambodian dancers and avant garde splashes of color that comprise his final works.  Altogether the progression of styles shows Rodin's increased confidence in the medium and his advancement from the classical to the modern.  While 300 drawings of naked women may not be everyone's cup of tea, it was a interesting study in contrasts to the massive bronze sculpture Rodin is famous for and provided a compelling look into the psyche of this giant who ushered in the 20th Century.

I am now heading out to enjoy the glorious sunshine and maybe have lunch at an outdoor café!  But I'll be back soon with more dispatches from the museum scene here in Paris!

March 25, 2012

Celebrating 25 Years of The European Fine Art Fair

Once again the small town of Maastricht, Holland, is bustling with an onslaught of 75,000 visitors who have come to enjoy what is undeniably the finest art and antiques fair in the world - TEFAF.  But this year is even more special as it marks the silver anniversary of this elegant affair that began very simply as a venue for old master paintings and has evolved into a showcase for excellence in areas ranging from Roman antiquities to Russian icons to Rothko paintings.

As anticipated, the entrance to the fair was stunning with a shimmering chandelier of sparkling lights playing stars to an enormous full moon comprising thousands of white roses.  Each aisle featured arrangements of masses of every variety of tulip imaginable.  All this set the stage for the marvelous treasures to be discovered within...

The great pleasure of this fair is not just the rare and magnificent items one discovers, but very often the booths themselves are presented exquisitely.  I loved the salon hanging of 18th Century scenes of Venice by various Italian painters at Galleria Cesare Lampronti, Rome.

And the collection of portraits of British Royals from the Houses of Tudor and Stuart hanging at The Weiss Gallery, London.

I thought the installation of early 20th Century chairs from the Bauhaus, Secessionists and Wiener Werkstätte on the stand of Yves Macaux, London was stunning in its simplicity.

The Kunstkammer Georg Laue, Munich, never fails to entrance with his marvelous collection of exotic objects from the Renaissance and the Baroque including a stuffed armadillo atop a 17th Century Dutch marriage chest, and this elaborately carved box made from a type of nut.


Some of my favorite pieces at this year's fair would have to include the Japanese "Shibyama" elephant carved of ivory with an overall ornamentation of mother of pearl and semi-precious stones.  It dates to approximately 1880 and could be found on the stand of the venerable dealer Mallett, London and New York.

Still in ivory but much earlier and from a different continent is this late 17th Century statue of Pluto and Proserpina executed by Matthias Steinl, an Austrian artist of considerable talent.  This intricately carved work stands about 10 1/4" tall on a base of ebony and is exquisite in its detail and its porcelain-like patina.  It was on view at Julius Böhler, Stamberg, Germany.

This being Holland there was a profusion of porcelain with the long-time exhibitors Aronson Antiquairs, Amsterdam, showing a very rare pair of plaques featuring Princess Anne and Prince William IV.  These royal portrait plaques are superb examples of "petit feu" polychrome and gilded Delftware created around 1735 and still in perfect condition.

A stunning life sized oil portrait of Ena Wertheimer, painted in 1902 by Giovanni Boldini reigned over the stand of Rovilant + Voena, London and Milan.

While a massive bronze sculpture of a horse's head by contemporary British artist Nic Fiddian-Green dominated the booth of Sladmore Gallery, London.

But if I had to pick one single piece that was marvelous and magical and totally out of this world, it would have to be the clock made in Germany circa 1760 for Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1745 until 1765.  This magnificent confection of gilded wood and mirror stands 3' 8" high and is highly carved with allegories of the four continents (Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas) and the four elements all entwined with scrolls and foliage, shields and coronets.  The clock itself was made by Leopold Hoys, a master clockmaker from Bamberg, while the case was created by Bonaventura Joseph Mutschele of Würzburg.  Still in perfect working order, the clock plays an original minuet every hour at 1 1/2 minutes past the hour and chimes every 15 minutes.  This masterpiece was offered by Daniel Katz, London, at an impressive price of 1.9 Million Euro.

TEFAF's Silver Jubilee edition is now almost over and I can hardly wait until next year!  But next on the itinerary is Paris which is always a joy and full of wonders to discover as well.  Au revoir!

March 07, 2012

A Step Back in Time - The Paris of Eugène Atget

Although the French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927) considered himself simply a man who took pictures, his stature in the spectrum of early 20th Century art is significantly more important.  Working with a large format wooden bellows camera on a tripod, he studiously photographed the everyday scenes of Paris and its environs and sold these pictures as documentation for artists, publishers, architects and interior designers to use as reference and inspiration in their own work.

In the 1920s these photos caught the attention of avant-garde painters Man Ray, Matisse and Picasso who saw in them the essence of Surrealism and Atget became recognized as an artist rather than a camera person.

Not that this new status changed him or the kinds of photographs he took but after his death the American photographer Berenice Abbott, a long time champion of his work, acquired much of his archive which she ultimately sold to New York's Museum of Modern Art.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Eugène Atget is now firmly ensconced on the pedestal "Master of Photography".  His photographs are sought after by collectors, bring high prices at auctions, and have been the subject of major museum exhibitions including one on view right now at MoMA.

