Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deaccessions at the Art Institute

Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919)

Here's the list of recent deaccessions by
the Art Institute of Chicago
as provided by national art blogger
Tyler Green
(the museum itself declines to divulge
this information)

So, following the lead of
The Depaul University Art Museum
let's give these rejected pieces
one final exhibition
and contemplate whether each one is
"good, bad, or ugly"

the museum has three other
paintings by J. Alden Weir
so the above will not be missed as sorely.
Especially since it has probably been decades
since it was placed on display.
(none of the others are on display now, either)

So why does a museum keep things
that hardly ever see the light of day?

some day,
in this century or the next,
the museum will begin to rotate
it's display of Euro-American paintings
just as it now rotates it's
display of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints
four times a year.

But when that happens,
the above fine portrait
will be sorely missed.

Louis McClellan Potter (1873 - 1912)

I'm less enthusiastic
about Cowboy/Indian/Frontier art in general
and this piece in particular.

Apparently, this piece is a result
of Potter's trip to Alaska,
and I think it should be traded
to the Field Museum for some of their
better looking Asian art.

It's more like journalism,
and less like poetry.

(though,let's face it.
That's how many Americans thought
about "Art" a hundred years ago.
And who can prove them wrong?)

But on the other hand,
the A.I.C. does have a gallery or two
devoted to this genre,
and this would be a good piece
to rotate through it.
(and it was the only Potter in their collection)

Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955)

A Chicago sculptor
who once assisted Loredo Taft,
Bessie Potter later married the
painter, Robert Vonnoh.

I admit that mostly her work feels
heavy and depressing to me,
and since the A.I.C. has three other pieces,
I'm not going to miss it.
(none of them are now on display,
but I have seen them before)


there's not many Chicago sculptors
who had a national reputation,
and this piece feels lighter
than her others.

She belongs in a gallery
that rotates beaux-arts sculpture.

Pauline Palmer (1867-1938)

Here is the real tragedy
of this round of deaccessions,
because Pauline Palmer is
one of the most famous Chicago painters
and the A.I.C. website
does not show that they possess any others.

Back when the Art Institute sponsored annual exhibits,
Palmer won nearly all the
major awards, purchase prizes,
and honorable mention citations.
She was also elected the first female President
of the Chicago Society of Artists in 1918.

Dumping her is a slap in the face
to that part of Chicago's art history
that is currently considered
outside the narrative of modernism,
because it portrays pretty scenes and beautiful people.

and as these details show
she was quite a sensitive, playful painter
whose work still feels as fresh today
as it did a hundred years ago.

Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973)

I really dislike this piece,
and everything that I've ever seen
by this sculptor,
exemplfying the worst clunkiness
of that period,
and bankrolled
by her wealthy husband.

Her Wikipedia entry
mentions that H.H. Kitson
threw her out of his studio
for criticizing his equine anatomy,
and good for him!

But, as the co-founder of Brookgreen Gardens,
and the National Sculpture Society,
she is one of the most important people
in American sculpture, and something by her
should be shown from time to time.

(note: the subject matter here
is "Queen Isabella Going Through the Land of her People"
which reminds us that the Huntingtons
were personal friends of Generalissimo Franco
and a little bit to the right of Philip II)

Walter Ufer (1876-1936)

Walter remains
one of the most famous
alumni of my art club,
so I'm partial to him
even if I don't especially enjoy
his paintings.

Once again,
the A.I.C. is dumping
its Chicago artists,
and this is exactly
the wrong direction
for them to go.

The model looks rather bored,
and this one looks like a study
that may have been done at the club.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942)

Another wealthy heiress
who took up sculpture,
and also famous for founding
her own museum.

She took up the cause
of wounded veterans
and I think she did a pretty good job here

but a statue about pathetic people
should not be pathetic as well.

She seems to have anticipated
the kind of art
that her museum would display
eighty years later

not all views are so bad,
but she probably should have stuck
with small pieces like this
and stayed away from monuments
for which she was not suited.

These things belong
in an exhibit called
"The school of Rodin"

Arthur Bowen Davies (1863-1928)

I have a strong affinity
for images of naked young women
pointlessly running around
dreamy, classical landscapes.

What's the harm in this male fantasy?

(though, apparently Davies took it
one step further, as a bigamist
who established two families that
remained unknown to each other)

A beautiful designer.

His modern classical style
never came to dominate painting
the way that Maillol's style
would dominate sculpture.

And today,
it's hard to think of him
as a cutting-edge modernist
who promoted the Armory Show of 1915

And now,
I've learned
that he may have been
the most distinguished graduate
of the Chicago Academy of Design
that unfortunate institution
that was hijacked by some wealthy board members
into becoming the Art Institute of Chicago.

And I remember liking him
way back when I was a pre-teen
viewing the modern collection
of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

But, alas
it seems his star is setting,
as now the A.I.C. is not displaying
a single one of his pieces,
and they have just gotten rid of
these five:

Summer and the Mother-Hearted
Evening Among the Ruins
Lake and Island, Sierra Nevada
Dirge in Spring
Leda and the Dioscuri.

