20 January 2022

Cubist Cheese


For some unfathomable reason the British writer G.K. Chesterton started the rumor, "Poets have been mysteriously silent about cheese."

In this still life by Luis Fernandez, there is Swiss cheese in front, I think ,and a brick of Stilton (possibly) in back. As for those apples, all  angles and marmoreal faceted surfaces,  they remind me of glass paperweights. Welcome to the world of Cubist cheese. Salvador Dali's notorious limp watches  in The Persistence of Memory (1931), were inspired by Camembert.  Cheese in art has a long and intriguing history.

How cheese is aged is a story in itself.  Affinage is the process of aging cheese in a cave; an affineur is a person who tends these works in progress for months or even years, until they are ready to be eaten. Other French terms are fromage (cheese), fromager (a cheese monger) and fromagerie (cheese shop). All cheeses that have rinds need to be aged in a cave. And the rinds need to be carefully monitored, high humidity maintained and mold evenly brushed over the surface of the wheel at regular intervals. What this means is that during the pandemic, affineurs are essential workers.

On Sunday, September 26, 2021, a group calling themselves 315 Foodies (for the Central New York Area Code 315) met to assemble what the Guinness Book of World Records was on hand to certify as the world's longest charcuterie board at 315 feet. Cheese mongers from around the region took part, using wooden cheese boards that interlocked like puzzle pieces; each board one foot long.

Before there was cheese in upstate New York, there was water.  About 11,000 BCE, a glacial waterfall carved out the gorge where Little Falls now stands. From this point, rivers to the east drain toward the Atlantic and to the west the fluvial deposits go toward the Great Lakes.  The Mohawk River gorges and the Erie Canal, both running east to west, made a flourishing mill culture that brought prosperity to Little Falls -  grist mills, paper mills, flour mills, sawmills, and textiles mills.

During the second half of the 19th century the city was known as "the cheese capital of the world," thanks, in no small part,  to the promotional zeal of local newspaperman Xerxes Willard. Then, as now, dairy farming and cheese making are important to the New York State economy. The Chobani yogurt Company was founded in 2005 by a Turkish immigrant in South Edmeston, a hamlet located south of Little Falls.  

Note: History records three painters named Luis Fernandez, one a 17th century Spanish history painter, one a contemporary Venezuelan, and this Luis Fernandez (1900-1973) , an Asturian artist who studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Barcelona.  In 1924 Fernandez moved to Paris where he met Braque, who introduced him to Cubism.  Fernandez died in Paris in 1973.

You can order a wide selection of chesses and other comestibles at Calle1945.

Image: Luis Fernandez - Nature morte, pommes et fromage (Still Life with Pommes and Cheese), no date given, oil on board, Musee d'arte moderne, Paris.

06 January 2022

Landscape With A Tree Of Light: August Macke

"What I most cherish is the observation of the movement of colors." - August Macke

The image of a tree of light evokes thoughts of spring , two months away or almost a year in the past, depending on your January mood. August Macke's mood in his Landscape With A Tree Of Light is one of a sun-bathed wonderment. There is an all-at-once quality in Macke's pictures that suggests an acquaintance with Italian Futurism. His painter friend Franz Marc characterized Macke's  special gift as "a brighter and purer sound to color than any of us; he gave it the clarity and brightness of his whole being."

August Macke (1887-1914) was born in Westphalia and died on the battlefield at Champagne during the second month of World War I. Although he was just twenty-seven, his artistic career was already  eight years, At his death, Macke had produced some 600 paintings. He had painted his first watercolor when he was fifteen. With his friend Franz Marc, the two founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a group of German Expressionist painters. 

Meeting Robert Delaunay was the pivotal artistic relationship in Macke's career; the older painter's chromatic Cubism altered Macke's use of colors. Nevertheless, Macke continued to portray scenes of everyday life, a subject matter he had learned earlier from the Impressionists. 

\Image - August Macke - Landschaft mit hellum Baum (Landscape With A Tree Of Light), 1914, watercolor overlaying pencil, State Museum, Berlin.

01 January 2022

Happy New Year

Come, children, gather round my knee;
Something is about to be.
Tonight's December thirty0first,
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark! It's midnight, children dear
Duck! Here comes another year!

 - "Good Riddance, But Now What?" by Ogden Nash

The  artist Jay De Feo (1921-1989) was admired fort the fearlessness of her work. Born Mary Joan, she acquired the nickname Jay as a girl. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a traveling doctor with the Civilian Conservation Corps: eventually Jay and her mother settled in California.

 In 1959, the year she painted The Jewel, De Feo became a member of Bruce Connor's Rat Bastard Protective Association in San Francisco. Also, that year her work was included in a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York..  The year before De Feo had begun work on her monumental painting The Rose, which would take ten years to complete.

Image Jay De Feo - The Jewel, 1959, oil on canvas, Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

24 December 2021

Giovanni Agostini da Lodi: The Holy Family

According to the Italian Malaguzzi Valeri, he definitively identified the artist in 1912.  The American expatriate Bernard Berenson  gave himself credit for the attribution, dating the discovery to 1890..  Given his track record, I am inclined to doubt Berenson but the one they agreed on was that the identification of of the late 15th century Lombard painter took four hundred years. We may also consider that the esteemed art historian Adolfo Venturi sided with Berenson.

