Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

The engraving below by Albrecht Dürer is one of the most famous works of art featuring witches, being one of the most accomplished works of one of the greatest Renaissance artists.

The grouping of the Four Witches seems to be modeled on a common Classical artistic motif, the Three Graces. It should be obvious that these figures are not the Graces (Beauty, Mirth and Good Cheer). The devil is burning away merrily in the background, through the doorway on the left-hand side (think, left-hand path).

Scattered on the ground at the feet of the four figures are skulls and bones, suggestive of what the good Christians of the era thought of as evil or harmful magic.

If these four figures are witches (as the devil and bones suggest) then it is likely that the figure facing away from us is a young neophyte and the three figures facing us are the three witches who are about to initiate her into their circle. But there is a problem with this interpretation: these elegant and graceful witches are emphatically not the witches of medieval tradition or theological debate and they appear not to be much indebted to the image of the witch engendered by popular superstitions or the witch craze of the seventeenth-century. They are also certainly not peasants: the figure on the left wears an elaborate head-dress, suggesting high social status.

Margaret Sullivan argues that Dürer’s witches represent a ‘humanist fascination with the underside of the classical world–the magical and occult, the world of dream and fantasy’ (‘The Witches of Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien’, Renaissance Quarterly 53.2 (2000), 393). Rather than being contemporary, ‘frightening and demonic’, the ‘seductive and nubile young “witch”‘ is a new take on a classical subject, one that gives the artist an opportunity ‘to display the provocative female nude’ (394).

If we return to the engraving with this in mind we note the classical postures and dignified nudity of the figures and that the young witch wears a classical wreath. Nicoletto da Modena removed the classical vs contemporary or Pagan vs Christian conflict in Dürer’s composition by engraving a version of this scene in 1500, minus the devil and bones, and changing the title to ‘The Judgement of Paris’ (the Judgement being a beauty contest between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, and the result being the Trojan War). Of course, I prefer the witches….and Durer, being the artist that he was, could not resist the opportunity to mix Christian, classical and pagan references.

from the website "The Sexy Witch"

The real terror - medieval witchhunts:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Post-show musings

Whenever I see an exhibit of beautiful art objects - like the one at the Asian currently on view on the art of the Joseon Dynasty, Korean's longest ruling dynasty, I am conflicted about to approach a review. The show is beautiful, no doubt about it - lots of red and gold, intricate embroidery, paintings, jade and the most gorgeous shimmering ceramic jars.

But do I focus my review solely on the art or mention what the show does not? In the case of Korea, it's hard to ignore the Korean War, the current leadership in the north, Japanese exploitation of the country, including "comfort women" and even South Korean's dynamic but sexist society.

The curator of the show asked us what we think of when we think of Korea and for many, that would be the Korean war. The exhibit is an attempt to educate viewers on another side of Korean history, in this case, the upper 1%.

Some people on facebook said that they didn't want to hear about the other 99% of the society; that artists were always supported by wealthy patrons, wadda, yadda. But I think that what pays for the art can be as interesting and as integral part of a review as just looking at the pretty pictures. 
The show displays intricate paintings, carved seals, embroidered robes, stoneware placenta jars (!) used to store the placenta of a royal prince or princess. There is an red lacquer palanquin, upon which the king was carried by selected servants of high rank; a book of praise for King Taejo, made entirely of jade and inscribed with gold; a 64-foot-long hand scroll depicting King Jeongjo’s famous procession to his father’s tomb, seen as the perfect symbol of filial piety; a royal throne; ceremonial robes; as well as kings’ and queens’ seals and protocol books with paintings of royal banquets. There is a gorgeous screen, full of symbolic images,  that went behind the throne and would be carried to wherever the king was holding court. 

