Saturday, March 29, 2008

Contemporary Chinese Woodcuts

Gan Zhenglun

The A.I.C. just opened
an exhibit of
Chinese woodblock prints
commissioned by the London based

Muban Foundation

It was all scenes of people
I wouldn't want to meet
and places I wouldn't want to visit

i.e. -- the Chinese artworld is
still in recovery
from the Maoist catastrophe

But I did like the above scene,
with it's sharp vs. blurry
sense of spatial perspective

( most of the woodcuts felt limited
by a uniform sharpness of impression)

(and I'm partial to river scenes anyway)

and note:

rather humorously,
the exhibit is entitled
"Cutting edges: Contemporary Chinese Woodblock Prints"
while, thankfully,
there's nothing "cutting edge" or contemporary about it all.

Perhaps these artists have had enough
cultural revolution ?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Toshiko Takaezu

I wandered into the Tadeo Ando gallery
at the Art Institute yesterday
(that's the dark room that resembles
a Japanese temple)

and came across a large exhibit of
Toshiko Takaezu (b. 1929)

(here's a shot to show the relative size of the pieces)

These large ceramic lumps
are so relaxing !

I didn't know I wanted to be peaceful
until I saw them

everything seems like it grew
to be that way,

but it's still more enjoyable
than a natural object
because I feel a soft
human presence

what a beautiful woman this is!

but once the shape gets a little
more complicated,
I'm losing my sense of satisfaction

Peter Voulkos (1924-2002), 1954
Toshiko Takaezu, 1970
Maija Grotell (1899-1973), 1940

Here's three pieces presented for comparison.

Voulkos was a contemporary who eventually left the
Japanese/peaceful to become American/disturbed

Grotell was an instructor at Cranbrook when Toshiko went there.

These things are all so peaceful and enjoyable for me,
like a walk through the fields
on sunny day in late autumn

Bernard Leach (1887-1979)
Hamada Shoji (1894-1978)

The exhibit also included
these examples
from renowned potters of an earlier generation,
and all of these things
I find so enjoyable.

But I'm not going to sign on
with the kinds of art-talk that accompanies
this contemporary tradition:

"Takaezu has been instrumental in moving ceramics beyond its historical ties to the concept of function and into the realm of sculpture," James Jensen wrote in 1995. She transformed clay "from something associated only with utilitarian objects to something that could be meaningful, capable of embodying abstract ideas."


when have collectible ceramics,
over the past 1000 years (and longer) ,
ever not been within the realm of sculpture ?

When have they not been capable
of embodying abstract ideas ?

And .. what are those ideas anyway ?
Doesn't each viewer have their own?

I think the terrible fact is.....

that this art is as traditional
as the neo academic painters
who want to draw like Renaissance masters.

It's just that...
being non-figurative,
Asian ceramics is a tradition that's acceptable
to the art museums of today.

and one more issue....

was it really such a good idea
for the A.I.C. to put acquire all these pieces ?
(they were gifted by the artist herself)

Doesn't that mean that they will spend most of their time
in the dark basement?

If they were given - or sold - to someone else
wouldn't they get to be seen more frequently ?

And don't they take up a lot of space ?

Why not just dedicate a museum display area to contemporary
traditional ceramics
and cycle temporary exhibits through it every month ?

Toshiko Takaezu is very good,
but aren't there several hundred (or even thousand)
contemporaries who are just as good ?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rembrandt: Three Faces of the Master

I was rather critical of the Cincinnati Art Museum
in my last post,
but stand in awe of
this current exhibition
that I was lucky enough
to have coincide with last weekend's visit.

It's really just three paintings,
Rembrandt self portraits
done at the beginning, middle, and end of his career.

But what an incredible show!
First --- because all three are great paintings,
a few notches above most all other portraits in the museum

but also because,
placed side-by-side
they tell such a story
of a creative man's life

(and it had to take some finagling
to get all three together,
one from nearby Indianapolis,
but the others from Europe,
from Paris and Madrid)

What a fine young man
young Rembrandt was!

Full of vigor, ambition,
passion and curiosity,
just emerging from the shadows.

and how he has mellowed
into responsibility,
and a little more
sensuality and vulnerability.

Could you ask this man
for the loan of a few quid
until the next pay day ?

