Friday, February 22, 2013

Dali, Thirty Years Later

A few weeks have passed since my visit at the Centre Pompidou in Paris to see the exhibition Dalí, a short title for a major retrospective: one hundred and twenty paintings, sculptures, videos, drawings, surrealist objects, even a kitschy Mae West installation where people can take photographs of themselves. I was in the crowd thirty years ago for the exhibition Salvador Dalí: Retrospective 1920-1980 and the artist was present. Dali would love it, the crowd is at the rendez-vous, the interest for his work does not abate.

I calculated a minimum of  ten minutes per painting, twenty hours...! The works are organized into seven sections: "The Ultralocal and the Universal", "From the Residencia de estudiantes to the Paths of Surrealism", "Surrealism and the Paranoiac-Critical Method", "Myths and History", "Theatricality", "Science, Mysticism and Theory", "Self-Reference and Great Machines". I chose my own path along the cubist, then surrealist paintings on each side of the large space occupied by glass cases full of surrealist objects, prints, drawings in the middle. There is a feeling of exhilaration when looking at the "real thing" like The Persistance of Memory, 1931, The Temptation of St Anthony, 1946, William Tell, 1940 or The Great Masturbator 1929. What I find most interesting is to discover less known paintings, some loaned by the Dali Museum in Saint-Petersburg, Florida. A flavor of  de Chirico, Miró, Tanguy... Dalí has been accused of plagiarism, ultimately he is Surrealism (as he claimed) and this is my preferred period.
An area was dedicated to the works inspired by Millet's Angelus, including Dalí's Angelus, 1932, The Architectural Angelus of Millet, 1933 , Gala's Angelus, 1935 .The original  work from Jean-François Millet lost in a corner appeared small compared to the giant, brightly colored spawns from Dalí.
Few sculptures were displayed, the Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1936/1964 was among them. To find more sculptures, a trip to Espace Dali in Montmartre is in order.
To accommodate the flow of visitors the space was left opened with no partitions between sections, only posters at strategic points and no area to rest for the tired visitor. Young children looking at the paintings with fresh eyes were asking a lot of questions...
The videos were a reminder of Dali's involvement with the movie industry. Dalí has been chastised for his political views and the exhibition brought up the subject with paintings like Partial Hallucinations.Six Images of Lenin on a Grand Piano, 1931, or Spain, 1938, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War, 1936, Hitler masturbating, etc... His interest in science and also religion was also approached but the presentation of this later period was superficial and could not match the exhaustive exhibition "Dali the Late Work" which took place at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2010, including his works  with a Pop art's flavor.
The exhibition started with several self-portraits,  Self-portrait with the Neck of Raphael, 1920-1921 showing a young Dalí, defiant, imitating Old Masters like Leonardo da Vinci for his landscapes and a Cubist Self-Portrait 1923. His Self-Portrait 1972, closes the exhibition. The long neck from Raphael is still present, the photomontage of  "Mao Marylin" created by Philippe Halsman updates his image with new icons.

Preoccupied with universal themes, death, time, birth, love, sexuality, war, science, his works are timeless.  Dali has been criticized, praised, vilified, adored and each exhibition generates new books and new reviews. It sounds like cliché with a dalinian vocabulary: exhibitionism, Freudian, contradiction, provocation , eroticism, genius, madman, hallucinations, paranoiac, psychoanalytical...

Another memorable exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, another memorable retrospective of Dalí's work to fulfill one of his wishes: art accessible to everyone.

photographs by the author

"Venus and a Sailor", 1925
""Self-Portrait", 1940-41
"The Spectral Cow", 1928 

recommended reading: "Dali The Paintings" from Robert Descharnes- Gilles Neret  (Taschen)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dusti Bongé on the Coast

Two exhibitions for one artist, from the Ohr O-Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the works of Dusti Bongé are on the walls. Born in Biloxi, Bongé came back to her hometown after a stint in Chicago, then New York where she was represented by the Betty Parsons gallery. She chose to paint for ...the sake of painting and ignore the pressures of the art world. The rediscovery of the artist is long overdue and these two exhibitions are the occasion for the public to view the works, known mainly by insiders or friends.

