A Donatello Restored

April 14, 2013

Tags: Renaissance, Florence, Donatello, conservation

Donatello, Saint Louis of Toulouse, detail, 1422-5, gilt bronze (statue); silver, gilt bronze, enamel and rock crystal (tiara), Florence, Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, ©O'Mara_Mc Bride
Sculpture’s key role in the Florentine Renaissance is the theme of “The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence 1400-1460” at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence through August 18 and the Louvre in Paris (September 26, 2013 to January 6, 2014). One of the show’s highlights is an early bronze by Florence’s Donatello, Saint Louis of Toulouse, which recently underwent extensive restoration.

The larger-than-life statue was commissioned by the Guelph party as a tribute to the figure who renounced his claim to rule Naples to become a Franciscan. Louis died at 23 and Donatello depicts him with delicate boyish features in bishop’s regalia holding a putti-adorned crosier in his left hand and giving a blessing with his right. Enamel, rock crystal and fleurs-de-lis decorate his mitre.

Donatello created the figure for the eastern wall of the church of Orsanmichele where both the sun and a classically inspired marble and gold niche added to its brilliance. But with the Guelph party out and the Medici in, veneration of Louis became politically incorrect and the statue was relocated to the Franciscan Santa Croce. There, without its correct perspective and stunning niche, the statue lost its impact.

But thanks to recent conservation, the work is enjoying its own renaissance. Last year, in a workshop at Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce, Ludovica Nicolai, the restorer who worked on Donatello’s David four years ago, experimented with a surprising new technique.

“I used a seaweed (called Agar Agar), in the gelatin form, to support the chemical solution for cleaning the gilded bronze surface,” Nicolai explains. “The chemical water-based solution is commonly used to clean gilded bronze, but this is the first time that this alga has been used in conjunction with it.”

Unlik David which was exposed to the outdoors for a relatively short time, the much larger Saint Louis had darkened from centuries of exposure.

Both restorations have led to new technical insights about the artist’s process and strengthened his reputation for experimentation. Donatello would start with the lost wax technique and then apply changes to some of his bronzes. For example, the metal alloy in David is different from traditional Italian Renaissance alloys and its surface was intentionally finished with tools that left different marks, probably to reflect the light differently.

According to Nicolai, individual pieces of Saint Louis were reassembled after the gilding was completed with a gold-mercury amalgam. “A sculpture so big could not have been gilded in one piece,” she explains. “A common feature of David and Saint Louis is the presence of many casting defects -- probably Donatello was not interested in technological perfection.”

In addition to Saint Louis and a large bronze horse head, “The Springtime of the Renaissance” features the artist’s work in other mediums -- including a gilded terracotta Madonna and Child and a marble predella of Saint George and the Dragon, his first use of “flattened relief” -- the rules governing perspective.

Outside of Italy, Donatello’s works are extremely rare. Just two reside in the U.S. -- Madonna of the Clouds (ca. 1425-35) a marble relief at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the terracotta Borromeo Madonna (ca. 1450) at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

For more information, visit Palazzo Strozzi

Theatre of the World: Vienna's New Chamber of Art

March 18, 2013

Tags: Vienna, decorative arts, art museums

Saliera, Benvenuto Cellini, 1540-43, gold, enamel ©Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum
During the late 16th century, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II turned Prague into Europe’s cultural capital, amassing the greatest art collection of his day. Cost was no object and he invited the best goldsmiths, stone carvers, and clock makers to his court. Rudolf kept the treasures inside Hradcany Castle in a chamber of art, or Kunstkammer, a highly personal reflection of his world view.

Today, Rudolf’s prized possessions along with those of his art-loving Habsburg relatives reside at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. After a decade long closure, the museum’s refurbished Kunstkammer reopened March 1. Though the museum itself is lavishly decorated by famous artists including Gustav Klimt, and crowned with an ornate cupola, nothing prepares you for this 20-room embarrassment of riches.

The “museum within a museum” features a dizzying 2,200 objects arranged chronologically -- from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to the 18th century Baroque period. Most are displayed in tall, radiantly lit glass cases, making it possible to experience the works close-up with 360 degree views. Among the highlights are gold and lapidary objects, bronze and ivory statuettes, and celestial globes and clocks.

