Posts Tagged ‘Van Gogh’

Art | Picasso in Black & White

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Picasso Black and White
Solomon R Guggenheim Museum
New York City, USA
5th October, 2012 – 23rd January, 2013

Using only black, white and grey with sometimes a hint of ochre or perhaps blue, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was master of the monochrome. And although the Guggenheim’s press release attempts to convince us that this aspect of the artist’s work is frequently overlooked, who among us could forget or have failed to notice Picasso’s austere and sombre Guernica, 1937 – his knee-jerk reaction to the merciless bombing by German and Italian warplanes, at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, of a defenceless Basque village during the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso, who is reputed to have said that colour ‘weakens’ apparently purged colour from his work in order to highlight its formal structure. And while his coloured pieces could sometimes be as brash as Pop art or compete with any of the more outlandishly-hued Van Gogh paintings, in cleverly concentrating solely on Picasso’s black and white output, the exhibition’s curators reveal an understated, often alluringly delicate side to the artist through works that provide insight with regard to his experimental, pioneering investigations into Cubism and his delving into Surrealism.

The Guggenheim’s phenomenal chronological presentation extending across Picasso’s entire 70-year career, includes significant loans—many of which have not been exhibited or published before—drawn from museum, private, and public collections across Europe and the United States, together with numerous works from the Picasso family and includes, among some 118 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, the tortured Head of a Horse, Sketch for Guernica.

Pablo Picasso Images from top
Tête de femme, profil droit [Marie-Thérèse], 1934
Collection of Aaron I. Fleischman
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

L’accordéoniste, 1911
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R Guggenheim Founding Collection, by gift
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph by Kristopher McKay. © The Solomon R Guggenheim
Foundation, New York

Tête de cheval, étude pour Guernica, 1937
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Bequest of the artist
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph, © Archivo fotográfico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina
Sofía, Madrid

L’homme à la pipe, 1923
Private collection, Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso
para el Arte
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph by Eric Baudouin

La cuisine, 1948
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest, 1980
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph, The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York

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Art | Andrew Wyeth in China

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Andrew Wyeth in Beijing & Hong Kong
Yuan Space, Beijing, China
14th April – 12th May, 2012
Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center
24th – 30th May, 2012
Christie’s, New York, USA
Date to be announced, September, 2012

When Snoopy’s dog house burned down in November 1966, sadly his Van Gogh was destroyed along with it, but the strip’s cartoonist, Charles M Schulz, saw to it that the painting was quickly replaced with one by the artist Andrew Wyeth, of whose work he was a great admirer. In 1977 Wyeth was the first American artist since John Singer Sargent to be elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. A Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006, running over 15 weeks, drew more than 175,000 visitors, the museum’s highest-ever attendance for a living artist. In 2007 he received the National Medal of Arts from George W Bush and in the same year, in the Springfield Up episode of The Simpsons, Mr Burns has a painting of Wyeth’s iconic Christina’s World, 1948 – MoMA Collection, bought in 1948 for $1800 – in his den, except that in his version Burns lanky body replaces the more shapely female figure. The entire neighbourhood of Thunder Hill in the village of Oakland Mills, Columbia in Maryland has street names derived from his paintings. But although Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was one of the most popular and revered artists in the history of American art, perhaps it was for this very popularity that he was also one of its most criticised, especially within the art world. According to Michael Kimmelman, who wrote Wyeth’s obituary in The New York Times: ‘Because of his popularity – a bad sign to many art world insiders – Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject. ‘Kimmelman went on to say that art critics mostly heaped abuse on Wyeth’s work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Hopper’s realism was okay, apparently, but Wyeth’s wasn’t. Some experts regarded him as a facile realist, not an artist but merely an illustrator. Lashing out in all directions and perhaps further isolating himself, Wyeth expressed general disdain for the abstract expressionists. And so the antagonistic situation festered and boiled throughout the latter part of his life.

