Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘Van Gogh

Summer Shows

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Hammer Museum

Oh Hammer Museum, I don’t expect your gallery guards to be able to discuss your art like a curator would, but I do expect them to be able to tell me why I can’t take a picture in certain galleries.  When asked why I could not take a photo of Out of the Box, I was told, “oh well, this is a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But isn’t this part of your permanent collection?  “Uh no, um it isn’t.”  Actually it IS gallery guard, the works in Out of the Box were recently acquired jointly with LACMA.  When asked why I couldn’t take pictures in Selections From the Hammer Contemporary Collection: “Oh well it’s a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But the reason why I can’t take photos in here is because some of the works are promised gifts not yet officially part of the collection.  Maybe the Hammer should spend some time educating their gallery guards.

It’s summer! Let’s play in the fountains.

Now let’s discuss the summer shows at the Hammer.  There is an installation by Greg Lynn, Out of the Box (editions of artists’ prints), a selection from the Armand Hammer Collection, and a selection from the Hammer Contemporary Collection.  So that’s three shows/installations of permanent collection works, but I was only allowed to take photos in the Armand Hammer Collection installation. (I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures of the Greg Lynn, it’s out in a public courtyard after all.)

Let’s begin with Greg Lynn’s lovely fountain. LACMA on Fire blog had a fun post about the kitchy work, oh and the blogger doesn’t have a secret identity anymore.  (That blog somehow seemed more fun when it was a secret and when it wasn’t hosted on artinfo.)  The spurting fountain is made from casts of children’s toys and is an apt summer installation.  The work is looking a little dirty though and could use some cleaning, or the Hammer could just dump some bleach into it.

The man himself.

Next up is the installation of works from the Armand Hammer Collection.  Yeah, he’s that guy that founded this museum.  (That’s right LA, Broad isn’t the first collector to found his museum based on his private collection, oh wait, there’s also the Norton Simon, the Huntington, oh and the Getty, well hmmm.) His portrait bust is right there in the room, just like the creepy J. Paul Getty bust in the Brentwood center.  I could swear I’ve seen this room installed this exact way before; do the curators reinstall it the same way every time? So much for enlivening the permanent collection…

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

The gallery is sliced into three sections. The first section has a row of Van Goghs and some other big name impressionists, and some Rembrandts.  Interesting to note that there is no mention of Rembrandt in Southern California, an initiative of several Southern California museums to promote Rembrandts in their collections.  Way to be a team player Hammer Museum.  And of course the striking Singer Sargent portrait of Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881) is hung prominently in the first room, as the first work you see.   Dr. Pozzi was a pretty sexy guy, and a gynecologist!  I learned this fun little fact from the wall label, so yes there is some informative text in this installation.

Why the theatrics?

The next room features a display of works from the museum’s Daumier collection:  some great sketches and a slew of bronze caricature busts of famous Parisians.  This room is a little dark, and I’m unsure why they displayed the busts in this overly theatrical fashion.

Dark or dirty? Titian.

The last room has some smaller impressionist works flung together and hung closely on one wall.  The other works are given a lot of space.  All the big name works from the Armand Hammer Collection (the ones Ann Philbin decided to keep, not the lesser works the Hammer Foundation took back) are here.  A Titian portrait of a man dressed as a soldier looks in need of cleaning, or maybe it’s just significantly darker than a similar work that hangs in the Getty.

Get up close and personal with this Moreau.

Two Gustave Moreau’s hang in the last room next to each other:  Salome Dancing Before Herod (1876) and King David (1878).  These works are absolutely amazing, and you can get up very close to them (the gallery guard didn’t yell at me when I did) to see all the tiny application of bright white paint that Moreau used to achieve his sparkling lighting effect.

Now for the contemporary stuff.  This installation is composed of acquired works (bought with that Da Vinci sketchbook deacquisition money perhaps) and promised gifts.  The intro wall text thanks the Hammer’s “Board of Overseers for annual contributions to the Hammer Contemporary Collection acquisition fund and to several dedicated donors.”  This is the third installation of works from the Contemporary Collection; was the second one Second Nature? No it wasn’t.  The two earlier shows were this and this.

Elliot Hundley, Pentheus (2010), very contemporary.

A lot of the works in the show come from artists who have been shown at the Hammer, whether in monographic shows, in the Hammer Projects series, or in Hammer Invitationals.  No photos from this installation unfortunately, which means you have to go see it for yourself.  I was really impressed by how contemporary most of the works are; many of them made in the last five years, and acquired by the museum soon after they were created.  The Hammer is doing an impressive job at executing its five-year-old initiative to seriously collect contemporary works. Gold star for you Ann Philbin!

