Thursday, January 12, 2023

At the Rubell DC


With more than 7,400 works by more than 1,000 artists in its collection, the Rubell family has become a prominent mover of the art world, extending its reach from Miami to Washington DC with the Fall opening of the Rubell Museum DC in the Southwest Waterfront area. Ensconced in the heart of an African-American community, the Randall Junior High School building abandoned for decades was recently renovated to become an art venue, leading to the unavoidable gentrification of the neighborhood. The challenge will be to keep its soul despite its new purpose. From the entrance through the auditorium going up up and down the stairs of the three levels, corridors, classrooms (now galleries) are a constant reminder of its previous life. 

Bathed in the sunlight drawing shapes on the floor, the wide space of the auditorium is the perfect setting for four major pieces by their size and quality, two on each side. Kehinde Wiley's Sleep, 2008, and Another Man's Cloth, 2006, from El Anatsui are like magnets for the viewers as they walk in. The punchy introduction is followed by a visit of the first gallery (twenty four total!) where the viewers can immerse themselves in Keith Haring's cartoonish series Untitled (Against All Odds), 1989, dedicated to Don Rubell's brother deceased from AIDS, while listening to the music of What's Going On, an album from Marvin Gaye's, previous student at the school. The surprisingly small size of the rooms allows intimate solo or group shows. One of the galleries is dedicated to female artists with nudes from Mickalene Thomas, Cecily Brown, Marlene Dumas and Lisa Yuskavage, another to African-American male artists with works from Glenn Ligon, Rashid Johnson, Gary Simmons and Leonardo Drew who takes over the show with Untitled #25, 1992, a giant wall of cotton placed in the middle of the room, a feat in itself. The self-taught artist Purvis Young from Miami, gets two walls in a corridor for his paintings about funerals, protesters and pregnant women, and Hank Willis Thomas for his Unbranded Series, 2006-2008, in which he highlights the perverted use of black men's image in advertisement, a wall to wall display of photographs filling a gallery and an adjacent narrow passage.  It is the occasion to discover the caricatural portraits from Tschabalala Self empowering black females, accompanied by a wall text about intersectionality, and Sylvia Snowden's series Shell;Glimpses, 2010-2012, about her daughter's character depicted through an abstract expressionist vein with brash colors and heavy impasto. 

The list of artists goes on: Maurizio Cattelan, Carrie Mae Weems, Christian Boltanski, Danh VõCadyNoland,... Sometimes represented by one small piece lost among the overcrowded display like Kara Walker or Robert Colescott, the fifty artists selected for the exhibition are all "responding to pressing social and political issues" through their works as described on the museum's website. The walls are covered with  paintings, drawings and photographs, along the stairs, the landings, the corridors, leaving little space to take a step back. A few sculptures are located in the central halls on the first and second floor. The visit ends in the basement where three installations are relegated possibly due to their sensitive subject and shocking visual impact on some visitors especially children. Starting with the least controversial, a room filled with plastic detritus thrown among broken classical columns, all covered with imitation gold leaf. A refusal to Accept Limits, 2007, from John Miller invites the visitors to wander among  glittering piles of garbage. Next door, in contrast, three pieces from Josh Kline bring a miserabilist touch with a lighted shopping cart filled with various items and a too realistic female body lying on the floor in a fetal position, thrown in a transparent plastic bag. The long-winded wall text poorly printed about capitalism predicts a dismal future. Is Casja von Zeipel a provocateur? Post Me, Post You, 2022, her pornographic installation with all the props made a stir last Spring at the Frieze New York Art Fair and appears more appropriate for a sex-dungeon. Enough said about it and forget the selfies... gross. 

What's Going On, the vague title of the show, allows the inclusion of diverse works and a long list of artists, the ultimate aim being the presentation of the Rubell Family Collection for the benefit of the visitors (and the Collection). However, more can be less. 

photographs by the author:

John Miller "A Refusal to Accept Limits", 2007.

