A touch of Americana @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 6]

Speaking of American friends ~ since Labor Day was very inappropriately coupled with two very European artists, today we will appropriately balance it out with some quintessentially American art.

A vibrant painting where the artist is exploring his African-American roots:

Three Girls, 1941. Oil and pencil on wood panel || William H. Johnson

When the eye has to wander away from the target, and one begins to wonder which the real target be:

Target with Four Faces, 1955. Encaustic on newspaper and cloth over canvas surmounted by four tinted-plaster faces in wood box with hinged front || Jasper Johns

<<In the mid-1950s Johns incorporated symbols such as numbers, flags, maps, and targets into his paintings. Here, he transforms the familiar image of a target into a tangible object by building up the surface with wax encaustic. As a result, the concentric circles have become less precise and more tactile. Above the target Johns has added four cropped and eyeless faces, plaster casts taken from a single model over a period of several months. Their sculptural presence reinforces the objectness of the painting, particularly as the faces may be shut away in their niches behind a hinged wooden door.>>

The power of the thin white line:

The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II, 1959. Enamel on canvas || Frank Stella

<<Stella used commercial black enamel paint and a house painter’s brush to make The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II. The thick black bands are the same width as the paintbrush he used. The thin white lines are not painted; they are gaps between the black bands in which the raw canvas is visible. Stella painted the black bands parallel to each other, and to the canvas’s edges, rejecting expressive brushstrokes in favor of an overall structure that recognized the canvas as both a flat surface and a three-dimensional object.

Stella identified his materials and process with those of a factory laborer. About his manner of painting, Stella famously said, “My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there… What you see is what you see.” Instead of painting something recognizable, Stella’s painting is about the act of painting, and its result.>>

Is this a flag or a painting?

Flag, 1954-55 (dated 1954 on reverse). Encaustic, oil and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels || Jasper Johns

<<“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns has said of this work, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” Johns has said, but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection. A critic of the time encapsulated this painting’s ambivalence, asking, “Is this a flag or a painting?”>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

Keep calm and enjoy… @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 5]

Lay back, relax, let go, dream. Let your fantasy guide you to places unknown. This Day is for You.

Happy Labor Day!

(exceptionally dropping the ”u” in honor of my American friends [Labour Day in Europe is celebrated on May 1st – May Day])

Reclining Nude, c. 1919. Oil on canvas || Amedeo Modigliani
The Anxious Journey, 1913. Oil on canvas || Giorgio de Chirico


MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

Wait, is that a Rothko…? @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 4]

How subtle and feather-light, how wonderfully surreal, how utterly refreshing from his later work where drawing gave way, drowned under thick layers of colour.

Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea, 1944. Oil on canvas || Mark Rothko

<<”Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea” pictures two creatures dancing between sea and sky, surrounded by arabesques, spirals, and stripes. The forms ”have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognizes the principle and passion of organisms,” Rothko said. For him art was ”an adventure into an unknown world”; like the Surrealists before him, Rothko looked inward, to his own unconscious mind, for inspiration and material for his work.>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017


Furry Encounters of the Surreal Kind @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 3]

By Meret Oppenheim.

Another perfectly unusable, utterly memorable object. Because one can always trust the Swiss to strike a balance between the simplicity of Surrealism and the surreal Simplicity.

Object, 1936. Fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon || Meret Oppenheim

<<It began with a joke over lunch. In 1936, Meret Oppenheim was at a Paris café with Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso, who noticed the fur-lined, polished metal bracelet she was wearing and joked that anything could be covered with fur. “Even this cup and saucer,” Oppenheim replied and, carrying the merriment further, called out, “Waiter, a little more fur!” Her devilish imagination duly sparked, the artist went to a department store not long after this meal, bought a white teacup, saucer, and spoon, wrapped them in the speckled tan fur of a Chinese gazelle, and titled this ensemble Object. In doing so, she transformed items traditionally associated with decorum and feminine refinement into a confounding Surrealist sculpture. Object exemplifies the poet and founder of Surrealism André Breton’s argument that mundane things presented in unexpected ways had the power to challenge reason, to urge the inhibited and uninitiated (that is, the rest of society) to connect to their subconscious—whether they were ready for it or, more likely, not.>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

Phallucinations and Prickly Sensations @ MoMA… [permanent collection, part 2]

Artistic interventions by Yayoi Kusama and Lucas Samaras on everyday objects rendering them unusable, thereby transforming them into memorable works of art.

