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Monday, March 25, 2019

Expanding Art Muesums

This, is an art museum? Yes, and one of the better expansion decisions to be found. It is the New Orleans Museum of Art's new Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Have you ever visited an art museum that was too small? Whether you realize it or not, if you've ever visited such an institution at all, then it was likely too small. Virtually no art museum on this planet has space to exhibit everything it owns. In some cases, such as the MET in New York, despite its immense size, displays only about 10-20% of its holdings at any one time. Thus, whether they like it or not, the MET and other such glorified art warehouses find themselves rotating their stock (or loaning it or building branches for it elsewhere on the globe). Of course, the obvious "solution" to this overstock problem is to expand, as the Met has done so many times the original building is now lost in a maze of new additions added down through the years.
Artist, Linda Pace's Artpace, Southtown, San Antonio, Texas, 2014--and art museum much in need of a new, larger home (more on this later).
Art Museums should grow, if for no other reason than to fulfill the old adage, "more is better." Old adages aside, as I see it, there are two major problems in this practice of forever expanding the floorspace to try and accommodate more...and more...and more. First of all, more is NOT necessarily better. I started by asking if you'd ever visited an art museum that was too small. Now, let me ask, have you ever visited one that was too BIG? With some notable exceptions, the answer to that would likely be "yes" as well. Just ask your feet at the end of your visit. When is an art museum TOO big? When it becomes overwhelming; when you can't see (or even find) all you came to see in one long, tiring day; or when your eyes glaze over from seeing too much of a good thing. I could spend the rest of this posting just listing museum around the world that have this expansion problem. The second pitfall in this rush to grow, grow, grow, is one of aesthetics. To illustrate this point, let me start with the Peabody Essex Museum of Art in Salem, Massachusetts.
The Peabody Essex Museum's expansion rendering. See the problem?
The Peabody Essex justifiably needed to expand. It was certainly in no danger of becoming too big. The problem faced by the expansion architects of Ennead, a nationally known New York architectural firm, was the contrasting styles of their plans and that of the existing structure (above). It's a persistent problem faced by a great many such expansions. Some try to accommodate the new in an old-style skin. It's a noble thought, but one that goes against the innovative impulses of most museum architects, and in fact, it's seldom very successful in that regard. The alternative is to simply tack on the new to the old and let the chips fall where they with the Peabody Essex expansion. Founded in 1799 by visionary New England entrepreneurs the museum holds a wondrous collection of art from people and cultures around the world. Succeeding generations of New Englanders have continued these efforts. Today PEM’s collections exceed 1.8 million works spanning more than 12,000 years of human creativity. The recently opened expansion is but one of four exciting new projects to share these extraordinary collections, many of which are among the finest of their kind.
The PEM expansion is a beautiful, contemporary style addition that fortunately avoids yet another expansion pitfall--a building that competes for attention with the art it holds.
The PEM's newly constructed, expansion will add 40,000 gross square feet to the main facility. It will include 15,000 square feet of Class A galleries, a light-filled atrium, an entry for school and group tours, linkages to existing galleries, and a beautiful new garden. It also enlivens downtown Salem and helps reveal the exceptional beauty of East India Marine Hall, the museum’s original building, now a National Historic Landmark. How do you add onto a historic landmark? The museum holds an extremely diverse collection of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Native American, Oceanic, African, American Decorative Art, American Art, Photography, Maritime, Asian Export and Fashion and Design collections reflecting a legacy of New England's shared heritage of creative expression worldwide. The new expansion provides the highest quality storage, care, preservation, and research access to these large and extremely important collections that have never been possible to display until now. Fine, but that doesn't make the contrasting styles any less jarring.
The MoMA expansion on paper, where they remained for two long years.
On the other side of the coin, in the case of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, adding onto a contemporary glass, steel, and concrete art edifice presents no problem no problem as to contrasting styles. Instead there was the problem of the high price and limited availability of Manhattan real estate. Adding the new to the old is one thing, but tearing down the old to make way for the new is quite another. For decades, right next door to MoMA was the venerable American Folk Art Museum (owned by MoMA). The uproar when MoMA announced plans to raze the museum to allow space for its new addition held up the project for two full years. Some of architects Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro's the more controversial elements in the initial plan for the museum—including the "Art Bay," a glassy entrance facing the street, and the public sculpture garden entrance on 54th Street—have been cut from the design. The total price for the project was adjusted to around $400 million.
MoMA's 53rd Street entrance, now and then.
The new building on 53rd Street features, with its more than 107,000 square feet, features an expanded ground floor of galleries and public and garden spaces that are free to all. Local and international visitors will find a global perspective in the art and artists on display. With 30% more gallery space, the museum can now present the true breadth of their collection, highlighting the most resonant and innovative art, from early masterpieces to cutting-edge works. Across three expanded floors of displays, a visitor can discover modern and contemporary art’s many stories, shifting histories, and approaches from around the world. A state-of-the art studio and performance center is at the heart of these galleries. It will support a broad range of experimental programming with new commissions, live performance, dance, music, sound works, the spoken word, and artist residencies. This unique space will situate live and time-based artworks as an integral part of the collection galleries, emphasizing the central role of this work within the history of modern and contemporary art.
Though distinctive, and somewhat radical in appearance Adjaye's design proves museum architecture can make a statement without drowning out the art work within.
Perhaps the best case scenario when it comes to museum expansion is to simply start anew. That's what Linda Pace's Artpace Foundation did with it's new facility dubbed "Ruby City" (Linda's favorite color). The name also pretty well describes the new museum, designed by the British architect, Sir David Adjaye (born in Tanzania). It may seem small at just 14,000 square feet, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character, with its dramatic lines and subtly shifting planes of red rippling over the building’s exterior and into the adjacent plaza. It provides a beautiful home for the foundation’s robust, 800-work-strong collection of contemporary art, but also helps cement San Antonio’s place on the art world’s map.
Linda Pace, artist, collector,
and philanthropist.
Linda Pace was driven by the belief that art is a vital social force. As an artist, she revealed the symbolic potency of everyday images and objects in her drawings and assemblages. As a collector, she gathered hun-dreds of contemporary artworks into a personal, ex-pressive collection which is now managed by the Linda Pace Foundation, founded in 2003. The Foundation con-tinues to acquire work which reflects Linda’s sensibilities from a feminist perspective, engages social issues, while considering aspects of spirituality and beauty. And as a philanthropist Pace boldly fostered the work of those who are considered to be today’s most adventurous artists with her founding of Artpace in 1993, an international artist in residency program. In addition to her work in Texas, Pace served on several committees and supported the work of contemporary artists both nationally and internationally.

