I’ve been remiss with my postings as this is always a busy time of year at my house; add to that a spousal book tour in full swing. That said, I will have a few more posts before the year ends. Not from the hipper-than, Miami scene, but as good and with cheaper accommodations.
I’m on the train from Baltimore to NYC, passing through Philly, and I just had an Eakins moment, a lone rower on the river, with a bright sun cast on the water; thank you, Amtrak.
Since I’m in a thankful mood, let me also start my end of year string of thank you’s; this may take a few postings, as I’m a very lucky blogger. Thanks to Charles for his insightful and patient editing. My postings go into the hopper looking like Oprah, without make-up, before a cover shoot, and come out looking quite logical. It’s all a mirage, people. [It's not THAT bad. ;-) -- Ed.]
Several shows have been on my wish list, and they are about to close. Sean Scully at the Met, John Currin porn at Gagosian, and Manet’s incredible three versions of Execution of Maximilian at MoMA. Once the holidays hit, I’ll be wishing only for more food, drink, food, and hopefully sunscreen; so this is perfect timing.
The Manet reminded me of Goya’s 3rd of May, so he’s on my mind. We haven’t publicly heard any follow-up on the recent theft of a Goya painting, Children with a Cart, en route from the Toledo Museum to NYC for exhibit at the Guggenheim. Luckily the painting was recovered, but the situation surrounding the theft remains a mystery. How could a painting of such value end up in an unguarded truck, in a motel parking lot, over night? Was the air temperature regulated? Why didn’t an alarm sound? Why wasn’t the trip made nonstop? This painting is a public treasure, and I think any investigation of these events should be transparent and thorough. Would the public be surprised by the conditions that many works of art travel around the world, or by how much art is in transit daily, by Fedex?
Sean Scully’s Wall of Light series at the Met did not disappoint. I have only had the opportunity to see a few of his paintings, and to see a selection like this is great. He’s a real lover of paint and takes great pleasure with the action that happens on the edges of and between the colors; this creates a liveliness of floating cloud-like grids of color. A smaller gallery has a selection of his watercolors, pastels, and prints.
Also at the Met, a must-see show if you're in town, Cézanne to Picasso, Ambrose Vollard, Patron to the Avant-Garde. Vollard was the most influential dealer in turn-of-the-century Paris. A promoter of artists and publisher of prints and books. Through his exhibits he established the reputations of Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso; he gave Matisse his first solo show.
In 1895, the year of Van Gogh’s death, at the age of 24, he opened his first gallery. Van Gogh’s friend Emile Bernard suggested his inaugural show be of Van Gogh's work. Unable to find enough of his work in Paris, six days before the show, he contacted the family. Theo had died in 1891, but his widow, Johanna, sent him ten paintings to exhibit. The first show was a bust, but soon after the work began to sell, and eventually Vollard made a nice profit.
He also had a lot to do with an artist named Gauguin and this show has some fabulous Cezanne figurative compositions, worth the vist alone. Ever wonder, as I have, how Picasso got to make so many etchings and aquatints? The Suite Vollard, over 100 plates printed in 1939, is also on display. Art dealers, sometimes they do great things, too.
I made the uptown gallery runs while I was there: Allan Stone, Cheryl McGuinnis, Lesley Heller, and then Acquavella, to see Lucian Freud’s latest work. I was interested in, Before the Fourth, a smallish etching, approximately 18x20 in an edition of 46, only $20,000. The Ionarts bonuses should be in the mail.
Freud’s naked portraits warmed me up for John Currin's hilarious twist on porn, which gets everyone in the Gagosian Gallery door, but theres‘ more to it. Currin is a very good painter, not only because he has told us so, it’s true. But he’s got a wonderfully twisted imagination, I’m hooked for more. An ode to Courbet?
My MoMA membership has proven to be a wise investment this year. I get to cruise right in and see three versions of Manet's Execution of Maximilian. Max, the Archduke of Austria, was persuaded by Napolean III to lead a campaign in Mexico to oust Benito Juarez, the first indigenous, elected president of Mexico; Napolean disliked his liberal beliefs, the L word. The invasion was sucessful, but Maximillian was inept and oppressive. Juarez organized a guerrilla insurgency and regained power, and Maximilian and his generals were executed.
As differing accounts of the event slowly reached Paris, Manet got to work. The first version (1867, shown), which is now in the collection of the MFA, Boston, is my favorite: it's a loosely painted, intense, moody scene. The firing squad is wearing sombreros -- the first reports were of a peasant uprising -- Maximilian and his staff are shrouded by the smoke of the gun fire. The second version, 1867-68, shows a more mannered, conservative approach (with traditional military attire and the victim visible), was damaged in the studio. The damaged sections were destroyed and the remaining sold separately by his heirs. Edgar Degas sought them out and reassembled them.
Eventually purchased by the National Gallery, London, it wasn't until 1992 that they were assembled onto one canvas, as in this exhibit. The third version, 1868, from the Kunsthalle, Mannheim, is similar to the second: in this version the background is more involved, an audience of peasants are witness from behind a wall, the uniforms are of professional soldiers, Maximilian and his generals are in full view, holding hands, awaiting their fate. This is one of those rare opportunities to have three versions of an iconic image in the same gallery, with a host of supporting materials, photos, prints, and paintings. As if you need more reason to visit NYC at this time of year, wear a hockey outfit as you walk the streets though: lots of dazed pedestrians with flailing shopping bags.