The takeaway is sweeping -- brilliant artistry and craftsmanship, political ambition and power, and the intersection of religion, science and superstition. “Curiosity, the joy of discovering and understanding the world by collecting its objects was a seminal impetus for assembling a Kunstkammer in the Early Modern Era,” says Sabine Haag, director general of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, “and we hope that now our visitors can follow this idea and enjoy the collection.”

One of Rudolf’s art-obsessed relatives was his uncle, Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol, whose own celebrated art chamber at Ambras Castle near Innsbruck attracted visitors like Montaigne, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Goethe. In 1570, Ferdinand stood in for France’s Charles IX at his wedding to Rudolf’s sister, Elizabeth of Austria. In gratitude, the groom gave the Archduke several lavish gifts – including the Saliera by Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini.

Worth an estimated $65 million, the Saliera made headlines a decade ago when it was stolen from the museum, buried in a forest outside Vienna, and retrieved three years later. Created in Paris for Francis I, the salt cellar depicts the reclining figures of the sea god Neptune and earth goddess Ceres, along with a ship to hold salt and temple for pepper. In his autobiography, Cellini proudly describes how he hammered the work from gold foil, adorning Ceres “with every refinement in the world I could imagine…” While cleaning the treasure, conservators left a small scratch on Ceres, now considered part of the object’s history.

Other show stoppers are by the Miseronis, a talented family of Milanese lapidary artists. Gasparo Miseroni’s stunning lapis lazuli bowl features a fierce dragon motif in gold, enamel, rubies, emeralds and pearls. Gasparo’s nephew Ottavio Miseroni teamed up with Rudolf’s personal jeweler, Jan Vermeyen, on an exquisite green prasem bowl with gold enamel and garnets. Ottavio’s son Dionysio Miseroni created a rock crystal pyramid by cutting four progressively smaller cylindrical goblets out of a large vase, similar to Russian stacking dolls.

Like his grandfather Charles V, Rudolf II loved clocks and employed a team of clockmakers. Among them was the Swiss astronomer Jost Burgi, whose planet clock is richly decorated with mythical and astrological symbols from the old Ptolemaic and new Copernican systems. In contrast to the scientific instruments are rarities thought to possess magical and healing powers. These include an ostrich egg goblet, a diamond and ruby studded tankard made of narwhal tusk, and an emerald encrusted “bezoar” stone from a llama’s stomach.

The oldest object on view is a 9th century Carolingian ivory tablet. Some 800 years later, 17th century Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and his nephew Emperor Leopold I helped popularize ivory carving in Vienna. Among the standouts is Apollo and Daphne by Tyrolese artist Jakob Auer, inspired by Bernini’s life-size marble masterwork. Auer captures the moment when the nymph is transformed into a laurel tree just in time to escape Apollo’s advances. Most of the creamy white material used by carvers came from elephant tusks.

In preparation for the Kunstkammer’s reopening, about 350 objects were cleaned and restored. During this process, curators made the delightful discovery that many of the centuries-old automatons still work -- like an elegant silver automaton with the goddess Diana riding a centaur who shot arrows at dinner guests. Recipients were required to fill their wine glasses. Action videos of these sophisticated toys are available on iPads in the galleries.

In a fitting finale, the Kunstkammer closes with Empress Maria Theresa’s gold and porcelain breakfast service in Berger Hall. Overhead, Julius Victor Berger’s 1891 ceiling painting pays homage to Habsburg art patrons and their favorite artists. We recognize them now -- Rudolf II with his circle of artists and Benvenuto Cellini holding his royal salt cellar. Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt seem to be inviting us upstairs to the picture gallery.

For more information, visit KHM

Chagall in 3D

February 24, 2013

Tags: Chagall, theatre, sculpture, ceramics, Dallas

Model for the curtain "The Firebird", The Enchanted Forest, 1945, Private collection, © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
In the 1950s Picasso said, “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” Famous for his colorful paintings of floating figures and flying animals, Russian-born artist Marc Chagall also worked in other mediums. It’s these lesser-known aspects of the artist’s practice that areexplored in “Chagall: Beyond Color” at the Dallas Museum of Art from February 17 to May 26, 2013.