The new and expanded Academy of Motion Pictures Museum in Los Angeles.
On a much larger scale, it would seem another art institution has likewise started from "scratch" to build a new museum to house its burgeoning collection. In fact, the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is also an addition (to the old May Department Store building on the corner of Los Angeles' famed Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax). In this case, the new addition, at 300,000 square feet, is actually larger than the original structure, which makes it seem like a totally new museum. To encourage visitors to explore, dive deeper, and directly interact with exhibitions, collections, filmmakers, and fellow film lovers, the Museum’s public programs includes panel discussions, symposia, gallery talks, and other public events. The 288-seat Ted Mann Theater will offer daily thematic and exhibition-related screenings. Special showings and events will be held at the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater (the heart of the big ball shape). In addition, the Museum now offers an innovative range of digital engagement platforms and interactives, including a groundbreaking new app.

Okay, so it looks like a leftover prop from Close Encounter of the Third Kind, but the giant sphere is designed that way to house the new 1,000 seat movie theater.
For nearly a century now, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has primarily been known by most Americans as the people who pass out the Oscars each year. Since 1929, the Academy Awards have been the ultimate recognition of moviemaking excellence. Originally a dinner for industry insiders only, the ceremony has gradually become a global phenomenon watched by millions around the world. Visitors to the expanded museum can now trace the rich history of the Academy Awards and the story of the Oscar in an exhibition that includes favorite highlights, memorable winners’ speeches, private backstage moments, and rarely seen materials from the Academy’s collection. The exhibition looks back at the show, its glamour as well as its controversies, and the ways in which the Academy Awards ceremony has evolved to become a mirror of our culture.

