the CMA is in the midst of a massive, massive renovation and expansion. so much so that their entire permanent collection is closed, and either touring or in storage. the original building (1916) is getting a facelift and a complete internal overhaul while a new building or two (not sure exactly) are going up, that will dramatically enhance the amount of exhibition space. (in the past they museum was never able to show more than 4,000 of the 40,000 pieces in its collection). all should be completed by 2011.
"barcelona & modernity" was a very thorough look at both one city's contribution to modernism and modernism as filtered through the unique culture of one locale, roughly from the 1890s through the 1930s. hardly limited to painting (tho that's where most of my viewing attentions were directed), the exhibit included sculpture, graphic and commercial design, architecture, furniture and the decorative arts. much of the material was on loan from the many museums of barcelona itself, so this was indeed the next best thing to being there.
i love seeing and learning about work by (to me anyway) lesser-known contemporaries and near contemporaries of the great masters like picasso (b. 1881) and seeing how they fit into the overall aesthetic of the period. even picasso's early work fits for me into the broader backdrop of late 19th-century (and as i understand it largely french), pre-impressionist realism, the dark tableaus of manet and degas. (i think of their absinthe drinkers for example.) Mujer de noche (above, left) is by hermen anglada-camarasa (b. 1872), who was already established on the barcelona scene when a young picasso arrived there. he shared an interest in toulouse-lautrec with picasso, which the latter's end of the act shows (can't find a reproduction of this but imagine a gaudy-colored line of chorus girls).
here's another case, the seuratian pointilism of marià pidelaserra (b. 1877), muntanyes des del montseny (right, courtesy of the museu nacional d'art de catalunya). other of picasso's contemporaries and immediate precursors included ramon casas (b. 1866) and santiago rusiñol (b. 1861), some of whose works in the show also displayed that dark, manet/degas realism/naturalism. all were part of the group centered around the cafe els quatre gats, where picasso had his first solo exhibition in february 1900. els quatre gats also generated an eponymous periodical, publishing 15 issues february-may 1899; the pages of these and other publications of the time, like l'avenc and joventut, were shared by picasso's contemporaries.
here was another stunning piece, on loan from the MNAC, the rock in the pond by joaquim mir (b. 1873). in reality it looks much less crisp and focused than in person (unless it's my own failing vision that's responsible). the illusion of a reflective surface, the marvelous shades of blue as contrasted with and blended into the light and dark surfaces, the rock that could be a partially submerged skull or head (with the near flesh tones) -- without being given the title in advance it's a perfectly wonderful piece of fluid, organic abstraction much in line with that of his subsequent surrealist countrymen, miro and dali.
here's another great study in comparison between the young picasso and his french realist masters, one moulin de la galette each by renoir (above) and picasso (below).
picasso's less interested in the play of light and shadow, tho certainly contrasts light and dark. again tho, the darkness pervades.
here of course is a classic early picasso, la vie. amazing about this piece is its persistant resistance to interpretation -- what is the relationship within and between the four sets of human figures? much ink spilled on the answers i'm sure, none definitive. scholars have even x-rayed the piece to find out what was going on in the original drafts, to see if any light can be shed. not much.
i love too how the hispanic cultures were often a decade or two ahead of the curve in terms of naming modernisme and the various other ismes. anglo-modernism was a good twenty to thirty years behind. but a new isme for me was noucentisme (literally newcenturyism), which was apparently a kind of nationalist, neoclassical rejection of modernisme's foreign influences and emotional excesses.
picasso's 1906 paintings while in gósol, a town right on a peninsula in pyrenes coast -- very reddish earth tones, perhaps reflective of his landscape of the time?
picasso's first cubism in 1909; dali's painting are still realist in 1923/4.
at this point there was a lot of architecture and commercial art and whatnot which broke things up for me a bit as i did not attend to the stuff as closely, but even when we finally got to the "avant garde" room i was a little wiped out. this is a BIG show.
miro's the hunter is a true classic (click here for a larger reproduction). the background field is a vague landscape, but with a squiggly horizon line separating yellow "sky" from brown earth. or water? these are largely fluid, organic forms, with a few geometric forms (cones and triangles) for contrast. perspective lines suggest classic, renaissance realism, but these lines lead nowhere or, at best, lead us astray. a quick survey of the objects depicted and/or suggested: flags, eyes, animal faces and bodies, cones, flames, glyphs, waves, letters and words. but none of these things stand in any clear or typical relation to one another. it is a classic freudian dreamscape, as described by the good doctor in my very favorite passage from his interpretation of dreams (1899/1900):
Suppose I have a picture-puzzle, a rebus, in front of me. It depicts a house with a boat on its roof, a single letter of the alphabet, the figure of a running man whose head has been conjured away, and so on. Now I might be misled into raising objections and declaring that the picture as a whole and its component parts are nonsensical. A boat has no business to be on the roof of a house, and a headless man cannot run. Moreover, the man is bigger than the house; and if the whole picture is intended to represent a landscape, letters of the alphabet are out of place in it since such objects do not occur in nature. But obviously we can only form a proper judgment of the rebus if we put aside criticisms such as these of the whole composition and its parts and if, instead, we try to replace each separate element in some way or other. The words which are put together in this way are no longer nonsensical but may form a poetical phrase of the greatest beauty and significance. A dream is a picture-puzzle of this sort and our predecessors in the field of dream-interpretation have made the mistake of treating the rebus as a pictorial composition: and as such it has seemed to them nonsensical and worthless.is it possible that remedios varo is the first woman whose work is represented in this show? if so that's too little too late.
apollinaire was not alone in the fashioning of calligrammes. the "poemes en ondes hertzianes" of joan salvat papasseit (written 1917, published 1919; below left) and "deltoïdes" by josep maria junoy (1917; below right) hold their own against those of their polish-french rival. this stuff is very little-known to non-catalan speakers and readers as near as i can tell, tho much to my delight i see that my friend tim atkins has translated a junoy calligram in his excellent magazine onedit.
other, less famous surrealists painting much with the skill and spirit of their countrymen: angel planells (whose work reminded me of dali with a touch of magritte; his midday sorrow, below left) and joan massanet (nascimiento de venus, below right) who reminded me a bit of dali and miro combined.
two films were delivered in rather cursory fashion, un chien andalou stuck off in a corner on a small video screen, and marsillach's catalonia martyr on a more prominent screen but right in a bottleneck that made it hard to view even its five minute excerpt. also, the treatment of the civil war was confusing, seeming to align "rebels" with "fascists" whereas i always thought it was the franco miltary who were the fascists and the peasant who largely went anarchist. but i'll need to go back and straighten this all out for myself.
"barcelona & modernity" will be at the met march 5 through june 3, 2007 and i encourage my new york area readers to check it out!