Monday, October 30, 2017

Nicolas Cerone


Every year I discover two or three mid-century ABX painters whom I've never seen before.

The above piece, though less than 30 inches long, feels quite spacious - and it's been very carefully painted.


Figure drawing was demanded by art schools in the 1940's, and apparently Cerone never stopped   doing it.

This drawing might suggest that Cerone's abstract paintings began as a page of figurative quick sketches. 


What's especially surprising is the quality of this elegant bronze  -  given that the artist apparently made so few.   His raw talent for this kind of work must have been phenomenal.


This piece is so different from the solidity and angularity of the pieces shown above it.


This looks like a preparatory sketch for an interesting narrative painting that was never made.

2001, Signals for the Blind

If only this piece made some kind of narrative sense.

If only it achieved the beauty towards which it seems to be heading.


I'm going to title this  "Adam and Eve Driven from Paradise" or maybe "Lost Souls in Hell"

It reminds me a lot of Jim Dine's recent work

These pieces seem to fail both as portraits and as paintings.  They're dull, clumsy, ugly, and boring.

What was he thinking?

This piece reminds of Matisse's radical inventions

Overall -- Cerone's combinations of figure drawing and abstract painting feel awkward.

I like him best when he's doing the one or the other.

If only he had specialized in figure sculpture!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Ludke Visits the Solovetsky Monastery

Apparently Chicago's climate is too mild for my friend Ludke.  She's always traveling to the less temperate places in the world - including this journey to Nepal that I recorded here ten years ago.

This Summer, she was off to the arctic circle by the shores of the White Sea - about  650 miles due north of Moscow.  Damn - but that must be a very cold place.

Though as you can see above - it can be quite beautiful -- in a grim sort of way.

The only people crazy enough to live there would be religious fanatics.  Knowing God as a cold, judgmental, and rather distant character -- that's where some monks went looking for him about six hundred years ago. And they built a monastery on the Solovetsky islands.

It's astounding to me that anyone would want to build a home here - and even more astounding that anyone would want to take that home away from them.

But that's why the monastery needed such thick, heavy walls.

Despite them -- the place has been besieged and sacked many times over the centuries that followed.

How did the monks keep these buildings warm in the arctic winter?

As you can see - some areas are still in need of restoration.

And some areas need repair more than others.

Being so cold, dark, remote, and forbidding -- it was an ideal place for the Tsar to send political prisoners.

Comrade Lenin turned it into the USSR's first Gulag.

Above are some relics from that era.

This hall seems to have been recently restored.


Here's the best reason to go there.

Obviously, this gallery is glorious -- but from these photos, it's hard to tell the quality of the paintings.  They seem to come from different eras.

I might become a monk myself -- if I got to live in this room.

What could possibly be behind this doorway
that is anywhere near as wonderful as the doorway itself?

It's like all the poetry, music, and art
that marks the path to eternal salvation.

Even if there is nothing behind that door
 other than a brick wall,
it was still worth building it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jennifer Packer at the Renaissance Society

These are some of the most luscious, passionate florals I've seen by contemporary artists.

Their beauty is diverse and wanton  - as if the plants want to keep growing - with new and different blossoms - extending beyond the boundaries of the frame

But what's even more surprising is where they are now being shown: The Renaissance Society gallery on the campus of the University of Chicago.  It has been a showplace for avant garde art ever since 1915.

When was the last time a traditionally beautiful and observational floral painting was hung there ?


Perhaps we might call this the Kerry James Marshall effect.

KJM is the painter who made history and American Scene painting acceptable in the world of academic contemporary art.

Why did he succeed ?

Because he's very good at it --- and just as importantly---- he's telling the story about "Black Lives Matter"


Of course... one might ask  how these flowers have anything more to do with African Americans than with Americans of Polish, Italian, or  Scandinavian backgrounds.

So I'm not sure that Packer would have gotten this show -- unless she also painted portraits of Black people.

Her figure painting is less satisfying for me.  They seem more like story illustrations than like paintings.

They seem to belong on the cover of a novel - the kind that  tells a sad story of people who feel trapped in their lives.