Robert Berlind, Rice Paddy #5 (2012)
Usually something grabs my attention, something intrigues me, and I don’t really know what it is. The sketch or the painting is an inquiry into that.
I write here to make a brief record of “things seen” in the past week. There was far too much to take on board in the time allowed, but at least I got a glimpse, as most of these exhibits have closed or will close before I have another chance to view them. My attempt to capture what I saw in photographs falls far short of what I saw “live,” but I’ll post a small selection in hopes of giving an idea, as well as including several links.
The sculptures offered a wholly different vantage point from which to think about Picasso’s work and process. One vitrine contained nothing but pebbles and fragments of ceramic and bone on which Picasso had engraved faces and heads; the works on one wall included three pieces of torn paper, one burnt, one scratched, and one merely torn, fancifully called “Head of a Dog,” “Death’s Head,” and “Goat.” I found it easy to imagine Picasso out scavenging, discovering objects and materials to create sculptures ranging from miniature to monumental. As the MOMA brochure noted, since Picasso was trained as a painter, not a sculptor, “this facilitated a natural disregard for tradition in his sculptural work.” In addition to typical media—plaster, clay, bronze—Picasso used lumber, cardboard, sheet metal, wire, sand, paint, “and a host of everyday objects, including absinthe spoons, cake molds, pebbles, spigots, and palm fronds.”
Works by Joaquín Torres-García (Uruguayan, 1874–1949)
Facebook has its uses, and one was alerting me to MOMA’s exhibit of Torres-García’s work. I knew nothing of this artist, and had a friend not noted the exhibit, I would have missed it entirely. MOMA’s website notes:
Torres-García is one of the most complex and important artists of the first half of the 20th century, and his work opened up transformational paths for modern art on both sides of the Atlantic. His personal involvement with a significant number of early avant-garde movements—from Catalan Noucentismo to Cubism, Ultraism-Vibrationism, and Neo-Plasticism—makes him an unparalleled figure whose work is ripe for a fresh critical reappraisal in the U.S.
An excellent catalogue of his works, as well as other information, may be found here.
In the Galleries
Two exhibits I saw last week continued development of a web of connections among the work of artists to which I’ve previously been drawn, notably that of Lois Dodd (1927- ) and Neil Welliver (1929-2005).
Robert Berlind (1938-2015), Kyoto/Cocheton at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.
Visual artist Rebecca Allen wrote of Berlind’s work:
Over a fifty-year career Berlind produced an expansive and refined body of work that was rooted in landscape, reflecting a scholar’s knowledge of the history of art, and a contemporary artist’s relentless effort to understand how we perceive and integrate the visible and interior worlds. This effort was almost entirely camouflaged by the deceptive simplicity of his work, and yet it could be sensed in the considered organization of forms, and in the tensions he created across the surfaces and within the layers of his paintings.
The movement of Berlind’s vision reminded me of the gestures of a Tai Chi practitioner, gradually encompassing all dimensions of space (and time). We sense the scanning and tracking motion of his eyes as he sought and isolated particular fragments of the landscape.
The gallery has provided a flipbook to view here. There is another informative interview with Berlind here.
Janet Fish (1938- ), Glass & Plastic, The Early Years, 1968-1978, at DC Moore Gallery
I was alerted to this exhibit by visual artist Sarah Faraguer, who posted, in a series of “Paintings I Love,” a Fish work of honey jars. In the gallery, the first painting that came into my view was a large-scale canvas depicting three jars of mustard pickles, which I found mesmerizing. The effect of seeing this and other paintings in the exhibit is captured nicely here:
. . . by the time you are standing at an optimal distance from any one canvas, the scale has swollen to a size that has no relation to the actual object. Jelly jars climb to a yard high, rendering their orange glow back into the reality of paint on canvas. The displacement of scale compels a viewer to accept both the illusion and the painted surface in a balance that is far more absorbing than orthodox photorealism, which strives to defeat the painterly aspect. Fish keeps our attention on both illusion and surface by maintaining a field of direct, near ascetic strokes in all of the manifestations of her style.
The selections are a miscellany, the only common thread for which is that they’re works I’ve listened to in recent days.
On Spotify (complete works listed below)
Jean-Philippe Rameau, Les Indes Galantes Suite for Orchestra (18th C)
Luigi Dallapiccola, Partita for Orchestra (1930-32) (Part IV) (The entire work may be heard (in three segments) here, here, and here.
Olivier Messiaen, L’Ascension (1933)
I also want to call attention to composer Gregory Mertl (1969- ), a Hungarian composer new to me, whose captivating, accomplished trio, Quatre états d’âme (2016) for clarinet, cello and piano, received its world premiere at a terrific concert by the ensemble counter)induction, which commissioned the work. The work is not yet available online; I hope it will become available soon. In the interim, others of his works are available for listening here. A Spell of Myriad Dances or Contemplative, from Evocations of an Earthly Nature, might make an interesting starting point.