For a fascinating look at the intricate rituals around food for the court, check out the popular Korean soap opera, "Dae Jang Geum." It tells the tale of an orphaned kitchen cook who went on to become the king's first female physician. In a time when women held little influence in society, young apprentice cook Jang Geum strives to learn the secrets of Korean cooking and medicine in order to cure the King of his various ailments. It is based on the true story of Jang-geum, the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. The main themes are her perseverance and the portrayal of traditional Korean culture, including Korean royal court cuisine and traditional medicine. A tiny exerpt from the TV show plays on endless loop in the 3rd gallery.

 The grim side of Korean history is not what the show is about - of course not when the focus is court history- but how can one ignore it? According to one article I read, 40 - 50% of the population were slaves and the remaining 40% farmers whose labor supported layers and layers of hierarchy.

What the show does not talk about but which is covered in the catalog is the ferocious court intrigues, how few kings ascended to the throne without murdering their predecessors, how Korea was under attack through much of her history by  both China and Japan. It's possible that the rigid performance of Confucian ritual was supposed to align Korea with the protection of heaven.

 If so, it was a failure as was Korean's 13-year period as an "imperial power." The Japanese invaded in 1910, exploited the country ruthlessly and were only driven out in 1945.

Next came the Korean war and the division of the country into north and south, with the north being ruled by another dynasty, possibly one of the most paranoid and cruel in Korea's long history.

The Joseon period has left a substantial legacy to modern Korea; much of modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues, and the modern Korean language and its dialects derive from the culture and traditions of Joseon. The exhibit is beautiful but looking at it is like viewing a tiny slice of Korean history, through the rose coloed glasses of privilege.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hockney at the de Young

I met up with fellow arts writer and blogger DeWitt Cheng today and we "did" Hockney at the de Young

"A Bigger Picture," now on view at the de Young Museum features the monumental pieces from his 2012 London show, which include a painting 32 feet wide and 12 feet high, as well a painting made up of 32 canvases. But Hockney has been painting what Benefield, the FAMSF deputy director calls, “Amazingly detailed, beautifully drawn landscapes,” where he went outdoors in East Yorkshire, England, from January through May for a series called "The Arrival of Spring." 

All the while, in his studio, he has been creating portraits in every conceivable medium, including watercolor, oil on canvas, charcoal on paper, computer and iPad.

Although most of us are familiar with Hockney's work, to have it all laid out in an organized fashion made it possible to take all of the work in without too much museum fatigue. The show features nearly 400 paintings, drawings and even video pieces using multiple cameras including 147 works produced on his iPad and iPhone.

I would say that Hockney could qualify as one of our most prolific and versatile artists. Everything shown in the show is good. Well, there are a few misses - one or two of the over sized landscapes were a bit flat and verged into camp. 

His "Sermon on the Mount" landsapes were of uneven quality. Some of the individual neo-classial figures worked in groups but the background with the huge red "mount" overwhelmed the painting. But his mastery of the pencil portrait and his smaller landscapes were brilliant. It seems to me that he's mastered quite a bit of Western Art History - Ingres for the delicate pencil work and Claude Lorain for his landscapes with perhaps a bit of Rousseau thrown in for good measure and made it his own. Plus having DeWitt Cheng to talk to made viewing the show all the more interesting. 

DeWitt and I both marveled at the freshness of his vision, even after so many years of painting. Apparently this is something he prides himself on, "The people don't look very hard at the world. Well, I do, and I do something with it, and I think that's what people might like," he told ABC7 News

The show is full of his fascination with and expert use of technology - from his iPad drawings to a movie made with 18 cameras photographing simultaneously but adjusted to project slightly off tilt. 

Hockney himself clarifies, “By putting the separate perspectives there, the eye is forced to scan. Not everything can be seen at once, and this seems to make the outside edge less important. Film directors want you to look at what they choose. Our way gives the choice back to the viewer, hence, it seems to me, a greater possibility for new narratives.”