Way too much for an afternoon at the movies.
Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, with contributions by Studio Pali Fekete, the museum relieves the somewhat shocking realization that Los Angeles did not have a major museum devoted to the art form it revolutionized. The group that gives out the Oscars is making up for that with an otherworldly Renzo Piano–designed complex right next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures addition is designed to complement the historic Saban Building's Streamline Moderne style. It got a full restoration—and a dramatic, spherical building sprouting out back. The complex will house two cinemas, as well as 50,000 square feet of exhibition space that will show off items including Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz (1939), the typewriter used to write the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and an 1887 collotype plate of a galloping horse by motion picture pioneer, Eadweard Muybridge.

An aerial view of the huge Academy of Motion Pictures Museum complex.
Museum Director, Kerry Brougher said, “We want the Academy Museum to add to the public’s understanding of the evolution of the art and science of filmmaking around the world—to increase appreciation for this great art form and encourage people to examine the role of movies in society. At the same time, we want to bring to life the most important reason of all for caring about the movies—because they’re magic. That’s why we intend to transport our visitors into a world that exists somewhere between reality and illusion. Like the experience of watching a movie, a trip to the Museum will be a kind of waking dream in which visitors feel as if they’ve slipped through the screen to see how the magic is created.”

And finally, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) seems to have the right idea. Rather than build on, they simply moved a sizable number of their sculptural pieces (those which can withstand the tropical elements) into an outdoor museum that is restful, rather than tiring or overwhelming. The result is the new Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden (top). The sculpture garden occupies approximately five acres in City Park adjacent to the museum. Atypical of most sculpture gardens, this garden is located within a mature existing landscape of pines, magnolias and live oaks. The garden design creates outdoor viewing spaces within this picturesque landscape. A reconfigured lagoon bisects the site and creates two distinct halves (below): a mature pine and magnolia grove adjacent to the museum, and a more open area of 200-year-old, Spanish moss-laden live oaks across the lagoon near the New Orleans Botanical Gardens. The Sculpture Garden has grown from its inception in 2003 to include 64 sculptures, most of them donated to NOMA by the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Foundation.

Rendering of the expanded Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The New Orleans Museum of Art’s picturesque sculpture garden, connects the museum to the historic City Park surrounding it, becoming one of the institution’s star attractions. The park now displays the work of an almost embarrassingly long list of artists such as Coosje van Bruggen, Claes Oldenburg, Henry Moore, Fernando Botero, Antoine Bourdelle, Gaston Lachaise, William Zorach, Jacques Lipchitz, Isamu Noguchi, René Magritte, Barbara Hepworth, Seymour Lipton, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Kenneth Snelson, George Rickey, Elisabeth Frink, Masayuki Nagare, Lynn Chadwick, Louis Bourgeois, Jesus Bautista Moroles, George Segal, Deborah Butterfield, Alison Saar and Joel Shapiro. and others amid lagoons, canals, and oak and cypress trees laden with Spanish moss. The park has more than doubled in size. In addition to many more sculptures, the new stretch of park will boast an outdoor amphitheater and a small gallery building. Set amid five glorious acres are priceless sculptures, all of which make up the magnificent Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. The Sculpture Garden is the latest cultural destination for visitors to New Orleans and provides a unique opportunity for visitors who treasure the arts.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Unfinished Masterpieces

Madonna with the Long Neck, 1534-40, Parmigianino
One of my "pet peeves" as an art instructor for many years were perfectionists. These were often fine artists of whom I joked, "gave perfection a bad name." I've always suspected such people simply feared starting a new project to the point they seemed to hang on to the previous one eternally. I have nothing against an attempt to achieve the highest standards in ones work...up to a point. Then there develops the scientific principle of diminishing returns. Or, as I put it, some things are too major to fix and not major enough to worry about. History fails to record whether Girolamo Bedoli held the same opinion as I regarding this artistic trait but he certainly encountered it during his time as the painting master for a young man named Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola. Today we know him better by his nickname, Parmigianino (the little one from Parma).

