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Abstraktes Bild

“If you wish to advance into the infinite, explore the finite in all directions.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, epigram, David Luke, Goethe: Selected Verse, 1964 “In Richter’s work there is a demonstration of the ways in which painting’s resources are constantly replenished by the very problems it seems to pose, both for the painter and the viewer. Nobody in our own time has posed them better or solved them more inventively than Richter.” Glenn D. Lowry, Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Ricther: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 7 "They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience." Roald Nasgaard, Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 110 The sweeping extent to which Gerhard Richter is responsible for maintaining the essential currency of painting during the course of recent Art History is today undeniable and inescapable. Undeniable because for more than five decades Richter has continually reinvented the terms by which painting has been relevant to a continually transforming audience: inescapable because there are exceptionally few artists working today whose reputation inspires anything close to comparable veneration. More than one million visitors attended the travelling retrospective exhibition Gerhard Richter: Panorama in London, Berlin, and Paris between 2011 and 2012 and the sheer scope and diversity of Richter’s leviathan artistic achievement is now well-recognized the world over. Ever since Vasari introduced the concept of a codified hierarchy of artistic aptitude, a line of masters from da Vinci and Michelangelo to Rembrandt, Turner, Monet, and Rothko have been celebrated as preeminent within their successive eras. Gerhard Richter is, quite simply, the master painter of ours. As the director of the Museum of Modern Art Glenn D. Lowry wrote in the foreword to the 2002 exhibition Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, “No other artist has placed more intriguing and rigorous demands upon specialists, interpreters, followers and average viewers alike – nor upon himself… In Richter’s work there is a demonstration of the ways in which painting’s resources are constantly replenished by the very problems it seems to pose, both for the painter and the viewer. Nobody in our own time has posed them better or solved them more inventively than Richter.” (Glenn D. Lowry, Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Ricther: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 7) Abstraktes Bild is the consummate example of Richter’s cycle of abstract works executed in 1992 that are characterized by highly-distinctive schemas of striations. It is the last of the four paintings that comprise the series numbered 780, the other three being respectively housed in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, San Francisco, and the Daros Collection, Zurich. It is also one of eleven paintings of this cycle to exceed eight feet in height, with nine of those being housed in institutional collections, including the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Duisburg Modern Art Museum and Moderna Museet in Stockholm, in addition to those listed above. Across the primed vastness of this empty canvas and with the great traction and drag of a hard-edged spatula, Richter streaked and smeared passages of semi-liquid material, fusing and dissecting wide tracts of oil paint. The shadows of the medium’s former malleability are caught now in a perpetually-dynamic stasis; cast as staccato ridges, crests, and peaks of impasto that punctuate an underlying fluidity in variously pronounced chromatic contrast. This creates a powerful sensation of depth. The interchangeability of light and dark hues in front and behind, respectively in unified swathes and broken accretions, such as deepest crimson on brilliant whites in the top left versus vivid cyan on opaque rich umbers towards the center right, radically destabilizes this sense of recession. This extreme textural topography creates an actual dynamism as the nature of the object subject to our vision constantly transforms with our shifting perspective and an ever-changing play of light across it. What is near and what is far becomes indefinite and our eye is forced to constantly readjust to attempt to comprehend the pure assault of pictorial data. Additional scrapes, smudges, and incisions in all directions carry us forward and back, beyond even the furthermost reaches of color and pigment in a way reminiscent of Fontana’s slashes and scything deconstruction of the picture plane into the infinity of space beyond. The sum of all these accretions and reductions, of Richter’s tireless process of addition and subtraction, is a record of time itself within the paint strata: the innumerable layers of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis. Richter’s corpus of abstract paintings has often been considered as the culmination of the manifold lines of artistic enquiry he has pursued throughout his career spanning, among others, the Photo Paintings, Gray Paintings, Color Charts, Photorealist Paintings, Landscapes, Seascapes, and Photorealist Abstract Paintings. Following this plethora of artistic exploration, Gerhard Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction stands as the crescendo to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception, and the operations of visual cognition. However, with increasing historical perspective it is also apparent that Richter’s influence on the course of abstract art extends a critical line of art historical precedent, and his achievements further those initiated by various masters who came before. Indeed, contemporaneous appreciation of Richter’s antecedents, from J.M.W. Turner, through Claude Monet to Mark Rothko and the Abstract Expressionists, can provide revealing and insightful context for the relationship between Richter and his forbears. Considering the phenomenal visual impact of the present work, it is not surprising that this painting was recently installed alongside one of Monet’s majestic Nymphéas at the Fondation Beyeler. Indeed, arguably more than any other abstract painting that Richter has created, Abstraktes Bild evokes the essential atmosphere and spirit, radical innovation, and supreme disposition of color that characterizes the French master’s vast late masterpieces. In this context it is instructive to consider a contemporary description of Monet’s Nymphéas by the essayist Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, which though penned in 1909 prophetically foreshadows Richter’s painting executed more than eighty years later: "Water that is pale blue and dark blue, water like liquid gold, treacherous green water reflects the sky…Here, more than ever before, painting approached music and poetry. There is in these paintings an inner beauty that is both plastic and ideal." (Jean-Louis Vaudoyer in La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité, 15th May 1909, p. 159, translated from French) In a similar vein, a discussion of Turner’s paintings by John Ruskin in 1843 that talks of the “abstract question of color” provides some further parallels with Richter’s project. Ruskin described the English painter’s work in terms of “the perfect and unchanging influence of all his pictures at any distance. We approach only to follow the sunshine… and retire only to feel it diffused over the scene, the whole picture glowing like a sun or star at whatever distance we stand, and lighting the air between us and it.” (John Ruskin, Modern Painters,Volume I, Part II, Section II, Chapter I, 1843 in E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., The Works of John Ruskin, London, 1903, p. 273) The sheer presence and enduring power of Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild immediately brings this account to life, and the simultaneously articulated and cohesive sense of luminosity is higly reminiscent of passages of Turner’s best painting. A subsequent analogy can also be found in Clement Greenberg’s 1950 analysis of the mesmerizing effect of Mark Rothko’s sublime canvases: “their surfaces exhale color with an enveloping effect that is enhanced by size itself. One reacts to an environment as much as to a picture hung on a wall.” (“‘American-Type’ Painting” (1955) cited in Clifford Ross, ed., Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, New York, 1990, p. 248) Again we are immediately reminded of the engulfing influence of the present painting and Richter’s ambition to immerse the viewer in a state of both visual and corporeal experience. Ultimately, however, Richter’s achievement was without direct precedent. Abstraktes Bild possesses a unique identity whereby the total deconstruction of perception - dismantling themes of representation, illusion, communication - becomes a sublime chaos. As a paradigm of this oeuvre the present work communes a subjective relationship with the viewer and becomes itself experience rather than object. Richter's cumulative technique depends on the random nature of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has himself explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture...I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 36)  With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Signed, dated 1992 and numbered 780-4 on the reverse

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  • 2015-05-12
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Popeye

Jeff Koons has an eye for Pop. Heir to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Koons is the unmitigated twenty-first century successor to the Pop revolution of the 1960s. Celebrities, cartoon characters, paradigms of popular taste and archetypes of kitsch sentimentality all articulated in saccharine candy colors, faux-lux materials and high gloss comprise the quintessential Koonsian universe. This supreme eye for Pop, or indeed Pop-eye, is the very concept (and Duchampian linguistic pun) that underlines the powerful metaphoric significance of his most accomplished and major work of recent years – an immaculate and gleaming six and-a-half foot tall heroic statue depicting the swarthy cartoon sailor of the very same name. As for Warhol and Lichtenstein in the 1960s, for Koons, Popeye the Sailor Man is a true icon of twentieth-century popular culture; though over 80 years old, the all-American cartoon hero is nevertheless as relevant and universally famous across the globe today as he was almost a century ago. Immortalized by Koons’s aforementioned Pop forefathers in 1961, Popeye became a vehicle not just for ‘low-brow’ entertainment, but for a new high-art expression that adopted the ephemera and brand icons of a rapidly proliferating consumer age. Originally conceived in 1929 as a newspaper comic-strip, Popeye grew to the status of cultural phenomenon amidst the adversities of the Great Depression: resolutely ordinary yet tough, resilient, confident and super-strong, this self-made man personified the American dream in a time of international hardship. Koons has re-appropriated this American champion as an icon for the new millennium. Herculean in stance with cleft-chin proffered and outrageously proportioned muscles swelling, Popeye is three-dimensional and over life-size, incarnated with Brancusian reflectivity in Koons’s signature material: stainless steel. Created with the very highest level of craftsmanship and flawlessly finished in kaleidoscopic jewel-like glazes of extraordinary clarity, Popeye stands at the very apotheosis of a long line of monumental sculptures and statues in which Jeff Koons has courted controversy and sought banality to re-frame the terms of high art for the masses. Popeye embodies a mighty hybrid subtly nuanced with the essential traits synonymous with Koons’s most celebrated pieces and famous bodies of work. The seminal stainless steel Rabbit from the Statuary series of 1986, the porcelain sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles from Banality in 1986, the erotically charged yet Disneyesque flowers from Made in Heaven in 1991, and the irresistible and colossal stainless steel Balloon Dog and Hanging Heart of the Celebration series from 1994, together form the Koonsian arena within which Popeye, resolutely tied to the Twenty-First Century, now takes center stage. In 1929 Popeye made his debut as a bit-part in a long established comic-strip Thimble Theatre in the New York Journal.  Created by the Illinois born cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the comic first appeared in print in 1919 but was radically transformed with Popeye’s appearance ten years later, propelling the cartoon, and moreover the character, to national fame and popularity. Having originally centered on the adventures of Olive Oyl and her family, Popeye was introduced as a straight-talking, quick-tempered mariner only intended to serve a sea-faring story-line. The new character, however, far outstripped the popularity of the cartoon’s existing premise and in turn sparked a radical transformation that witnessed Popeye’s elevation to main protagonist. The storylines thereafter developed with Popeye at the center apprehending villains and overcoming seemingly hopeless tasks by calling upon the strengthening properties of canned spinach. With his squinting eye, trademark corn-cob pipe, bulging forearms and salty attitude, Popeye became an icon of triumph over adversity - a status made all the more prevalent during the early 1930s owing to a dramatic decline in the social and financial climate. A product of the years between two world wars blighted by social powerlessness and economic hardship, Popeye was a cultural phenomenon. At its height the comic strip was reproduced in over 600 newspapers across the United States, was credited with singlehandedly saving the spinach industry during the depression, and alongside Mickey Mouse became one of the most successful animated cartoon franchises of the Twentieth Century. Reinterpreted for a new century and elevated to the status of high art statuary, Koons’s larger than life cartoon colossus is an opulent and heroic allegory expressed in the instantly accessible vernacular of Pop culture. With the help of a can of spinach Popeye is able to metamorphose from ordinary sailor into a hero with superhuman strength and cunning. As an unlikely champion, he represents a kind of everyman transcendence; in this sense Popeye is the perfect Koonsian hero. “For me, Popeye is a figure who has his limitations, but there’s this sense of acceptance.” (the artist in conversation with Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist in Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Jeff Koons: Popeye Series, 2009, p. 69) Besides signifying confidence and courage in times of adversity, Popeye embodies the essential metaphor that underlines the very core of Koons’s practice: the acceptance of cultural history and the acceptance of self. Since the early 1980s Koons has worked within the remit of Pop art and its embrace of consumer driven visual culture to eradicate intellectual guilt and critical shame from an appreciation of mass taste. Through a lexicon of immediately recognizable ‘secular archetypes’ sourced from consumer goods, childhood icons and celebrity culture, Koons suspends judgment and employs superficial and kitschy taste to deliver exalted meaning and big concepts. This focus was first fully broached in 1986 with Banality, a body of work comprising the giant sculpture of a kitten dangling from a clothes line, Buster Keaton straddling a diminutive horse as well as Pink Panther and Michael Jackson and Bubbles porcelain statues. Proposing an altered concept of the Duchampian readymade, Koons creates objects based on emblems or ideas drawn from the mass consciousness as the cipher for a new conceptual dialogue. As Koons explains, “In the Banality series I started to focus on my dialogue about people accepting their own histories… I was just trying to say that whatever you respond to is perfect, that your history and your own cultural background are perfect… that it’s ok to give in to what you respond to.” (Jeff Koons, "Dialogues on Self-Acceptance" in Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jeff Koons, 2012, p. 24) Popeye’s very own dictum, “I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam,” is thus intentionally apt yet signals an inherent contradiction essential to Koons’s artistic project: though a champion of acceptance, the will or necessity to overcome and go beyond ultimately prevails. Katy Siegel has argued that this conflict reflects that of American culture in general, “which swings between the poles of ‘I’m, OK, you’re OK’, an almost belligerent insistence on not needing to learn or change, and the desire for self-improvement and social mobility.” (Katy Siegel in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 260) Triumphantly holding a can of spinach squeezed open by a giant hand and tumescent forearm, Popeye wields the key to his own self-mastery and transformation. For Koons, Popeye represents the essential übermensch and ultimate metaphor for the potential of art: “… Popeye transforms. He eats his spinach and he transforms. And art is the spinach. Art can transform your life.” (the artist in conversation with Pharrell Williams, ARTST TLK, Reserve Channel, 23 November 2013) As first fully articulated in Banality, Koons sees art as a form of ‘self-help’ heavily invested in a very traditional notion of enlightenment: art as a vehicle for a purer sense of being and empowerment. With Koons’s monumental Popeye, overt virility and inescapable phallic prowess is on display through a masquerade of bulging musculature and exultant posturing. Where Koons portrays Jackson in the guise of a tragi-kistch pietà, Popeye is undoubtedly steeped in classical tropes of heroic masculinity. Indeed, Popeye was framed within this very classical context in the recent exhibition Jeff Koons: The Sculptor at the Frankfurt Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, in which super-reflectivity and radiant color contrasted with the idealism of ancient marble. Evoking the straining biceps of the Hellenic Laӧcoon in the Vatican, possessing a bulk that summons the heavy musculature of the Farnese Hercules, and echoing the exquisitely rounded athletic curves for which the Discophoros of Polykleitos is paradigmatic, Popeye represents the meeting of American Pop and Minimalism with the European figurative tradition. Articulated in mirror polished stainless steel – the fabric of Minimalism and according to the artist, “symbol of the proletariat”– the present work reasserts the classical tradition of public statuary as an ideal projection of the body politic (the artist cited in Norman Rosenthal, "Notes on Jeff Koons" in The Jeff Koons Handbook, New York, 1992, p. 20). During the French Revolution, and most markedly associated with the radical tyranny of the Terror between 1793 and 1794, Jacques-Louis David cast the public seal of the Republic in the guise of Hercules. Symbolic of the glory of the French people, Hercules represented action over reason and the triumph of strength, courage and labor over the throne’s despotism. Intended to reside over the Place de la Concord, David’s unrealized 46 foot colossus combined an expression of democracy with threatening proletarian power. At once half-man and half-god, this mythological figure is the very historical archetype of empowered masculinity conjured by Koons’s Popeye. The prominent tattoo of a tank visible inside Popeye’s left bicep – an adaptation on the typical anchors tattooed on both forearms – affirms an equivalence between Hercules and the bellicose chauvinism of Popeye’s proletarian transcendence. The concept of the ‘self-made man’ utterly permeates Koons’s practice and finds its supreme articulation in the figure of Popeye. Extolling the virtues of transformation, whether via spinach supplements for Popeye, by means of radioactivity as in the Hulk, or the social mobility afforded by basketball for Dr. Dunkenstein, Koons is consistent in his emphasis of the work involved or physicality inherent to the act of transformation. As explicated by Katy Siegel, “A psychologist might opine that these characters simply allow the ‘real’ self of Clark Kent et al., to emerge. And yet this view doesn’t really make sense in Koons’s universe; all of the figures are distinguished by a physical – rather than psychological – transformation of speed, skill, size, costume, or coloration (the King of Pop turns white just as the Hulk turns green). That is, they seem to change from the outside in, often in response to some material event (downing a can of spinach, exposure to radioactivity), or in pursuit of social reward (cultural or athletic stardom). If at the beginning of his career Koons warned about the dangers of trying to become something one was not, he has increasingly emphasized what one makes of oneself in the world, rather than a natural self.” (Katy Siegel in Op. Cit., p. 510) Suspended in a continual state of becoming, the chameleon form of Popeye evokes a bipartite, and even tripartite, discourse on identity formation. In a signature gesture, Koons invites the viewer to consider their own reflection across an encasement of wonderfully rounded colored mirrors. As such we are not only witness to Popeye’s becoming and transformation but subject to reconsider and overcome our own sense of self. Interpreted this way, there is no better example in Koons’s oeuvre than the figure of the artist. As Arthur C. Danto has outlined, there is no doubt that the heroic Popeye is Koons by proxy in the world he is creating (Arthur C. Danto in Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Jeff Koons: Pop Eye Series, 2009, p. 31). Indeed, beyond possessing a Pop-eye, Koons is in fact Mr. Popeye himself. Signed, dated 2009-2011 and numbered 3/3 on the underside of Popeye's right foot

