Category Archives: #FineArtFriday

#FineArtFriday: Slindebirken Vinter by J. C. Dahl 1838

Slindebjørka or Slindebirken was a birch tree that stood at Inner Slinde in Sogn, Norway, until it was blown down in a storm in 1874. The tree was beloved, considered a Norwegian national treasure. People came from all over Western Norway to see the tree and picnic beneath its branches.

What I love about this painting is the personality embodied in the birch tree itself as Dahl depicts it. The tree stands proudly, offering a place for birds to rest. It seems to represent the Norwegian spirit of independence, taking what nature throws at it with humor and stoicism.

Dahl’s portrayal is powerful, showing the bent and bowed branches held high despite the barrenness of winter. The image shows a tree that intends to be there when spring comes, as do the people of the village it overlooks.

About the Artist (from Wikipedia)

Johan Christian Claussen Dahl (24 February 1788 – 14 October 1857), often known as J. C. Dahl or I. C. Dahl, was a Norwegian artist who is considered the first great romantic painter in Norway, the founder of the “golden age” of Norwegian painting, and one of the greatest European artists of all time.[1] He is often described as “the father of Norwegian landscape painting”[2] and is regarded as the first Norwegian Painter ever to reach a level of artistic accomplishment comparable to that attained by the greatest European artists of his day. He was also the first to acquire genuine fame and cultural renown abroad.[3] As one critic has put it, “J.C. Dahl occupies a central position in Norwegian artistic life of the first half of the 19th century.[4]

As a boy, Dahl was educated by a sympathetic mentor at the Bergen Cathedral who at first thought that this bright student would make a good priest, but then, recognizing his remarkably precocious artistic ability, arranged for him to be trained as an artist. From 1803 to 1809 Dahl studied with the painter Johan Georg Müller [no], whose workshop was the most important one in Bergen at the time. Still, Dahl looked back on his teacher as having kept him in ignorance in order to exploit him, putting him to work painting theatrical sets, portraits, and views of Bergen and its surroundings. Another mentor, Lyder Sagen, showed the aspiring artist books about art and awakened his interest in historical and patriotic subjects. It was also Sagen who took up a collection that made it possible for Dahl to go to Copenhagen in 1811 to complete his education at the academy there.

As important as Dahl’s studies at the academy in Copenhagen were his experiences in the surrounding countryside and in the city’s art collections. In 1812 he wrote to Sagen that the landscape artists he most wished to emulate were Ruisdahl and Everdingen, and for that reason he was studying “nature above all,” Dahl’s artistic program was, then, already in place: he would become a part of the great landscape tradition, but he would also be as faithful as possible to nature itself.


Credits and Attributions:

Slindebirken, Vinter by Johan Christian Dahl 1838 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Johan Christian Dahl,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Johan_Christian_Dahl&oldid=866337453 (accessed December 14, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Romantic Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by a Castle, by Albert Bredow

I love the dreamscape quality of this painting – it’s practically a Christmas card. Peasants, ordinary people living in the shadow of the ruined castle, freely enjoying the day. To look at this picture is to see a fairy tale that wants to be told. Who are these people and why do they live there? What is their connection to the ruined castle? And what is their connection to each other?

The trees, the ice, the snow–the detail is all there, even the warmth of the peasant’s hut. It’s a comforting picture, a moment of contentment.

About the Artist:

Little is known of Albert Bredow’s life. Born Apr 23, 1828 in Germany, and died May 5, 1899 in Moscow, he was well known as a landscape painter, lithographer and stage designer.

From this painting, which is dated near the end of his life, we know he was a romantic, fond of fantasy and fairy tales.

His birthplace in Germany and where he first studied art and set design are unknown. Records do show that he lived and worked in Riga as a stage designer from around 1852 and then in Tallinn. In 1856 he went to Moscow at the invitation of the Directorate of the Imperial Theater. He worked from 1856 to 1862 as a set designer for the Moscow Theater and from 1862 to 1871 the Petersburg Theater.

He is known for his ethereal landscape paintings, which may have been a hobby he pursued more intently later in life since he was actively employed in the theater during his working years. His style of landscape painting must have produced some amazing backdrops for the sets he designed.

In 1863, illustrations of his stage sets for Glinka’s opera “A Life for the Tsar” were considered worthy enough to be published as an album. In 1868 he began his studies at the Petersburg Imperial Art Academy. At the Academy’s art exhibitions, he exhibited his landscapes from Germany and Russia.

The designs of Albert Bredow’s stage sets are in the collection of the Moscow Bachruschin Theater Museum.