I think so.

Now, finally,
as an old man,
who has seen some sorrow,
just seems to be hanging on

and maybe is a little more
the meaning of it all.

And don't bother him about a loan,
his pockets are bare.

(and, of course, what frightens me
is that this "old" Rembrandt was only 54,
5 years younger than I am today)

A great exhibit!

Three paintings is all that a good exhibit needs,
and I wish that my museum
would have some of them.

There's hardly enough time,
even in a month of Sundays,
to become acquainted with all the
paintings in a giant blockbuster exhibit.

(note #1: no credit is given on the
museum's website to the curator who came up
with this idea -- but I salute him or her -- whoever it was
that was visiting Indianapolis one day,
saw their early Rembrandt self-portrait,
and dreamed of giving it better company
than the 4th rate Baroque paintings in the IMA collection)

(note #2: the museum parking lot was
packed the day I visited - the first time
I ever remember that happening.
I wonder whether the organizer of this
exhibit would consider moving to Chicago ??)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cincinnati Art Museum

I spent the hour prior to RJ's birthday party
last Saturday
going through
The Cincinnati Art Museum

shooting pictures
of pieces that met the following qualifications:

1. I remember liking them 40-50 years ago

2. I still like them

3. They're photographable (which is a real problem
since so much sculpture
is now behind reflective glass)

I've led off with the above Twachtman
since it really does strike me as the most remarkable
work by a local painter.
It's dreamy moodiness appealed to me
when I was a teenager,
and it's oriental power
appeals to me now.

I've also always been drawn
by these reliefs from Persepolis,
fragmentary to begin with,
and even more fragmentary now,
since I can only photograph them
by putting the lens right up against the glass case.

I hate glass cases !

I like to feel that me and the stone
are breathing the same air.

These Persians were wonderful !
Can you imagine an entire wall of this stuff ?

The dimly lit galleries
of ancient stone-silver-bronze
artifacts have always been my favorite.

So quiet - dark - empty - peaceful.

Most of the things I remember liking
are the things my father told me were
especially good...

like this Guanyin
from the 14th C.

I'd like to show you the entire piece,
but once again,
it's been put into a big glass case
and I can't shoot (or see) through the reflections.

Here's the enormous
mural that was always
shown in the same room as the above statue.

It's something of a ruin,
but it still is a powerful,
magical image
that turns the room into a temple.

And most regretfully,
it is now
on display in the entire museum !!!

the great collection
of Chinese landscape and calligraphy
that made me such a lover of that genre
has now been completely removed from view.

(even including this
famous scroll after which this blog has been named!)

I don't know why the curators have done this,
but I do know that with a
few good thumbscrews,
Judge Dee could get to the bottom of this crime.

Just outside the Chinese galleries,
lies this delightful spot
where I have spent many a meditative moment
while working through my life as a teenager.

That grassy plot running down the middle
used to be a reflecting pool,
and RJ tells me that
it was a fine place for drunken parties
back when he and Bill Leonard
were on the faculty of the Art Academy.

(which used to be adjacent to the Art Museum)
(Bill was the father of Danny Leonard -
who just threw RJ such a great birthday party)

For me,
this curious fellow always served
as the epitome
of Classical culture

The courtyard is also home
to two over-life size statues
by Harriet Frishmuth.

RJ always castigated them as sissy stuff
(after all -- Harriet was a woman -- and Lesbian as well)
but I always enjoyed their
endless, serpentine, sensuality.

Isn't that a grape vine she's holding ?

Don't we need to
be tipping wine glasses ?

Here's one of the glorious English portraits
from the museum,
this one by Thomas Lawrence
(whose portrait of Mrs. Wolff
so captures me at the Art Institute)

our other favorite portrait
was on loan elsewhere today
(Gainsborough's "Mrs. Philip Thicknesse" ,
after whom RJ named
his family of English bulldogs)

This Mantenga has always amazed me
with the chiseled quality of its drawing.

How could anyone have the patience
to move so slowly across the space ?