Moving between Milan and the Veneto, Agostini da Lodi  was a bearer of Milanese style to Venice. His contemporaries prized the artist's work for its extravagance. but I like this Holy Family for its directness and simplicity. These qualities would have enhanced its power to make the Nativity vivid for n audience that mostly could not read and did not have direct personal access to Biblical stories.

Image: Giovanni Agostini da Lodi - The Holy Family - oil on wood pane, 16th century, Louvre, Museum.

21 December 2021

Winter Solstice

 "Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius."  - Pietro Aretino (1492-1556)

The shortest day brings with it the longest night.  Time to  begin the season of vitamin D cocktails.

Robert Gibbings (1889-1958) was an Irish artist, born in Cork.  His family opposed his intention  to study art but Gibbings persevered, eventually enrolling at the Slade School in London.  Among other media, Gibbings made wood engravings and from 1924 to 1933 he ran the Golden Cockrell Press.. He also illustrated books on travel and natural. history.  In an astonishment, he became the first person known to have made drawings under water. He was buried on the banks of the River Thames in the village of Long Wittenham.

Image: Robert Gibbings - Dublin Under Snow, woodblock print, vourtesy of Grive Press, New York.

11 December 2021

Richard Florsheim: A Man For The Season

Ten years ago I received this Xmas card from Joanne Molina, editor of the online decorative arts magazine The Curated Object. As a Chicagoan, Joanne was familiar with the satirical lithographs of Chicago native Richard Florsheim (1916-1979). Their whimsical qualities delighted me. 

I discovered  hundreds of Florsheims.  There are many landscapes that hint at the influence of Emile Bernard on the younger artist and they are worthy of attention but it is Florsheim's delight in the foibles of artists and their followers that makes merry. 

Apparently, many Florsheim 'cartoons' date for the late 1950s, a moment of high seriousness and outright pomposity in the art world. The preferred mode in criticism was American triumphalism and its chief promoter was Clement Greenberg, who regarded the U.S. - and probably himself, truth be told -  as the arbiter of "advanced " art in contrast to the no so distant Nazi rampage through the art collections of Europe. Pop Art as a provocation was yet to come.

The "tablets brought down from the mountain" tone that Greenberg perfected has survived as the lingua franca for critics hoping to be taken seriously. In contrast, Florsheim's deflationary tactics are witty.  The man was no mean-spirited Philistine; he was an artist with serious credentials. There is exponentially more money at play in today's art world than there was in the post-war world but human nature remains pretty much the same as it did in the Florsheim School of Artists.

In the art world according to Florsheim, sculptors are presented as a wacky bunch. Take one Shistokovich, whose scrawny, angular figures are refractions of Giacometti characters.  Or Bolofinsky (H)e always did say that someday the world would catch up with him.") whose outdoor metalscapes  were forerunners of the television antenna. An apartment dweller thinks that the profusion of antennas .atop his building means that Bolofinsky's work is "selling like hotcakes." A work by Messovich titled Bald Ego looks like a patient on a psychiatrist's couch. Florheim's delight in naming his characters reminds me of a comment that was made about Constance Garnett, the British translator who introduced the great Russian writers of 19th century to e English-speaking readers. Her achievements were heroic but she has also been accused of creating one great lumpen writer named Tolstoyevsky.

Richard Aberle Florsheim (1916-1979) came from a wealthy Chicago family. After studying from the University of Chicago, Florsheim spent two years abroad (1936-38) where he worked in the atelier of the French post-impressionist painter Emile Bernard and showed his work at the Salon des  Refuses. Returning to Chicago in the summer of 1939, Florsheim rented a studio of his own. There he began making lithographs and had his forst exhibition in 1942.

Images by Richard Florsheim are in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicag:
1.  Welded Steel Xmas Trees
2.  I think it should hang this way.

29 November 2021

Raoul Dufy: A Version Of Pastorale

"It is a defect of God's humor that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them." - Tom Stoppard, from the play Arcadia (1993)

It's harvest time in Raoul Dufy's Arcadia,  Langres, a commune in northeastern France, where autumn  is sometimes foggy, wet, and even snowy.

But this is Dufy's Arcadia, so unpleasant conditions have been banished.  This is a place where sheep may safely graze indeed. In the far background  there are rows of laborers mowing and reaping. In the lower left corner there is an empty hayrick which draws our eyes to remnants of an antique Arcadia, a celebratory urn atop a pedestal and, this being a painting by Dufy, there is a lissome reclining woman,, her clothes nowhere to be seen. An open air social event, perhaps.  Harvesting has never looked this festive.

On a serious note, Dufy's particular contribution to modernism was to marry formal avant-garde principles to a decorative aesthetic. 

Image; Raoul Dufy - Harvest At Langres, circa 1938, Musee d'arte Moderne, Paris.

