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Archive for January, 2015

ThisIsNotABrush
It looks hap-hazard, doesn’t it, at first glance. There’s a frame within a frame within what might be another frame and things get a bit uncertain there, not at all like what you expect from a frame. The job of a frame is to separate the illusion created by the artwork from the banal, certain reality of the wall. But this frame is not only blurry but it seems to be sliding off into the lower left. Or is it emerging from the lower left? So you ponder this. Then you notice a small white rectangle in the upper left and, oh, another one in the lower right. Now your eye goes back and forth between the two, crossing the painting diagonally. There’s another white rectangle attached to the “frame” in the middle, a bigger one, and you pause there as you go diagonally upper-left-lower-right. Then there’s that brush. This may actually have been the first thing you noticed in the whole painting. What happened there? What’s it doing there? Did the artist drop it accidentally? Well, no, that wouldn’t be accidental, because she had taken one of her brushes and painted one side blue. Then what. She must have deliberately placed it on her canvas painted side down. This is indeed what she did, quite deliberately, carefully and quickly, on the spur of the moment and as the last act in making this work of art. It’s witty and it’s profound. The imprint of the brush brings the “frame issue” even more into focus. Ha, what focus? This painting has us coming and going on this question of what’s illusion, what’s reality. And that’s a  good thing.
Painting by Maria Palacios. Oil on canvas, 24×30.
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Wyeth3
Oh, Wyeth, I thought, I don’t like Wyeth. I had just walked in at the 7th Street entrance, said hello to some Dutch masters, Helen Frankenthaler, De Kooning and Jackson Pollack. And then there was a sign pointing to Andrew Wyeth watercolors. I was familiar with his paintings, admired them for their composition and austerity, but, really, Mr. Wyeth, all these individual brush strokes for dried grass. Hill and hills of brush strokes for dried brownish grass. Oh, well, I shrugged to myself, I’ll just go in and have a quick walk through.
My jaw dropped at the sight of the first piece, a pencil sketch he did for Wind from the Sea (1947). Then he worked out a watercolor of the same motif, the curtain blowing in the window. Oh, my!

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His watercolors are wild! The brush stokes—big brush!—are furious, ruthless, raggedy, dripping, bleeding, dragged dry. The watercolors are large, about 20 x 24, and each looks as if had been done in a frenzy of concentration, in maybe 15 minutes. Here’s the quote I took down from one of the walls:
“I break loose…and there are scratches and spit and mud…that’s what gives them some quality.”
Some quality, indeed. And yes, he ripped into the heavy paper with a knife or razor blade, he stressed the paper to the point of wrinkling, and the mud was passionate mud. He probably did spit and sweat.
Then why are his paintings so, well, fussy. Individual blades of grass, individual threads on torn curtains. Maybe, after breaking loose in a watercolor or two, he got out his tempera and oils to calm himself down.
I have no idea how long I was in that gallery. I lost track of time.

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Drawings and watercolors often don’t reproduce well in art books. The immediacy, the “spit and mud,” is lost in reproductions and prints.
What a revelation this exhibit was! It closed two days later. I will hop on a plane the next time someone puts up a Wyeth watercolor exhibit.
(Photography was not allowed, of course. I’m pulling images from the web here. Again, these only hint at the passion of Andrew Wyeth. I could not find the pencil drawing or the watercolor he did for Wind from the Sea and, in any case, no reproduction would do. Shown above is the tempera painting.)
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portrait-of-adele-bloch-bauer-i(1).jpg!Blog
When I saw Klimt’s golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer at the Neue Galerie in NY in December I thought “mummy”—as in dead, as in Egyptian.
What if instead of creating a celebration of Adele’s beauty, both physical and spiritual, Klimt was really showing his disgust with her wealth and status in society?
Most of the surface is gold leaf. He only painted her face, shoulders, forearms and hands. She is quite simply trapped and lifeless in gobs of gold. She is dead and buried. The association to Egyptian mummification is strengthened by what looks like the Egyptian hieroglyphics for “eye” all through the central panel under her face. This may be a reference to her reputation as an art lover, i.e. having an “eye for art and beauty.”
The painting is dated 1907. We can be sure that Adele was flattered by being shown wrapped in all this gold, which has a long history of being associated with royalty, but also, going back to Byzantine icons, with heaven and divinity.
What if artists are not as dumb and subservient as their wealthy patrons consider them to be? What if Gustav Klimt, who thought of himself as a prophet and above societal conventions, played a joke on Mr. Bloch-Bauer? He took his money and handed him a dead thing. Or, as Peter Schjeldahl calls it, a “flattish bauble, a thing, a whatsit.” Schjeldahl covers the money angle, which is what this is all about:
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/changing-my-mind-about-gustav-klimts-adele
John Malkovich is worth seeing in “Klimt,” directed by Raoul Ruiz, 2006.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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Toes2
Let us now praise famous toes.Famous squooshed toes, that is.

Why is Eirene’s little toe deformed? It’s 360 BCE. Nobody was wearing narrow pointed high heeled boots in Athens at the time.  How did the sculptor come up with the idea of hammering such a crooked little toe out of his marble block?
ToesGSThe Greeks were famously obsessed with perfection and in the visual arts that meant the Golden Section. As an example, you can see that Eirene’s peplos drapes at about the line dividing her body into the Golden Section. But the little toe? Now, granted the Athenians had lost the war with Sparta in 404 BC and were understandably demoralized. They stopped writing juicy drama and instead produced brittle philosophy. Maybe their obsession with perfection gave way to a sense of humor. I was startled by the sight of this toe. It’s funny. Should it be? Can this be explained? Has anyone written a monograph on Athenian toes? Or will I have to live through this coming year distracted by this weighty mystery?
Sappho1I walked on. Heading towards the Café next to the sculpture court at the Met, I was tripped up by yet another set of toes. Here’s a tense, heroic Sappho wiggling her toes as if playing the piano and, look, her little toe is puny and out of line.

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What’s going on here? This sculpture is from the 19th century. Could it be that for two thousand years sculptors have been encoding their deepest existential gloom in little toes and nobody’s taken notice!? The little toe cries out for recognition. The little toe needs to be understood. The little toe demands scholarly attention. The little toe is the elephant in the room.
Ahem. I know three things about toes. 1) only men have foot fetishes, no women do; 2) ballerinas do their best point work if they have the most toes in a straight line; 3) our evolution may dispense with the little toe (and little finger) altogether, over many more eons.

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So, my first thoughts of the new year are on solid ground, on an uneven footing and draped in mystery. I like it already.
An uneven, alert 2015 to us all!
Marble statue of Eirene (personification of peace), Roman, Julio-Claudian period circa 14-68 CE. Copy of Greek bronze statue, 375-359 BCE. By Kephisodotos
Sappho. Marble, 1895. By Compte Prosper D’Epinay (1836-1914)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com
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