Credits and Attributions

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Albert Bredow – Romantic Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by a Castle.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Albert_Bredow_-_Romantic_Winter_Landscape_with_Ice_Skaters_by_a_Castle.jpg&oldid=282656583 (accessed December 7, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Hunter in Winter Wood, George Henry Durrie

Hunter in Winter Wood, by George Henry Durrie 1860 is one of my favorite images of 19th century Americana. The snow on the bare trees and rocky outcroppings gives the impression of weight, yet it is only a light dusting. The way the light shines golden on the snow—this is how a snowy winter looked in the woods surrounding the rural lake where I grew up. The grandeur of the view shows the 19th century vision of a wide, boundless country. Anything is possible in a country where the land and resources are as limitless as shown in this painting.

Hunter in Winter Wood was painted near the end of Durrie’s life. His most famous works were made into prints by Currier and Ives after his death at the age of 43.

About the Artist, quoted from the National Gallery of Art:

Born in New Haven in 1820, the son of a Connecticut stationer, George Henry Durrie remained in that city virtually his entire life. Married to a choirmaster’s daughter, Sarah Perkins, in 1841, he immersed himself in the quiet pursuits of family and church. While he never achieved the fame of the most renowned nineteenth century American landscape painters, he appears to have had a fulfilling, productive career. His letters show that he never felt the need to move beyond his community, although he once briefly took a studio in New York and exhibited there regularly at the National Academy of Design.

Almost all of his compositions are relatively small in scale, few exceeding 18 x 24 inches, and his views are quiet and intimate. He knew and admired the works of Thomas Cole, and may have tried to emulate certain aspects of Cole’s style, yet he eschewed the Hudson River School’s compositional complexity and expansiveness. Because his paintings combined extensive genre elements with landscape they had a story-telling content that made them pleasant, accessible images to the average viewer.

The lithographic firm of Currier & Ives successfully reproduced ten of Durrie’s scenes and these, in turn, became popular calendar illustrations in the twentieth century. As a result, Durrie’s depictions of rural life in the mid-nineteenth century are now among the most familiar images in all of American art. As Martha Hutson has noted, however, these printed pictures do not convey the keen sensitivity to and understanding of conditions of atmosphere and light that are so pronounced in Durrie’s paintings.

From Wikipedia:

In his teens the self-taught artist painted portraits in the New Haven area. In 1839 he received artistic instruction from Nathaniel Jocelyn, a local engraver and portrait painter. After 1842 he settled in New Haven, but made painting trips to New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. Around 1850, he began painting genre scenes of rural life, as well as the winter landscapes that became popular when Currier and Ives published them as lithographs. Four prints were published between 1860 and the artist’s death in New Haven in 1863; six additional prints were issued posthumously. The painter Jeanette Shepperd Harrison Loop studied with him.


Credits and Attributions:

Hunter in Winter Wood, by George Henry Durrie 1860 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “George Henry Durrie,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=George_Henry_Durrie&oldid=861433469 (accessed November 23, 2018).

National Gallery of Art contributors, “George Henry Durrie,” biography, © 2018 National Gallery of Art, https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.6397.html

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#FineArtFriday: Peasant Wedding, David Teniers II

I love today’s painting. The Peasant Wedding by the Flemish painter, print maker, David Teniers the Younger, is full of movement and life, and shows real people having a great party. The musicians are playing, some people are singing, some are talking, and some are dancing. Most are eating and just enjoying themselves. A few of the men are becoming a little familiar with the ladies, who are not really having any, and a few people have indulged a little too much.

Even the dog is having a good time.

Teniers was a prolific and skilled artist, a man remembered today as much for his lofty social ambitions as he is for the quantity and excellence of his work. He wanted to be a nobleman; indeed he once falsely laid claim to being descended from a noble line. Several times he nearly succeeded in this ambition, but nobility was one accolade he never achieved.

About David Teniers II, from Wikipedia:

Teniers married into the famous Brueghel artist family when Anna Brueghel, daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder, became his wife on 22 July 1637. Rubens, who had been the guardian of Anna Brueghel after her father’s death, was a witness at the wedding.

Through his marriage Teniers was able to cement a close relationship with Rubens who had been a good friend and frequent collaborator with his wife’s father. This is borne out by the fact that at the baptism of the first of the couple’s seven children David Teniers III, Rubens’ second wife, Hélène Fourment was the godmother.

Teniers’ wife died on 11 May 1656. On 21 October of the same year the artist remarried. His second wife was Isabella de Fren, the 32-year-old daughter of Andries de Fren, secretary of the Council of Brabant. It has been suggested that Teniers’ main motive for marrying the ‘spinster’ was her rather elevated position in society. His second wife also brought him a large dowry. The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. His second wife’s attitude to Teniers’ children from his first marriage would later divide the family in legal battles.

At the behest of his Antwerp colleagues of the Guild of Saint Luke, Teniers became the driving force behind the foundation of the Academy in Antwerp, only the second of such type of institution in Europe after the one in Paris. The artist used his connections and sent his son David to Madrid to assist in the negotiation to successfully obtain the required licence from the Spanish King. There were great celebrations in Antwerp when, on 26 January 1663, Teniers came from Brussels with the royal charter creating the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the existence of which was due entirely to his persistence.