The last of the summer shows (that I’m going to discuss) is Out of the Box: Edition Jacob Samuel, 1988-2010.  The collection of prints from the Santa Monica-based EJS studio was jointly acquired by the Hammer and LACMA.  I wonder how this joint ownership works.  (LACMA jointly acquired an El Anatsui work with another UCLA museum, the Fowler, two years ago.)  The list of artists represented in this exhibition is a real who’s-who of the contemporary world; check out the roster below (click to enlarge).

Some of these names may be familiar.

Personally I found the majority of the prints really boring.  A series of prints of the number two was less then inspiring. There were few exceptions, but this whole project of prints seemed very elitist and overly self-congratulating.  The exhibition design was effective but obvious; to clearly separate the projects of each artist a funny paint job had been devised.  Each artist project was demarcated by a band of tan paint that segregated each project from the others.  The earthtone paintjob was only about two feet high, and was immediately recognizable as an organizational strategy.

Obvious organization.

Admittedly I may have been overly critical of the Hammer and its summer shows, but when everyone that works there is so damn smug about themselves I expect the best.  Maybe it’s just a slow summer.  I’m going to admit that prints are hard to make exciting, and to be fair a lot of the work in the Contemporary Collection installation is really fantastic and warrants a long visit.  See, I can be mildly subjective.

Just to make sure you don’t miss any of this great and mediocre stuff here is a rundown of when these shows close:

Greg Lynn: September 26
Armand Hammer Collection: ?
Hammer Contemporary Collection: January 30 (you’ve got a while)
Out of the Box: August 29 (opps you’ve missed it)

– H.I.

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Written by exhibitioninquisition

September 6, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Birth of Impressionism – Masterpieces from the Museé de Orsay

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de Young Museum

The de Young has two major gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions.  One is upstairs on the second floor, in a space I would call awkward, even a ruin-er of otherwise good shows.  I saw an exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent in this upstairs space that was actually horrible to walk through, mostly because of the awkward space.  The de Young also has temporary exhibition space on its lower floor, which from the shows I’ve seen there is a much more successful space.  It is in this space that the current show, Birth of Impressionism, is held.

Big title, big show

The show is marketed all over the museum; banners hang from light poles, the entire front façade of the Herzog & de Meuron-designed museum is splashed with a golden title of the show, and details of some of the most famous pieces in the show are hung in the windows of the upper level galleries.  In front of the museum are even cut out figures from some of the works; children can put their head through a hole and get their picture taken as Manet’s Fifer.

My sister, the Fifer

All the marketing fuss is not without reason, the show is amazing, and definitely worth the $25 ($20 if you buy in advance) ticket price.  It’s certainly cheaper than traveling to Paris to see these works, and even if you did go to see them in the Museé de Orsay, they wouldn’t be there because all of the Museé’s masterpieces are traveling.  The Museé de Orsay has devised a brilliant plan to have their works seen (and make some money off of ticket sales) while their galleries are closed for renovation.  It’s a brilliant plan for the Museé de Orsay to make money off ticket sales, save money from storing their collection, and provide with a wide public access to their works. Everyone wins in this situation.

Holding cell--so anxious

This show is such a crowd-drawer that the tickets are timed–swells of people are let in every half hour and inevitably smother the previous group out of the exhibition space.   (The rooms are crowded and probably better to visit on a weekday.)  Before being let in, visitors are confined to a nice holding cell—a hallway with large photo murals of period photographs showing the broad boulevards of post-Haussmannization Paris, and a wall of portraits of the first practitioners of impressionist painting.

Yeah I made this diagram

The exhibition is divided into a series of nine rooms.  The first room is called “Birth of Impressionism,” but the works in this room seem irrelevant to Impressionism other than to be a foil for what follows.  Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus dominates this first room, a textbook opponent of the impressionists.  I can still remember my AP Art History class in high school offering the contenders of Manet’s Olympia to another Bouguereau Venus.  The bourgeoisie luxury of this work is made even more regal with the maroon-painted walls and another photo collaged wall of a glass and iron building of B aron Haussmann’s new Paris.

Bouguereau as foil

The next room is called “the Salon,” and again exemplifies everything the Impressionists were not, with perhaps a few mostly overlooked marks in the evolution to Impressionism.  This evolutionary logic dominates the curatorial organization of the show: action and reaction.  In the salon room, hang many masterpieces of the academy tradition.  Religious works and paintings with mythological themes dominate, with a few genre paintings by Courbet to mix it up.  This room was full of people and was made only more crowded by large round velvet-upholstered benches.  I would normally be against the benches because they contributed to the crowding, but they were so luxurious and sumptuous that I can only approve.