The Chron review mentioned the same things that we noticed - the intense greens, the brilliant almost Fauvist color in some works. the varried markings in each and every piece, the black and white drawings which are blow ups from Polaroids but can work on their own - everything to challenger the viewer not to become complacent. "My aim is to show people the world, I guess," he said. "You see things in a picture. Otherwise, people scan what's in front of them but they don't really look very hard at the world. Well, I do, and I do something with it."

And that, said Hockney "is why you need artists."

David Hockney at the de Young through Jan 2014

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'In Grand Style. Art of the Joseon Dynasty' at the Asian.

Sun, moon, and five peaks, 1800–1900. Joseon dynasty (1392–1910)
Six-panel folding screen; ink and colors on paper National Palace Museum of Korea

Through the art, “In Grand Style” explores four key themes: what it meant to be a king during the Joseon dynasty; royal processions and banquets; women at the royal court; and the lives and celebrations of the Joseon dynasty’s subjects.

images courtesy Asian Art Museum/Royal Museum of Korea

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Coming up next - a review of the Asian's new exhibit

Coming up next at Chez NamasteNancy:

 Among Korea's historical distinctions is the memory of a royal family’s rule that prevailed for more than half a millennium, leaving a cultural legacy that's alive to this day.

In this exclusive presentation, In Grand Style celebrates the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), showcasing more than 110 treasured objects that speak of a glorious heritage. In Grand Style focuses on celebrations, festivals, elaborate rites, dance, music and processions.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Aelbert Cuyp

For Sunday, "we" have something completely different. Aelbert Jacobsz Cuyp (October 20, 1620 – November 15, 1691) was one of the leading Dutch landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. The most famous of a family of painters, he is especially known for his large views of the Dutch countryside in early morning or late afternoon light.

 Cattle Near A River (from Wikipedia Commons).

Aelbert Cuyp's paintings are said to be "enveloped in the atmosphere as if imprisoned in pale amber." After his father's death in 1651 and his mother's three years later, Cuyp inherited considerable property and became a leading citizen in town affairs. 

The amount of biographical information regarding Aelbert Cuyp is tremendously limited. Even Arnold Houbraken, a noted historian of Dutch Golden Age paintings and the sole authority on Cuyp for the hundred years following his death, paints a very thin biographical picture. His period of activity as a painter is traditionally limited to the two decades between 1639 and 1660, fitting directly within the generally accepted limits of the Dutch Golden Age’s most significant period, 1640-1665.

The Negro Page

 Herdsman with cows

Cuyp painted landscapes and animals, but he also created seascapes, still lifes, and portraits. He often traveled the Dutch rivers, sketching from nature. His preferred scenes were idyllically peaceful river views with sun-drenched skies and landscapes with cows silhouetted against the sky, animals he endowed with as much grandeur as human heroes.

Back in 2011, I wrote a four part series on the Von Otterloo collection in which Cuyp, along with other painters of the era were well represented:

In Aelbert Cuyp’s monumental canvas "Orpheus Charming the Animals," one of the glories of the Van Otterloo collection, a very blond Dutch Orpheus plays the violin for an enchanted menagerie of animals. Enticed by his music, an assembly of animals and surrounding trees listen entranced to the Greek god Orpheus, whose mother, Calliope, was the muse of epic poetry.

The presence of an elephant, an ostrich, two tigers and a camel – animals that would have been considered exotic – reminds us that the seventeenth century also saw the rise of cabinets de curiosités, or curiosity cabinets, which housed collections of objects ranging from natural history to antiquities, and which served as forerunners to museums. The two charmingly overstuffed tigers at the forefront of the painting look like they've eaten a bit too much Dutch cheese for two more plump and innocuous specimens would never be found in the real world.

Friday, October 18, 2013

SFMOMA and Metropolitan Museum jointly acquire a major work by South African artist William Kentridge

Marking a major collaboration between two leading U.S. museums, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced today the joint acquisition of South African artist William Kentridge’s major multimedia installation The Refusal of Time (2012). 

