Thursday, June 28, 2007

School of Athens

O.K., this is really
Robert Mileham's photo,
and he deserves full credit for it.

But how could I pass up the opportunity to show
my two e-friends, Conrad and Sir G.
parked in front of an image of the "School of Athens"
(and flirting with a young woman
whose hands appear at the extreme right)

Conrad seems to be studying that notorious iconoclast, Diogenes,
while Sir G.seems to mirror the figure
of the renowned Neo-Platonist, Plotinus.

I may never meet these two brilliant gentlemen,
but this is how I want to remember them!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Ideal Husband

As recently noted,
We just saw the Circle Theater production of "An Ideal Husband"
where I was blown away by the costumes and sets,
and now the theater has been kind enough
to send me some pictures.

Unlike the elegant Sir Gawain
I am never going to devote more than a moment's thought
to whatever I throw on to hide my nakedness.

But I certainly appreciate it
when others take that time and effort!

Click on the above detail
to get even more detail
of that incredible gown,
not to mention
the fireplace, the furniture, the clock,
the entire tableaux

(which is not to disparage the
utterly convincing performances of the actors -
Jonathan Nichols and Denita Linnertz
are shown above -
being the "Ideal Husband" and his devoted wifey)

I would have been thoroughly content
if Ms. Linnertz
had just planted her tall, stately self,
in that gorgeous gown,
stage center for a 90 minute pose.

Here's the complimentary matrimonial couple,
(Bradford Lund and Catherine Ferraro)
in a more subdued,
but still enjoyable attire.

and needless to say
the floral arrangements
are an important part
of this production
which was indeed a fitting tribute
to the aesthetic-crazed playwright.

Why don't I go to this local theater more often ?
It's only about 100 yards from my front door.

I suppose it's because I just don't care for the
hairshirt of modern theater -- and music - and painting etc.

For example, this show seems rather typical:

"Introducing the Ledbetters, your average American dysfunctional family. Weaving together QVC, video game violence, drug addiction, a hopeful trip to New York, and familial relationships, this picture of American “anti-bliss” comes from the pen of acclaimed playwright Adam Rapp (Red Light Winter, Nocturne), Chicago and off-Broadway’s hottest commodity. Circle Theatre will present the Midwest Premiere of this quirky, cutting-edge, modern drama."

No thankyou -- I don't want to meet those damn Ledbetters!
(they live next door -- and they're always stealing our garbage cans)

(Costume design was by Elizabeth Shaffer,
scenic and graphic designer was Bob Knuth
-who also took the above photographs-
and the Scenic artist was Lori Willis)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Portrait of Irv Kupcinet

Since the train wasn't working,
I was walking home through the loop
last Monday night....
when I nearly bumped into this 9 foot fellow
on the north bank of the Chicago River.

It was a portrait of Chicago's legendary
gossip columnist,Irv Kupcinet

and it was designed by the Professor of Sculptor
at the School of the Art Institute, Preston Jackson

It's really quite impressive,
especially in the evening shadows along the river

it comes across
as .. perhaps a bit demonic
quite in keeping with
this exhibit
the sculptor had last year
that was dedicated to the evils of slavery

But it's also quite a powerful sculpture -
since -- well -- it actually is a sculpture
and not a large doll, cartoon, or natural history specimen

It's got scale,
and punch,
and elegance,
and rhythm.

And it's crackling, angular
surface seems to engage well
with the surrounding urban canyon.

I'm afraid it's neighbor on the riverfront,
the Heald Square monument
to Washington, Salomon, and Morris
by Lorado Taft and Leonard Crunelle,
suffers by comparison

Friday, June 22, 2007

Angels in America

I'm afraid that I've recently become obsessed
with one of the former members
of my art club,
Oskar J.W. Hansen

and I've written about him here and finally here

There's something of the Ivan Mestrovic,
and Tony Kushner,
and even "Riders on the Storm" Jim Morrison
about him.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dreaming of Corot

I confess to being a lifelong devotee
of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

having first fallen for him back
in Cincinnati,
especially in the Taft Museum

which, if not completely empty,
never had more than a few visitors
at any one time,
so each room felt like my
personal sanctuary

and what could be a better sanctuary
than a remote country scene
with the appropriate foliage,
and, of course, cavorting nymphs

(the above painting is from the Art Institute,
but the Taft has one just like it)

And when you've known paintings for a long time,
they're just like old memories
only better
sharper and more exciting,
though still identical to the scenes
once seen decades earlier.

and Corot-space is too delicious
to ever leave

and up close ....
the pleasure is almost unbearable
(just like with the Chinese paintings elsewhere on this blog)

What is the difference between
the best of
nature painting and nature photography ?