Teniers petitioned the king of Spain to be admitted to the aristocracy but gave up when the condition imposed was that he should give up painting for money.

He was an innovator in a wide range of genres such as history,  genrelandscapeportrait and still life. He is now best remembered as the leading Flemish genre painter of his day


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:David Teniers de Jonge – Peasant Wedding (1650).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:David_Teniers_de_Jonge_-_Peasant_Wedding_(1650).jpg&oldid=225700063 (accessed November 2, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “David Teniers the Younger,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=David_Teniers_the_Younger&oldid=858638339 (accessed November 2, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Village scene with village well, by Josse de Momper, Jan Brueghel II

What I love about today’s image, Village scene with village well, by Joos de Momper (Josse) and credited also to Jan Brueghel II as a collaboration, is the sneaky sense of humor shown by the artists. When one looks closely, the cows are sturdy and lean with sweet eyes, and the birds flying above are fat, incredibly happy birds, as are the geese and ducks in the small pond.

The people, on the other hand, are clearly peasants, homely and sun-brown from a life spent working hard. They’re not nearly as lovely as their cattle. One can tell men from women only by their clothes.

The women do their laundry with determined efficiency, irritated at being interrupted in their work. What has the man asked for? We will never know, but the woman is going to let him have it, along with a piece of her mind.

I have spent much of the last two years immersing myself in 16th and 17th century Flemish and Netherlandish art and the culture of the times. They had an immense capacity for irreverent humor, inspired by the rough and tumble tavern culture the artists often gravitated to. They were known for sneaking their opinions and jokes into their work. I have a great fondness for the Brueghel family in particular and have studied their work at length—but I admit I am an amateur art-looker, not a trained expert.

Still, in my opinion, if Jan Brueghel II was involved in this painting, it was minimal. He was extraordinarily detail oriented and there are few fine details in this painting – but they are there, and I will show you where to look. The faces of the people are lumpy and nearly featureless, as if their faces didn’t matter. Overall, the impression of detail is there from a distance, but when looked at closely, the detail disappears.

The shapes of the cow’s eyes and the swirls that form the geese were done with a light, almost flippant brush – also not JB II’s later style. When I look at the pretty cattle, the lushness of the fat birds, and the hard, weather-browned homeliness of the peasants, I can only think that subtle comedic juxtaposition was intentional.

As I said above, upon closer inspection, this painting is whimsical and not one I would have ascribed to Jan Brueghel II, even though he is listed as one of the artists. This painting is most definitely not his usual heavy, highly detailed baroque style. I can find little in it that I would associate with his deliberate, precise brushwork and rich, saturated colors.

Instead, overall we have a happy, friendly view of a village, impressionistic in a way that Monet might recognize.

I believe the art historians have a reason for their assumption. If JB II did collaborate here, it was very early in his career, before he developed his own style and is based on this evidence: The barrels and the wheelbarrow are different, clear and not impressionistic. Beside them, the well is a blob, an unfinished shape indicating a well. The pans, barrels, and wheelbarrow are defined and perfect in their detail, alien objects dropped into this dreamscape. They were done by a different hand than the rest of the painting.

The trees and the landscape look much like those that appear in his father’s work, and we know de Momper collaborated frequently with Jan Brueghel the Elder in his workshop.

It maybe that the boy, Jan Brueghel the Younger, collaborated with de Momper on this piece in his father’s workshop, painting the small things  in the lower right-hand corner as part of his training. But I suspect this is largely the work of one artist, an elderly artist, no longer in his prime and nearing the end of his working life, Joos (Josse) de Momper.

About the Artist: (Via Wikipedia) Joos (Josse) de Momper, (1564–1635) was one of the foremost Flemish landscape painters between Pieter Brueghel the Elder  and Peter Paul Rubens. Brueghel’s influence is clearly evident in many of de Momper’s paintings

He primarily painted landscapes, the genre for which he was highly regarded during his lifetime. Only a small number of the 500 paintings attributed to de Momper are signed and just one is dated. The large output points to substantial workshop participation. He often collaborated with figure painters such as Frans Francken IIPeter SnayersJan Brueghel the Elder and Jan Brueghel the Younger, usually on large, mountainous landscapes, whereby the other painters painted the staffage (humans and animals) and de Momper the landscape.

He painted both fantasy landscapes, viewed from a high vantage point and employing a conventional Mannerist color transition of brown in the foreground to green and finally blue in the background, and more realistic landscapes with a lower viewpoint and more natural colors. His wide panoramas also feature groups of small figures.