"Eugène Atget:  Documents pour artistes" is a nod to the photographer's stated mission as he lugged his camera to capture the perfect images of shop windows, street people, statues and staircases in an effort to record the real Paris.  But far from merely recording people, places and things, these photographs captured the essence of the city.  Atget's mastery of composition and the long exposure give these pictures an ethereal, almost dreamlike, quality.

The exhibition is organized according to theme -  Surrogates and the Surreal comprising shop windows, street fairs and mannequins, the sights of the Fifth Arrondisement near the Pantheon, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Parc de Sceaux, People of Paris including prostitutes, vendors, rag pickers and gypsies, and finally Courtyards with their unique orientation between interior and exterior or private and public spaces.  There are over 100 photographs, most of them vintage, and most superb examples of Atget's unique style.  I was sorry not to see any works from his Versailles series but overall the show was very well curated and very interesting - especially to a Francophile like me!  Looking at these sepia toned photos made me think of a Paris of long ago but even though there may no longer be horse drawn carriages or organ grinders in the streets many sights have remained very much the same.

This tribute to the genius of Eugène Atget was the perfect send off as I leave for Paris this weekend.  I am looking forward to visiting my favorite places from print dealers to restaurants as well as an overnight jaunt to attend the opening of the 25th anniversary of TEFAF in Maastricht, Holland.  I hope you'll check back to see what's going on in Gaie Paris and I certainly hope you have a chance to see this marvelous photography show "Documents pour artistes" that will be on view at MoMA until April 9.  A très bientôt!

March 04, 2012

Looking at Laboureur

One of the most under-appreciated artists of the early 20th Century has always been, in my opinion, the French print maker Jean-Emile Laboureur. 

"Self Portrait", 1928
Born in Nantes in 1877, Laboureur found his professional calling at an early age, thanks in large part, to an acquaintanceship with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who encouraged him to give up formal study and pursue his dream of being an artist.  He traveled through Europe visiting print rooms in museums and galleries while learning the print making techniques of wood block, etching and engraving.  In 1903, Laboureur expanded his horizons even farther and voyaged across the ocean to take up residence in New York City and later Pittsburgh, PA.  The energy and excitement of these burgeoning industrial cities were infectious and he recorded his observances of people and places in beautiful and poignant prints.

Laboureur's return to France in 1909 coincided with the emergence of Cubism, a movement he embraced with great enthusiasm.  Never overly intellectual, his images maintain an airy, natural quality made even more powerful by the stripped down simplicity of the Cubist line executed in etchings and woodblocks.  He recorded his experiences as an interpreter with the British Army during World War I by returning to his roots and the ease of literally "sketching" an image with a burin on discarded metal ammunition cases to create an engraving.  He was a devoted graphic artist - determined to create with or without a studio or equipment!

"Garçon au restaurant"
With the return of peace time, Laboureur shifted his attention from capturing vignettes and portrayals to the esteemed French tradition of book illustration - the livre d'artiste - a specialty he excelled in eventually leaving a body of work comprising over fifty titles.  He also traded bachelorhood for marriage, settling down at the age of 42 with his beloved Suzanne and they enjoyed a happy family life with two children living and working in Brittany.  Sadly, in 1939 Jean-Emile Laboureur contracted a disease that left him paralyzed and he spent his last few years unable to pursue his art and he died in 1943.

Despite professional accolades and reasonable success during his lifetime Laboureur never really achieved what his followers thought he deserved.  Certainly his prints and books are coveted by a very specialized group of collectors but it always surprised me that his works, full of charm and wit, seemed rather under valued.  However all this started to change last October with the auction in Paris of the Estate of his son, Sylvain.  Devoted to preserving the legacy of his father, Sylvain Laboureur had compiled a three-volume catalogue raisonné listing individual prints, livres d'artiste and paintings, drawings and watercolors.  With his passing, the family's private collection of works was put up for sale and the results were astounding.

I was fortunate to be able to preview and attend that auction and I was overwhelmed with the plethora of marvelous esoteric lots for sale.  I had high hopes of acquiring a special example of a print accompanied by a preparatory drawing and maybe even the copper plate on which it was etched.  It became clear very quickly that despite relatively low estimates there were no bargains to be had and I sat in the audience as lot after lot was sold for prices that precluded me from even raising my paddle to bid.

"Chez la floriste", 1920
This Thursday I have a second chance as Swann Galleries here in Manhattan is offering a single-owner sale of prints, drawings and illustrated books by Jean-Emile Laboureur.  The collector remains anonymous but obviously had a passion for these works as he or she assembled a large and diverse group of exceptional examples.  I previewed the auction yesterday and will attend the sale again with hopes of picking up a special print or two to add to my own small collection.  Whether or not I succeed, it is a great pleasure to see such a comprehensive ensemble on public view and very satisfying to see this long overlooked artist finally getting his due.