Essay by Liz Hager:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Deities, Demons, and Teachers of Tibet, Nepal, and India

I don't remember what god this was for but it's a leather apron and it's such a strong piece that it dominates the whole wall.

Last week when I went to Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), I saw two wonderful shows. The one on courtesans from the Qing Dynasty was interesting and insightful but the one titled "Deities, Demons, and Teachers of Tibet, Nepal, and India" is a knock out! It is well worth visiting the museum just to see this show. I sketched a few pieces while serously coveting a tiny ivory and amazingly intricate altar to Durga. Unfortunately you can't take photos and there is only one image on the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive website. So I hope that these few sketches show a little of how wonderful the show is.  
"Joyful and sensual sculptural figures of Indian deities and dancers join radiant images of enlightened beings from Tibet and Nepal in Deities, Demons, and Teachers, which presents a rotating display of works by anonymous Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan artisans."
 Goddess: Probably from the Greco-Indian area of the continent that was influenced by the cities founded by Alexander the Great.
Three-headed diety

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Redon at the Cantor: Unholy Terrors, Sinful Temptations, Gods and Monsters

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents a rare opportunity to view all three lithographic albums that French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon created in response to Gustave Flaubert’s 1874 book The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

The albums include a total of 42 individual compositions, all of which are on view in the exhibition “Inspired by Temptation: Odilon Redon and Saint Anthony."

Odilon Redon's work is not widely known as being influential outside his time. But before most of the surrealists were born, Redon was exploring the dark side of the subconscious.

He was born in Bordeaux in 1840, the second son of a businessman. Because Redon was a sickly child, his parents decided that he should live on the nearby family estate, called Peyrelebade, with a caretaker, while they lived in town. So for long stretches he was on his own, to read, daydream and wander the countryside. For a solitary, introverted child, it was paradise.

Here is the Good Goddess, the Idaean mother of the mountains

 Largely self-taught, he read authors who stirred the darker side of his imagination - Baudelaire, Flaubert, Edgar Allan Poe. He went to Paris to study art but, as was typical of the man, found his most important teacher outside the mainstream Parisian academy. Rodolphe Bresdin (1822-85)is not known today but he and Redon were made for each other.  A late-Romantic visionary, radical Socialist and brilliant printmaker, he believed in the print as a populist medium and specialized in bizarre mages of nature.

From this and his own studies of nature, Redon developed his own style, richly dark imaginative images against white or off-white paper. Eventually he would write "one must respect black. Nothing prostitutes it. It does not please the eye or awaken another sense. It is the agent of the mind even more than the beautiful color of the palette or prism."

His imaginative symbolic world was made for Flaubert's equally convoluted and unreadable novel, "The Temptation of St. Anthony." Begun in 1846, the work accumulated more and more layers of arcane scholarship, transforming the desert retreat of a hermit into a cornucopia of sadism, lust, and further ambivalent pleasures. "I delight in the play of hidden perfidies," Flaubert was to write with evident relish.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, even Flaubert's most receptive friends were numbed by the incoherent procession of historical, mythological and allegorical figures. Three later versions did little to make the cumbersome work more understandable and it was not until 1874 that a final version was published.

Yet it was perfect for Redon. When the French critic Emile Hannequin introduced Redon to Flaubert’s “Temptation of St. Anthony,"  Redon found it “a literary marvel and a mine for me.”

His nocturnal imagination took flight from Flaubert's prose and he created three separate projects based on it and all three are on display at the Cantor- a realm populated by" formidable phantoms, monsters, monads and other creatures born of human perversity,'' explained Hennequin in an 1882 review of Redon.

Redon put it in another way, "I put the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible."

At the Cantor through October

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Art Links

This seems to be the week for Rembrandt. First the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (Holland) is showing Rembrandt's 100 most beautiful drawings.

