Here’s a little repost to test your knowledge.
The photographer Matthias Schaller has spent the last several years documenting the palettes of some of the most recognizable artists in history. Try to match the artist to the palette.
It was a Christmas miracle! Ok maybe not a miracle, but it always seems miraculous when an artist receives funding to realize their artistic vision. This is what happened on Christmas Day 1909 when a wealthy Chicago businessman agreed to fund renown Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha‘s ambitious Slav Epic. Ambitious would be an understatement; the work consists of 20 large scale paintings, some ranging in size of 26 by 20 feet. The series consumed the last decades of his life.
The series depicts the history of the Slav people and serve as a monument to both celebrate them and inspire them. The works have a very cinematic scope with their muted palettes and hints of the mystical and the magical. He employs the tricks he learned throughout his years of developing Art Nouveau but the series never truly veers into this realm.
I wasn’t too familiar with the work of Mucha before we stepped foot into the National Gallery in Prague. You are immediately struck by the scale of these works. It appears to be a cast of 1000s. The room is painted a neutral grey and the lighting is low so that even though the works are painted in a muted palette, they pop. These are those rare works that become more rewarding the longer you spend with them.
Unfortunately my photos do them no justice, take a look here for a much better survey. If you find yourself in Prague and are tired of the masses on Charles Bridge, Mucha’s Slav Epic is a welcome respite from the madding crowds.
Who knew these three paintings were originally meant to be a triptych? I certainly didn’t; but now that they’ve been arranged together for the first time (for the exhibition Mystic Landscapes at the Art Gallery of Ontario) since Paul Gauguin painted them , it sure makes sense. The primary colour scheme alone should have been my first clue. The otherworldly theme of the story of Christ’s life as envisioned in French Brittany runs through all three as well as the artist himself appears in all three with him taking the starring role of Christ in 2 out of three. I always found this to be very revealing about Gauguin, it takes some kind of hubris to paint yourself as a martyr. Maybe this is the reason they never made it to a church to serve as inspiration for the pious. Piety was kind of on the back-burner of Paul Gauguin’s life but I guess he did like to dip his toe in the mystic. He was definitely a seeker.
My hat’s off to the curators for pulling off this feat (along with another, I’ll get to in a minute). I was most excited to see Vision After the Sermon when it was announced it was coming to Toronto, but had no idea the other two were along for the ride. Now that I’ve seen them as a triptych it’s hard to see them any other way. This is exactly what good curation should do, shed new light on the familiar and re-contextualize art into new and exciting combinations and narratives. Having said that: my biggest criticism with the AGO is some of their exhibition themes can get really stretched and unnecessary. Please let the art speak for itself and don’t put words in its mouth.
The art not only speaks for itself in Mystic Landscapes but sings. Besides Gauguin you get heavy-hitters like Munch, Whistler and O’Keeffe and lesser known artists like Jansson and Dulac. There is a wonderful room devoted to the work of Claude Monet with fine representations of the various series he embraced over the years. His Waterlilies, Cathedrals, Poplars and Haystacks are all present. Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone is given a place of prominence near the end of the show. A personal highlight for me was this Egon Schiele,
but the biggest surprise of the show is the inclusion of our own nation’s artists. When it comes to landscapes, mystic or otherwise you have to admit Canada can hold its own. Lawren Harris, Emily Carr and Tom Thomson get to share the walls with Monet and O’Keeffe and rightly so. The curators have positioned our artists at the table with some of Art history’s biggest names and this is an exciting and revelatory prospect. It is one thing to propose this in our own backyard but another to shout to the hills, which will happen when this show ends its run in Toronto and moves to the Cathedral of Impressionism itself The Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Make your way to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see Mystic Landscapes. Come for the Van Gogh, stay for the Gauguin and revel in our National treasures before the secret gets out and standing in line becomes a way of life.
“To every time its Art. To Art its Freedom.” These are the words that adorn the Secession Building in Vienna Austria. Built in 1898 by Architect Joseph Olbrich, this gallery was to become one of the very first ‘White Cubes’. What we now see as commonplace was a radical idea at the time. Strip the room bare of all other distractions and let the Art take center stage. The building was to act as the main exhibition space for the newly formed Secessionist group led by Gustav Klimt. The Secessionists were rejecting the art establishment of the time and wanted to forge new paths that bridged many of the different arts together to create an artistic synergy. Influenced by the Jungendstil and Art Nouveau movements along with Japanese art that was proliferating Europe at the end of the 19th century, the Secession movement wanted to combine fine and decorative arts and work with architects and practitioners of other disciplines.
A perfect example of this was in 1902 the Secessionists held an exhibition to celebrate the life and work of Beethoven. The show was centered around a sculpture of the composer by Max Klinger and was to act as a unification of the Arts showcasing sculpture, painting, architecture and music. The exhibition was to be ‘a total piece of Art’ or also known as Gesamtkunstwerk.
The totality of it’s intention is no longer intact but the highlight of the exhibition: Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze remains. Moved from it’s original place to the basement it’s a miracle it’s still around. The painting was originally meant to be temporary, only supposedly lasting as long as the original exhibition, along with the building being stripped bare during WWII make it’s presence so special.
I got to tic another box off my art to-do list this summer. It was my second time in Vienna and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. The Belvedere Museum may have the Kiss (another must see) but The Secession Building and its splendid basement also deserves your attention and affection.