 Study for Madonna With The Long Neck, Parmigianino,
Parmigianino Self-portrait,
at the age of twenty-one
Parmigianino (left) was a perfectionist who often tinkered with his works to a fault. He ended his life in debt and disgraced by the church after failing to adequately complete a fresco-commission in his native Parma. But he is remembered primarily for the curious grace and elegance of his elongated figures, represented best in the Madonna of the Long Neck (top) painted between 1534 and 1540. That's six years and it was still incomplete! Parmigianino's obsessive working of the fine composi-tional details of the figures meant that he left other parts--the sky, the columns, the partially faded figure of Saint Jerome in the bottom-right background--incomplete. Incidentally, the face peering over the shoulder of the virgin is identical to a portrait he painted in 1524 of Antea Fox (below), said to be his girlfriend. The strange mystic quality of the painting is arguably heightened by the unfinished details. The self-portrait at left was created using a convex mirror.

A comparison of the two paintings leaves little doubt as to the identity
of the girl peering over the Madonna's shoulder.
Perfectionism is by no means the only reason major works of art go unfinished. Sometimes events intervene giving the artist good reason for leaving a painting unfinished. In 2012 Contemporary painter Natalie Holland began a portrait of the athlete, Oscar Pistorius (below). The commission was in celebration of Pistorius, a double-amputee who ran with the aid of specially-designed "blades," becoming the first with his condition to compete at the non-disabled Olympic Games. While Holland was still painting, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide following the death of his partner, Reeva Steenkamp, from gunshot wounds. Deeply disturbed by the event, Holland left the painting incomplete, making it a haunting monument to the faded glory of Pistorius and the tragic loss of Steenkamp.

Oscar Pistorius, 2012, Natalie Holland (unfinished)

The famous painter, Jacques-Louis David encountered a similar confluence of events causing him to leave unfinished what might have been his greatest masterpiece. David, the most prominent French painter of his day, became a follower of Robespierre and supporter of the French Revolution towards the end of the 18th century. The unfinished canvas of the 1789 Oath of the Tennis Court (below), depicts a crucial moment of solidarity and purpose for the revolutionaries. It includes certain heads and figures partially-completed in oil paint. The exposed musculature of their sketched bodies seems to break through a surface to reveal detailed, impassioned faces. The first engravings showing The Tennis Court Oath only appeared in 1790, the year David convinced the Jacobin Club to launch a national subscription to fund a painting to depict the event. He exhibited a pen and brown ink drawing of his planned painting in the Louvre in 1791 but did not have enough money to follow it through as the subscription had only had a 10% return. The National Constituent Assembly thus decided to fund the work from the public treasury instead, topped off by selling engravings of the painting. Numerous political events intervened causing the artist to eventually leave the work is disgust. It’s possible the unfinished work is even more evocative of the National Assembly’s struggles than a completed painting would have been.

Upper image: David's unfinished canvas when the money ran out.
Lower Image: A copy based upon David's false start.
Pietà Rondanini, 1552-1564,  Michelangelo
Perhaps the best excuse an artist might have for leaving a work unfinished is death. Michelangelo’s final sculpture the Ron-danini Pieta (left) he began in 1552. He died in 1564, frail, and in ill health at the age of 89. The marble sculpture depicts the moment when Jesus’ body was cut down from the cross, falling into the arms of his mother. The artist began carving a muscular, idealized Christ, much in the high-Renaissance style. At some point during the process, however, he had a change of heart. The curved arm of the old figure remains, but the sculptor has dug deeper into the marble to begin forming a broken, emasculated corpse. It’s possible Michelangelo realized as he progressed that changing his mind as to his vision of the scene was not such a good idea and simply abandoned the work. However the unfinished results may well be the most human and touching depiction of Christ ever done by Michelangelo, even as it re-mains unfinished.

On a less noble note, we find an American painter who left his most important portrait unfinished out of what could only be termed, sheer greed. Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished version of Washington has become one of the most instantly-recognizable portraits in history after its use as the basis for the President’s image on the one-dollar bill. Though Stuart and others painted many portraits of Washington, this particular painting has most endeared itself to the American public. Nineteenth-century critic John Neal even went so far as to say, “Though a better likeness of him were shown to us, we should reject it; for, the only idea that we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart’s Washington.”