It exemplifies a kind of rock hard determination
that seems so foreign to anything done after 1800

This medieval statue
has always reminded me of me
so I've drawn it several times over the years.

a bookish lad

with a wide-eyed
blank stare
(like a deer caught in the headlights)

(actually -- this is John the Evangelist, 13th C. French)

and now we move on the Duvenecks
like this early one from 1873
when Frank was 25

It's hard to think of Cincinnati's "old master"
as a precocious kid
knocking around Europe,
but he was


What especially intrigues me now,
is that Duveneck
would fit right in
to my Palette and Chisel Academy
as it is today.

(for example, this painting by Douglas David)


..and I've always loved the theme of
Harem Guards.

(ready to give their lives,
or take yours,
in defense of the Master's women)

and though I knew they were "only illustration",
the wild west paintings of Henry Farny always appealed to me,
and always made me feel like I was there
(even if Farny never was)

But what happened to his depiction of the
cavalryman who was captured by Indians
and staked spread-eagle on the sand
beneath the burning sun?

Where has that painting gone ???

moving on to the more serious works,
I've always been intrigued by this scene
by Herri met de Bles (c. 1540)

for both the bizarre scene in the foreground
(why would a father ever want to kill his son ?)
the infinite landscape behind them.

This is really the kind of painting
that invites you to move in,
find some shady tree,
and take a nap for a few hours,
before hiking up to those distant mountains.

a happy world,
where beautiful angels
save gentle innocent sons
from judgmental fathers.

But this painting also brings to mind
the great tragedy of the old master collection
at the Cincinnati Art Museum

where, 30 years ago,
some half-witted curators
sent so many early European paintings off to be over-cleaned,
stripping the paintings of their outer glazes,
removing the areas of depth,
and making them all feel like pastel drawings.

It was really a tragedy
that effectively
and irreversibly
damaged so much of the collection
of the Cincinnati Art Museum,
demoting it down to the level of

By now,
the perpetrators are long gone,
but their crimes will live forever.

(note: the above Botticelli is in tempera,
so it never had any glazes to remove,
but it still seems to have been scrubbed
to within a millimeter of its life)

On a happier note,
this Rubens sketch
somehow escaped the massacre,
and I feel it had a strong effect
on the direction of RJ's aesthetic

this tour ends with RJ's favorite sculpture
from the museum,
this Hellenistic bull.

This piece was always in a glass case,
but it used to have a stand-alone pedastal
so the viewer could walk around for all the views.

No more.

RJ tells the story
of how the Museum Director,
Philip Rhys Adams,
stuck out his neck
to exhaust the museum's budget
to purchase this piece back in the early 50's,
back when RJ taught at the Art Academy
and Philip Adams was the boss.

(So it appears that Adams and RJ had similar tastes,
but that didn't prevent the one from
firing the other for insubordination
a short time later.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

RJ's Last Birthday: the Students

Tom Tsuchiya was there,
and so was this photo
of Tom and RJ
in front of the monument Tom
designed for Xavier University

Here's a portrait
that Tom made
of the Master

(if we were Japanese like Tom,
Tom would now be called Miller,
just like the non-genetic members
of the Katsukawa family in the post from last week)

For whatever reason,
RJ seems to have inspired a school of 18th C.
French painting in Cincinnati

as exemplified by the above work by Charles Flowers
(who also attended this event)

RJ's career as a professor at the Art Academy
was terminated in 1952,
but a few years later,
he taught a few drawing classes
at the World Famous
Gebhardt Art School
(in downtown Cincinnati,
above the Empress Chili Parlor)

Here's one of his students from those days,
Julie Braucksick,
who specializes in painting
"cat rocks"
(like the one she's holding)
and then travels around the country
to sell them at cat shows.

Here's another French 18th C. piece,
done by former Gebhardts's student, Karin Hebenstreit
who has also become Cincinnati's
leading portrait painter.

Meanwhile, Karin's son, John
has begun a career in public sculpture
under RJ's occasional guidance,
and here's his 'Friar Tuck'
installed in the oh-so-artsy
neighborhood of Mount Adams.

A distant view of the happy friar.
(taken the morning after the party)

And there are some students
who though very talented,
just seem to disappear.

The girl who designed this Leda
was never even a student,
but just a model who worked in the classes
and figured "hey -- I can do that"

Which she did,
and designed it so well,
RJ cast the piece for her.

Here's a card she designed and mailed a few years later.

Last we heard,
she was living in Equador.
(her first name was Jill,
but that's all we can remember)