14 November 2021

Helen Frankenthaler's Butterfly

One of the most consistently beautiful abstract painters was Helen Frankenthaler. (1917-2011), a quality often held against her work by male artists. It's something we now admire in her work, seen here in Madame Butterfly. Spread across three sheets of paper, two blue-green curvilinear strokes suggest  butterfly wings.  Although Helen Frankenthaler has violated a cardinal rule of composition -  that symmetry can be boring -  she has resolved the problem with asymmetrical washes of delectable color.  Wabi sabi, a traditional Japanese aesthetic with its appreciation for the beauty of imperfection\is seen here as three against two. Frankenthaler bought  a Japanese screen on one of her many trips to Kyoto where she worked with master print Kenneth Tyler at Tyler Graphics Studio, beginning in the 1970s

Zen principles appealed to Frankenthaler and her contemporaries in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s as a path to individual expression; an influence  Frankenthaler strenuouslyy denied.  But here are undeniable echoes of Japanese calligraphy in her style and in the delicacy of her technique.  

You can't see them from this reproduction but  Frankenthaler's Madame Butterfly is composed of more than one hundred different shades of color. Frankenthaler employed forty-six separate wood blocks for a symphony of tones and textures. Like her paintings, Frankenthaler's prints appear spontaneous although she planned her moves rigorously. As for the title, it alludes to Puccini's tragic opera about a geisha's love for an American naval officer; the artist usually named pictures after she finished them.  In Madame Butterfly we see both the  beauty  of Puccini's protagonist and  of a Japanese print.

A three-fold painting that originated in the early Middle Ages, the triptych was usually executed on wood panels, used as altarpieces in Christian churches. Frankenthaler's triptych is also large, measuring 41.75x 79.5 inches. 

Image; Helen Frankenthaler - Madame Butterfly, 2000, woodblock print on paper,  Frankenthaler Foundation, NYC.

21 October 2021

Pia Camil: Tunic

"A ship arrived from Valpariso

Dropped its anchor in the bay

Her name reminded me of kingdoms

Sunlit countries far away." 

- excerpt from "The Ship" by Oliver St. John Gogarty

Pablo Neruda wrote "An Ode To Valpariso" in tribute to the seaport that refreshed him whenever the ennui of "the tiredness of Santiago" weighed on his spirit. 

A cross between a monumental kimono and a painting by Frank Stella?  Valpariso Green Cloak for Three (81  in. x175 in.) Camil fashioned the series she calls Skins from  cloth discarded  by textile factories.  She titled the works in tribute to Frank Stella's geometrical pictures; they were inspired by the colorful traditional Mexican ponchos and serapes.  Each one is capacious enough to hold more than one person.

Pia Camil was born in Mexico City in 1980; after studying art at the Rhode Island School of Design and then at the Slafe School in London, she now lives and works in her native city.

Image: Pia Camil  - Valpariso Green Cloak Form Three , 2016, stitched fabric, photograph courtesy of the Clark Art

10 October 2021

Emma Amos: The Artist As A Young Woman

"All the little children loved the things that I drew and I did masses if paper dolls and things. And then it got rally serious and people thought 'oh, she can really draw. So, they gave me things to copy ... they gave me everything that was going, coloring books and things to copy."                                           - Emma Amos to Al Murray in an interview for the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, October, 1968.

When she was twenty-three Amos moved to New York from Atlanta, having found the southern city's art scene too sleepy for what she aspired to do with her art. As it would turn out, sleep was not something Amos would be getting for the next several years.  By day, Amos worked as a textile designer, by night she studied full-time for her Master's Degree at New York University, and on the weekends she painted. 

While she was at it, Amos became the youngest an sole female member of the African-American art collective Spiral, a group that had been founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis. to name but two of the fifteen members. In the 1970s  Amos became involved in the production of the feminist arts journal Heresies  and was an original Guerilla Girl in 1985.

If thinking about this makes you tired, I know the feeling. Because I spent my twenties working full-time during the day, going to school full-time at night, spending my spare time engaged in feminist and other political activities. Up at 6:30 each morning and returning from classes at 11:15 at night.

First Avenue Window comes from this early period in Amos's career.  Spiral had rented a downtown space on Christopher Street in 1965  for its first and only exhibition in May of 1965.  Shortly after, the group disbanded.  Although the artists conformed to no one style, we can see in this painting by Amos an eclectic and even irreverent approach to abstraction. 

Amos had been resistant to being categorized as a black artist, as bell hooks would  note in 1993, "[That] little girl who was dreaming of being an artist wasn't thinking, 'I'll grow up and be a Black woman artists,' but "I'll grow up and be an artist." And yet, in New York Amos was rebuffed by the (male)art scene as a woman; a rude shock for a young artist who had grown up in a middle-class family in Atlanta where people like W.E.B. Dubois and Zora Neale Hurston were frequent guests. 

Amos died from complications of Alzheimer's disease in 2020 at the age of eighty-three.

Image: Emma Amos - First Avenue Window, 1966, oil on cnavs with handmade, hand-painted frame, courtesy of Ryan Lee Gallery, NYC.

28 September 2021

Hans Memling: The Naughty Priest

Something to think about when you look at old portraits is that they were usually the product of several sittings, providing the artist ample time to consider the nature of his subject. The conventions of Renaissance portraiture were naturalistic in some respects but truth-to-life watts-and-all was not what either sitters or patrons waned.  In Hans Memling's portrait of the cleric Gilles Joye there is no hint of Joye's worldliness and vanity. The artist gives us a conventional priestly  image: hands clasped piously as if in prayer, a face full of solemnity above a modest clerical robe. 

