Monday, December 22, 2008

The New Galleries of European Art

Fra Bartolommeo

The Art Institute of Chicago
has just re-hung
it's collection of
pre-Modern and post-Ancient
European Art

and expanded it, too,
into galleries that once had
the modern stuff that will be
moving into the new Modern Wing next May.

So... there were many things that were new,
like the pre-Raphaelite piece shown above
(i.e. -- he actually came before Raphael,
by about 20 years,
and served as an early influence on him)

It's so nice and dreamy, isn't it ?
(though it feels like a lot of
restoration has taken place)

Spain 1500

This is also a recent addition
to the collection,
though there several great Medieval pieces
that are no longer on on display

South German 1520

This piece has been with the museum
ever since Ryerson donated it,
but I'm noticing it now
for the first time.

The detail areas are gorgeous,
and I can see why the notes
speculate that it came from a nunnery.

Lopez Y Portana

I may have seen this painting before,
but now,
in a room of Goyas,
I finally appreciated it
as the equal of any of the portraits
that the earlier court painter had done.

Jean-Joseph Carrias

This piece is too weird and ugly for me,
but this is the first time I've seen
the work of this 19th C. French sculptor.

It also appears to be a plaster cast of a wood carving,
so I'm wondering whether the tabu
against reproductions
has finally been broken.

Ferdinand Hodler "Truth"

This piece suffered mightily
when it was hung on a wall
cluttered by other paintings.

But now, given a space of its own,
this scrawny girl
rises to the occasion.

France 1150

This period of French art was so great
even the miniatures feel as spacious as cathedrals.

(I'm guessing this used to be shown with the Arms and Armor
in Gunuslaus Hall --- where the Indian Art is now displayed)

Meissen, 18th C.

Some of the new available space
has been given to the 'Decorative Arts"
in many cases,
I find it regretful.

I.e. -- if I found this piece
in my local re-sale shop
I would not pay even $5 for it.

And yet --it must have been very expensive,
since it took 200 words of text
to list all the donors involved in its acquisition.

On the other hand,
this ceramic piece,
which used to be the basement gallery,
is one of my favorites

especially for this charming detail
of the artist at work

Spain 1525

I know I've seen this piece on display before,
but still it strikes me as so bizarre.

I love the design,
except that as a narrative
it seems to be showing
a baby about to be cooked
by a gaggle of witches.

(allegedly -- it really is showing
the birth of John the Baptist)


The following is the unpublished
review written for New City

What an enormous project ! The entire second floor of the Art Institute. -- i.e. the pre-modern European painting and sculpture - has just been re-hung. Everything is in a new place -- and many things are actually new -- as they fill up space once taken by 20th Century work that will re-appear in the Modern Wing next May. Some decorative arts - like furniture and ceramics -- have been promoted from the basement -- and some important recent acquisitions - like a Holy Family by Fra Bartolommeo - have prominently appeared. And just moving things from one room to another can have a profound effect -- since it is so difficult to consider the illusional space of a large painting apart from the real space in which it's been hung. In my opinion -- the Tiepolo Rinaldo cycle was better off in a larger room, while El Greco's Virgin was better off at the head of the Grand Staircase. But Ferdinand Hodler's scrawny, naked "Truth" is now far better off on a wall by herself, surrounded by period furniture instead of intrusive other paintings. Unfortunately, large Medieval sculpture is more scarce than ever and I'm wondering if a gallery will ever be found for painting and sculpture that came after 1900 but is outside the narrative of Modernism. And wouldn't this have been a great opportunity to re-think the displays of European art -- and make them temporary so that more pieces -- and more information about them -- can be shown over time (as is currently done in the galleries of Japanese and Chinese painting and prints) But still -- this is a wonderful time to visit the museum. You are sure to find many treasures that will feel like you had never seen them before.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The New South Asian Gallery at the A.I.C.

The Alsdorf Gallery of Indian,
Southeast Asian,
Himalayan, and Islamic Art
has finally arrived -
the first major re-installation
as the A.I.C. prepares to open it's
Modern Wing next May.

The above Ghandaran relief
was my favorite piece
from the old gallery of Indian sculpture

But then came the Alsdorf collection.
First it was on temporary exhibit about 10 years ago,
and I remember it well
for it's wide variety of genres.

Now its been combined with selected items
from the previous installation
and the size of the display has doubled.

Which would be a good thing

1. Most of it really belongs in a museum of natural history
2. The lighting is mostly very bad

This Hari Hara came from another Chicago collector,
and I really like it,
although I admit that
I can't remember seeing it in the old display.

The problem, however,
is that this piece,
like many other sculptures in the new gallery
is lit so poorly.

Check out these details

..and then compare them
with this photo that I took a few years ago
when the piece was on temporary display
in a stairwell
with a delicious natural light
from the setting sun.

what a difference the light can make

and the whole piece
seems completely different,
full of drama and color

While here is a piece
from the current exhibit
that is lit quite well,
so maybe the installation
has not really been completed yet.

Here's some pieces
that came from the Alsdorfs

I also like this Marriage of Shiva and Parvati,
from Uttar Pradesh, 10th/11th C.
(also gifted by the Alsdorfs)

and here's a Gupta piece that's new to me,
but was given by the Antiquarian Society.

While here are some things
which I liked
from Alsdorf's show from 1998
that never made it to this display

I could contemplate
this head for years
(can't they sell copies in the museum store ?)

and I can never see enough
Khmer torsos.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Male Nude

Arno Breker (1900-1991)

Whatever happened to the free-standing male nude ?

Camille Paglia tells us that it was
all about homoeroticism
back when the Greeks began the genre
and then when the Florentines
revived it 2000 years later.

More recently,
it was a big deal for the National Socialists,
but since that time,
it's been in something of a decline.

Most figure sculpture offers
the warmth and soft comfort
of the female body.

Marcello Tommasi (1928-2008)

Although, I just discovered this great sculptor
who just died a few months ago.

a view that would have
brought a tear
to Socrates' eye

Per Ung (born 1933)

while this northern sculptor
continues the tradition
of suffering
(so well exemplified
by the crucifixions of Christ)

Nilda Maria Comas (born about 1950)

Now, let's look at the post-war generation
which had to swim upstream
against the artworld.

Here's one of Tommasi's students
who's a little more erotic about it,
where the figure's manhood
is like a ripe fruit
ready to be plucked.

(actually -- this Puerto Rican woman
has studied with many sculptors
working in Italy)

Here's the American, Sabin Howard,
although, like Richard McDonald,
his work is just a bit
too ugly for me.

I don't feel like either one
has even begun to compose.

and the young German/Italian
Leonardo Lustig.

It's not erotic, suffering, or ugly.

I guess he's going for stately, Classical
like an earlier German/Italian,
Adolph Von Hildebrand

But I wish both of them
felt a little more powerful,
and a little less academic.

like this piece
by Pier Pander (1865-1919)

I'm not sure,
but I think it was designed for
the temple that he envisioned as his legacy,
with standing male figures that represent:
Soul, thought, disorder, courage/strength.

The temple was built after his death,
and is now the Pier Pander Museum which
has the best sculpture website that I've ever seen.

Most single-artist museums show only a picture or two
but this one covers the complete collection,
with zooms on every piece and 360 degree views on several of them.

Pier Pander would be the equal of Maillol,
except that he made so many
portraits of children that hover
on the brink of sentimental,
collector-plate drivel.