Costumes, ceramics, and sculptures are arranged chronologically -- from Chagall’s formative years in Russia and Paris, wartime exile in the United States, and post-war return to France. Visitors may recognize in the white marbles, terra cottas, and silk ballet costumes familiar people and animals from his much loved paintings.

The eldest of nine children in a poor Hasidic family from Vitebsk, Chagall’s early art training was in St. Petersburg with stage and costume designer Léon Bakst. A number of works relating to Chagall’s theatrical commissions are on view, including sketches for the Jewish Art Theatre in Moscow, The Firebird and ceiling of the Paris Opera.

The show’s centerpiece is a group of 15 costumes Chagall designed for Aleko, a ballet based on Pushkin’s The Gypsies with music by Tchaikovsky. Chagall created the costumes and sets during a two month stay in Mexico City where Aleko premiered in 1942, attended by artists Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco.

Critic Edwin Denby described the backdrops as “…a dramatized exhibition of giant paintings... It surpasses anything Chagall has done on the easel scale, and it is a breathtaking experience, of a kind one hardly expects in the theatre.” At the DMA, these backdrops are projected onto a stage filled with costumed mannequins, while footage of the original performance plays nearby.

When Chagall was in his 70s, he began experimenting with ceramics and sculpture in the south of France, where Picasso and Fernand Léger were also working. Initially, Chagall painted existing pottery but eventually designed his own. His distinctive style is evident in some 30 ceramics and 15 sculptures in marble and stone.

“We do not connect Chagall with ceramics, but he did beautiful, extravagant plates, jugs and vases,” says Olivier Meslay, exhibition curator and the DMA’s associate director of curatorial affairs. “There’s an incredibly strong relationship between his sculpture and Romanesque church sculpture in the mixing of animals and people.”

According to Meslay, Chagall’s interest in ceramics may be tied to his connection to place after decades of moving from country to country. In a preface for a 1952 exhibition, Chagall wrote: “…Even the earth I stand on exudes light. She looks at me looks at me lovingly as if she wants to call me. I wanted to feel this earth just like the craftsman old…”

Chagall was still working when he died in the village of Saint Paul-de-Vence in 1985 at age 97 and some of his late collages made with painted paper, fabric, lace and pine needles are on display. “I would like the public to rediscover Chagall through another path -- volume,” adds Meslay. “The power of Chagall’s imagination is amazing.”

For more information see Dallas Museum of Art

Primary Colors

January 26, 2013

Tags: Abstract Expressionists, Clyfford Still Museum

Clyfford Still, 1950 PH-272 , photo by Ben Blackwell (c) Clyfford Still Estate
"You can turn the lights out. The paintings will carry their own fire,” said American Abstract-Expressionist Clyfford Still about his super-sized, flame-streaked canvases. It’s the artist’s fiery palette that’s the subject of a new show at Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum: Red/Yellow/Blue (and Black and White): Clyfford Still as Colorist from January 25 to May 12, 2013.

Like much about this complex artist, the answers aren’t black and white. Over thirty of Still’s dramatic canvases are arranged in five sky-lit galleries, each devoted to one of his signature hues. Half the paintings have never been exhibited before -- part of a trove of some 800 works Still kept hidden for decades in a Maryland warehouse. The collection was finally revealed when the museum opened in 2011.

For Still, black was a warm, generative color, rather than a symbol of death, and he often used it in large expanses. Though the show steers away from further color symbolism, the takeaway is the overarching importance of Still’s palette. “In all cases, Still was trying to create a single, powerful image,” says Dean Sobel, exhibition curator and museum director, “and color more than anything else is the most powerful tool in his arsenal.”

The exhibition was inspired by 1956 PH-223, a stunning deep blue painting bisected by a thin vertical line created by bare canvas. Still removed conventional titles from his works in favor of dates, letters and numbers. “As before, the pictures are to be without titles of any kind,” Still instructed art dealer Betty Parsons in 1949. “I want no allusions to interfere with or assist the spectator.”

