Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘still life

Four Facts: Significant Objects

leave a comment »

Norton Simon Museum

As I was finishing up in this exhibition, I overheard a tour being given to what I presumed was a UCLA summer painting course.  “We have the Getty in our own backyard, but the Getty’s collection kinda sucks.  The Norton Simon’s is the really great collection of LA,” the teacher harped. I am paraphrasing.  While I detest uninformed and unnecessary opinions (especially from arts educators) about which museum has the “best” collection, I can’t deny the Norton Simon has a pretty amazing one, and I don’t even like ImpressionismSignificant Objects: The Spell of the Still Life presents a thematic cross section of the museum’s diverse collections and is an examination of “the ways in which these ostensibly mundane and insignificant subjects [harsh!] portrayed in painting and sculpture and works on paper are indeed significant.” Significant Objects does not present groundbreaking, paradigm shift-type discoveries or research, but is a huge success as a rich, educational opportunity for general audiences utilizing the permanent collection.  Permanent collection show hurray! Here are the facts:

Scholar's books and objects (chaekkeori), Korean, Joseon dynasty, 19th c - LACMA

A Korean wunderkammer lent by LACMA.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Plants, Flowers and Fruits: Ellsworth Kelly Lithographs

leave a comment »

Norton Simon Museum

As the title suggests, the Norton Simon currently has a display of Ellsworth Kelly lithographs.  The Plants, Flowers and Fruits have been installed into the Norton Simon’s small, first floor, temporary exhibition space.  The room, while only slightly smaller than my studio apartment, is packed full of 20 Kelly lithographs (all from the museum’s permanent collection).

Chaffing frames

On all of the walls the works are hung so close together that the frames literally chaff each other.  The result of this tightness feels like entering into a large coloring book: the stark black lines of the lithographs beg to be attacked by comically large crayons.

Gimme a crayon; I promise to color in the lines.

This coloring book can also seem like stepping into a monumental artist’s book.  The mass of white pages that make up this “book” are balanced out by the wall color: a strong royal blue.  Above each print, in white text, is a label simply stating the flora featured in each work (which is also the title): “Cyclamen I,” “Camellia I” and “Camellia III.”  With the addition of these words the oversized coloring book has been turned into abstracted horticultural study.

An almost-inconspicuous door, can you see it?

It seemed that there was an effort to create a special room for this exhibition, an effort that attempted to remove the room from the viewer’s experience.  The works are so large and packed in so tight, that the room seems to disappear, and one gets lost in blue.  This effort was not done without some fudging.  On the back wall of the room was a door that, along with its molding, had been painted the same royal blue.  This was the only inconsistency in the otherwise uninterrupted experience of the room.

Blue on blue—barely visible leaf

Another design element of the exhibition was the non-distracting, lightly-painted reproduction of leafs from one of the lithograph.  The subtle, barely visible leafs hid behind the white title of the exhibition.

Comparing lemons to lemons

The subject matter of the prints (fruits, plants and flowers) reminded me of the magnificent still lifes elsewhere in the Norton Simon and begged comparison.  A visitor only needs to walk a few steps to see Zurbaran’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose from 1633.  Or a few steps in the other direction and see Peter Benoit’s Flowers in a Glass Beaker from 1620.

Trompe-l'œil, or just barely recognizable?

The proximity of these baroque paintings to the Kelly lithographs creates a dialogue about the evolution of the still life in art.  At one end is the almost maniacal urge to render in life-like detail every vein in a petal, and every drop of condensation on a glass vase.  And on the other end are the Kelly lithographs, the subtraction of the baroque elements and the abstraction of the same forms.

– H.I.

Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life

leave a comment »

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

LACMA’s current exhibition: Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life (on view until January 3) has traveled from the National Gallery of Art in D.C. and is currently on view in LACMA’s European painting and sculpture galleries (which are currently closed for reinstallation).  The exhibition was originally organized by the National Gallery to celebrate its new acquisition of Meléndez’s work.  Works from the 18th century Spanish master are on loan from many collections, including the Prado, the Louvre, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Kimbell Art Museum, and a few private collections.  The show at LACMA features 26 still lifes, one self portrait and an odd collection of kitchen artifacts.

Melendez Still Life with Melon and Pears

What nice melons you have.

