The artist Christopher Wool is never through with a form just because he’s used it before. Rather, in a perpetual cycle of self-appropriation, he runs the visual elements he creates through numerous incarnations, constantly experimenting with shifts in scale and medium.
Posts by Samantha Friedman
MoMA has been called a temple of modernism, even a sacred destination for art lovers, but that religious language is usually just figurative. With the exhibitions Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs and Robert Gober: The Heart is Not a Metaphor open simultaneously, however, visitors can witness the unlikely confluence of two chapels on 53rd Street (not even counting Saint Thomas, next door).
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, currently on view in the Museum’s sixth floor temporary exhibition galleries, looks closely at the works Matisse created in the final decade of his career. Adopting painted paper as his primary medium, and scissors as his chief implement, he invented a radically new form that came to be called a cut-out. But while this work was utterly new, its concerns were consistent with those that had driven Matisse throughout his entire career.
On October 12, the exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs—the largest presentation of this final chapter of Matisse’s work ever mounted— will open at MoMA. Much of the anticipation surrounding this show stems from the fact that this visually vibrant and conceptually radical body of work has not been seen on this scale in New York in over 50 years.
As artists continue to expand the definition of drawing, and art historians redefine the medium accordingly, the kinds of works on paper we acquire have become increasingly unorthodox, ranging from room-size installations to the traces of performances. Yet sometimes a humble sheet of paper from the beginning of the 20th century is just as radical.
I’ve just returned from the other side of the world—Perth is our antipodes, at exactly 12 hours ahead of New York—where I was installing the exhibition Van Gogh, Dalí, and Beyond: The World Reimagined at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, along with AGWA curators Gary Dufour and Glenn Iseger-Pilkington. The third installment in a six-show partnership between the two institutions, this exhibition looks at how modern artists have reinvented the traditional genres of landscape, still life, and portrait. A selection of 134 works from MoMA’s collection—paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and a media work—made the long journey to be enjoyed by a new audience from June until December.
Visitors to AGWA will see how the definition of landscape has evolved from 1889, when Vincent van Gogh painted his iconic The Olive Trees, to 2006, the year of Tacita Dean’s neo-Romantic photogravure installation T&I.
They’ll observe how the meaning of a still life has expanded from Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl, and Oranges (1902–06), to Michael Craig-Martin’s Folio (2004), a portfolio of 12 brightly-hued screenprints depicting ordinary objects like a sneaker and a cell phone.
And they’ll perceive how the possibilities and priorities of portraiture have shifted from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge (1891–92), to the 2011 installment of Nicholas Nixon’s annual portraits of his wife and her three sisters, The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts.
Used to the 90-degree angles of MoMA’s galleries, it was first a challenge—and ultimately a great pleasure—to install in AGWA’s galleries, which are shaped like hexagons, and whose walls follow the angles of a ceiling composed with triangles. These angles create long views that encourage visual connections across galleries, many of which were unplanned but fortuitous. Standing in front of Matisse’s The Blue Window in the exhibition’s still life section, for example, you can look back into the landscape gallery and see Milton Avery’s Sea Grasses and Blue Sea, another painting that tests the border between representation and a blue monochrome.
While hardworking registrars carefully planned the transport of these masterpieces, two works didn’t have to be sent at all. Rocks Upon the Beach Sand Upon the Rocks, a 1988 installation by the artist Lawrence Weiner, describes a landscape only in words, and is remade each time it is installed to fit the exact dimensions of the venue. Below is the version designed in collaboration with the artist’s studio for AGWA.
And Urs Fischer’s Untitled sculpture from 2000 consists of half an apple and half a pear, screwed together and suspended from nylon filament. The work was not only constructed anew for this venue, but will be remade regularly throughout the course of the exhibition. A kind of postmodern still life, it takes Cézanne’s desire to express the tangible “thingness” of a piece of fruit to a whole new level.
A Trip from Here to There, a recently opened collection exhibition in the Paul J. Sachs Drawings Galleries organized by Jodi Hauptman, Curator, Department of Drawings, and Luis Pérez-Oramas, the Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art, explores how peripatetic artists represent the routes of their wanderings. Though the paths they trace are personal, many of these artists adopt printed maps as their starting points;
Among the groundbreaking artists included in the exhibition Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, currently on view in MoMA’s sixth-floor galleries, are František Kupka (Czech, 1871–1957) and Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944). Like the other luminaries represented in the show, beginning in the second decade of the 20th century, Kupka and Mondrian jettisoned figuration and pioneered an art of pure form.
In organizing the third-floor Drawings collection exhibition Exquisite Corpses: Drawing and Disfiguration, I opted to create groupings based on artists’ common strategies and themes rather than chronology.
Currently on view in the third-floor drawings galleries, Exquisite Corpses: Drawing and Disfiguration includes five works that belong to this titular category of collaborative creation. The “exquisite corpse” was a parlor game played by Surrealist artists and poets in Paris in the 1920s.
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