Sunday, June 17, 2018

Basement Storm Door

The above pattern was created by the effects of sun and water on the aluminum storm door that leads to our basement.

It's pleasant enough - especially when it glistens after a rain -so I have no interest in cleaning it off.

Often nature makes beautiful things -- like waterfalls or quartz or a woman's delicate ankle.

Xu Longsen

Above is a contemporary brush painting currently on display in one of the Asian galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago.

It's much larger -- about six feet on each side -- and it feels more profound, mysterious, and heart-felt.
The forces of Nature are cold and  heartless - while every human (or most every human) was born into a mother's love.

But it still seems to have much in common with my basement door.

Here is Lori Waxman's feature in the Chicago Tribune

Here is my self-published review

At the beginning of her review, Ms. Waxman queries:

"What does it mean, then, for a major new series of paintings by Xu Longsen, a Chinese artist born in Shanghai in 1956, to be installed throughout the galleries of Chinese, Japanese and Korean Art?"

Why isn't it in the Modern Wing where other contemporary Chinese artists like Ai WeiWei have been exhibited?

She does not attempt to answer that question.

It might be noted that this is not the first time that living Asian artists have been exhibited in the Asian wing.  It has happened before with  calligraphy, ceramics, and basket weaving done in a traditional manner.

Yet still -- this exhibition seems exceptional.  It's so huge -- and not entirely traditional.

One possible explanation for its installation in the Asian wing might be that the new curator of Asian art was more interested  than was the curator of contemporary art.

Or perhaps Xu Longsen felt that  feng shui of the Asian galleries, especially the Ando, was better  than any available space in the Modern Wing -- though I'm sure he would have had no problem creating pieces for the cavernous Griffin Court.

Since the Art Institute likes to keep such issues private, we'll probably never know.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Xavier Toubes at the Chicago Cultural Center

I've already written about this ceramicist in a review for New City back when he showed at Perimeter Gallery.  There's  not much more I could add about this show at the Chicago Cultural Center - except that perhaps it's even more hedonistic.

I wonder if he collects Javanese puppets ?  That piece on the left certainly reminds me of some mischievous demon in Wayang.

Every streak and drip feels so loose - yet so perfect.

Is that a self portrait of the artist's face at the very top ?  He's certainly given this figure a rather substantial manhood.

A seed pod for one of the magical plants that reaches higher than the clouds.

No need for any art criticism of this artist -- he has concisely described his own work.

Except that -- since his objects do bring to mind human beings - I would query what kind of the people they might be.

There's no Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Priam, Hector, or Odysseus here.

They're all lotus eaters.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Zoe and Miyoko

Miyoko Ito (1918-1983)   "January into  February"  (1980)

Zoe Nelson (b. 1983) "Swipe Right" (2017)

By possible coincidence, the DePaul Art Museum  has recently acquired these two paintings.

By probable curatorial choice, they are now hanging side by side.

They make for a fascinating contrast between  age and generation.

Ito was 62 when she painted "January into February",  and judging by the sad look on that face, she probably was not feeling very well.  She would die three years later - the same year that Nelson was born.

Nelson was 34 when she painted "Swipe Right".  No explanation was needed for it to feel  sexy and sensual. But it feels even more so when gallery signage explained the title ( "swiping right" invites a hook up on the popular dating ap, Tinder)

An old woman faces mortality while a much younger one pursues sexuality.  Life moves on.

And perhaps the baton for a  certain kind of sensitive, suggestive, meticulous abstract painting has just been handed from one generation to another.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Schjeldahl and the Clunky Cezanne's

Cezanne, portrait of Gustave Geoffroy

As already noted , I like to read the art writing of Peter Schjeldahl - even when I disagree with it.

Who else could write about the "Lurchingly Uneven Portraits of Paul Cezanne" and still be published anywhere but online?

Regretfully, however the only example of  such "unevenness" that he offers is the above portrait of Gustave Geoffroy- which he also notes is unfinished.   It's been nearly fifty years since I've been to Paris, so I can't remember how the piece actually looks in person.  But in the above reproductions -- it looks pretty good.  I also get a sense of the subject's character and intellect.

I also like the portrait of Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair -- which is in the Art Institute of Chicago, so I've seen it many times.

If you'd like to see some real clunkers, however, you can view a page of other portraits of Marie-Hortense Fiquet

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Six Hundred Years of Western Civilization

Berlin Master of Mary of Burgundy,
"Triumph of David" from a Book of Hours
c. 1490

Here are two pieces
 - both on temporary display at the Art Institute of Chicago -
 that offer a nice opportunity to contemplate
the passage of time in our civilization.
By the way -- I really like both of them

Mary of Burgundy was the great-great granddaughter of Philip the Bold - whose brother, Jean Du Berry, lent his name to those rapturous Tres Riche Heures.

This is such a sweet, humorous, and startling miniature.  It illustrates a Biblical story - but it feels so sophisticated and courtly. It must have been intended to entertain the ducal children.

It certainly entertains me.

Willem De Kooning , "Interchange" (1955)




DeKooning painted this five years after "Excavation" (1950) and twenty years before "Untitled XI" (1975) -- both of which are in the permanent collection of the Art Institute.

"Excavation" is better known --but it feels dull, ugly, and depressing.
"Unknown XI" is much prettier -- but if  you want pretty - so many other painters are much better.
"Interchange" is somewhere in between -- and it's my favorite.

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.