Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone (and a happy birthday to my Mom today!). Here is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's Dance at the Moulin Rouge, 1890 (in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, click to enlarge) as a suitably festive image.

Speaking of Toulouse-Lautrec, here's an exhibition to add to the Spring Roundup below: "Toulouse-Lautrec and Paris" at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA) from February 1st through April 26th. The show will include nearly all of the Clark's holdings on the artist, along with works by some of his contemporaries (e.g. Degas and Steinlen). Over eighty oil paintings, posters, photographs, drawings, and lithographs will be featured.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Nativity at Night

This post comes a few days late for Christmas, but it is always a good time for a beautiful painting. In honor of the season, I give you one of my favorite (if not very favorite) Nativity scenes in European art, the lovely late 15th-century "Nativity at Night" by the Netherlandish painter known as Geertgen tot Sint Jans (image courtesy the National Gallery website, click to enlarge). This small (34 x 25.3 cm) oil painting on wood panel today is in the National Gallery in London and is one of the earliest nighttime Nativity images. I first saw it in an undergraduate Northern Renaissance art history class about twenty years ago and have loved it ever since.

Geertgen tot Sint Jans is thought to have been born in Leiden and to have been a pupil of the Haarlem painter Albert van Ouwater, one of the first Netherlandish oil painters. Geertgen, however, had a short career; he was associated with the monastery of the knights of Saint John in Haarlem (hence his nickname) and died there in his late twenties. Only about a dozen to 15 works attributed to him survive today (some are disputed). We do know that some of his paintings were destroyed by iconoclasts during the Reformation.

This peaceful Nativity is partly inspired by the visions of the 14th-century mystic Bridget of Sweden, who envisioned the dazzling body of the infant Christ at the Incarnation. The Virgin Mary, angels, and even friendly animals gather around the manger; Joseph stands in the shadows, hand to his chest in awe. In the background, a hovering angel gives another point of light, announcing the good news to the shepherds on the hillside. Throughout, Geertgen tot Sint Jans uses the medium of oil paint to its best advantage, in his rendering of light and shade, and careful detail. Photographs do not do this piece justice -- in the museum, faced with its small size, one can appreciate even more the delicacy and virtuosity of Geertgen's hand, as well as the moving nature of the subject.

Happy Holidays to all and a belated Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Showcasing Women in Ancient Athens

Today's New York Times includes a review of the new exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center, "Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens." This important new show, which runs through May 9th, was co-curated by Nikolaos Kaltsas, director of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, and Prof. Alan Shapiro of Johns Hopkins University, a mentor of mine who served on my dissertation committee. It includes objects from several Greek collections, not only those of the National Archaeological Museum but from smaller national museums like that at Brauron.

What makes this exhibition important is its challenge of the notion that women in ancient Athens lived lives of strict seclusion and restriction. While women could not participate in political life, it's true, one arena where they played a very important role is the religious life of the city. The exhibition explores the festivals and rituals in which women took part, as well as the representation of female deities in Athenian art.

This is a topic close to my heart -- my dissertation focused on images of female musicians on Athenian vases -- and I encourage anyone heading to New York or living there to check out this show. The Onassis Center is located at 645 Fifth Avenue, near 52nd Street; their website is for more information.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Banner Year for Van Gogh Books

The Van Gogh Museum has just released their 2009 publications programme (download it at their website), and I might as well write them a big check right now for the things I plan to buy. It's going to be a banner year in van Gogh studies!

The "big one," the publication that has the potential to reshape our understanding of Vincent (oh! how my pulse races!), is the Five Volume, Completely Annotated, Fully Illustrated, In-Process-Since-1994 new edition of van Gogh's complete correspondence. 2500 pages! 2000 illustrations! It is set to be released in October 2009 (about the time of my own book, I love it), in conjunction with a special exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum showcasing actual letter manuscripts, and in English, Dutch, and French editions. All editions include the original text of all the letters in brand new translations, annotated commentary on each letter, and illustrations of all works of art discussed in the letters. The English edition is being released through Thames and Hudson, which I hope means it will be easily available via Amazon stateside. According to the VGM's publication programme, the cost is 300 Euros until January 2010, at which point price goes up to 350 Euros (price in US dollars not given). The volumes will also be available digitally through a special website.

