[Thanks to Vincent Pidone for the tip.]
[Thanks to Vincent Pidone for the tip.]
On July 4th, the long awaited $145 million addition and renovation of the Clark Art Institute opened. A beloved museum in the Berkshires, the Clark has been for decades everyone’s secret discovery. Planning began in 2001 and all signs (including a recent review in the New York Times) pointed to an extraordinary success.
Sadly, it is far from that. Like the Brooklyn Museum’s new entrance unveiled in 2004, the addition is an unfriendly imposition that ignores the spirit of the original architecture and is at odds with the collection it houses. Designed by Tadao Ando, the extension and landscaping dishonors its founders with an anonymous space that could be any museum in the world, not one of the crown jewels of New England. It seems far too meaningful that the Styrofoam backed panels on “The Clark Story” and the portraits of the founders, are now relegated to the basement (sorry, Lower Lobby) — with the rest rooms.
Speaking of his friend, the painter James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Oscar Wilde once said,
“Mr. Whistler always spelt art, and I believe still spells it, with a capital ‘I,’”
a legendary put-down applicable to far too many artists, writers, and other creative types.
Wilde, the author of The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, was one of the great wits of his age. His target was one of the first American modern artists, best known today for a portrait called by most “Whistler’s Mother,” seen less often in art books and more in sentimental greeting cards and even a postage stamp. This, rather than the above quote, would have horrified Whistler, who intended the painting to be a dispassionate revolutionary statement of art for art’s sake. He had titled it Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.
In April 1957, the photographer David Douglas Duncan visited his friend Picasso at La Californie, the artist’s villa in the South of France. He brought along his dachshund, Lump, and a mutual love affair began.
Picasso and his wife, Jacqueline, were having lunch when Lump first saw Picasso. The confident young dog immediately walked up to him and put his paws on the man Duncan always referred to as “Maestro.” Picasso looked down and said, “Buenos dias, amigo!” Lump jumped into Picasso’s arms and gave him a kiss. Jacqueline was shocked. While Picasso’s own dogs were often in his studios, Jacqueline had never seen Picasso allow them to sit in his lap. But Lump was no ordinary dog. He immediately made himself at home and thereafter became a regular visitor. Continue reading
I’ve discovered a wonderful blog, atelierlog. Since 2005, the Dutch artist, Harke Kazemier, has been collecting and posting looks into artist studios, from Rembrandt to Lucian Freud. While some of the text is in Dutch, the main content is the pictures and videos. If you are like me, you’ll find the more than a thousand entries fascinating. atelierlog is a rich resource that I highly recommend.
In Paris’s Musée Picasso, a four-foot tall idol from the Pacific Islands sits in a glass case. Wild eyed and dramatic, with arms flung out stiffly, visitors might justifiably assume that it was one of the many native objects that Picasso kept in his studio for inspiration. But the story behind it is much more complicated. The idol was a gift from Matisse that Picasso didn’t want.
While their styles were quite different, both artists were inspired by the art of aboriginal peoples (‘primitive art’ as it was known then). For Picasso, it is well known that African art was the catalyst for his Cubist revolution. What is less well known is that Matisse collected African sculptures even before Picasso. In fact, he was the person who introduced Picasso to one of them at a soirée in Gertrude Stein‘s apartment in Paris in 1906.
According to Max Jacob, a friend of Picasso, who was there that evening,
Matisse took a wooden statuette off a table and showed it to Picasso. Picasso held it in his hands all evening. The next morning when I came to his studio the floor was strewn with sheets of drawing paper. Each sheet had virtually the same drawing on it, a big woman’s face with a single eye, a nose too long that merged into a mouth, a lock of
hair on one shoulder … Cubism was born.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, after decades of sometimes bitter competition, Picasso and Matisse’s wary but respectful relationship had grown into an important friendship. Whenever the old rivals met together in the South of France, they discussed what they were working on and from to time exchanged gifts and paintings. Since Matisse was twelve years older than Picasso, there was an element of the mentor in their interactions — one Picasso resisted.
When Matisse presented Picasso with the New Hebrides idol from his tour of the South Seas, Picasso could only smile and say thank you. But Francoise Gilot, Picasso’s companion at the time, noticed how Picasso’s jaws tightened as Matisse explained how he had come to own it and how it was used in rituals. In her 1990 memoir Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art, she describes how she “could tell right away he didn’t like it.”
