Friday, September 24, 2010

Love in the Garden

With its title and the invitation's photograph, what a program for the yearly event at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

As a member of the New Orleans Museum of Art, I get invitations to balls, dances with local bands, movies, and now yoga sessions, Tai Chi and Chi Kung (?) in the galleries. Museums are creating programs, some of them I find questionable , to bring patrons.

This evening, I chose to attend the function. It is the occasion to look at the sculptures in the light of the flickering torches against the dark background of the night.

The music from the band and the culinary surprises provided by the finest restaurants in New Orleans make the visit very enjoyable.

The sculptures are taking another dimension and some become islands of lights, others become phantoms in the bushes. Their shadows mingle with the trees, and the garden becomes a new adventure.

The giant spider from Louise Bourgeois is trying to build a web around one of the tables and Segal's bench glows under the light.
I would not miss a walk in the Sculpture Garden at night... I do not think that I will attend the yoga session at the Museum.

photographs by the author

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dali: The Paintings

My latest reading is heavy. Before my visit to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which latest temporary exhibition features Dali, I started to read the book produced by Robert Descharnes and Gilles Neret. "Dali: The Paintings."

Composed of two volumes, Part I (1904 till 1946) and Part II ( 1946 till 1989), it includes 1648 illustrations and tells the great story of Dali. It contains extensive quotes from Dali's "Secret Life". The book is full of anecdotes which allow us to understand the complex human being and his conflicts.
The reporting of everyday events, like the story of his inspiration for the "Soft Watches" (the idea struck Dali one evening after eating camembert for dinner), never becomes mundane. We learn about Dali's anxieties, including his difficult relationships with women. His first meeting with Gala, who became is wife, is touching, and like any love story is unique. A detailed account of Dali's life including his relationship with his father, his friends, his financial difficulties and more, helps the reader understand the complexity of the man and the artist who was often called a genius and often misunderstood (he enjoyed both).
The reader can follow the maturation of the artist through his different periods, presented in the context of the art movements of the time with the history of his life in the background.
The book is also an extensive compilation (not a catalogue raisonne) of the artist's works with enlightening comments from the authors.

Some of the quotes from Dali's Secret Life :

" As a child I adored that noble prestige of old people, and I would have given all my body to become like them, to grow old immediately! I was the anti-Faust. Wretched was he who, having acquired the supreme science of old age, sold his soul to unwrinkle his brow and recapture the unconscious youth of his flesh! Let the labyrinth of wrinkles be furrowed in my brow with the red-hot iron of my own life, let my hair whiten and my step become vacillating, on the condition that I can save the intelligence of my soul."

"One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we christened reality is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams."

And many more...

Dali was looking for eternity...his work is timeless.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The High...

... is the Museum of Art in Atlanta. Named after the High family who donated the land on Peachtree Street. The High is located in Midtown and is easy to spot: a congregation of white buildings added over the years.

Richard Meyer (1934), who favors the color white, designed a 135,000-square-foot building in 1983. Two new buildings were added in 2002 to expand the museum's size to 312,000 square feet. The architect for this project is Renzo Piano (1937).
The color white is the only common feature between the buildings. The curvy building from Meyer otherwise clashes with the angulous shapes from Renzo Piano. Piano's style, who built the Menil Collection in Houston, is recognizable, but due to its scale, the buildings looks like vast, windowless, graceless hangars. The one level museum in Houston, also white, has a mediterranean flavor and the system of panels to filter the sunlight brings an extra nautical or aerial touch. Adding to the coldness of the High is the grey cement courtyard as opposed to the fresh green lawn in Houston.

Walking through the entrance, the visitor is surprised by the brightness of the surroundings and the vast space of the atrium which spreads from the first floor to the skyway level, white with a touch of blue through the glass ceiling (the day of the visit).

At each level, balconies overlook the central area, and a gently inclined walkway brings the visitors to the different levels.

The three buildings (the Stent Wing, the Wieland Pavillion, the Anne Cox Chambers Wing) are connected by glass bridges.