Tschabalala Self, "Two Girls", 2019

Cecily Brown "Black Painting 4", 2003

Wednesday, November 30, 2022



A former private mansion rue de Grenelle in Paris shelters the permanent collection of the Musée Maillol, primarily dedicated to the sculptor. Usually quiet, the venue with its grand staircase and dark rooms, is taken over by a crowd spilling in the street, attracted by the travelling exhibition   Hyperréalisme: Ceci n'est pas un corps ("Hyperrealism: this is not a body") well-advertised on tourists' websites. Hyperrealism includes a whole gamut of realistic paintings and sculptures with a twist, hence the prefix, and emerges from photorealism, an American art movement born sometimes in the 1960's as a reaction to the post-WWII abstract movement. Confused by the shapes, colors, and meanings of nonrepresentational works, frustrated visitors come by, eager to look at art they can relate to. The exhibition features thirty six works from thirty artists and spans almost forty years. In addition, a special display highlights four pieces spread among Maillol's permanent collection on the top floor . 

What I thought was a distraught visitor leaning against the wall turned out to be my first encounter with the show: a life-like sculpture with long blond hair, wearing jeans and t-shirt like everyday teenager, Caroline, 2014, from Daniel Firman. The cow-boy and two tired laborers from Duane Hanson and Ethyl, 2003, from Tom Kuebler fit perfectly the first theme "Human Replicas". In the same realistic vein, cliché with their props: hats, boots, buckets or a lasso for the cow-boy, they look cartoonish and fail to provoke an emotional connection. In contrast, two sculptures in polychrome bronze, John Deandrea's American Icon - Kent State, 2015 and Dying Gaul, 2010, are unsettling. In the dark room, their bodies glowing under the spotlights, the distressed naked humans are represented in their most intimate details, pubic hair included, and their poses speak of a tragic destiny, one of violent death. Moving on, the moody sculpture from George Segal  Blue Girl on Park Bench, 1980, expresses the sadness of loneliness through the melancholy of the color blue. Farther, a nude also from Segal, appears abandoned, drifting on a couch, white like a ghost. Representing himself with a (tortured) tree trunk from the waist down or surrounded by birds, Fabien Merelle's self-portraits allude to his deep connection with nature. More nudes fill this section dedicated to monochrome works with among them a very classical portrait in marble from Fabio Viale. "Parts of the Body" is taken over by a central piece from Peter Land, an adjustable body, another self-portrait asleep this time, snaking its way at the center of the room. Valter Adam Casotto cuts his body in pieces. Enlarged lips, elbow, palm, ..., with magnified creases and lines are covered with innocent drawings from his childhood, a not so subtle allusion to aging. Andy Warhol's bust by Kazu Hiro appears very official with his grey hair well parted, closely shaved face, looking down at the viewer, without a smile, chin firmly set on two fingers in a judgmental pose, ready to take his place at Madame Tussauds. An iconic sculpture from Carole Feuerman and the famous Ave Maria, 2007, from Maurizio Cattelan, get lost in the display. "Playing with Size" and "Deformed Realities" assemble almost half of the group show's artists who represent  diverse countries and continents: Australia, Serbia, Italy, Republic of North Macedonia, Belgium, South Africa, Sierra Leone, United States, a testimony to the international reach of hyperrealism. 

 One can find works from Ron Mueck or Berlinde de Bruyckere next to those of less known artists, showcasing the diversity of backgrounds and practices. Following the rich display, "Shifting Boundaries", the exhibition's last chapter provides a glimpse into the future of hyperrealism, and sculpture in general, when the boundaries between fiction and reality are blurred and technology becomes the art as illustrated by the talkative animated piece Jonathan, 2009, from the duo Glaser/Kunz. At the end, the irresistible selfie takes over the show with the visitors lining up to become the subject of Erwin Wurm's piece Idiot II, 2003, eager to expose themselves to the anonymous crowd of social media. 

Repulsion, compassion, indifference, the viewers go through a whole gamut of emotions mixed with curiosity and voyeurism. Many resist the temptation to touch the more haptic pieces of art... are they real? Spread in the rooms, loop videos of artists' interviews in which they reveal their techniques take away some of the magic. More or less relevant quotes are also available on the walls. However the  bodies frozen for eternity appear objectified rather than transcended and this impression becomes more acute when they are spread among Maillol's sculptures. The short conclusion to the show leaves us pondering about the future of hyperrealism, stretched to the absurd. 

