Lost in New York

“New York City, home to great collections of art, is never short of key works by important artists to measure against one another. Autumn 2011, three displays have coincided to allow people to compare the skills of a modern master with those of a predecessor who influenced him. Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) revered J.A.D. Ingres (1780-1867) for both his devotion to the human figure and technical skill (in drawing especially). De Kooning vowed he would never paint a tree and his art never strayed too far from the portrait or nude, even at its most abstracted. Likewise, Ingres never manifested much interest in landscape and still-life either. Both painters were noted by peers as being consummate painters of flesh, principally female.

“MoMA claim that De Kooning: A Retrospective (until 9 January) is the “first major museum exhibition devoted to the full scope of the career of Willem de Kooning”. As the current survey includes work from 1983-7 not included in a much larger 1983 retrospective shown in Berlin and New York (the current show has 195 works, the earlier one had 280) the press release is technically accurate while being a touch grandiloquent.

“Filling the sixth floor of the new MoMA building for the first time, the retrospective provides some surprises and confirms some expectations…”

Read the full review at THE JACKDAW, November 2011 here:

http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/?p=83

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Musee Wiertz, Musee Meunier, Brussels

“Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865) was born to an impoverished family in Dinant, Wallonia (later Belgium). After studying at Antwerp Art Academy, he won the (Belgian) Prix de Rome at a second try, in 1832.  His grand manner was Romantic and painterly, derived from Rubens. His subjects anticipate those of the Symbolists. Though Wiertz made his name with historical and religious compositions, the allegories and  (often gruesome) scenes of contemporary life are his most distinctive contributions to art.

“In 1850, partly in order to establish Belgian art as independent of French influence (led by the School of David; J-L David (1714-1825) spent his last years in Brussels) the newly formed state agreed to build a studio and dwelling for the benefit of Wiertz, the first truly “Belgian” artist. The initial agreement was that the artist would donate works to the state but it seems Wiertz early on had the idea of turning the studio into a permanent museum. The government drew the line at Wiertz’s proposal to fund the construction of a ruined temple in the studio grounds. Upon the artist’s death the combined house and studio became possessions of the state. Both building and grounds have remained unchanged since 1868, now a fragment of a lost age lodged under the glass towers of the European Parliament….”

Read the full review on THE JACKDAW, January 2011 here:

http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/?p=64

Museum Policy: Deaccessioning by British museums

“In 10 July, an ancient Egyptian statue was sold in London by Christie’s for £15,762,500. The Sekhemka limestone figure, dating from 2400-2300BC, was consigned by Northampton Borough Council (NBC). It had previously been stored at Northampton Museum since its donation before 1880 by the Marquess of Northampton. Unfortunately for Sekhemka, the museum is primarily a museum of local history, focusing on the shoe trade, with a subsidiary collection of fine-art paintings. There is no antiquities department, which meant the sculpture was in storage most of the time. So when NBC were in search of funds for building work at the museum, the statue looked a prime candidate for sale (called ‘deaccessioning’ in the museum world). The piece was rarely on display, lacked a specialist curator to protect it, and Northampton museum was riven by internal personnel conflict. Most important of all, Sekhemka was valuable. Despite warnings from theMuseums Association, the Egyptian government and local Northampton figures, NBC consigned and sold the figure last week.

Bury Council sold paintings by Lowry to fund deficits in 2006 and Southampton Council wanted to do something similar to pay for a Titanic museum. The fact that the Sekhemka auction made three times its estimated price of £4-6million has serious ramifications. This will only encourage cash-strapped councils all over the UK to eye their collections with a view to disposing of ‘non-core’ items in order to pay for maintenance, restoration and expansion of buildings – or simply to reduce budget deficits…”

Read the full article on SPIKED, 15 July 2014 here:

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-museums-turning-culture-into-a-commodity/15399#.Vd-EefldU5k

Children in Museums

“The publication of a photograph of a boy climbing a valuable steel sculpture, while his parents look on unconcerned, has prompted debate about children in public museums. This debate has been going on for years within the art community. On one side, there are traditionalists (conservators, artists and avid gallery-goers) who object to the noise and disruption caused by children and worry about damage to fragile objects. Opposing them are progressives: education officers, teachers and parents, who argue that art enhances the lives of children and that traditionalists should stop being restrictive and join the modern world. In a newspaper discussion, writer and broadcaster Dea Birkett calls opponents of this progressive outlook ‘slow head nodders and chin scratchers’…”

Read the full article on SPIKED, 24 February 2014 here:

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/museums-never-mind-the-children-what-about-the-parents/14702#.Vd999PldU5k

Paul Delvaux Museum, St Idesbald

“If you have heard of Belgian painter Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) then it is likely to have been in connection with Surrealism. He gets a couple of illustrations in thematic surveys of Surrealism, rarely more. Unless you locate a specialist publication on the artist, it is hard to get an overview of his development. Delvaux is poorly represented in British public collections.

“Born near Liège in 1897, Delvaux initially studied architecture in Brussels, though he abandoned his studies because his grades in mathematics were insufficient, transferring to the painting course.  Delvaux’s earliest pieces are landscapes composed with a naturalistic palette, later leavened by Impressionism. As is usual for Belgians of this period, the Impressionism is more a form of vivacious naturalism with vibrant lighting effects and vigorous brushwork rather than sustained application of complimentary colour theory. Throughout the late 1920s he picked up and attempted to blend a welter of (often conflicting) influences: Renoir, Cézanne, Modigliani, Ensor. After 1925 one constant emerges: the human figure, often as a nude, as the principal subject. In the late 1920s Delvaux came into the orbit of Flemish Expressionists (less bold and strident than the Germans, they evolved a dull-hued, restrained style dwelling on figures in domestic settings, clearly displaying an attachment to realism)…”

Read the full review on THE JACKDAW, March 2011:

http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/?p=66