The Canon Gilles Joye lived in what is now Belgium but he is usually described as  Franco-Flemish, having been born in the city of Kortrijk in West Flanders and then migrating to Bruges.   

Gilles Joye was appointed a singer at the Burgundian court chapel in Bruges in 1462. Unsurprisingly for one so irreverent, his vocal compositions were secular,. How this man became a rector is curious; his hobbies were street brawling, patronizing brothels, and even making a prostitute named Rosabella his mistress. \He was notorious for skipping out on his singing duties but was apparently forgiven because his music was so melodic and lyrical. Admonished to renounce his girlfriend, teh wag wrote her a Mass. (O rosa bella). Notwithstanding his transgressions, when Joye died he was buried in the church of St. Donation.

Hans Memling painted in the style known as Flemish Primitive; his portraits  simplified versions of his sitters' features. Born in the Rhine region he moved around northern Europe in search of commissions. After a stint in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden he arrived in Bruges where he  was made a citizen in 1465. There he  became a leading painter with his own workshop. and it was there he met the cleric Gilles Joye. 

Image: Hans Memling (circa 1430-1494) - The Canon Gilles Joye, no date given but probably after 1465, tempura and oil on wood panel, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

21 September 2021

Fred Wilson: The Museum Is The Message

"I trust the visual to communicate my ideas. I try to unlock the meaning of objects and eliciting a conversation by juxtaposing between them that creates an unexpected, but essential, thought." - Fred Wilson

"I get everything that satisfies my soul from bringing together objects in the world, manipulating them, working with spatial arrangements, and having them presented in the way I want to see them." - Fred Wilson

Five busts of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti that question what we think we know about the ancient world. The original bust by an anonymous artist has long been a  staple of art history texts. Grey Area (above) by the American artist Fred Wilson makes visible our changing understanding of who historical figures actually were.

Born in the Bronx in 1954, Fred Wilson describes himself as African, Native American, Amerindian, and European, a background ....While studying for his Fine Arts degree at SUNY Purchase, he worked as a guard at the Neuberger Museum on campus.  As I know from talking with museum guards, they spend enough time with works of art to make astute comments about how art is presented and how that shapes the viewer's reception.  From that experience Wilson drew a lesson: change the context and you change the meaning.  So it was that he made a version of the mythological character Atlas weighed down by art history books with a book on black artists at the bottom of the pile.

After stints at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Natural History (on opposite sides of Central Park) Wilson realized that the two institutions presented similar objects in widely divergent ways. He has come to  specialize in presenting objects based on considerations that may be unimportant to most curators or that have gone unnoticed until Wilson put things together.  Mining the Museum he called it when he restaged galleries at the Maryland Historical Society in 1991. In a technique he has often used, Wilson renamed a painting Country Life that showed a plantation family at leisured Frederick Serving Fruit  for a young black slave boy in the picture. This  In a nearby vitrine, Wilson paired a stark set of slave shackles surrounded by  an .... adorned silver tea service, the embodiment of wealth produced by slave labor.

Fred Wilson was the first black artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2003. with  the exhibit Speak Of Me As I Am (a reference to Shakespeare's character Othello, the Moor of Venice). So popular was Wilson's exhibition thatt there were waiting lins outside the American pavilion.  For Venice, a city where black people had been present for centuries, Wilson created a project that included an awareness of the city surroundings.

A last minute addition, Wanderer was a black-face courtier figure Wilson saw in the lobby of the hotel he was staying at. He replaced the face with a globe whose black oceans were crisscrossed by by white dotted lines that trace the routes of ships used in the slave trade.

Simone Leigh will be the first black American woman to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale in 2022.

For more about Fred Wilson


 1. Fred Wilson - Grey Area - pant, plaster, and wood, 1998, Brooklyn Museum.  2. Fred Wilson - Atlas, 1992, paint, plaster, and wood, Denver Museum of Art.  3. Fred Wilson - Wanderer, 2003, painted wood and printed paper, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA.

10 September 2021

For Eighty Cents!: Angelo Morbelli

 "Italy is made.  We have still to make the Italians."

     -  Massimo D'Azeglio (1798-1866).  D'Azeglio did not live to see Rome designated as the capitol of new Italian state in 1871 but the Risorgimento (Resurgence) was almost complete when  the statesman/ novelist/painter died.

Look at these women cultivating rice: they are the 'essential workers' of 19th century Italy. Just for clarification, the title For Eighty Cents! indicates the anger of the painter Angelo Morbelli at the wage paid to rice farmers in the Po Valley circa 1890.  Indeed, working conditions for the women who worked the fields of the Piedmont region were so shameful that a name was coined for them - the mondine. We know there is a sky above from its reflection in the water the women stand in but the artist allows us no more respite from the prospect of their back-breaking toil than their overlords permitted. By using the broad horizontal canvas typical of landscape painting, we can almost feel the weight pressing down on the hunched figures.

The path fir Italian artists in the 19th century was not the triumphal march that historians ascribe to the French Impressionists. Stylistically, the Italians were all over the place and, on this account, art historians have not been kind to their works. Yet these artists made lively and daring experiments, more so than the Italian peninsula had witnessed in a long time. Together painters as varied as Silevstro Lega, Emilio Longoni, Plinio Nominelli, an Aneglo Morbelli were dubbed I Macchiaiolli (meaning painters of patches of light). 