Gilbert Stuart Self-portrait, 1778
Stuart was born a few hundred miles north of Philadelphia in 1755, in what was then the colony of Rhode Island. The son of a Scottish settler who made snuff in the family basement, a young Gilbert Stuart honed his precocious artistic talents under the guidance of the Scottish painter Cosmo Alexander. In 1775, amid the clamor of the American Revolution, Gilbert relocated (fled?) to Europe to forge a career as a portraitist. He found little success until the highly sought-after American-born painter, Benjamin West, took the younger artist under his wing. Under West’s tutelage, surrounded by the work of the foremost British portraitists, Stuart began to blossom. After leaving London for Dublin in 1787, “Stuart came promptly to dominate the portrait market,” In a letter a friend and fellow artist, Stuart wrote of his upcoming return to his native land: “There I expect to make a fortune by Washington alone. I calculate upon making a plurality of his portraits…I will repay my English and Irish creditors."

Leaving his portrait of Washington unfinished made a great excuse for not delivering it to Martha Washington as promised.
Stuart made his return in 1793. After working for a year in New York, Stuart finally travelled the 80 miles to Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States. Armed with a letter of introduction from a new patron, the Chief Justice John Jay, Stuart left his calling card at Washington’s house in 1794. A year later, the President sat for Stuart for the first time. By all accounts Washington was sullen and cross, annoyed at having to sit for so long. Stuart, who was known for his temper as much as his charm, and who often refused to finish a work if he found the sitter dull or unattractive, brought his best behavior to these sessions. His first painting, known today as the Vaughan Portrait, shows Washington from the waist up: Stuart painted him proud and tall and lit from behind, as if haloed.

The unfinished portrait of Washington
as we know it today, cut down to
obtain a more pleasing composition.
That painting was so successful that, according to artist Rembrandt Peale, Martha Washington “wished a Portrait for herself.” She persuaded her husband to sit again for Stuart “on the express con-dition that when finished it should be hers.” Stuart, however, did not want to part with the picture and left it unfinished so that he could refer to it when producing future commissions. Known as the “Athenaeum” portrait because it went to the Boston Athenaeum after Stuart’s death, this is the painting which served as the basis for the engraving of Washington that appears on the one-dollar bill. Stuart painted some 130 copies of his long delayed portrait of Washington which he sold for $100 each. Martha never did receive her promised painting.

Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi, begun in 1915, still under construction today. 
It might seem hard to believe, but at least one artist began his most famous work never intending it to be finished. Antoni Gaudi was not a painter but a Spanish architect born in 1852. He died in 1926 at the age of 73 leaving behind a large Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona. Sagrada Familia (above, meaning holy family) represents the peak artistic achievement of the Catalan architect and designer. Such was the ambition of GaudÍ’s visionary modernism that his designs are yet to be completed more than 90 years after his death and more than a century after his church was begun. Eighteen spires are planned (of which eight have been completed) representing the 12 apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four evangelists, and Jesus Christ himself. The facades and interiors are replete with carvings and sculpture reflecting the natural world, telling bible stories, and decorating the whole building with intricate, neo-gothic modern art. It's as if Gaudi, fully aware of all the other unfinished works strewn through the history of art, sought to outdo them all. The best estimate as to completion of Gaudi's masterpiece is around 2026...or 2028, sometime thereabouts.


