Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Posts Tagged ‘Getty Research Institute

Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks

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Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Rashid Johnson, “Self Portrait in Homage to Barkley Hendricks,” 2005.

Why is Self Portrait in Homage to Barkley Hendricks not included in the MCA’s current Rashid Johnson retrospective, Message to Our Folks?  The photographic work is included in the exhibition catalogue, and MCA curator Julie Rodriguez Widholm writes that it is perhaps Johnson’s “most understood work.”  The work is an illustrative example of both Johnson’s “dialogue with black American creative and intellectual figures whose impact has transcended race” and his “dialogue with modern and contemporary art history, specifically abstraction and appropriation.”  Both these quotes are from the curatorial statement on the MCA’s website.  True, other self portraits (some of which engage in appropriation and cultural and intellectual figures) are in the exhibition, but they don’t compare in my opinion to the stark and confrontational Self Portrait in Homage to Barkley Hendricks.

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The Spectacular Art of Jean-Leon Gérôme

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Getty Center

This spectacle is the first retrospective of Gérôme’s work in forty years, which means this is the first time a generation has been exposed to Gérôme like this.   The Getty’s reasons for the show are questionable since the Getty only has two works by Gérôme in its collection.  Whatever the reasons, this show is an amazing spectacle of oriental color and classical characters.  Gladiators, Vestal Virgins, residents of Pompeii, and even Caesar are all here.  This show might even have been appropriately displayed over at the Getty Villa in Malibu instead of the Center.

Look! Some naked women! It’s okay though cause they’re Greek, so we’re not objectifying them.

Other than a major retrospective of French academic painter, the show is an exploration of the gross commoditization of Orientalism in art, showcasing the hypocrisy of European society’s fascination with Eastern culture with its harems and bath houses.  Dialogues on race and culture whether intentional or not, are a major part of this show, from naked little boys to polychrome statues of naked (or is it nude) women.

I mean, come on…

The exhibition rooms are painted in an appropriate “oriental” palette, ruby maroons, and deep aquamarines are as decadent as some of the scenes in Gérôme’s paintings.  The only problem I had with the color scheme was in just one particular instance where The Snake Charmer (1870) was displayed on a aquamarine blue, the clash of the mosaic wall in the painting against the wall it hung on was visual agony.

Not painted from memory, painted from travel photos.

The exhibition runs the length of two large halls, at the end of the first hall in a small separated space of photographs from the Getty Research Institute’s library.  The selection of photographs are ones taken of the during Gérôme’s travels to the Middle East and the Orient.  Some of them directly relate to paintings in the exhibition, a photo of a tiled wall is the background in The Snake Charmer, another one shows the obvious inspiration for The Carpet Merchants (1887).  The Getty Research Institute has been doing a great job at displaying its special collection of photographs, both at the Getty and elsewhere.  There are some photos from the Getty’ collection in the current Eakins’s exhibition going on at LACMA (keep your eyes out for a post on that soon).

Just imagine this crazy thing in his livingroom!

Down the second hall, full of more classical and Eastern scenes, one comes to the last room of the exhibition, which Christopher Knight of the LA times has rightly pointed out as particularly interesting.  The room showcases Gérôme’s later transition to sculpture.  Gérôme’s fascination with the artistic power of sculpture can be seen in his painting of Pygmalion and Galatea (1890).  The myth serves as a theme for the room, which contains some of Gérôme’s sculptures. One of the sculptures is the awkwardly sticking polychrome Corinth (1903-04), from the collection of a certain J. Nicholson.

Distracting pun

The last work in the show is hung by itself: Gérôme’s non-high-art piece, the advertisement Opticien (1902).  The visual pun for “little dog,” in French “petit chien,” being devised here for commercial purposes.  This work, while highly enjoyable and a much needed relief from the much heavier preceding paintings, is problematic for me.  I don’t know how to resolve the fact that I think a retrospective should be a sincere display of the whole range of a single artist, but at the same time this work is soooo out there.  I might have approved of this work had it been snuck into the exhibition somewhere in the middle.  But as it stands at the very end of the exhibition, it draws too much attention to itself, and seems like an insincere inclusion when compared to the tone of the rest of the exhibition.

Museé de Orsay, you are EVERWHERE!