Andrew Wyeth was born into an artistic family in Chadds Ford, a small town in Pennsylania, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. His father NC Wyeth was a well-known illustrator, whose fame and talent in the 1920s attracted the attention of celebrities such as F Scott Fitzgerald who would come to visit him. NC drove his frail and ailing son – too feeble to attend school – hard, pushing him to develop drawing skills at an early age with the obsessive goal of making him follow in his father’s footsteps and become an illustrator. But Andrew resisted, preferring to paint the deserted landscapes he discovered on his wanderings. He liked the idea that figures could be implicit in his paintings but nevertheless went on to include in them his friends, a black handyman (A Crow Flew By 1949-50), and neighbours Karl and Anna Kuerner. Although he adapted portraits of others to include details of his father, who died in 1945, Wyatt never painted him. His ‘Helga‘ series of more than 200 paintings and sketches came with a whiff of scandal – he didn’t tell his wife about them until they were finished in 1985 – and received national publicity, travelling to major cities throughout the USA. These intimate studies – many of them full figure nudes – of neighbour Helga Testorf, made him very rich.

In Wyeth’s style of painting, that became known as ‘Magic’ Realism, everyday scenes are imbued with a dream-like air of mystery, coupled with barely concealed melancholy. He recorded the arid Pennsylvania and Maine landscapes, rural houses, and rickety shacks with great detail, painting in each tiny blade of grass, individual strands of hair, and every subtle nuance of light and shadow. The Brandywine River Museum, in Chadds Ford houses much of the Wyeth collection.

Wyeth’s work was as rural as Warhol’s was urban, his nudes as earthy as Warhol’s girls (and boys) were dirty, but while the rural can easily look picturesque to the city dweller, and might appear to pander even unintentionally to wide appeal, urban art is by nature of its situation radical and intended for a strictly limited, edgier audience. Ubiquity and the passage of time can render almost any image passé – The Mona Lisa, The Hay Wain, Van Gogh’s SunflowersThe Scream – and perhaps Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World has fallen victim to the same fate. But Warhol’s once iconoclastic Marilyn Diptych has, too – so far to a somewhat lesser extent – and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone LivingDamien Hirst’s shark – will not be immune.

It’s not so surprising, then, that Wyeth’s work as opposed to Warhol’s and Pollock’s was deemed acceptable to the powers that be in 1980s China, where it became immensley popular. The press release for the forthcoming Andrew Wyeth in China exhibitions contains the following quote from Li Xian Ting – often called the godfather of Chinese contemporary avant-garde – academic consultant to the exhibition, who on this occasion may well be toeing the party line: ‘When Wyeth’s work first caught the eyes of artists of this generation, we were mainly under the influence of Socialist Realism from the 40s and (Russian) Peredvizhniki art in which the relation [sic] between the narrative and ideology featured heavily. Historically, young Chinese artists’ classical training was figurative and representational. At the time, the only way to rebel against Social Realism was to embrace Modernism, entailing a complete abandon [sic] of representation. This would have implied, starting from zero to reincarnate a new self under the banners of Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. And just as artists found themselves at this impasse, Wyeth’s works appeared. They were melancholic, poetic, but at the same time they developed on the skills and possibilities of representation. This deeply moved the burgeoning Chinese artists and inspired many to ask themselves the question: is it possible for us to hold on to the artistic training we grow up with, and still create something new that is different from Modernist art? And obviously, Wyeth provided them with such a possibility.’ Perhaps Chinese conservatism isn’t so far removed from Middle America’s. Meanwhile, Chinese conceptual artist, architect, designer and activist Ai Weiwei’s first solo exhibition in Italy wow’s the West at the Lisson gallery in Milan until 25th May, 2012.

Paintings from top
Study for ‘Lovers’, 1981
Drybrush and watercolor on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

Citizen Clark, 1957
Drybrush and watercolor on paper laid down on board
©Andrew Wyeth, Private Collection

Faraway, 1952
(Portrait of the artist’s son, Jamie)
Drybrush on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

The Works of Andrew Wyeth is organized by Yuan Space in cooperation with Christie’s and Adelson Galleries

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Sale + Exhibition | Klimt: Impressionist & Modern?