Upcoming: three special showings for naturists allowed to go through the exhibition totally naked!


photographs by the author:
"Stringiamoci a coorte", 2017, Valter Adam Casotto
"Untitled (Man in a Sheet)", 1997, Ron Mueck
"Pat & Veerle", 1974, Jacques Verduyn

Friday, October 7, 2022

The year of women artists at Hirshhorn

                In 2009, the curators at the Centre Pompidou in Paris took the bold decision to fill the venue  with works selected from the permanent collection of the Musée National d'Art Moderne, solely created by women artists. elles@centre pompidou which took place from May 2009 until February 2011 was a revelation for visitors like me. More recently in 2021, Women in Abstraction showcased the ongoing interest in gender themed exhibitions extending lately to smaller museums like the Musée du Luxembourg with Pioneers: Artists in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties, a show about the influence of women artists between the two World Wars. This Fall, the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C. is catching up with an exhibition of works selected from its permanent collection. Put It This Way: (Re)Visions of the Hirshhorn Collection "unites almost a century of work by 49 women and nonbinary artists". Located on the third floor, it assembles paintings, sculptures, collages, photographs, videos and installations spread in the galleries of the circular building.  

Organized by themes, the exhibition starts with "Eye, Body", a salient subject exploring voyeurism, violence, objectification of women, isms related to race and gender, through diverse works including Display Stand with Madonnas, 1987-1989, a towering accumulation of Virgin Marys from Katharina Fritsch. Further, Billie Zangewa in  A Vivid Imagination, 2021, represents a lonely matriarchal figure set in her backyard garden invaded by an ill-defined threatening white shape, fostering a feeling of doom. A major work from Carolee Schneemann Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, 1963-1973, feature photographs of the naked artist surrounded by attributes like snake, ropes, tarp, feathers, broken mirrors, and more. During her performances, the artist offers her body to the visitor's gaze in tableaux recorded by Erró. Pain and trauma inspire the next works, from a video featuring Ana Mendieta in the nude, pouring blood on herself then rolling in white feathers to Cecily Brown's painting "à la Soutine", Hoodlum, 2000-2001, inspired by her surroundings in New York City's Meatpacking district. Throwing soil from a plantation on a white wall to represent a map of the United States sums up the performance from Kiyan Williams filled with historical references. Senga Nengudi's R.S.V.P X, 1976/2014, like a drawing in space, enlivens a corner of the gallery where the elegant sculpture seems ready to dance. Adding to its aesthetic element, the piece made of panty hoses filled with sand and rose petals alludes to the resilience of women's body during pregnancy. Did Nengudi hint also at their psychological resilience? Conceptual art allows us to speculate.                                                 Following the somewhat tense works, "Nature and Abstraction" offers a break with a stunning triptych from Joan Mitchell. Size, vibrancy of colors, vigor of the brush, makes it an ode to nature and life. This also describes two paintings from Alma Thomas nearby. The cocoon-like sculptures made of alabaster, wood, silk, metal, from Lee Bontecou and Barbara Hepworth have a motherly side while Jay DeFeo's drawing and Carlotta Corpron's photographs capture the play between light and darkness to produce abstract landscapes. Ultimately, the contemplation of nature becomes a spiritual journey conveyed through Arcanum #2, Helen Lundeberg's painting. Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet's Garden, Parts 1 and 2, 1992, videos from Diana Thater, provides a cheerful transition with its exuberant colors contrasting with the muted hues of the works in the next gallery labelled Poetry of Perception, starting with a meditative painting from Agnes Martin. The realm of poetry, a way to express the intensity of emotions, encompasses also works of art like sculptures, paintings, which can trigger intense feelings. However the minimalist pieces on display generate little of these: Untitled (LeWitt)) #1, 2016, from Liz Dechenes inspired by Sol LeWitt, Night Naiad, 1977, a totemic piece from Anne Truitt or Untitled (Orange Oval), 2019, from Eva LeWitt stir little emotions. Jennie C. Jones in Light Grey with Middle C (variation #2), 2013, adds a musical element to the visual experience, referring to the most abstract of the arts. Following this first part of the exhibition, a large space provides a place to relax on comfortable sofas while reading the very relevant posters from Guerilla Girls splashed on the walls. 