Following, was a room called “the Terrible Year.”  It shows how the tradition of the Salon was beginning to be questioned, but also how political turmoil in Europe, specifically Spain and France was beginning to affect artists and their work.  The works in this room are a shift in tone from the previous room, and the color on the walls changes dramatically from imperial maroon and purple to a sober dreary blue.

The Fifer, so French or so Spanish?

The following room is also painted this dreary blue and focuses on “French Painters and Spanish Style.” Again the curatorial statement of the evolution of impressionism dominates.  The same story: Spanish painters (beginning with Velazquez, leading to Goya, etc.) influenced the early Impressionists.  This is of course as we have been taught, most evidently in Manet’s work.  “Manet” is the subject of the next room, and connections are easily made between the Spanish court painting s of the previous room, to Manet’s loose and visible brushwork in paintings like The FiferThe Fifer received special thanks from the museum to a special donor for making its display possible.  Perhaps this donor paid for the specific cost of shipping it to San Francisco, or maybe paid the insurance for the painting to be in America.

I want to be part of the Bazille family!

“Ecole de Batignolles” was the subject of the next room which outlined how the heroes of Impressionism gathered themselves and shared ideas usually outside of the city in resort towns.  The piece that dominates this room is Bazille’s Family Reunion.  This painting dominates not only because of its size and central positioning, but because of Bazille’s style and particularly because of the brushwork.  This work seems less concerned with the works of the fellow impressionists and more self confident in its exploratory style.  This categorizes most of the works in this room: early experiments.

Least favorite Composition

This leads to the highly developed Impressionism or “Classical Impressionism.”  This long room, divided by several wall partitions held the most recognizable masterpieces from the Museé de Orsay:  train stations and parade-filled streets on Bastille Day, Renior’s tacky images of bourgeois life.  Whistler (an American) was included because of his Frenchness (ala Picasso) and is represented in his textbook masterpiece Whistler’s Mother.  Why anyone likes this painting is beyond me.  A painting I do very much appreciate (although he was little known in his time) is Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers.  I’ve always been a fan of Caillebotte’s and love his play with light on reflective surfaces, be it the wooden beams that haven’t yet been stripped of their varnish in The Floor Scrapers, or with water between cobbles in his Rainy Day in Paris in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Most favorite, and not just because of the muscley Scrappers

Towards the end of the Classic Impressionism room was a portrait by Renoir (a work of his I actually like).  It is a portrait of a lady and it was sent to San Francisco in 1915 for the Pacific Panama International Exposition, and the curators were kind enough to include this fun little fact in the painting’s label.  This lovely portrait has returned again to San Francisco in a diplomatic act of promoting French culture abroad.  I’m sure that the collection of titans of French painting in this exhibition hall managed to turn several visitors into Francophiles.

Renior's diplomatic Lady

There is one last room in the exhibition, and again there is a shift in the wall color, the bright summery blue of the previous rooms transitioned into a sober, critical brown.  This room was organized around the topic of “Impressionist Dialogues.”  Once the impressionist movement was born, what happened next?  More experimentation, serious exchange of ideas, and responses to other artists are evident in the works in this room which include Degas’s Ballet Lesson.

Degas - the only superstar Impressionist I actually like


This room really is meant to link this exhibition, with another exhibition (again of traveling masterpieces from the Musee de Orsay ) happening at the other arm of the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, the Legion of Honor.  The show there called Impressionist Paris: City of Light, which opened a week after the de Young show.  This chronology is directly mentioned in promotional materials for the exhibitions, with special ticketing options to see both shows.  Even later in the year will be a third show at the de Young called Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay.  The trio of shows is sure to be a cohesive (textbook even) presentation of the development of Impressionist art.  Again I am fascinated by the Musee de Orsay’s strategy for keeping their works on view, even though they can’t show them in their own space due to renovation.  What a clever and well organized solution!

– H.I.

Costco-sized giftshop

P.S. there is a large gift shop at the end of the exhibition that visitors are forced to pass through as they leave the exhibition hall.  If ever I was critical of the indiscreet gift shops at the end of Getty exhibitions, the de Young’s boutique/bookstore/millinery makes the Getty shops look tasteful.  I did by a postcard of the Caillebotte, but I refused to do so from this gift shop, so I bought one from a much smaller and less garish gift corner elsewhere in the museum.