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  • 2014-05-13
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Les Amoureux

Les Amoureux is one of the greatest masterpieces of Chagalls oeuvre, depicting the loves of his life: his childhood sweetheart Bella Rosenfeld and France, the country he made his home after the Russian Revolution. Entwined together in the night sky, surrounded by verdant, flowering bushes and a bird soaring through the clouds, the lovers fully evoke the devotion and tenderness so present in Chagall and Bellas relationship. Writing about meeting Bella for the first time Chagall describes his certainty Her silence is mine. Her eyes, mine. I feel she has known me always, my childhood, my present life, my future; as if she were watching over me, divining my innermost being, though this is the first time I have seen her. I know this is she, my wife. Her pale coloring, her eyes. How big and round and black they are! They are my eyes, my soul (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall, A Retrospective, New York, 1995, pp. 58-59).The present work was executed during Chagalls second period in France, where he returned in 1923 and remained until his move to the United States during the Second World War. During Chagalls years in France, his subjects were divided between those inspired by his adopted country and those reminiscent of his native Russia, with the two often combined in his phantasmagorical compositions. Chagall had first arrived in France in the summer of 1910 at the age of 23. Within his first two days in Paris, he visited the Salon des Indépendants and there he saw the work of a panoply of contemporary artists, including the Fauves and the Cubists. Paintings by Derain, Léger, Matisse and Picasso hung alongside the vibrant Orphist canvases of Robert Delaunay, who was to become the mentor of Paul Klee, August Macke, and Chagall himself. Very soon he had moved into lodgings in the legendary block of studios known as La Rûche on the rue Vaugirard in Montparnasse, a building famed for its lively bohemian atmosphere and its cosmopolitan array of inhabitants. Chagall lodged in the room next to Modigliani; Soutine also lived in the building during this time. The poets Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars and Canudo frequently visited. In this milieu of spontaneity and rich cultural exchange, Chagall began his first period of painting in Paris. Shortly before his first departure from Russia, Chagall met Bella Rosenfeld; they would be engaged within a year. During his four years in Paris, they corresponded frequently and his homesickness for Russia was enmeshed in his desire for his distant fiancée. After travelling to Berlin in mid-1914 for an exhibition of his works, Chagall travelled on to Vitebsk for what was to be a three-month visit, however the outbreak of World War I and the ensuing revolution in Russia would keep Chagall away from Paris for almost a decade. While unable to leave Russia, these years would prove to be some of the most important of Chagalls life. Shortly after his return to Vitebsk, he and Bella would marry and, a year later, their only child, a daughter named Ida, was born. Moving primarily between Vitebesk and Petrograd (St. Petersburg) during these years, Chagalls painting would continue to undergo remarkable transformations. Another work entitled Les Amoureux, painted in 1913-14 during his first sojourn to Paris, also depicts an embracing couple. The male and female figure are heavily abstracted and placed in an interior with a view out over a village, likely a depiction of Vitebsk. Even at this early date foliage and blossoms, as well as a small bird, make their way into the canvas and surround the lovers placed in the center of the composition. After Chagalls return to Russia and his marriage to Bella, paintings depicting the couple dominated his work. In 1916-17 he created four oils of the two embracing on abstracted backgrounds: Amoureux en rose, Amoureux en vert, Les Amoureux (on a blue background) and Amoureux en gris, followed in 1917 by a monumental depiction of Bella, Bella à col blanc, looking out over a forest where Chagall and Ida stand in miniature in the foreground. It was in these years that the couple in flight a trope that would become recognized as one of the artists prime pictorial devices in later years - became firmly established. Au-dessus de la ville, La Promenade and LAnniversaire all feature the Chagalls floating above the pull of gravity with idealized views of their village, environs and home respectively as backdrop. LAnniversaire, first painted in 1915, was recreated by the artist in 1923 in a closely related canvas. Bella recalled the scene in later years, evoked by her appearance at Chagalls apartment on his birthday. When he saw her he demanded that she stand still and, as she recounts, he began to paint: But what shall I do with the flowers I cannot stay standing on the same spot. I want to put them in water or they will fade. But I soon forget them. You throw yourself upon the canvas which trembles under your hand. You snatch the brushes and squeeze out the paintred, blue, white, black. You drag me into the stream of colors. Suddenly you lift me off the ground and push with your foot as if you feel too cramped in the little room. You leap, stretch out at full length, and fly up to the ceiling. Your head is turned to me. I listen to the melody of your soft, deep voice. I can even hear the song in your eyes. And together we rise to the ceiling of the gaily decked room and fly away. We reach the window and want to pass through. Through the window, clouds and blue sky beckon us. The walls, hung with my colored shawls, flutter about us and make our heads swim. Fields of flowers, houses, roofs, churches, swim beneath us (B. Chagall, Di ershte bagegenish, New York, 1947; translated in I. Chagall, Lumières allumées, Paris, 1973, pp. 258-59). On the first day of September in 1923, Chagall, Bella and Ida arrived in Paris. France would remain their home until World War II forced them to flee to the United States in 1941. These years in France were particularly fruitful for Chagall. He had been gone for nine years and when he arrived in Paris he found a new equilibrium of mind, a peaceful atmosphere and an audience. Many of his former friends believed he had disappeared in the Russian Revolution (his old studio was badly looted as a result). Among those welcoming him back were the young Surrealists, and Chagall in turn was pleasantly surprised to find that they stood for a changing attitude towards the sort of dream-like poetic painting he had pioneered many years before. Chagalls return to Paris coincided with the emergence of the Surrealist movement in art and literature, led by the poet André Breton. The Surrealists heralded Chagall as a prophetic synthesizer of poem and image and a pioneering explorer of the antirational realms of dream, fantasy, and imagination. Chagall was flattered by this lionization and initially subscribed to the surrealist program. However, he quickly broke with that movement, repudiating its doctrines as excessively literary and antithetical to art as he understood it (A. Kagan, Marc Chagall, New York, 1989, pp. 53-56). Turning down the invitation to join their ranks he instead concentrated on a major commission he had received from Ambroise Vollard to illustrate Gogols Dead Souls. Regardless of his lack of participation in the Surrealist group his influence can be seen throughout their work from ambiguous space to collections of objects. The moon and sky of the present work draw strong ties to René Magrittes compositions of later years. With his great love with him in France, Chagall was able to fully enjoy his adopted country. Andrew Kagan comments on the sweetness of this time for the artist writing: This was a period [the mid-to-late 1920s] of unrivaled happiness and contentment for Chagall. He and Bella were able to discover the joys of traveling throughout France, where the artist fell in love with the varied landscapes and the distinctive effects of light. These journeys yielded works with a brilliant new illumination and an unprecedented airinessThere also appeared paintings of intense color and lyric forms, such as Lovers with Flowers, which express the renewed spirit of romance and youthfulness that he and Bella found in their pleasant new circumstances (ibid., p. 53). In Les Amoureux, Chagalls love of his new country is embodied in the incorporation of the colors of the French flag in Bellas dress. The nipped-in waist of her garment is punctuated with small red dots, and beneath the darker ruby color of her skirt, a delicate filigree of organic shapes is visible. Just to the left, glimpsed through the greenery, a ghostly shadow of a village peers through the leaves. The tenderness of the couples embrace and the ambiguity of the space they are placed in appearing to float through the night sky draw together the best qualities of his work. All of the portraits of he and Bella together during their time in Russia were now imbued with a peace and tenderness in this new stage of their life together. That happiness is the central theme here. The dream-like space in which the scene is set echoes the way the artist spoke of Bella and France: I had only to open my bedroom window, and blue air, love and flowers flooded in (quoted in J. Leymarie, Marc Chagall (exhibition catalogue), Grand Palais, Paris, 1969). The association between lovers and flowers, which is another recurring image in his work, took on a new significance around 1924, when Chagall discovered the beauty of the landscape in the Seine valley, which he explored with his friends Robert and Sonia Delaunay on the long walks they took together, and the profusion of the flowers in the South of France which he visited that year. André Breton discussed the ephemeral nature of Chagalls painting stating: No work was ever so resolutely magical: its splendid prismatic colors sweep away and transfigure the torment of today and at the same time preserve the age old spirit of ingenuity in expressing everything which proclaims the pleasure principle: flowers an expression of love (reproduced in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Op. Cit., New York, 1995, p. 153). Les Amoureux has distinguished provenance. The legendary Parisian gallery Bernheim Jeune & Cie acquired this work from the artist the year it was painted and, also in 1928, a private collector purchased the work from the gallery. Les Amoureux has remained in the same familys collection since that time. The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the Comité Chagall. Signed Marc Chagall and dated 928 (lower right)

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  • 2017-11-15
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Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica

An Edenic panorama and brilliantly ambitious paragon from David Hockneys celebrated oeuvre, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica represents a dazzling tour de force of a critical breakthrough from the artist's decades-long career. Known equally for consistently revolutionizing his artistic practice as well as plundering art historical tradition, Hockney quotes, distorts, fragments, and appropriates tropes from a long-established canon, fusing these myriad references into an entirely new pictorial vocabulary that bespeaks a profound engagement and dialogue with his forebears. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica brings together sources as disparate as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Chinese scrolls, Hockneys own experience designing theater sets, and his ceaseless explorations into new technology. The present work speaks to nearly every single significant source inspiration for the artist, from his fascination with Cubism to recent experiments with fax machines and iPads, making Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica one of the richest and most dynamic paintings from the artists career. Hockneys central intellectual and aesthetic challenge has been to translate space and memory into a two dimensional image, conceiving of a natural landscape through the prism of memory and the language of abstraction. Testament to the monumental position this painting occupies in Hockneys oeuvre, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica was included in the artists recent retrospective, which travelled from London to Paris to New York and presented a comprehensive survey of the artists output. The present work is extremely rare, belonging to a limited group of comparable monumental California landscape paintings, examples of which belong to such renowned institutions as the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Bright, bold, and affirmative, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica is an extraordinary feat of painterly triumph, vast in its ambition and luminous in its peerless formal execution.The ebullient landscape of the Pacific Coast explodes in a riot of chromatic brilliance. Mountain crags rise in peaks of chartreuse and facades of orange; pink hills roll and undulate in lavender shadow; lush vegetation erupts in speckles and hatches of green; and a serpentine gray road leads the viewer gaily through this verdant and bucolic landscape. In the distance, a calm cerulean bay laps at a lime green shore stretching into the background. Colliding perspectives coalesce in an energetic and lively juxtaposition of viewpoints, demarcated by passages of heavily saturated color. Across this vista, Hockney paints, in short, Cézanne-like brushstrokes, in staccato that recalls Signac, in swaths of color, in gradations of hue, and in a bold prism of joyous color. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica can be read as four distinct planes integrated into a single picture, a site or stage on which Hockney would perform his Wagner Drive, choreographing a musical program in his car as he drove his friends through the landscape towards a setting sun.  The winding road along which Hockney drove every day from his house in the Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard came to symbolize for him his new experience of the city, and his now-elevated vantage point from the hilly heights rather than from the flat terrain that he had known during earlier sojourns. The pictorial shorthand that he devised for that heart-stopping experience of driving up and down Nichols Canyon was to prove decisive in shaping his notion of travelling through a landscape, and of reconstructing it through a succession of signposts lodged in the mind, that again became a vital constituent of his landscapes when he first painted Yorkshire in 1997. (Marco Livingstone, The Road Less Traveled, in Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts (and travelling), David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 34) In the foreground, two light gray highways bisect mountains, whose slight gradations create a sense of depth. The middle ground is occupied by passages of pink, purple, and blue building into a central mass of hills, beyond which stylized purple hills punctuate the background of the Pacific Coast. Two triangles of indigo and black flank the scene, curtain-like in the way they demarcate Hockneys stage. The horizontal bar of the highway contributes further to the sense of flattened perspective, from which the viewer is tipped forward into this vertiginous and plunging vista. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica is illustrated on the back cover of the second volume of Hockneys impassioned autobiography, Thats the Way I See It, testifying to its personal significance to the artist. Within this volume, Hockney writes: From 1988, at the same time as I was doing the faxes, I was also experimenting with different styles of landscape paintings. Anyone who had been on my Wagner drive would immediately recognize Pacific Coast Highway [and Santa Monica] a multiple view of Santa Monica Bay and the mountains. Scenes from that same drive are also shown in Mountain from Stunt Road, The Valley and The Cutting. (David Hockney, Thats The Way I See It, London, 1993, p. 192) Mountain from Stunt Road today belongs to the Kansas City Art Institute and The Valley and The Cutting reside in significant private collections, further underscoring the rarity of this masterpiece. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica beautifully showcases the luminosity and color of the California landscape and typifies Hockneys ambition to infuse his pictures with the states Bacchanalian arcadia of social liberation, sexual freedom, and world of rich commodities. Having graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1962, Hockney travelled to New York in late 1963, after which he arrived in Los Angeles. He had long dreamt of this promised land of bright sunlight and bold colors during his schoolyears in Bradford and London. A frequent traveler in his youth throughout Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa, Hockney was consistently inspired by his surroundings, but never more so than when he settled in Los Angeles in 1964, after which he continued to fix on the canvas the incandescent light and color of his adopted home with an almost religious reverence. The present work showcases an intimate journey Hockney took each day in his beloved California, while typifying the artist's obsession with landscapes around the world: In its sweeping vista and colossal scale, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica can be seen as the culmination of pictures such as Under and Out of the Arch, in which he had conveyed space in a more abstracted idiom. Though painted on a single enormous stretch of canvas rather than in fragments as has come to be his method, this magnificent ode to southern California opened the way to the landscapes of the late 1990s (conspicuously the Grand Canyon paintings) and to the Yorkshire pictures of the last half decade. (Marco Livingstone, The Road Less Traveled, in Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts (and travelling), David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 32) Hockney executed Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica at a moment when his peers proclaimed the death of painting and instead turned to photography and conceptual art as more contemporary means of representation. Although Hockney has always existed outside the traditional art historical narrative, he addresses significant styles and techniques that have defined the canon. From the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Fauvists he so admired, Hockney sought to capture the variety of light, changing weather conditions, and space that the infinite renewal the natural world presents. Unlike his predecessors, however, Hockney did not paint en plein aire, but rather from memory in his studio, located approximately a ten minute drive away. The proximity of his studio allowed the artist to return to this spot, like Monet did in painting his various Cathedrals, in order to visually refresh himself, yet ultimately Hockney relied on the memory of his experience as the most important source for his painting. As described by the artist, We see with memory. We see psychologically. (Ibid., 43) Like van Gogh, Hockney employed a number of inventive marks to convey the physicality and various textures in the landscape; from the Fauves, he mimicked the sumptuous and vivid use of color. The present work was also informed by Hockneys reengagement with both Picasso and Chinese scrolls, evident in the abstracted idiom with which he addresses landscape and the tilted perspective and deep space he borrowed from Song Dynasty scrolls. In the present work, space flows in a series of perspectives that fold into each other in one compressed plane. Hockney intended his canvas to be read in time, the way a viewer unrolls a Chinese scroll, physically moving through its narrative, a feat he has achieved by destabilizing conventional perspective and instead painting a scene that offers numerous points of view from differing vantage points. A highly personal and whimsical landscape brimming with joie de vivre, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica blurs the line between reality and fantasy, presenting a fantastical stage of Hockneys vivid remembered experience. The present work is both a culmination of various influences and ambitions within Hockneys oeuvre up to the 1990s, while also anticipating Hockneys more recent work. With their high horizon lines (or even lack of horizon), what the Malibu paintings of this period addressed was an immersive looking into deep space, a slowness, a drawing out of time that over twenty years later would form the basis for his video works of the four seasons enacted at Woldgate Woods in 2010 and 2011. (Andrew Wilson, Experiences of Space, Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain (and travelling), David Hockney, 2017, p. 146) Throughout his career, Hockney has possessed a voracious appetite for art history, digesting and translating significant movements into his own unique idiom; this constant mining of tropes and techniques within the canon coalesce across the grand stage of Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica. Here, Hockney fuses the language of Cubism with a Fauvist sensibility, executed in the endlessly varying marks of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, all compounded into one magnificent tour de force of painterly vigor and exultation. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica showcases the sweeping vista of Hockneys home, provides a brilliant survey of important art historical touchstones, and reveals the artist as a master colorist and one of todays most accomplished and engaging painters. Signed, titled and dated 1990 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2018-05-17
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Suprematism, 18th Construction