Picasso left Matisse’s studio without his gift by explaining that there wasn’t room in the car for it. As they drove away, Pablo released his anger. “Matisse thinks I have no taste. He believes I am a barbarian and that for me any piece of third-rate tribal art will do!”
When Gilot suggested they accept the gift, but put it in a room in their home where no visitor would ever see it, Picasso wouldn’t stand for it. “Certainly not!…I will not accept this awful object…If I accept the hideous gift from my so-called friend, I will have to put it in a place of honor. If I don’t our relationship is in jeopardy.”
Picasso spent much of the drive home angry and cursing. Obviously frustrated, he fretted, “I am in a bind; what am I to do?”
Gilot and Picasso decided the only thing to do was to come up with excuses whenever they went to Matisse’s home for why it was not the right time to take the idol with them. This was not so easy. Every visit they discovered that Matisse had placed the bright red, white, and blue idol in whatever room they were. Yet somehow Picasso managed to never accept the gift from Matisse.
This is why Gilot was shocked to see it thirty years later proudly displayed in the Musée Picasso when she attended its opening in 1985. She later learned from Matisse’s son Pierre that after his father’s death in 1954, Picasso had asked him for the long postponed gift. By then Gilot had already left Picasso.
After considering this surprising news, she realized that several of Picasso’s later pictures had figures reminiscent of the wild-eyed idol. Somehow, according to Gilot, “Matisse had foreseen his friend’s further evolution” and managed to mentor Picasso — even after his own death — with an unwanted gift.
England’s greatest painter, J.M.W. Turner, is the subject of a new film by Mike Leigh. On May 15th, Mr. Turner premiered at the Cannes film festival and received rave reviews. Its star Timothy Spall won the best actor award for his portrayal of the artist. [Spall is best known in the U.S. as Peter Pettigrew or Wormtail in the Harry Potter films.]
The film covers the last twenty-five years of Turner’s life. The trailer includes a famous incident from life of the eccentric and notoriously competitive artist — when he took advantage of the Royal Academy of Art’s ‘Varnishing Day.’ In the 1800s, the Academy was the center of the British artistic world. No artist could truly succeed without being a member and no exhibition was more important for one’s reputation than the annual Summer Exhibition.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was one of the few child prodigies in the history of art. One year after he began classes at the Academy, he was made a member of the Academy. He was only 15. By the time he was 17 he could support himself with the sale of his pictures. In comparison, the great landscape painter, John Constable, who was about the same age as Turner, struggled financially his entire life and didn’t earn membership until he was 53.
The Varnishing Day incident concerns both painters. The day was a tradition at the Royal Academy. Each year after the Summer Exhibition was hung by the jurors, artists were allowed inside to put the final protective varnish on their paintings before the show opened. This was not just a necessary stage in finishing a work but a bit of a social event. The tradition continues to this day and the entrance of the artists includes a parade, a religious service, canapes and champagne. Once inside, the painters chat amongst themselves as they apply their varnish and a few last touches.
Just as important as putting a protective layer on a painting, Varnishing Day allowed the artists to preview the exhibition before it opened to the public and to learn whether their pictures had been hung in a good location and discover whose work was hung nearby. While it was an honor to be chosen, if your picture was put very high up or to the side of a doorway, it meant the jurors did not consider it an important picture, which could damage your reputation.
In 1832, both Turner and Constable’s pictures were hung in good positions, but unfortunately next to each other. Constable’s Opening of Waterloo Bridge was the largest painting he had ever painted for an exhibition, nearly seven feet long. He had worked on it for thirteen years. When Turner arrived on Varnishing Day and saw his painting next to Constable’s, he began pacing, disturbed not only by its commanding size but by how exciting and colorful the Constable painting was.
As a fellow member of the Academy, Charles Robert Leslie personally observed:
Constable’s Waterloo seemed as if painted with liquid gold and silver, and Turner came several times into the room while [Constable] was heightening with vermilion and lake the decorations and flags of the city barges. Turner stood behind him, looking from the Waterloo to his own picture, and at last brought his palette from the great room where he was touching another picture, and putting a round daub of red lead, somewhat bigger than a shilling, on his grey sea, went away without saying a word. The intensity of the red lead, made more vivid by the coolness of his picture, caused even the vermilion and lake of Constable to look weak.