When it comes to public art you would be hard pressed to beat Bernini’s masterpiece The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome’s Piazza Navona…….well maybe the Trevi Fountain in the same city. Public art or art in public spaces is freed from the confines of the gallery and adorns our cities like jewels in a crown or at the very least gigantic garden gnomes decorating our financial and cultural institutions. As I am in the middle of planning our next escape I was going through some old photos and came up with a theme. Here are a few examples taken from some our travels over the years.
Washington Brushstroke Roy Lichtenstein
If you ever find yourself in Washington and are looking for a place to eat, I highly recommend the food-court at the National Museum of the American Indian (unfortunate name but really good food).
Between the architecture and all the public art in Chicago you don’t even have to step foot inside an art gallery to see some of the biggest names in Art History. I would say, right up there with Bernini’s fountain would have to be Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate referred to as ‘the Bean’ by locals. I’ve never seen an artwork have such universal appeal. Both young and old are drawn to it. The minute you see it you automatically start walking towards it. It is like a magnet.
Not all public art has it easy. Cleveland’s Thinker had a bomb placed under it. Read more here Slashed, Smashed and Blowed up: Blowed up Real Good. There’s tons more I didn’t include, but I recommend the next time you’re out and about take a look around you might be surprised what you encounter.
I was unfamiliar with the work of Hurvin Anderson before I made my way up to the 5th floor of the AGO’s contemporary section. I was immediately struck by the similarities to a painter I greatly admire: Peter Doig. It then came as no surprise that Anderson was actually a student of Doig’s back in his native country of England during the 90’s.
Backdrop which was first shown at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis consists of a collection of drawings, sculptures and photographs but it was the paintings I was most excited about. Anderson’s approach combines loose flourishes with flat passages that evoke both energy and control. His subject matter ranges from the Jamaican/Trinidad countryside to residential attic barbershops to the filtering of experience through barriers, fences and pattern.
Anderson’s paintings allude to the vulnerability of the sitter in a barber chair. There is an unspoken conception of trust and renewal. His barbershop patrons floating on flat backgrounds reminded me of another British painter: Francis Bacon.
Painting is alive and well at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Hurvin Anderson makes the case loud and clear.
May 19 – August 21
Growing up with an Italian Grandmother; the idea of portion control is a completely foreign concept to me. So when the tastefully arranged modest fillet of perch on a bed of zucchini was placed in front of me I had to remind myself I wasn’t in my Nan’s kitchen anymore. We were in fact dining @ Frank: the fine dining experience located at The Art Gallery of Ontario as part of Summerlicious. But the main reason we were at the AGO, was to see The Idea of North: the Paintings of Lawren Harris .
The work of the Group of Seven and Lawren Harris is as ingrained into the Canadian fabric as road hockey or the first snow fall. It’s part of who we are, and the idea that no one outside of our little hamlet (9.985 million km2 – little) has any clue to their power and brilliance seems unfathomable. But what is so familiar to us is all shock of the new to our neighbours to the south and destinations further abroad. This is a very appealing prospect: what’s old is new again and what’s oversight is getting its due. This is at the core of this exhibition and one of the main motivators for its curator Steve Martin to get involved. He believed our national artist should be recognized internationally.
Martin is no stranger to the art world; he has been an avid collector for decades and has amassed an impressive personal collection. It was this collection that was the impetus for this exhibition. The story goes- the curator for the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles ‘discovered’ a small landscape at one of Martin’s dinner parties. She inquired who the artist was and when he proclaimed Lawren Harris, she replied “who”? A few trips to Canada later and she was hooked and the only one she wanted to helm a Harris exhibition was ‘one wild and crazy guy’. His initial response was he would have to be crazy to take on something like this, but the need to give Lawren his due quickly erased any fears.
The Idea of North is a two part exhibition that focuses on two aspects of Harris’s career: his early Ward paintings of Toronto’s immigrant housing projects from the early 20th century and his momentous northern landscapes from the twenties and thirties. (There is also a small abstract near the end that ties Harris’ work to the city of Toronto but I’m going to focus on the other two aspects.) The Ward paintings do a nice job of highlighting Harris’ mastery of paint and colour but fall short of illustrating the pathos in which I believe they were intended. The effects feel too much like an observer looking in rather than an authentic documentation of immigrant life, but as far as images go they illustrate Harris’ life long pursuit of tapping into the unseen forces of the sublime that are at work behind the paintings. It is this aspect that makes his northern landscapes so powerful. He has focused the landscape to amplify its impact and presence.
Whether you are long time admirer or first time observer The Idea of the North does a wonderful job of showcasing one of our national treasures. There are old friends to revisit and new surprises to discover. I did have to keep reminding myself that this not a retrospective (I love his mountains but his tree paintings are my favourites- saved for another time I guess) but rather a focused introduction, and just like my little perch – less is definitely more.
The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris
July 1- September 18
The palace at Versailles has been showcasing the work of international artists on the grounds and in the Palace for nearly a decade. Artists that shown there have included Murakami, Koons and Anish Kapoor.
This year the work of Olafur Eliasson graces the French landmark.
Glenn O’ Brien started his career working for Andy Warhol at Interview magazine. He later got gigs for Rolling Stone, Spin, Allure and High Times. But to truly get a sense of the man and if you’ve got a few hours to kill and want to see some truly experimental program get yourself over to YouTube and watch a little of David Letterman’s favourite show Glenn O’ Brien’s TV Party : a local cable show with a punk rock sensibility from the late 70’s out of New York City. It veers from the highly entertaining to the unwatchable and back again. A young Jean Michel Basquait used to occasionally run the TelePrompter.
Yang Yongliang‘s photo-collaged take on traditional Chinese landscape painting is a sight to behold.