Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece

A stunning and highly complex painting composed of separate oak panels, The Mystic Lamb of 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, known as the Ghent Altarpiece, recently underwent much-needed emergency conservation within the Villa Chapel.

Each centimeter of the altarpiece was scrutinized and professionally photographed at extremely high resolution in both regular and infrared light. The photographs were then digitally “stitched” together to create highly detailed images which allow for study of the painting at unprecedented microscopic levels. The website itself contains 100 billion pixels.

Thanks to a grant from the Getty Foundation, these high-definition digital images are now available on an interactive digital website, “Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece” at http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be.

“This imaging project provides an amazing level of access to the wondrous painting of the Ghent Altarpiece,” said Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation. “It has been a privilege to work with such a distinguished team of international colleagues on this important project.”

The website features overall photographs of the polyptych in its opened and closed positions, and from there users can zoom closer into the details of individual panels of the altarpiece, down to a microscopic level. Scrolling and zooming features are guided by a thumbnail image to indicate the location and size of the detail on the altarpiece. Users are also able to open two windows simultaneously to compare any two images from the site, enabling viewers to interactively study the Ghent Altarpiece and the artists’ techniques in ways that have never before been possible.
Images courtesy Getty/AP wire services

More on Jan Van Eyck from the blog Lines and Colors: Lines and Colors

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Cult of Beauty and Pre-Raphaelite links

This doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what's on the web but it's a decent start. I wish that the Legion of Honor in SF were as large as the V&A. When I looked through the catalog, it was obvious that a lot of the choicest paintings have not traveled. But I'm grateful that we got what we did.

 Rossetti, Monna Vanna

Reviews from the SF Chronicle: 

"The boundary between art with a capital 'A' and the decorative arts is traversed by these artists," says Orr, who describes flamboyant and eccentric artists like Whistler and Rossetti, famous for their art and affairs, as the Kardashians of the 1870s. "To design a beautiful dress was as significant to them as a painting."

"The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860-1900," a large and caressingly lovely new show about the British Aesthetic Movement opening today at the Legion of Honor, invites visitors to view that era through a strikingly different and decidedly rosy lens. With its Pre-Raphaelite paintings of dreamy-eyed maidens and voluptuously writhing statues, blooming floral wallpapers and some strikingly modern furniture, the show captures the Aesthetes' driving "art for art's sake" ethos across a broad spectrum. Read more: SF Gate 

 Rossetti. Boca Bactia. 1859. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Informative page from the V&A: The V&A Aesthetic Movement
Naturally, there's an application for the iPad: iPad app for the cult of beauty

James Whistler, Battersea Bridge.

Whistler, The Girl in White

Lines and Colors Blog: http://www.linesandcolors.com/2011/04/08/the-cult-of-beauty/

The Victorian Web: http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/prb/intro.html

 Beardsley, Salome. The Climax

Delaware Art Museum -They may have the most extensive collection of Pre-Raphaelite works in the US.  http://www.preraph.org/

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Cult of Beauty at the Legion of Honor

In the mid 19th century, seven young men formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England as a reaction against what they saw as the stylistic pretense and industrial grime and vulgarity of the day. They were the rock stars of mid-Victorian England, with their sexual scandals, their women, drugs and a serious hair fetish.

Edward Burne-Jones, Laus Veneris, 1873–8, oil with gold paint on canvas. Laing Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Newcastle upon Tyne

The group of renegades – Frederic Leighton, William Morris, James McNeill Whistler, G F Watts, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti – had been working together since the 1860s , but it was their momentous 1877 exhibition, staged at the fashionable Grosvenor Gallery in the heart of Bond Street, that tipped them from the obscurity of their Holland Park salons into the big time.

The show sent excited ripples across high society – the kind of "art buzz" that the media craves, then as now. 

Frederic Leighton, Pavonia, 1858–9, oil on canvas. Private collection

John Spencer Stanhope, Love and the Maiden, 1877. Tempera, gold paint and gold leaf on canvas. FAMSF

Beardsley, Illustration for Salome

Yet for all its success, Aestheticism was, in some senses, destroyed by the same fin de si├Ęcle scandal and controversy on which it had first risen to fame decades earlier. Wilde's trial and imprisonment for homosexuality came to epitomize the apparent decadence of the group, although by that time, he had turned his hand to play writing and moved away from the ideals of the group.

Ironically, their work was also beginning to be mass produced by manufacturers who saw a business opportunity in the selling of beautiful homes: art for art's sake became synonymous with interior decor, furniture and the beginnings of an art that overlapped with design – furnishings were produced for ordinary homes in the suburbs, not extraordinary ones in Holland Park, and entrepreneurial Victorian manufacturers started to call what they were making "art decoration" or "art furniture". Everyone, it seemed, could become an "artist" for the price of wallpaper


Friday, February 17, 2012

The Cult of Beauty at the Legion of Honor

I am working on a review but first, a few images to whet your appetite. There were so many beautiful things that I hardly know where to start. Not just paintings but wallpaper and furniture, illuminated books and etchings, pottery and silver tea sets.