According to Sobel, Still’s unusual technique affects how viewers read his colors. In preparing his pigments, Still often added linseed oil which gave his colors a glossy appearance. Other times, Still applied drying paint to canvas, resulting in matte color. Within each primary color are variations. Still’s blues range from turquoise and cobalt to inky midnight hues; reds from orange/red to the deep, earthy oxblood that’s his hallmark.

In the mid-1950s, Still began severing ties with commercial galleries and restricting how museums could lend and display his paintings. The artist also ended his friendships with fellow artists Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. In 1961, Still retreated physically, moving to Maryland, where he spent the last two decades of his life.

For Rothko, color expressed emotion, culminating with his last dark purplish murals for the Rothko Chapel at the Menil Collection in Houston. Unlike Rothko’s palette which became increasingly dark toward the end of his life, Still’s late works have a lighter, more ethereal feel with areas of raw, unprimed canvas along with white paint.

Perhaps the best clue to Still’s use of color is found in his own words: “I never wanted color to be color,” said the artist. “I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit.” For more information, visit ClyffordStillMuseum (more…)

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Strikes Oil(s)

December 9, 2012

Tags: Spanish art, Prado Museum, MFAH

Francisco de Goya, The Infante Don Francisco de Paula Antonio, 1800, oil on canvas, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
For centuries, Spain’s monarchs avidly collected art, spending a king’s ransom to decorate their palaces and chapels with family portraits and monumental religious and mythological canvases. Their royal collections launched the Prado Museum in 1819. In a holiday gift for art lovers, 100 favorites have traveled to Houston for Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado at the MFAH from December 16, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

French writer Théophile Gautier described the Prado as "rather a museum of artists than a museum of art" and the Houston trove includes gems by giants Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, and Goya. “What surprised me most was that the Prado was willing to lend so many masterpieces to a single show,” says MFAH director Gary Tinterow. “Never before have so many works of first quality been lent to another institution.”

Filling 13 galleries, the show moves chronologically with some 50 artists represented. “It is a magnificent opportunity to know the history of Spain at the same time that one is able to encounter some of the most extraordinary examples of the art created in Spain, and for Spain, between the 16th and 20th centuries,” says Prado director Miguel Zugaza.

Portrait of Spain opens with the Golden Age, when absolute monarchs amassed art to bolster their power and prestige. Philip II inherited the collecting gene from his father, Emperor Charles V, and we meet many of his Habsburg relatives flatteringly portrayed by Titian, Anthonis Mor and Alonso Sánchez Coello. Meanwhile in Toledo, Greek-born El Greco found a following for his singular, highly expressive style.

More than anyone else, Seville-born court painter Diego Velázquez represents the pinnacle of the period. Strongly influenced by Titian and Rubens, Velázquez would himself inspire generations of artists including Édouard Manet and Pablo Picasso. Two of Velázquez’s canvases are on view: Mars, the god of war portrayed as a tired soldier, and Philip IV as a Hunter, one of many portraits of his art-obsessed patron.

Religion played a pivotal role in Spanish history and the show explores a variety of religious imagery. Among the standouts is the exquisitely painted Lamb of God by Francisco de Zurbarán, who represents a young ram, feet tied for slaughter, as a symbol for Christ. Meanwhile in plague-ravaged Seville, Bartolomé Estebán Murillo helped popularize the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception with some 20 versions including The Immaculate Conception of Aranjuez.

Another star is Francisco de Goya – selections from three of his celebrated print series are on view. The best represented artist at the Prado, Goya’s fondness for children is expressed in the tender study of Charles IV’s youngest son, Francisco de Paula Antonio of Borbón and Borbón-Parma, prince of Spain. Of Goya’s six children, only his youngest son survived.