Kazimir Malevich Suprematism, 18th Construction By Aleksandra Shatskikh Precisely one hundred years ago, at the turn of spring to summer in 1915, a Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich faced a pivotal moment while making the greatest discovery of his life, now known in the history of art by the term ‘Suprematism’. As an avant-garde painter, Malevich achieved success at a mature age, when he was 30 years old. Mikhail Larionov played an important part in Malevich’s development as an artist. He was a pioneer among young Russian artists and organised the famous first exhibition of the Jack of Diamonds. Having recognised and appreciated the innovative works by Malevich, Larionov immediately included him in his circle, and offered him the position of Secretary for the Donkey's Tail group. This meant that Larionov had placed Malevich in the third most important position of this group of Russian radicals, with the first two belonging to the celebrated couple Natalia Goncharova and Larionov himself. Goncharova enhanced Malevich’s standing by recommending his work to Wassily Kandinsky. The acclaim from Larionov and Goncharova inspired a new wave of expressive neo-primitivism in Malevich’s work and brought about his first peasant series. Malevich embraced the liberating power of artistic freedom, expressed in the deformation of the figure and powerful saturated colours. The paintings exhibited at Donkey's Tail in March 1912 marked the peak of his intensely colourful, improvisational and highly energetic painting style. At the same time, Malevich closely observed the revolutionary trends in the art of the twentieth century, particularly French Cubism and Italian Futurism. He was drawn to the harmony of the Cubists’ carefully adjusted compositions, while Futurism attracted him for its destructive dynamism - crushing and fragmenting the image. Merging the diverse impulses of innovative European art trends, Malevich defined his own work as Cubofuturism. However, Malevich’s sources of inspriation were not solely rooted in art, but also in poetic experiments. In 1913 he became close with the Russian poet Alexei Kruchenykh who invented Zaum, a transrational poetic form. This inspired Malevich to review conventional traditions as a whole, and led him to a new, non-figurative language. None the less, painting remained the dominant medium for Malevich and his new understanding of the possibilities it offered was conveyed in his ‘fevralist’ compositions. ‘Zaum Realism’ and its illogical juxtapositions of elements not only shattered conventional painting principles, but also separated Malevich from the laws previously established by the European avant-garde. Even the most radical painting of Western artists, with its deconstructive compositions, unexpected colours and rigid fabrications of the model, maintained an inviolable bond with nature and an ‘objective reality’. Malevich’s revolutionary act was to refuse even the loosest connection with the object. Previously colour was an element that bore the essential meaning of a painting, yet Malevich redirected colour from any existing phenomenon. Thus, his ‘non-objective’ painting was born. Colour now expressed itself in pure geometric forms hovering in white space. For these new canvases, Malevich coined the term ‘Suprematism’, where ‘supremacy’ signified domination of colour above all other elements of a painting. Russian artists have often resented their dependence on European artistic trends. Malevich’s first non-objective paintings immediately stated an unprecedented event of discovery that had never occurred in the Western world, which, for the first time, elicited Russian Art as original and revolutionary. The concept of ‘Russian avant-garde’ emerged as an art historical term much later, but in the summer of 1915 Malevich laid its foundations. Malevich’s first suprematist paintings, completed in late May and early June of 1915, were complex and colourful multifaceted compositions. While working on one of them Malevich experienced a severe shock when a square black plane seemingly overshadowed a compound composition. The Black Square (fig. 1), in its compressed form, contained all the possibilities that were the foundations of Suprematism; Malevich called it the ‘core of compressed meanings’. The artist fully exposed the potential of Suprematism, creating a new movement in art, supported by a circle of followers. He also designed examples of a new form of architecture that profoundly influenced the development of twentieth-century architecture and wrote original philosophical works. In 1920, Malevich summarised the fundamental potential of this great abstract system in the definition of ‘Suprematist order’. The immensity of Malevich’s talent as a painter was reflected in his ability to convey his understanding of the foundations of eternal physical existence of the universe – space, laws of gravity, energy – in expressive plastic forms. His Black Square was the first and most fundamental form of the Suprematist triad. Two other forms ‘Black Circle’ and ‘Black Cross’ were a result of a dynamic transformation of the square: ‘spinning’ around the centre, edges of the square marked a circle; then dynamic forces dichotomised the square and forced the halves to move toward each other and then turned horizontally to form a cross. Throughout 1915, he created a number of magnificent non-objective paintings, many of which were exhibited in December at the famous 0.10 exhibition. Among this heroic legacy, Suprematism, 18th Construction had a special place. This title was inscribed on the reverse of the canvas at a later date, when Malevich was preparing the Berlin exhibition in 1927. The artist typically chose the definition of ‘construction’ in its broader meaning, rather than the word ‘structure’. In addition, he opposed Suprematism to Constructivism (he considered constructivism ‘a footman serving the objective reality’). On the reverse, the artist dated this work to 1914, but the picture could not have been created earlier than June or later than October 1915. By backdating their canvases, Russian avant-garde artists believed that they could irrevocably establish their pioneering artistic discoveries. Suprematism, 18th Construction was first shown in public a month and a half before the celebrated 0.10 exhibition. The painting, along with two other Suprematist works by Malevich, was shown in the Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art in Moscow from 6th to 20th November 1915 (fig. 3). The organiser of the event, a wealthy artist Natalia Davydova and the wife of Tchaikovsky’s nephew Dmitry Davydov, invited Malevich after a recommendation of her close friend Alexandra Ekster. Malevich accepted the invitation and exhibited in the Lemercier Gallery, and the present work and two others were included in the Catalogue of the exhibition of contemporary decorative arts. Tapestry and carpets based on the artists’ sketches as sketches for Scarves (nos. 90 & 91) and Pillows (no. 92). The exhibition had a great public response and photographs of the central hall were published in the weekly Iskra (no. 45, 15th November 1915), which promoted Malevich’s non-objective paintings. A composition with cruciform planes was displayed on the right wall, Untitled. Suprematist Composition (now in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; fig. 2) was on a podium to the left, and Suprematism, 18th Construction was displayed on the right. I would like to emphasise an important fact about the first public appearance of Suprematism, 18th Construction: Malevich was not afraid to show his paintings at an exhibition of decorative arts, an act that demonstrated his courage and freedom from traditional categorisation of art into ‘high art’ and ‘decorative art’. He was aware that the process of accepting innovative art was rooted in educating the public and their perception of new forms and principles of art. In this light, the hierarchical division of ‘high’ and ‘low’ forms becomes meaningless. As previously noted, the choice of the title ‘Construction’ for the painting was not random. Five elongated trapezoidal elements appear to be fixed to each other by natural forces, as they cluster through a powerful magnetic attraction. Tightly welded together, the group of colour planes have no relation to any recognisable object, or to any other of the most innovative ‘-isms’ at the time. The complete lack of object in the composition is further emphasised by the abstract space in which the colour structure is floating, which the author referred to as the ‘white abyss of the background’. Suprematism, 18th Construction repeats the diagonal dynamic of Automobile and Lady (fig. 4), a canvas that has not survived. In Suprematist iconography, this was one of Malevich’s favourite plastic idioms. According to Malevich, the basic principle of Suprematism was in the ‘weightlessness’, designed to create the effect of the non-objective structures floating against the abyss of the white space. In Suprematism, 18th Construction the overpowering ‘severity’ of the central trapezoid is balanced by four colour plates. Malevich contrasts the massive black plane with the bright yellow stripe, and enhances its effect by an additional bright-blue stripe. It should be noted that the artist achieves compositional balance by enlarging the lower element - a process that seems to unfold in front of us - and this is the distinguishing property of his 1915 Suprematist paintings. For Malevich, the rigor and restraint of colour was essential. He shunned any ‘beautiful colour schemes and considered them a remnant of lightweight ‘aestheticism’. Malevich himself curated 0.10: The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings, which opened on 19th December 1915. The display of Malevich’s works has been recorded in a sole photograph of two adjacent walls of his room (fig. 5). Suprematism, 18th Construction was not captured by this photograph, however we can confidently say that it was included in the exhibition. Anticipating the sensational effect of the 0.10 exhibition, Malevich brought all his 1915 paintings to Petrograd. Some of them were still wet, hence with strips carefully laid on the corners to preserve them. Along with Black Square, Suprematism, 18th Construction is a painting that embodies Malevich’s non-objective formula, reflected in the dynamic diagonal construction of colours, tied together with an energetic tension floating in the white abyss. The photograph of the 0.10 exhibition shows several similar compositions, all of them combined into a series of ‘Art masses in motion’. Among other paintings are Suprematist Composition: Airplane in Flight (now in The Museum of Modern Art, New York; fig. 7) and Suprematism, with Eight Rectangles (in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; fig. 8). Suprematism, 18th Construction was the first painting from the series ‘Art masses in motion’ that appeared in public, and it powerfully exhibits the fundamental elements of the ‘Suprematist order’ created by the great Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich. Aleksandra Shatskikh, PhD is an art historian. Her book Black Square: Malevich and the Origin of Suprematism was published in 2012. In 1927 Malevich accompanied the present work and a number of other Suprematist canvases to the now-famous Grosse Berliner Ausstellung, held from May to September of that year. This was the first time Malevich’s work was shown outside of Russia, and was pivotal in establishing his reputation on the international scene. According to Matthew Drutt, ‘No other Russian artist, not even Kandinsky, who had been celebrated in Germany long before Malevich, had ever received such distinguished attention. [...] The exhibition became a defining moment in Malevich's career in terms of the reception of his work in the West, not just at the time, but subsequently also; as it turns out, the works shown would become, outside Russia, the primary source of knowledge of Malevich's oeuvre for the next fifty years’ (M. Drutt in Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., pp. 20-21). In the surviving photographs of that exhibition as well as of a dinner organised for the Warsaw exhibition that same year (fig. 10), we can see Suprematism, 18th Construction hanging on the walls. In June 1927 Malevich was obliged to return to the Soviet Union and arranged for the painting to be stored in Berlin, but he was prevented from leaving the Soviet Union, where he died in 1935. Suprematism, 18th Construction was later entrusted to the German architect Hugo Häring, who purportedly sold it to the Stedelijk Museum. It was finally returned to the artist's heirs in 2008. When the works originally included in the Berlin exhibition were re-assembled in 1973, the American artist Donald Judd made the following conclusion about Malevich, his non-objective painting and his legacy: ‘It's obvious now that the forms and colors in the paintings that Malevich began painting in 1915 are the first instances of form and color. ... His work is more radical than Mondrian's, for example, which has a considerable idealistic quality and which ultimately has an anthropomorphic, if 'abstract', composition of high and low, right and left. Art doesn't change in sequence. By now there is work and controversy many times over within the context Malevich established’ (D. Judd, reprinted in ibid. p. 23). The effect that Malevich's art had on future generations of artists has long been recognised and was the subject of a recent exhibition Malevich and the American Legacy, held at the Gagosian Gallery, New York in 2011. Unlike the pictures of his fellow Russian artist Kandinsky, whose pre-war oils were embellished with flurries of abstraction, Malevich's pictures have an unadulterated linearity and precision that was a major precursor of abstraction in the second half of the twentieth century. Mark Rothko (fig. 11), Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd (fig. 12) and Barnett Newman (fig. 13) can all trace the origins of their work to Malevich's sublimely pared-down shapes, bold colour and non-objective compositions. With its vibrancy and purity of form, Suprematism, 18th Construction transcend its historical frame of reference, earning the status of a timeless classic. Looking towards the future, Malevich himself knew of the great impact that his Suprematist philosophy would have on the development of modern aesthetics and artistic theory: ‘Our world of art has become new, non-objective, pure. Everything has vanished, there remains a mass of material, from which the new forms will be built. In the art of Suprematism forms will live, like all living forms of nature. These forms announce that man has gained his equilibrium by arriving from a state of single reasoning at one of double reasoning. Utilitarian reasoning and intuitive reasoning. The new realism in painting is very much realism in painting for it contains no realism of mountains, sky, water... Until now there was realism of objects, but not of painted units of colour which are constructed so that they depend neither on form, nor on colour, nor on their position relative to each other. Each form is free and individual. Each form is a world’ (K. Malevich, ‘From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting’, 1916, reprinted in Charles Harrison & Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory, 1900-2000, Oxford, 1992, p. 181). This revolutionary new world is beautifully encapsulated in Suprematism, 18th Construction, which remains a masterpiece of twentieth-century avant-garde art. This work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition In Search of '0,10': The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting to be held at the Fondation Beyeler, Basel from October 2015 to January 2016.

  • GBRStorbritannien
  • 2015-06-24
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Pre-War Pageant

