July 14th, 2015

Milwaukee Art Museum, “Modern Rebels”

On Friday, June 3rd, we went to the Milwaukee ArtMuseum to see the exhibit “Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels” on loan from theAlbright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. This was a real trip downmemory lane for Georgie, since the Albright-Knox was her home-town art museum,and she had seen most of these pieces many times over thirty years ago, so shewas very interested in how she would experience them now. The Albright-Knox isvery well known for its extensive collection of modern pieces, which has been acentral part of its mission since its founding.
The exhibition began with some works from the cusp of theTwentieth Century: Van Gogh’s “The Old Mill,” a favorite of Georgie’s; aToulouse-Lautrec, and “Spirit of the Dead Watching,” by Paul Gauguin. This lastdepicts a Tahitian girl lying on a couch, her eyes open. Behind her is a hoodedfigure, apparently the spirit, watching over her, but for what purpose? Georgiefound, and continues to find this painting quite eerie, not so much for thespirit itself, but for the half suggested animalistic shapes lurking in thedark background.The early moderns are represented by a pre-Cubist Picasso,“Le Toilette,” and others such as “Le Musique,” by Henri Matisse. Viewing thispainting, I could understand the harsh criticism the moderns received—to myeye, “Le Musique” just appears childishly crude: not so much as to be stylized,and not nearly polished.
Among the next up were some that Georgie remembered well:“Carnival of a Harlequin,” by Joan Miro, “Self Portrait with Monkey,” by FridaKahlo, and “The Anguish of Departure,” by Giorgio de Chirico. “Carnival of aHarlequin” is one of Miro’s antic pieces, depicting a room full of queerdecorative objects and furnishings, animated by imps or beings that are much ofa piece with the decoration of the objects.“Self Portrait with Monkey” is middling on the scale ofKahlo’s self-portraits, somewhat distorted as to proportion, but not grotesque.Georgie was fascinated by a green highlight on one strand of Kahlo’s braidsthat she had never noticed before, and could not tell if this was because thegreen had become more prominent as the portrait aged, or just that the lightingwas different at Milwaukee that made it more noticeable.“The Anguish of Departure” is one of de Chirico’s trademarkbleak architectural paintings, which tend toward depiction of brutalistbuildings with no people present. In “The Anguish of Departure,” the foregroundof a barren landscape is occupied by a single boxcar and the corner of a largebuilding. In the center background, an enormous smokestack towers overeverything. Two small black figures might be people. To Georgie, this paintingrepresented utter loneliness, and I could certainly agree with that.
In the same section was the only Georgia O’Keefe painting Ihave ever seen that does not feature either a skull or a flower. “Green PatioDoor” is merely three rectangular blocks of color, showing an early influenceby the Color Field painters.One thing that annoys me about some modern artists is thetendency to call works “Untitled #1” or some such. My feeling is, if it doesn’tsuggest something to the artist, why should it have any meaning to me? Theanswer, of course, is that the artwork is what it is, and doesn’t have to haveany greater meaning.

Still, I like a painting with a good title, and SalvadorDali is the master of titling. His “The Transparent Simulacrum of the FeignedImage,” is far and away the best title in the show, followed by ArshileGorky’s “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb.” A good title can be a great help. The1955 painting by Willem de Kooning in the exhibit is just a collection ofwhite, gray, red and yellow daubs, until you see the title is “Gotham News.”Then, it becomes evocative of the chaos and violence of urban life.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is “Convergence, 1952,” by JacksonPollack. The more I contemplated this huge painting, the more I appreciatedit.  It seems to me that a great deal ofthe artistry here is in the layering of the paints, in which goes over which,and the occasional blendings that occur. The background is the raw canvas,overlain with an intricate latticework of black, with yellow over that, nextred, and finally jagged bolts of white. The overall effect is surprisinglypleasing.
I can’t say as much about some of the Color Field painters (MarkRothko, among others), whose works, although showing great, and sometimesobsessive, amounts of work, might as well be wallpaper, and, if used as such,would hardly be remarked on. Some, however do grow on you. Georgie found thatshe appreciated Clyfford Still’s “1954” (which more than anything resemblesblack wallpaper partially peeled off a plaster wall) now than she had yearsago, finding suggestions of stalactites and stalagmites in the jagged pattern.
It was interesting to take a close up view of “Head—Red andYellow,” by Roy Lichtenstein, he of the blown-up comic strip panels. I hadalways assumed that the artist used some kind of screen to create the patternof fine dots that simulate the four-color press process, but a close view showsthat the dots are not all alike, indicating that, although they were almostcertainly laid out using a grid of some kind, the actual dots were individuallypainted.