Monday, March 11, 2019

Cinta Vidal

Living Together, Cinta Vidal. She seems to have wadded up life and then tossed it up in the air.
When you travel as much as we do you're advised by travel agents and others who travel a lot to familiarize yourself with the various customs and laws governing the many different countries on your itinerary. The most important of these we tend to take for granted, don't shoplift, try not to kill anyone, and keep your hands to yourself. Then, of course, there are even more stringent laws of nature--days are only 24 hours long, storm clouds mean grab an umbrella, dust storms demand you keep their mouth (and often your eyes) firmly shut, not to mention the ever-present, "What goes up must come down." Likewise, there are laws or rules governing artists having to do with linear perspective, lighting, composition, mixing media, and plagiarism. Yet academic art instructors often advise students to step outside the box, bend the rules, sometimes even break them. Such advise usually comes with yet another stricture, that an artist must first know and understand the rules quite thoroughly before he or she dares contemplate violating them in achieving their goals. Often the most successful artists have been those who learned to skillfully break the rules. Picasso was notorious in this regard, as was Leonardo, Warhol, and a few others.
Outing, Cinta Vidal. Mixing hyper-realism with abstraction.
Not that she's on the same plane as those I just mentioned, but the Spanish painter, Cinta Vidal is one who routinely breaks a number of art rules, often with startling results. Her Living Together (top) and the even more audacious Outing (above) start by breaking the law of gravity, then veer off into various other violations having to do with composition. M.C Escher may have been the first to dare such a departure along with Mark Tansey. Escher made this type of work his trademark while Tansey indulges only occasionally. Cinta Vidal owes a lot to both artists--their influence is unmistakable. Yet her work could easily hang side by side with theirs, serving as simply a point of departure for her in studying interpersonal relationships (or a lack thereof) with her novel juxtapositions.
Co-working, Cinta Vidal. The painting can be seen just below rotated to better display the four different vantage points (images 1-4).
Which view is right-side up? Does it really matter?
Vidal attempts to explore the inner dimensions we each possess, which often do not match the mental structures within us no matter how hard we try to synchronize our emotions with our surroundings. When observed from a traditional perspective, these concepts might logically be better investigated with abstraction, but the artist has remained true to figural painting for the entirety of her career. Her creative ideas try to show us just how hard balancing and fitting everything that shapes our daily lives can be. She delves into areas such as our relationships to our professions, and our ambitions seen next to our dreams. Vidal's Co-working (above images) illustrates the lengths she has gone to in order to depict these relationships.

The many faces of Cinta Vidal.
Raised in the small town of Cardedeu, Cinta Vidal lives and works in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. She studied at Escola Massana in Barcelona until she was 16, when she started working as an apprentice in Taller de Escenografia Castells Planas in St. Agnès de Malanyanes. There she learned from Josep and Jordi Castells to love scenography and the painting theatrical backdrops. Such a background helped both to improve her painting skills while enabling her to work in many different styles. In addition to her continued work in this field, she also earns a living from what she like to do most, drawing and painting, working on freelance projects for advertising, or commissioned works. In the beginning, her own work used to take but a small amount of her time, but more recently that time has gradually increase.

Couple 2, Cinta Vidal
Once her artistic vocabulary was developed, Vidal began creating complex acrylic paintings on wood panels which reflect how our outer realities frequently do not reflect our inner natures. Manipulating everyday objects and spaces placed in impossible forms. Often colossal in size, the work of Cinta Vidal forces the eyes of viewers to go through a long process of navigation through all the visual elements present in her paintings. In her newer series of works, Vidal focuses intently on intimate relationships, populating her suspended clusters of furniture, animals, and household objects with only two or three individuals rather than a larger population. Her Couples series (above and below) places pairs of characters in opposition to each other, exaggerating her previous explorations of human understanding. In these works two male figures sit back-to-back as they type on their own laptops, a woman peers longingly from an armchair as a man stands facing the opposite direction below her chair, and a boy photographer and woman stare at the same scene, but from flipped perspectives. These works show how two people might hold differing ideals, despite occupying the same community or household.

Couple 4 and Couple 3, Cinta Vidal
With her un-gravity constructions, Vidal shows us that we live in one world, but we live in it in very different ways – playing with everyday objects and spaces, placed in impossible ways to express that many times, the inner dimension of each one of us does not match the mental structures of those around us. The architectural spaces and day-to-day objects are part of a metaphor of how difficult it is to fit everything that shapes our daily space: our relationships, work, ambitions, and dreams. She paint realistically (as opposed to working in the abstract) to help the viewer recognize the quotidian space that we all inhabit, assisting them to understand the ordered maze that is this proposal. She intends the viewers to recognize what they are seeing, but to see it in a very different, unstructured, broken way. Vidal's On Chairs (below) illustrates this far better than any words.

