Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Definition of Classical

Antoine Coypel, detail from the ceiling of the Royal Chapel, Versailles, 1716

"Le dessein elegant de l'antique sculpture, Joint aux effets naifs que fournit la nature" - Antoine Coypel
The above quotation was brought to my attention by Susanna Caviglia in her essay "Roccoco Classicisms" that accompanied the 2017 "Classicisms" exhibit at the Smart Museum. 
As the catalog pointed out,  "Classical art" deserves the scare quotes because it has been far from a singularity.   The term itself did not appear until after 1810 - a century after Coypel had  died.
But since I use it prescriptively , that is exactly how I would define the profession of Classical art. Like any language,  it stands upon a foundation of tradition. But in a way unique to the Greco-Roman-Western European tradition, it continues to naively engage with nature.
In the visual arts -- that engagement is called life drawing.

In the same catalog, Rebecca Zorach offers a similar formulation:  "In Vasari's account of the relationship between Masaccio and Masolino working on the Brancacci Chapel,  or the competition of Brunelleschi and Ghiberti over the Florentine Baptistery doors, the classical constitutes itself as a matter of volumetric and ordered forms freely inspired by Greco-roman sculpture yet naturalistically animated" (note: Vasari wrote that Masaccio "gave a beginning to beautiful attitudes, movements, liveliness, and vivacity, and to a certain relief truly characteristic and natural; which no painter up to his time had ever done")

I  admire the detail shown at the top of this post - but unfortunately, Coypel (1661-1722)  cannot survive comparison with his incredible contemporary,  Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1970).  Online, most of Coypel's work looks like it was done by a Disney cartoonist.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Remarkable Aay Preston-Myint

This was the most eye-catching piece in the DePaul Art Museum last weekend -- and that includes three exhibits on two floors.  It's symphonic.  It's overwhelming.

Not even the early Modernists (Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, et al)  could generate more visual excitement.  A hundred years ago,  Preston-Myint would have been painting sets for the Ballet Russe.

It's included in an exhibit for artists "who address the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic in North America through the lens of childhood, education, popular culture and race".  To quote gallery signage, this artist was  "inspired by his own relationship to the history and present-day manifestations of AIDS activism and its relationship to nightlife."

I sense a connection to nightlife --- but not the disease.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Remembering Ann Nathan Gallery

More galleries seem to be closing than opening -- at least, the galleries that I like.

Ann Nathan's gallery showed more dramatic figurative painting than any other gallery in Chicago, and I began visiting many years before I began writing about what I saw.

The middle brow market wants sweet and  sentimental  figure painting.  The high brow (and investment grade) market wants darkness, irony, and nihilism.  Her shows were somewhere in between - which is where I also like to be.

In some ways the closing of an art gallery has much more impact than the passing of an artist.  When a gallery closes, many artists drop out of sight.

The lifespan of an established art gallery really ought to be celebrated at a place like  the Chicago Cultural Center -  gathering together the many artists whom the gallery has shown over the years  to mark a distinct moment in the history of Chicago culture.

I'm really going to miss her.

But on the bright side,  her assistant, Victor Armendariz, will be opening
his own gallery in March, with many of the same artists.

I can't wait!

Here are the Ann Nathan shows that I reviewed over the past 8 years:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Two new paintings at the Art Institute

Sebastiano del Piombo
 Christ Carrying the Cross (1515/1517)


Here's the Italian High-Renaissance painting that was recently purchased by the Art Institute.

It was originally part of a triptych  commissioned by Jerónimo Vich y Valterra (1459-1535), who  was Spain’s ambassador to Rome between 1506 and 1521. Trained in Venice, Sebastiano moved to Rome where he served the Papal court along with both Raphael and Michelangelo.

He collaborated with both of them, though his performance is hardly in the same league.

Several copies were made - above is the original -- the one that Vich bequeathed to his heirs - the one that is now in the Prado.

So how does the Chicago copy compare with the original?

A detail is shown above -- with the Prado version at the top.
Even allowing for the defects of my amateur photography -- it does seem that the Prado's version is more sharply modeled.

Did someone  else paint the Chicago copy?  Did Sebastiano himself paint it, but not with the same intensity as when he painted the original?

We'll never know --- but we still can judge which is the better painting.

It's not that this painting is so bad -- it's just not that great.

Here's Del Piombo's portrait of a gentleman who may have been Christopher Columbus.

Online - this is my favorite  Del Piombo painting. It's a detail from a Pieta, done in 1517.
It feels like something Zurbaran might have done a hundred years later.

Here's a detail from a fresco in San Pietro in Montorio.  It was executed 1516-1524.
Michelangelo provided preparatory drawings for one of the other paintings, and certainly feels present here as well. (though in a mangled sort of way)

 The Divine Shepherdess, Quito, c. 1780

Spanish Colonial paintings from The Thoma Collection are on display at the Art Institute through next April, and this one was my favorite.

Over the past few decades, Spanish Colonial art has been emerging as a museum worthy genre, thanks to collectors like the Thoma family who loan their collections to museums.

It's been especially welcome in  Chicago thanks to both our Latin population and our Chicago Imagists.  One might call it un-intended Surrealism.

To me, it feels infantile.  Not that it's been made by children -- but that it's been made for adults who are being treated like children by a priesthood that serves the perpetuation of a sharply defined  European ruling class in a land full of indigenous, illiterate peasants.

But even children's books can occasionally have some good illustration.