Credits and Attributions:

Village scene with village well, by Josse de Momper, Jan Brueghel II, PD|100, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:D%C3%B6rfliche_Szene_am_Ziehbrunnen_(Josse_de_Momper,_Jan_Brueghel_II).jpg  (accessed October 26, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Joos de Momper,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Joos_de_Momper&oldid=861006304 (accessed October 26, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Autumn On Greenwood Lake – two landscapes by Jasper Francis Cropsey

Jasper Francis Cropsey created many paintings of Greenwood Lake, a freshwater lake on the border between New York State and New Jersey, beginning in 1843. Over the next few decades, Cropsey painted numerous scenes of the area, many from the same viewpoint on the lake as today’s featured paintings, each with varying intensities of color.

What I love about these two paintings, done years apart, is  difference in the quality of  the light. One is done in an early autumn, the other later in the season. The subject matter is similar, cows drinking at waters edge, fishers and their rowboat, but the trees are different, more mature in the second, and it is later in the evening.

Clearly, this was a place that was beloved by the artist, as he returned year after year, and made many landscapes of this beach and the surrounding area.

About the artist (Via Wikipedia):

Jasper Francis Cropsey (February 18, 1823 – June 22, 1900) was an important American landscape artist of the Hudson River School. He was best known for his lavish use of color and, as a first-generation member from the Hudson River School, painted autumn landscapes that startled viewers with their boldness and brilliance. As an artist, he believed landscapes were the highest art form and that nature was a direct manifestation of God. He also felt a patriotic affiliation with nature and saw his paintings as depicting the rugged and unspoiled qualities of America.

Jasper Cropsey died in anonymity but was rediscovered by galleries and collectors in the 1960s.


Credits and Attributions:

Autumn on Greenwood Lake, ca. 1861, by Jasper Francis Cropsey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Autumn in America, by Jasper Francis Cropsey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Jasper Francis Cropsey,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jasper_Francis_Cropsey&oldid=842742891 (accessed October 19, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Falling Leaves, by Olga Wisinger-Florian

Falling Leaves, by Olga Wisinger-Florian, circa 1899, depicts a woman and her dog enjoying a quiet walk in the serenity of an autumn day. Using light and shadow, the artist employs an impressionistic style to convey the forest. Nothing is drawn with precision, yet everything is shown in its entirety. The feeling of this pieces is a little dreamlike–she carries an umbrella, so she’s prepared for rain. She is dressed all in black except for her yellow hat. Leaves in all the many shades of green, gold, and red cling to their trees; the damp, aging rails of the wooden fence offers a flimsy barrier to the carriages and motor vehicles that may travel the roadside. Leaves cover the dirt road, and more are falling down, and the dog trots happily along beside her mistress—the story is there for us to see.

About the Artist:

According to Wikipedia, Olga Wisinger-Florian’s early paintings can be assigned to what is known as Austrian Mood Impressionism. In her landscape paintings she adopted Schindler’s sublime approach to nature. The motifs she employed, such as views of tree-lined avenues, gardens and fields, were strongly reminiscent of her teacher’s work. After breaking with Schindler in 1884, however, the artist went her own way. Her conception of landscapes became more realistic. Her late work is notable for a lurid palette, with discernible overtones of Expressionism. With landscape and flower pictures that were already Expressionist in palette by the 1890s, she was years ahead of her time.


Credits and Attributions:

Falling Leaves, by Olga Wisinger-Florian, ca 1899 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Olga Wisinger-Florian,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Olga_Wisinger-Florian&oldid=852607929 (accessed October 11, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Olga Wisinger-Florian – Falling Leaves.JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Olga_Wisinger-Florian_-_Falling_Leaves.JPG&oldid=273565541 (accessed October 11, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: “Tomorrow is Another Day”:  Mark Bradford, American Artist at the 2017 Biennale

Today’s guest post concludes my two part series on two exhibits of the 2017 Biennale in Venice: the Glasstress exhibit, and the Mark Bradford Exhibit. Today’s post is by Dr. Colleen Getz, and digs deep into the mysteries of American artist Mark Bradford’s creative genius. Enjoy!


“Tomorrow is Another Day”:  Mark Bradford, American Artist at the 2017 Biennale

By Colleen Getz

The works of Mark Bradford, Los Angeles-based African-American artist command the American Pavilion at the 2017 Biennale in Venice.  All but one of the works were created for the Biennale.  When Bradford spoke at the opening of the exhibit, his remarks focused on his role as an artist and citizen.  Thus, it is not only appropriate, but rather essential that any review of his Biennale installation focus first on Bradford’s view of himself and his role in the world.

Bradford spoke compellingly about his interest in politics, social policies and community.  “Being an artist doesn’t mean I lost my passport to my citizenship.  We need to expand the definition of artist,” he stated.  For Bradford art and social engagement are parts of a whole, and both begin with community.