Dear Friend Allow me to say you how much pleasure I find in your valiant pictures.  I am profoundly fond of the high sincerity of your art which is of a great holiness and pureness.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Franz Marc to Marsden Hartley, 1913 [Hartley is] the most important man of the moment. Gertrude Stein, 1913 [We] should go together to the mountains and learn each others languages. Wassily Kandinsky, 1913 The series of paintings Marsden Hartley produced in Berlin between 1913 and 1915 constitute one of the iconic achievements in the history of modern art.  Europe was in an era of titanic expectations and tragedies and Hartleys life and work in Berlin mirror the cultures spectrum.  Pre-War Pageant is of unique significance within the context of this radical series of abstractions. This paintings singularity derives from its status as the technical and stylistic breakthrough in Hartleys career, and for the personal meaning it held for the artist. Its abstract planar shapes and vivid colors are dynamic symbols of Hartleys emotional sensations and experiences during one of the happiest and most inspired moments in his life as well as his individual response to the pageantry and tension of Berlin in the year leading up to the outbreak of World War I. Hartley wrote to Gertrude Stein in 1913 that his Berlin work, expresses a fresh consciousness of what I see + feel around metaken directly out of life + from no theorist formulas as prevails so much today. The seminal early work in the series, Pre-War Pageant is an explosive painting that celebrates Hartleys new life, his new art and the exhilaration he experienced in Berlin. I like Berlin extremelyFor me artistically it is stimulating strange to say. I find it full of mystical ideas + colors + I have begun to paint them (quoted in P. McDonnell, Portrait of Berlin: Marsden Hartley and Urban Modernity in Expressionist Berlin in E.M. Kornhauser, ed., Marsden Hartley (exhibition catalogue) Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, New Haven, Connecticut, p. 39). In addition to the artistic and intellectual inspiration that Hartley found in Berlin, he had also fallen in love with a young Prussian officer, Karl von Freyburg and thus Pre-War Pageant is also a deeply coded visual representation of this relationship, which was probably the most important of Hartleys life. As Pre-War Pageant painted in 1913 represents the ecstasy of Hartleys early days in Berlin, his poignant Portrait of a German Officer (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) of the following year, manifests the great tragedy of his life Von Freyburgs battlefield death. It is a stark and despairing memorial marking the end of his joy and happiness. These two visionary paintings track Hartleys engagement with the creation of abstract painting and aesthetically define his personal resolutions of what modern art needed to be. They are the principal book ends of Hartleys seminal Berlin period. Hartley was already an accomplished artist when he first traveled to Europe in the spring of 1912, arriving in Paris that April at the age of 35.  He had been represented by the leading gallerist of avant-garde art in New York, Alfred Stieglitz, for several years and his work had been exhibited in both solo and group shows at Stieglitzs acclaimed 291 Gallery. Through Stieglitz, Hartley had been exposed to the work of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. When he arrived in Paris, he quickly immersed himself in the arts scene, visiting the studios of Picasso, Frantisek Kupka and Robert and Sonia Delaunay among others, and regularly attending Gertrude Steins Saturday salons at her apartment on 27 rue de Fleurus. Hartley also met and formed a close friendship with the German sculptor Arnold Rönnebeck, who would become socially speaking [his] closest friend in the world (quoted in J.T. Voorhies, ed., My Dear Stieglitz: Letters of Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz, 1912-1915, Columbia, South Carolina, 2002, p. 172). Rönnebeck was instrumental in introducing the American artist to the work and theories of Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, the leading progenitors of Der Blaue Reiter.  By September 1912 Hartley, who could neither speak nor read German, began deciphering Uber das Geistige in der Kunst (On the Spiritual in Art) with his friends help and wrote enthusiastically to Stieglitz about Kandinskys book.  Hartleys initial enchantment derived only from the books title - it seemed directed squarely upon his own spiritual objectives for art. My first impulses came from the mere suggestion of Kandinskys book The Spiritual in Artthe mere title opened up the sensation for me and from this I proceeded (ibid., p. 46). Rönnebeck also introduced Hartley to group of Germans living in Paris including his cousin, Lieutenant Von Freyburg with whom Hartley was immediately smitten. He fell in love with, the most charming and excellent young German officerso handsome (ibid., pp. 17-19) and saw something splendid in Von Freyburgs character, feeling that he was a young man with a real soul someone who could understand and was sensitive to Hartleys artistic journey. All that Hartley saw, read and experienced in Paris inflamed his imagination and led to a dramatic transformation in his work as he considered Cubism, Orphism and German Expressionism. He largely abandoned the representational landscapes and still lifes that he had produced in America to focus on what he referred to as intuitive abstraction and cosmic cubism.  These abstract works combined various and far ranging influences in an attempt to unify his personal experiences and sensibilities with his art. In canvases such as Musical Theme No. 2 (Bach Preludes and Fugues) (1912, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) and Painting No. 1 (1913, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska, Lincoln) Hartley sought his own spiritual expression through his desire to get as near to myself as I have ever gone. Stein found Hartley interesting and followed his work closely, growing to believe that he accomplished in every picture what neither Matisse or Picasso have done make every part of a picture life and not since Matisses Femme au Chapeau had color been given its true significance (Voorhies, op. cit., p. 68). She also believed that he succeeded in leaving out the physical element and giving for the first time the pure spiritual (ibid., p. 117). She selected four works from Hartleys studio, and invited him to lunch so that he could see in natural light how his paintings stand every test here and this room of ours is certainly a test for the art of anyone (ibid., p. 72). Steins interest energized Hartley as he pursued the deeply personal and wholly inimitable direction that his art was taking. As 1912 drew to a close, Hartley was tiring of the Paris art scene and sought to continue his Odyssey by traveling to Berlin with Rönnebeck and Von Freyberg, who at the time were the main actors in his life and the subjects of both Pre-War Pageant and Portrait of a German Officer. Of his optimism for the change of cities, Hartley wrote, I have a feeling that a new art will come (in Germany)an art mystical in its essence whereas here in Paris art is all art intellectual (quoted in D. Scholz, Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings, 1913-1915 (exhibition catalogue), Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2014, p. 167). Hartley first traveled to Berlin with Rönnebeck in January 1913 and quickly confirmed that it was, without question the finest modern city in Europe (Voorhies, op. cit., p. 55). On their return to Paris at the end of the month, they stopped in Munich to meet Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter. Hartley and Kandinsky had a strong mutual respect for one anothers work and they enjoyed a fine discussion together with Rönnebeck and Munter as translators. Kandinsky suggesting that they should go together to the mountains and learn each others languages (ibid., p. 74). Hartley later wrote, I have never been in the presence of an artist like him so free on convention with a hatred of all the traditions that cling to art [26]. Several months later, prior to moving to Berlin permanently, Hartley also visited Franz Marc in Sindelsdorf.  Marc as Kandinsky had interest in and admiration for Hartleys work, writing Dear Friend Allow me to say you how much pleasure I find in your valiant pictures.  I am profoundly fond of the high sincerity of your art which is of a great holiness and pureness (ibid., p. 77). Indeed, the two German artists were integral to the inclusion of five of Hartleys paintings at Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon and assisted him with various introductions to German dealers. Of the two, Hartley felt a closer connection to Marc, with whom he continued to correspond, believing him to be extremely psychic, while he thought Kandinksy was theosophic  (ibid.,  p. 56). For Hartley Berlin, where he moved permanently in May 1913, was the center of modern life in Europe, and he like[d] the life color of Berlina sense of perpetual gaiety herethe feeling that some great festival is being celebrated always (ibid.,  p. 76). He relished the constant military presence and parades and the proximity of young Prussian soldiers such as Von Freyberg. The year 1913 was also the centennial of the defeat of Napoleon, the Emperors Jubilee and the marriage of the Kaisers daughter, all of which precipitated celebrations that lent the city a most exuberant and expectant air. Hartley liked the crowds, he enjoyed feeling a part of something big and joyous. Here Hartleys personal condition coalesced with all that he had seen and produced in Paris to create another radical shift in his work.  Pre-War Pageant and his other paintings from the period represent the birth of an entirely individual style, unique among his peers on either side of the Atlantic. Berlin was the catalyst for Hartleys creation of some of the most important and progressive paintings in the development of modern art. Pre-War Pageant triumphantly manifests Hartleys new, inimitable aesthetic. It is a bold abstraction and a response to the city and the personal and artistic liberation that he felt in the thriving metropolis on the precipice of war. Dynamic, euphoric and primal, it is innovative and distinct Hartley and no one else. Deeply coded and highly symbolic, each element has both physical and mystical references. An early work in the series, in Pre-War Pageant, Hartley creates the lexicon that he would utilize for the rest of his Berlin paintings. Rendered with muscular brushwork, the abstract iconography of Pre-War Pageant incorporates a myriad of diverse influences including Cubism, German Expressionism, Native American art, the writings of German mystic Jacob Boehme, folk art, Egyptian art, and a number of others, with Hartleys observations and sensations of Berlin. He internally synthesizes these various sources to create a highly original and deeply personal visual language that evokes both his own experiences and sensations and reveals universal truths. Among the forms and symbols, which recur in varied iterations throughout the Berlin series comprise: a central triangular form, the union of this form with an inverted triangle, eight-pointed stars, rays, lightening bolts, blue and yellow circles, targets, flags and badges. Each element has many possible interpretations. For example, the triangles can allude to Kandinsky, Boehme, the trinity, Native American culture, the ornament on soldiers helmets, flag pole covers and the relationship of Hartley, Rönnebeck and Von Freyberg. Of the latter, Hartley wrote Stieglitz that in Berlin we three were very much together and it was a very beautiful triangle (Scholz, op. cit., p. 184). The inverted triangle above, meeting at the point and about to merge with the larger triangle along a pronounced horizontal line expresses the duality of earthly and heavenly spheres, the physical and the cerebral: the terrestrial meaning of the triangle as a symbol of his life experiences and the inverted triangle occupying the celestial realm of mystic experiences he felt in friendship and love. The two triangles, his spiritual quest for the unification of his life and art had for years been his driving force and here it is realized. The triangles therefore represent not only the temporal fulfillment of his life on earth, it also represents the celestial fulfillment of his spiritual being in the eternal universe. The touching of the triangles is of deep spiritual significance and, according to Boehme, that in progressing to meet and then merge, they form the Seal of Solomon, the most significant Character in all the Universe. The kaleidoscopic collage of patterned areas can be interpreted as the flags and banners inherent to the Prussian military culture and pageantry that defined Berlin at the time, and also a nod to Cubism. The ringed circular forms can simultaneously be targets, wheels or badges.  Hartley first encountered the eight-pointed star in an Italian primitive painting reproduced in the Der Blaue Reiter almanac and utilized them in several of his Paris paintings.  This star has mystic and spiritual meanings in a number of cultures related to harmony and equanimity, resurrection and regeneration, it is symbolic of a new era, a new beginning. These aspects are metaphors for Hartleys move to Berlin, whereas the eight-pointed star is simultaneously a symbol of the Prussian military I am seeing eight-pointed stars here [in Berlin] by the thousands-a symbolist friend says it is a fine star for me on the Kaisers breast it is always on helmets of the thousands of soldiers on the pavements, on the table-cloths (Scholz, op. cit., p. 132). The bolts of angular white lightning, that dart about with staccato energy in random paths through the blue background and onto the painted frame have connections to both Boehme and Native American culture. They can be interpreted to express the vitality of Berlin and Hartleys inner ecstasy and can also mean revolt and separation, expressing possibly, Hartleys own revolt and separation in positioning himself in an independent sphere outside those of Picasso, Kandinsky and others of his contemporaries. They, as the triangle, can also reference Native American culture uniting ancient and modern, American, Eastern and European spiritual histories.  In Pre-War Pageant, they emanate off the canvas and onto the painted frame, transcending the two dimensional confines of the canvas. Hartley would repeat a number of the motifs established in Pre-War Pageant in multiple paintings over the course of the next year and a half and, at times the meaning of the imagery is more overt than in the present work. For example the central red and white triangle of Pre-War Pageant becomes a flag cover in Portrait of a German Officer and evolves into a teepee in his later German pictures. While each pictorial element can be read as symbolically loaded, Hartley asserted that the primary goal was:  The pictures must reach inward, into the deeper experiences of the beholder and mind you they are in no way religious tractsthey are merely artistic expressions of mystical statesmy own emotions as drawn from either special experience or aggregate ones (Voorhies, op. cit., p. 104). Hartley understood the profundity of his Berlin paintings, writing to Stieglitz, I cannot estimate to you the worth of this German trip, it has given me my place in the art movement in Europe I find in this my really creative period. I have something personal to say and that no one is saying just this thing it all comes out of new growth in my life a culmination of inward desires of long standing (ibid., p. 54). - John Driscoll Ph.D.

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  • 2018-11-12
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Annons

Abstraktes Bild

"The semblance that concerns Richter is of a 'second nature'… a culture-become-nature bathed in the glow of the media, a semblance permeated with photographic, televisual, and now digital visulalities." Hal Foster, ‘Semblance According to Gerhard Richter’, in: Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts 2009, p. 126. Chromatically arresting and compositionally complex, Abstraktes Bild is a masterwork from Gerhard Richter’s incredible opus of abstraction - an aesthetic investigation that reached its mature zenith surrounding the moment this work came into being during the mid-1990s. Executed in 1994, Abstraktes Bild stands as the final and most authoritative work in the four-part series numbered 809 in the artist's Catalogue Raisonné. Indeed, the mastery of Abstraktes Bild's painterly form visually outstrips the preceding work in the series, 809-3, a painting that prestigiously resides in the joint collection of the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. Monumentally scaled, breathtakingly enveloping and visually resonating in primaries of red, yellow, blue and green, the exuberant cacophony of the present painting positions it firmly within the very highest tier of Richter's Abstracts. The compositional and chromatic power of Abstraktes Bild readily matches those held in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as the astounding four-part Bach series housed in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Delivering an arresting display of seemingly endless variegation and layered painterly process, Abstraktes Bild possesses an aesthetic authority of the very highest calibre within Richter's oeuvre - a status that unassailably earns its position among the most outstanding works by Gerhard Richter ever to have appeared at auction. Embodying the apex and culmination of his overarching pictorial agenda, the abstract works represent the furthest limit in Richter’s lifelong pioneering scrutiny of painting – a trajectory that necessitates consideration to account for the Abstrakte Bilder as Richter’s crowning achievement. By the early 1960s, long since the advent of Marcel Duchamp and Modernism’s declaration of painting’s death, Richter took up the continuing debate head on, foregrounding the apparent obsolescence of painting into an inquiry that would revolutionise and reenergize its problematic practice. In the context of and a reaction to photography, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop Art, Richter’s Photo Paintings – the body of work that was to launch him to critical acclaim – instigated a groundbreaking re-examination of painting in the face of technological means of mass production and the glorified pseudo-religiosity of abstract art. By translating artless black and white amateur photographs with indifferent photo-realist veracity onto canvas, Richter looked to the possibility for collusion between the oppositional binary of abstraction and resemblance, in search of a means for painting to objectively say something more than either could individually offer. Immaculately blurred while the paint remains wet, the Photo Paintings rendered explicit a simultaneous interpenetration of and tension between the three-dimensional space captured by the photograph and the flat pictorial space of painting. With these works, Richter bridged the gap between abstract painting and photographic figuration; a turn that at once, via an investigation of photography’s margins, undoes and affirms photography whilst legitimizing painting despite of this. Herein, these works laid the formative ground that would further engender Richter’s systematic negation of painting as the means by which he affirmed its currency. Towards the end of the 1960s, with the Colour Charts and Grey Paintings – Richter’s most pronounced concession to ‘anti-painting’ and Minimalism – the serial and systematic erasure of gesture, artistic agency and privileging of chance compositional structures gave rise to Richter’s movement into pure abstraction from 1972 onwards. While the first of these took the form of abstract paintings based on photographic details of paint strokes, by the early 1990s Richter’s mastery of the squeegee to facilitate a quasi-mechanical palimpsest of layered and scraped down colour, promulgated the possibility of exquisite lyrical painting within distinctly photographic terms. As redolent in the present Abstraktes Bild, the sheen of immaculate colour and endless permutations mimic the aesthetic of a cibachrome print, while a distinctly photographic quality is compounded by the out-of focus consistency in the sweeping accretions of paint. Evoking a blurred, half-seen or remembered image and imploring the same cognitive viewing experience as his Photo works, the hazy coagulation of endlessly scraped pigment forms an extraordinary repost to the canon of abstraction via the photographic, mechanical and the aleatory. The dialectical execution of the Abstrakte Bilder call for a suspension of Richter's own artistic will, as a result the artist starts with a ritualistic and ordered process of preparation: “mixing the colours, finding the right hues, the smell, all these things foster an illusion that this is going to be a wonderful painting” (the artist cited in: ‘I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It: Conversation between Gerhard Richter and Nicolas Serota, Spring 2011’, Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 16). Over a protracted period of execution the paintings undergo multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brings colour and textural juxtapositions that are reworked until an optimum threshold of harmonious articulation is reached. Within this process grounds of arresting pigment are applied only to be effaced and drawn out by large track-like strokes of the squeegee. Although spontaneous in their lyrical grandeur, these overlaid marks are in fact cerebrally laboured. This complex intellectual, and often frustrating procedure, described by Richter as “a bit of a battle” (Ibid.), is comparable to a convoluted and analytical game of chess, in which Richter takes time to ruminate the situation of each work until finally, in the artist’s own words, “I enter the room and say, Checkmate” (the artist cited in: Michael Kimmelmann, ‘Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms’, The New York Times, January 27, 2002, n.p.). Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of these works, rather it is by, “letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies” that Richter looks to “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119). Herein, as formulated by Bridget Pelzer, the Abstracts prove that what cannot be articulated, can be made, shown and seen: “Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable” (Birgit Pelzer, ‘The Tragic Desire’ in: Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts 2009, p. 118). Here, we would not be mistaken for taking Richter’s abstractions as retroactively analogous with Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, or Yves Klein and their collective dialogue on the sublime transcendental power of pure colour and form. Nonetheless, as Richter points out, these imposing and enveloping works have nothing to do with an intimation of some higher being or the sublime, rather they picture and implicate that which lies outside of and beyond our conceptual faculties. In keeping with the entirely contradictory nature of Richter's production however, this apparent arrest is attended by chaotic discord. As identified by Benjamin Buchloh, the evocation of nothingness and the void is immediately counteracted by the unrelenting complexity and turbulence of Richter’s abstract compositions: "...the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can't be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system" (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Ibid., pp. 23-24). What’s more, within the sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture these paintings emit an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognisable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural experiences such as rain or water erosion, the Abstract works derive their affect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us, if only elusively, to a reading of figuration. As made explicit by Kaja Silverman, Richter has made claims to paint “like a camera” even when photographic content is absent from his work (the artist cited in: Kaja Silverman, Flesh of My Flesh, California 2009, p. 173). In 1972 Richter explained: “I’m not trying to imitate a photograph… I’m trying to make one. And if I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then I am practicing photography by other means… [T]hose of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs” (Ibid). In making this analogy with the camera, Richter embraces the fact that perception and the way we view the world today is entirely mediated by the photograph and its technological proliferation. Thus, as outlined by Richter, where the camera “does not apprehend objects, it sees them”, the Abstrakte Bilder elicit the capacity of painting to propagate a true semblance of perception and appearance. To quote Hal Foster: “The semblance that concerns Richter is of a “second nature”… a culture-become-nature bathed in the glow of the media, a semblance permeated with photographic, televisual, and now digital visulalities” (Hal Foster, ‘Semblance According to Gerhard Richter’, in, Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., Op. cit., p. 126). Redolent across the endless exposures and variegation of the present work, the presence of crackling, distortive fuzz and slick gelatinous layers of colour as glaring artificial light, Richter's pure non-referential abstraction unmistakably bears the mark of photography. As though in homage to his abstract forbearers Mondrian and Barnett Newman the essential colour palette of Richter's canvas evokes Minimalism's dogmatic restriction to the elemental primaries of red, yellow and blue. Nonetheless, despite paying sophisticated reverence to the history of abstraction, the interference of variegation undercuts a reading of 'cool' detachment. Fundamentally comprised of the primary and additive primary colours of red, yellow, blue and green, this painting thematises the essential components that optically inform human sight and the appearance of the visible world. Invoking the effects of Dan Flavin's isolation of light as his principle material, the colour mixtures brought forth by Richter's endless sweeps of the squeegee invoke similar luminescent effects in paint. The elemental choice of primary pigment and the unanticipated facture of its execution induce an analogy to the RGB colour model - the essential framework through which the three principle light wavelengths (red, green and blue) are manipulated for the sensing of images in electronic systems as well as in traditional photography. Herein, the present work illuminates an encompassing photographic analogy that further underlines the very height of Richter’s intellectual sophistication. Idiosyncratically compatible with the detached, disenchanted mechanical age of contemporary visual culture, Richter’s Abstraktes Bild represents an all-enveloping evocation of a distinctly post-modern semblance. The simultaneous negation and affirmation of contingency, expressivity, detachment, and transcendence comprises an encompassing host of contradictions that posit this painting as a masterpiece of calculated chaos and paradigm of Gerhard Richter’s mature artistic and philosophical achievement. Signed, dated 1994 and numbered 809-4 on the reverse

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  • 2012-10-12
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Murnau - Landschaft mit grünem Haus(Murnau - Landscape with Green House)