But what's more upsetting
is that the current regime
is so currently focused
on dumping their early 20th C.
American art,
which is, judging from these examples,
one of their strengths.

The sum total earned at auction
from all these pieces
came in less than $200,000.

So what's the point?

Giacometti's "Walking Man" recently
brought $104 million at auction.

If the A.I.C. had gotten that much
for their cast of it,
they could purchased a thousand
works similar to the ones they just sold
(at about $10,000 each)
and then rotated them through
a gallery several times every year.

(while producing and then displaying
an exact plaster cast of their Giacometti)

such a course of action
is utterly unthinkable
in an institutional culture
that is devoted to the notions
of authenticity
and progressive art history.

But it's a nice fantasy, anyway.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Dance in the Madhouse

George Bellows, 1917

Looks like I'll be seeing this exhibit
every week until it closes:

Modern in America" Works on Paper 1900-1950's

I get the feeling that the prints,
drawings, and watercolors were chosen
for maximum kick-butt impact,
and that is what Americans tend to be good at.

And I love it.

But now that we've had a century
to become used to the "Modern World",
is it still worth all that aesthetic attention?

The large-scale technology driven commercialism and urbanization.

Isn't it all just -- "A Dance in the Madhouse" ?

"The artist as a young man was an intimate friend of the family of the superintendent to the great State Hospital in Columbus. For years the amusement hall was a gloomy old brown vault where on Thursday nights the patients indulged in "Round Dances" interspersed with two-steps and waltzes by the visitors. Each of the characters in this print represents a definite individual. Happy Jack boasted of being able to crack hickory nuts with his gums. Joe Peachmyer was a constant borrower of a nickel or a chew. The gentleman in the center had succeeded with a number of perpetual motion machines. The lady in the middle center assured the artist by looking at his palms that he was a direct descendant of Christ. This is the happier side of a vast world which a more considerate and wiser society would reduce to a not inconsiderable degree."
-- George Bellows


Just realized that the "Dance in the Madhouse"
shown at the top was a charcoal drawing,
while this lithograph, which was made five years later
and is much better known,
was hanging next to it in the show.

How much has been changed!

And none of it for the better!

It seems that Bellows wanted
his lithograph to be more dramatic
and sensational.

But I think it's just cruder and uglier.


Here's some more highlights from the show:

Jose Orozco

Continuing the theme of madness,
I love these little "Demons seated at a table" (1944)

The demons are ugly,
but every color and line is beautiful.
(which distinguishes this from
most other graphic demonology)

And I think I'm becoming a fan
of Charles Demuth.
This is his "Vaudeville Singer" of 1918.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Good Trade?

Horace Pippin

As noted earlier,
the Indianapolis Museum of Art
is quite open about their deaccession process.

Kind of.

At least, they tell you what they've gotten rid of.

(whereas the press office of the Art Institute of Chicago just told me that
"We have not provided anyone with a list before.”)

But, also as noted before,
the "Reason" given for each deaccession
is hardly explanatory.

(often "secondary example" is given as the reason,
when indeed, there may be no "primary examples" of work by the same artist,
or even in the same genre, in their collection.

So --- it's with some skepticism
that we should contemplate the connection
they've presented between the five deaccesioned paintings
shown below, and the Horace Pippin shown above,
which they tell us was purchased with subsequent income.

Ralph Brownell McGrew

To begin with,
they have posted pictures of all five
deaccessioned pieces in an
obviously distorted view.

Just to make sure they look really, really bad ?

(Most of the other deaccessioned works on their site
are not presented this way.)

And second...

We might note that four of the five could be called
'Western Art" (as in cowboys and Indians)
and all of them were donated in 1976 by Harrison Eiteljorg,
who ten years later would open his own museum
of "American Indians and Western Art" in Indianapolis.

So.. it looks like Eiteljorg made a good decision
to stop giving his Western stuff to the I.M.A.
and open his own, instead.

(BTW - he also donated a lot of African tribal art
to the I.M.A., which so far, they've decided to keep)

James Reynolds

These don't look like
great paintings to me.
(but who can tell anything
from these distorted views)

Charles Dye

Perhaps I would rather see the single Pippin,
but maybe that's just because
I prefer that black man's sense of personal desparation
to the vapid, commercial mythology of my white brothers.

But they've also tried to dump their Walter Ufer,
which was also donated by Eiteljorg,
and which I might well prefer to the dark, depressing Pippin.

Burt Proctor

Randall Davey

If it were my call,
I may have have made the same switch.

But I'm still waiting for a special exhibit
that would inspire me to drive down I-65,
and if they are trying to dump their Ufer and Paxton,
I've not very enthusiastic about seeing
what they have done
with their permanent collection again.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Dorian Allworthy

Dorian Allworthy
is a remarkable,
and somewhat reclusive,
Chicago artist
whom I have blogged about
more extensively
over here

In my first
(and possibly last)
full year of covering Chicago galleries
for New City
nobody showed full size nudes
(this came the closest, and Strobek lives in Denmark)

Kind of fun,
Kind of kinky,
very decorative.

Many Chicago artists
have liked to do this kind of work,
but nobody in Chicago
wants to show it in their homes.

And I've never seen anybody
do it better than Dorian.