Tag Archives: Picasso

The Hyde Collection art museum and historic house

Warren Street, Glens Falls, New York.

Run-through of the permanent collection and a print exhibition of Picasso, Braque and Leger (through January 5):

When traveling through the New England hinterlands, check into historic house museums that dot region, e.g., the Hyde complex in Warren County.  The core experience is a kind of mini-Frick (initiated by local paper mill magnate couple, Louis and Charlotte Hyde), from the 1912 faux-palazzo façade and indoor central courtyard of the main building to the substantial focus on 14th to 17th century Italian painting and a few corresponding sculptural works, e.g., a ceramic Della Robbia shop Madonna and Child relief. 

Look carefully for a tiny Tinteretto “True Cross” scene (there’s also a larger portrait by the prolific Venetian) and a velvety Veronese of the biblical Rebecca, as the lighting is very low and indirect in spots not only due to conservation considerations but salon-type placements throughout the mainly small domestic spaces including alcoves and stairwells. In one of the larger “reception” rooms, you won’t miss a bust-height, glassy-eyed portrait attributed to Raphael–worthy even if workshop or follower, and excellent “International Gothic” French-produced tapestries with charmingly conventional allegorical themes (faith; eternity). Lowlands Renaissance and Baroque painting is also amply represented, not least by a sensitive Rembrandt of a long-maned Christ and a lively unfinished Rubens portrait of an African male model. 

Mainstream pre-WWII American tastes for French Impressionists, especially Renoir and Degas, are evident, among the most interesting examples a pre-Pointillist Seurat landscape comprised of steadily dabbed pure colors suggesting his dizzying optics to come; and check the subtle, possible plein air precedent by Gustave Courbet featuring his signature rocky topography. Top-tier American Realists and Impressionists also have a strong collective presence. Among several Thomas Eakins paintings is an important portrait of his acclaimed student Henry Ossawa Tanner; also seaside and garden scenes by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and a moonlit cricked-impasto Albert Pinkham Ryder.  A narrow vertical Blue-to-Rose Period Picasso of a lithe youth surprises in Madame’s bedroom, although acquired after her death (1968), as both the collection and exhibition space has continued to expand.   

The current print show of illustrative suites based on literature by Picasso, Georges Braque and Fernand Leger is lovely.  Starting with, Picasso (of course, and this spread is a good argument for why), the monochrome coverage extends to nearly the full iconographic range of his oeuvre, from the Blue Period, through shattered Cubist still life, through Surrealist-styled figures including auto-portrait minotaurs, to scathing cartoons of Franco, and classically-tinged lover-muses like a profile head of Marie Therese “carved” out with chiaroscuro.  Fortuitously, one can appreciate his facility with classical contouring (when he wanted to employ it) through comparison with a painted portrait head by Ingres in the house library, along with two others by the sultan of slickly appealing academic painting.  The latest Picasso images here, from the 1960s, are incredibly reduced caricatures that bring a semiotic mixing of the most minimal markings to life. The overriding technique is etching, with some technical variation (most by specialty print houses but a few early ones his own pulls).

Picasso’s early Cubist art-brother Braque is seen in this display veering into frenemy Matisse’s territory with softer organic forms, specific nature imagery and some color; and Leger’s contributions combine strongly contoured, bold figuration a la his constructivist-like direction, with flat, abstract color blocks characteristic of his post-WWI paintings.     

A new gallery (opened 2017) highlights continuing acquisitions of post-WWII works with the current installation focusing (not exclusively) on geometric abstraction via Jean Arp, Joseph Albers, Frank Stella, and Al Held, among others. Veering off, but wonderful, a characteristically conceptual Tim Rollins and K.O.S. wherein pages from a text of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream are pasted as a picture plane and embellished with colorful floating abstract “blots”–the perceptual apparition not wholly unlike the effect of the scaffold-stablized shapes of in Leger’s prints (as above).

It’s a pleasantly scaled excursion in which all can be taken in leisurely, and special programming, judging from this visit, is thoughtful and erudite within the context and means of the institution as a whole. 

MoMA’s re-do and inaugural shows

Notable among an increased number of special exhibitions and displays at the Museum of Modern Art, re-opened to the public today (after a renovation and major collection re-organization):

Betye Saar: The Legends of Black Girls Window, through January 4, 2020

Taking a Thread for a Walk, through Spring 2020

Sur Moderno: Journeys of Abstraction: The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, through March 24, 2020

member: Pope. L, 1978-2001, through February 1, 2001

Two interior design changes noted that I like: the mini-chic-modernist living room seating spaces now on each floor, especially the one featuring Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurred photographs of an earlier incarnation of the sculpture garden viewed below out the windows; and the black strips of wall, sans art, on the elevator landing corridors to rest the eyes between galleries.  Thank goodness for the continued enshrinement of the original building’s Bauhaus stairway, which relieves what has become an elegant but corporate-like art headquarters with large-scale partitioned warrens.