In Los Angeles he founded Art + Practice an organization that supports children in foster care (children who are in government care) and provides the local community opportunities to experience contemporary art.  Similarly, in Venice he founded Process Collecttivo, which works in partnership with a local organization that works with prisoners to support their transition back into society by developing skills that will allow them to be self-sufficient.  Both are long-term projects, in keeping with Bradford’s commitment to economic sustainability, to give people a solid foundation in life.  He declared he is “obsessed by sustainability.”  He gets involved, he explained, by talking to people outside of the art world, by listening to what they need and determining what he can do to help them sustain themselves.

So it is no surprise that the physical material and content of his work come from his engagement with the world.  He says he pulls information—the people, the stories—as well as the physical material he uses from the world into his studio.  There he adds his perspective to it all—the urgency he finds, the hope he feels.  The resulting work is a project created not just of material taken from the outside world, nor something created in a hermetically-sealed art studio.  Rather it is something in between, artistic creations he calls a little bit elegant and a little rough.  He declares he’s a “big process person, a big ‘I don’t know’ person.”  He feels most comfortable when people tell him they’re trying to figure something out, working through something.  Similarly, he doesn’t mind letting people into his thinking process.  He doesn’t need to be “Instagram perfect.”  He believes perfection can alienate.

And, alienation is clearly an anathema to Bradford.  His life and art together—are determinedly an ongoing masterwork against alienation and marginalization.  He said firmly while he may have problems with aspects of the world, he has never had a problem being in the world.  His response to contemporary events is to engage and encourage others to engage as well.  Similarly, he asserted that he has no problem being black, but does have a problem with being reduced to what some people mean by that.  He proclaimed what’s exciting about the situation in the United States now is “we’re having conversations about what it is to be North American that are not just about race.  We’re beginning to have conversations about nationhood that are about more than black and white.”   He is encouraged that a lot more young people are getting involved in the political machinery of the country.  He declares it “super healthy” that his nieces and nephews want to discuss how the U.S. Congress operates.  He says recent events in American politics are like “when the ground moves and certain gases escape.”  As a result, people are becoming interested in the North American political structure.  “I see possibility in that, I’m always looking for possibility, no matter what happens.  Whatever I get thrown I can work with it.  For me it’s always about navigation, not crying about roadblocks, it’s always about trying to find a way to navigate.  Navigate and negotiate.”

When asked how to bring marginalized voices into the national discussion Bradford said you can’t disappear because you’re nervous and scared, and referencing his Biennale exhibition avows, “though my exhibition begins with a collapse and a push to the center, we have to push back into it even if it’s a bit problematic; we can’t allow ourselves to accept marginalization, that’s something we can never allow.  Progressives belong at the table.  My whole life people told me, Mark you know you don’t belong at that table and I said, yeah, I do.   We have to demand that we push into the center as close as we can get and I’m going to do this as an artist.  The center needs to see me more than I need to see them.  People In the center don’t know what an artist looks like any more.  They have some romantic notion of what we do, but they don’t see what we do.”

So what has Mark Bradford done in his Biennale exhibit?  He has created a journey through works that that both encapsulate the artist’s personal vision and provides the opportunity for viewers to find their own vision within.

The first notable aspect of the exhibition is its title, which is the closing line of Gone with the Wind, both book and movie.  It is Scarlett O’Hara’s declaration of hope and faith in her power to move forward and shape her future in the face of great loss.  Given the racism in Margaret Mitchell’s work, it is not an obvious choice for an exhibition by an African-American artist.  When asked, Bradford said that he had chosen it two years before, with an entirely different theme for the Biennale in mind.  But, although his ideas for the exhibition changed, he found the words still relevant, given what is currently occurring in the United States.   So these few words both encapsulate both Bradford’s attitude towards American life and guide visual and philosophical journey on which Bradford takes the viewer.

The visual experience begins with the interplay between his works and the architecture of the American pavilion itself.  It is an example, in miniature, of a classic American government building, found not just throughout Washington D.C., but in cities and towns across America.  The structure, with its columned façade and central rotunda is the physical embodiment of “the center” of power and authority in American society to which Bradford referred in his remarks.  You enter it, and the exhibition, from the left wing and immediately are confronted by that power and authority in the shape of a massive bulb of paper that hangs from the ceiling, filling the room and forcing you to edge your way around it.   As Bradford described it, this tumorous mass represents a kind of collapse of the structure of “the center”.   With its scabby surface of rough spots of black, orange, red and white (layers of paper that have been blasted with a pressure hose) it intimidates and marginalizes the viewer.  There is no way to view it comfortably.  And to get past it, we have to use Bradford’s approach to life, we have to navigate and negotiate our way around it to the next room.