The takeaway from this landmark survey, curated by Javier Portús Pérez, the Prado’s chief curator of Spanish painting, is the powerful connection between Spanish artists and their predecessors – Titian for Velázquez, Velázquez for Federico de Madrazo, Murillo for Antonio María Esquivel. Mariano Fortuny’s 1871 Elderly nude man in the sun is hung in dramatic dialogue with Jusepe de Ribera’s aged Saint Andrew, painted over two centuries earlier. For more information, visit MFAH

"Treasurer of the Art": Paolo Veronese at the Ringling Museum

November 28, 2012

Tags: Ringling Museum of Art, Veronese, Renaissance

Rest on the Flight Into Egypt, Paolo Veronese, circa 1572
About the Venetian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese, 17th century writer Marco Boschini raved: “He is the treasurer of the art and of the colors. This is not painting -- it is magic that casts a spell on people who see it produced.” Among those spellbound by Veronese’s theatrical canvases were American art collectors like Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry Clay Frick, and circus impresario John Ringling.

“Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice” unites 70 of Veronese’s finest works in North America at Ringling's Sarasota, Florida museum -- the first comprehensive U.S. survey of the artist in 25 years. The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art organized the show with loans from many institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Washington; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Harvard Art Museums, and Cleveland Museum of Art.

“It was easy for Americans to get excited about Veronese, who Henry James called “the happiest of painters”” says Virginia Brilliant, the Ringling’s associate curator of European art. “Set in beautiful landscapes, with gorgeous fabric and a degree of wonder and color, his works were not overtly religious. And Venice was a Republic -- not out of step with democratic values.”

A portion of the exhibition is dedicated to Veronese’s monumental allegorical, mythological, and biblical subjects. Among the highlights is Rest on the Flight Into Egypt, a large, lushly painted altarpiece John Ringling bought sight-unseen for his fledgling museum in 1925. It was one of several popular biblical themes Veronese returned to throughout his career.

One of the big three Venetian painters with Titian and Tintoretto, Veronese is celebrated for his palette -- inspiring artists from Rubens to the Impressionists. Sumptuous dresses and draperies also figure prominently in his opulent portraits of aristocratic families and clerics. The show explores the symbolic value of Renaissance costume with 16th century textiles from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Viewers are also introduced to Veronese’s workshop assistants, including his brother, Benedetto Caliari, and sons, Carlo and Gabriele. By the 1580s, the workshop was so busy Veronese turned down a commission from Philip II of Spain.

Considered among the most talented and prolific draftsmen of his day, Veronese produced drawings for most of his commissions. Remarkable works on paper – everything from loose preliminary sketches to highly finished chiaroscuro sheets -- offer a deeper understanding of Veronese’s creative process.

For John Ringling, the son of immigrant parents from Iowa, Veronese personified Venice, the city he fell in love with during frequent trips to Europe in search of circus acts. In a six-year collecting frenzy, Ringling bought an extraordinary number of Venetian pictures -- including two more by Veronese, one painting he thought was a Titian, and a dozen works by Jacopo Bassano, known for his use of impasto.

Ringling’s love affair with Venice didn’t end with paintings. Though Venetian style architecture was relatively rare in America, adds Virginia Brilliant, Ringling, like Isabella Stewart Gardener, modeled his mansion after a Venetian palazzo. Mable Ringling lent architect Dwight James Baum scrapbooks from her travels, filled with postcards, photos and drawings of Venetian landmarks like the Gritti Palace Hotel, Ca d’Oro, and Doge’s Palace.

Today Ca’ d’Zan, the couple’s restored 56 room seaside mansion, is open to the public, filled with their eclectic collection of European decorative arts. "Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice" runs from December 7, 2012 to April 14, 2013. For more information, visit www.ringling.org

Q&A with Barbara O'Brien, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

November 19, 2012

Tags: contemporary art, Kansas City

Barbara O'Brien, director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, photo by Bruce Mathews
This summer, Barbara O’Brien took the helm at Kansas City’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the featured museums in A Love for the Beautiful: Discovering America’s Hidden Art Museums.

A native Midwesterner, O’Brien held positions in San Francisco, St. Paul and Boston before joining the Kemper as curator in 2009 and being named director of exhibitions and collections in 2011. During her tenure, the Kemper has added numerous works to its collection by artists around the world and across the U.S.
O’Brien holds a Master’s degree in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design, as well as Bachelor’s degrees in women’s studies and journalism from the University of Kansas. I spoke with her about her plans for the Kemper as it approaches its 20th anniversary.