Morbelli and his fellow artists were berated from all sides, for choosing ugly and unpleasant subjects rather pleasing ones that the bourgeoisie could hang in their parlors and, at the same time, for imbuing ugly realities with dignity and even nobility.  The Roman poet Horace had that art's purpose was to "instruct and delight" but the Macchiaioli would have none of that.

Full of idealism, they found their inspiration in the economic upheavals that accompanied political unification. Like their painterly styles, their politics were all over the  ran a gamut from progressivism to anarchy. The early 1890s were a period of strikes and protests in  northern cities where workers labored for impoverishing wages, under poor working conditions, if they could find work at all. Conditions were no better for the poor in rural areas where new industrial workers had migrated from.

Image - Angelo Morbelli- For Eighty Cents!, 1895, oil on canvas, Civico Museo, Borgogna.


01 September 2021

Kiki Kogelnik: "The Cyborgs Are Irreverent"

"The Cyborgs are irreverent." - Donna Harraway, The Cyborg Manifesto, 1985.

"Art comes from artificial." - Kiki Kogelnik

Kogelnik's figures are often bent, broken, or damaged in some way but not Superwoman.

It is an oversight  that smacks of injustice as well as forgetfulness that Kiki Kogelnik is not better known in North America.  Although Kogelnik was born in Bleiburg, Austria and studied art the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, after a visit to New York City in 1961, she determined to move there, settling in downtown Manhattan, two blocks from the Chelsea Hotel, a favorite haunt of writers and artists.   She could not but compare the lively and vivid art world of New York with te drabness of post-War Europe. The middle child and only girl of an accountant and a teacher, Kogelnik's given name was Sigrid but her older brother Herwig nicknamed her and it stuck. 

Downtwn Manhattan was home to emerging Pop artists Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenberg, and Larry Rivers; as a European Kogelnik was more skeptical of  mechanization's impact on culture. Yet the idea of cyborgs, beings both organic and biomechanic hovers around many of Kogelnik's works, rendering them sui generis.  In Americans' infatuation with space exploration she perceived an adolescent phallic fixation and with all things commercial. "I'm not involved with Coca Cola.

Her big, bright canvases were made at a time when Kogelnik was also tracing human figures on paper and then transferring the cutouts to colored vinyl.  Her yellow Robert Rauschenberg, for example, was exhibited on a gallery wall neatly folded on a metal hanger. She re-purposed the Pop Art vocabulary throughout her career. Kogelnik reasoned that identity is constructed from fragments through her experience of a female body in a world of images in the fashion press, leading for her to the question and meaning of masks, returning at last to an original fragmented identity. 

Kogelnik made her first ceramic pieces in 1974 at the urging of Renate Fuhry, a potter she knew in Vienna. With her initial training in applied arts, Kogelnik had no prejudice against ceramics, a common view at that time. Although she never learned to turn pottery on the wheel, she  put stencils to use in making slab ceramics, a technique by which the potter uses a rolling pin to flatten a mound of clay - hence the term slab pottery. Using a knife to cut around her stenciled shapes, Kogelnik would coat them with a variety of colorful glazes. the resulting pieces are more like masks than portraits. 

A few thoughts on cyborgs and Donna Harraway: The term cyborg originated in science fiction as  a paradigm for the confusion of boundaries between the organic and the mechanical.  It has been used in the domain of science for storytelling rather than with the usual claims of rigor and objectivity.

Visit Kiki Kogelnik Foundation, New York & Los Angeles.

1. Kiki Kogelnik - Superwoman, 1973, oil and acrylic on canvas, national museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.
2. - 3. - 4. - Kiki Kogelnik - slab ceramic pieces, photographs courtesy of Mostyn Galley, Llandono, Wales.

26 August 2021

Gino Severini Sees The Muses

"Of course I saw the Muses
on the hill
roosting in the leaves
Well then, I saw the Muses
in the liberal oak leaves
eating acorns and berries
I saw the Muses on an ancient
oak, where they kept cawing.
My heart marveling
I asked my marveling heart
and told my heart the marvel."

 - Vidi le Muse (I Saw the Muses), by Leonardo Sinisgalli, 1943, translated from the Italian by Sonia Raiziss & Alfredo de Palchi, reprinted from The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2012.

As Italo Calvino famously pointed out there are no birds in the paintings of the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello, whose surname means 'bird' in Italian. But in the 20th century, a painter named  Gino Severini made an entire series of color drawings around the theme of birds.

But where, exactly, are we in Flowers And Masks? Dynamism of the modern urban city, fractured perspective and overlapping picture plans abound.  The hallmarks of  Futurism, an art practiced by a loose band  of Italian artists in the early decades of the 20th century.

From Tuscany (well, Cortona, actually) to Paris sounds  like the itinerary for a vacation and although it wasn't a vacation for the twenty-three year old Gino Severini it was an adventure.  The son of a small town dressmaker, the aspiring artist was mesmerized  by the frenetic merriment of Parisian night life.  Futurists celebrated the industrialization that was late to arrive in their native country, but Severini preferred to portray the dynamism of living beings instead of manufactured objects,

We see that fascination in his series  Flowers And Masks. A dove flutters to the music of the spheres (behind it a violin and  pages of a musical score). The mask is an emblem of an earlier era, the commedia dell' arte that flourished during the 18th century.  