Other noteworthy remarks:  Where did all of these works come from? A major contributor of works was the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Metropolitan loaned several works, some from personal collections (i.e. J. Nicholson), and of course work from the Museé de Orsay!  As mentioned in the posts about the de Young’s exhibition of works from the Museé de Orsay, congrats once again Museé for effectively getting your pieces out there on display during your construction!

- H.I.

The Tulip Folly (1882), how gay!

And a completely gratuitous additional painting, only because I have an obsession with tulips.

Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire

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Getty Villa

It’s the first exhibition of neither Greek nor Roman art at the Getty Villa.  So why is there an exhibition of Aztec art on display next to rooms full or red-figure amphorae and marble portrait busts?—The Getty curators rationalize that when the Old World met the New World, European explorers rationalized the new civilizations they came in contact with by referencing what they already knew something about: the Greek and Roman civilizations.  Or as stated by the Getty:  “The premise of The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire is a unique one: that just as classical antiquity colored Spanish perceptions of Mesoamerica, the experience of Aztec civilization piqued curiosity about Renaissance Europe’s own ancient heritage”.  I’m not going to discuss whether I was convinced of this after seeing the show, but will discuss the display of this idea.

Traveled 1,589 miles, from Mexico City

There are mere weeks remaining to go see Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire at the Getty Villa, and if you are not planning on going to Mexico City anytime soon, I would suggest you go.  The artworks on display are on loan from the collections of the National Museum of Anthropology and the Templo Mayor Museum.  Monumental, multi-ton, stone sculptures and delicate votive figurines have traveled from Mexico to Los Angeles as a way to celebrate the bicentennial of the Mexican Revolution.

1-uped: Traveled 6,121 miles, from Florence

Another star attraction is the Florentine Codex, which has traveled even farther, from the Medici Library in Florence, Italy.  This is the first time the codex has been in the Americas since it was brought to Europe centuries ago.  These loans are displayed alongside objects from the Getty’s collection (mostly small figurines) as well as documents from the special collection of the Getty Research Institute.

The temporary exhibition space at the Getty Villa is an awkward space.  The row of adjacent, small-sized galleries combined with the large scale works on loan from Mexico could have been disastrous, but the exhibition designers and curators did a successful job stuffing the herd of Mexican elephants into these small rooms. (Click here to see what it took to display these elephants.)

Some elephants: Xochipilli & Cihuacoatl.

The exhibition space is also odd because of the hallway that links the rooms; it is architecturally unavoidable because it circumvents the inner peristyle garden of the Villa.  The wall title of the exhibition and several large-scale works were placed in this window-lined hallway and lure visitors into the rest of the exhibition.

The rooms were organized thematically: Tenochtitlan, First Encounters, The Florentine Codex, Parallel Pantheons, and Art and Empire.  This was predictable technique, but the content of the rooms was not.  Seeing Aztec objects displayed next to European objects, like a painted screen depicting the Spanish conquest, was a totally new and unprecedented exploration of history and art.

What a lovely piece of domestic furniture depicting the Spanish conquest!

Located in the center of the room, the looming terracotta Tzitzimitl (Demon) sculpture dominated the first space.  The surrounding walls had a variety of objects, maps, scrolls, and other documents.  This was simultaneously a display of masterpieces of Aztec art and also a subtle (and possibly unappreciated) display of the impressive collections of the Getty Research Institute.

No that’s not a flower coming out of his chest, it’s his liver.

At the end of the exhibition was my favorite room.  On one wall was a painted reproduction of sketch of the Templo Mayor.  It was a light element of the exhibition design that was sophisticated and smart.  In this room was another looming figure: the unavoidably menacing sculpture of a warrior in an eagle costume.  This theme of the Imperial Eagle (Imperial for both the Roman and Aztec civilizations) was continued by two other objects in the room.  A massive stone eagle from the Templo Mayor was placed literally face to face with a Bronze statue of an imperial Roman eagle.   This confrontation of cultures was direct and beautiful.

Eagle v. Eagle

As stated before, you should go see this exhibition because the works on loan are rarely seen outside of Mexico.  But you should also go see the exhibition because never again will you see these objects like this; in dialogue with objects from the Getty.  And finally you should go see this exhibition because contained in it is a brief peek into the extensive collection of the Getty Research Institute, which is a hushed but vital portion of this show.

Traveled 13.4 Miles, from the Getty Research Institute.

- H.I.

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