Accumulation No. 1, 1962. Sewn stuffed fabric, paint and chair fringe || Yayoi Kusama

<<To make ”Accumulation No. 1”, her earliest sculpture, Kusama covered an armchair with stuffed and painted phallic protrusions. She hand-sewed each of these elements, later explaining, ”I make them and make them and keep on making them, until I bury myself in the process. I call this obliteration.” When she first exhibited this work, critics were shocked by the humorous, sexualized transformation of an ordinary domestic object. Since then, over the course of her fifty-year career, Kusama has created ”accumulations” of various materials on furniture, domestic objects, clothing and even room-sized environments.>>

Book 4, 1962. Book with pins, table knife, scissors, razor blade, metal foil, piece of glass and plastic rod || Lucas Samaras

<<”Book 4” is a multifaceted object and a miniature world in itself. Although it includes eight fictional narratives written by the artist and surprises such as pop-ups, pockets, interlocking layers, foldouts and hidden pamphlets, it is not a storybook. Encrusted with needles and shards of glass in addition to brightly coloured beads and pieces of mirror, it is difficult, if not dangerous, to handle – the better, perhaps, to guard the secrets that it might contain.>>


MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

Meanwhile, back at MoMA… [permanent collection, part 1]

Fascinated as I was with the depth, width and length of Picabia’s work retrospective, you didn’t think I’d leave MoMA without taking a long, refreshing look into the treasures of their permanent collection, did you?

In this series, we will walk through the sleek minimalist galleries, explore highlights, share favourites, be inspired and intrigued by some very stimulating works of art indeed.

Beginning with this charming postman, his suave royal blue uniform in contrast with the dark leaf green backdrop, the swirl of his beard echoed in the wind-swept flowers, the healthy colour of his skin reflected in their petals:

Portrait of Joseph Roulin, 1889. Oil on canvas || Vincent van Gogh

<<This portrait of Joseph Roulin is one of six Van Gogh painted of his close friend, a postal employee in the southern French town of Arles. Van Gogh had moved to Arles in 1888, hoping to create an artists’ cooperative. The plan never came to fruition and Van Gogh became lonely and isolated. He found comfort and companionship with the Roulin family and they are the subjects of many of his paintings. In this portrait, Roulin is depicted in the uniform he always wore, proudly, set against an imaginative backdrop of swirling flowers. In a letter to his brother Theo, the artist wrote that, of all genres, ”the modern portrait” excited him the most: ”I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we try to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our colouring.”>>


Something about the strong, almost geometric lines; the contrasting colours; the warmth and energy; the bright yellow light falling sideways on the bodies and making them glow:

Bathers, 1907. Oil on canvas || André Derain


Of all the paintings by Gauguin, this is my favourite one:

Still Life with Three Puppies, 1888. Oil on wood || Paul Gauguin

<<When Gauguin painted ”Still Life with Three Puppies”, he was living in Brittany among a group of experimental painters. He abandoned naturalistic depictions and colours, declaring that ”art is an abstraction” to be derived ”from nature while dreaming before it.” The puppies’ bodies, for example, are outlined in bold blue, and the patterning of their coats mirrors the botanic print of the tablecloth. It is thought that Gauguin drew stylistic inspiration for this painting from children’s book illustrations and from Japanese prints, which were introduced to him by his friend Vincent van Gogh that same year.>>


I am captivated by the fine elegance of Picasso’s work during his Blue and Rose periods. Anything beyond that leaves me indifferent:

Nude with Joined Hands, 1906. Oil on canvas || Pablo Picasso


Au contraire, all due respect to the real master of Cubism and his hypnotic, geometric perspectives:

Man with a Guitar, 1911-12. Oil on canvas || Georges Braque


The dynamism and violence and forces of nature, all in one picture:

The City Rises, 1910. Oil on canvas || Umberto Boccioni


And all the sadness of the world, in one body:

Hope II, 1907-08. Oil, gold and platinum on canvas || Gustav Klimt

<<A pregnant woman bows her head and closes her eyes, as if praying for the safety of her child. Peeping out from behind her stomach is a death’s head, sign of the danger she faces. At her feet, three women with bowed heads raise their hands, presumably also in prayer—although their solemnity might also imply mourning, as if they foresaw the child’s fate.>>


These Munch-like faces with a neon colour palette:

Street, Dresden – 1908. Oil on canvas || Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

<<At the time he made this painting, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was living in Dresden, a large city in southeast Germany. In a letter to fellow painter Erich Heckel, he wrote of the Dresden crowds, “Completely strange faces pop up as interesting points through the crowd. I am carried along with the current, lacking will. To move becomes an unacceptable effort.” Kirchner heightened the colors of this city scene, depicting the figures with masklike faces and vacant eyes in order to capture the excitement and psychological alienation wrought by modernization.”>>