After a brief flirtation with  Cubism, Severini came to regard it as usually static and boring., a view he shared with his fellow Futurists. The charge had legs;  especially in their early experiments, Picasso and Braque copied the muted tones of the silent films they were so enamored of. Severini, ever restless would go on to experiment with the Golden Ratio, a Renaissance emblem  of perfection  This return to classicism led to an unholy alliance with Benito Mussolini for whom he designed murals and mosaics to decorate the dictator's halls. To atone for his sins, Severini returned to the Catholic Church in his later years; the mosaics he produced for the church were of exquisite delicacy, earning him the soubriquet of  "Father of Modern Mosaics."

Leonardo Sinisgalli (1908-1981) was an engineer who became the art director for Olivetti. He is best known for his poetry. While at university, Sinisgalli turned down an invitation to join the Institute of Physics at the University of Rome by Enrico Fermi himself.

Gino Severini (1883-1966) -  Flowers And Masks Number 13, 1930, color stencils on paper, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica.

10 August 2021

Valerie Jaudon: Expansive Possibilities

"(W)e came to realize that the prejudice against the decorative has a long history and is based on hierarchies: fine art above decorative art, Western art above non-Western art, men's art above women's art." - Valerie Jaudon & Joyce Kozloff, 1978

Jaudon and Kozloff came to that moment as they realized that the woven textiles and painted pottery they admired that had been produced anonymously had been made by women. The two began to collaborate in the mid 1970s in search of ways to create expansive surfaces by taking patterns out of their usual context. Soon they were joined by Miriam Schapiro, Robert Zakanitch, and others to establish the Pattern and Decoration Movement, sometimes referred to as P & D, that began meeting as a group in 1976

The P & D artists embrace of feminism was in defiance of art critical orthodoxy as decreed by Clement Greenberg in the 1950s. At the same time there was an active studio crafts movement making a case for clay and fiber as suitable media for abstract art. In hindsight, the use of art forms from many cultures crossed  with  Western abstraction was prescient for our own moment.

And Solomon's faith was not misplaced. The artworks were received as a breath of fresh air, praised and collected but when the 1980s dawned, there was a backlash, firstly because the artists were unabashed feminists and then because the concept of beauty was in disrepute. But Jaudon and Kozloff struck preemptively at the detractors, publishing their manifesto Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture in 1978.

At more than six feet tall, Ingmar is an emphatic statement of intent: there is nothing delicate or dainty about it. Ingomar by Valerlie Jaudon evokes visions of Celtic and Islamic designs. Metallic paint is applied with bold brushstrokes, creating an impression that is at the same time a visual puzzle that tantalizes the viewer. Islamic tile work from Spain and North Africa, and mosaics from Mexico, ancient Roman, and Byzantium, all these influences are held in equilibrium in this resonant, suggestive painting. The longer I look the more I experience a sense of depth

Valerie Jaudon was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1945 and studied art at several academies, including the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. In 2011, Jaudon was elected to the National Academy of Design.

The exhibition With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art, 1972-1985,, on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from October 27, 2019-May 11, 2020 and at Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY from June26-November 28, 2021, is the first full-scale survey of a groundbreaking movement.

And in addition, Emma Amos: Color Odyssey is on view from June 19-September 12, 2021 at Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica NY. It will then travel t the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it will beon view from October 11, 2021-January 17, 2022.

Image: Valerie Jaudon - Ingomar, 1979, oil and metallic paint, 80 x72 inches, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.

03 August 2021

Madelaine de Scudery: A Map Of The Affections

"and it's something that everybody needs...." - Lowman Pauling & Ralph Bass, Dedicated To The One I Love, 1961

If there were a reliable map for affairs of the heart, its cartographer would become wealthy, and rightly so. According to the French novelist Madelaine de Scudery, the road to love begins at Nouvelle amitie (New Friendship), located at the bottom of the map above on the River of Love.  The River has three tributaries: Respect, Esteem, an Affection. Along the right bank, various waystations with names like Fresh Eyes, Love Letters, Constancy, and Generosity invite the traveler rest and reflect. On the opposite shore, Complacence, Inequality, Treacherousness, and Perfidiousness tell a much different story. Scudery created her Carte du tendre (A Map of the Affections) as a game to amuse her friends during the winter of 1553-1664.

Marriage is absent from Scudery's map, likely because emancipation from matrimony was the only route to freedom in the 17th century. Not only did Scudery not marry, she eventually managed to free herself from the burdensome guardianship of her brother George. a typical feature of the life of a femme couverte of the minor nobility in France. Previously she had been forced to her beloved Paris for three years from 1644-1647 when Georges served as the Governor of the Fort-Notre-Dane-e-la-Garde At Marseilles.

It may be an oblique nod to this difficult time with terre inconnu (the Perilous Sea). And deviating from New Friendship could lead a woman to Indiscretion.  Caught between the Sea of Enmity and the Lake of Indifference, a woman might easily feel trapped. To add a bit of historical perspective, consider the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drawn up by John Adams in 1780.  It included a provision providing that a widow should not be forced to remarry if she preferred to live alone.