I think it's the depth/intensity of emotional involvement.
Photographs can be enjoyed,
but paintings can be loved.

Here's another Corot from the Art Institute,
this one painted 10 years later,
and only a few years before his death at age 79.

some of that sweet, sensuous mystery is gone,
but the power is still there

What a swinging group of trees !
This is the man who will teach me how to grow old.

(and, according to reports, he was a very nice old man --
funding a daycare center in Paris,
and supporting destitute artists and their widows)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Goddess of Democracy

There's only one problem that I have
with the original "Goddess of Democacy" from Tienanmen Square
and all the subsequent versions:

they're all ugly,
or if that's too strong a word,
they're all clumsy/awkward/lame

They're fine as temporary sculpture,
like the kind in parade floats,
so no fault can be attached to the original.
It captured the imagination of the world,
and what more could be asked of a statue ?

But the versions that followed
weren't much better.

and this latest version,
fabricated for a special new memorial
in Washington DC
must look so bad
that even the memorial's website
doesn't have any good pictures of it !

It's amazing !

They're so proud of their anti-communist message,
they really don't care what the damn thing looks like.

(and I can authoritatively report that
if an official communist artist union
sculptor had been hired for the job --
it could have been so much better !)

The first version looks like it was made by art students
(it was)
but so do all the versions that followed it.

Of course, we know the reason
(which I've been ranting about ever
since I discovered the internet):

The statuary tradition was abandoned in the West
after the Second World War.

But it does appear to be creeping back,
and the sculptor who made the above
maquette for a memorial to Barbara Jordan
also made the D.C. version of the Goddess

(and to be fair to him,
I think he was only trying to render
an accurate copy,
and he did the work without fee)

His name is Thomas Marsh
and an interview recorded these comments about his profession:

"Yes, there has been a trend toward abstract public sculpture and away from figurative public sculpture since the mid-20th century. I think that was inevitable, given the (temporary) dominance of expression theory over classical ideals, a power which manifested itself as Modernism. But Modernism is dying, perhaps in its death throes, because the “shock of the new” no longer shocks and originality alone never really was a sound basis for aesthetic value. Originality, though important, could not function long as the fundamental criterion for artistic excellence, as it did during the era of Modernism. Although the branch of modern art which emphasizes abstraction and pure form has much to be said for it, I feel the emerging primary role of art in human life will be personal and social transformation."

I have this nagging feeling
that he's both a better sculptor
than I am, and also a better writer.

But still -- making a large monument
that can be perceived as both meaningful
...and beautiful...
is an enormous challenge.

What sets Marsh above
most of his contemporaries
is that, like them,
he's a naturalist,
and a cartoonist,
he's also aiming for
the kind of high aesthetic
that can be found in the great sculpture
of the past. (Asia as well as Europe)

He may never get there...
but at least he's trying !

Friday, June 15, 2007

Is Thomas Eakins a Great Artist ?

Study for
William Rush
Carving his Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River

"Is Thomas Eakins a Great Artist" ?

This is the question that the intrepid James. F. Cooper
asks in the current issue of his self-published magazine,
"American Arts Quarterly"
(which, other than the enormous expense involved in
publishing and then distributing it at no charge,
is basically a blog,
i.e. the owner says whatever he feels like saying)

Thomas Eakins is, of course, at the summit
of the canon of American Art,
and anyone who dares question such canons
is warmly invited to share purple mushrooms on Mount Shang.

Cooper is following in the footsteps of two recent books on the subject,
"Eakins Revealed:
The Secret Life of an American Artist" by Henry Adams
"The Revenge of Thomas Eakins" by Sidney Kirkpatrick

Apparently, some newly discovered papers
reveal Eakins' sordid personal life,
and perhaps even worse,
his utter dependence on photography
(i.e. -- he not only used photographs,
but he projected them onto his canvas)

And apparently, he was not just fired
from the Pennsylvania Academy,
as legend (and John Updike) would have it,
because he

"removed the loincloth of a male model in a class where female students were present"

Much more was allegedly involved:

"Charges of incest, physical abuse by female students, and
unnatural behavior with male students were made
by Eakins own sisters through their husbands"

"while charges were brought by his own staff about the
failure of his teaching methods,
particularly his convoluted drawing formulas based upon
mathematics, isometric drawing, and perspective"

and, perhaps, worst of all:

"The real reason he was fired was the suspicion that
he was an incompetent artist.
His paintings did not sell.
Commissioned portraits were returned,
or never picked up"

Cooper concluded:

"I believe the new documentation challenges the integrity of his art
and his place as the most important art instructor of human anatomy
and figure drawing in nineteenth century America"

Thomas J. Eagan, 1917

So, of course,
I had run down to the Art Institute of Chicago,
to see if it were true.

(or at least, to see whether Eakins paintings
still gave me pleasure,
which I'm afraid is the only issue
that concerns me as a museum-goer
rather than as moralist or pedagogue)

And yes, I love these portraits !
These people feel so immediate - so present --
( as personalities -- rather than anatomical specimens)

Mary Adeline Williams, 1899

and they are set so well
into their surrounding space,
i.e. the whole rectangle is alive,
with a feeling that is stately and profound

Gallery notes mention that this lady
lived with Eakins and his wife,
and she was known for a buoyant personality,
not at all like the prissy schoolmarm shown above.

Which might be why people rejected his portraits of them,
and he may have been incapable of
making a compelling painting
that was also an acceptable portrait.

So.. perhaps ..
as a professional portraitist
he truly was incompetent.

But 100 years later,
who cares ?

(there are certainly many successful
portrait painters today
whose work has zero value for me)

He also tried his hand at sculpture
(these are only details,
since reflections off the glass case
made wider views impossible)

Reminding me,
as they do,
of age and labor,
I find these grim objects very unpleasant.

But there is a certain solemnity about them,
and he's definitely exploring a new genre.

But, returning to our question:

"is Thomas Eakins a Great Artist" ?

Yes, I think so --

i.e. I'd still go to some inconvenience to see his work,
but though he stands out from other American painters,
I wouldn't say that he was as much better
as his fame is greater.

He was grim -- but a transcendent grim can be likable.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Education of Heinz Warneke (1895-1983)

Thanks to Robert Mileham linking me to the Reingold Collection ,
I discovered Heinz Warneke, and it turns out an exceptional book
has been written about his career by Mary Mullen Cunningham
in cooperation with the sculptor's family and students,
and especially his stepdaughter, Priscilla Waters Norton, who wrote:

I was raised to believe that Heinze Warneke was one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th Century. My mother Jessie said so and Heinz did not contradict her"

Well ... being born into the family of a sculptor and his devoted wife,
I can certainly relate to that !

The granite boars from 1929, shown above, might end up being my favorite piece
-- especially if I get to see them
-- which is actually possible since they entered
the Art Institute's collection in 1931
through a purchase award following an exhibition.
(although I fear they've been in the basement for at least the last 40 years)

As Ms. Norton wrote:

Look at the Wild Boars. There you will see the respective roles of Jessie and Heinz. Jessie the fierce female defending her territory and Heinz, siting, sizing up the situation before springing into action

(For those interested in the personal history here:
Jessie, born into a wealthy Philadelphia family,
was married into the St. Louis family that owned Purina Mills,
and met the younger sculptor when her husband commissioned decorative work from the German immigrant soon after his arrival in America.
A scandalous divorce and remarriage soon followed.)

But this post is about sculpture, not family,
and the above was done around 1913
after he had won admittance to
the Berlin Kunstgewerbeschule (or Arts and Crafts school)
following a competitive 2-week examination.

This was something of an elite state academy
(a fellow student that year was George Grosz),
the class size was small (possibly only 13),
and those admitted were, as you can see above,
already had to be quite accomplished.

It's director, Bruno Paul (1874-1968)
was a painter and active participant in the German Workbund,
a movement that promoted collaboration between art, crafts, and industry
and sculpture students, like Warneke, would also spend time
working in ceramic factories, foundries, and tool shops.
Emphasis was also placed on the skills practiced in architecture.

His earlier training consisted of a two-year apprenticeship
as a silversmith at Wilkins and Sons Silver Factory
and evening classes at the city art school in Bremen,
where he studied life drawing.