Standing out in the inaugural re-installations of the permanent collection, which the museum has publicized will change more frequently than in the past (great): the full scope of MoMA’s Migration series panel paintings by Jacob Lawrence, which have, by now, infiltrated so many spheres of American arts and culture; a window-lit Brancusi spread; the juxtaposition of heavy-handed abstract sculpture by Melvin Edwards, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Lynda Benglis, and Jackie Windsor; a small section on early experimental photography and film integrated into the turn-of-the-century painting and sculpture galleries; an ode to the quirky art of Manhattanite Florine Stetheimer (1871-1944) with a room of her own; a giant female nude (1978) by Joan Semmel, indicating the popularity of figurative painting at the time often ignored by high-profile venues focusing on “cutting edge” developments, especially in relation to feminist content — also helping to redress the MoMA’s infamous renown for “hot mamas” painted by modernist men (elucidated in a now classic study by art historian Carol Duncan, 1989).  I didn’t like the placement of a gorgeous, vermilion and cobalt abstraction by Alma Thomas at the edge of a Matisse room, where it is inevitably mitigated; or the implied juxtaposition (on different walls) of Faith Ringgold’s “race riot” (from her seminal “American People” series, late 1960s) with Picasso’s ubiquitous Demoiselles. I can see where each has an intensity perhaps overshadowing peer works, and curatorial sensitivity in suggesting a powerful painterly aggression equally shared, but I think it encourages ultimately superficial comparison especially with the rest of the large room also filled with Picasso.

Special exhibition highlights: the quietly engaging Betye Saar show, which explores the early print-making of this indefatigable nonagenarian and her break into assemblage, exemplified by MoMa’s Black Girl’s Window (1969).  Overall etching-based (not exclusively and with broad technical variation), her blending of alternately scratchy and sinuous contours with washy, earth-toned, passages and layered grounds are absorbing formally and fairy-tale-like in their representational mix of pensive and dreamy females in webbed forests or isolated interiors flecked intermittently with floating symbols to evoke innocence, wonder, terror, and intellectual, sensual, and spiritual curiosity.  Others that elide into the mixed materials works retrieve the diagrammatic subject of pseudo-scientific phrenology to deconstruct the roots of entrenched racists and sexist psychosis.  The featured “window” and others suggest both inward soul-gazing and exterior cosmological views of the world, mashing mystery, politics, veiled personal emotion, and much more into make-shift pictorial fenestration.  

Then the engaging, “Thread” show, which features the similarly visionary aesthetics–in a non-objective overall framework–of the remarkable Anni Albers (1899-1994), with a large selection of her on-the-board and canvas abstractions, weavings, and commercially-produced textile designs; as well as work by direct and indirect progeny and kindred spirits, including a thickly braided-rope “phantom” by Mrinalini Mukherjee (d. 2015), introduced to many with her recent retrospective at the Guggenheim and a thick rainbow-bow colored yarn waterfall by contemporary artists, Sheila Hicks.

“Sur Moderno” adds lots of South American artists to MoMA’s seminal “story” of geometric abstraction long confined to Europe; and as such enriches its purview by endless subtle variation–in this display, augmented by furniture and other related design work. I did not like the confining of Mondrian’s brilliant late painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie to a lost corner of the show in perhaps an admirable attempt to dethrone his preeminence in this sphere somewhat.

Finally, a performance retrospective for wild-and-crazy Pope L. X-rated in parts, unremittingly absurdist and confrontational, the artist’s career has been committed to calling out injustice satirically and back-handedly, especially racism, in works that demands some investment in unraveling.  One broader issue that comes to the fore here: a new-ish trend in turning performance props and residue into ostensible sculpture.  Most compelling in this presentation: make-shift structures that can remind of David Hammons’ inventive, folks-y architectural constructions, here complete with instructions and other trappings that reference (perhaps), more esoteric conceptual modes without the pointed, people-centered missives of this art preacher-provocateur. 

MoMA, Fifth floor

Surrealist Splatter: Pollock Survey at MoMA

“Jackson Pollock: A Collection Survey 1934-1954”; at the Museum of Modern Art, through March 13, 2016.

MoMA’s on firm foundational footing this season, with featured strengths like Picasso (through Feb. 7), the global modernist Garcia-Torres (through Feb. 15), and now a small but bang-up (how could it not be) Pollock installation in the relatively modest graphics galleries on the second floor.  Like the recent delimited exhibition of the collection’s Warhols in the same space, works on paper and paintings of varying scales are interspersed in a way that makes visual and pedagogical sense as a summary, while providing an excuse to rotate lesser known gems among superstars. Of the former, two exceptional near-miniatures, Circle (1938-41), with seemingly automatic, Aztec-suggestive images swirling in a tondo; and Freeform (1946), which exemplifies Pollock’s breakthrough splatter mode in a balanced burst of rhythmic energy and awareness of the picture plane.

Pollock’s restless artistic and psychological spirit is well conveyed through this short journey from early Thomas Benton-mentored scenes through a number of engagingly inscrutable, Rorschach-like compositions pocked with primitivizing figuration and stenographic coding to the signature drip-and-pours.  Near monochromy is pervasive, with reds intermittently burning in the earlier work.  As with the Picasso show, Pollock’s absorption and churning of identifiable immediate predecessors and peers (including Picasso of course) can be recognized alongside his marked artistic difference.  A tentative and Surrealist-tinged return to the brush is seen in Easter Totem (1953), placed across from the triumphant, hand-printed, densely “poured” canvas known as No. 1a (1948), for an illuminating final juxtaposition in this compact context.