In France, la querelle des femmes already had a history, dating back to the 15th century when Christine de Pizan had also been an official author at the French court, publishing The Book of the City of Ladies in 1405.

Madelaine de Scudery (1607-1701) was born just nine years after Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598, ending four decades of devastating violence over religious doctrine between Protestants and Catholics. With hindsight, the French  Reformation was one of history's great failures. Born in Le Havre where her father was the captain of the port, she was orphaned at the age of six, her care was then entrusted to the care of an uncle who was a cleric. An estimable and farsighted gentleman, he provided the girl with an excellent education: her studies included reading, writing, drawing, music, Spanish, and Italian. There is even some evidence that she studied Latin and Greek. She also applied herself to the study of agriculture and medicine.  A voracious reader, Madelaine began her philosophical studies with Montaigne (hence her skepticism) and Plutarch (hence her stoicism).

After the death of their uncle in 1637, the siblings moved to Paris where Madelaine was introduced to the salon chambre bleu (Blue Room) at the Hotel Rambouillet where she became a regular attendee. From there she launched her literary career, publishing a defense of education for woman in Illustrious Women in 1642. Scudery also published numerous highly successful novels including Artamene, s two million words it holds the record as the longest novel ever (yet) published.

The pair then moved to the Marais where Madame de Scudery established her own weekly salon Samedis (Saturdays). During the 17th century, women were once again attempting to make their way as authors in the (male) literary world. 

The Precieuses, as the women were called, were repeatedly subjected to ridicule, notably by Moliere in his first play Les precieuses ridicules (1659). It is also worth noting that the King, Louis XIV, also scorned learned women and that Moliere was a favorite of the King. 

As if this were not enough to discourage the women, Moliere took another swipe in 1672 with Les femmes savants or The Clever Women. Make no mistake, thee stakes were high for all concerned. Reputation is a form of gold in the republic of letters. Not only did these women, whether at Royal court or in the salons of Paris, mean to attain the status of authors, they intended to replace the male concept of love - wherein it is the man who gets to choose and the woman can only assent or refuse (if she is lucky).  One reason that Scudery made the Lake of Indifference so large was that, then as even today, we women keep watering it with our tears.

Scudery was honored by the Academie Francaise in 1691. Madelaine de Scudery survived her brother Georges by three decades, dying at the ripe age of ninety-three.

For further reading: Precious Women by Dorothy Ann Liot Baker, New York, Basic Books:1973

Image: Madelaine de Scudery - Carte du tendre (A Map of the Affections), 1654, Francois Chaveau, engraving, Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris.

26 July 2021

A Sign Of Summer: The Breton Stripe

"The body of the shirt will count twenty-one white stripes, each twice as wide as the twenty to twenty-one indigo blue stripes." -  Admiral Ferdinand-Alphonse Hamelin, Minister of the Marine for Brittany1858

How French, you may say, to be so precise about specifications. The French are proud of their navy and  its many victories over the British. The rivalry is apparent in their dueling names for the body of water that separates the two countries: Pas de Calais or English Cannel.

So the design of a new uniform was also a matter of symbolic import. The colors blue and white were chosen for their nautical associations; the three-quarter length sleeves were practical for physical tasks and sailors soon realized that it was easier to spot a man overboard in  a striped shirt. Although the French like to boast that the stripes represent Napoleon's naval victories, the truth is more prosaic; technical innovations in the production of cloth made it possible to knit a continuous, precisely striped shirt on one piece. Once the mariniere or rayure bretonne became the official sailor's uniform it was quickly adopted by fishermen and onion sellers along France's northern coast.

Stripes have a long history among the marginalized, from wandering minstrels and jesters to lepers and madmen. They were worn by men who existed on the fringes of society. 

At the time stripes were considered suitable male attire. Guy de Maupassant always wore a striped jersey when he was aboard his boat or when was was onshore mixing with the tough guys who hun around the docks.

However the young woman pictured in La voyageuse au bateau painted by Marcel Gromaire in 1930 owes her 'garconne' look to Coco Chanel. The young Chanel had had some success as a hat maker in Deauville where she  opened a shop in 1913.  Being a woman, Chanel recognized that women were looking for a simpler style that would be chic but afford them greater freedom of movement. She introduced her striped jerseys in her couture collection in 1917.

Marcel Gromaire (1892-1971) was a painter of the modern pursuit of leisure,  golf, tennis, swimming, and sunbathing.

For further reading: The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes &  Striped Clothing by Michel Pastoureau, translated from the French by Jody Gladding, New York, Columbia University Press: 2001.\

Image: Marcel Gromaire - La voyageuse au bateau, 1930, oil on canvas, Musee d'Art moderne de la ville de Paris.

19 July 2021

"Voce et intellecto" Barbara Hoogeweegen

"Voce et intellecto." These were the qualities the poet Dante admired in art and when I look at  Barbara Hoogeweegen's portraits of women, voce et intelletco are what comes to mind. Representation is the process of re-presenting something so it is no accident that Hoogeweegen portrays her  contemporary women as self-possessed, and much more than the sum of  their lineage, pace portraits of wealthy and aristocratic women of  the Italian Renaissance .