SJ: The Kemper’s current exhibition, “The Map as Art” was inspired by your book of the same name. It features works by Ingrid Calame, Nathan Carter, Tiffany Chung, Joyce Kozloff, Lordy Rodriguez, Robert Walden, and Heidi Whitman. What do you hope visitors take away?

O’Brien: The book's author and exhibition co-curator Kitty Harmon and I wanted to present contemporary artwork that examine issues of mapping and examine the personal gesture in large-scale works. The exhibition asks visitors "In a map of the world, where are your borders? Where does your map begin and where does it end?"

SJ: How do you choose the artists who are displayed at the Kemper?

O’Brien: For artists in “The Map as Art” we looked first at artists who were featured in the publication of the same name and then reviewed works by other artists. We selected seven artists with diverse training, life experiences, and point of view. What they share it that they each use mapping as a way to make large artistic statements utilizing the myriad small gestures necessary to any depiction of location. The exhibition somewhat unexpectedly became a conversation about abstraction as a continuation of the way in which maps by their nature are abstract representations of a place. The artists whose work is on view use abstraction across a wide variety of mediums and forms including sculpture, drawing, cut paper, collage and painting.

SJ: What do you see as the Kemper’s role in promoting contemporary art?

O’Brien: The Museum's mission is to present modern and contemporary art of the highest quality and significance. It collects, preserves, documents, interprets, and exhibits a growing permanent collection; develops and presents special exhibitions; and offers a variety of educational programs. Admission is always free, and the Museum serves a diverse and inclusive public population. We want to put people in touch with the art and artists of their time.

SJ: What excites you the most about Kansas City’s art scene?

O’Brien: The arts are booming. Whether it’s an exhibition at the Kemper Museum or new performance at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the arts are flourishing in Kansas City. It is also an affordable and easy place for artists to live and work.

SJ: What can Kemper visitors look forward to in 2013?

O’Brien: More great art. The coming year will bring many more programs related to the exhibitions “The Map as Art” and “Frederick James Brown: Modern American Storyteller” as well as the exhibition “Laura McPhee: River of No Return” (May 17–September 22, 2013). The Kemper Museum will also be preparing for its 20th anniversary in 2014.

For more information, visit Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Behold, America!

November 1, 2012

Tags: American art, Walt Whitman, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Mrs. Thomas Gage, John Singleton Copley, 1771, Timken Museum of Art
“Behold, America! (and thou, ineffable guest and sister!) For thee come trooping up thy waters and thy lands; Behold! thy fields and farms, thy far-off woods and mountains, As in procession coming.” – Walt Whitman, 1871, “Song of the Exposition”

Opening November 10, Behold, America! unites the best works from the American art collections of three San Diego museums: the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken Museum of Art. It’s a warm-up to the 100 year anniversary in 2015 of the Panama Exposition in Balboa Park, which first brought American artists of major importance to San Diego.

Featuring 175 works, the ambitious show explores how American artists have reflected and helped contribute to our changing national identity over three centuries. The art works address a wide range of topics and issues -- from colonialism and racism to nature and environmentalism. Among the artists represented are Eastman Johnson, Mary Cassatt, Andy Warhol, Dan Flavin, and Lorna Simpson.

The title of the exhibition pays homage to Walt Whitman, who inspired a number of American artists. These include Thomas Eakins, who painted Whitman’s portrait, John Sloan who heard him recite his poetry, and contemporary installation artist Sara Sze, whose use of popular objects ties back to Whitman’s ideas.

“The title resonates across the three centuries and the art in the show – colonial portraiture and the fight for independence; the great 19th century landscapes and the search for a new national identity,” explains Amy Galpin, exhibition curator and assistant curator, Art of the Americas at SDMA. “And even today, how do you Behold, America? What does it mean to Behold, America in the 21st century?”