"Stress Position" could be the title for Sondra Perry's installation (Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, 2016) introduced by an invitation to pedal an exercise bicycle while watching videos of the artist's avatar. The following works are more or less related to the theme, a painful subject to reflect upon: "How does stress condition our physical spaces, bodies, and possibilities for freedom?... evident here are the ways in which marginalized bodies must continually persist in the face of resistance, pressure and even violence." The conceptual work from Eva Hesse Vertiginous Detour, 1966, sums up the long wall text while two homey photographs from Deana Lawson leave us speculate about a darker side to their story. "Earth Knowledge" includes two artists represented by installations, Dana Awartani from Saudi Arabia and Michelle Stuart associated with the Land art movement. "Shape Shifters" organized around Louise Nevelson's Dream House XXXII, 1972, features also three smaller works from Betye Saar and a portrait from the pioneer Nikki de Saint Phalle. The exhibition concludes with an installation from the New Orleans born artist Zarouhie Abdalianthrenody for the unwilling martyrs, 2021, a final unsettling lament.

The diversity and abundance of works displayed is a testimony of the prolific creativity of women artists and the show provides a glimpse into the growing permanent collection: "Over the past five years 35% of Hirshhorn purchases artworks... made by women and non conforming artists. Last year alone, this number was nearly 60%." This commitment by the Hirshhorn Museum gives us the occasion to discover younger artists and savor revisiting famous ones. Long wall texts have become an unavoidable component of exhibitions, skewing the traditional relationship between artist, work of art and viewer. Under the museum's auspices, the printed statements become the official interpretation of the works of art with adds-on for "kids", possibly addressed to young teenagers (but set at a height for a six year old), robbing them of their emotions, imagination and creativity. 

 The clearly stated goal of the exhibition is not only to look at works from women artists but also consider the role of the museum in promoting them and emphasize "the significance of gender in creating and perceiving an artwork, the effects of categorizing artists by gender". This brings up ongoing concerns about the "ghettoing" of women artists. While museums have sponsored art by women, the art market is still trying to catch up. Regarding the viewers' bias, it may vary according to their personal experience. About the artist? Of course their gender influences and enriches their work.  

The year-long exhibition leaves plenty of time to visit and revisit. The only regret, the collection could be rotated over the coming months to display more works of art from women and nonbinary artists.


photographs by the author:

Rosalyn Drexler "Put It This Way", 1963

Senga Nengudi "R.S.V.P. X", 1976/2014

Guerilla Girls "Women in America Earn Only 2/3 of What Men Do (from Portfolio Compleat:1985-2012)", 1986/exhibition copy 2022

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Thirty Seconds


The long line of visitors to see One With Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection at the Hirshhorn makes me wonder. What are they looking for? A taste of eternity? An artsy surrounding for another selfie? After a two-year wait to open, the abbreviated version of the previous exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors in 2017 is significant due to the selection of works which feature the artist's iconic symbols including phalluses, dots, pumpkin, and span her practice with two infinity rooms recently acquired by the museum.

Born in Japan, Yayoi Kusama lived through a traumatic childhood and relates her art to the psychological traumas she was exposed to as a child. She moved to New York City in the early sixties where she enlivened the art scene with her provocative happenings, writings, photographs, installations, overall being fashionably outrageous among her peers, with wit, determination and passion. Upon her return to Japan in the seventies, her fame dwindled while she checked herself into a facility for mentally ill persons permanently. However, she never stopped working in her studio located nearby and since the eighties her career has flourished, bringing her international recognition. Now in her nineties, she is still active as an artist.  

The first work, Pumpkin, 2016, is more than an outsized yellow gourd with a patterned black dotted exoskeleton sitting comfortably on its wide saggy base. It is a quiet presence in the middle of a square orange colored room including floor and ceiling, decorated with dizzying black dots of various sizes. The fiberglass sculpture coated with enamel, symbol of serenity amidst an hallucinatory world filled with black dots, hints at the artist's longing, and ultimately represents an ideal self-portrait. 