My journey to discover the artist started at the Ohr O-Keefe Museum of Art. In the large gallery, five early works from the 40's are gathered on one side: landscapes, boats, buildings and two self-portraits. Representative of the painter's realistic style influenced by Cubism during that period, they are a testimony of her love for colors. The bulk of the exhibition consists of her later works from the early 90's, approximately twenty small watercolors on Joss paper organized around abstract or semi-abstract oil paintings from the 50's  and 80's. The eye is immediately attracted to the large oil paintings, due to their size and also their colors. Big Red, 1987, illuminates the space with its fiery vibrant reds, Infinity, 1980, another major piece with subdued colors and a poetic undertone is contrasting with darker compositions like Oyster Chorus, showing the rich palette of the artist. The small works usually 8 1/4 inches by 3 3/4 require a closer look. They represent an abstract microcosm, a visual oxymoron: small, watercolors, abstract. The vigor of the lines, the intensity of the colors, dark blue, green, bright orange give a palpable energy to the miniature pieces. The silver or gold square shaped leaves define the story. Bongé challenges the viewer by conveying her message through a small scale.
The carefully selected but limited works assembled for Bongé a retrospective left me somewhat hungry for more and  the next stop at the Walter Museum of Art did fulfill my wish.

The abundance of works representing all stages of the artist's career went beyond my expectations. Starting from the entrance, on both sides of the long hall, the paintings are displayed more or less by chronological order and continue into the gallery, right and left. My recent acquired knowledge at the Ohr allowed me to recognize the period of the 40's. The display follows the maturation of the artist's style, her search for colors and lines to reach her ultimate goal, uninhibited spontaneity. Encouraged by her husband not to attend art school, she followed his advice. The paintings are grouped by series, starting in the early 50's she investigates semi-abstraction, a game of positive and negative simple shapes against a pure background in paintings like The Marriage of Blue and Green, 1952 or Below Looks Up, 1952. Her "Circus Series" are another example of her search, full of movement with twirling shapes and a surrealistic influence. She reaches pure abstraction with paintings like Untitled White, Blue, Red Abstract, in 1956. The generous gesture, the boldness of the colors transfer on the canvas the wish of the painter to give the viewer "part of her".

 The combination of the two exhibitions allows to view the full spectrum  of Dusti Bongé's career, from the 40's till her late works from the 90's.
I concluded my trip with a visit at the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in old town Biloxi. The 30 minutes video available on the foundation's Website, realized in 1982, gives an insight on Bongé's art from the artist's point of view.

Few female painters chose the adventure of abstract and in her quiet way, Dusti Bongé was a pioneer.

photographs by the author

"Self-Portrait", 1936-39
View of the exhibition at the Ohr O-Keefe Museum
"Untitled, White, Blue, Red Abstract", 1956
"Void #6", 1982
"Silver Beach", 1959

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mardi Gras

                                              Mardi Gras in New Orleans
                                                 Walter Inglis Anderson

photograph by the author at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Forest of Drawings

At the Newcomb Art Gallery, the installation is black and white with the drawings from Sandra Pani a Mexican artist.The giant panels (118 x 43 inches) hanging from the ceiling transform the space in a maze where the visitor can gaze at different stages of metamorphosis of humans into trees. Spines become trunks, branches float, roots support fragile giants. The Greek goddess Daphne was transformed into a tree by her mother Gaia to avoid Apollo's pursuit, a rebirth of a sort. In fairy tales, trees are alive and speak. Shape shifting often involves magic. The grey shadows softening the black shapes on the white background create an atmosphere of unfinished process...
a quest to solve the mystery of reincarnation.

photograph by the author

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Business of Art

Published in 2008, the book written by Don Thompson "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: the Curious Economics of Contemporary Art" is still very relevant and if the 12 million stuffed shark is already old news, the economics of contemporary art is more than ever a fascinating subject.

The author, avoiding technicalities clearly defines the actors, their roles and interactions: galleries, dealers, collectors, auction houses, museums, artists, a world where economics appear to have a different set of rules. The numerous stories or anecdotes, official versions of well-known rumors make the book very entertaining. The postscript is clear: it should not be used as an academic reference.

But here is a cold fact exposed in the book: art is also about money, big money. The numbers keep growing and the zeros multiplying.
Speculation? Business? The analysis of the economically driven art world is skewed by fashion, egos, cunning and The author avoids cynicism when describing with virtuosity questionable transactions where at the end everybody should make money.
A major point made in the book is about the growing slice of the market taken over by the auction houses and the increasing difficulty for galleries and dealers to compete with them. Economics in contemporary art are changing.

This book is essential to understand the business of art... which goes beyond business.

photograph Flickr