Archive for the ‘Art – Museums’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Milwaukee Does Kandinsky Proud

Last week, I spent an invigorating, art-filled day in Paris and Germany but never left O’Hare. My partner and I drove to Milwaukee to view the Milwaukee Art Museum’s stunning exhibition on Wassily Kandinsky, one of the 20th Century’s most visionary and influential artists. This is a co-sponsored show between Milwaukee and Paris’ Centre Pompidou, the repository for much of his art and his archives which his widow donated to the Pompidou in 1980.

The Pompidou shipped 119 pieces to Milwaukee for what is probably the most complete show of his work that you will ever see in America. The show covers not one but all three of his artistic periods: 1906-13 with The Blue Rider group of artists in Munich (drawing on Milwaukee’s Bradley collection from this period), 1921-33 and his partnership with a famed group of artists, writers and architects known as The Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany and 1933-44 in Paris where his style undergoes a radical transformation. Kandinsky died there in 1944 at age 78.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

I have only seen a few prior Kandinsky works, usually as part of a larger theme show on abstraction or Russian art. This exhibit expanded both my knowledge of this pioneering artist and why he is not as revered by critics and contemporary artists.

It seems ironic and a shameful oversight that the artist, who invented a new language of abstract painting that substituted inner feeling over external form  (for which post-war Abstract Expressionists are in his debt) and the equal of Picasso and Braque’s experiments in Cubism’s deconstruction of the human form,  has “fallen by the wayside for many practicing artists and academics fearful of exploring his romantic yet dense and inspiring theories” according to Milwaukee’s chief curator, Brady Roberts.

Yellow-Red-Blue - 1925

Yellow-Red-Blue - 1925

Overshadowing him currently is his contemporary, Marcel Duchamp, the progenitor of conceptual art, a movement more in fashion since the ’60s. Yet one cannot emerge from the show without acknowledging the power of Kandinsky’s intellect and his artistic achievement, even if the personal symbolism behind the works remains mysterious. He used vibrant colors in his masterworks to be expressive of his inner feelings.

juryfriere

Juryfriere - "Salon de Reception"

Traveling to Milwaukee ranks as a must for any true art lover simply to experience a single work in the exhibition. Kandinsky painted a series of  wildly colorful, shooting star-like murals for the 1922  “Juryfreie” exhibition that filled all four walls of a room in that Berlin gallery. They have been exhibited only once–at the Pompidou’s opening in 1976. Milwaukee has reconstructed that octagonal room and rehung the murals. Being surrounded by Kandinsky’s abstract symbols, I felt a powerful surge of emotion, beyond the power of words. “Knocked Out” comes close to conveying the impact. Truly a unique sight in all my years of exploring art

Milwaukee's Third Ward

Milwaukee's Third Ward

GO! It’s the only time you will ever have this viewing experience in America again. It’s just a three-hour round-trip drive and you can combine the weekend visit with exploring the cafes and boutiques in the trendy Third Ward district. As well as many examples Milwaukee’s superb downtown early 20th Century architecture.

Kudos are also in order for the catalog that accompanies the show. It is a beautifully-produced volume that does justice to the art. Many of the color reproductions are big and bold and the color separations are excellent. Along with a useful chronology of Kandinsky’s life, it serves as a vivid reminder of a blockbuster exhibit worthy of the name.

Kandinsky: A Retrospective is up until September 1. For information on hours, location and parking, contact the Milwaukee Art Museum at 414/224-3200 or at www.mam.org.

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PostHeaderIcon Vivian Maier: A Mystery Inside an Enigma

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier

What began as a tantalizing mystery is now being transformed into an industry. I refer to the curious case of Vivian Maier, the reclusive, North Shore nanny who, since her death in 2006, has gained posthumous acclaim as a great street photographer that eluded her in life.

She has, in recent years, occupied center stage in numerous exhibitions, books, museum programs and now dueling documentaries. In the end, she remains, in the words Winston Churchill spoke about Russia, “a mystery, wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.” We seemingly cannot get enough details about her and her strange life: Who was she? Where did she gain such photographic skill? What brought her to Chicago?

If you have not heard this woman’s story by now, about her move from New York City in the 1950s and her job as a nanny for 40 years to support her passion for photography, you must not be getting out much. There are exhibitions on view now at the Harold Washington Library plus at the Chicago History Museum.

