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“The Bedroom,” Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting, with its honey-yellow bed pressed into the corner of a cozy sky-blue room, is instantly recognizable to art lovers, with his signature contrasting hues. But does our experience of this painting change upon learning that van Gogh had originally depicted those walls in violet, not blue, or that he was less a painter wrestling with his demons and more of a deliberate, goal-oriented artist?
These questions are raised by a new analysis, eight years in the making, of hundreds of van Gogh’s canvases as well as his palette, pigments, letters and notebooks by scientists at Shell, the oil company, in collaboration with the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency and curators at the newly renovated Van Gogh Museum here, which owns the world’s largest collection of works by that Dutch Post Impressionist.
The research did not lead to “earth-shattering new insights” that rewrite van Gogh’s life story, said the director of the Van Gogh Museum, Axel Rüger, but it could shift the understanding of van Gogh’s temperament and personality. The results of that study will be revealed in an exhibition, “Van Gogh at Work,” which opens on Wednesday and features about 200 paintings and drawings, 150 of them by van Gogh and others by contemporaries, including Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard.
“You discover more clearly that van Gogh was a very methodical artist, which runs counter to the general myth that he was a manic, possibly slightly deranged man who just spontaneously threw paint at the canvas,” Mr. Rüger said. “He was actually someone who knew very well about the properties of the materials he used, how to use them, and also he created very deliberate compositions. In that sense it’s a major insight in that it gives us a better notion of van Gogh the artist. He was very goal-oriented.”
New York Times
It was news last fall when the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston announced a five-year partnership with Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and his wife, Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, of Kuwait — through which the al-Sabahs would send parts of their collection for long-term viewing in Houston. They want their treasures seen around the world, as a means of expanding the view people have of Muslims to include its culture. Given so many political ties in Texas (the Sheikha visited George H.W. Bush last week), and with its oil companies, it was natural for the family to choose the MFAH (though having Mahrukh Tarapor, formerly with the Metropolitan Museum and now senior adviser for international initiatives to the MFAH, must have helped).
So the other night, the MHAF unveiled its entry in the Islamic race: a gallery filled with about 70 objects on loan from the al-Sabahs. It can’t compare in volume with the Met’s newish Islamic wing, which attracted more than 1 million visitors in not much more than a year, or with the Louvre’s new wing for Islamic art — topped by that golden “flying carpet” — but still. Apparently what the Kuwaitis sent is choice. The museum’s description:
Among the highlights showcased in this display are spectacular Mughal jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, exquisite ceramics, and intricately decorated ceiling panels. More than 60 examples from the 8th to 18th centuries are on view, made in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The collection also includes carpets, glass and metalwork, paintings, architectural fragments, scientific instruments, and works on paper.
Judith H. Dobrzynski
Real Clear Arts
In the Borghese Gallery, in Rome, when you first see Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo catch up with Daphne, you would swear that her flesh is turning into a tree, although both she and the tree are made of marble. An interlocking mosaic of carbonate crystals has become the medium for a metamorphosis, a tour de force of drama, like almost everything Bernini did. As a sculptor and setter of scenes, he made Rome the pace-setting city of Europe in the 17th century, the age of the Baroque. Materializing out of the marble, his popes, kings, horses, and women set the style for an era.
Then neoclassicism took over, and his renown was eclipsed for more than 200 years. The Fountain of the Four Rivers, with the most marvelous of all his horses, was still there in the Piazza Navona to delight all foreign visitors, but somehow their delight did not build him a reputation for genius. While he was alive and working, even his enemies thought he was a great man. During the next two centuries, almost nobody did. His luster was still on its way back when I was young in the late 1950s and saw his statuary photographed in black-and-white for the Phaidon album that bore his name. Years before I got to Italy and saw the actual objects, the pictures of them bowled me over.
It was the effect he wanted. Bowling people over was his aim in life, along with making money with which to raise the status of his large family to a princely level. The two goals were closely connected. Almost to the end of his life, a string of popes wanted his theatrical best from him, to swell the crowds of marveling visitors to Rome. Bernini could turn churches into histrionic events. Most of the drama in Saint Peter’s comes from various achievements by Bernini, headed by the Baldacchino, the enormous gilt-bronze edifice—the tent for the throne of Saint Peter—at the center of the church. Outside, those are his colonnades framing the piazza where people gather 100,000 at a time to hear the pope speak. Bernini had an organization of assistants to handle all the work, and they had to be paid. But still, by today’s standards, millions of dollars were left over for Bernini to put under his mattress.