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Exhibition: Sotheby’s, London, UK. 2nd – 8th February, 2012
Sale: Sotheby’s, London, UK. 8th & 9th February, 2012

It’s often argued that modernism began some time in the 1860s and ended in the 1970s, roughly spanning the period from the beginning of Monet’s painting career to Picasso’s death, and therefore including impressionism and cubism and a long and very diverse list of other ‘isms. Living and working within the prescribed time scale but not usually considered to fit comfortably into any particular ‘ism, it’s interesting that Sotheby’s should include a painting by Gustav Klimt in this sale of impressionist and modern works.

The first paintings recognised as impressionist were produced in the 1870s. Claude Monet was already 22 years old when Klimt (1862-1918) was born and, dying in 1926, outlived him. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso gave birth to cubism in 1907, initiating the movement when they followed the advice of Paul Cézanne, who in 1904 had said artists should treat nature ‘in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.’ Picasso, born in 1881, 19 years Klimt’s junior, had an extraordinarily-long and prolific working life that finally ended in his ninety-second year, 1973.

Starting out as classically-trained artist with tremendous draughtsmanship skills, Klimt eschewed the formulaic work that was acceptable in Vienna and threw all he had into symbolism often with quite shocking results that rocked the establishment. But the landscape paintings he produced on his regular summer retreats in the latter part of his working life, harped back to earlier 19th century Viennese and Central European picturesque art that aimed to capture and glorify nature – then, only recently discovered by middle and upper class townspeople, jaded by their everyday, urban lives, seeking some form of escape – largely due to the invention and proliferation of the railways, and by the access to the countryside this new mode of transport afforded. In the latter decades of the century, however, the goal of Austrian painters like Emil Jakob Schindler and Eugen Jettel was to evoke the atmosphere of the rural world, often through paintings of otherwise banal countryside scenes, subject to adverse weather and light conditions. No-one could argue that Farmhouse with Birch Trees (Lakeshore with Birches) below, the painting coming up for auction at Sotheby’s is the most exciting of Klimt’s landscapes but it is a good example of his own obsession with nature and his absorption and blending of the many influences he gathered up and played around with.

For his portraits, Klimt drew heavily on his study of the same Japanese prints the impressionists had looked at before him; in his less familiar landscape work, he sketched and painted directly from nature and experimented with the brush techniques that the impressionists had invented, but very often finished the paintings in his studio. As in the portraits, the composition and framing of his landscape paintings was influenced by the typical cropping seen in early scenic photography. In many, the foreground is little more than a very prominent textured surface, as in Attersee 1, 1900, with landscape details and a thin sliver of sky squashed up at the top of the canvas; typical of the effect of looking at a scene through a wide-angle lens. There is evidence that Klimt used a telescope to flatten his townscapes, the buildings in which however, remained true rather than abstracted as in cubist treatments of similar subject matter. He looked closely at Van Gogh’s outlining and colouring; Klimt’s Avenue in Schloss Kammer Park, 1912, could easily be taken for a Van Gogh. He studied Seuerat’s pointilist system, adapting it to create depth in paintings that were essentially two-dimensional so that each remained one of what Renaissence polymath Leon Battista Alberti christened ‘Windows through which we look out into a section of the visible world.’

Ever curious, Klimt was an avid experimenter, but I think it’s safe to say that he was neither a cubist nor an impressionist.

Klimt certainly consorted with individuals who, evidently, had modern ideas; Otto Koloman Wagner (1841-1918) – Austrian architect and urban planner – among other contemporary mainland Europeans, is said to have become a proponent of Architectural Realism, and, mitigating the reliance on historical forms in the Jugenstil – an Austrian version of Art Nouveau – buildings he began to design in the 1890s, opened the door for what became modern architecture. And if I seem to be going off at a tangent: Wagner was one of the group of Austrian artists, sculptors and architects who resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, the Künstlerhaus – similar to the Paris Salon – along with Klimt, Joseph Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and Joseph Maria Olbrich, nineteen in all, to form the Vienna Secession in 1897, asserting their right to be able to create what they wanted to create rather than having to adhere to strict, official guidelines. Gustav Klimt was the group’s first president. Interestingly, Moravian-born, Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who objected to the amount of surface decoration on Jugenstil buildings, didn’t join. Klimt’s poster for the First Exhibition of the Society of Pictorial Artists in Austria – the Secession, in 1898 in which he chose a classical Greek theme – Theseus about to liberate the youth of Athens from the tyranny of the Minotaur – is a tense stark, asymmetric, linear composition in black, red and gold on a yellow ground, strongly reminiscent of the painting style Mondrian was to adopt some 20 years later. In 1903 Hoffmann and Moser left to found the Wiener Werkstätte, a fine-arts society with the goal of reforming the applied arts that could be described as being a prelude to Germany’s seminal Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919.