Let me recommend what looks like a well-produced program this Sunday, July 27th, at The Clive Carney Art Gallery in the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center, Glen Ellyn. “An Afternoon with Vivian Maier” will begin with a screening at 1 p.m. of Jill Nicholls’ award-winning BBC documentary, “The Vivian Maier Mystery” (there’s that word again!).

Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion Jeffrey Goldstein, one of three original owners of a large trove of Ms. Maier’s photographs which were found in storage after her death and auctioned off (Maier had apparently been unable to afford developing hundreds of rolls of her street photographs). Other panelists include Frank Jackowiak, co-curator of the Carney galley exhibit and master printers Ron Gordon and Sandy Steinbrecher. The event ends with a gallery walk-through by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams, authors of their book of Maier photos, “Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows”.

This program accompanies the gallery’s show of Maier works that runs through August 16th. After this immersion in all things Maier, you will emerge more enlightened but still haunted by this unknowable artist. Tickets for Sunday’s program are $10 and can be obtained by calling the McAninch Arts Center box office at 630/942-4000 or visiting AtTheMAC.org.

PostHeaderIcon Behind the Museum Doors

rijksp1010743In 2003, Amsterdam’s famed Rijksmuseum, home of Rembrandt’s iconic canvas, “The Night Watch”, along with priceless Vermeer paintings, closed for a total renovation of the 1885 building designed by Pierre Cuypers. Everyone was excited by the audacious new design by two Spanish

Vermeer - The Milkmaid

Vermeer - The Milkmaid

architects, Antonio Cruz & Antonio Ortiz. It gave curators the chance to redo galleries added during earlier times which had compromised the museum’s original layout and its ability to tell the story of Dutch Art in a coherent way.

The filmmaker, Oeke Hoogendijk, decided to film the process.  What he captured was an incredible saga of political and public intrigue that changed the original design, led to a giant leap in construction costs and cost the jobs of several curators and the museum director who had started the project. The result is a four-hour documentary, split in two parts, of the process that tore the museum and Dutch public opinion apart.

A must -see for anyone interested in what The New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott, calls “an exemplary study in the sociology of arts administration.”  If such a rare, behind-the-scenes, look

Night Watch by Rembrandt

Night Watch by Rembrandt

is not your cup of tea, you probably will find it boring but I found it captivating! I wonder what a similarly candid, eye-opening documentary about the design and financial challenges of The Art Institute’s Modern Wing might have revealed. That project had an equally lengthy, 10-year, gestation.

For schedule of screenings, go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org/new_rijksmuseum_part_2. The last chance to see both Parts 1 and 2 is next Thursday, July 31 at 6 and 8:15 p.m.

Addendum (7/17): Derek Fincham just posted a fascinating entry on his website entitled  “Art is Therapy” at The Rijksmuseum from a book of the same name by Alain de Botton. I urge you to read it at www.illicitculturalproperty.com.



PostHeaderIcon Two Photographic Superstars Side by Side in New Exhibit

Editor’s Note: My interview with the director of the Block Museum of Art and the curator of its newest exhibit appeared online in Crain”s Chicago Business on January 15th.

A museum exhibition pairing Edward Steichen and Andy Warhol may seem a puzzling, if not perverse, choice. Both men revolutionized photographic practice. And each was the portrait photographer of their day. Steichen’s photos for Vogue and Vanity Fair at Conde Nast from 1923 to 1937 gave new definition to how glamour and celebrity were portrayed. Warhol resurrected and redefined portraiture with his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s.

But the similarities end there. While Steichen’s images convey pure elegance, most Warhol images are more banal. Famed photographer Walker Evans claimed that Warhol was a “purveyor of parvenu elegance and slick technique.” There was nothing slick about Steichen.

While they appear to be artists from two different planets, Warhol admired Steichen, collected his work and drew inspiration from him. A new show opening Jan. 18 at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, “Steichen/Warhol: Picturing Fame,” marks the premiere display of a gift of 49 vintage Steichen prints alongside an earlier donation of 150 Warhol images and five new prints by the Andy Warhol Foundation of the Visual Arts.

Crain’s talked with Block director Lisa Corrin and exhibit curator Elliot Reichert about this exhibit; this is an edited version of that conversation. The exhibit, which represents the first time the two photographers have been shown side by side, runs through April 6.