On Chairs, Cinta Vidal
Cinta Vidor worked as an illustrator for several years, finding quite enjoyable, the act of switching from the gigantic scale of backdrops to illustrations such as the one below in tribute to a teacher marking his retirement in 2013. Vidal finds it both fascinating and refreshing to feel the difference between painting in a small format, where each stroke is made with a tiny movement of your fingers, and painting backdrops, where each stroke is made with a very large movement of your whole arm. She confesses to having a tendency to paint in a small and tiny format, with a tiny level of detail. However, painting with brushes as big as brooms makes use of the entire body, which is a powerful experience. Huge projects are much more impacting, not only for their size, but for their presence and power, as artists walk and paint over the fabric. That’s something that a plotted picture cannot transmit.

Regardless of scale, Vidal has claimed the defiance of gravity as her own.

You know you've "made it" as an artists when your work shows up as a jigsaw puzzle. Can you imagine putting togeth-er a puzzle in which there's no up nor down? And to make matters worse, the puzzle shape is round.

For those with about nine minutes to spare--

This one is only one minute long--

Snapshot of an Artist: Cinta Vidal from Selina Miles on Vimeo.


Monday, March 4, 2019

1890s Art

Portrait of Felix Feneon, 1890, Paul Signac. Art history's first psychedelic painter?
As I've mentioned a number of times before in undertaking to guide readers as they study the art and artists of the past, dividing up such studies by decade is, at best, an artificial delineation. However, despite its various shortcomings, it seems to be the one method which touches upon the important and interesting without dwelling in excess on traditional people, places, dates, and other items that can make art history a dreadful bore. One might say that each decade becomes like a clothes hanger in the history closet. It seems too that the further we go back the less relevant such material becomes. I suppose that's true of history in general but especially so with a narrow thread like art. Those decades we've experienced ourselves are steeped in nostalgia--they're fun to recall. Those before our time seem only to be steeped in trivia. Yet from the moment I first began to love history in the third grade, it's always been the peculiar events and the trivial pursuits of past generations that I've found most interesting.

Starry Night, 1889, Vincent van Gogh
The French Impressionist, Paul Signac with his Portrait of Felix Feneon (top) is a fine example. By the 1890s Impressionism was well established in the world of French art and, indeed, much of the western world. Yet the original impressionists, and especially their students, were dropping the style like week-old bread. They fragmented into a dozen or more directions collectively known as Post-impressionism. One such artists was George Seurat and his Pointillism. Signac was a colleague, student, and follower of Seurat who moved Pointillism to new heights well into the 20th-Century. We can all recall psychedelic art. Look at Signac's work. Was he the "inventor" of psychedelia, or what? Some might contend that Signac should share such an "honor" with the far more well-known, Vincent van Gogh as seen in his famous Starry Night (above) from June of 1889 (almost the 1890s). Was van Gogh on drugs? Well, actually he was (in combating a number of mental problems), but that's another story. The colors are somewhat less vivid than those of Signac or what we think of as psychedelia of the 1960s, but van Gogh's emotional fire and brimstone is as powerful as it gets.
Nature Morte Aux Livres, 1890, Henri Matisse
William Morris wallpaper, 1896
Speaking of vivid colors, another artist of the 1890s comes to mind in the work of Henri Matisse and the Fauvists. However, as seen in the artist's Nature Morte Aux Livres (above), from 1890, Matisse seems mired in academic grays, blacks, and earth tones. Nowhere is there to be found the wallpaper flat, bright, freely distorted im-ages of his later years. Several artists of the 20th-Century, like Matisse, found their "foot-ings" during that century's previous decade. Speaking of wallpaper, the name William Morris stands apart from similar artists whose reputations are indelibly linked to wallpaper design. However, there is a ten-dency to over-estimate the influence he had in this field, at least in his own lifetime. In fact, despite his much repeated belief in "art for all", his wallpapers, like most of the pro-ducts of Morris and Co., were hand-made and expensive (below). Consequently they had a relatively limited acceptance. His papers were slow to find a market beyond fellow artists, and were positively hated by some influential figures, such as Oscar Wilde. How-ever, Morris has had a long-lived effect on wallpaper design and consumption, creating designs which have enjoyed lasting appeal. This relatively inexpensive art form came to life with the development of steam-powered printing presses early in the 19th-Century, but hit its stride as a number of technical improvements in printing came along. These two factors allowed manufacturers to mass-produce wallpaper (and Morris' 1890s designs), thus re-ducing its price and so making it affordable to working-class people. Thus "art for the masses" was an important development derived from the 1890s.