But, was Klimt’s painting ‘modern’? His roots firmly in the 19th century, could he have ever felt at ease in the 20th. Had he lived longer and had more of his work survived – many paintings were confiscated from their Austrian Jewish owners and destroyed by the Nazis in 1938, while a great number of other works had been moved in 1943 to the ’safety’ of Schloß Immendorf in lower Austria, only to be destroyed when retreating SS troops set fire to the castle to prevent it falling into enemy hands – the problem of classification might have been somewhat simpler. I don’t know and it’s possible that Sotheby’s aren’t sure either.

Paintings from top:
Pablo Picasso, Buste d’homme, 1969
Private collection
£500,000-700,000

Claude Monet, Berges de la Seine près de Vétheuil,
1881
Private collection
Estimate £800,000-1,200,000

Gustav Klimt, Seeufer mit Birken (Lakeshore with birches), 1901
Private European collection
Estimate £6,000,000-8,000,000

Middle, top: Gustav Klimt, c.1909. Detail of original photograph by Pauline Hamilton.
Taken from Gustav Klimt, Landscapes. Edited by Stephen Koja. Published by Prestel, 2006

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The Opinions of Others

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Last Thursday’s headlines informed us of the death of two photojournalists, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed sadly in Libya. In August 2010, on the Peta Pixel site, Neil Burgess, head of London-based photo agency NB Pictures and former head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos was quoted as having declared that photojournalism is dead. Burgess’s point, apparently, was that news-based magazines simply were not running great photo-essays any more. If what he said is true, without intending to seem callous, it begs the question: what were these photographers doing there?

Could the old adage: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ in the era of Facebook – where images put up on a member’s wall reveal so much more than any hand-written letter – be more apposite than ever before. Are these pictures of themselves and those they’ve taken of their friends to be considered portraits? If it was indeed dead, has You-tube resurrected and become the new home of, albeit short-lived and disposable, photojournalism? Does this cheapen photography or merely democratise it?

Photography galleries and auction houses selling archive prints, for the most part produced by those who have become household names – on April 9th, a Philips de Pury auction of 261 photographs, where the top prices paid were for Cindy Sherman and Robert Frank prints, sold for a total of 5,802,250 US$ – have developed the output of the sub-genre into a valuable commodity. Currently though, prices fall far short of those that paintings and sculpture are fetching. Have sales peaked? Will a photographic print or an image that is intended to be admired exclusively on a computer screen ever be worth as much as a Van Gogh?

What I am trying to get at is that the world of photography has, in recent years, fundamentally changed to become an enormous, shifting, complex and often perplexing subject to try to understand, follow or find a clear basis to form an opinion about.

Not so long ago, a reliable colleague, friend or trusted acquaintance might point someone out across the room at an event and tell me that he/she is a new and interesting photographer. I might get an introduction, wander over and introduce myself  – in those days, before I became a full-time photographer, I was commissioning a lot of photography and was keen to work with and encourage up and coming talent – or the photographer might sidle up to introduce his/herself or wangle an introduction to me. Things were simpler when I saw one photographer at my office, at an alloted time, every weekday. Once I had chatted with them and looked at their work, regardless of whether I thought it was right or relevant for whatever projects I was involved with, I thought I could tell if they were any good. These days, I’m no longer commissioning but like to keep reasonably well informed. The ever-growing amount of stuff out makes it all the more difficult to make an immediate judgement. I want more information, I miss the personal contact; I find myself canvassing the opinions of others, looking not for guidance, exactly – perhaps I’ve grown lazy – more for them to have done an initial sift.

