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Giorgio Morandi @ the Met

A familiar landscape that changes slightly with the season, a shelf of glassware struck by sunlight or a well-known face intensely observed over time -- being acutely aware of the simplest things in our lives can be most enlightening. Giorgio Morandi's genius, perhaps more than any other 20th-century painter, was his ability, through intensive observation, to make the ordinary seem extraordinary -- Zen master of the still life.

In our over-stimulated world, filled with stuff, Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1964, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an exhibit that is well overdue and one I have personally been looking forward to. He was the quintessential painter's painter and role model for the school of less-is-more.

Nothing is more abstract than reality. I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see... Matter exists of course, but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as meaning that we attach to it. Only we can know that a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.... I have never intended to give objects in my still-life arrangements any particularly familiar meanings.
The exhibit is comprised of 110 works that document the entire course of his career, featuring Morandi's iconic still lifes, as well as rare self-portraits and landscapes, his metaphysical paintings of the post-World War I years, and the nearly monochromatic, dissolved images of his last years.

Morandi has been compared often with Chardin, whose still lifes also celebrated the ordinary and the humble -- minus the slaughtered rabbits and fowl -- but he paid extreme attention to their individual formal characteristics. Many objects in his still-life compositions were brushed with flat white or grayish paint, to destroy reflections and anything accidental. His landscapes have a Cézannesque inspiration, in his use of grayed tones and solid construction.

Using repeated objects, Morandi grouped them together so that they touch, hiding and cropping or otherwise altering even the most recognizable features; sometimes the same objects are treated as distinct forms altered by the addition or subtraction of a single element, at times positioning the background as shadow. Incredibly the addition or removal of one bottle or box, or altering the voids between them, can completely shift the dynamic of a given composition and its color harmonies.

In addition to this rare chance to see so many Morandi paintings assembled in one exhibit, an even rarer treat are the accompanying drawings and watercolors and several absolutely stunning etchings. He is now recognized as a master of copperplate etching and was a professor of etching at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna.

Morandi lived a somewhat reclusive life, sharing an apartment with his three sisters. Aside from occasional trips to Venice, Florence, or Rome for exhibitions of his paintings, he rarely left Bologna. Although he granted only two published interviews toward the end of his life, his paintings began to get notice and demand for them grew. He was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the 1957 Sao Paolo Biennale, ahead of Jackson Pollock and Marc Chagall.

The early part of Morandi's career is the most difficult to reconstruct as he destroyed much of his work from this period. Ultimately he created few paintings other than those he gave as gifts to friends and long-time supporters, as is the case with the many flower paintings in the exhibit, completed in the 1950s.

The exhibition, which I suggest is a must-see, was organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna (MAMbo). It runs from September 16 through December 14. My Flickr site has more images of the work and from the preview.


Anonymous said...

Nice fuzzy flickr photos!

Mark Barry said...

I Know!! Mr Magoo moment.