The photographs are mine. The sources for quotations used in the text may be found at the indicated links.
The Picasso sculptures exhibition at the Tate in 1994 did indeed make me see him, as you put it, in a whole new light. Robert Berlind’s Rice Paddies are pure poetry. Aren’t you going to venture comments on Donizetti’s queens and Bizet’s Pearl Fishers? What a week you’ve had..
David: The Berlind show was indeed pure bliss, and I would have missed it altogether if Rebecca hadn’t flagged it! It was a week to savor, no question. On the operas, as you know, I’ve vented my spleen on the stage direction for QE1 in Maria Stuarda elsewhere (it was revelatory for me to witness stage direction, of all things, so bad it undermined every scene in which QE1 appeared). I also ventured a little report on GCAS about The Pearl Fishers, but what I’m beginning to realize is that my responses say much more about what I want from an opera than about the operas themselves–and also my experience with opera is not vast, to say the least.
I used to think, largely in response to what I felt were overdone productions, that operas needed to be about the music, with everything else in a supportive role. I now realize it’s not the case, at least for me. Both operas this week offered splendid singing galore (Matthew Polenzani (Nadir) and Mariusz Kwiecien (Zurga) in the famous Pearl Fishers duet is something I won’t soon forget), but I find I’m no longer willing to suspend disbelief at plots that are dumbed down (Maria Stuarda) or “purest hokum,” to borrow your perfect phrase (Pearl Fishers) and I get very impatient with “auteur” productions that swallow the music whole (e.g., Taymor’s The Magic Flute).
One of my most memorable Met opera experiences in the past few years, perhaps THE most memorable, was the Kentridge production of Shostakovich’s The Nose. And I now appreciate even more why I am so drawn to John Adams’s operas, particularly Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer. By my lights, these operas have it all: engaging, attractive music beautifully sung, brilliant, poetic libretti (Alice Goodman!!), and Met productions that I thought served both operas extremely well. In contrast, the Met opera season this year offered, for my tastes, slim pickings, else I doubt all three Donizetti queens would have made it to the list (and certainly not in the McVicar productions).
If I had my druthers, there are so many other operas I’ve never seen live I’d much rather have the chance to see: Britten, Janacek, Richard Strauss, Wagner, to name a few. I’d love to see Pique Dame (in a good production), and I hope I’ll be able to see Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest when it comes this way. I have two more to go this season, back-to-back in April: Roberto Devereux (and, speaking of great singing, the cast is to include Kwiecien, Polenzani, and Garanca) and Elektra, which has a good chance to be one for the history books, given this: https://www.metopera.org/Season/2015-16-Season/elektra-strauss-tickets/
The Elektra is the Chereau production, isn’t it, so I envy you that. The film of its first airing with the stupendous Evelyn Herlitzius – and a frail Chereau beaming at the ecstatic curtain calls – is one of THE great opera DVDS that I’ve seen.
Don’t miss Barry’s Importance. I hope if you go you’ll cry laughing, as I did. Thrilled that the composer is flying over from Ireland to talk to my students. He’s great fun as I’ve seen from a filmed conversation with Stephen Fry and Thomas Ades (if I’m not conflating).
McVicar has more often than not become rather routine – a colleague wickedly described him as ‘the John Copley de nos jours’. But then he goes and pulls something staggeringly intense out of the bag, like the Glyndebourne Entfuehrung – period dress, beautiful designs, but a completely unexpected take on the speaking role of Pasha Selim, an equal to the five singing characters.
David: Yes, the Chereau. Also Salonen, Stemme, and Eric Owens. I have high hopes. Wonderful that Barry is flying over for your class! Yes, ever since you noted that opera, it’s been high on my “to see” list, and I believe it’s coming to the Met 2017 or thereabouts. McVicar as “the John Copley de nos jours,” eh? While I can guess, I’m intrigued to know more about what your colleague meant. Very funny, regardless.
Surely Importance is heading over to you just after we see the original Linbury production here again at the Barbican in a couple of months’ time? Check it out and book at once – probably it’s at BAM or some such, definitely not the Met where its small scale wouldn’t work.
John Copley, hilarious anecdotalist, is famous for his very trad, slightly camp productions; his effective Boheme has been at the Royal Opera for donkey’s years, about to be replaced by one from Richard Jones. So McVicar has settled into conventional costume dramas for the most part.
David: Well, it’s a good thing you’re there across the pond keeping tabs on doings in NYC. I had misremembered what I read about Earnest totally. It is at Lincoln Center THIS June, not next year, and not at the Met. I’m on it now, all thanks to you.
I wasn’t familiar with Torres-García’s work–would love to have seen it, along with the Picasso sculptures. My admiration for Picasso just seems to grow and grow.