Kandinsky, Landscape Painting and Avant-Gardism: the Murnau Factor By Dr Shulamith Behr   In 1937, while in exile in Paris, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) wrote with pride about the impact of his Murnau landscapes that were still in his collection, the colours have to this day remained completely fresh as though they are still wet. It was not without good reason that I concerned myself so very much with technical matters.[1] We can agree with both Kandinsky and the eminent conservator Rudolf H. Wackernagel that the colour effects of these works are truly astonishing to this day, the consequence of the artists versatile talents and knowledge of his techniques.[2] Kandinskys gestural exploration of the oil medium was accompanied by his selection of short-haired brushes and a change of support, from canvas or cardboard, to unprimed strawboard. The present painting Murnau Landscape with Green House (1909) is testimony not only to his adoption of these avant-garde painterly strategies, but also to his collaboration with like-minded colleagues and involvement in the pre-war German art world.[3] Prior to considering the Murnau phenomenon, it is helpful to position Kandinskys practices in relation to his experiences in Munich and Paris. One can ascertain from Kandinskys biography that his professional path was by no means straightforward. In 1896, at the age of thirty, he decided to pursue an artistic rather than an academic career; yet his specialist study of Russian peasant law and ethnography was to prove a vital influence on his development. He was not alone in his choice of Munich as a place to train as many of his compatriots, among them Alexei Jawlensky (1864-1941) and Marianne Werefkin (1869-1938), settled there in the same year. A rival to Berlin as an artistic centre, Munich boasted the highly rated teaching institution of the Academy of Fine Arts and a greater availability of exhibiting space. In 1901, however, Kandinsky struck out independently by co-founding the artists association known as Phalanx, which was devoted to the reforming principles of Jugendstil or Youth Style, the German term for the Applied Arts movement. It was in his capacity as a teacher in the Phalanx school that Kandinsky first made contact with Gabriele Münter (1887-1962), who attended evening life-classes under his guidance and was encouraged to pursue plein air painting in excursions to Kochel and Kallmünz in Bavaria. Although Kandinsky was married at the time, he and Münter became lovers and they led a peripatetic lifestyle over the next four years. This concluded with a year spent in Sèvres on the outskirts of Paris where Kandinsky produced small oil studies of the environs. The paint was applied with the palette knife, directly from the tube or occasionally with the brush. The freedom of painting landscape in situ offered Kandinsky the opportunity for modernist experimentation. In contrast, his developed studio work, painted on large stretched canvases in mixed media, drew on medieval imagery and themes of Old Russia. A major work of this period Das bunte Leben (1907, fig. 2) was exhibited at the Salon dAutomne in 1907, Kandinsky being well aware of Matisses unusual pastoral The Joy of Life (1905-06, fig. 3), which was shown in the Salon des Indépendants the previous year. Whereas Matisse located his lyrical fantasy in Collioure in the south of France, Kandinskys travels in rural Russia led him to anchor this mythical narrative in the market town of Ust Sysolsk, apparently the centre of Kandinskys earlier ethnographic activities.[4] An amphitheatre is created to contain the varied populace, who are portrayed wearing the patterned costume of the local Zyrian peasants. Pagan and Christian images, such as the Madonna and Child, are subordinated to a quasi-pointillist technique, applied over a black tempera ground, and sealed with varnish. Because of their unscientific and rhythmic application, the dots, patches and shapes of colour take on their own independent existence and elude a systematic reading of form and space. It is difficult to determine whether Kandinsky considered this enigmatic account of things Russian to be marketable; there was a forceful community of Russian expatriates in Paris who exhibited at the Salon dAutomne in 1905, which saw the controversial launching of the French group of Fauvists. For this occasion, the impresario Sergei Diaghilev organised a Russian pavilion; however, Kandinsky didnt affiliate with this group. It was only after the couples return to Munich that, along with Jawlensky and Werefkin, they became actively engaged in transforming painting into the more non-naturalistic art associated with Expressionism. The radical changes that occurred in Kandinskys uvre in the summer of 1908 are best considered in light of the foursomes excursions to the town of Murnau. This initiated a period of interaction that involved their testing of the limits of painting within the landscape genre, while intensifying an engagement with notions of primitivism. Located in the south Bavarian Alps, Murnau was a market town with a predominantly agrarian and Catholic population. It was also sought after as a tourist destination and contemporary photographs of the artists give credence to the disjunction of their urbane attire in the country setting. That the architectural cohesion of the town was the result of recent modernisation was of little consequence since it matched their search for rustic simplicity, authenticity and piety. Indeed, so taken were they with the area that Münter purchased a property there in 1909, which became a retreat for members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München, an exhibiting association of artists that they co-founded in January of that year. It was Jawlensky who first drew their attention to Bavarian and Bohemian glass painting and to the technique known as Hinterglasmalerei (reverse glass painting). A substantial collection was owned by a local brewer in Murnau, Johann Krötz. Münter started her own collection recreating the votive corners of Bavarian interiors. She copied traditional examples of this genre (images of patron saints), both she and Kandinsky learning the technique from Heinrich Rambold, a glass painter still active in Murnau. Notwithstanding the fact that the production of folk art had long been part of a thriving industry stimulated by the expanding tourist economy of the region the group cherished the neo-romantic belief in the innocent religiosity and naïve originality of folk artists. No doubt, as ethnographer cum artist, Kandinsky delighted in the transnational and cultural parallels between Russia and Germany. Jawlensky was the most conversant with avant-garde developments in Paris. He had exhibited with the Russian group of artists at the Salon dAutomne of 1905 and his acquaintance with Synthetist aesthetic theory was updated by a period spent in Matisses studio during 1907. Hence, in the painting Summer Evening in Murnau, of 1908-09 (Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus Munich), he negotiated paths between a Matisse-inspired modernism and the lessons offered by the linear-bound planes of folk art. Based on the near complementary colours of purple and orange, the paint application varies from thin washes, through to the textured impasto of the blazing sunset. Encouraged by Jawlenskys example, in the present painting Murnau Landscape with Green House (1909), Kandinsky gave up the palette knife in favour of short-haired brushes and larger, unprimed boards. In view of its scale, the work indicates that Kandinsky had come to regard the landscape genre as worthy of a fully worked-up painting rather than a mere oil study, albeit that the exposed ground and hautes pâtes brushstrokes give the appearance of in situ painting. To retain the freshness and nuances of direct colour application, Kandinsky refrained from varnishing his works from 1909 onwards. Interestingly, this richly orchestrated painting rather than the preparatory oil study (1908, fig. 7) was exhibited and purchased in Kandinskys lifetime. The latter, produced concurrently with Münters photograph of Pfarrstrasse (fig. 8), reveals the site-specific nature of the street and houses, Kandinsky opening up the vista above the railings of the fence and abutting garden. It was in Murnau that Kandinskys somewhat academic practice of retaining firm distinctions between his paintings, oil studies and coloured drawings was turned on its head. Indeed, between 1909 and 1914, visionary landscape was to become the basis for his major abstract compositions. Dr Shulamith Behr is an Honorary Research Fellow at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London 1 Letter to Galka Scheyer, 29 June 1937, in Jelena Hahl-Koch, Kandinsky, Stuttgart, 1993, p. 330 2 Rudolf H. Wackernagel, Watercolor with Oil , Oil with Watercolor, and so on: On Kandinskys Studio and his Painting Techniques, in Vasily Kandinsky: A Colorful Life, Helmut Friedel (ed.), Cologne, 1995, p. 561 3 The German-Jewish publisher and art dealer Herwarth Walden (1878-1942) became the artists agent in 1912. See Riccardo Marchi, October 1912. Understanding Kandinskys Art Indirectly at Der Sturm, Getty Research Journal, no. 1, 2009, pp. 53-74 4 See Peg Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia: The Artist as Ethnographer and Shaman, New Haven & London, 1995, pp. 49-50 Signed Kandinsky and dated 1909 (lower right); signed Kandinsky on the reverse; signed Kandinsky, titled and numbered no. 79 on the backboard

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  • 2017-06-21
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Dschungel (Jungle)

