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Meadows vs. The Kimbell
Two Impressionist Shows
We attended two press openings for exhibitions of Impressionist art last week. Fortuny to Picasso — Prelude to Spanish Modernism at Southern Methodist University's Meadows Museum, and Gauguin and Impressionism at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.
new Meadows Museum Director Mark Roglán among the Spanish Impressionists Behind are Joaquín Sorolla's To The Water, 1908 and Under the Awning, Zarrauz, 1910.
I am comparing them here, because both press openings featured introductory gallery tours by museum directors — the Meadows' new Director Mark Roglán and former Dallas Museum of Art director Richard Brettell at the Kimbell.
Both shows cover roughly the same period and are accompanied by fat catalogs, and the styles of the museums and the people who led us through them are distinct.
The Meadows show, with 80 paintings by 24 artists, is the first major exhibition to "comprehensively trace the development of Spanish painting in the international arena from the 1860s to the onset of World War I." It also includes five pre-Cubist Picassos.
co-curators Richard Brettell and Copenhagen's
Ordrupga Director Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark at the Kimbell
The Gauguin show — with 67 pieces including 15 sculptures and eight works shown there exclusively — follows the famous artist's career from business man, financier, art collector and Sunday painter, to an Impressionist in the thick of Impressionists. The show ends before he ships off to Tahiti, but with one large, brilliant example of his most famous work.
Both shows take narrow tacks through the most popular ism of the last century. Fortuny to Picasso follows Spanish artists from pre- to post-Impressionism, and the Kimbell show focuses on Gauguin's much less known but important Impressionist period.
Touring the galleries with the two curators (Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark spoke only briefly.) was fascinating. New to the Meadows after Ted Pillsbury's brief but unsettling stay, Roglán will probably fit in well at SMU's very conservative institution.
Roglán's lecture was a rapid-fire recitation of facts and stories. He used words I wondered if anyone else among the press corps understood. His tales were fascinating but not always discernible through his thick accent and determined academic style. He seemed unused to speaking in public and a little nervous.
Richard Brettell's lively tour was informal and informative. His style was warm and merry. He had us by turns laughing and understanding depths of despair as he led us through the visual and emotional history of Paul Gauguin, a great artist whom I hardly knew before this exhibition.
red in the Meadows' main gallery
The Kimbell is two stops brighter than the Meadows. The light in the Fort Worth museum is soft and universal. By comparison, the Meadows seems gloomish. The food at the press openings were similar, sandwiches and brightly colored fruit.
At the Meadows, we obeyed little signs keeping us in one, large, deeply red gallery, standing to balance our brunch. The Kimbell's more elegant nosh was daylight lit, on roped off table-clothed tables with a pleasant view of the treed grounds beyond.
view out the Kimbell windows
Though thickly informative, the 362-page Fortuny to Picasso catalog has many dark, extremely low contrast images, which are only vaguely representative of the work in this expansive exhibition.
I don't know how many pages are in the Gauguin catalog. I paged through one in what Brettell called the rest stop, a transitional area on the far side of the show, but they didn't give me either the fat one or the little, $10 version Brettell is waving in the photo above.
I did notice that many of those images were bright and constrasty. I missed the late stack of Fortuny catalogs at their press opening, so The Meadows dispatched one to my doorstep two days later!
Mariano Fortuny y Marsal - African Chief, 1870 -
oil on canvas Fortuny to Picasso is at SMU's
Meadows Museum through February 26, 2005
The art in both shows is not just historically important. Many of the pieces are just short of amazing in a variety of contexts — historic, aesthetic, social, etc. I found unexpected treasures in both shows.
The first piece I fell for at the Meadows, Mariano Fortuny's 1870 oil on canvas African Chief is a riot of exotic color and startling impressionistic abstraction, showing things that are simultaneously there and not there, real and mostly imaginary.
Joaquín Sorolla - The Blind Man of Toledo, 1906
The Picassos are fine, and historically important, since he went on to become the painter of the 20th Century and still a big deal for Spain, even though he did not return there. Most of his glory was in Paris. But it's Bastida's enigmatic disturbance of landscape and architecture that holds my attention.
Irony in that a blind man walks through this visual splendor and all, but what pulls my eye into it is the central arched bridge under which looks almost like an ocean point and above is Spanish hills, farms and sky.