What makes this publication exciting is that the letters will be included and translated as Vincent wrote them: no euphemisms (so his sometimes salty language will stay in), no amendments, and no excised passages. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger's original collection of the letters, quite understandably, left out some passages that might be sensitive to the family or that she felt might be otherwise inappropriate. What could those be?! (Ten bucks says I will be shouting "Gah! I want that in my novel! And it's too late!" many times while perusing the five volumes.)

As if that weren't enough to get me giddy, two more 2009 publications from the VGM will definitely make it to my bookshelf:
*Louis van Tilborgh and Ella Hendriks, Vincent van Gogh Paintings, 2: Antwerp and Paris, 1885-1888: the next volume of catalogues of the VGM's permanent collection. 500 pages, listed at 99 Euros. The recent volumes of the drawings catalogues have been available via Amazon, so this one may be too. Otherwise it can be purchased through the VGM website in autumn 2009.

*The latest volume in the slim-but-packed-with-good-research Van Gogh in Focus series, entitled "Van Gogh and Montmartre." These, unfortunately, are only available at the VGM or through its website. I have three of the five earlier titles, and they're terrific.

Happy Reading in 2009!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spring Exhibition Roundup

With the New Year come new shows. This list is in no way intended to be comprehensive, but here are some upcoming museum exhibitions that strike my fancy:

*Art Institute of Chicago: "Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety and Myth" (Feb 14th-April 26th). This major show will include ca. 75 paintings and 75 works on paper by Munch and his peers (including, apparently, something by van Gogh although the AIC website does not say what). The exhibition is meant to challenge the popular-culture view of Munch as emotionally unstable. Munch made the news recently when his "Vampire" sold for over $38 million at Sotheby's NY November auction. N.B. the AIC's new Impressionist and Post Impressionist galleries open December 16th.

*Baltimore Museum of Art: "A Circus Family: Picasso to Léger" (Feb 22nd-May 17th). This exhibition showcases images of the circus and circus performers in the early 20th century, but begins with the late 19th century and posters by Toulouse-Lautrec. Picasso's sympathetic saltimbanque images form the core of the show.

*British Museum, London: "Babylon: Myth and Reality" continues until March 15th. Considering that ancient Babylon lies smack in the middle of modern conflict in Iraq, this show is both timely and important.

*Getty Center, Los Angeles: "Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575-1725" (Dec 16th-May 3rd). This show focuses primarily on the famed Carracci family of painters, but also includes work by other Bolognese notables such as Guido Reni and Guercino. Bologna is one of my favorite European cities, can I just say -- amazingly under-touristed but filled with good things to see (and eat).

*Musée d'Orsay, Paris: "See Italy and Die" (I love the title), from April 7th to July 19th. An exhibition of 19th-century "Grand Tour" photography which promises to be a treat.

*Museum of FIne Arts, Boston: "Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice" (March 15th-August 16th). This one is co-organized by the MFA and the Louvre, and will feature sixty paintings from European and American collections. I love Tintoretto -- this looks like a great show.

*National Gallery of Art, Washington DC: "Pompeii and the Roman Villa" will be on view until March 22nd. A student of mine saw this one over Thanksgiving and said it was terrific. Running from 1 February until 3 May will be "Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age," co-organized with the Mauritshuis in The Hague and intended to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Dutch exploration in the Hudson River Valley. Jacob van Ruisdael's famous view of Haarlem and the bleaching fields will be featured (I teach that painting in survey and was happy to see it in person in The Hague last year).

*Philadelphia Museum of Art: "Cézanne and Beyond" (Feb 26th-May 17th). Includes forty paintings and drawings by Cézanne, plus numerous works by other artists to show his context and influence.

*Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels: "Alfred Stevens" (May 8th - 23rd August). This Belgian painter is less-known now, but in his day, he was hugely successful. He lived much of his career in Paris and was close friends with Edouard Manet, among others. One of his models (and his possible lover for a while) was none other than Victorine Meurent, the model for Manet's "Olympia."

And on the van Gogh front...
*Kunstmuseum Basel: "Vincent van Gogh Between Earth and Heaven: The Landscapes" (April 26th-Sept 27th). Ohhh I am sorry to be missing this one!

*Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam: "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night," the European showing of the exhibition currently in New York, from 13 February through 7 June. The VGM has posted their entire exhibition calendar for 2009, which includes "Van Gogh's Letters: The Artist Speaks" from 9 October through 3 January 2010. The letters show is HUGE because it coincides with the VGM's release of THE definitive new edition of Vincent's letters and the launch of a special website dedicated to the correspondence. Be still my beating heart!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Vincent Does It Again

The three-month, three-billion-Euro van Gogh exhibition at the Albertina Museum in Vienna closed earlier this week, and the numbers are in: 589,180 visitors to yield the best-attended exhibition in Austria for 13 years. (The museum expected 450,000.) Average attendance was 6000 visitors per day, making the exhibition the 10th most popular in the world for this year.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mellow Out

Consulting the online calendars of artists' birthdays for today, I learn December 7th belongs to two very disparate artists whose work I happen to like very much: the 17th-century Baroque sculptor par excellence, Gianlorenzo Bernini, and the 20th-century American painter Stuart Davis. Pictured is Davis' "Mellow Pad" from 1945-51 (image from WebMuseum, click to enlarge).

I dig "Mellow Pad." That's right, the classicist-aka-van-Gogh-junkie digs "Mellow Pad." Admittedly, Davis has been an acquired taste, and I wouldn't call myself well-versed in his work, but "Mellow Pad" for me conjures up two things: my love of jazz and the year I lived in New York, before I came to Florida. Davis wasn't from New York, but he showed there, and his paintings capture its essence: the noise, the neon, the crowds, the craziness. I remember seeing "Mellow Pad" the first time I went to the Brooklyn Museum during my NYC year, and it's one of the images I associate with that time in my life.

"Mellow Pad" also shouts jazz. Not smooth jazz/Kenny G stuff, I mean the real deal: Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, the bebop that Davis knew very well and sought to express in paint. I became a fan first of French jazz (leave it to me to do it backwards) after a happenstance visit to Paris during the 1996 Fête de la Musique -- jazz on the street corners of the Latin Quarter near my hotel, jazz in the Métro, this musical cacophony that set my brain to whirring. New York finished the job; I have fond memories of going to some basement joint in Greenwich Village where Kool-Aid flowed freely (no liquor license) and so did the beat, courtesy of some NYU students channeling the 1940s. I pull out my bebop now when my head feels busy and my nerves are jangled, when what I need is not something slow, but something to get whatever-it-is out of my system. (Um, like now with the end of the semester...) Jazz is healthy for a personality like mine, because it reminds me that sometimes disorder and the seemingly chaotic possess a strange harmony. Translation: don't get worked up, baby, mellow out!

In the past, I've showed "Mellow Pad" in art appreciation class. There's always some forehead-wrinkling at first, then I say, "Listen to this." On goes some Charlie Parker ("Ko-Ko" is usually my track of choice). Aha! Now they see it: the syncopation of colors, of notes, eschewing the obvious in favor of the unexpected. And the title -- Mellow Pad. Say it out loud. Mellooooow paaaaad. That's more Miles Davis-y and "Nature Boy," that title, smooth and, well, mellow.

Yep. I dig it, daddy-o.

ps. Stuart Davis' work was influenced by van Gogh, whose paintings he saw in the famous Armory Show. Had to be said. ;-)