“I like the way that the dots in a magnified picture swim and move about. The way that motifs change from recognizable to unrecognizable, the undecided, ambiguous nature of the situation, the way it remains open… Many dots vibrating, swinging, blurring, reappearing: one could think of radio signals, telegraphic images, television come to mind.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke: Alibis, 2014, p. 74) “Resolutely ordinary in their subjects, Polke’s paintings from the mid-1960s are instantaneously legible, completely immediate, and uninvolved with the rituals and conventions of the world of art. They hit our consciousness directly, like a small bullet from a silenced gun. In this respect Polke’s work—more than the American pop artists of these years—marks the most complete break with the abstract expressionism that had preceded it, and it reflects most clearly his direct relationship to life as we actually experience it.” (John Caldwell in Exh. Cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke, 1990, p. 10) Leaguered in fire The wild black promontories of the coast extend Their savage silhouettes; The sun in universal carnage sets, And, halting higher, The motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats, Like an advancing mob in sword-points penned, That, balked, yet stands at bay. Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day In wind-lustrated hollows crystalline, A wan Valkyrie whose wide pinions shine Across the ensanguined ruins of the fray, And in her hand swings high o’erhead, Above the waster of war, The silver torch-light of the evening star Wherewith to search the faces of the dead. Edith Wharton, An Autumn Sunset, 1894 The year 1967 saw a world divided. The Vietnam War raged in the jungles of Southeast Asia, race riots spread across the United States, and the Arab-Israeli conflict erupted in the Six-Day War. Meanwhile, European homes received their first full-color television broadcasts, The Beatles released their eighth record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and from the surge of hippie counterculture arose the psychedelic Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. Amidst a world ravaged by war, a kaleidoscopic proliferation of images promised escape. From within this landscape of ever-shifting topographical frontiers, Sigmar Polke immortalized the horizon. Executed at the start of Polke’s radically inventive and consummately mystifying career, Dschungel from 1967 marks the inception of the artist’s complex investigation into the machinations of image-making, and is quite simply unmatched in its supreme import, chromatic resplendence, and radical evocation of the sublime. Polke’s influential series of Rasterbilder, of which the present work is a leading example, were the first works to position Pop Art in a foreign context, examining the pioneering movement’s critical and often ironic examinations of mass media culture from the perspective of a social sphere that was wholly un-Westernized. In the spectacular nature of its prismatic panorama, Dschungel embodies the concurrent curiosity, wonderment, and trepidation that characterized the post-war view of the world among Polke and his contemporaries, a landscape newly rife with both possibility and danger. Aligning this perspective aesthetically with an ideal beauty as exemplified by the Romantic conception of the Landscape genre, Polke’s masterpiece probes the very mechanics of painting while unraveling the machinations of his surrounding socioeconomic and political climate. Dschungel imparts a magnificent beauty that simmers with portentous undercurrents, vacillating between poles of attraction and suspicion as its rich polychromatic surface ripples before our eyes. If Pop Art probed the saturation of consumer culture within modern society, Germany after World War II was the ideal case-study: a nation impenetrably divided in two, the Eastern bloc was shielded from all capitalist media while West Germany struggled toward economic revitalization amidst wartime devastation. Born to the abysmally dark shadow of Nazism, Polke had lived on both sides of a divided Germany that was the crucible of the Cold War. Polke, who in 1953 at the age of 12 surreptitiously crossed with his family from East Germany to the West, experienced life in the two staunchly oppositional climates on either face of the Iron Curtain. The artist grew up within a climate of severe political instability, devastating poverty, and state repression; his architect father was conscripted to build covert military facilities by the Nazis, the purpose of which he never revealed. The seventh of eight children, Polke and his family fled from the Polish region of Silesia to Soviet-occupied Thuringia in 1945 during the German expulsion following World War II; eight years later, the Polkes escaped Communism under the GDR, settling in Düsseldorf by way of West Berlin. As a teenager growing up in West Germany, the artist bore captive witness to the proliferation of newspapers and magazines rife with images depicting a prosperous, modern nation. Hence Polke knew extremely well the manipulative power of the media and the potential of propaganda. During the late 1950s and early 60s, West Germany promoted what they coined the Wirstchaftwunder—the ‘economic miracle’ supporting the accelerated reconstruction of the nation’s economy—through the printed press, a cheap and infinitely reproducible vehicle for collective nation-building. Commercial printing became the most inconspicuously powerful socializing force shaping this ideological reformation. Reconstruction in West Germany after the fall of the Third Reich, however, was not as prosperous as the media purported. Two years after the war ended, food production stalled at only 51% of what it had been in 1938. While Polke was painting advertisements of nougat-centered chocolate bars as a reflection of the alleged lifestyle of increased affluence and consumption, potatoes still remained a dietary necessity for the majority of the German population. Thus, Polke was highly critical of the mass media imagery adopted by the country as its primary instrument for socioeconomic and political reprogramming. Polke’s early works of the 1960s galvanized not only West Germany, but the entire landscape of post-war painting. Capturing the social acuity that Lichtenstein and Warhol brought to their renderings of everyday commodity culture, Polke infused his with the weight of the German socioeconomic context and history. Appropriating the pictorial shorthand of commercial printing, Polke illustrated the consumer provinciality of West Germany in contrast to the dazzling allure and seductive elegance of his American contemporaries. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, the media was utilized as an instrument in socializing the populace—circulating resonant images of consumer products seemed to support the presence of the post-war economic miracle. Through this projection of an ideal capitalist society in the pages of the paper, print advertising capitalized on the public’s deepest longings and greatest unfulfilled desires. Indeed, the candies, cake, chocolates, and sausages that dominate Polke’s earliest paintings were not easily obtainable in the Germany of the 1950s and 1960s; Polke uncovers the experience of living with such imagery, but not having the means or the wherewithal to actually access the petit-bourgeois ideal drawn before the people. In the alluring utopia of Dschungel, Polke heightens this sense of the unattainable, as expressed through the commercialization of air travel and the leisure industry. In this sense, Polke embraces the American preoccupation with commercial imagery, but subverts the attraction with an inflected irony concerning the political agenda at the heart of such representations. As Kathy Halbreich described, “Polke’s love-hate relationship with the political and economic power of the United States began here, with an abundance both unattainable and unwanted. Even as the flood of consumer products in the 1950s operated like a narcotic, dulling memories of recent need and longing, there was a chill in the air. Increased prosperity had its own cost, and Germany, like postwar Japan, experienced what Ian Buruma has described as ‘bourgeois conformism… with its worship of the television set, the washing machine, and the refrigerator (‘The Three Sacred Treasures’), its slavish imitation of American culture, its monomaniacal focus on business, and the stuffy hierarchies of the academic and artistic establishments.' ” (Kathy Halbreich in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke: Alibis, 2014, p. 77) The artist turned to the pictorial style of advertising in order to depict the consumer society’s highly prized objects of desire, harnessing the very technical device that promoted and circulated these aspirational images. The artist clearly understood how differently affecting this iconography was to a German reality recently freed from the shackles of oppressive socialism, in stark contrast to the functional impression of these advertising ideals to an American public. The artist’s keen unraveling of the disjuncture inherent in the connections between consumerism and repression informed his best pictures, most notably Dschungel. With the porous phantasmagoria of iridescent dots constituting Dschungel, Polke beckons an instant longing that is quickly thwarted by the impossibility to see clearly, aesthetically capturing the sensation of desire and concomitant absence of fulfillment characteristic to the consumer society of West Germany. In early landmark paintings such as the present work, Polke removed these images from their context and reproduced them in paint, his meticulous technique formally mimicking the raster process that was the only method available for commercial printing until the late 1960s. To create the heightened illusion of tone and spatial depth in print, ink would be dispersed through overlaid screens of variously shaped dots and lines, resulting in a matrix of Benday dots (or “raster-dots”). Using a perforated metal stencil and a spray-gun, Polke applied fine grids of microscopic dots in monochromatic networks atop and next to one another, creating a multi-layered stratification of luminescent color that revels in imprecision. Unlike his black and white Rasterbilder, color reproduction required complex angling of sequentially applied individual layers of color; moiré effects are more common in color printing than in black and white, here exploited by Polke to maximum effect. By positioning the grids of color ‘incorrectly,’ Polke flooded the image with an unfocused, glistening translucency. Observed from up close, these dots appear fragmentary and disjunctive, but coalesce in the mind’s eye to form a unified image. In magnifying the scale of the raster-dots through their transfer to canvas, Polke revealed the covert underlying grid structure of the image. Polke enlarged the mechanically reproduced Benday pattern found in newspaper printing almost to the point of abstraction, breaking down the aesthetic and physical structures of the source image to the point of collapse. By actively disrupting the size and density of the Raster with an experimental hand-painted stratum of screened dots, Polke subtly corroded the cohesiveness and integrity of the image and thus subverted the dominance of the subject. Consequently, and as he continued to do for the rest of his career, Polke established a multi-layered ambiguity here that poses important questions about the nature of image-making, of perception, and of reality. In the 1960s, both Polke and Richter engaged with tourism imagery, providing a significant commentary on the social promise of new forms of leisure experience to the citizens of Germany following the war. For Richter, pyramids and sphinxes, families on motorboats, and loungers on deckchairs represented his concentration on the images produced by the tourist industry, decontextualizing and blurring these images from their original location of consumption on brochure pages. Similarly, the tropical Technicolor palette of Polke’s Dschungel epitomizes the artist’s interest in the leisure trade. Tate curator Mark Godfrey suggested, “Most of the time, instead of actual destinations and iconic sites, [Polke] was interested in the promises made and fantasies produced by the tourist industry and in how to represent and undercut them... to stage escape as something that was being promoted while remaining unattainable.” (Mark Godfrey in Exh. Cat., Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (and travelling), Living with Pop: A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism, 2013, p. 235) With his disorienting raster technique, Polke creates a disjunction between the image of a sweltering paradise and the reality of everyday life, subverting the allure of holiday with its relegation to the aspirational pages of the advertisement. Polke’s interest in the exotic mirrored the utopian aspirations of the German populace recently freed from Communism, whose desires for freedom and discovery were projected onto the seemingly achievable, consumable advertisements of exotic locales. With Dschungel, we enter a Technicolor realm of magic and imagination that shimmers before our eyes while simultaneously corroding by the very instability of the raster dot image. The artist foregrounds the fantasy of the bourgeoisie who could dream of the places they might escape to, but could still not afford to see. As explained by Martin Hentschel, “A whole range of motifs that Polke embraces in his visual world in the sixties seem like collections of finds from reconnaissance missions in petit bourgeois, German living rooms. And it is not by chance that ‘the exotic’ crops up so frequently. This is wholly in keeping with the conservatism of any emergent affluent society which first finds expression within the individual members’ own four walls. In this context the exotic takes on the role of a projection screen. As yet, foreign travel is beyond the means of most people, so the only thing to do is to create a visual ‘idyll’ in one’s own ‘interior space’ by incorporating some touch of foreignness, fleetingly glimpsed in travel brochures.” (Martin Hentschel in Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (and travelling), Sigmar Polke: The Three Lies of Painting, 1997, p. 46) If the brilliant image of the tropical sun setting beyond the trees, awash in a sea of prismatic hues, seems to offer us utopia, what Polke does with his signature political skepticism is puncture holes in the very screen of petit-bourgeois projections—in perforating utopia, what we are arguably left with is a lacerating and chromatically brilliant crossfire of flimsy social ideals. It was also in 1967 that Apollo 1—NASA’s first manned expedition into space—exploded into flames during a launch pad test, killing three astronauts on board and temporarily aborting mankind’s idealistic quest to step foot on the moon. In 2003, Polke recalled his first reactions upon moving to the West, and how they came to shape his entire body of work: “When I came to the West I saw many, many things for the first time. But I also saw the prosperity of the West critically. It wasn’t really heaven… This attitude—looking at what is happening from a point of view outside—is still part of my work.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke: Alibis, 2014, p. 77) From as early as 1964, the notion of the exotic escape—as symbolized by the recurring motif of the tropical palm tree, the heron, and the unfamiliar romantic other—was periodically explored by the artist, whose position in West Germany afforded him a unique political perspective on the idyll of flight. Dschungel seems to anticipate Polke’s voracious travels of later years to exotic locales like Brazil, Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, the UAE, and Afghanistan. Like Paul Gauguin, Polke’s fascination with the other stemmed from a lust for paradise coupled with the understanding of a far less alluring reality. Halbreich in fact suggests that, “Polke, of course, was aware that Gauguin’s search for an authentic, uncorrupted Eden ended in disillusion, with the artist both witnessing and participating in the devastating Westernization of this South Seas arcadia. So while Polke was susceptible to the lure of the exotic, his knowing appropriation of Gauguin’s ‘native’ imagery indicates he recognized the perils of colonialist voyeurism, and of his own attempts to disappear entirely into another identity.” (Ibid., p. 85) It was in response to this patently ideological, propagandistic impulse that Polke, along with Gerhard Richter, Manfred Kuttner, and Konrad Lueg, founded the movement of Capitalist Realism in 1963, a sardonic antidote to the state-sponsored Social Realism style of art governing the GDR. The term Capitalist Realism first emerged in May 1963, when Polke, Richter, Kuttner, and Lueg rented a vacant butcher’s shop at Kaiserstrasse 31A and declared the inauguration of German Pop Art, coining the term in the press release for the show. They announced, “For the first time in Germany, we are showing paintings for which such terms as Pop Art, Junk Culture, Imperialist or Capitalist Realism, New Objectivity, Naturalism, German Pop and the like are appropriate.” Five months later, in October 1963, Richter and Lueg staged the event Living with Pop—A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism in the Berges furniture showroom: here, the artists lounged among the store’s wares and dispersed their paintings with the showroom’s stock, disintegrating boundaries between art and industry in the vein of their American Pop counterparts. Pop Art’s investigation of the trivial and commonplace by way of the commodity was inflected by the group with the distinct psychological, cultural, and economic factors specific to the social politics of Germany. The group caught the attention of the young gallerist René Block, who later established Capitalist Realism as the basis of his program. These artists embraced the American obsession with media imagery and their modes of circulation, while investing such iconography with a distinctly chilly irony about the political uses of representation. Polke, Richter, Kuttner, and Lueg first met at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie, a burgeoning hotbed of artistic experimentation where their professors included such innovative luminaries as Joseph Beuys and Dieter Roth. Beuys, one of the key progenitors of the Fluxus movement in Düsseldorf, grounded his work in concepts of spiritual enlightenment and social philosophies, activating through performance and participation opportunities for utopian thought and discourse. The hugely significant pedagogical presence of Joseph Beuys instituted the understanding of art as the potential facilitator of social and political change, expanding the realm of thought as to what art could mirror and subsequently achieve. After apprenticing for a stained-glass manufacturer, Polke entered the Kunstakademie in 1961, at a time when the influence of modern art was spreading across West Germany as a counterpart to the oppressive collective memory and ideologies that pervaded life under the Third Reich. Polke, Richter, and Kuttner had all recently emigrated from the GDR, arriving in the Bundesrepublik to a deluge of consumerist imagery and bountiful shop-window displays bursting with goods previously unavailable to them. While in the early 1960s, American Pop Art had not yet been exhibited in Germany, the group was well aware of the groundbreaking artistic revolution overseas from the pages of international art journals. In 1964, Pop Art made its way to Europe for the first time when Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Johns, Dine, and Oldenburg were all included in the Venice Biennale; Polke and Richter first saw Lichtenstein’s work as reproduced in the pages of Art International as part of a section about Neo-Dada. Polke and his peers drew influence from the movement’s progenitors while defining their sensibilities as profoundly distinct, as expressed in a collective statement: “Pop art recognizes the modern mass media as a genuine cultural phenomenon and turns their attributes, formulations and content through artifice, into art. It thus fundamentally changes the face of modern painting and inaugurates an aesthetic revolution. Pop art has rendered conventional painting—with all its sterility, its isolation—its artificiality, its taboos and its rules—entirely obsolete, and has rapidly achieved international currency and recognition by creating a new view of the world.” (Gerhard Richter, Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, “Letter to a Newsreel Company,” 29 April 1963) The parallels between Polke and his American Pop Art counterparts such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and James Rosenquist are palpable in their shared appropriation and inherent distrust of widely circulated mass media images. Unlike the glossy, machinelike perfection of Lichtenstein’s uniform, tightly composed pictures, however, Polke compromised the images he reproduced through manipulating the shape and scale of the dots, distorting the matrix structure to erode the resulting image into a ghostly blur, an effect akin to Richter’s most fêted photo-paintings. The strategy of magnifying and arranging dots according to a system of mechanical reproduction is sharpened in Lichtenstein’s images, whereas in Polke’s hands, the system’s effectiveness is entirely corrupted by overlaying dots of different scale and color. Blurred areas of Dschungel reveal a chorus of multicolored dots congealing and overlapping, nearly forfeiting legibility. Polke revealed the very structure of the image’s production, thereby unraveling the codes by which pictorial messages are organized and transmitted. Furthermore, although the perforated imperfections generated in Dschungel evoke the hasty smudges, eerie shadows, and off-key printer errors of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen masterworks, Polke achieved these effects through painstakingly applying the Benday dots manually—at the heart of his picture is the hand of an expertly skilled painter. Like the pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat, whose pictures pulsate with an atmospheric veil of color, Dschungel radiates with ethereal luminosity. However, the brusque simplification of Polke’s primary color palette and corrupted pattern emphasize the technique as a mediating structure. The power endemic to newspaper and published images was broadcast via the schematic grids of Raster dots. In formally breaking down the grids and undermining the cohesiveness of the picture, Polke successfully subverted the authority of the image, interrogating the objective truth it purportedly carried. Dschungel obliterates the distinction between abstraction and figuration, the dots rippling and humming loudly before the viewer’s eye. Meanwhile, from afar a generic image of an exotic landscape surges through the pointillist screen. The painting rejects depth in favor of a surface that comes alive by perpetually shifting between motion and stasis, an effect that emphasizes the artifice of the image and its ceaseless potentiality for both reproduction and manipulation. The artist engaged the raster-dot technique as a means, in his own words, “to treat the whole surface in the same way—like Cézanne—and to treat all subjects in the same way: a horse, a woman, an ass, etc.” (Margit Rowell in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke Works on Paper 1963-1974, 1999, p. 16) Dschungel brilliantly deconstructs the image into its constituent parts, highlighting the viewer as the ultimate endpoint at which pictures are optically fused, subsequently decoded, and translated to acquire their ideological impact. Among the first, foundational group of paintings utilizing Polke’s iconic raster-dot technique, and one of a small number of multi-colored examples, Dschungel was executed at a moment when the artist was still experimenting with the singular form that he would revisit regularly in the body of exceedingly diverse, masterpieces that he produced. This masterpiece exemplifies the spirit of radical experimentation and renewed complexity that Polke pursued over the span of his storied career, offering an inimitable glimpse into the seminal stages of the development of the artist’s painterly lexicon. As Peter Schjeldahl admiringly noted, “To learn more and more about him, it has sometimes seemed to me, is to know less and less. His art is like Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland rabbit hole, entrance to a realm of spiraling perplexities, one of which is his uncanny relation to American art, first as a provincial follower and later as a seminal influence.” (Peter Schjeldahl, "The Daemon and Sigmar Polke" in Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, Sigmar Polke, 1990-1991, p. 17)

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-12
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Le Principe du plaisir

Le Principe du plaisir (The Pleasure Principle), painted in 1937, showcases several enduring and recognizable themes from Magrittes oeuvre: visual and cerebral paradox, an uncanny alteration of the familiar and the tension between the visible and the hidden. The painting is a portrait of Edward James, an English heir to an American railroad fortune turned eccentric poet and influential patron of Surrealist art. After Dalí introduced James to Magritte in 1937, James immediately invited the artist to spend the winter months at his Wimpole Street house in London, and for two years James commissioned a number of paintings from the burgeoning Surrealist. Of these commissions, two are portraits of the patron: La Reproduction interdite (Not To Be Reproduced) and the present work.Magritte envisioned the concept for Le Principe du plaisir before ever meeting James. In 1936 Magritte included an ink sketch resembling the present work on the first page of a hand-made book honoring the surrealist poet, Paul Éluard. Beneath the drawing, Magritte writes pour Paul Éluard (Idée de Paul Colinet)." This inscription may refer to Marcel Mariëns claim that Paul Colinet submitted the idea for portrait manqué (failed portrait), or a portrait with an invisible or hidden face, to Magritte, albeit after the artist had been obscuring the likeness of his subjects for nearly a decade. Then, in June 1937, several months after his stay at James Wimpole Street home, Magritte presented the idea of this portrait in a letter to James: I have done a picture representing a man whose head is a lightI consider it as a preliminary study, the real picture as I envision is still to be painted but since it would be intended for you, do you not think your person could be recognized in it as well If the idea appeals to you, all you have to do is be photographed full-faced at a table with your arms crossed and resting on the table and a sort of stone lying on the table to your right and not too far from your arm. And send me the photograph (quoted in D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, op. cit., pp. 249-50). James commissioned fellow surrealist Man Ray to take his photograph, which he quickly mailed to Magritte for the portrait. When Magritte finished the painting in September and had it delivered to James in London, James told Magritte in a letter, My friend and I think it is a great success, in fact a work of genius (quoted in ibid., p. 250). Le Principe du plaisir exemplifies Magrittes interest with what is hidden in our visual reality. Throughout his career, Magritte employs surrealist imagery that confronts our fascination with the hiddenhidden faces in particular. An apple conceals the face of his iconic bowler hat man in Le Fils de l'homme while white clothes cover the faces of his subject in Les Amants. In one of his few recorded interviews (Magritte detested publicity and discussions of his own work), Magritte relates that, Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible doesnt show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is apparent (quoted in D. Sylvester, Magritte: The Silence of the World, 1992, New York, p. 24). Magritte achieves this conflict in Le Principe du plaisir with a characteristic twist of paradox: we expect, and need, light to reveal, not conceal, the subjects face in an otherwise dark room, just as we expect the mirror to reveal, not conceal, the subjects face in La Reproduction interdite. The title of the painting refers to a key element of Freudian psychoanalysis, which served as a philosophical underpinning for the Surrealist movement. However, Magritte himself has warned against interpretations and analysis of his titles: The titles of pictures are not explanations and pictures are not illustrations of titles. The relationship between title and picture is poetic, that is, it only catches some of the objects characteristics of which we are usually unconscious, but which we sometimes intuit, when extraordinary events take place which logic has not yet managed to elucidate (quoted in J. Levy, ed., René Magritte: Selected Writings, Minneapolis, 2016, p. 112). Edward James, a poet and a lifelong collector of art, is particularly remembered for his patronage of Surrealist painters including Dalí, Margritte, Tchelitchew, Fini and Carrington. He provided space for his artist friends to develop their creative practice. Dalí, Tchelitchew, Magritte and others were given studio space during extended stays in Edward's homes at West Dean and in London. He supported them further through commissions and collaborations, building one of the finest collections of Surrealist art in the world. Le Principe du plaisir remained in James' collection until 1964 when it became a part of his eponymous Foundation. It was acquired by the present owner in 1979 and has remained in the same private collection for nearly forty years. Signed magritte (upper left); titled "Le Principe du plaisir," signed Magritte and dated 1937 (on the reverse)

  • USAUSA
  • 2018-11-12
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One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate)

