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Les Journaux

Cultural news bits from the European press.

One of the things I wrote about on my recent trip to New York was the Poussin exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Souren Melikian just wrote a review (Souren Melikian: The hidden conflict in Poussin's landscapes, April 11) of that show for the International Herald Tribune, which contains the following observations:

An interplay of allusions to the Ancient Testament and to Greek mythology has been read into one of the painter's most famous compositions, "The Finding of Moses." In an improbable landscape, clouds touched by sunlight float in the distance over Egyptian pyramids and obelisks, Greek temples and an ill-defined square pediment topped by a circular tower. Women clad in Roman-style drapes are gathered around a baby resting on a wicker basket, as if it were some Nativity, while nearby a nonchalant bearded man in the nude reclines with his arm resting on an overturned urn.

Rosenberg points out that here, too, Poussin took care to find authentic ancient models for some details. An Egyptian harp or sistrum lies on the ground. In the distance a hippopotamus hunt is modeled after the mosaics of Palestrina. These, the French scholar comments, are linked to a meditation on Ancient Egyptian religion and on the destiny of the daughter of Pharaoh and Isis who found her son along the Nile. [...] The problem with much of Poussin's art is that reading such allusions to mythology or the Scriptures is beyond the ability of most 21st-century viewers. The literary connotations that gave 17th-century cognoscenti immense intellectual pleasure are now viewed by many as stale artifice.
The Fondation Beyeler, near Basel, has an excellent exhibit on Action Painting (through May 12), reviewed by Harry Bellet (Le geste et la spontanéité du peintre, April 10) for Le Monde. The organization is known for being able to borrow exceptional collections of paintings, and this show, combining the works of 27 artists, is no different. To understand how much money must be required to insure this show, one of the paintings on display is Jackson Pollock's Number 5 (1948), rumored to be the most expensive painting in the world, having reportedly been purchased for $140 million dollars, privately, in 2007.

Bellet was critical of some of the selections made by curator Ulf Küster, noting the absence of the work of Georges Mathieu (who helped make Jackson Pollock known in France) and the inclusion of works by Arman, Eva Hesse, and Cy Twombly, whose connection to the subject is distant at best. You can look at the list of artists, a selection of high-resolution scans of the paintings, and some photographs of the artists in action at the Web site (if you can stand the Flash interface). Bellet names as "the icing on the cake" (cerise sur le gâteau) several paintings one Pierre Soulages, who began working in the style in 1946 and is still at it. He was present at the opening, where his work was praised by the foundation's new director, Samuel Keller, former director of the Art Basel fair.

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