Having looked at a lot that I was unimpressed with, I have subscribed to a small number of on-line photo magazine sites and adopted them as my regular ports of call. None of them provide answers to the questions I would like to ask or forums for discussion about the aspects of photography that I feel ought to be discussed. However, by looking at their offerings and clicking on the links they provide to galleries, book publishers and photographers’ personal sites, I use these as springboards to what I consider interesting, and where I can keep informed about what is happening in photography. Currently, in my opinion, the best of these comes in the form of a daily, La Lettre de la Photographie, which, in the last few days led me to the following:

Patrick Tosani, photography 1980-2011
La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France. Until 19th June

Image: Talon réf. 100-40,1987 © Patrick Tosani /ADGP, Paris 2011


Michael Thompson: Portraits,
Damiani, 2011. $65.00, 45,88 €

Image: Courtesy, Jed Root and Damiani



The Feast of Trimalchio

Le Royal Monceau, Paris. Until 25th June

Image: The Feast of Trimalchio. Allegory #1. The Triumph of America. AES+F 2010-2011. Courtesy, Triumph Gallery, Moscow

The Lives of Great Photographers
National Media Museum Bradford ,UK. Until 4th September
Featuring Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, William Henry Fox Talbot, Weegee, Tony Ray-Jones, Fay Godwin and Eadweard Muybridge

Image: Carlyle like a rough block of Michael Angelo’s (sic) sculpture, 1867, Julia Margaret Cameron. Courtesy, The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum/SSPL

Do you have any favourite photography sites?

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A Letter to Van Gogh

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters
Royal Academy of Arts, London.  23 January to 18 April, 2010

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen two massive Van Gogh exhibitions in the last 18 months; the first at the Albertina in Vienna, the second, yesterday, at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Having always wondered what all the fuss was about Van Gogh’s work, the Vienna show represented for me personally, an extraordinary epiphanic event. Rarely do I put myself through the ordeal of struggling past the reverential, head-phoned hordes, who inch along, pausing for far too much time in front of each and every painting, to go around any art exhibition a second time. But, on this ocassion, bowled over, suddenly transformed into an ardent Van Gogh fan, I couldn’t help myself.

The same, or similar hordes – the plague of most large, metropolitan galleries – were in full attendance at The Royal Academy. Dimly-lit, because many of the rarely-shown, fragile originals of Van Gogh’s letters – mostly written to his brother and life-long supporter, Theo – are on display, the tall-ceilinged main gallery space had the air of a compact cathedral: spot-lit, Van Gogh’s bright, colourful paintings substituting for stained-glass windows. When I was able to get near enough to look at the letters – very often by craning my neck to view them through the gloom over someone’s shoulder – I saw that that Van Gogh had added in wonderful, tiny but often detailed pen and ink sketches many of which were scaled-down roughs for the paintings he was working on, which the gallery had hung alongside.

For a man who died aged only 37, Van Gogh produced a prodigeous oeuvre. The Royal Academy show is extensive and even then, I could barely remember many of those images on show being part of the Vienna selection. Half-way round, somehow not as impressed as I had expected to be, I overheard someone say quietly to a companion: “I’m disappointed, one picture is marvellous but the next looks as if it was done by a child.” And that was it; I had exactly the same feeling. The early, very bold drawings of peasants going about their arduous work in the fields are incredible. Van Gogh’s deft flicking in of a few irises at the corner of a field outside Arles demonstratively illustrate the confident hand of a master draughtsman. With natural skill, he uses charicature to emphasize the great mass of a bending, full-skirted woman’s bottom; choosing a low viewpoint, and fish-eye perspective, he draws attention to a man’s enormous wooden clogs. But, almost all of the early paintings on show are poor and do little more than highlight the artist’s struggle with oils. Struggle over, into his stride – a man with a mission – we are shown how Van Gogh goes on to produce the most sublime paintings of vases of flowers, trees and landscape as well as his portraits, including the version included from the famous postman series. But, even amongst these later works, albeit the worsening state of his mental health, I saw more than a few that, if he were around today, I can’t help thinking, Van Gogh would have lopped off the selection list.

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