Tim Keane reflects on works by Gustave Moreau on view in the exhibition Les Fleurs du Mal at Nahmad Contemporary, New York, on view through April 9, 2016.
Keane writes: "Moreau’s work is charged by an 'awareness' of an especially modern kind — the psychodynamics between a viewer and an image. His scantily clad figures are secluded, implicating the viewer as a voyeur. Again and again, we become unwitting participants in Moreau’s sado-masochistic spectacles, his beatific and brooding reveries. And finally the language of paint — color for its own sake, and for the sake of its infinitesimal patterns, tonalities, gradations – is Moreau’s definitive subject. The more closely you look at the Moreau paintings hanging at Nahmad, the more you appreciate his vision of painting as a means to transcend or overpower any other plane of reality. In Moreau, the modernist dream of an absolute form of art is realized by fusing hard-earned subversions of traditional iconography with unrelenting attention to minute details and free-floating variations of color and line until fantasy and reality converge, conveying alternating currents of alienation and recognition. Unable to interpret a given scene’s meaning in literal terms, the viewer relies on its inexhaustible concrete particulars to make sense of the whole."
Ryan Wong reviews the exhibition Munch 150 at the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo, Norway, on view through October 13, 2013.
Wong writes: "When Munch died, he left his works — some 1,000 paintings, and thousands more prints and watercolors, to the municipality of Oslo. It was an act of national pride, and one that made this celebration possible. Unfortunately, it is also why his works are not seen more outside of Norway; because most are fragile, they rarely travel, and when they do it is only a few at a time. The world knows Munch the angst-filled romantic; it takes a trip to Oslo to find the sunny nationalist, the detached elder, the peripatetic intellectual. But now that New York has its own Scream and this exhibition attracts international attention, we have a chance to complicate our view of this painter, who showed us both the horrific and luminous."
Mary Ann Caws recounts the story of how she fulfilled her dream of owning a Vuillard, having to part with another cherished painting, Robert Vonnoh, to do so.
The Vuillard painting that caught her eye "was of a woman, turned slightly away — leaning over a table? A piano? (Was it Misia?) And toward the right, as if the entire painting were suggesting more than it could ever say, as if she were leaning toward something else not in view. Suggest, not spell it out, Mallarmé always said: 'Peindre non la chose, mais l’effet qu’elle produit.' Just so, I felt that lean, not knowing toward what or whom it might have been directed. I felt myself leaning toward that lean…Of course, I completely share Julius Meier-Graffe’s view about the mysteriousness of Vuillard: 'there is always something in the background with [Vuillard]. It is possible to have one of his interiors in the house for a month, and one fine day to discover a figure in the corner, and not only a figure, but a whole story.' I had not the entire story, of course, and only a half of the figuration, as I was subsequently to learn, but that half spoke to me far more than the whole would have."
William Poundstone blogs about Gustave Moreau's large body of near abstract works on the occasion of the exhibition A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau's Salome at the Hammer Museum, on view through December 9, 2012.
Poundstone writes: "At his 1898 death, Moreau left hundreds of near-abstractions in his studio, none of which had ever been exhibited publicly. His partisans have made the case that their man was the first abstractionist. Moreau began producing small, brushy sketches as early as 1855. Some are related to major paintings like Salome; others seem to be color experiments that may not have been preparatory to anything. By the late 1880s Moreau was about where Kandinsky would be 20 years later, producing paintings that were non-objective save for a fugitive hint of figure or a descriptive title."
Micchelli writes: "Parallelism was Hodler’s personal brand of Symbolism. It can be characterized as a mutation of the neoclassical principles of balance and symmetry into a relentless mirroring of the right and left halves of the composition, which the artist steeped in mystical overtones. In Hodler’s view, Parallelism meant “any repetition of any kind which lends a painting unity,” according to Oskar Bätschmann... The current exhibition at the Neue Galerie... neither avoids what is discomfiting about Hodler, nor does it offer a full-throated revisionist endorsement of his Symbolist work. Rather, it presents a highly selective view of Hodler as a precursor of Expressionism, and particularly of Klimt and Schiele – a sampling of whose work is also on display – for whom he was an acknowledged influence."
An essay by Sue Prideaux on the influence of photography and x-rays on the paintings of Edvard Munch.
Prideaux writes that Munch "is best known for his pictures of moody lovers and tortured souls. However, these were not merely a product of his feverish imagination. His paintings, prints and ghostly photographs reflected a contemporary fascination with spiritualism... the supernatural, the occult and the newly discovered X-ray... [Munch] was fascinated by how spiritualist photographs, with their apparent synthesis of the material and the immaterial, assuaged the public’s hunger for a return to the spiritual and the sacred that mere Naturalist depiction ignored."
Anderson writes that Breitner's "immediate grasp of [photography's] potential in his own artistic process is evident in the present exhibition. Breitner’s painting Demolition of Oudezijds Achterburgwal (1903-04) bears more than a passing resemblance in both form and subject matter to his snapshots of street reconstruction in Amsterdam (taken from 1894-1898)... Flattened picture planes and unusual cropping characterize Breitner's images. Breitner translated this photographic aesthetic to painting, creating works distinguished by their innovatory compositional daring."
The exhibition, which includes paintings by lesser known painters such as Jens Ferdinand Willumsen and Akseli Gallen-Kallela is "dedicated to Symbolist landscape painting... a more imaginative, emotional response to the world around them – a route which took [artists] from Naturalism to the edges of Abstraction. The exhibition will present a wide range of poetic and suggestive paintings of nature from about 1880-1910."
Butler writes that the show "focus[es] on the neglected aspects of [Munch's] often radical work, particularly his use of film and photography..." She also calls attention to a fascinating group of paintings and drawings Munch made after "he suffered a serious intraocular hemorrhage in his right eye, and, later, another one in his left. The condition left a blind spot, splotches and blood clots that impacted both his vision and his painting. He documented the effects in watercolors and drawings, but the visual impairment affected his other work as well."
Courtney Wilder looks at Odilon Redon's lithographs. The print Lumière and ten prints from The Temptation of Saint Anthony are currently on view at The Getty Research Institute through September 2, 2012.
Wilder notes that in Lumière "the viewer becomes a double voyeur, left to contemplate the two small men in the foreground as well as the large meditative head outside the window that they seem to be discussing. Linked to dreams and imagination, Redon's subject illustrates his shared interest in the Symbolist's exploration of forces mystical, occult, and spiritual... Maybe the 'pensive head' (as Redon initially called the print) represents the illumination or light that the individual thinker can cast upon society. At the same time, this individual (and especially the artist, Redon may be saying by extension) must always exist outside the collective."
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.