Chatting, looking at their cell phone while waiting to enter Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli's Field, 1965/2017, visitors seem to ignore the rousing poem from Kusama addressed "To the Whole World" and the texts about the artist and her works spread on the red walls of an antechamber-like space. With the last line still in my mind ("Revolutionist of the world by Art"), I walk in the installation: door closes... thirty seconds. The guard has a chronometer. Floating on a thick carpet of white phalli decorated with red dots like corals on a seabed, hundreds of me reflect in the mirrors, getting smaller and smaller until they fade in a black spot, lost in the void of infinity. Surrounded by "myselves" I try to capture this intense stolen moment which I expect to be otherworldly, transcendent, sublime. Time for one or two unavoidable selfies and... out. Still somewhat discombobulated, I regain my footing back in line, ready for the next room. 

"Infinity Mirrored Room- My Heart is Dancing into the Universe", 2018, offers a walk through a small dark space filled with black paper lanterns illuminated by colored lights shining through translucent holes. Immersed in waves of blue, violet, red, orange, yellow, green,... a cacophony of colors glowing through dots of all sizes, I feel like experiencing a psychedelic nightmare or looking at a broken kaleidoscope. I hesitate to take a step forward, confused, my rods and cones in disarray, even the floor reflecting the lights appears uneven. Two minutes... time is up. Close to an attack of claustrophobia, I leave the kinetic light show and reach the last room where a metallic dark coat covered with plastic roses set on a hanger is the only piece on a white wall. The monochrome sculpture, a sort of relic, evokes Kusama's episodes of hallucinations. The anticlimactic finale to the short exhibition is not the end of the visit which reverberates long after. 

In line with the flow of visitors there is little time to meditate! Getting a whiff of infinity at best, the viewer transformed into a consumer may feel frustrated but Kusama's work reaches beyond the museum. Inspired by her relentless fight with mental disease which has taken over her life, art has become the mean to conquer and share her fears, hallucinations, obsessions, and transcends a trivial design, a dot, to create a world of infinity and spirituality.  Her practice reaches a large audience attracted by its pop art side and/or its otherworldly aspect. One of my unforgettable visit was at Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy in the East of France where Fireflies on the Water, 2002, is a permanent installation. Without time constraint, alone, immersed in the quiet infinity mirrored room I connected with the artist who stated: "I felt as I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness."  

photographs by the author:

"Pumpkin", 2016

"Infinity Mirror Room-My Heart is Dancing into the Universe", 2018

"Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli's Field", 1965/2017

Sunday, August 15, 2021

La Vie en Rose


               Who am I to write a review of two ongoing shows from Damien Hirst, the most celebrated YBA (Young British Artists)? Since the end of the eighties, he never ceased to shock the art world and the world in general with his gory pieces and make the news, from accusations of plagiarism to the astonishing price of his works. Not so young anymore, the fifty-six-year-old artist obsessed with death, has surrounded himself with an endless Spring during the pandemic, going back to painting, "the loneliest thing you can do". Thirty of his one hundred and seven compositions of cherry trees in bloom were selected for his Parisian debuts at the Fondation Cartier while Cathedrals Built on Sand at the Gagosian Gallery off the Champs-Elysées features a series of pill cabinets

               Walking in Les Cerisiers en Fleurs is breathtaking... literally. The enchanted pink world of cherry trees in bloom soon becomes a claustrophobic congregation of colored spots spread on large canvasses covering the walls of the building's two levels. Greater Love Has No-One Than This Blossom, an outsized assemblage of four panels (quadriptych) consisting of interlaced tree branches with patches of clear blue sky peaking through, a jumble of uneven pink, white, pale yellow, blue to purple dots, a few green leaves, three dabs of red, sparse white drips, describes love as a heavenly prison. Why single out this piece? Because it is the largest and sums up the exhibition. All the paintings are variations on the same theme, parodies of abstract expressionism and pointillism, assigned grandiose titles: Imperial Blossom, Spiritual Day Blossom, Wisdom Blossom, Truth Blossom, God Blossom... and so on. 