In the introduction, we were asked what three items would we chose if we had a choice - I could not bear to only have three. The Whistler pieces are iconic and exquisite but then, there are two sumptuous paintings by Rossetti, a painting or two by Burne-Jones and a jeweled broach that I wish they would duplicate.

The Day Dream. Rossetti, 1880

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My valentine to Creativity Explored

I love this place - all the art is made by those who are "outside the main stream" of our society in one way or another.

Want a card for any occasion? Buy it here. Want unique art for your place? Buy it here! The current show of bold, colorful graphics by Pablo Calderon is my current favorite art show in S, If I were to send a valentine today, it would be to Creativity Explored or buy a Valentine Card, it would be from Creativity Explored.

Believing that all people have the ability to create, and that visual artistic expression is a viable means to enhance personal identity and growth, Florence and Elias Katz founded Creativity Explored in 1983. Our second studio site was opened in 1995 to provide adults with severe disabilities an opportunity to create visual art.

Valentine courtesy of Zachary Adams


Saturday, February 11, 2012

William Theophilus Brown, Bay Area figurative painter, dies at age 92

 Self-portrait. 1994. courtesy Thomas Reynolds Gallery.

William Theophilus Brown, a painter who enjoyed success for more than half-a-century and was closely associated with the San Francisco Bay area's "figurative" movement, has died. He was 92.

Theophilus Brown and Mat Gonzalez. photo from Thomas Reynolds website. Photo @ Gonzalez.

Theophilus Brown died Wednesday in his apartment at a San Francisco high-rise retirement community, gallery owner Thomas Reynolds told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/zRdvAj). He said Brown painted and took art classes until the end of his life.


Brown's partner of nearly 50 years, artist Paul Wonner, died in 2008.

A descendant of early-American intellectuals, Brown was born in Moline, Illinois. His great-grandfather was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Brown's father was an inventor and chief designer, at the John Deere Company in Moline, Illinois. While attending Yale University in the late-1930s, Brown met composer Paul Hindemith and poet May Sarton, with whom he would share lifetime friendships. After graduating in 1941, Brown was drafted in World War II.

Following his discharge, he began to study painting, moving between New York City and Paris, meeting an impressive range of artists that included Pablo Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Balthus, and de Kooning, among others. Brown, who studied piano at Yale, was also close to a number of composers, including John Cage, Poulenc, Samuel Barber, and Igor Stravinsky.

In 1952 Brown enrolled in the graduate studio program at the University of California, Berkeley, joining a group of artists—including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, James Weeks, and Nathan Oliveira — that would later be known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement. While attending Berkeley, Brown also met and fell in love with his long-time partner and fellow-painter, Paul Wonner.

In the early 1960s, Brown and Wonner moved to Santa Monica, where they developed a close friendship with fellow gay couple, novelist Christopher Isherwood, and portrait artist Don Bachardy. Over the years, Brown and Wonner also fostered friendships with playwright William Inge, composer and conductor Andre Previn, actress Eva Marie Saint and her husband, director Jeffery Hayden, and New Zealand novelist Janet Frame.

 Caroline Jones, in her seminal examination of Bay Area art, wrote of Brown, "... His paintings are Expressionist idealizations. He presents a better, more desirable world, a paradise cut again and again by a sharp green, or highlighted by a blue which seems to warm the room in which the paintings hang. " (Caroline A. Jones, Bay Area Figurative Art. p. 95).

Many of his best works from this period have an intimate feeling, even a sexual tension. There is an erotic sensuality in his lush pink figures, positioned in the center of semi-abstract landscapes.

He befriended younger artists and poked fun at himself. Attorney Matt Gonzalez, a former city supervisor who had a ritual of spending weekends with Brown, working in the artist's studio and then going out to eat oysters and drink fine whiskey, said he last saw his friend on Saturday.

"I took him 36 oysters Saturday night and we shared dinner," Gonzalez said. "He had a good appetite and was in good spirits. But he couldn't leave the apartment, and he was clear that if he couldn't go to his studio and make art anymore, he didn't want to live. So it was time."

His papers are held at the Archives of American Art.

 Sun and Moon
Four months before his death, Brown gave an interview in which he fact-checked his Wikipedia entry. He found the entry accurate, on the whole, but termed his classification as an abstract expressionist "horseshit."

A private memorial was being planned.

Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tables of Content: Ray Johnson and Robert Warner Bob Box Archive

Artist Ray Johnson's life and career is an enigma, difficult to know, even more difficult to understand and analyze.  His life was cloaked in mystery right up to his death and some say, even beyond.

He was overshadowed by those like Warhol who manipulated that world in a very different and successful manner. He has been called - in fact, called himself - New York's most famous unknown artist, but one who challenged the commercial and critical establishment. His life art, life and death were deliberate puzzles and the extent of his influence has only become apparent posthumously.

In 1988, NY collage artist Bob Warner saw a piece of mail art by Ray Johnson, liked what he saw, introduced himself and began a friendship that lasted until Johnson's death.

 Warner received hundreds of pieces of mail, collages, objects and once, a piece of driftwood. They met seldom, rarely spoke except by telephone so all this was conducted via US mail, an organization for which Johnson had the highest respect.