Mark: Even though my time was short, I was very glad to be able to get to the Torres-Garcia exhibit, as it offered a great overview of the variety of his work. He seems to hold quite an interesting place in art history, not to mention that I liked a great deal of what I saw, and my interest is piqued to learn more. As for Picasso? What a towering figure! About the other two exhibits, it’s been particularly interesting to me to discover how often, when I gravitate toward one artist (Berlind, particularly) there turn out to be connections to others, in this case Dodd and Welliver. I suppose that’s terribly basic, and not so surprising, in the end, but I do enjoy the idea that, here, too, one thing can and does lead to another.
Now you lead a hectic, but fulfilling life at the moment! Beautiful photographs – and I think often that one will find the time to look all things up thoroughly (as you do even at the first step, I know). But then I see, quite astonished: winter is almost over (time for quiet reading, thinking and sorting) – and I am still in a hurry – some exhibitions here, there the Berlinale… On the other hand: we enjoy – and that is good.
Britta: It somehow didn’t feel hectic, though it’s certainly true that, after being out of the city for a few weeks, I had plenty of pent up demand. I’ll have to say I’ve slacked off considerably in looking up things even at the first step, opting for more “live” experiences and far less of looking things up. I’m enjoying the readjusted balance quite a bit. Of course it helps that the weather has far more cooperative than last year (knock wood) for getting out and about. Enjoy the Berlinale and all else!
Greetings, Susan! Do you take requests…for after your brief posting of Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern, I dare left me very intrigued! So many glimpses of artistic influence – would love to know what influenced his oeuvre. A few images that came up via Google made me wonder if Basquiat was ever influenced by JTG – same bold color choices and use of thick black lines. You are certainly blessed by your cultural surroundings. (sidebar – are you at all intrigued by Hamilton or is that not at all your cuppa?)
angela: How nice to hear from you! Torres-Garcia was brand new to me, so I have little to offer here. I see that the MOMA site has a YouTube video discussion of his work, which is here: https://youtu.be/UhgWq9tQGWg I don’t know its quality, as I haven’t watched it, but I may well do so myself today. Your comment about Basquiat is intriguing, and that would be interesting to know. Re the sidebar: Hamilton has been highly recommended by all who have seen it. I’ve been curious about it, but I shy away from Broadway, as it’s such a zoo, and a costly one at that.
Angela: This article I think gives a very helpful overview of Torres-Garcia and his work: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/between-worlds/ (I did watch the MOMA video today, but found it far less illuminating than I’d hoped.)
I’ve been waiting to finish my chores so I could catch up a little, and this catch-up was pure delight. The Berlind pieces are my favorites, and I think your Tai Chi anology is perfect.
Though I can’t remember painting anything since about 6th grade, I recognize what Berlind says about his method: “Usually something grabs my attention, something intrigues me, and I don’t really know what it is. The sketch or the painting is an inquiry into that.” That’s it, exactly, and in a couple of my blog entries, I’ve said the same about writing, in almost exactly the same words. Even when a piece isn’t as well received as others, I don’t mind, because it’s the exercise, the inquiry, that is most important to me.
That said, his paintings are pure delight. And that flip book! When did that start happening? I’ve never seen one before. What a terrific format that would be for, say, a collection of etherees: art on one page, poem on the other. Just thinking about it gets my let’s-upgrade-the-hardware-and-get-with-the-program juices flowing.
I don’t know about Catalan Noucentismo, Ultraism-Vibrationism, and Neo-Plasticism, but Torres-Garcia’s work is intriguing. Serendipitously, I’ve only this week come across Antonio Lopez Garcia, who’s probably a polar opposite of Torres-Garcia, but whose work I like, too.
As for the Picasso sculptures — well, they just made me laugh. I especially like the rope-jumper. She really should be wearing some different shoes.
shoreacres: While I can’t take credit for the T’ai Chi analogy (that would be painter Rebecca Allen), it sure is apt, isn’t it? I could have stood in front of those paintings for a good bit longer than my legs and feet would let me. Flipbooks have been showing up here and there lately, and what a boon that is. Of course there’s nothing like seeing paintings in person, but how lucky to have this as an alternative. Here’s another, just for you, that I really love: https://issuu.com/lorettahoward/docs/ashbery_pages_pages_issufinal.
On Torres-Garcia, yes all those “isms” are a bit much, aren’t they? His work needs none of them and stands beautifully on its own. As for the Picasso sculptures, I’m quite sure he was laughing, too. A sense of fun was evident everywhere, particularly in rooms like that with the girl jumping rope (who definitely does need better shoes).
PS: Re Rebecca Allen, here’s a lovely interview with poet Elaine Sexton about Rebecca’s tandino paintings: http://www.tupeloquarterly.com/rebecca-allan/.