Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winter trip - DC

DC was all about art. Iceland has an interesting art scene but it is dominated by conceptual art and after a year of viewing ready mades, video installations, and such, it is getting monotonous. I was craving variety. Hirshhorn Musuem, National Art Gallery, and Phillips Collection were my cure. I am very fortunate to have several friends in DC who are not only passionate but knowledgeable about art and it was very lucky that they were able to accompany me to those museums. One of them introduced me to the work of Kenneth Snelson, which I would have undoubtedly missed otherwise. It calls "Needle Tower" and besides being a work of art, demonstrates the concept of tensegrity. It gives visible expression to the idea that tension and compression are the complementary elements in any structure, and that great economy of materials may be achieved through strategies which rely on tension primarily, compression secondarily.

Kenneth Snelson "Needle Tower", 1968

Another important work that could have been easily overlooked without my friends simply because of the sheer volume of the art works presented in the National Gallery, was Leonardo da Vinci's " Ginevra de' Benci" . It is remarkable because it it the only portrait by Leonardo in the Western Hemisphere, plus you can actually see the artist's fingerprint on the paint surface. It shows how the artist used his hand as well as a brush to blend colors and create soft, delicate edges.

Leonardo da Vinci " Ginevra de' Benci" c. 1474/1478.

These two works were new to me and piqued my intellectual curiosity, prompted me to read more about them but they didn't speak to my heart and soul. What I wanted to explore were the art works that attracted me without any knowledge of their background, their status in the art history. Writing art reviews I often notice that at times I grew to like some work after speaking with artists, exploring its meaning, but what I wanted was the instant spark, equivalent of being swept off my feet. So, below are the works that I felt connection with and things I learnt about them afterwards:

René Margitte “The Healer”, 1967

It s serenity and whimsy instantly attracted me. I love this bird cage in place of a torso, the absence of the face - it creates very poetic image of peaceful,singing soul. The statue "The Healer" is based on Margitte's painting with the same name. Towards the end of his life the artist worked on a series of sculptures based on eight of his paintings. He oversaw the making of full-scale wax models, but died before they were cast in bronze. The figure of the healer had reappeared in several works of the artist.In 1937, Magritte was photographed in the same pose, with a blanket over his head and a canvas in place of the cage.

I think that the most known painting of this author is "The Treachery of the Images" where he depicted a pipe with the words "This is not a pipe" (Ceci n'est pas une pipe) painted underneath it. Play of visual image and written words creates an interesting paradox, which summarizes Margritte's view on art: "Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. "

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing # 65, first installation 1971
Drawn by Hidemi Nomura, Karlisima, Kristen Holder, and Kathlyn Morales.

A lot of LeWitt's works consist of basic shapes, colours and different types of lines that were organized by certain rules. It often took a whole team of assistants (who were always credited at the end) to execute his plans, which transformed a solo work into creative collaboration. LeWitt's titles/instructions are very detailed and the one to the Drawing # 65 said: "Lines not short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn at random using four colors, uniformly dispensed with maximum density, covering the entire surface of the wall." The photo doesn't do justice to the drawing, you really have to see it in person in order to fully appreciate its intricate design.

Piet Mondrian "Tableau # IV, 1924/1925 (wall) and Constantin Brancusi "Bird in Space"

Those two are my old objects of fascination, they perfected the art of brevity, expressing maximum with minimum means. Brancusi's work , a slender projectiles, one from polished bronze, the other from polished marble, radiates splendid elegance. I had hard time to take my eyes off them. Their surface is so smooth, it glitters and seems to change shape ever so subtly as you move around. Brancusi was in a constant search for universal shape and perfect form and certainly created beautiful pieces on his way.

Piet Mondrian also went on a quest for simplicity, though his quest was a spiritual journey as well. He restricted himself to the most basic elements of painting - straight lines and primary colours and with this arsenal set on a difficult task of expressing the harmony of the universe. You would think that such limited means cannot provide much of variety, but he seemed to have limitless imagination. This was the first time I saw his diamond composition. This 45 degree turn of the painting is very captivating, it forces a viewer to consider how it would look from different angles, to notice cut off lines, and unfinished shapes.

It was brilliant to put those two masters in close proximity to each other, it creates certain dialogue between the pieces.

Bartolome Esteban Murillo "Two Women at a Window", 1665/1660

This is a very different work from a very different time. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was the most popular Seville's painter in the later seventeenth century. What strikes me here is how modern are the faces of both women. It is the 17th century but they can easily be our contemporaries. It is such a lovely and lively composition - the amused smile of a young girl, who leans on the window ledge, the smile of the older women, hidden behind the shawl but visible in her eyes, you cannot help but smile back at them.

(to be continued)

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