At one of their rare personal meetings (they only met in person seven times), Johnson gave Warner thirteen cardboard boxes, tied with string and labeled "Bob Box One, "Bob Box Two," and so on. The boxes were packed with letters, drawings, photocopies and found objects - the stuff of Johnson's art.

Ray Johnson

Now, more than 15 years after Mr. Johnson’s death, he is unpacking them, one box at a time, and cataloging their contents.

The "Bob Boxes Tables of Content" displays all thirteen boxes and their contents for the first time on the West Coast, with letters, collages and mail art displayed on the walls and the objects on tables in the center of the room.

 Warner has described the "contents as a window into the world of Ray Johnson in the 70's and 80's; everything from signed-and-dated empty toilet paper tubes, tea bags, broken fragments to a box that contained nothing but hundred of envelopes that were addressed by never mailed.

So, who was Ray Johnson? He called himself "the most famous unknown artist in America." But he was the founder of Pop Art, probably the first Pop artist. According to Henry Geldzahler, "Ray's collages,  'Elvis Presley No, 1' and 'James Dean' stand as the Plymouth Rock of the Pop movement (Geldzahler, Henry in Pop Art: 1955-1970 catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1986. Quoted in Wikipedia.)
He pioneered the use of "found images" and was among the first to use mechanical reproduction, hand created typographic alphabets and Xeroxes.  He created the first happening, founded the mail art, which is still around.

 He gave new meaning to working "outside the box."

 Andy Warhol collage

While Ray exhibited occasionally, notably in 1984, 'Works by Ray Johnson' at the Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts on Long Island, and 'More Works by Ray Johnson.' 1951-1990 at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, he repeatedly shunned the art world. He often refused to exhibit and/or threatened to cancel exhibitions. When Johnson did show his artwork, he was represented by the dealer Richard Feigen, with whom he battled over the nature of the art market

The work presented is obscure, arcane, and surrealist beyond Surrealism, hermetic, a body of work that is self-reflective and so interior and personal as to make little sense to an outsider. Warner likes to image Johnson's method as a three sided (or even a multi-person) game in which person hits the ball to their neighbor so that the ball goes around and around, instead of back and forth. Each time, the ball (i.e. mail art, letters, rubber stamped collages, etc) would accumulate more items, more instructions, more people roped into Johnson's machinations.

The typographical pieces on the wall, in Johnson's intentionally childlike lettering, are quirky with a deliberate play of verbal with visual puns. His letters are full of non-sequitur sentences, rubber stamp images, Xeroxes of the famous and the not-so-famous. One of the pieces proclaims "Dear Bob. Yesterday I peed your name in a blue bottle." Another is an altered image of the French poet Rimbaud, covered with whimsical rubber stamps.

 None of it is logical but one suspects that, like Duchamp whom he admired, he didn't care if his work lent itself to rational explanation. That may, in fact, have been the point.

 Johnson was born in Detroit in 1927 and started out as an abstract artist, studying with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the late 1940's. He moved to New York City in 1949, following other Black Mountain alumni such as Cage and Cunningham. Within a few years, he was part of one of the most influential art circles in America, painting geometric abstractions that reflected the influence of Albers.
Ray Johnson:Untitled valise from Bob Box Archive, 1988–95; mixed media; dimensions variable. Photo: Tod Lippy, from Esopus 16 (Spring 2011).

By 1953, he began to make collages, which soon became the precursors of pop art, incorporating cigarette logos, images from fan magazines. He coined a phrase for them - "moticos" - and carried them around New York, showing them to strangers in public places and asking for their reactions and recording them (most of this work has been destroyed or recycled).

 Then, he began mailing collages to friends and strangers, arranging the first informal happenings. He met and made friends with Andy Warhol, participated in performance art events (1957-1963), staging events, which he called "Nothings."
 His first known piece of mail directing a recipient to "please send to..." dates from 1958. The mail art became more systematic with the foundation of the "New York Correspondence School," increasingly using the US mail for his wittily typed and hand lettered cryptic texts and drawings.

 A series of catastrophic events in 1968 (Andy Warhol being shot by Valerie Solanas, followed by Johnson being mugged, then two days later Robert Kennedy was shot) led Johnson to leave NY and live in increasing seclusion.

On January 13, 1995, Johnson committed suicide by diving off a bridge in Sag Harbor, Long Island.  Even that act seemed to have planned for it's numerological meaning was as Jan. 13, 1995, at age 67 (adds up to 13).

Berkeley Art Museum. through May 20, 2012

Netflix: How to draw a bunny. (documentary about Ray and his world)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tables of Content: Ray Johnson and Robert Warner Bob Box Archive

"The most well-known unknown American artist" died in a suicide drowning 13 January 1995, after lifetime as unique and perplexing as his art.

Ray Johnson:Untitled valise from Bob Box Archive, 1988–95; mixed media; dimensions variable. Photo: Tod Lippy, from Esopus 16 (Spring 2011).


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to avoid Super Bowl Sunday

Blue Face with White Stripe" (1971), pigmented stoneware and porcelain, by Stephen De Staebler. (Photo: Philip Ringler)