This couple looking bizarrely distant in their two separate worlds, gazing in different directions had me wondering about their pose – until I read the accompanying note:

Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat, 1909. Oil on canvas || Oskar Kokoschka

<<In 1909 the Viennese art historians Hans and Erica Tietze asked 23-year-old Oskar Kokoschka to paint a marriage portrait for their mantelpiece. They were strong supporters of contemporary art in Vienna and together helped organize the Vienna Society for the Advancement of Contemporary Art. Mrs. Tietze recalled that she and her husband were painted individually, a fact suggested by their separate poses and gazes. Kokoschka used thin layers of color to create the hazy atmosphere surrounding the couple, and added a sense of crackling energy by scratching the paint with his fingernails.>>

Extracts from accompanying tags, either on site or on line (under the ”Artists” section)

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

The Shapeshifting Master of Modern Art~ Francis Picabia @ MoMA [part 5]

The Kiss (Le Baiser) c. 1925-26. Oil and enamel paint on canvas in a frame likely by Pierre Legrain
Idyll (Idylle) c. 1925-27. Oil and enamel paint on wood
Woman with Matches [II] (Portrait of a Woman on a Blue Background) (La Femme aux allumettes [II] [Portrait de femme sur fond bleu]) c. 1924-25. Oil, enamel paint, matches, coins, curlers and hairpins on canvas
Promenade des Anglais (Midi) c. 1924-25. Oil, enamel paint, feathers, pasta and leather on canvas, in a snakeskin frame by Pierre Legrain

Painting (Flowerpot) (Peinture [Pot de fleurs]) c. 1924-25. Enamel paint, Ripolin paint-can lids, brushes, wooden stretcher wedges, string and quill toothpicks on canvas
Woman with Monocle (La Femme au monocle). Alternative title: Woman with Pink Gloves (Man with Gloves) (La Femme aux gants roses [L’Homme aux gants]) c. 1925-26. Oil and enamel paint on board
From the accompanying tag: ”In 1926, the review ‘This Quarter’ reproduced thirteen of Picabia’s ‘Monster’ paintings, including this one, which bore the title ‘Woman with Pink Gloves’. By the time of the painting’s first known exhibition in 1956 however, it had acquired the title ‘Man with Gloves’. The work is displayed here with both titles restored. Although neither necessarily originated with Picabia, both speak to the androgynous character of his wasp-waisted, white-suited figure. With its green face, single oversized eye, and pustule-pink hands presumably clad in driving gloves, it is one of Picabia’s quintessential Côte d’Azur Monsters. The Surrealist André Breton was one of its early owners.”

Sphinx, 1929. Oil on canvas
Μélibée, 1930. Oil on canvas
Aello, 1930. Oil on canvas
Portrait of the Artist (Portrait de l’artiste), 1934. Oil on wood

From the accompanying tag: ”This work began as a portrait of Picabia painted by the German artist Bruno Eggert in 1934. Eggert gave it to Picabia, who then added his own touches: a pair of dark-tinted glasses on his nose, a face in the lover left corner, a transparent female body across the picture, the edge of a stretcher in the upper right corner. He also signed and dated the work. Here, Picabia adopted another artist’s work as the support for his own, with over-painting used to assert rather than deny.”

Portrait of a Woman (Portrait de femme), 1935-37. Oil on canvas
Fratellini Clown (Le Clown Fratellini), 1937-38. Oil on canvas

Part 5 concludes our round of Francis Picabia’s retrospective at MoMA.

Connecting the pieces:

January 30th, 2017

Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction ~ Francis Picabia @ MoMA [part 4]

”You are all indicted, stand up! It is impossible to talk to you unless you are standing up.
Stand up as you would for the Marseillaise or God Save the King.

Stand up, as if the Flag were before you. Or as if you were in the presence of Dada, which signifies Life, and which accuses you of loving everything out of snobbery if only it is expensive enough.

One dies a hero’s death or an idiot’s death – which comes to the same thing. The only word that has more than a day-to-day value is the word Death. You love death – the death of others.

Kill them! Let them die! Only money does not die; it only goes away for a little while.

That is God! That is someone to respect: someone you can take seriously! Money is the prie-Dieu of entire families. Money for ever! Long live money! The man who has money is a man of honour.

Honour can be bought and sold like the arse. The arse, the arse, represents life like potato-chips, and all you who are serious-minded will smell worse than cow’s shit.

