An eclectic season unfolds
DELMAR, N.Y. — Fall was once the big season for museum shows, but the explosion of cultural tourism over the past decade has rendered the art calendar more or less year-round.
We've just come to the end of a number of major shows, including Brancusi in New York, Seurat in Chicago, and Pop Art in San Francisco. This autumn presents an opportunity to consider artists and exhibitions outside the glare of celebrity, where discoveries can be made.
The museum event of the season isn't an exhibition at all, but the reopening of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Nov. 20. Closed for expansion and renovation since 2002, the home of such masterpieces as Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" has doubled in size, at a cost of $858 million (including funding for endowment).
Highlights of the redesign by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi include a lobby that bridges 53rd and 54th Streets in midtown Manhattan, a 110-foot atrium, and large glass curtain walls.
Exhibition space has expanded from 85,000 to 125,000 square feet, with additional galleries for contemporary art and new media. Ticket prices to MoMA will soar nearly as high as the new atrium; after opening day, during which everybody who cares to crowd into the museum will be admitted free; general admission will cost $20 thereafter.
Museums have scaled back on large blockbusters following the 9/11 attacks, as shipping, insurance, and security costs have all skyrocketed. The next really big show on the horizon is the centenary retrospective of Surrealist Salvador Dali, which opened earlier this month in Italy and makes its only American appearance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in February 2005.
All autumn and into next spring, New York is celebrating a "homecoming" for Harlem-Renaissance painter and longtime Manhattan resident Romare Bearden. Born in 1911, Bearden was a pioneer among African-American artists, combining Cubism, collage, and photomechanical techniques with depictions of black life stretching from the Depression through the civil rights struggle to his death in 1988. A recipient of many honorary degrees and cultural prizes, Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
Bearden began his career as a social-realist painter in the 1930s, when he also worked as an editorial cartoonist for a black-owned newspaper. By the 1940s, when he had his first solo exhibits in Harlem and Washington, D.C., he had embraced the Modernism of Cézanne, Braques, and Picasso. He continued to experiment with such styles until the 1960s, when he began making collages that used magazine images, photographs, and hand-painted passages that spoke of the dignity and pain of the African-American experience.
"The Art of Romare Bearden," a long-overdue retrospective featuring 130 works in numerous media, opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington two years ago, and after stops in San Francisco and Dallas is traveling to the Whitney Museum of American Art Oct. 14 through Jan. 9, 2005. In conjunction with the exhibit, the New-York-based Romare Bearden Foundation has organized a six-month, citywide tribute to the artist that includes educational symposiums, jazz concerts, and dance performances as well as a series of related exhibitions.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present an installation of Bearden's work from Oct. 19, including his six-panel collage of Harlem street life, "The Block." The New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture adds its voice in November with paintings, sketches, and items from Bearden's personal library.
In December, the Brooklyn Museum gets in on the act with a show of seven pieces by the artist, as well as books and catalogs documenting his illustrious career.
American sculptor Alexander Calder and Spanish painter Joan Miró first visited each other's Paris studios in the 1920s, and embarked upon an artistic friendship that lasted 40 years. The artists collaborated on two important public projects during their lifetimes, and, even when separated by an ocean after World War II, shared a vision of fantasy and invention. The Phillips Collection in Washington celebrates the linked aesthetic of modernism's most whimsical pair in "Calder Miró," Oct. 9 through Jan. 22, 2005.
Calder's airy, carefully balanced mobiles speak the same language as the colorful squiggles and weird shapes of the Surrealist Miró's paintings. The Spaniard once said that he could not distinguish between painting and poetry, and his lyricism is expressed in calligraphic forms that appear to float on the canvas. Calder's affinity for Miró comes through in the biomorphic forms that mark his early steel constructions, and the interplay of weight and weightlessness inherent in his abstract mobiles.