This vision of the Virgin might also serve well as the East Asian bodhisattva of compassion, the Guanyin

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Art Expo Chicago: 2016

Willem De Kooning,  1965

Early last year, I had the unpleasant experience of being stopped at the entrance to a commercial art gallery in Chicago and being asked to pay a $20 admission fee.

Who me?  You want me to pay you $20 so I can look at your merchandise and then, possibly, write about it?

The gallerist was adamant. 

Presumably he had qualified me as a non-buyer -- and he was absolutely correct.

On the other hand -- why would I pay a fee to see the work of an artist unknown to me?


For me, art is entirely a viewing rather than a collecting experience.  I don't like to look at the same piece day after day after day.  They turn boring -- then annoying --and finally become as invisible as cracks in the wall.

I wonder what Art Expo would look like if it were entirely funded by  admission fees instead of by sales.

So much of what's shown  seems to be nothing more than Bling -- i.e. expensive baubles intended for the walls of luxury lakefront condominiums.

A very small percentage interests me -- but then, so much is on display -- I am well entertained for a few hours. It's definitely worth the $20.

The highlight of this year's show, for me, was the above oil-on-paper by Willem De Kooning.

It looks like that dedicated Abstract Expressionist just couldn't get accessible, copulating females off his mind.

Delicious in detail as well.

Here's another piece he did in the same year. (it was not at Art Expo).

I like these paintings way, way more than "Excavation", his alleged masterpiece at the Art Institute.

Perhaps it's the subject matter.

Nicholas Africano

Here's another artist who presents naked women -- but more  like how they appear, than like how it feels to be with them.

I love this guy's sculptures - as well as his amazing commercial achievement of creating a market for contemporary classical figure sculpture.

Each of the above pieces were brought to Expo by three separate galleries.
And his pieces have been appearing at these shows every year that I have blogged about them - going back to 2006.

All of his figures are young, trim, handsome, and quiet. Very quiet.

If you're  going to keep attractive young people about the house --it's good if they are quiet.

Armin Boehm, 2009

Here's a young German painter whom I like  -- or -- at least I like this painting. Looking online, he also makes multi-figure scenes that are less promising.

Betty Woodman, b. 1930

I tend to prefer minimalism in ceramics: the simple bowl with a few muted colors.

But this old woman's stuff is an exception. She's a swinging octogenarian.

I found this pot when looking her up on the internet. As my good friend, the potter John Putnam, says: it looks  Tang Dynasty.

And what complement could be more effusive?

Catherine Maize

Cluttered -- but not.

As is the rest of creation.

Catherine remains one of my favorite natural philosophers.

Franz Kline, 1958

Heroic in design, if not in size.

This small piece shows how careful he could be.


Friedel Dzubas, 1975

My first experience with this early ABX painter (born 1915 Germany)

Hans Hoffman, 1952

I'm not especially fond of this piece - it feels too much like a  tossed salad.

But it's always interesting to see what this important teacher was up to.

Harold Haydon

The more I see of this Chicago artist/teacher/critic, the more I like.

He had a theory/gimmick:  "binocularism".

It's silly -- but I like the results anyway.

While the leading Chicago painters were depicting monsters or nightmares -- he painted school children.

So I like him even more.

Andrew Holmquist

A local painter who  continues to get wilder and  crazier - if that were possible.

We just bought our first flat panel television - and experienced the incredible depth, texture, and color that it offers in comparison with the older cathode ray tube technology that we just hauled off to the trash.

It's my theory that young artists like Holmquist grew up with the new kind of television, and that accounts for the manic visual disruption of his paintings.

 Magalie Guerin

Whatever the group show, her pieces continue to jump out for me - with their own defiant and beautiful self determination.

She's Chicago's next Miyoko Ito.


Manuel Mendive (2006)

His 2012 piece in the concurrent "Drapetomania" show  of Afro-Cuban art at the DuSable Museum
did not attract me as much as this one.

Were recreational drugs involved?

Marlborough Gallery

The Marlborough Gallery has finally returned to Art Expo after a long absence (five years?)

They used to bring painters like Vincent Desiderio, Claudio Bravo, and Odd Nerdrum.

Quite a lineup!

This time they just brought sculptural bling.

Very disappointing.

Matthew Carter

Here's a few harlequin patterns so exciting -- I thought they came from a Caribbean Mardi Gras parade.

But indeed the artist came from downstate Illinois and now lives in Los Angeles where he got his MFA.

His work feels both wonderful and effortless.

Morris Barazani (1924-2015)

A fine early piece by one of Chicago's leading Abstract Expressionists.


Ralston Crawford, 1955

Another artist who was new to me.

He started out doing techno industrial landscapes -- like Sheeler -- and then kept doing the same thing in a non representational way.

This painting hung side-by-side with Stuart Davis -- which is where it belonged.

Raphael Soyer, "Melancholia", 1972

Why isn't this mood depicted any more?

Maybe people feel melancholy enough as it is -- who needs any more?

I'm  doubting that this woman will ever have the energy to get dressed.

This kind of figure painting definitely pre-dates the flat screen TV.

Stephen Coyle

A  nice use of photographic material

Steven Assael

Reminds me of the Romantic dramatics of Henry Fuseli.  I can't relate to it, but it certainly stands out as unique in our time.

Vera Klement

This early work,  from about 40 years ago, feels more autobiographic than more recent work.
So it's much more compelling.

Wayne Thiebaud, 1972

Cloud meets mound.

Very funny.

Here's another list of selections -most of which look pretty good now, but somehow escaped my notice at the show itself.