Dada alone does not smell: it is nothing, nothing, nothing.
It is like your hopes: nothing
like your paradise: nothing
like your idols: nothing
like your heroes: nothing
like your artists: nothing
like your religions: nothing.

Hiss, shout, kick my teeth in, so what? I shall still tell you that you are half-wits. In three months my friends and I will be selling you our pictures for a few francs.”

Manifeste Cannibale Dada

by Francis Picabia
27th March 1920

The work of Francis Picabia will remain our theme this week, as we follow the artist’s style shifts through the galleries of MoMA.

Connecting the pieces:

January 30th, 2017

My Cacodylic Eye ~ Francis Picabia @ MoMA [part 3]

Picabia began this painting as a joke, to entertain himself and his friends at a time when he was suffering from an eye infection and his doctor prescribed something called sodium cacodylate. How effective it was we may never know, considering its toxicity which can cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes! – not to mention its garlic-like smell.

Perhaps to ease his discomfort during what must have been a very irritating period, the artist painted an eye on a canvas and asked friends who visited him to leave their mark around it.

The result is a unique collage of signatures, pictures and dedications but, more significantly, a record of Picabia’s circle of friends:

Marthe Chenal wrote: Ecrire quelque chose, c’est bien !! Se taire, c’est mieux !! ~ Write something, it’s good !! To be silent is better!!

Jean Crotti : MON OEIL EN DEUIL de verre vous regarde – which, in free translation, could mean: MY MOURNING glass EYE is watching you.

Raymond Dorgelès : Non je n’en reste pas baba et je jure chez Picabia que ne n’aime pas Dada ~ No I do not remain baba and I swear at Picabia’s that does not like Dada.

Isadora Duncan : Isadora aime FRANCIS de tout son âme ~ Isadora loves Francis with all her soul.

Darius Milhaud : Je m’appelle DADA depuis 1892 ~ My name is DADA since 1892.

Clément Pansaers : Vive agaga Pansaers. Picabia te souviens-tu de Pharamousse ? – Live agaga Pansaers. Picabia do you remember Pharamousse?

Francis Poulenc : J’aime la salade ~ I love salad.

Hugo François : Je n’ai rien fait et je signe ~ I didn’t do anything and I sign.

Over 50 signatures complete the picture including those of his wife, Gabrièle Buffet, his close friends Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp – the latter signing as his alter ego, Rrose Sélavy (Éros c’est la vie)  – and it is here Rrose received a second R for the first time; Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound; Suzanne Duchamp (Marcel’s sister) wrote: Quand on me prend au dépourvu MOI = Je suis bête – When I’m caught off guard ME = I’m stupid.

It goes on and on, giving shape to truly collective creation.

L’Oeil Cacodylate (The Cacodylic Eye)
Oil on canvas, and a collage of photographs, postcards and cut papers

The work of Francis Picabia will remain our theme for next few days, as we follow the artist’s style shifts through the galleries of MoMA.

Connecting the pieces:

January 30th, 2017

”If you want to have clean ideas, change them like shirts” ~ Francis Picabia @ MoMA [part 2]

Francis Picabia ~ ”Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction”
Francis Picabia ~ ”Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction”
Reverence (Révérence), 1915. Oil and metallic paint on board
Gabrielle Buffet, She Corrects Manners By Laughing (Gabrielle Buffet, elle corrige les moeurs en riant), 1915. Ink, watercolour, pencil on board
Machine Without a Name (Machine sans nom), 1915. Gouache, metallic paint, ink, pencil on board
Very Rare Picture on the Earth (Très rare tableau sur la terre), 1915. Oil and metallic paint on board, silver and gold leaf on wood, with artist’s painted frame
Music is Like Painting (La Musique est comme la peinture), 1915. Watercolour, gouache, ink on board
Watch Out for Painting (Prenez garde à la peinture), c. 1919. Oil, enamel paint, metallic paint on canvas
Bring Me There (M’Amenez-y), 1919-20. Oil and enamel paint on board
Francis Picabia ~ ”Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction”
Capturing The Child Carburetor (L’Enfant carburateur), 1919. Oil, enamel paint, metallic paint, gold leaf, pencil, crayon on wood
The Unique Eunuch Ivy (La Lierre unique eunuque), 1920. Enamel paint and metallic paint on board

The work of Francis Picabia will remain our theme for next few days, as we follow the artist’s style shifts through the galleries of MoMA.

Connecting the pieces: Rediscovering Francis Picabia @ MoMA [part 1]

January 30th, 2017