For each one Hoogeweegen chooses a  color palette; the one she chose for Jeepers Creepers Where'd you Get Them Peepers is made up of the three primary colors with small daubs of the complementary colors on the neck  Applied in broad strokes that often overlap, the paint gets maximal effect without looking labored.
And what is natural about a portrait?  Until Leonardo da Vinci posed his female sitters facing the viewer, Renaissance painters presented women in profile, eyes chastely turned away from the viewer. And although da Vinci influenced younger artists like Giorgione, Raphael, and Titian, museums are filled with paintings of vacant, mask-like faces. If that brings Picasso to mind, then everything that is old can be made new. A few years ago Britain's National Portrait Gallery held an exhibition of portraits from its collection that are rarely seen because the sitters have not been identified.

We know that painting dates back to the time of the cave painters at Lascaux and Altamira. They depicted the natural world around but is painting something more than natural when it hang on the walls of a museum?  As recent events have reminded us, paintings hang against a background of social and political issues.

Barbara Hoogeweegen is truly an international artist.  Born in the Netherlands, she studied art in France and Great Britain and she now lives in London.

Image: Barbara Hoogeweegen - Jeepers Creepers Where'd you Get Them Peepers, 2017, oil on canvas, collection of the artist.

12 July 2021

The Blue Lantern Turns Fourteen

The Blue Lantern first appeared on July 12, 2007. In the beginning, I posted frequently to discover if there was an audience for what I wanted to do when I wasn't writing to order. Since the early days I have deleted a majority of posts (hundreds, actually) because I was dissatisfied with them. Also there was a website that copied my articles verbatim and then used them to solicit advertising, a clear violation of fair use of images. After taking a hard look at those articles, I either rewrote them or deleted them. 

I would like to thank very much the people who have devoted Pinterest boards to images published on The Blue Lantern. To celebrate the 14th anniversary of The Blue Lantern I decided to share some  comments that warmed my heart and kept me writing

Wednesday, 15 July 2009 - The Edinburgh Scotsman

Subtitles "Arts Journalism for the Love of It," this devastatingly beautiful blog covers a wide range of topics and mediums from known artists such as Marc Chagall, to unknown discoveries, (well, unknown to us) such as Kathleen Dustin who makes exquisite handbags in the shapes of seed pods from a special type of colored polymer clay. The site is named for the blue-shaded lamp that French writer Colette used as a guiding light for her imaginary journeys, after she became too frail to leave home. "Her invitation, extended to all, was 'Regarde!' Look, see, wonder, accept, live." It is written by Jane Librizzi, an American broadcaster blessed with great intelligence and an eye for the rare and marvellous."

Sunday 22 August 2010 - The Linosaurus

"I have done a good deal of rainy-day back-reading on Jane's blog (it should be a book really)..."

Friday 16 September 2011 - Wuthering Expectations

Librizzi is a master of pairing text and image, whether the text is a famous poem or her own essay.  This piece on Mariana Griswold von Rensselaer is a good example.  She also understands how literature and images interpenetrate – see this expert review of Theodor Fontane  and this little biography of Djuna Barnes.


 Wednesday 11 Janaury 2012 at Just A False Alarm

EVERY now and then you stumble across a very impressive blog or two whilst trawling the internet during  moments in which you experience rare solitude and freedom. Tonight I have been absorbed for a good hour or two by this blog: ... The writer is Jane Librizzi, a New Yorker, apparently a freelance journalist and a radio broadcaster, who I wouldn't know from a bar of soap- and yet, becoming absorbed in her thought-provoking blog, you can't help but feel you know her a little. She covers a wide range of subjects, mostly Art and Literature, and she does so comprehensively and professionally with acknowledgement of sources and detailed bibliographies. And you learn so much from her blog- or at least I did- because she covers some really interesting and esoteric subjects. At the moment, in 2012, she seems to be absorbed with Belgian art and Belgian photography. Then there is poetry by an Austrian, Ingeborg Bachmann, a fascinating study of the construction of stairs under the lovely heading 'Evanescence', a discussion of a Paul Signac painting under the equally beguiling heading, 'Luminance', and the professional relationship between Duncan Phillips (patron) and Augustus Vincent Tack (painter). Now I have only gone back in my discussion here to December 3, 2011, and Librizzi has been blogging since September 2005. So she has an incredible wealth of interesting blog entries over a number of years. She also includes a library of books read under a link called 'Library Thing.' Here once again I was introduced to the names of many writers and their books totally new to me."

The Human Flower Project, Julie Ardrey, editor, Austin, TX. 

Dear Jane - The Blue Lantern is a masterpiece.  I have been a dazzled reader for awhile and am preparing to wind down my own site, The Human Flower Project.  Having attempted to make something beautiful and thoughtful online, I deeply admire the ambition and generosity of your work!  - Julie Ardrey 

2009, The Curated Object, Joanne Molina, editor, Chicago

It's my absolute delight to introduce Jane Librizzi to our readers, Her intellectually stimulating and aesthetically astute blog, The Blue Lantern, has captivated me for more long  mornings, afternoons, and evenings than I would care to admit. Originally from northern New Jersey, she lived in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and now lives in upstate New York. She studied piano for several years and began writing stories at age nine. Aside from freelance writing, she has worked in music broadcasting on her local Public Broadcasting station for the past nine years. The place in the world she woud most like to visit is the Wolong Panda Center in China.