rounding out my holiday weekend of film and about-to-close art shows, i trekked over to the phillips collection yesterday for the first time in probably 2-1/2 years, and certainly since their new wing opened up, apparently just this past april. before even heading up to the "paul klee in america" exhibit i browsed around and was quickly reminded what i fine permanent collection they have. by people i know -- an early pollock, a great motherwell, (chi ama, crede) that i can't find a photo of, gustons (early and late), a nice albers and noland, two interesting early rothkos and a little "rothko room" with four (i think) of his more mature works. plus, lots of nice pieces by people i don't know at all -- john walker's october low tide, maine and ostraca II, howard hodgkin's torso, and joan mitchell's august, rue daguerre.
klee is someone i've had an affinity with going back to grade school, maybe 5th grade. i think they had some students from the local college come in and teach us some art at some point, because i remember being to look through art books and find something you liked and imitate it. the result is one of very few surviving childhood artworks of mine, never having thought i had much talent. but i titled it "head of an archaeologist by paul klee" and i've never found any painting of klee's by that name but i'd surely like to figure out some day what professional's head i was imitating that day.
anyway this was a terrific exhibit (it's up through this sunday), with something like 80 of his works on display, mostly from the 1920s i'd say though some into the 1930s. i have to say a number of things that struck me about klee: first, luminosity. der angler is a great example of this. he frequently manages to get this incredible luminosity behind the central figures in the paintings; although it's a very different quality, rothko immeidately comes to mind as someone for whom luminosity is an important quality.
second, palette: what an incredible range of colors he draws upon, so unlike the next couple of generations i think (rothko, still, reinhardt) as much as i like them.
(Photographs by Mark Harden)
third, scale: utterly modest, they don't try to bowl you over with their awesomeness. fourth, media: an incredible variety (oil, water, mixed with various other substances and applied to all kinds of surfaces) and yet with a remarkable consistency. and fifth, lines: clear and for the most part precise. notice in all this i fail to call attention to the whole "childlike" quality that is so often taken to characterize his work. it's too easy a characterization i think, misses something somehow. it's an other part of consciousness he's tapping into, bringing together many of the impulses of his surrealist peers without being reducible to any of them.
benoît jacquot's musician-assassin was a strange film. the protagonist, gilles, is a violinist who is so convinced of his own excellence that he refuses to compromise his genius by earning money playing in an orchestra or teaching. it could be an interesting commentary on artistic integrity and the marketplace, but the dramaturgy unfolds in such deadpan that it's hard to do anything but take gilles to be a joke or parody of integrity ad absurdam.
i'll be curious to see where the rest of the NGA's jacquot mini-retrospective turns out.