Bernini’s new biographer, Franco Mormando, is good on the scholarship and the account books but less so on the dramatic detail… In a standard scholarly way, Mormando blames the rise of neoclassicism. But the same thing didn’t do much to diminish Michelangelo, whose fame has never faltered. A better explanation might be that Bernini was simply too good. His chisel could make marble flow like water, and much as we love the results, we tend to think that the sculptor’s talent had no merit, because it was too facile. When Donatello and Michelangelo sculpted David, they transmuted his rock-throwing dynamism to monumental potential. Bernini’s David actually swings the sling, his face all screwed up in concentration like yours or mine would be, with every little muscle picked out and straining. One tends to think there is a dimension missing, when in fact there is an extra dimension present: natural humanity.
What are the most important things that the Shard does for London?
Bringing attention back to Southwark. I thought this was a good idea from [former mayor] Ken Livingstone, that you balance the energy of the City by putting something strong on the south bank, in the more poor part of the city. If you are driving around, bicycling around, walking around, you have a new orientation point. I receive many messages from people about this: it is a kind of lighthouse in London. It is quite a surprising element, and providing surprise and wonder is not essential, but it is not a bad thing to do.
It will be the first publicly accessible tall building in London. You have others, but they are not as accessible as this. We have been talking about this from the beginning – making a vertical city, one that does not shut its doors in the evening, that is alive 18 hours a day.
It will change with the weather. I always thought this tower will be a sensor of the city, reflecting the mood. What the Shard does for London is a list of things. I was aware of risks with the project when I took it on, but the best things in life are always a little dangerous.
Everyone was enjoying sex all the time in the 18th century, to judge by its art. The century of the American and French revolutions was also a time of open-minded, unstuffy attitudes to love and desire. News that a 1766 edition of a popular sex manual called Aristotle’s Masterpiece is to be auctioned next week in Edinburgh is incitement enough for us to explore some Enlightenment erotica.
The most important thing about Aristotle’s Masterpiece, first published in the 1680s, was its advice that women needed to experience sexual pleasure as part of the reproductive process. This argument for equality in bed chimes with images of the boudoir as a female domain in Rococo art. William Hogarth’s satirical depiction of an aristocratic bedroom from his series of paintings Marriage à la Mode shows a countess at her toilette surrounded by flunkeys (including a eunuch singing opera) while her lover suggests they meet later at a masked ball. Her bed is a pink curtained place of pleasure.
What Hogarth laughs at, French Rococo artists indulge. Antoine Watteau’s intimate painting of a woman naked in her bedroom is based on a sketch of one of his friends. But the most daring nude in 18th-century art is surely François Boucher’s portrait of Marie-Louise O’Murphy lying on her stomach on a divan. Mademoiselle O’Murphy, daughter of an Irish emigre and mistress of Louis XV, shows the artist her buttocks in a self-consciously sexy pose.
I just want to take a moment to salute Britain’s greatest living artist.
A few weeks ago I was in an American art museum looking at the modern masters. Pablo Picasso and Richard Serra share space with Sol LeWitt and Jackson Pollock in the tremendous collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. But not far from Barnett Newman’s Stations of the Cross paintings, an unexpected thing from home caught my eye.
It was like seeing a ghost. In fact, I was seeing Ghost – a sculpture by Rachel Whiteread that I first encountered, what, 20 years ago, in the London whose Dickensian chill it reproduces. Ghost is a cast of an entire room in an old-fashioned, perhaps Victorian, house. It is the solid trace of all the air that a room once contained. Empty space has become solid. Because it is solid, it is closed. Nothing can get in or out. On this side of the white surfaces of the massive block, engraved with negative images of fireplace, door, window and light switch, we wonder at the dark invisible silence within. Vanished lives, lost voices, forgotten loves are trapped in that fossilised room like prehistoric creatures in limestone.
Ghost is the closest living relative of Whiteread’s destroyed artistic masterpiece House. She made Ghost in 1990; three years later she took the same casting process to its logical conclusion by preserving the inner world of a house scheduled for demolition.
In Southern California, one of the surest ways to get people to notice public art is to put it near a freeway.
This week, officials are scheduled to unveil a new bridge in Arcadia for the Metro Gold Line extension. The bridge, designed by Minnesota artist Andrew Leicester, straddles the I-210 freeway in Arcadia.
The structure will be a fully functioning light-rail bridge that doubles as a public sculpture. Leicester’s design was chosen from 17 others in a competitive process. Leicester worked with L.A. design consultant AECOM as well as and the bridge’s builder, Skanska USA, on the final design and construction.
Los Angeles Times
Hillsides have long proved a popular place for public art – from the 3,000-year-old Uffington White Horse to the randy Cerne Abbas Giant and the spear-carrying Long Man of Wilmington.
But now these ancient geoglyphs are to be joined by a new, luminous addition to the canon: Beacon on the Hill, which will turn Long Knoll in Wiltshire into a giant breast.
This pink and blue installation, which will perch on the grassy hill in Kilmington like a radiant nipple, is the work of lighting artist Bruce Munro for UK breast cancer charity Cancerkin.
Formed of 2,730 individually lit plastic bottles, illuminated by fibre optic lights in the charity’s colours of pink and blue, the 5m by 3m geodesic dome structure will take a week for a team of five to build, beginning this weekend.