               Meanwhile, Gagosian Gallery is filled with mournful landscapes of rows of perfectly aligned genuine or made up colored pills multiplied by their reflection on background mirrors, encased in heavy shiny stainless steel frames. Monochrome or multicolored, large or smaller pieces reflect a broken silhouette of the visitor surrounded by the pop-minimalist compositions lined up along the walls. Prototype for Lies, 1998, the first work of the series introduces the show. Walking through Cathedrals Built on Sand, one can ponder about our dependence on the attractive little fixes but the works bring little more for consideration. 

               From his mechanical spot paintings to his "back to nature" renditions of cherry trees, Damien Hirst embraces his love for color. "I love color. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz." However, his obsessive love for series is overshadowed by its commercial endeavor. Andy Warhol's quote comes to mind: "Making money is art and working is art and good business is best art". Going back to the cherry trees series, the "wow" of the first impression due to the abundance and closeness of the works rapidly fades and may not occur when the paintings are dispersed in museums or private collections. The artist has transformed the pink symphony of blooming cherry trees alluding to renewal and the lightness of being, into heavy renditions about the shortness of life.   

A final quote from Damien Hirst: "Art is like medicine-it can heal" Thank you Dr. Hirst.

pics by the author

Monday, July 5, 2021

Meet the Artist at the AcA


Reflection on the past? Prelude to a new beginning? A mid-career retrospective can be daunting for the artist, for the visitor too, often exposed to lengthy wall texts and a line up of works deemed relevant to the artist's career, displayed chronologically. None of this for Stephanie Patton: Comfort Zone 1993 - 2021, a lively, fun show, radiating the multi-talented artist's warm and caring personality. Born in New Orleans, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and moved North to receive a Master of Fine Arts in photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She then spent some time in New York City and studied vocal and comedic performance at the New SchoolUpright Citizens Brigade and Gotham Writers' Workshop. In 2001 Patton's Southern roots brought her back to Lafayette where she is teaching and pursuing her international career. The exhibition curated by Jaik Faulk at the Acadiana Center for the Arts reflects the artist's eclectic background and includes sculptures, paintings, iconic wall pieces, photographs, videos and installations. 

A pair of bronzed shoes set on a mirrored pedestal stands out in the middle of the vast main gallery partitioned for the show. The grandmother's empty shoes transformed into a keepsake like baby booties, allude to the process of reversion to infancy in old age. We can even look at ourselves while contemplating the piece! Like a memento mori, it also reminds us of the inevitability of death. Bronzed SAS Shoes, 2008, leads to two intimate spaces where, going back in time, we can get acquainted with the artist's alter ego, Renella Rose Champagne. A kitschy installation, a video of the artist performing as a (struggling country) singer, a photograph of Olympia-Patton (fully clothed) or disguised as a clown, are among a collection of items aligned along the walls. Advertisements for purses, shoes, compact discs, undergarments, magnets for refrigerators... Renella embraces pop. Like the girl next door she dreams of a traditional wedding and revels in the month-long preparations, documents lists of guests, collects newspaper clips and photographs. Boisterous, exuberant, bubbly, describe the creative energy of the artist, and the selected pieces exude her self-deprecatory humor which leaves us smiling. 

What better transition to Patton's next period than Toasty Warm Inside, 2008, a full-length luminous self-portrait? It seems that about ten years ago her career took a turn with new conceptual works. The spacious display allows to contemplate meditative pieces, monochrome white landscapes made of vinyl filled with batting like Revolve, 2019. Quilting evokes a domestic life, love being a required ingredient to perform the labor intensive task. Fluffy like clouds, soft like blankets, the soothing pieces are an invitation to rest and heal our minds. Another "series" involves mattress as a media for calligraphically perfect designs of interjections found throughout the show: Us, 2021, Join, 2020, You (Blue), 2020, can be interpreted according to context or mood. "You" can evoke a tender whisper in one's ear or an outburst of anger.