The most modern works in the exhibition used non-traditionalmediums, such as neon lighting, and blurred the lines between sculpture andpainting, such as the three dimensional welded steel construction by LeeBontecou that hangs in a picture frame on the wall. This piece seemed almostscience-fictional, evocative of rocket nozzles from a Gothic spaceship.
This was a very interesting exhibit, and includes many fascinating and thought-provoking works of modern art. It is well worth seeing. It continues through September 20th.  For those who can’t visit, many of thementioned works and others can be seen on the Albright-Knox gallery’s website: http://www.albrightknox.org/  

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On Friday evening, July 10th, we went to see “Minions,”the new animated movie by Universal Pictures, which gives a featured place to the small yellow beings that work for Gru in the “Despicable Me” movies.

I had always assumed that the Minions were creations of Doctor Nefario, Gru’s staff mad scientist, but the Minions movie tells us that they evolved from a primitive life form that hit on a form of symbiosis no unlike that practiced by pilot fish or “crocodile birds”: that of following, and attempting to assist an apex predator. This developed, evidently, into a deep psychological need, so that, by Jurassic times, the Minions were attempting to follow and worship tyrannosaurs,despite themselves having developed human-ish levels of intelligence. (This evolutionary history begs the question as to whether or not Minions are mammalian. Some of the scenes in the movie make it questionable if they are even vertebrates--.) It’s also questionable whether or not “symbiosis” is the proper word for a relationship that so often destroys the organism they are attached to, although it’s also a novel form of parasitism--. By the time humans have taken over the world, the Minions tropism for the most predatory behavior draws them to the most villainous, or "evil" humans.

Having ticked off Napoleon, the Minion tribe is chased into the polar wastes and languishes in exile until the 1960’s, when the visionary Kevin, accompanied by Stuart and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin), sets out on a quest for a new life. After a sequence of adventures, they arrive in Orlando,Florida, for “Villain-Con,” and succeed in obtaining the coveted post of hench-beings to the super-villain “Scarlet Overkill” (Sandra Bullock), who covets the crown and throne of Great Britain.
“Mrs. Overkill” as the British refer to her, is a great creation, a James Bond villain that never was. (Her appearance is heralded with Bond-like trumpet riffs--.) She’s gloriously vain, amazingly flamboyant, and highly deadly.  Her loving husband(really!) is mod mad scientist Herb (Jon Hamm), who resembles a caricature of Noel Harrison from “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.”. When she sends the Minions out to fetch her Queen Elizabeth’s crown, the caper goes amazingly off the rails in ways disconcerting to both the villains and the British Empire.
Since the Minions speak chiefly gibberish with a few recognizable words for comic effect, both the makers and reviewers of the movie have tended to compare it with silent film comedy, which isn’t quite the case.

Instead,the movie is a lot more like one of the Three Stooges more elaborate plots:everyone assumes the minions/stooges are idiots; they both succeed and screw up beyond all expectations; and havoc ensues.

The movie is purely silly, which is fine if you go expecting that. Although quite kid-friendly, there’s lots in it for older folks as well,not least the 60’s rock soundtrack, but a lot of in-jokes as well. (When the Minions, fleeing through the sewers, surface at an exit labeled “Abbey Road” we know whom they are going to encounter when they surface--.)

Animation and character design are consistent with the “Despicable Me” films, with settings and backgrounds more elaborate since the plot takes place in real world locations (New York, London) as distinct from the more purely cartoon world of the earlier movies. There are also some very nice cameos by Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as leaders of an American “crime family,” and Jennifer Saunders as a feisty Queen of England.

Recommended if you can enjoy a bout of over the top slapstick with some charming characters.

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