Why put together Warhol and Steichen?
Ms. Corrin:
I had an instinct about the relationship between these two artists. It was Elliot who discovered that relationship between Steichen’s Garbo photograph and Warhol’s inkblot works on paper, showing tracings of the Steichen photograph. Warhol even owned the cover of the Vogue magazine issue with the photo on the cover. That was the jumping-off point.
Mr. Reichert: Warhol studied the way the master photographer (Steichen) portrayed glamour and celebrity, subjects that unite the work of these important artists.

How did the Steichens come to the Block?
Ms. Corrin:
Northwestern (University’s) president, Morton Schapiro, has for many years been a close friend of Richard and Jackie Hollander. The Hollanders decided it was time to give away some of their extraordinary Steichen holdings to three museums — the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Block. Our president was extremely proactive in convincing them to make the Block the Midwestern institution for their gift.

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 - Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair, by Edward Steichen (1928), - Steichen/ Vanity Fair; © Condé Nast

Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair, by Edward Steichen (1928),

Steichen/ Vanity Fair; © Condé Nast

What were Steichen and Warhol’s innovations in portraiture?
Mr. Reichert:
Steichen began applying new methods, using the latest artificial lighting new at the time and staged backdrops to bring the figure into bold focus. That was a dramatic departure from what came beforehand. Part of the reason for the death of portraiture before Warhol arrived was the development of the camera. I think Warhol understood this and, through his use of Polaroids, brought portraiture back to the canvas.

Steichen’s life overlapped with Warhol’s. Would Steichen have liked what Warhol was doing?
Ms. Corrin:
I think he would have liked the entrepreneurial spirit. Steichen was a great opportunist. He was a great tuning fork for the changes that were happening in his lifetime and he understood the power of photography and of the mass-produced photographic image. That is what he has in common with Warhol. Warhol also understood the power of taking reproducible images and turning them into art with a capital A. In a way, Warhol made you somebody. He gave people who were nobodies status; he made them important.

What image do each of you like best?
Ms. Corrin:
I’ll pick an image not of a person but an artwork, Brancusi’s “Bird in Space,” one of the most notorious artworks of its time. When Steichen photographs the Brancusi, he photographs it as if it was a movie star. It’s in the spotlight, it’s practically elevated onto an altar. He turns it into something almost religious. And when he photographs Greta Garbo, she becomes more than a woman. Like with the Brancusi, they transcend the life of that thing or that person. That’s the genius of Steichen, how he was able to propel those images into the public imagination

 - Carly Simon, by Andy Warhol, (1980) - © 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Carly Simon, by Andy Warhol, (1980)

© 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Mr. Reichert: The photograph of Clara Bow taken in 1929 by Steichen. You can see he is refining what is coming to be defined as glamour in Hollywood: the direct gaze, the perfectly coiffed hair, lips slightly puckered and rubied, jewelry dangling. She’s compressed close inside the picture. Steichen is really trying to get as much into that photograph of desirous, glamorous beauty.

Then go to Warhol’s Polaroid of pop singer Carly Simon taken in 1980 and you see the same conventions there. Her lipstick is bright red, her hair is coiffed out to fill the frame . . . so all you can see is her face and hair and bare shoulders. It’s a banal portrait but shows how Warhol is looking directly at that glamour tradition that Steichen initiated in the 1930s but also how he subverts it by making it an image he used over and over again — mass-produced, readily available.

What accounts for Warhol’s enduring fame?
Mr. Reichert:
There was a time when Warhol was looked at askance by the art world. Now, nothing sells faster than a Warhol. Several things can explain this. More people today have a sense of post-Modernism — a leveling of all artistic categories with all things having equal importance. Plus, I think his images have defined a new kind of celebrity in their own way. For people of a younger generation, Warhol represents more of what a celebrity icon is than even Edward Steichen.

PostHeaderIcon Editor’s New Year Resolution

Dear Reader,

As a new year breaks, I am making a resolution (which I hope will not be broken). If you have visited over the past six months, you realize that my usual biweekly appearance has been sporadic at best.

While I have regretted this circumstance, my defense is that I have been otherwise occupied with a happy flood of paying articles for several Chicago publications, primarily the Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row Journal. I also was chained to my desk for over two months boiling a friend’s long manuscript down to manageable length.

The book project is complete and my schedule is lighter so I am happily returning to the blog, which begins its fourth year next month. I hope you will return often as I resume my former publication schedule making you aware of Chicago’s rich artistic bounty.

May you enjoy an equally abundant New Year. And please share word of Arts and About.com with friends so its readership grows.

Tom Mullaney–Editor

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