Thursday, February 26, 2015

Smart Museum: Objects and Voices

Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) , "A Corpse in the  Countryside", 1919

This small etching with its documentary sense was the catalyst for my project. Without a doubt, it is one of the most haunting images 1 can remember seeing, One wonders why Kubin chose an indirect medium, and one for making multiples? .... Kerry James Marshall

The University of Chicago labors beneath the weight of its intellectual authority, and unfortunately, so does its campus art museum.  Just as with most of the special exhibits at the Smart Gallery, this suite of one-room shows, each with its own curator, privileges concept over visuality..

Except for the 4-piece exhibit curated by Kerry James Marshall, who, unlike all the other curators, is distinguished as an artist rather than a scholar.

Placing two printed depictions of corpses back-to-back in the center of his room, he placed two life-size paintings of nudes on the two walls facing them.  One by Philip Pearlstein, whose nudes are more like furniture than the living bodies of humans, and the other by Sylvia Sleigh, who painted a roomful of buck-naked young dudes as a  feminist retort to the male gaze.

The Kubin lithograph really is eye-catching.   The corpse is so dramatically and realistically splayed out on the ground, it's impossible not to search for whatever details might explain this mysterious scene.  Perhaps some parts of it began as a drawing, but it's hardly surprising that Kubin took it to print. .  Judging from what's up on the internet, his career consisted of making morbid/creepy prints.  This one is more natural and intriguing  than most.

Of course, what's missing from this room is the one kind of nude mostly common in the history of European art: the live, enticing, female.  KJM  steered clear from that most politically incorrect of images.

What's also missing is a good painting.

Miyoko Ito (1918-1983) - "Tamina or Claude M. Nutt", 1974

The Smart has a good collection of Chinese painting -  badly needed since the Art Institute of Chicago  gives so little space to that genre.

There was a roomful on display in this exhibit.   Unfortunately the reflections on the glass display cases made the pieces difficult to see except in detail - but aesthetic appreciation wasn't the topic of this display anyway.  The curator was only concerned with the authenticity of the ownership stamps with which the paintings had been marked. Ho-hum.

But there was also a room of Asian-American art -- and this was fascinating.

My favorite piece is shown above - so glorious, mysterious, and sensual. My internet image does not do it justice.

Leonard Tsuguharu Fugita (1886-1968), "Three Figures", 1918

Leonard Tsuguharu Fugita (1886-1968), "Danse Orientale", 1919-1920

Here's a discovery for me - a Japanese artist who  joined the French avant garde  - and seems to have been inspired by Byzantine or Persian painting.

Qi Baishi (1864-1957)

As a wanna-be Mandarin,  I prefer the aloof posturing of more aristocratic artists. 

But it's impossible not to smile at this robust  sense of immediacy.

Probably because, like Baishi, I remain a peasant despite my intellectual pursuits.

chicken shit calligraphy?

Tosu Mitsunari (1646-1710)

I can't recall what curatorial theme encompassed this pleasant screen.

Very relaxing -- with fresh, vibrant details

Suh Si-Ok, Korean, b. 1929
"Mother and Child", 2007

Here's some contemporary calligraphy that has recently been donated to the museum. It's quite charming - and seems to transition from calligraphy into abstract-figurative art.

It's a piece that took 3-minutes, and 78 years, to make.

I would like to see the AIC do a retrospective on this artist -- but given his distance from post-modernism, that's not going to happen.

Teshigahara Sofu (1900-1979)
"Origin of a Stream", 1950's

Here's some abstract-expressive calligraphy from the founder of Ikebana (a school of Japanese flower arrangement).

It kind of resembles the paintings of Franz Kline from that same decade.  But it's not about personal angst so much as the enjoyment of natural forces - flowing, erupting, balancing.

Regretfully, that kind of positive attitude is tangential to contemporary American art.


 Lee Ufan, born 1936
"From Point", 1976
This piece seems to straddle the worlds of traditional aesthetics and conceptual art.
If you feel that it's tedious or formless, you might be inclined to recognize it as some kind of important inquiry into mental or physical processes.
If you feel that it's beautiful, you might just enjoy it as I do.

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) "The Stroll", 1968

Here's a very nice Bearden collage that's been promised to the collection.  So jazzy, so hip.

It feels like a marching band, even if it's only people walking down the street.


French-Flemish , Burgundy, 1350-1400

A cute piece - resembling a ship in a bottle


French, School of Moissac, 1120-1150

A very lively architectural fragment -- broken but still powerful.

It's  the kind of thing that inspired early 20th C. sculptors like Henry Moore.


Attributed to Kandinsky, 1914

Apparently, there is a break in the provenance, so it's authenticity remains unproven.
But who else could have painted it? 

It's very strong in the areas of detail.


William Turnbull (1922-2012)
"17-1963" (mango), 1963
We're told that this painting recalls an aerial view of a river running through a forest in Southeast Asia.


I was hoping that this area of detail would show the mottled quality of the surface..

But this is another painting that translates poorly in reproduction.


Alice Neel (1900-1984)
"The City", 1940's



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