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Posts Tagged ‘Indianapolis Museum of Art’

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You won’t learn anything about existentialism in this post, existentialism being the de rigueur ism to bring up when you need to sound smart in a conversation about modern art.

Instead of being smart, let’s play a game.  Let’s imagine you stumbled upon an exhibit at, say, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where the paintings of Lionel Feininger (1871-1956) and Edward Hopper (1882-1967) were shown side by side. (That’s a game good museums actually like to play, which is what makes them so exiting to go to.  At the Art Institute of Chicago, for example, paintings are moved around frequently so that you can see a familiar painting next to new neighbors and therefore gain new insights without anyone lecturing you about anything.)

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Feininger was a prolific artist, who early in his career worked figuratively, even as a caricaturist and cartoonist,  and later tended to work with linear forms in his compositions.  In the 1920’s, when Hopper was visiting Europe, Feininger was teaching at the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau.  There’s no chance that they met, given Hopper’s disinterest in modern art.

No matter.  They were contemporaries, working with architectural forms in their paintings. It’s only fair to put them side by side.

The first thing you notice is the figure in the Hopper painting.  Now try to imagine the painting without the figure.

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It doesn’t hold your attention, does it?

Look at some Feininger compositions.  Do they need a human figure to grab you?  No. These compositions are engaging and absorbing as they are.

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Hopper seems to be primarily interested in geometrical patterns, but because what he comes up with is flat, hard-edged and obvious, he adds a figure to focus your attention.  The figure inevitably looks isolated and alienated, which makes for a facile match with existentialist jargon.

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The Indianapolis Museum of Art (“Newfields’) reopened on July 17th with an exhibit about Edward Hopper.

I am glad the curators included some of his drawings because they present the most lively work in this show.

The above drawing is dated in the 1950’s.  It may have been a study for the painting “People in the Sun,” 1960.

What fascinates me is that the drawing is lively and energetic, while the painting is, well, dead.

Hopper’s mind as he contemplated a man in a lawn chair looking over a desolate landscape was nevertheless agitated. We don’t know by what–memories or necessary imminent decisions or shocking insights.  It’s an agitated drawing scribbled out in a frenzy of concentration, took maybe all of five minutes.

But the painting looks like sheer drudgery, as if he just wanted to get it done and be finished with it.

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If the artist intended to satirize the alienation of modern life,  he failed.  I think, the image fails as satire because it lacks wit.

We instantly recognize it as a Hopper because human forms are part of the geometry of the composition.

Let that be my introduction to Edward Hopper at the IMA.  You can tell that I have issues with this show and with the interpretation of this artist.

So far we have some key concepts: agitation, alienation, drudgery, modern life, geometry, human form,  satire and wit.

Stay tuned.

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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“There were two of them, they were sisters, they were large women, they were rich, they were very different one from the other one…”—Gertrude Stein

The Cohn sisters, Claribel Cone (1864–1929) and Etta Cone (1870–1949), lived in Baltimore, traveled 13CohnMatisse1extravagantly and amassed an extensive art collection.  Claribel called her apartment in the Marlborough in Baltimore “the museum.” They knew not only Gertrude Stein but also Picasso and Matisse.  Matisse became a friend and visited them in Baltimore in the 1930’s.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has put together a Matisse show gleaned from the Cone collection that is well worth the drive.

If you can’t make it to Indy before the show closes on January 12, you can pick up a copy of Brenda Richardson’s “Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta,” 1985, which has excellent reproductions of Matisse drawings and paintings in the collection.  I own a copy and have studied the paintings in reproduction there, but seeing the originals…Oh!

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The book has all twenty-one stages of “Large Reclining Nude” that are buried under the final version, the twenty-second layer of paint.  Matisse worked on the painting from May to October 1935 and took photographs at twenty-one stages of its development.  This is fascinating enough.  You think!  But seeing the original, now in Indy for the exhibit, reveals yet another aspect of how hard he worked on this painting.  He struggled with color.  To get the color dynamic right, he pinned swatches of color paper or cloth onto the canvas.  You can see the pin holes!

This is a smart show. It stresses the work process. Matisse looks fast and loose, doesn’t he?!  Makes you feel light and freed from conventions. Go to Indy and see how hard he worked to make you feel that way.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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