Munro, who is best known for his Field of Light installation, first exhibited at the V&A in 2004, has been working in a 10-acre field nearby for the past few years, installing a field of waving “desert flowers” as well as an inland sea of almost a million discarded CDs.
He was inspired to produce this breast-shaped beacon by the memory of a close friend, lost to breast cancer at just 33.
“This hill and surrounding countryside has long been my ‘canvas’,” he says. “I lost a dear friend very young to breast cancer. By illuminating the night sky for a brief moment, I hope to send the message ‘you are not alone’.”
For the first half of his career, the artist Qiu Deshu largely rode the seismic shifts of Chinese history.
Mr. Qiu, who was born in Shanghai in 1948, studied traditional Chinese arts, including seal carving, scroll mounting and ink painting, along with Western oil painting. As a teenager in the 1960s, he worked as an artist for the Red Guard, creating propaganda for the Cultural Revolution. In the 1970s, while working in a plastics factory, he gained status as an important “worker-painter.” After the Cultural Revolution, he became the leader of the artists collective Cao Cao Hua She, the Grass Painting Society, to plant new seeds of expression on what he thought was finally terra firma.
But in 1980, when he faced government criticism for defining the group’s goals — independent spirit, independent technique, and independent style — Mr. Qiu grasped where he really stood in society.
“I looked down one day and I saw the cracks in the pavement and I felt an immediate connection to them,” Mr. Qiu said through an interpreter over the telephone from his home in Shanghai. “That’s how my life was — broken. And that’s how I discovered how I should make my work.”
He settled on a technique that he now calls “fissuring,” which involves drawing with ink on rice paper, then tearing it into pieces, and then adding more paper, drawing or painting with acrylics, and tearing that away. Ultimately, it looks like a bas-relief sculptural work with layers of paper and paint. He feels this aesthetic reflects not only his voice as an artist, but his life experiences as well.
Mr. Qiu represents a generation of Chinese contemporary artists who since the 1980s have reclaimed ancient ink-painting techniques to create what is now known as ink arts. He is the subject of a retrospective at the Michael Goedhuis Gallery beginning on Thursday and running through Nov. 15 to coincide with Asian Art in London, which runs through Nov. 10.
It is a category of painting that is receiving increasing attention from Asian and Western curators and collectors, said Clarissa von Spee, curator for the Chinese and Central Asian Collections at the British Museum.
New York Times
A photograph of the British countryside has been placed among the oil paintings in the National Gallery – causing people idling past to do double-takes. You can see them wondering: “Is that a painting? It’s so smooth, so shiny, so flat.” The picture shows bright fields and skies, seen through a dark thicket: the sensation of looking out from a hidden nook makes it an introspective, hesitant work. Perhaps that’s why it hangs so well alongside a great landscape painting by the quiet and contemplative master of the genre, John Constable.
Richard Billingham’s shot has invaded the holy sanctum of high art that is the National’s permanent collection as part of Seduced By Art, an exhibition of past and present photography. The gallery is a temple to oil on canvas. What happens when you allow photographs among the daubs?
Billingham strikes up a sombre, sensitive conversation with Constable’s The Cornfield: the result is a comparison of the English countryside in the early 1800s and early 2000s, proving, as the show claims, that photography can have a meaningful relationship with great painting. That’s just as well, because the two other pairings in the main galleries are disastrous. Seeing Richard Learoyd’s photograph Jasmijn in Mary Quant next to Ingres’s 19th-century beauty Madame Moitessier does nothing for either. As for a Craigie Horsfield photographic nude, shown between two sensual paintings by Degas, it’s an elephant among elegance.
Yet Degas, as it happens, was fascinated by photography. The great 19th-century painter of modern life took photographs and brooded on the relationship between the brush and the camera. Elsewhere in the National hangs his portrait of Princess Pauline de Metternich. Based on a photograph, the work gives the princess the slightly cadaverous look of some Victorian snaps, almost as if he’d copied a 19th-century deathbed photo. It’s a shame the show did not place some of Degas’s own photographs among his paintings, instead of Horsfield’s grimly ponderous black-and-white nude; this life-size work was surely inspired by After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, the Degas work it partners (and thus, in turn, inspired by Degas’s own source, a drawing by Michelangelo). But arty quotation does not make art more powerful.
Is photography art? Clearly, some photography is, along with millions of camera-made images – from passport pictures to surveillance stills to my own snapshots – that are not. The trouble with Seduced By Art is that it has selected photographs that clearly aspire to be Art with a capital A. But why not put a passport photograph next to Giovanni Bellini’s Renaissance portrait of Doge Lorenzo Loredan? It is, after all, an exact depiction of someone’s facial features. Or what about a holiday snap next to something by the great 17th-century landscapist Claude Lorrain? That might say more, suggest more, matter more.