Mother Feeding Child, 1898, Mary Cassatt
Dancers, Pink and Green, 1890,  Edgar Degas
Despite the fact that many of today's most well-known artists were moving beyond Impressionism by the 1890s, the style was, nonetheless, in its prime during this final decade of the 19th-Century. Edgar Degas (left) and his female protégé, Mary Cassatt (above), were still exploring and producing along with the stalwart revolutionary, Paul Cezanne (below). Both Degas and Cassatt often dis-pensed with traditional impressionist oils in favor of the much more con-venient and perhaps more expressive medium of dry pastels. Cezanne, for his part, while espousing Impres-sionism, had deserted many of its tenets, or at least given the style new definition as he sought to reassert the dominance of masses over the tra-ditional delicacies of painterly tech-nique and color.
Still Life with Peppermint Bottle, 1890-94, Paul Cézanne
On the western shores of the Atlantic, Impressionism had not yet made much of an impression. The American frontier artists of the 1890s were reveling in a newfound beauty of the "wild" west while Frederick Remington (below) was making a reputation for himself with his depictions of the more brutal realities of America's vast interior. Remington was celebrating not the beauty of the western landscape but the hearty bravado of the men and women who "won" the West. Both he and his eastern colleagues were glamorizing. Most of the West was not nearly so stunning as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Ayres, or Willis E. Davis depicted while few American "cowboys," as painted by Remington, were as brave, skilled, or adventurous as he suggests. For the most part, their art of this era was one of subtle (though sometimes not so subtle) exaggerated idealism.
Bear Hunting, His Last Stand, 1890 Frederic Remington
For better or worse, whether in America or Europe, the 1890s is often summed up as the Victorian Era, so named for England's long-time reigning monarch. I suppose that's better than referring to this decade as the "gay" nineties, though the Victorian Era actually encompassed most of the latter half of the 19th-century. To our eyes today, the art of this lengthy period seems fussy, puritanical, and retrograde (as with the Pre-Raphaelites). It might surprise many of us today to find that the artists of this period, though having to live amid the stylized ornamentation of the era, actually had much the same negative opinion of the over decorated cultural milieu which they were struggling to reject.

A decade with a look all its own, never to be seen again (thank God).
Regardless of the region or socio-economic level, Victorian niceties extended into every nook and cranny of the 1890s. Industrial wealth and mass production had fostered a degree of nearly infinite ornamentation upon virtually everything made by man (or women in the case of female finery). Whether the art was that of fashion design, architecture, advertising, illustration, painting, sculpture, or domestic items, far from the later mantra of Modernism, More is less," the operant ideal of the 1890s was "More is not enough."

If the 1890s were gay, few people talked about it. "Blissful" might be a better word.
Many art historians point to the birth of Impressionism as the opening overture of Modern Art. Certainly many of the first "strains," both stylistic and philosophical were being heard, seen, and felt during the 1890s and before. Yet one look at the "fashionable" work of artists and designers of this period serves to underline the fact the Modern Art was still in its infancy, awaiting the fresh start of a new century to stretch its limbs. The word "new" was to become the most powerful word in the vernacular parlance taking shape as the decade drew to a close. On the horizon were new means of transportation, communication, visualization, and most of all idealization. I'm not sure when or where the first reference to the "good ole days" arose, but there can be little doubt that the associated images the phrase evokes are those of the 1890s.

Items from the 1890s are often the star attractions of antique shops and similar TV shows.
Modern Art as seen in a typical 1890s gallery setting.

    Van Gogh's view of the 1890s.