This is another piece from his art school years,
and what you can notice is that sculptural qualities are appearing
as well as well anatomical detail.

(And -- I'm really wondering whether most of their models were male.
German sculpture of this period certainly seems to place greater
emphasis on the masculine than say, the French or Italian)

But I guess not all of the models were men,
here's his entry into the Prix de Rome
competition of 1915.

I'm not surprised it lost,
this view seems as tired and bored as the model,
(though I am surprised that the German art world
conducted this contest at all after the war began)

Joseph Wackerle

The life-modeling instructor was Wilhelm Haverkamp
(not much on the net yet about him)
and the pieces shown at the top were done in his class
- but it seems that the most influential instructor at the school in those years,
was the young Joseph Wackerle (1880-1959)
( who would later get some important commissions from the National Socialists.)

Here's a Wackerle piece that
would probably have been considered
very modern in its day,
and it's feeling for forms in space
seems to have left a permanent impression
on young Heinz:

This is a Warneke piece done soon after the war
(which he survived by working in a cemetery,
supervising those prisoners of war
who had the skill to carve tombstones
under his official direction.
Obviously, Heinz was born under a lucky star !)

Another influential teacher at the school was
Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932)
who, although a professor of sculpture,
became more famous for his close-up photographs of
plant structures -- as they might then be
applied to sculptural ornament.

(we had Louis Sullivan moving in a similar
direction here in Chicago -
where it was called
"organic design")

But I guess it must also be recorded
that the school had an anatomy instuctor,
Maximilian Schafer (1851-1916)
who required students to learn the names,
positions, and actions of all the bones, muscles, and tendons.

In the early 1920's,
he moved to America,
and became best known as an animalier

But he also did some nice small figures

a few nice large ones

I especially like this stone piece,
and due to his breadth of his training
he could work in many materials

I'm less fond of his public statuary,
these things feel so formal and tight

Sometimes, I more enjoy his ornamental wood carving

He probably had as many different kinds
of sculpture commissions as one could have --
including lots of work in the National Cathedral,
where he designed as well as supervised
several programs of stone carving.

though I prefer his work at the National Zoo !

The point here ...
that I think this German program of art education,
c. 1910,
is exemplary.

(even if it did not prepare
young Heinz to take
the most important step in his career,
which was to marry such a supportive,
and talented, wife.
whose sketch of her loving husband
is shown above.)

many of its graduates went on
to make monuments for the National Socialists,
and that's why this approach to art education
was tanked after the war.


Along with the "Wild Boars" shown at the top,
these "Hissing Geese" of 1926 (12" high)
have been in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
since 1930,
but the museum's database
has no record of either one EVER
being on display.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

500 Bad Italian Sculptors

O.k. -- there's not really 500 of them (only 488)
and not all of them are bad
(especially the one shown above,
by Francesco Messina )(whose admirers have made another website for him here

But Messina (1900-1995) comes from the great generation
of European sculptors -- and almost everyone else on
this site
is at least 50 years younger.

(note: an explanation for this site
can be found here , but my Italian is too primitive to translate it)

Rino Giannini

And actually -- there's several more
that I liked from the site,
although most of them, like this sculptor ,
are at least as old as I am

Rino Giannini

A full length, nude self portrait
at the age of 40 ?!?!

He's a bolder man than I am !
(and also quite a technician,
since this standing figure is terracotta)

Vanni Penone

A rather obvious homage to a similar piece by the great Martini

Marcello Giannozzi

I really like this piece,
but as happened so often on this site,
it's the only piece by him that I enjoyed.

Marco Cornini

I guess this story is rather obvious,
but I like obvious
(and I hope it's not the girl's father
who picks up the phone)

Mario Pecoraino

Massimo Galleni

For whatever reason,
Italians have always been nuts about marble,
and many will still commit themselves
to achieving a high level of proficiency

Francesco Stefan

Giacomo Ceccarelli

Gino Molisano

Adriano Bozzolo

Adriano Bozzolo

Alberto Inglesi

Anna Maria Ferrari

Anna Maria Ferrari

Anna Maria seems to be my favorite
of the younger (born after 1950) sculptors shown on this site.

Alba Gonzales

And finally, I chose this one to
speculate on all the stuff that I didn't like.

Because I'm sure that Alba could make something
that pleases me,
but he feels this insane compulsion
to make something bizarre,
i.e. recognizably contemporary.