Mostly inspired by idioms found in her grandmother's mail catalog, Patton's videos complete the review of thirty years of her career. Making lemonade from lemons in Heal, 2011, walking on eggshells for Diffuse, 2008, or ripping off band-aids from her face in Conquer, 2013, Patton manages to interpret popular maxims through conceptual ideas, with a twist of humor. The flawless videos confirm the artist's attention to detail and her talent as a performer.
Dream, 2011, a video about "memory, death and the afterlife" in which the artist sings the famous song "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and a bird view of the show from the mezzanine complete the visit. 

Comfort zone filled with wit and loving care.

 Photograph by the author

Friday, April 30, 2021

iPad Painter

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston features two masters at once for its first contemporary art exhibition since reopening: Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney. Who has not seen "a van Gogh" or at least a reproduction? Hockney on the other hand, best known for his paintings of swimming pools inspired by California's lifestyle, has reached a more selective audience of connoisseurs in the United States. The show is the occasion to see the works from the artist whose 80's birthday was celebrated with a five-month-long comprehensive retrospective at The Centre Pompidou in 2017.  Hockney-van Gogh: The Joy of Nature which premiered at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, highlights the Dutch painter's influence on Hockney and their shared love of nature. Paintings, drawings and other works are displayed in a succession of rooms, each focused on a theme: landscapes, trees, the arrival of Spring, the four seasons, and in the last room, new perspectives. 

Back to his native Yorkshire in 2004 after spending more than two decades in California, Hockney began to paint 'en plein air'. His landscapes of Woldgate fill the first room, intermingled with a few carefully selected scenes from Van Gogh, to highlight the similarities between the paintings. Fields, forests, roads, skies, horizons, subject, style, perspective, colors, show the correspondence. The comparison goes on with close-ups of trees, followed by a display of seasonal scenes from both artists. The Arrival of Spring in 2013, a collection of twenty-five charcoal drawings emphasizes the delicate process of representing nature: first looking then rendering 'every bit of grass', and showcases Hockney's draftsmanship. Watercolors complete the display which as we progress features less paintings from Van Gogh and becomes a one man show with works noticeably larger and more experimental including the famous iPad drawings. To meet the challenge brought up by the size of his oil paintings, Hockney divides huge canvasses like The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011, into  thirty-two smaller units assembled like a grid and prints his iPad drawings on four sheets of paper. The resulting landscapes are an invitation to walk in the forest, under the trees, on the path, and savor the precious gift of nature. Hockney's passion for images brings him to look through the lens of a camera or better nine at once on a monitor installed on a moving vehicle to record the forest's seasonal changes in Woldgate. The bench in the middle of the room offers a place to rest while watching The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods, 2010-2011, a dizzying synchronized projection of thirty-six videos, nine per season and per wall, offering different views of the same scenery. After this visual overdrive, walking through the show's conclusion is underwhelming, from the blinding orange of the walls to only three pieces which highlight Hockney's search for new perspectives during his sixty-year career with In the Studio, December 2017, featuring the artist surrounded by 3D renditions of his works for a grand finale. 

Of course, setting the works of the two artists in the same room highlights the similarities between them, and also their differences: heavy brush and garish colors for Hockney who favors a naive style. It appears also that size does not matter regarding a work's content. Van Gogh's landscapes offer more than a visual feast with to quote the artist: "that flat landscape in which there was nothing but.......... the infinite... eternity." Over the years, it feels like Hockney the artist who keeps experimenting with new technologies to enrich his practice in his pursuit of ways to describe space, is becoming Hockney the neophile. This should not become his legacy. The exhibition focuses on a period less than a decade of a long career which is ongoing. Van Gogh was 37 years old when he died, a pauper. At 83 years old Hockney just discovered Normandy in France (where he can smoke) and announced two upcoming exhibitions, 116 iPad drawings/paintings for the reopening of  the Royal Academy of Arts in London  and one involving a 288-foot-long tapestry in Paris. Prices of his works are skyrocketing.
Will David Hockney be remembered for his iPad drawings? 

photographs by the author:

"The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011", David Hockney

"Tree Trunks in the Grass, April 1890", Vincent Van Gogh

"May Blossom on the Roman Road", 2009, David Hockney