Roberta Smith muses on several unfinished paintings on view in the recently redesigned European galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Smith begins: "Unfinished paintings are enticing cracks in the facade of art history, lures along the path to a deeper understanding of artistic processes and impulses. For all the paintings that artists complete, countless others are left incomplete for any number of reasons — poverty or war, a change of plan or vision, the illness or death of the artist. While many of these works have been destroyed, and others forgotten, some are now recognized as significant works of art, accorded a special place in history and in an artist’s body of work, in part because they can bring us closer to understanding the mysterious process of painting, and, indeed, to painting’s future. After all, nothing inspires a young artist like a close look at how an earlier one worked."
Naves writes that "the curatorial point is obvious: Dürer was a phenomenon. Is a phenomenon, if the response of the crowds attending the show is any indication. Huddling around the works, viewers can’t look closely enough at the images—because of their small size, sure, but mostly because of Dürer’s huge talent. Ensconced, as it is, in the East Wing, the section of the museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art, the exhibition may (as a friend suggested) prompt doubts about the progress of art: Sixteenth-century Northern Europeans had the meticulous intensity of Dürer; we have to settle for the decorative flourishes of Ellsworth Kelly, the subject of a concurrent exhibition at The National Gallery. An apples and oranges comparison, perhaps, and any museum-goer seeking proof of art’s forward march will inevitably be frustrated. But if Dürer the man is history, then Dürer the artist is forever our contemporary, a figure whose virtuosity—at once both clinical and deeply intimate—withstands anything so mundane as time passing."
Micchelli writes: "Dürer’s boldness with his materials is evidenced in what is probably the most emblematic image to come from the Great Observer, namely 'The Great Piece of Turf' (1503)... The work is minimal in its color choices — tonal gradations of raw umber and mint green, with dabs of aquamarine and amber — and if you continue to look closely at it, raising your eyes inch by inch up through the weeds, it can seem like a dull profusion of busy green verticals. Take one step back, however, and the whole thing pulls together, not unlike a Jackson Pollock or a Joan Mitchell, with the blank backdrop suggesting a field of hazy, ambient light while simultaneously behaving as an undisguised paper support. The great piece of turf looks virtually collaged to that support, its dry densities of paint creating a hyper-real alternative reality to the paper’s all-too-real, blank tactility."
Of Rosso's Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist (c. 1520), Kessler writes: "Rosso makes no attempt to create a plausibly real scene in a real space. What's being depicted is not ordinary human activity, and it's not an idealized scene either, but rather it's an almost hallucinogenic, spiritual ecstasy more akin to medieval mosaics in spirit than to the High Renaissance. This ecstatic emotion is conveyed by the glowing colors and the swirling, rhythmic brushwork. (The painting is unfinished so it's probably rougher and less polished than it would be if he had finished it — but still.) In the Rosso, St. Joseph and St. John are so emotionally overwrought they seem to be dissipating visually."
"As might be expected in a show that covers art from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century, the styles and purposes of the drawings are all over the place. There are Leonardo's scribbled studies of Mary Magdalene, Pieter Breugel the Elder's detailed line drawing of a peasant scene that would be used to make a print, and a watercolor by Cezanne meant as a finished piece.... Exceptionally high quality is the glue that holds the show together. So this is an exhibit that presents art as pretty much ahistorical and at its most fundamental -- pure visual pleasure, of which there is plenty."
Laura Gilbert reviews the Museum of Biblical Art's Passion in Venice. Her post, entitled "Great Art in Curatorial Purgatory," deems the show a curatorial "mess," but the paintings, prints, and other works on view well worth a visit. "Although the show disappoints, the art doesn't" she writes. That's a pretty ringing endorsement.
Michael Miller reviews The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (through March 13, 2011). He writes that the exhibition "presents the artist and his work partly in the context of his time and place and partly as artefacts present-day viewers respond to literally, without much explanation, as images that will strike them as strange or alien, either because of a cultural disconnect or because of the uniqueness of Dürer's imagination."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.