"I like money on the wall" – Andy Warhol's infamous statement from 1975 gives verbal expression to a dialogue initiated thirteen years previously in 1962 (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and Back Again), Orlando 1975, p. 133). During this year Warhol would paint the very first in what would become a lineage of canvases depicting the ultimate symbol of status and wealth: money. This painting is One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate). Unimpeachably important, it signifies the very foundation upon which Warhol forged his career, the one painting to which Warhol’s fascination with consumption, wealth, celebrity, and glamour is rooted. Indeed, the iconographic power of the American dollar bill inhabits the symbolic core of Warhol’s radical Pop dialectic. Signalling Warhol’s full transition to fine art superstar, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) ranks amongst the most important works from his unparalleled artistic legacy. Executed in the pivotal year of 1962, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) is completely unique and signals the dawn of a new era for Andy Warhol, located as it is at the threshold of his experimentation with mechanical processes of image making. Herein, not only is this the very first dollar painting, it is the only one to have been painted by hand, and joins those other early hand-painted masterpieces that announce his arrival as a cultural force. Created alongside the breakthrough Ferus Gallery Campbell Soup Can paintings of 1962 – the artist's first solo exhibition and first use of serial repetition – One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) belongs to an elite pantheon of twentieth-century masterpieces and provides an historically important expression of the seductive power and symbolic potency of the American dollar. The Silver Certificate was the original one-dollar bill and had been used as official legal tender from 1878 until 1963. Monumentalised by Warhol on an arresting scale it bears the markings and declarations that constitute American history. Magnifying its intricate design and statutory affirmations into a consummate painterly transcription, Warhol demarcates its undulating form with thin, silver lines and bold definition. Severe contrasts and a dark field of shadow along the top edge imbue One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) with graphic depth. Similar to the ripped labels that peel and crumple away from the cylindrical surfaces in the Campbell Soup Can paintings (catalogue raisonné numbers 86–102), this shadow implies the three-dimensionality of the original bill – a concession to verisimilitude that would soon be ironed out with his discovery of the silkscreen method. Aligned with Warhol’s early paintings, the present work’s composition was achieved by hand tracing a photographic projection onto canvas. The photographic source was taken from a series of images showing dollar bills in varying arrangements. Taken by Warhol’s close friend Edward Wallowitch at the artist’s behest, the original contact sheet reveals three one-dollar bills in a triangular configuration; Warhol cropped and inverted this image to achieve his final composition. Although the present work was the only painting created, Wallowitch’s contact sheet was used as the source for a multitude of other drawings by the artist. Following Wallowitch’s photographic source, these drawings depict dollar bills arranged in various groupings and shapes, tied in a roll, torn in half, ripped and crumpled, as well as in combination with Campbell’s Soup cans. This unique union of Warhol’s most iconic subjects was aptly described by Allison Unruh as a “Pop primal scene” (Allison Unruh, ‘Signs of Desire: Warhol’s Depictions of Dollars’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 138). Warhol’s unconventional treatment of the dollar bill in this critical series of drawings concurred with his idiosyncratic approach to currency as something to be valued and celebrated, but also handled in a casual, nonchalant way on a day to day basis. As the artist explained: “The best way I like to carry money, actually, is messily. Crumpled wads. A paper bag is good” (Andy Warhol, op cit., Orlando 1975, p. 130). Interestingly Warhol mostly painted bills of small denominations. Similar to the way he painted Campbell’s Soup for its classless and everyman status – Arthur C. Danto refers to this Warholian subject as “the democratic soup, the soup of the people” – he depicts bills that have been owned, handled and cherished by ordinary people, the general masses with whom Warhol, the democratic everyman, aligned himself (Arthur C. Danto, ‘Andy Warhol and the Love of $$$$$’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: $, 1997, p. 8). On the other hand, Warhol luxuriated in the potential of money and the glamour and wealth that it promised. Above the image of George Washington bold shaded lettering delineates the heading “United States of America”, whilst underneath the certificate's function is defined, clearly stating the legal mandate “one silver dollar payable to the bearer on demand”. Herein the inscription and title of the work underpins Warhol’s ongoing appropriation and evocation of precious metal in his work. Having first introduced gold leaf into his shoe drawings of the 1950s, gold and silver played an important part in his work: from the mesmeric environment of the artist’s silver-foiled Factory, his installation of Silver Clouds at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966, through to his Gold Marilyn Monroe of 1962 and the 1963 series of silver Liz and Elvis’. Of the latter Warhol used a simulacrum of precious metal as tribute to the iconic status of 1950s silver screen idols. Indeed, very much attuned to the way Warhol valorised icons of a by-gone era, the Silver Certificate was on the verge of obsolescence. Warhol’s immortalisation of soon-to-be ‘old money’ signalled an important economic change, in which the backing of American legal tender was no longer linked to precious metal, but instead prescribed an economy centred on exchange value rather than industrial production. This transition was seminal in achieving the systems of capitalist exchange that epitomised the hyper-consumerist society, which Warhol so enthusiastically supported. Warhol had previously introduced the theme of money and the American dollar in a number of his commissioned illustrations and early drawings. For the 1954 issue of Dance Magazine for example, Warhol produced a commercial illustration depicting a sack of gold with several coins marked either with loosely sketched dollar signs, the number twenty, or miniature portraits, pouring from it. For a Charles of the Ritz face powder advertisement the artist portrayed a female face on a coin and marked it with the inscription “liberty”, playfully applying the notion of freedom to consumer culture. Moreover, a humorous drawing from around 1957 depicts a tree of money, with dollar bills hanging off the branches instead of leaves. Considering the fact that Warhol’s first corporate entity was founded that same year, his depiction of a tree sprouting money was a pertinent visualisation of his artistic and entrepreneurial ambition. These early illustrations and drawings not only prelude Warhol's choice of subject matter, but introduced aesthetic tendencies and techniques that would inspire several of the artist's early paintings of the 1960s. In his seminal essay for the Warhol retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh highlights the significance and stylistic influence that Warhol’s commercial illustrations from the 1950s had on his subsequent artistic output: “… a more extensive study of Warhol’s advertisement design would suggest that the key features of his work of the early 1960s are prefigured in the refined arsenal and manual competence of the graphic designer: extreme close-up fragments and details, stark graphic contrast and silhouetting of forms, schematic simplification, and, most important, of course, rigorous serial compositions” (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh,  ‘Andy Warhol’s One-Dimensional Art, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, 1989, pp. 42-44). In particular, Warhol's appropriation and manipulation of photographic source material was a formative technique that furnished his transition from illustrator to fine artist. At the time his invalidation of free-hand drawing was met with disapproval, however, in his transition into the realm of fine art, his inventive use of the photographic medium was an effectual technique that allowed him to achieve the speed and efficiency of output that concurred with the commercial subject matter of his works. As one of the salient examples of this initial adaptation of the tracing method for his fine art practice One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) was thus the early harbinger of an expedient technique that preluded the silkscreen process, which would define the rest of Warhol’s oeuvre. Warhol’s deliberation upon the thematic potential of the dollar as a subject coincided with the post-war boom in America and the dollar's rapidly increasing omnipotence as international currency. Looking back at this period in American history Germano Celant considered the signs and symbols endemic at that time: “What quasi-metaphysical entity, having risen to the level of absolute value, could present itself as omnipotent and omnipresent? ... Something unreal that had invaded the whole society, transforming itself into quantity and monumentality?” (Germano Celant in: Exhibition Catalogue, Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, SuperWarhol, 2003, p. 3). For Celant the answer to this question lay in Warhol’s pertinent choice of subject matter. He explained: “In 1960 Warhol identified this thing in the green bill of the American dollar, with its motto ‘In God we Trust’, in denominations of one and two dollars. It was an object liberated from its value, in favour of its function: a technical medium conveying a modality of existence in simulacra, an element transcending the functionality of need and assuming the meaning of economic overdetermination in symbolic exchange” (Germano Celant quoted in: ibid., p. 3). Identifying the American dollar as a leitmotif of American culture, Warhol famously declared that: “Americans are not so interested in selling. What they really like to do is buy” (Andy Warhol, op cit., Orlando 1975, p. 229). The ultimate symbol of the American Dream, the dollar represented not just status and wealth, but also hope and desire. Without parallel in its internationalism and potent iconography, it stood, and still stands, as the archetypal symbol for the systems of exchange that have shaped and moulded our turbo-Capitalist era. Created at the very crux of the artist’s transition from commercial illustration to the realm of fine art, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) is heralded as the genesis of one of Warhol’s most important artistic obsessions: money. Monumental in scale and prodigious in scope, it stands as an astute allegory of its time and is truly without parallel within the salient artistic accomplishments of Andy Warhol's oeuvre.

  • GBRStorbritannien
  • 2015-07-01
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L'Amazone

L'Amazone is an early masterpiece which counts among Modigliani’s most famous images. While his subject is presented as an elegant horsewoman, her arched brow, pursed lips and smoldering gaze create a powerful erotic charge. The sharp angles and smooth curves of her upper body fill the canvas, as the sitter’s breasts and buttocks swell beneath her tightly-fitting riding coat. A femme fatale to rival his most revealing nudes, L'Amazone reveals Modigliani’s deeply passionate artistic vision. The subject of this painting is Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers, a glamorous socialite and the lover of Paul Alexandre’s younger brother Jean, who commissioned this portrait of his girlfriend in 1909.  Marguerite poses in her riding habit, with her gloved hand on hip and her sly glance at the artist transgressing the boundary of her rarefied status.   Sensational as it is, the portrait proved to be one of Modigliani’s greatest challenges.  Progress was slow from the start, with a frustrated Modigliani repeatedly threatening to destroy what he had already completed.  “The portrait seems to be coming along well, but I’m afraid it will probably change ten times again before it’s finished,” Jean reported to his brother Paul (quoted in Meryle Secrest, Modigliani, A Life, New York, 2011, p. 124).  One of the major preoccupations was Marguerite’s jacket, which Modigliani continuously reworked and recolored from red to yellow-ochre.  The resulting image was so astonishingly avant-garde that Marguerite apparently did not recognize herself.   But the prescient Paul Alexandre, whose portrait was also painted by Modigliani during this time, instantly saw the genius in this picture and acquired it for his own collection. Modigliani’s preliminary drawings for L’Amazone, also in the Lewyt Collection, pay close attention to Marguerite’s fine-boned facial features and the elongation of her jaw line (figs. 3, 4, 5).  The mask-like angularity of the face immediately calls to mind the work of Picasso, whose 1905 portrait of Gertrude Stein, yet another strong-willed aristocratic woman of the era, shares many commonalities with the present work (figs 1, 2).  Writing about Picasso’s legendary portrait, his biographer Pierre Daix observes that Picasso “reduces her face to a mask, to contrasts of volume lacking any detail of either identification or psychological expression.  That summer, anticipating Matisse, Picasso was the first to take amplification and formal purification to such an extreme.  And the faces of all his figure-paintings of the period display a similar reduction to essentials, to structure.  Was this what struck Modigliani?” (excerpt in Secrest, op. cit., p. 179). Modigliani’s stylization of the Baroness can clearly be linked to the works he saw at Picasso’s studio at the Bateau Lavoir (figs. 10, 11), as well as their mutual interest in African tribal art, but it is also indicative of the influence of another artistic colleague, who was present at the modelling sessions for this portrait.   The first sketches for L’Amazone were made at Cité Falguière, the Montparnasse studio that he shared with Constantin Brancusi (fig. 7), and the highly sculptural details of Marguerite’s face in these drawings and the finished portrait belie the environmental influences at play whilst the artist was bringing this portrait to life (figs. 6, 8). One of the notable features of the present work is Modigliani’s approach to rendering the potent sensual appeal of a woman who was far removed from the artist’s own social realm.  The Baroness was introduced to the artist by her lover Jean Alexandre, the younger brother of Modigliani’s patron Paul Alexandre (fig. 1), who acted both as a patron and guardian figure for the wayward artist.  Jean was charged with supervising Modigliani’s progress while Paul was out of town, since Modigliani was too often distracted by drink and debauchery to complete projects by his own accord.  The present work, as well as a portrait of Jean, were two of the major works that occupied Modigliani during this time.  We know from Jean’s letters to his brother that they were extremely difficult for him to complete.  Indeed, Modigliani’s working methods during his sessions with his models were unorthodox, and his female models particularly suffered his eccentricities.  His devilish good looks and bacchanalian temperament sometimes intimidated his models, and his unprofessional antics would make for a lively, if not unnerving, afternoon in the studio.  One might imagine how the Baroness barely endured their sessions together, given that she ultimately lost patience with him. Lunia Czechowska, another one of his frequent models, described how Modigliani’s joie de vivre got the better of him the first time he painted her portrait:  “Gradually as the session went on and the hours passed, I was no longer afraid of him.  I see him still in shirtsleeves, his hair all ruffled trying to fix my features on the canvas.  From time to time he extended his hand toward a bottle of cheap table wine (vieux marc).  I could see the alcohol taking effect: he was so excited he was talking to me in Italian.  He painted with such violence that the painting fell over on his head has he leaned forward to see me better.  I was terrified.  Ashamed of having frightened me, he looked at me sweetly and began to sing Italian songs to make me forget the incident” (Pierre Sichel, A Biography of Amedeo Modigliani, New York, 1967, p. 325). The more socially remote Marguerite was much less accommodating.   The young woman grew increasingly impatient after several weeks of posing in the draughty open studio space shared with Brancusi, so sessions were relocated to the more private environs of Jean’s apartment.  After more hours of work and with no end in sight, she threatened to quit and gave Modigliani an ultimatum of one week, forcing the artist to a conclusion.  Jeffrey Meyers describes L’Amazone as a "masterpiece" in his biography of the artist:  “Her high cheek bones narrow to her dainty chin as her wide shoulders narrow to her waist, the curve of her sunken cheek echoes the curve from her shoulder to her waist, and a dark diamond shape (echoing the shape of her torso) appears between the sharp angle of her left arm and her svelt body” (Jeffrey Meyers, Modigliani, A Life, Orlando, 2006, p. 52).  The resulting image is a glamorous and provocative interpretation of female sexual potency. “More than anything else, Modigliani was a portrait painter” the historian Werner Schmalenbach wrote in his well-known essay on the artist’s portraiture.  Schmalenbach explained that Modigliani’s approach to portrait painting was one of cool distance and keen insight, a combination which enabled him to render the “likeness” of his sitter.  It is this effect that he achieves with the present work and that he would later incorporate into the most successful portraits of his later years:  “They are unequivocally portraits and, contrary to all the artistic precepts of the age, they possess a documentary value. Even a portrait such as that of Max Jacob, for all its formalization and stylization, is still a likeness – incontestably so, since it is actually based on a photograph.  At the same time, however the sitter’s individuality is reduced to the extent that the stylization creates the effect of a mask.  This brings African masks to mind, but here there is nothing alien, mysterious or demonic about the mask; it masks nothing.  On the contrary, the sitter has sacrificed to the form some of his individuality, his emotions, his affective life, just as the paint, for his part, keeps emotion well away from that form.  He looks at this fellow man with great coolness.  The warmth of the painting lies solely in its colour.  This combination of cool detachment with painterly warmth lends the painting – like many other works by the artist – its own specific “temperature” (Werner Schmalenbach, “The Portraits”, L’ange au visage grave (exhibition catalogue), Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2002-03, pp. 42-43). Signed Modigliani (lower left)

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  • 2013-05-07
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A.B. Courbet

"I have studied the art of the masters and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I have no more wanted to imitate the former than to copy the latter; nor was it my intention to achieve the trivial goal of art for art's sake." Gustave Courbet, from "Realism," the preface to the brochure of his personal exhibition at the Pavilion of Realism outside the 1855 Universal Exhibition. "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture... I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." The artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, Eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Verlag Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36 A majestic panorama of richly variegated paint cresting across a vast canvas, A.B. Courbet comprises the epitome of Gerhard Richter’s astoundingly powerful art of abstraction. Simultaneously concealing and revealing spectacular accents of red, yellow and blue primaries, a sublime veil of lusciously viscous oil paint flows laterally across the canvas like a tide coursing across the geological strata of a cliff face. This painting sits at the chronological head of the period when the artist’s creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights and the long, hard-edged spatula ‘squeegee’ became the central instrument of his technical practice. In its phenomenal scale and sheer, uncontestable quality, A.B. Courbet ranks in the very finest achievements of Richter’s abstract output. The vast and intensely beautiful chromatic expanse of A.B. Courbet stands as one of the most elegant and fully resolved exemplars of Richter's epic corpus. It embodies the aesthetic of the artist's abstract vision and is very much a paragon of "the compositionally complex, heavily impastoed and richly polychromatic Abstract Paintings" described by Roald Nasgaard (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 106). Seeping layers of brilliantly charged hues are dramatically scattered across the canvas, alternately coalescing and dissolving to defy conventional color patterns. Accumulations of innumerable streaking strata of lustrous oil paint forge a sublime symphony of dark and light tracts punctuated by vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens. This coloristic harmony and lyrical resonance broadcast an evocative atmosphere of density and chaos, while the interplay of hues and the complex smattering of thick impasto invite the viewer to look both at and through the laminae of material. We become immersed in color and movement as if confronting a natural phenomenon. Absorbed by the vast surface area of the canvas, the experience is evocative of confronting a monolithic masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism by an artist such as Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock. The result of Richter's remarkable technical aptitude, which has led to his reputation as one of the outstanding painters of our era, this work is testament to his ceaseless technical explorations in the field of abstraction and to his profoundly intellectual interrogation of the nature of images and perception. Although the title Abstraktes Bild, indicated here by the initials A.B., is typically translated as 'Abstract Painting', the curator Robert Storr restores the meaning of Bild as 'picture', implying something beyond mere painting, as this "reinforces the impression...of shoals, riptides, and cresting waves amid the paintings' scraped and layered pigments." (in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne 2002, p. XIII)  Here tracts of color are dragged across the canvas using the squeegee, so that the various strains of malleable, semi-liquid pigment suspended in oil are fused together and smudged first into the canvas, and then layered on top of each other as the paint strata accumulate. The painting undergoes multiple variations in which each new accretion brings color and textural juxtapositions until they are completed; as Richter himself declares, "there is no more that I can do to them, when they exceed me, or they have something that I can no longer keep up with." (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Op. Cit., p. 108) Furthermore, Richter's technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture... I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990 in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36) With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Gerhard Richter's artistic contribution is internationally considered within the highest tier of our era, his inimitably diverse canon evidencing more than five decades of philosophical enquiry into the core natures of perception and cognition. Indeed, with its poignant critical reflections and groundbreaking advancements, it is undeniable that his output has opened up a wealth of possibilities for the future course of art history. Since the early 1960s he has engaged manifold genres of painting, delving into and pushing the boundaries of theoretical and aesthetic levels of understanding whilst exploring and challenging the fundamentals of their development. However, his extraordinary odyssey into the realm of abstract painting is often regarded as the culmination of his artistic and conceptual enquiries into the foundations of visual understanding. After decades of exploring the role of painting in relation to competing visual cultures; film and photography and even painting itself, the emergence of the Abstraktes Bild stands as the crowning achievement of his oeuvre. As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh has highlighted, and as there can be absolutely no doubt, Richter's position within the canon of abstraction is one of “incontrovertible centrality.” (Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter: Large Abstracts, 2009, p. 9) In sum, A.B. Courbet beautifully encapsulates Richter's theory that with abstraction "there is no order, everything is dissolved, more revolutionary, anarchistic." (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Op. Cit., p. 108) As a collective corpus, the Abstraktes Bilder are destined to have a unique identity whereby the total deconstruction of perception - dismantling themes of representation, illusion, communication - becomes a sublime chaos. As a paradigm of this oeuvre the present work communes a subjective relationship with the viewer and becomes itself experience rather than object. Here Richter deconstructs the concept that abstraction demands logical framework, thereby advancing the pioneering achievements of Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian, and continuing the line of enquiry instituted by the Abstract Expressionists by delivering a visual experience of phenomenal psychological resonance. In the words of Nasgaard, "The character of the Abstract Paintings is not their resolution but the dispersal of their elements, their coexisting contradictory expressions and moods, their opposition of promises and denials. They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience." (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Op. Cit., p. 110) Signed, dated 1986 and numbered 616 on the reverse