Next, The Rijksmuseum and Ordovas are staging a unique joint exhibition in the autumn, centred around paintings and etchings by Rembrandt on loan from the collection of the Rijksmuseum, in conversation with paintings by Frank Auerbach. Raw Truth: Auerbach-Rembrandt opened to the public on 4 October and runs until 1 December 2013 at Ordovas, Savile Row, London and then travel to the Rijksmuseum from 12 December until 16 March 2014. The exhibition brings together a striking group of landscapes and portraits by the 17th century Dutch painter, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, and Frank Auerbach, the renowned British artist. This is the first collaborative exhibition to be presented by the newly renovated Rijksmuseum and Frank Auerbach is the first contemporary artist ever to show alongside works from their collection. (Image: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (from the collection of the Rijksmuseum): Joseph telling his dreams to his parents and his brothers, 1633; Joseph telling his dreams, 1638; Portrait of Dr. Ephraïm Bueno, 1645-1647; The Three Trees, 1643.

I can't imagine any painter holding his or her own hanging next to Rembrandt.

 A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland reveals the spectacular artwork and larger-than-life characters from a 19th century Japanese cultural phenomenon. Kabuki: Japanese Theatre Prints offers a unique chance to see the highlights of National Museums Scotland’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints. Striking designs present vivid depictions of Kabuki, the popular form of traditional, all-male, Japanese theatre which combines drama, music, dance and acrobatics in convoluted plots concerning dramatic, emotional conflicts and feats of derring-do.

"The Dream of Saint Catherine of Alexandria" by Italian artist Ludovico Carracci AFP PHOTO / PATRICK KOVARIK. 

Sparked by a dream of a new life, the Renaissance set great store by dreams, their interpretation and representation: in political and social life, with the revival of divinatory practices; in literature, both prose and poetry; in medical and theological debates, especially during the terrible witch hunts throughout Europe from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. There then flowered what might be called 'the old regime' of dreams, based on the idea that sleep and dreaming put us in contact with the powers of the other world. When we dream, do we escape the constraint of our own bodies to enter into contact with the divine?  The exhibit may not answer all these questions but the art is superb.

A visitor looks at "Pieta" at the opening of the exhibition entitled "The heritage of Rogier van der Weyden" presenting the works of early Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels on October 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/BENOIT DOPPAGNE. 

This autumn of 2013 the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is staging an exhibition devoted to painting in Brussels in the period between the death of Rogier van der Weyden (1464) and the activity of Bernard van Orley (1515-1541).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Creativity Explored and El Dia De Los Muertos

San Francisco’s Calacas: Day of the Dead, Creativity Explored’s sixth and final exhibit of its 30th anniversary year, focuses on the artwork of more than 20 Creativity Explored studio artists and their contemporary connection to the globally-celebrated holiday of El Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). 

I can't recommend this place hightly enough - they work with "artists with disabilities" and made a space for those who are often kicked outside our society to show what they can do and how much they can contribute. I just wish they had more places like this - all around the world! 

Last night's opening was crowded - the room was so full that people spilled out into the street. One woman had already bought a darling pottery figure of a hedgehog with holes in the top to put in pencils. I bought another box of cards as I love Camille Hovert's take on cakes and pies. I really wanted to buy a large piece which I didn't think to take a photo of but knew that I didn't have room for it. 

While El Dia De Los Muertos traditionally is a time to pay tribute to deceased relatives and friends, Calacas (a Mexican colloquialism for “skeletons” or “bones”) reinterprets the holiday, as seen through the eyes of Creativity Explored artists in their Mission District neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

'Beauty Revealed: Images of Women in Qing Dynasty Painting'

I found another image from the exhibit "Beauty Revealed, Images of Women in Qing Dynasty Painting" - quite a lovely one from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive blog:

Zhang Zhen (active early 18th) century: Lady at a Window with Two Cats, China, early 18th century; hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk; 56 ⅝ x 25 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive: gift of James Cahill. Photo: Sibila Savage.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Yesterday China, tomorrow France

 Yesterday I reviewed Chinese "courtesans" via paintings at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) and tomorrow (or the day after), I will be looking at Redon's drawings for Flaubert's "Temptation of St. Anthony." It's quite a vistual journet from sedate Chinese maidens for sale to Redon's "noirs" celebrationg one of Flaubert's wilder and unreadable forays into the dark side of the imagination.