There we find in the center of the room a tall sculpture of twisted ropes of black paper partially bleached yellow.  The viewer does not need to be told that the artist named it “Medusa.”  It’s powerful, seething mass, is both complemented and counterbalanced by the works that surround it on the walls.  In these pieces Bradford has returned to a form he explored earlier in his artistic career.  Endpapers—used in styling women’s hair, and here dyed shimmering shades of purplish-black, create compositions of subtle color gradations that invite the eye to explore their nuances.  The use of endpapers is inspired by Bradford’s early life.  His mother is a hairdresser and owned a beauty salon in which he worked for years.  When asked why he had returned to this medium, he replied simply that he “hadn’t finished with it, there were still some paintings I wanted to do”.  He added that he had stopped doing them because he felt they had led people to reduce his life down to a rap video—a “black hairdresser from south central Los Angeles.”   But, “black people’s stories are as diverse and messy as everybody else’s. I just want diversity.”

And diversity is what he has created in this room.  In substance it is an homage to the black women, including his mother, of whose inspiring, supporting role in his life he speaks frequently.  In style it exemplifies “elegant and rough” in Bradford’s work and demonstrates how they can work together to convey a coherent and compelling vision.

What then to make of the next installation in the pavilion?  One steps from the expanse of this room into the confines of the small space under the rotunda at the center of the pavilion and is immediately overwhelmed by an encrustation of the same black and bleached paper as the Medusa sculpture, which coats the dome and pours down the sides of the room.  He explained how it came about—originally he had planned an entirely different work for this space but decided shortly before the start of the Biennale that it “wasn’t working” for him.  He terms the work in the rotunda “a lot of process”, and thus a prime example of how Bradford does not mind letting people into his creative process.

It is physically intimidating and visually striking, but what does it mean?  The artist himself called the rotunda “monstrous but beautiful.”  In his remarks Bradford said he is more comfortable when people tell him that they are trying to figure something out, or are working through something.  The rotunda certainly provides them with such an opportunity.  The work lends itself to several interpretations, all in keeping with Bradford’s keen sense of himself as an American citizen.  First, there is the obvious inference to American history and slavery, since the rotunda as an architectural form in America is often associated with Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson developed a love of Palladian architecture while serving as a diplomat in France, and designed a rotunda for both his home, Monticello, and the main building of the University of Virginia, whose original campus he designed.  It is easy to interpret the dark mass covering the rotunda as a metaphor for the monstrous enslavement of Africans whose labor sustained Jefferson’s elegant intellectual life.  The contrast between the smooth neo-classical form and Bradford’s seething work addresses an ongoing question in American history:  how to understand the contradiction within the man who could write the Declaration of Independence yet enslave others his entire life?   One can take even a broader view of the contrast of form and surface in the rotunda.  Since the rotunda is at the center of a building that is the physical embodiment of the centers of social and political power in the United States, the viewer can also see Bradford the citizen at work here.  He has demonstrated how the realities of American life have encrusted the elegant, beautiful and inspiring ideals on which the country was founded.  But, because the encrustation appears dynamic, he also has demonstrated that there exists opportunity for movement and change.

That change is manifest in the following room.  Here form and color of the compositions become lighter, and dynamic in a way that lifts the spirit and brightly engages the eye.  Bradford has dyed, bleached and molded the paper with his hands to create complex compositions of diverse surfaces, shapes and colors.  Red is startlingly present in some, suggesting violence and drama.  Examine the compositions up close and the multiplicity of round shapes suggests the molecules that make up life; step back and the compositions taken as whole suggest an ever-expanding, ever-progressing universe.  Above all, they engage in a way that is entirely in keeping with Bradford’s approach to current American life—the ability to see possibility and opportunity, to navigate and negotiate our way forward.

We then arrive at the final work in Bradford’s exhibition.  The only one which was not created for the Biennale.  It is a 2005 film of a young, strong African-American man striding down a city street, seen only from the back, walking away from the camera.  It is not a staged walk, it is real—the man used to walk by Bradford’s studio every day—intriguing the artist so much that he asked to film him.  And one can see why.  He symbolizes the apotheosis of the ideal of citizenship Bradford spoke about.  He does not need to navigate or negotiate his way.   He has made his place at the table, he is seen; he belongs. He walks forward with assurance.  The viewer sees him, confident in his place in the world, striding into his future.  And thus, the ultimate message of Bradford as American artist and contemporary American citizen is conveyed—that always, “Tomorrow is Another Day.”

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About the author, Dr. Colleen Getz

Dr. Colleen Getz studied art history at Smith College.  She has published op-eds in the New York Times and Wall St. Journal as the official speechwriter for a senior government official and in the Washington Times under her own name.  She has previously served as an editorial consultant to the art journal gallery.spb; this is her first article for it, which will be published in its online version later this year.


Credits and Attributions:

“Tomorrow is Another Day”: Mark Bradford, American Artist at the 2017 Biennale, by Colleen Getz, ©2018 Colleen Getz, All Rights Reserved. Printed by Permission.