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  • 2013-11-14
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Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps

Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps comes from the collection of Max Silberberg (1878-1942), an industrialist based in Breslau and the owner of one of the finest pre-war collections of 19th and 20th Century art in Germany. Alongside magnificent examples of classic French Impressionism by Manet, Monet, Renoir and Sisley, Silberberg also collected masterpieces of Realism and Post-Impressionism including several works by Delacroix and Courbet together with paintings by Cézanne and van Gogh. A prominent member of the business community and a generous patron of Jewish causes, by 1935 Silberberg was forced to relinquish his public roles, his company was Aryanised and sold, and his house was occupied by the SS. The collector was forced by the Nazi authorities to consign most of his wonderful collection, including the present work, to a series of auctions at Paul Graupe’s auction house in Berlin in 1935 and 1936. Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps was subsequently acquired by John and Frances L. Loeb, passionate supporters of Jewish and cultural charitable organisations. In 1985, the Loebs promised the painting to The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, in honour of its founder Teddy Kollek and on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, and bequeathed it to The Israel Museum in 1997 through the American Friends of The Israel Museum. In 2000 the museum returned the present work to the heir of Max Silberberg, who – as a gesture of appreciation for the museum’s exemplary efforts on her behalf - allowed the work to remain on public display in Jerusalem until her death in 2013. Camille Pissarro - Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps, painted in 1897, is an outstanding work from one of the most important series of Pissarro’s urban views. The excitement and spectacle of the city at the fin-de-siècle is brilliantly evoked by the artist’s handling of paint and the elegant composition. The remarkable scope and variety of the Boulevard Montmartre series reveals Pissarro’s approach to the systematic exploration of a series of views of the same subject. Focused upon a single compositional device – the magnificent procession of the Boulevard Montmartre – the artist thoroughly investigated the different atmospheric conditions of the street. This variety is illustrated by two distinct determinations - the weather and the activity represented. Thus there are festive afternoons (fig. 1) as well as comparatively tranquil ones, sparsely populated streets in winter and conversely busy scenes, as well as a view of the street at night (fig. 2). Joachim Pissarro writes: ‘As his most systematic and homogenous compositions, and his most clearly focused series, as well as one of his most rapidly achieved, the boulevard Montmartre series addresses elementary issues inherent in serial procedures. While representing a single motif seen under different combinations of light, weather and seasonal change, Pissarro’s approach to this series was capable of producing an infinite number of possibilities’ (J. Pissarro in The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 60). The artist accomplished this triumphant series by working methodically for over two months at the window of his hotel room from dawn till dusk, with only two and a half hours for lunch. Pissarro’s series paintings of Paris in the late 1890s are amongst the supreme achievements of Impressionism, taking their place alongside Claude Monet’s series of Rouen Cathedral, poplars and grainstacks and the later waterlilies. For an artist who throughout his earlier career was primarily celebrated as a painter of rural life rather than the urban environment, the Boulevard Montmartre, Gare Saint-Lazare and Jardin des Tuileries series confirmed his position as the preeminent painter of the City. However, Richard R. Brettell also argues that in contrast to Monet’s work, for Pissarro ‘no “series” is quite like another’ and was not initially conceived to be hung together. ‘By contrast, it seems as though Pissarro ‘tested the waters’ of urban view painting, found them temptingly warm and stayed in them less as a result of a grand design than because he was enjoying the experience. One senses little of the intense struggle to redefine painting that occupied Monet in his series. Rather, Pissarro appears almost to have been liberated by urban view painting’ (R. R. Brettell in ibid., p. xv). Pissarro’s pictures of the City coincided with an important development in his handling of paint. Discussing the artist’s approach to painting urban scenes, Karen Levitov writes: ‘Pissarro used the word “passage” to explain his latest technical experimentations, which moved him away from what he increasingly found to be the harsh contrasts and lack of spontaneity in the Neo-Impressionist technique. Passage can also suggest the modern transitions – in geographic location, artistic methodology, and political ideology – embodied by Pissarro’s pathways’ (K. Levitov, Camille Pissarro. Impressions of City & Country (exhibition catalogue), The Jewish Museum, New York, 2007, pp. 10-11). The inexpressive nature of the pointillist technique concerned Pissarro, and by the late 1880s he sought a compromise between the vibrancy and sensibility: ‘I think continually of some way of painting without the dot. I hope to achieve this but I have not been able to solve the problem of dividing the pure tone without harshness… How can one combine the purity and simplicity of the dot with the fullness, suppleness, liberty, spontaneity and freshness of sensation postulated by our impressionist art?' (letter from the artist to his son Lucien Pissarro, 6th September 1888, quoted in John Rewald & Lucien Pissarro (eds.), Camille Pissarro: Letters to his son Lucien, Boston, 2002, p. 132). The works produced in the following decade represent the successful reconciliation between tonal purity and atmospheric effect. Pissarro’s richly painted canvases, such as the present work, are imbued with a sensual appreciation of brushwork and texture. On 8th February 1897 Pissarro wrote from Eragny to his son Lucien informing him of his return to the city: ‘I am returning to Paris again on the tenth, to do a series of the boulevard des Italiens. Last time I did several small canvases – about 13 x 10 inches – of the rue Saint-Lazare, effects of rain, snow, etc., with which Durand was very pleased. A series of paintings of the boulevards seems to him a good idea, and it will be interesting to overcome the difficulties. I engaged a large room at the Grand Hôtel de Russie, 1 rue Drouot, from which I can see the whole sweep of boulevards almost as far as the Porte Saint-Denis, anyway as far as the boulevard Bonne Nouvelle [fig. 3]’ (Letter from the artist to his son, Lucien Pissarro, 8th February 1897, quoted in John Rewald & Lucien Pissarro (eds.), ibid., p. 307). Although he initially planned to dedicate his efforts to depicting the Boulevard des Italiens, problems arose with composition. Writing to his third son, Georges, the artist announced: ‘I have begun my series of Boulevards. I have a splendid motif which I am going to explore under all possible effects [including the present work], to my left; I have another motif, which is terribly difficult: almost as the crow flies, looking over the carriages, buses and people milling about the large trees and big houses which I have to set up right – it’s tricky… It goes without saying I must resolve it all the same’ (letter from the artist to his son Georges Manzana-Pissarro, 13th February 1897, in Janine Bailly-Herzberg, op. cit., p. 325).  This troublesome motif was eventually resolved into two works entitled Le Boulevard des Italiens: matin (fig. 4) and Le Boulevard des Italiens, après-midi, both of which emphasised the bustling energy of the street adjacent to his hotel. The ‘splendid motif’ was the farthest east of Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s Grand Boulevards – The Boulevard Montmartre. As part of the ambitious reforms Napoleon III introduced during the 1860s, Haussmann was charged with masterminding a radical reconfiguration of Paris. Many parts of the medieval city were razed to provide space for an extensive grid of straight roads, avenues and boulevards. The ‘Haussmannisation’ of Paris which is celebrated today as the precursor to modern urban planning, met with admiration and scorn in equal measure at the time - not least because of the staggering 2.5 billion francs spent on the project. However, in another letter to his son Lucien, Pissarro extolled the artistic possibilities presented by the new urban landscape: ‘It may not be very aesthetic, but I’m delighted to be able to have a go at Paris streets, which are said to be ugly, but are [in fact] so silvery, so bright, so vibrant with life […] they’re so totally modern!’ (letter from the artist to his son Lucien Pissarro, 15th December 1897, quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., p. 728). These sentiments are also illustrated in the works of his contemporaries, such as Claude Monet and Gustave Caillebotte, whose views of Paris captured the grandeur and commotion of the modern city (figs. 5 & 6). Haussmann’s renovations provided the perfect setting for a burgeoning middle-class, whose appetite for modern painting far outstripped that of the established aristocracy. Pissarro’s views of Paris focused principally on the new vistas, which not only proved highly successful artistically but also critically and commercially. As Lucien commented upon hearing about his father’s plans to execute a series of street scenes: ‘What a good idea you had to install yourself in Paris, this will make you more successful in the eyes of the Parisians who love only their city, when all’s said and done, not to mention the enjoyment you’ll get from this thoroughly new series’ (quoted in Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Oxford, 1993, p. 529). Having encouraged Pissarro to attempt more paintings of the city, Durand-Ruel was delighted by the resulting Boulevard Montmartre series, and bought the majority of the canvases upon completion. The artist held the present work in particularly high esteem; he wrote to Durand-Ruel: ‘I have just received an invitation from the Carnegie Institute for this year’s exhibition: I’ve decided to send them the painting Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps… So please do not sell it’ (letter from the artist to Paul Durand-Ruel, quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., p. 736). However, his dealer chose to ignore Pissarro’s instructions and sent a later work depicting the Avenue de l’Opéra instead. In 1992 Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps was reunited with others from the series in an exhibition held in Dallas, Philadelphia and London which sought to confirm Pissarro's depictions of the Boulevard Montmartre as the greatest and most innovative series of urban landscapes of his œuvre. Signed C. Pissarro and dated 97 (lower left)

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  • 2014-02-05
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Le palais contarini

Monet and his wife Alice travelled to Venice for the first time in the autumn of 1908 at the invitation of Mary Young Hunter, a wealthy American who had been introduced to the Monets by John Singer Sargent. They arrived on 1st October and spent two weeks as her guest at the Palazzo Barbaro, which belonged to a relation of Sargent - Mrs Daniel Sargent Curtis, before moving to the Grand Hotel Britannia on the Grand Canal where they stayed until their departure on 7th December. From the balcony of the Palazzo Barbaro, they could see three of the great palaces Monet was to paint during his time in Venice: Palazzo da Mula, Palazzo Dario and the subject of this painting, the Palazzo Contarini (fig. 1). Initially reluctant to leave his house and garden at Giverny, Monet must have sensed that the architectural splendours of Venice in their watery environment would present new and formidable challenges. His first days in Venice seemed only to confirm his initial fears but after several days of his customary discouragement, he commenced work on 7th October. In his study of Monet's work and the Mediterranean, Joachim Pissarro has given a detailed account of Monet's working schedule while he was in Venice: ‘After so much procrastination, Monet soon adopted a rigorous schedule in Venice. Alice’s description of his work day establishes that from the very inception of his Venetian campaign, Monet organized his time and conceived of the seriality of his work very differently from his previous projects. In Venice, Monet divided his daily schedule into periods of approximately two hours, undertaken at the same time every day and on the same given motif. Unlike his usual methods of charting the changes of time and light as the course of the day would progress, here Monet was interested in painting his different motifs under exactly the same conditions. One could say that he had a fixed appointment with his motifs at the same time each day. The implication of this decision is very simple; for Monet in Venice, time was not to be one of the factors of variations for his motifs. Rather, it was the 'air', or what he called 'the envelope' - the surrounding atmospheric conditions, the famous Venetian haze - that became the principal factor of variation with these motifs’ (J. Pissarro, Monet and the Mediterranean, New York, 1977, p. 50). Discussing the Venetian paintings of 1908 Gustave Geffroy attempted to define the approach Monet took to his depictions of the city, in particular making a study of the artist’s repeated portrayal of certain motifs: ‘It is no longer the minutely detailed approach to Venice that the old masters saw in its new and robust beauty, nor the decadent picturesque Venice of the 18th century painters; it is a Venice glimpsed simultaneously from the freshest and most knowledgeable perspective, one which adorns the ancient stones with the eternal and changing finery of the hours of the day’. Monet’s Venetian canvases transported Geffroy: ‘in front of this Venice in which the ten century old setting takes on a melancholic and mysterious aspect under the luminous veils which envelop it. The lapping water ebbs and flows, passing back and forth around the palazzo, as if to dissolve these vestiges of history… The magnificence of nature only reigns supreme in those parts of the landscape from which the bustling city of pleasure can be seen from far enough away that one can believe in the fantasy of the lifeless city lying in the sun’ (G. Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son œuvre, Paris, 1924, pp. 318 & 320). Matisse is recorded to have noted: ‘it seemed to me that Turner must have been the link between the academic tradition and impressionism’ (quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 203) and divined a special connection between Turner’s works and Monet’s. Writing in the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition, in which the present work was included, Katherin Lochnan pinpoints the Venice pictures as the culmination of Monet’s discourse with those two painters: ‘These beautiful and poetic works are portals through which the viewer can enter a world of memories, reveries and dreams. Fearing that they might constitute the final chapter in his artistic evolution, Monet sounded in them the last notes of his artistic dialogue with Turner and Whistler that had been central to his artistic development’ (K. Lochnan in ibid. p. 35). In Venice Monet continued to observe, as he had in the views of the river Thames he completed in 1904, how light reflected off a wide stretch of water dissolves and liquefies the solid, uneven surfaces of stone walls. In Venice, however, the closeness of the buildings to the water's edge led him to explore more abstract compositions, accentuating the interplay between the rhythms of the ornate façade, with its arched openings and horizontal divisions, and the rhythmic expanse of water. The glorious late canvases that Turner produced in the early 1840s, such as San Benedetto, Looking towards Fusina (fig. 4), presents a Venice which is transfigured by light. Similarly in Le Palais Contarini, Monet has suffused the very bricks and mortar with amethyst, lilac and cobalt blue. In his introduction to the Bernheim-Jeune exhibition, Octave Mirbeau observed that the atmosphere in Monet's views of Venetian palaces was ‘mixed with colour as though it had passed through a stained-glass window’ (O. Mirbeau, quoted in ibid., p. 206). The Palazzo Contarini is one of the most important early renaissance buildings in Venice, also known as Contarini dal Zaffo. Located in the Dorsoduro district to the north of the city, its celebrated façade is faced by marble and derives its style from Etruscan sources. Although little is known of the early history of the building, the various names bestowed upon it over the past five hundred years have featured some various patronymics, including that of the Manzoni and Polignac families. At the beginning of the 20th century, it housed the salon of the Princess Winnaretta de Polignac, née Singer, who counted amongst her guests Ethel Smyth and Igor Stravinsky. It was the Princess de Polignac who acquired the two outstanding frescoes by Domenico Tiepolo, executed in 1784, from the Palazzo Correr a Santa Fosca, and installed them in the Palazzo Contarini. During the course of his stay Monet painted thirty-seven canvases of Venetian subjects, which depicted views of the Grand Canal, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rio della Salute; the Palazzos Daria, Mula, Contarini and the Doge’s Palace (fig. 3). On 19th December 1908, a few days after Monet’s return to Paris, Bernheim-Jeune acquired twenty-eight of the thirty-seven views of Venice although Monet kept the pictures in his studio until 1912 to give them their finishing touches. After the death of Alice in 1911, Monet finally agreed on a date for the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune. Claude Monet Venise opened on 28th May 1912 and was greeted with considerable critical acclaim, not least by Paul Signac who viewed the Venetian canvases as one of Monet’s greatest achievements. Writing to Monet he states: ‘When I looked at your Venice paintings with their admirable interpretation of the motifs I know so well, I experienced a deep emotion, as strong as the one I felt in 1879 when confronted by your train stations, your streets hung with flags, your trees in bloom, a moment that was decisive for my future career. And these Venetian pictures are stronger still, where everything supports the expression of your vision, where no detail undermines the emotional impact, where you have attained the selflessness advocated by Delacroix. I admire them as the highest manifestations of your art’ (P. Signac quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 207). A few years after the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune Le Palais Contarini was acquired by Adolph Lewisohn (1849-1938), a German-born businessman who had made a fortune in the United States out of copper mining and investment banking. His great wealth enabled him to create an outstanding collection of art which included celebrated paintings by Van Gogh and Gauguin which now hang, respectively in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Of those pictures that were not bequeathed to his only son Samuel, the remains were given to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The present painting remained with his family until 1996 when it was acquired by the present owners. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1908 (lower left)

  • GBRStorbritannien
  • 2013-06-19
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