To the left, "Mouth #15" Tom Wesselman, 1968

There is no shortage of space for the permanent exhibition. Large walls and wood floors, the setting is ideal. However, the visit was short due to the lack of interesting collections. European, American paintings, sculptures, crystal, furnitures...the collections are sparse and made of minor works .

The goal of my visit was to see the temporary exhibition "Dali: The Late Work". The works were crammed on the walls or in the corners. The rooms were packed, full of visitors brought by this unique exhibition showing some rarely seen works. They were unable to take the few steps back and forth necessary to appreciate the visual effects of some of the paintings (for example: "Fifty Abstract Paintings") and feel the full impact of the monumental compositions like "Santiago El Grande". The temporary exhibition was not given the space it deserves.

The High has a lot of space, what about the content?

"The Shade" a sculpture from Rodin is a gift from the french governement to the High. 106 Atlanta arts patrons who died in an airplane crash at Orly airport in Paris in 1962.

"House III" Roy Lichtenstein, 1997 decorates the side of Meier's building.

photographs by the author

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Academic Surrealist or Surrealist Academician"

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta presents a well publicized exhibition titled: "Dali: the Late Work.". On display are the works produced during four decades (1940's till the 1980's) by the prolific artist. It could be called his post-Surrealist period ( he was banned from the Surrealist movement in 1934).

The first room is an introduction with photographs from Philippe Halsman showing the artist in various poses. The photographs from the series "The Cosmic Dali" are well-known with "Dali Atomicus" (1948), "Mid Summer Night's Mare" (1949) among others, a total of fifteen photographs to wet our appetite.

The second room is occupied by ten small paintings executed between 1930 and 1940, at a time when Dali was part of the Surrealist movement. Theses paintings represent for me the Dali I know the best. I came to see the late works.

Finally, the visitor reaches the subject of the exhibition. The gigantic canvasses, including "Madonna of Port Lligat" 1950, "Santiago El Grande" 1957, "Christ of St John of the Cross" 1951, "Assumpta Corpucularis Lapilazulina" 1952 have not been displayed in the United States since the 50s. A mixture of Surrealism and Classicism, they define the religious period of the artist. Dali mixes his own symbols (horns from rhinoceros, eggs from ostriches) and religious symbols. Gala, his wife becomes the virgin Mary. Pope Pius XII encouraged Dali to pursue his search for religion, the painter became an iconoclast in the process.

The technique of the artist is flawless. For the "Christ of St John of the Cross" , he uses chiaroscuro. The special angle looking at Christ from above makes the viewer feel like being God looking at the crucified subject who himself is looking down to the fishermen, representing us, the viewers.

The visit continues with Dali's preoccupations: genetic, atom, the search for eternity are the subjects of the works, lithogaphs, prints, paintings. He mixes art, science and some charlatanism.

A small room is dedicated to Dali, the illustrator: "Don Quixote", "Ten recipes for Immortality", "The divine Comedy" . These lithographs are well known, a reminder of the quality of the artist. The prints are technical masterpieces.

Random portraits of famous personages can be seen in a corner, also, in the same area, a few jewels and Dali's game of chess, his experimentation with holography, two videos for tired visitors, more photographs from Halsman. This section of the exhition does not flow well. It is just "put together".

Dali is also the precursor of Pop art. "Portrait of my Dead Brother" 1963, "Fifty Abstract Paintings" 1963, "The Sistine Madonna" 1958 are crammed with among other works the sculpture titled: "White Eagle" 1974. Unfortunately, the space is very crowded, and this visual experience is hampered by the size of the room.

And then, it is over. The special Dali store is right there, one can buy fake mustaches, cups with Dali's portrait, jewels...

As a whole I was deceived by the exhibition...not by Dali. The rarely seen works deserved a better setting. The High Museum of Art is not short of space and could have used three times the square footage for this exhibition to give it its full impact. It would also allow a better flow of the crowd.
Dali, Don Quixotte

photographs are reproductions from the book: " Dali: The Paintings" from Robert Descharmes and Gilles Neret, made by the author

1. "St. James of Compostela", 1957
2. "Landscape at Port Lligat", 1950
3. illustration for "pages choisies de Don Quichotte de la Manche" by Joseph Foret, 1957