In the Shadow of Picasso and a Palatial Museum

“Casagemas: The Artist Beneath the Myth,” Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona; through Feb. 22.

Imagine having the indomitable Picasso as your best friend while just setting out as a committed artist – he not only gets all the art attention but also all the girls — and you fixate on one who rejects you — and you’re impotent, at least for the moment, although you will not live to investigate . . . .  No, it doesn’t end well for Carles Casagemas, best remembered through several haunting death portraits by Picasso done shortly after his suicide in Paris at age 20.

Overshadowed by the Neo-Baroque building, early masterpieces, and new 20th-century art and design galleries, this intimate look at the troubled native son (1881-1901) is both impeccable and manageable for initiated and uninitiated alike, and, for the latter especially, benefits from proximity to the hang-outs and ambiance–much preserved—that fostered his brief visual oeuvre (and poetry). Due to the preponderance of works on paper, the lighting is low, which, together with the sub-level gallery space and deep blue-painted walls, amplify the slightly macabre, fin-de-siecle mood of the life and work presented. The off-hand charcoal and chalky pastel street views and bar rooms reveal a fluid drawing facility and flourish associated with Spanish modernisme as much as Lautrec’s bravura flaneurism. Caricature-like scribblings distinctly overlap with Picasso’s (several small comparative ink studies are included) in the early days at Els 4 Gats—Barcelona’s Cedar Tavern (in New York terms) of its day. The few oil paintings Casagemas produced are more subdued, composed with astute, underlying geometry, especially an empty, taupe-toned village scene, Morandi-like, but refined at the edges. Just a head’s up, if you’re headed that way.

Multitudes at Guggenheim’s “Zero”; Cubist Millions at the Met

Zero: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s; SRGM, through January

Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection; MMA, through February

Mid-week morning at the Guggenheim, filled to capacity, lines outside?

Guggenheim entrance, 10/22/14, 11:30 AM
Guggenheim entrance, 10/22/14, 11:30 AM

For an exhibition at the opposite extreme of an obvious popular  “blockbuster”? With crowds like these here and double at MoMA’s “Matisse,” it’s hard to imagine the necessity for admission prices topping out at half-a-hundred for two adults. (SRGM is $22, to MoMA’s $25). It’s all of a piece with the rise in herd marketing of museum memberships that promotes advanced ticketing, and, more and more, “reservations”–at odds with the public accessibility and related purposes–for immediate, regional constituency rather than far-flung tourists (obviously built in)–claimed by these institutions. But I digress … .

Conceived by two postwar German artists, who, like the Futurists, Constructivists, and Bauhaus-ers before them, sought to re-start art for a new era from scratch, the Zero group eventually encompassed a loose network of international experimenters and an amalgamated aesthetics of disco-y shadow play and mirrored surfaces, kineticism, and Minimalism (at its cusp). Overall, as much interesting to really look at as to read about as you proceed. One stunner was a floor piece by Yves Klein in his signature IKB indigo–a fantastic, possibly radioactive, sci-fi sand box. Two sooty (literally), seemingly rubbed paintings of celestial circles by Otto Piene were sublime. And I appreciated Arman’s early “accumulation” of empty candy foils (thinking how full of content Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s waxing and waning candy piles would be two decades later).  Recreations of two original Zero installations including multiple affiliated artists–Duchamp-meets-Rube Goldberg set-ups–crucially convey the collective phenomenon (if you will) and counter-balance the inevitable fetishizing of the objects that were left, once its mark was widely recognized as historically (at least) significant. Though many specific works hold up well as such (as suggested above), others now appear slightly naive or even anachronistic, in light of their forward-looking intentions.

Perhaps no modernist works have been more fetishized than early Cubist ones by the dynamic duo, Picasso and Braque (the latter destined to be second fragmented fiddle, though his early formal precocity is on full display here).  However, when modern-day Medici, Lauder,  meets brilliant scholar-curator, Emily Braun, you get the creme-de-la-creme selection expected: a personal yet diverse display, through gem-like examples, of a visual revolution. Starting with the pioneers: color stands out, surprisingly, with a few quietly shimmering oils amid the more familiar monochrom-ish palette of the pair that remains fascinating; ditto the hybrid drawings/papiers colles (“how little can we get away and still . . . signify,” some seem to portend). The two immediate followers that round out this formidable gift to the Met, Juan Gris, and Fernand Leger, might be described as, respectively, warmed domestic and cooled urbane outgrowths.  Imaginary souvenir: a tiny, terracotta-toned, talismanic mask painting (gouache; 1907) by Picasso.

P.S.: The food cart kerfluffle in front of the Met continues into the era of the renovated MMA plaza.  (Google it.)  What an eye–and nose–sore; but, it’s a decent living.  Any alternatives?

MMA Plaza, 10/22/14
MMA Plaza, 10/22/14