I have to say that in terms of confusion and misdirection, the shuttle from Caltrans to the Stanford Campus has Berkeley beat hands down. I am not sure where I ended up but it was a long way from the museum. This happens every time - you would think that I had it figured out by now. (DUH!) But what a beautiful campus! I love the museum there too - it's just just the right size. The entrance way with that double staircase, mosaic floor and marble walls always makes me feel like I've stepped back to a more elegant time.

The Rodin gates are magnificent, so magnificent that I can forgive the orange De Suevero that's polluting the view on the other side of the building. Actually I try to ignore it in the hopes that it will go away. Soon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday Links: Rembrandt, Fin-de-Siècle Paris and Shunga at the British Museum

Teylers has one of the world's leading collections of Rembrandt etchings and drawings. For this occasion, Rembrandt's 100 most beautiful works will be brought out of storage. For a brief time, his famous self-portraits, moving Bible scenes, tender portraits of his wife Saskia, racy scenes and dramatic landscapes will again be on display for all to admire.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection presents The Avant-gardes of Fin-de-Siècle Paris: Signac, Bonnard, Redon, and their Contemporaries. About 100 paintings, drawings and a significant number of prints, drawn from notable private collections, focus on the French avant-gardes of the late nineteenth century, with special attention paid to the Neo-Impressionist, Nabi, and Symbolist movements. Approximately 10 images on line plus small, concise information on the art movements of the time.
Through Jan 2014.

'Shunga' opens at the British Museum. In early modern Japan, 1600-1900, thousands of sexually explicit works of art were produced, known as ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). This exhibition, the first of its kind in the UK, examines the often tender, funny, beautiful and undoubtedly accomplished shunga that were produced by some of the masters of Japanese art, including Utamaro and Hokusai.

Shunga is in some ways a unique phenomenon in pre-modern world culture, in terms of the quantity, the quality and the nature of the art that was produced. The exhibition explores key questions about what is shunga, how it circulated and to whom, and why was it produced. In particular it begins to establish the social and cultural contexts for sex art in Japan and aims to reaffirm the importance of shunga in Japanese art history.

Shunga were mostly produced within the popular school known as ‘pictures of the floating world’ (ukiyo-e), by celebrated artists such as Hishikawa Moronobu (died 1694), Kitagawa Utamaro (died 1806) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Earlier, medieval narrative art in Japan had already mixed themes of sex and humour. Luxurious shunga paintings were also produced for ruling class patrons by traditional artists such as members of the Kano school, sometimes influenced by Chinese examples. This was very different from the situation in contemporary Europe, where religious bans and prevailing morality enforced an absolute division between ‘art’ and ‘pornography’.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy Birthday to Lucas Cranach the Younger

Happy Birthday to Lucas Cranach the Younger (October 4, 1515 – January 25, 1586) was a German Renaissance artist, known for his woodcuts and paintings.He was the youngest son of Lucas Cranach the Elder and Barbara Brengebier, and began his career as an apprentice in his father's workshop alongside his brother Hans. Henceforth, his own reputation and fame grew. After his father's death, he assumed control over the workshop. They lived in the city of Kronach, in Franconia (in Germany).

 Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery. Hermitage Museum, Russia.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

'The Illuminated Library' at San Francisco State

Jorge Luis Borges once wrote “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” If he could visit "The Illuminated Library" at San Francisco State University's Fine Arts gallery, he would believe himself in paradise.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Flora Mundi

Flora Mundi- this is an old series, back from the days when I was working with more abstract imagery. I feel like I'm at a dead end with my current figuration/floral work so I might just return to this style and see what comes up. BTW - all of these have been sold.