Constable was horrified at this breach of Varnishing Day etiquette and said to Leslie after Turner left, ‘He has been here…and fired a gun.’ He knew the damage had been done. Turner’s painting and its bold red spot at the center would command the attention of anyone walking into the Painting Gallery. Turner returned to the room later. With a swipe of a rag, he trimmed the red ‘gob’ and declared it a buoy.
This flourish was created with applause by his fellow artists. At least, according to the movie. Mr. Turner opens October 31st in the U.K. No date has been set yet for its American release.
The speech was good, the speaker nervous. Mahalia Jackson, behind Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, heard him hesitating. She yelled out, “tell them about the Dream, Martin!” King came alive and started adlibbing from his prepared text. It grew from its planned seven minutes to become one of the greatest speeches in American history.
Jackson, an internationally known gospel singer who had been with the movement through its most difficult days, was the only woman seated in the podium party. King, who had invited her, was the final speaker, a spot no one else wanted because they assumed that news reporters would have already left after a long day of speeches and song. But the press and the crowd of nearly 250,000 did wait and were rewarded by a thrilling moment of inspiration that climaxed the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Fittingly, after King’s speech was finished, Mahalia Jackson returned to the podium and closed the event with a final song, “How I got over.”
I learned about this day and much more at a memorable exhibition of photographs called The Movement at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. The photographs were all by Bob Adelman and follow the Civil Rights Movement and King from 1961 to the leader’s death in 1968. According to the curator, between 1963 and 1968, Adelman was a photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and other civil rights organizations. Among the many magazines that have published his work are Esquire, Time, Life, New York, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, and Paris Match.
On August 28, 1963, Adelman was known not as a photographer but as a young activist in the movement. Since he wasn’t considered a member of the press, he had unusual access to the podium during the March of Washington. He was there to “see all my heroes, the people who were on the front lines.” At the exhibition, a blow up of his contact sheet of podium shots puts you up there along with Adelman as the speech unfolds.
Not only do his images bring you inside the Civil Rights movement, but they are tremendous photographs. According to Adelman, after King saw his images of protestors being sprayed by police hoses in Birmingham, he said, “I’m surprised that of all that pain, beauty came.”
The last room is devoted to King’s funeral ceremony at Morehouse College and is heart-breaking. His casket was carried in a procession from KIng’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in a simple mule drawn cart, like one you might see on a share-cropper’s farm. In what I believe are never published photographs, Adelman shows us the faces of the King’s family and other mourners as they pass in front of his open casket. We learn that Rosa Parks cried through the whole ceremony.
It is hard to calculate how much impact King’s speech had on the nation. President John F. Kennedy had never heard King give a speech before the March on Washington. Later that day, he invited King and the other organizers to the White House. When King entered the Oval Office, Kennedy shook his hand up and down, repeating, “I have a dream.”
One of the myths about Michelangelo is that he was a loner who worked without assistants –even on the huge Sistine Ceiling commission. Here’s a wonderful item from Michelangelo’s everyday life that disproves the myth — a grocery list he handed to an assistant who couldn’t read.
In fact, as William Wallace reveals in his 1999 biography, Michelangelo had a team of trusted and well-paid Tuscans (he didn’t trust Romans), who worked with him most of his career and were among his closest friends. Some lived with him in his home in Rome. His life story is more like Michelangelo and his Eleven Dwarfs, than Michelangelo the Lonely Genius.
“Almost half of his workforce had some sort of pet name: the Stick, the Basket, the Little Liar, the Dolt, Oddball, Fats, Thorny, Knobby, Lefty, Stumpy, and Gloomy,’’ Wallace writes. “Because he was his own bookkeeper, Michelangelo recorded their names, number of days worked, and the wage of every employee every week. Having grown up in the stoneworking town of Settignano, Michelangelo was personally acquainted with most of his assistants; he was familiar with their talents and employed their fathers, cousins, and neighbors. Such familiarity was a form of quality control and provided an unusual degree of labor stability.”
[Thanks for the grocery list to Beth Wilson.]