All images used in this article are ©2018 by Colleen Getz, and are intended solely to illustrate this post. Used by permission.

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#FineArtFriday: The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting, by Rhonda Truesdale

The following post was written by my sister-in-law, Rhonda Truesdale. She is a world traveler, art lover, and an all-round amazing woman. This past summer we toured many art and glass museums in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and she confessed she had written an article on the Biennale of Art in Venice which she attended in 2017. I convinced her to send me her article for my Fine Art Friday series, and she was kind enough to do so. She also sent many pictures, which I have included here. Seeing the Glasstress Exhibition through her eyes has been a wonderful experience. Enjoy!


The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting

By Rhonda Truesdale

May 2017

I was fortunate enough to preview the Biennale of Art in Venice this year. I specifically covered the Glasstress exhibit. Communing with the city, my colleagues, other reporters and artists gave me a taste for the rest of the exhibits, and I hope to see more when the Biennale of Art returns in two years.

The Venetian setting for the Biennale of Art lends an extra dimension to the art. While each piece of art is an intended focus, the surroundings can’t be ignored. The juxtaposition was at times jarring: the old with the new; the flashy with the staid; the timeless with the fleeting; or the unquestionably lovely with the bizarrely intriguing. It also creates facets in the jewels. The combination of colors and styles enhances the art in sometimes unexpected ways. Would the jewels be as stunning in a different setting? For me, they are forever tied, inextricably linked.

The main event that I covered was the Glasstress exhibit displayed in the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti. The Palazzo is the 19th century home of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. This Venetian Gothic work of architectural art has soaring painted ceilings, beautifully sculpted plaster, stunning chandeliers, elaborate columns and breathtaking panels of wood and marble. In contrast, another display in Glasstress is in a glass foundry on Murano, which is dark, smoky and utilitarian.

The Biennale introduced Glasstress in 2009, in which Adriano Berengo melded contemporary art with glass. Over the years, it has expanded its cadre of artists from painters and sculptors to include architects, designers, fashion designers and musicians, including Pharrell Williams. Most of the contributors aren’t glass artists, as Glasstress focuses on the concepts and artistic collaboration more than on the medium. Glasstress is a collateral event at the Biennale of Art, traveling around the world when not in Venice. Host cities include Stockholm, Beirut, London, New York, and, most recently, Boca Raton, Florida.

These unusual collaborations have resulted in a singularly unique set of artistic creations. Reflecting the medium, they are shiny, bright and either transparent or reflective. Depicted thematic creations evoke emotions across the spectrum from exquisite to repulsive, including a fair amount of bemusement. As introduced by Philippe de Montebello, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at the opening of their show, “For hundreds of years, glass has been viewed as by some as simply a decorative or functional medium. Glasstress New York on view at the Museum of Arts and Design, shatters those notions. Here you will see dynamic new glass works from both established and emerging artists, architects and designers from around the world.”

The next few pages highlight examples of the art in the Palazzo.

The influence of fashion design is unmistakable in the glass dresses.

The glass picture boxes are fascinating in their detail and engineering, as they are each composed of many layers of glass, each of which is a standalone picture that contributes to the whole landscape.

The beauty of the room and the chandelier complement the artist’s work.

 

From eels, to a woman in a mirror only visible from the side, a fallen bird and a jumble of intertwined images in a hanging sculpture, each piece is unique. Separated body parts add a gruesome touch, and what appears to be solid glass turns out to be individual filaments on closer inspection.

Collaborators in the Palazzo Glasstress exhibit include Tony Cragg, Erwin Wurm, Thomas Shuette, Monica Bonvicini, Jan Fabre, Shirazeh Houshiary, Vik Muniz, Ai Weiwei, Paul McCarthy, Abdulnasser Gharem, Laure Provost, Ugo Rondinone, Sarah Sze, and many other new and established artists.

After touring the Palazzo, visitors were invited to the Berengo Exhibition Space on Murano for a separate, related Glasstress exhibit. Above is a view of the Palazzo and a boat preparing to transport visitors to the exhibit. Here again, the overall experience of boating to Murano and entering a glass factory enhances the enjoyment of the displayed art.

The Murano glass factory exhibit, titled “The Unplayed Notes Factory”, is a solo exhibition by Loris Greaud and curated by Nicolas Bourriaud as a special project of Glasstress 2017. The factory has been closed for 60 years, and is brought back to life in this exhibit. According to the Glasstress brochure, “the former glass furnace will be secretly revived and will play host to a whole new trade: an unofficial production line which is thought to conceal the mysterious vitrification of ‘hourglass’ sand, with an almost alchemical ambition to crystallize time…”

The interior of the factory is dark and smoky, punctuated by bright lights from high windows and the fire in the furnaces. The play of the lights, glass bubbles, smoke and furnace is mesmerizing. Each bubble encloses a light, and the bubbles intermittently light up in sections or across the entire sculpture. In a happy circumstance, a dinner hosted in the factory the previous night left large silver tables set up the length of the room. The line of tables mirrored the glass bubbles, fires and sunlight from the windows for even more dramatic photographs.

