Friday, November 23, 2007

Modern Masters from Cleveland

Coincidental with its massive $258 million renovation and expansion project, the Cleveland Museum of Art packaged up many of its best works of modern art and sent them on a show that has travelled the globe. It makes a brief stop home before continuing the tour (including a stop at the Frist), ultimately to return home in time for the completion of the project.

It was a good “test of painting” to remind myself or discover what I like and why.

Tho impressionists get top billing in the exhibit's subtitle ("Impressionist and Modern Masters from the CMA"), I was glad to see that some of the darker realist predecessors made it into the first few rooms of the show: my favorites, Courbet and Degas (Manet too, tho he was decidedly underrepresented). A generous showing of Degas in a variety of media, even sculpture.
courbet's mme borreaumanet's berthe morisot

Then about three or four rooms in come the ubiquitous Monets (with a few Pissaros thrown in there just to fake me out). I can certainly respect Monet but do not like his work, the whole waterlilies and Rouen cathedral thing. It's so overdone, so symbolic of a certain sense of good taste. That's it precisely, actually: it has become tasteful. Blech. It's that warm, fuzzy, gauzy light thing.

Now Degas can be that way sometimes, especially with his dancers, just as Monet can be dark from time to time. Maybe it's the whole en plein air thing I dislike -- Degas is far more likely to stay with interiors, whereas Monet gets too godlike with his casting of light. degas four dancers

Now by these criteria I might also dislike Renoir, but somehow I don't. Perhaps it's because he's more human somehow – is it simply his inclination to include human figures more often and even while en plein air? Maybe it's more that his human figures are believeable, they have a certain human roundness. Or round humannness. Mary Cassatt has this too.
cassat, after the bath

I love Les Fauves and Nabis because they take the warm fuzzy softness of impressionism and ratchet it up, make it garish. (Their Germanic counterparts do it real horrorshow style and call it expressionism.) And Cezanne I suppose wins because his fuzziness is not the soft fuzziness of Monet et al., it's harsher and is starting to distort reality, making it proto-cubist.

Redon's Orpheus – yes! Deep, dark, and "Symbolist" where that term denotes proto-surrealist. Because this is not a musician and his lyre anymore, these objects have been extracted from reality and subjected to the condensation and displacement of the dreamwork (in 1903 and in pastel no less!)
redon's orpheus

Likewise Redon's Portrait of Violette Heyman (1910) – the temptation, because he's a "symbolist," is to read the flowers as purely decorative. (learned a new word for this: "cloissionism, surrounding forms with pronounced decorative outlines.) But if you literalize the decorative, in fact Ms. Heyman is staring entrancedly into an overgrown "field" of flowers. What does she see in them?
Redon's Portrait of Violette Heyman

Bonnard – yes! Like Vuillard I love his work for being a perfect embodiment of late style. The Dessert is dark and garish, like Gaughan meets Degas or something – but this is 1921! Utterly behind the cutting edge but still worth exploring.
bonnard's the dessert

Likewise Vuillard – his Andre Benac is a dark, realist portrait that is some 70-80 years belated (done in 1936), while his Under the Trees is more timely (or perhaps less belated, 1894) but is not really distinct sorta looks like everyone else, possible Seurat, or a Monet that had been darkened, klimted (sorry "cloissionized"). His Cafe Wepler is a classic late impressionist (1910) interior, gaslit deep gold-beiges against mauves
vuillard's andre benacvuillard's under the trees
vuillard's cafe wepler

And then the Picassos – why do even his sketches and knock-offs command our attention? His Bottle, Glass and Fork is classic cubism – but really quite ugly with its browns. And crowded, claustrophobic.

Back to late impresionism with Derain's Houses of Parliament – totally garishly colored and illuminated, wonderfully belated. Why did they place this after the Picassos? (as opposed to any other equally belated stuff)
Derain's Houses of Parliament

Rouault is someone I should learn more about – his Head of Christ is something like a Cezannean Leger – the lines are thicker than Cezanne's but not as precise as Leger's, the fuzziness starting to distort the image but not by much.
Rouault's Head of Christ

Matisse, yes -- for his color and line.

Juan Gris' is a better cubism -- his Coffee Mill is more flexible, the shapes can move and breathe easier (approaching a zero degree that would be something like arp's cutouts).
Juan Gris' Coffee Mill

Kupka! -- I could not remember his name but knew his was an intensely bright, mystic Russian futurist. (well, Czech.) Not Kandinsky but expressed “the spiritual in art” before Kandinsky put it down in words. Kupka has Cezanne's fuzzy distortions but the are no longer made to serve the mimetic function. Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colors II is purpose-drive abstraction.
Kupka's Amphora

Soutine is i guess considered and expressionist, but his Still Life with Rayfish is to me very much a surrealism with menace. Someone else whose work I should get to know better.
Soutine's Still Life with Rayfish

I love early (mimetic, pre-1917) Mondrian for how it is a consistant fake-out – you can never tell that it's going in the direction of pure geometric abstraction. Taken in isolation, His Field with Young Trees in the Foreground is, for all intents and purposes, garden variety late impressionism. But in the context of his own trajectory, it's almost the exact opposite of late style: instead of working out implications of innovations already made, early Mondrian has almost no relation (preparatory or otherwise) to his hallmark mature work. Which apparently had a utopian/spiritualist impulse – wonder if there are any extant writings of his along these lines. (Wonder too if his chrysanthemums were serialized and if this might be an indication of his later geometrical works.)
Mondrian's Field with Young Trees in the Foreground

Reached visual processing exhaustion before the time I arrived at the surrealists.

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