30 November 2008

opie and douglas, tooker and more

It was quite a weekend for art viewing. Friday found me going up to the Guggenheim for the Catherine Opie retrospective, and then walking up to the Schomburg Center on Malcolm X Boulevard at 135th. I've seen a decent amount of Opie's photographs in real life and in reproduction but the images from the "Freeway" series were the most surprising. I guess I've never seen one live because the size really surprised me. They're only about 2 x 7 inches, and they seem even more "vintage" in real life. In Aaron Krach's review in The advocate (Dec. 2, 2008), he describes them as melancholy and strong as her self-portraits. Melancholy, that wonderful emotion.

As I walked North, I stopped at the National Academy for the George Tooker and Ralph A. Blakelock shows. There is a beautiful Tooker of "The groping hand." Like a detail of a Flemish painting, with an abstract background. Blakelock's life trajectory is interesting as he doesn't do a classic art historical move to or away from abstraction, perhaps it was the last decades of his life when he had a series of breakdowns. The "Solos: Tulou: affordable housing for China" at the Cooper-Hewitt included a wonderful model of a circular building with an almost full-size construction of an apartment. Efficient but even small by NYC standards.

The reason for going up to the Schomburg was the Aaron Douglas show. He was part of the Harlem Renaissance crowd. There is a wonderful portrait of Zora Neale Hurston by Douglas and a fine photographic portrait of Douglas by Carl Van Vechten.

Saturday was galleryhopping in West Chelsea after seeing "Milk." In addition to finding Nina Katchadourian's "The Marfa Jingles" at Sara Meltzer Gallery, I stopped in at Mary Ryan Gallery to find a small gallery with linoblock prints by British modernists. The prints are wonderfully inspired by the same modernism that the Italian futurists found in contemporary culture. These British prints, particularly those by Sybil Andrews, display an angular vitality that is very compelling. There's also a big show at the Met of these British modernists. The Mary Ryan selection is a much better meal, size-wise.

At Claire Oliver Fine Art, I was strongly struck by the two paintings by Vitus Shell, rather like Kehinde Wiley but representing black women in domestic settings rather than Wiley's athletes.

Also at Sara Meltzer was a show by Francesca Gabbiani (love the name). The show is entitled "Be my mirror" and my favorites were the line drawings, fancy frames with blank centers, rather like elaborate bookplates.

Today (Sunday), I decided to go up to the Met to see the British modernists and the "Art and love in Renaissance Italy" show. I've already mentioned that the smaller diet of the British printmakers at Mary Ryan Gallery was more satisfying. The Italian show was quite disappointing. I decided the problem was that the works were selected for subject matter rather than aesthetics. Lots of them were just not very interesting. That isn't to say that I didn't find some interesting works. There were a couple birthing trays with naked boys romping on the verso. And the Alessandro Allori portrait has a wonderful "Michelangelo's 'The dream of modern life'" on the verso. It was a verso show for me, I guess. Draw any conclusions you wish.

Now, the Philippe de Montebello show was wonderful. It includes lots and lots of works which came into the Met's collections over his tenure as director (the last three decades). Lots of good friends, including the Thomas Anshutz lady in red dress, an incredibly beautiful 12th-century Spanish ivory scepter shaft segment. There were also many wonderful juxtapositions. One of my favorites was the Flemish boxwood Virgin and Child in a case with a pre-Columbian gold figurine. As I was admiring the contrast, a couple came up and decided the contrast was just too extreme. I thought of my sister Roberta, the seamstress, while looking at the quilt with cubes next to the Jasper Johns flag. And there was an incredible Agostino Carracci red-chalk drawing of a woman and the fabulous Parmigianino "Mercury." Just one more piece: the Fenton landscape photograph, just like a Rembrandt, though the label pointed to other precedents, photographic ones.

Gauguin's portfolio from Pont-Aven reminded me that I have to check in with Caroline Boyle-Turner to arrange a visit to her school in Pont-Aven now that I will have more time for traveling.

Sybil Andrews, Skaters, 1953, Linocut, 8 x 15 inches, edition of 60 (from Mary Ryan Gallery website)

No comments: