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/ This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/275604.html. Please comment there using OpenID.