Roglán didn't mention it, so I'm sure this enigma exists only in my head, but it's a wondrous little diversion. And I love the brush-stroke dance that makes the rough hewn bridge and its near wall simultaneously grotesque and monumental.
Paul Gauguin - Snow at Vaugirard II, 1879
oil on canvas, 23 7/8 x 31 3/4 inches
Talk about brush strokes dancing! This piece was, according to the museum's identification, "painted for inclusion in the 1880 Impressionist exhibition. There it was his debut as a painter of truly Impressionist winter scenes, proving that he, like his better-known colleagues, could deal with all aspects of nature."
I didn't know that when I chose to stand in front of it for long minutes and came back twice more. I photograph those i.ds so I can label the piece later but almost never read them in situ. I'm too busy enjoying the art, and this was a banquet.
This subtle, nearly monochromatic flurry, a tall building — church? — blue in the distance and snow in motion and rest was exciting to study. One of those paintings I could probably dance to — a slow, shimmying writhe. I've long enjoyed his Tahitian work, of course, but never rested my eyes on the early work, and the thrill of discovery was bouncing around inside as I calmly watched this quiet, snowy scene.
Paul Gauguin - The Little Dreamer, 1881
oil on canvas - 23 3/8 x 29 3/8 inches
This lilting little painting grabbed my attention immediately. Father Gauguin shows not just the dreamer but something of the dream floating above. As I comprehended that, my mind tripped off to my late painter friend Georgia Stafford's portraits of me and the late Dallas poet Roxy Gordon, both with dream objects floating like cartoonish thought balloons behind us, although in Gauguin, the dream is subtler and more colorful.
The more I explored this unsettling link, the more innocent becomes Gauguin's little dreamer and the more insidious mine. Georgia must have been aware of the Gauguin, and her twisted take, though it has always intrigued me, seems now to fit finely into the history of art.
The clownish red soldier in the dark lower corner is reminiscent of childhood but also sparks a note of darker dreams, while counterbalancing the little boy's blue.
Franscisco Peralta del Campo - Performing Dogs at the Circus, 1890
oil on canvas - 19 15/16 x 41 9/16 inches -
image cortesy The Meadows Museum
I'm not a fan of clowns of any era, except those who don't wear paint. And most dogs, especially the cute ones, bore me silly. But this wide scene of center ring performance is marvelous in its detail.
I especially like the dark representation of the lower class SRO folks in dark suits, beards, hats and bright collars, standing behind the rings of gaudy colored ladies and few gents in the front rows. That quiet class struggle is the real show in this inventive painting.
Ignacio Zuloaga - Segovia, 1910
oil on canvas 51 x 77 inches
This is another piece I kept coming back to. A strange, noir vision of a city, we are looking up into, at its ancient walls and up into florrid storming sky. Everything is enveloped in dark, pensive reflection. A big, moody landscape on the edge of World War I.
The one last concept I have to impart is that the painter Paul Gauguin was also an amazing sculptor, though he made few forays into that elusive dimension. That's co-curator Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark's specialty, and Gauguin's 3-D pieces here include unbelievably — I don't believe he did those two sophisticated, glowing and polished marbles untutored. They are light years better than student work. To counterbalance this apparent sculptural brilliance, the show includes several of Gauguin's clumsily primitive adventures into that third D.
Then there's his wood box, which Richard Brettell called the most [I forget the adjective he used — amazing, mysterious, something like that...] piece in the show. It is listed only as Wooden Box, 1884.
Paul Gauguin - Wooden Box, 1884
Pear wood with iron hinges, leather, red stain,
inlaid with two netsuke masks
8 5/8 x 5 7/8 x 20 1/4 inches,
a mysterious object from his brief but remarkable foray
into 3-D art. Gauguin and Impressionism is at the Kimbell
December 18 through March 26 , 2005
Into it Gauguin carved Degas-like dancers, stained parts of it red and laid a primitive figure inside. Very very strange, almost like primitive magic.
There's lots more, of course, in both shows. I wish I'd shot more Gauguins and that I had time and energy to write about other Spanish artists. But this is more than enough of an introduction.
The Gauguin show was easily worth the trip west — and there's a couple of other shows over there to round out the experience, and the Meadows is just around the corner. Check with our Calendar for more information.
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