Because I knew the shorter route to the two galleries the show occupies I initially missed the introductory wall text, so I went back to the front entrance to go through the show the direction in which the curators wanted me to.  The introductory wall text was set on a slab of a wall (on the back of which was hung Meléndez’s self portrait).  A nice gold title seemed fitting for an old master exhibition.  The wall text mostly sang the praises of Meléndez as a mostly-ignored master overshadowed by the formidable Goya.  This show it seems is a way of rediscovering a forgotten master.

walls

LACMA don’t you dare do this to the European galleries

The first thing I noticed about the galleries was the hideous treatment of the walls.  Christopher Knight of the LA Times gave his opinion, as have other bloggers.  And I am not alone in thinking that the walls are only ugly but also out of place in these galleries.  The odd plaster treatment (which LACMA’s Unframed blog claims makes “new walls look old”) are distracting and look like a project on a reality television home improvement show.

Frames

My rendering of the frames, thanks Microsoft Paint

Once I was able to get away from the odd walls, I was able to focus on the numerous still lifes.  What I noticed immediately was that most of the paintings had the exact same frames, gold with a pilaster-look and circles in the four corners.  This frame was used on works from the various collections the exhibition was culled from.  This made me think that most of these works came originally from the same place.

Something that made me aware that these paintings were not all from the same place was the wire partition set in front of only some of the paintings.  The paintings that were “special” enough to warrant the ugly wire partition (same wire from Your Bright Future) were the works from the Prado Museum.  The segments of wire were obnoxious—I felt that if any of the paintings were valuable enough to justify the wire partition they all should have had a partition, just run a wire all around the galleries.  I wasn’t the only one curious about the wire, another visitor asked a gallery guard about it.

Self Portrait_Prado

The Master Himself

The only painting that wasn’t a still life was Meléndez’s self portrait.  The portrait was an amazing addition to the now seemingly generic still lifes.  The self portrait was painted by Meléndez while he was still in school.  It is hung in a way that makes it a real centerpiece of the show, behind the wall with the exhibition title and intro text.  The portrait shows all the skill and technique required of a master painter, and the portrait shows Meléndez’s ambition and genius, which the exhibition claims were never fully realized.

Melendez Layout

I will keep making these diagrams until someone tells me they’re stupid.

The first room of the exhibition features mostly smaller works, and then the second contained both smaller and more extravagant tableaus of apples, grapes, watermelons, cantaloupes, etc.  I did have an issue with the order that one wall was hung.  Two works from the Prado museum, which a wall text clearly said “are probably pendants” were hung at opposite ends of the wall, with two large artichoke works dividing them.  Formally the two works: Still Life with Pomegranates, Apples, Azaroles, and Grapes in a Landscape and Still Life with Watermelons and Apples in a Landscape look like pendants, and I was confused why the curators did not hang the works directly next to each other, there seemed to be no reason why the weren’t.

Still Lifes

So, why aren’t these hung next to each other?

At the end of the second room are two display cases set into the walls of the galleries.  Inside the two cases were objects like wine coolers, chocolate pots, and other vessels which can be seen in the still lifes of Meléndez.

display case

Get it? That’s that thing in that painting.

Through some research I discovered that the addition of these objects was not LACMA’s idea, the curators at the National Gallery are responsible for the inclusion of the objects (however I still don’t forgive LACMA for the walls).  I understand that the objects are there to illustrate the skill required of Meléndez to depict such objects in such a high degree of realism.

more stuff

More stuff from the display cases

This display made me think; well if they’ve included the kitchen objects why not also include fruit from the still lifes in these cases.  This is ridiculous I know, but I think included these objects is just as ridiculous.  A visitor can see that the still lifes in this exhibition are extremely realistic, almost photographic.

Artichokes

Artichokes show the skill of a Master

The skill of Meléndez and this show as a tribute to a forgotten master seems unrealized in the size of this exhibition.  While the collection of paintings from many collections is an impressive feat on its own, I thought that some editing was in order.  Not all of the works in the show were Meléndez’s finest; the show could have been edited down to maybe half the size, with only the best of the works.  Featuring only the best of Meléndez’s work would have done Meléndez more justice, especially when trying to convince an audience that Meléndez is an underappreciated and mostly ignored artist.

Christ in Limbo

Christ in Limbo? What are you doing here?

As a final note, when exiting the Meléndez show one is confronted with LACMA’s Christ in Limbo.  The work, while Spanish, has nothing in common with the Meléndez show.  Christ in Limbo and two other painting remain in the chamber right after the Meléndez exhibition, they are remnants of the reinstallation of LACMA’s European galleries, but no other works are still on view, the curators should really remove the three works as they are out of place and starkly alone.

And please, please LACMA curators do not use the weird plaster technique on the walls in the European galleries once they are reinstalled as you have hinted at, save your money.

– H.I.