At MCASD in La Jolla, the theme is “Frontiers” -- from the natural beauty of the U.S. and westward settlement to urban spaces. Sublime landscapes by Asher B. Durand and Albert Bierstadt are on view, along with views of Italy by George Inness and Thomas Moran. Modernists like John Sloan and Marsden Hartley helped lay the groundwork for contemporary artists such as Jenny Holzer and Alfredo Jaar.

“Figures” at SDMA in Balboa Park showcases the nation’s figurative tradition with paintings by John Singleton Copley, Thomas Sully, Eastman Johnson, Thomas Eakins, and John Currin. Next door at the Timken, “Forms” delves into the evolution of color, shape and line with early still-lifes by Raphaelle Peale and Martin Johnson Heade, abstractions by modernists Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, and Stuart Davis, and sculptures by Sol Le Witt and Martin Puryear.

“I hope viewers can see that the exploration of color, shape and line, for its own sake, is not only a natural evolution from the 19th century still life tradition, but also has distinct artistic merits on its own,” says John Wilson, director of the Timken. “For our usual Timken visitors, this is a departure from what they normally see in the building but it's an undeniable trend in 20th century art, and the art compliments our 1965 International Style building and vice versa.”

Artists Deborah Butterfield and James Luna will be speaking at a symposium at SDMA on November 10; MCASD hosts a panel discussion with the museums’ directors January 17, 2013. For more information, visit Behold America, Timken Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego Museum of Art

Picturing the West

October 24, 2012

Tags: photography, American West, National Geographic, national parks

American Indian Beauty Pageant Winner, Oregon, 1997 William Albert Allard/National Geographic Stock
“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied - it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.” – Ansel Adams

The Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, featured in A Love for the Beautiful, is among ten venues nationwide hosting “National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West” – a visual retrospective of images published by National Geographic over the past 125 years.

From poignant portraits to spectacular national parks and wildlife, the 75 images present a powerful narrative about the American West. Organized thematically into four sections -- Legends, Encounters, Boundaries and Visions -- the show features historic works by early practitioners William Henry Jackson and Edward Curtis, along with modern and contemporary images by photographers like Ansel Adams, Annie Griffiths and Joel Sartore.

The National Geographic Society began documenting the West in 1888. From its vast archive, a team of curators from the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming reviewed thousands of images, honed through the magazine’s history and NGS staffers. “We got down to around 500 and sorted them into the thematic sections,” explains Jim McNutt, president and CEO of the National Museum of Wildlife Art. “We were looking specifically for great images and for items that attest to the diversity of the NG image collection."

Among the remarkable selections is William Albert Allard’s American Indian Beauty Pageant Winner, Oregon, 1997 featuring Acosia Red Elk waiting for the start of a parade in the annual fall Pendleton Round-Up. Some of the images are classics -- like South Dakota, 1938, Charles D’Emery’s iconic shot of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum’s granite homage to America’s presidents. The oldest photograph -- William Henry Jackson’s 1873 image of Colorado’s Mountain of the Holy Cross -- became one of the most popular of the 19th century. Jackson took the shot after he and his team hauled hundreds of pounds of equipment up 1500 feet.

“Many of the images have resonance with all the collections in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center,” says Mindy Besaw, Curator of BBHC’s Whitney Gallery of Western Art. “In general, the images are very artistic – not only “documentary” in nature.” The photography also complements the BBHC’s McCracken Research Library collection, a rich resource of some 500,000 photographs -- many of which are accessible online.

In a unique collaboration, the exhibition is on view concurrently at nine other museums: Booth Western Art Museum (Cartersville, Georgia), Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (Indianapolis, Indiana), Gilcrease Museum (Tulsa, Oklahoma), National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), National Geographic Museum (Washington, D.C.), National Museum of Wildlife Art (Jackson Hole, Wyoming), Rockwell Museum of Western Art (Corning, New York), C.M. Russell Museum (Great Falls, Montana), and Stark Museum of Art (Orange, Texas). For more information, visit www.bbhc.org

Homer's Haunts

October 17, 2012

Tags: Winslow Homer Studio, Portland Museum of Art, Shelburne Museum, Addison Gallery of American Art

Winslow Homer Studio Piazza, photograph by Trent Bell
“The picture is painted fifteen minutes after sunset – not one minute before... You can see that it took many days of careful observation to get this... with a high sea and tide just right.” -- Winslow Homer

Of all his works, Winslow Homer is best remembered for a series of powerful “marines.” His inspiration? Prouts Neck, Maine, where he lived and worked for over a quarter of a century. Now Homer fans can visit his studio -- thanks to a major restoration by the Portland Museum of Art.