The Phillips exhibition, organized with the Swiss Fondation Beyeler, includes more than 100 works, reaching back to Miró's paintings of harlequins from the 1920s and Calder's bent-wire sculptures of circus performers from the same era. The show continues with the painter's collage-based abstractions juxtaposed against the sculptor's cut sheet-metal constructions, and extends to include works through the 1950s. A highlight is the inclusion of a 30-foot Miró mural and 12-foot Calder mobile, both done for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati and exhibited outside their home city for the first time.
Equestrian artist George Stubbs combined the precise observation of the scientist with the passionate eye of the poet to transcend the classification of "sporting painter" that followed him during his lifetime. The 18th-century British genius is known for his detailed series of anatomical studies of the horse as well as imaginative "portraits" of thoroughbreds and other equine aristocrats. In his paintings, these animals possess an expressiveness and nobility previously reserved for human subjects.
"Stubbs and the Horse," at the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, from Nov. 14 through Feb. 6, 2005, is the first-ever show to focus on the central theme of the artist's work. Some 40 paintings and 30 drawings and prints will be used to demonstrate Stubbs's imaginative interpretation of a subject that, in lesser hands, could quickly lose the average viewer's interest.
Working for dukes, lords, viscounts, and eventually the Prince of Wales, Stubbs managed both to flatter his powerful patrons and to transform standard horsy scenes into tableaus of grace and drama. In one painting, he conflates two scenes, showing on the same long horizontal composition a racehorse winning a sweepstakes and being attended to afterward by his grooms. In another work, he pits a powerful, wind-blown stallion against a lion - far from any racecourse or estate.
The dominant movement in 1960s and '70s art, Minimalism rejected the personal drama of Abstract Expressionism and the ironic commentary of Pop Art for a purer expression of form and idea. As time has passed, this spare, aloof, uncompromising art has sometimes seemed trapped in its era, offering little aesthetic foundation to build on.
Recently, however, a new generation of artists and curators has begun to take a second look at Minimal art. At least three exhibitions will open in the space of a month that explore the many facets of the form through the work of three artists. A retrospective of "Spiral Jetty" creator Robert Smithson is on display now through Dec. 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. On Oct. 6, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, presents an installation of works by British artist Cerith Wyn Evans, whose creations include a gallery of chandeliers blinking Morse code.
Bridging the two artists is Dan Flavin, the subject of an exhibition of 44 works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. One of the original Minimalists, Flavin built his sculptures from stacks and banks of colored fluorescent tubes. Seemingly vacant and obvious to the newcomer, the pieces take on an otherworldly intensity that can transform perceptions of space and place in the open-minded viewer. The show runs from Oct. 3 until Jan. 9, and moves from there to Fort Worth and Chicago.
Compared with other art forms, photography can seem a medium circumscribed by its technical boundaries. Its endless variety of expression comes from the sensibilities of its practitioners and from the continuous ebb and flow of life itself, as evidenced in three autumn exhibitions.
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From the 1930s until it ceased weekly publication in 1972, LIFE magazine defined mainstream photography with its depictions of politics, war, and celebrity in a style that often bordered on the theatrical. "Looking at 'LIFE,' " at the International Center for Photography in New York now through Nov. 28, presents more than 200 images from the magazine that employed many of the celebrated photojournalists of its day, from Robert Capa to Gordon Parks.
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"All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton," at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, presents nearly 100 of the landscapes, still lifes, and portraits by this most mysterious of 19th-century photographers. Fenton studied law and painting before turning to photography, and he stayed with the camera only about a decade. In that time, he produced some of the most powerful and evocative studies of light and atmosphere ever created. The show runs from Oct. 17 to Jan. 2, 2005.
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Shomei Tomatsu was a leader of Japan's new wave of photographers after World War II, examining the fractured spirit of his country in the wake of two atomic-bomb attacks. "Shomei Tomatsu: Skin of the Nation," at New York's Japan Society through Jan. 2, 2005, is a major assessment of the 74-year-old master's work, with 260 works spanning 50 years. Tomatsu's images, whether of survivors of the Nagasaki A-bomb, insolent prostitutes, or Tokyo youths, speak in the detached, ironic voice of modernist photography, achieving a level of poetic mystery and metaphor both unflinching and unsettling.