Here are images from the Murano glass factory exhibit.

The glass “notes” are created, and …

… hung from the ceiling.

The notes twinkle in front of the smoky furnaces, and …

… are mirrored in the tables.

Pictures:

So, in the final estimation, is it the jewel or the setting that makes the piece? For the Biennale of Art in Venice, it has to be both. While the glass artistry is spectacular, Venice’s history, architecture and unique feel makes this exhibit a special experience.


Thank you, Rhonda, for your wonderful photos and vivid impressions of this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to see such an exhibition of glass art.

Next Friday, Rhonda’s colleague and fellow traveler, Colleen Getz, has agreed to give us her impressions of “Tomorrow is another Day,” an exhibit by Mark Bradford, an American artist, that was featured at the 2017 Biennale in Venice.


Rhonda Truesdale, in her own words:

I began supporting online writing as a director for the non-profit organization ChixLIT, which published an ezine for and by girls. The organization and ezines were founded in 2010 by my good friend, Maria Laso Elders, who also wrote a children’s novel, “Otherwise Known as Possum”, which was published February 28, 2017. I created the ChixLit and ChixLittle magazine websites at http://www.chixlit.org and http://www.chixlittle.org and helped with content and site maintenance until 2013, when the site was redesigned. Following Maria’s death in 2015, the ezines were moved to http://www.chixlit.tumbler.com.

So what makes me an art blogger? I love art, travel, and writing; however, my writing is more typically in the realm of technical and sales articles for information technology. I joined the art blog world when I was invited to attend the press preview event in Venice for the 2017 Biennale of Art in May 2017 and wrote a guest article for gallery.spb. The gallery.spb is a contemporary arts journal based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which has been published for over 10 years and is transitioning online. This invitation gave me the opportunity to combine my 3 passions, and the resulting article describing the Glasstress exhibit at Biennale in Venice is scheduled to appear in the online version of gallery.spb.


Credits and Attributions:

The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting, by Rhonda Truesdale © 2018 Rhonda Truesdale, All Rights Reserved. Printed by Permission

All images used in this article are ©2018 by Rhonda Truesdale, and are intended solely to illustrate this post. Used by permission.

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#FineArtFriday: The Fall of Phaeton, Peter Paul Rubens

The story: The Fall of Phaeton is a history painting, recounting the myth of Phaeton. A teenage boy seeks assurance from his mother that his father is the sun god, Helios. She tells him the truth, and advises him to turn to his father for confirmation.

Helios promises to grant him whatever he wants, and despite his father’s reservations, the boy insists on being allowed to drive the sun chariot for a day.

Unfortunately, he is unable to control the horses. The earth freezes when the horses climb too high, and then is scorched when they come too near.

To prevent further havoc, Zeus strikes the chariot down with a thunderbolt. Phaeton falls to earth and is killed.

The painting itself is bold and heroic–the entire story is laid out for the viewer to see. Painted in 1604, the Fall of Phaeton demonstrates the style and power that would characterize Rubens’ later work. Nothing is subtle about this composition–this is in-your-face fantasy with a heavy dose of “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

I have also thought of it as a warning to parents of teenage drivers, lol!

Quote from Wikipedia: The Fall of Phaeton is a painting by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, featuring the ancient Greek myth of Phaeton (Phaethon), a recurring theme in visual arts. Rubens chose to depict the myth at the height of its action, with the thunderbolts hurled by Zeus to the right. The thunderbolts provide the light contrast to facilitate the display of horror on the faces of Phaeton, the horses and other figures while preserving the darkness of the event. The butterfly winged female figures represent the hours and seasons, who react in terror as the night and day cycle becomes disrupted. The great astrological circle that arches the heavens is also disrupted. The assemblage of bodies form a diagonal oval in the center, separating dark and light sides of the canvas. The bodies are arranged so as to assist the viewer’s travel continually around that oval.

About the Artist:

Quote from Wikipedia: Sir Peter Paul Rubens  28 June 1577 – 30 May 1640) was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens’ highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain  and Charles I of England. Rubens was a prolific artist. The catalogue of his works by Michael Jaffé lists 1,403 pieces, excluding numerous copies made in his workshop.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File: Peter Paul Rubens – The Fall of Phaeton (National Gallery of Art).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_(National_Gallery_of_Art).jpg&oldid=197894421 (accessed September 7, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Peter Paul Rubens,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Peter_Paul_Rubens&oldid=858142256 (accessed September 7, 2018).

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