“This studio is particularly relevant because Homer’s art was so transformed by moving into the studio in Maine,” says PMA director Mark Bessire. “Like Monet at Giverny, Homer at Prouts Neck, Maine became a different artist. And it was wonderful to acquire the studio directly from the Homer family as the very patina of the building reflects their caring legacy.”

The Boston-born artist discovered coastal Maine when his brother Arthur honeymooned and built a house there. Homer’s parents and eldest brother soon followed, building a family compound dubbed the “Ark.” Architect John Calvin Stevens helped Homer convert his family’s carriage house into a modest clapboard studio and cottage with extraordinary views of the Atlantic.

Over time, Homer developed a deep connection to place. “Homer's commitment to lived experience and place is profound,” says Thomas Denenberg, director of the Shelburne Museum and PMA’s former chief curator. “The fact that he chose to eschew the social and physical comforts of his New York studio and re-locate to the inhospitable coast of Maine led directly to a shift in his work that presaged modernist explorations of weather and nature in the twentieth century.”

The two and a half hour guided tour departs from PMA in fall and spring -- an experience Mark Bessire describes as “intimate” and a “pilgrimage.” Family photos and fishing poles decorate Homer’s parlor with its original bead board paneling and tongue and groove wood floor. Antlers hang over the fireplace where Homer cooked, along with a sign he used to scare unwanted visitors: “Snakes, Snakes and Mice.”

In the upstairs “factory” room where Homer finished his large paintings are his leather and canvas watercolor paint box and recognizable props like an oil skin hat, ship wheel and sextant. In preparation for his canvases, Homer studied the sea from the upstairs wraparound porch. Visitors can now experience the same crashing waves, salty sea air, and soaring gulls.

Homer’s presence is felt throughout the two-story, dark green building -- especially by the windows that framed his view of Prouts Neck. “To regard High Cliff to the east and the Atlantic waves to the South is to be transported into Homer's worldview,” adds Denenberg.

Long after family and friends left Prouts Neck, Homer and his dog Sam stayed through fall and often until Christmas -- or until his water bucket froze. It’s easy to imagine the artist etching “Winslow” on the upstairs window pane. “All is lovely outside my house and inside my house and myself,” Homer wrote two years before his death here in 1910.

To celebrate the studio’s opening, PMA has reunited three dozen Prouts Neck paintings, watercolors and etchings for “Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine” (through December 30, 2012). Among the highlights are Eight Bells from the Addison Gallery of American Art and Weatherbeaten from PMA. For more information and studio tour tickets, visit www.portlandmuseum.org, 207-775-6148.

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Donatello, Madonna and Child, c. 1445 painted and gilded terracotta Paris, Musée du Louvre, département des Sculptures, © 2012 Musée du Louvre/Thierry Ollivier

Dragon bowl, Gasparo Miseroni,1565/70, lapis lazuli, Frame: gold, enamel, rubies, emeralds & pearls, © Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Apollo and Daphne, Jakob Auer, 1688/90, ivory, h 43.9 cm © Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Costume for a Clown (Aleko Scene II), 1942, Private collection, Paris © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Clyfford Still 1956 PH-223 photo by Regester, (c) Clyfford Still Estate

Francisco de Zurbarán, Lamb of God, 1635–40, oil on canvas, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado

Portrait of a Woman as Saint Agnes, Paolo Veronese, circa 1575-80, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston

Monument Valley, Utah 2001 by Bruce Dale/National Geographic Stock

Winslow Homer with "The Gulf Stream" in his studio at Prout's Neck, Maine, circa 1900 albumen print 4 11/16 x 6 3/4 inches Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, Gift of the Homer Family