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Worth Watching
  • Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    A fascinating and highly entertaining look at one of the most important families of the Renaissance era--the Medici.
  • Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)
    Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)

    “Sister Wendy Beckett has transformed public appreciation of art through her astonishing knowledge, insight and passion for painting and painters.” This set includes Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Sister Wendy's Odyssey, and Sister Wendy's Grand Tour. Simultaneously delightful and scholarly--this is a must have for anyone interested in art history.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    When British stencil artist Banksy traveled to Los Angeles to work, he came across obscure French filmmaker Thierry Guetta and his badly organized collection of videotapes involving the activities of graffiti artists. Inspired, Banksy assembled them with new footage to create this talked-about documentary, and the result is a mind-boggling and odd film (so strange as to be thought a hoax by some) about outsider artists and the definition of art itself.
  • The Impressionists
    The Impressionists
    A dramatization of the Impressionist movement as seen through the eyes of Claude Monet. Highly entertaining and informative.
  • The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    A very personal and revealing look at the personalities that created Impressionism.

Ilya Bolotowsky: An Advocate of Abstraction

Ilya Bolotowsky - Large Blue Horizontal - 1975 - Acrylic on canvas - 28 x 90 in. - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (click photo for larger image)Neo-Plasticism is a Dutch movement founded (and named) by artist Piet Mondrian. It flourished from 1920 to 1940. It is a rigid form of abstraction, whose rules allow only for a canvas sub-sected into rectangles by horizontal and vertical lines, and colored using a very limited palette.

The Russian born American painter Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-1981) was heavily influenced by the Neo-Plasticism. Bolotowsky was born in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. After the Russian Revolution, his family moved to Istanbul in 1921, then to New York in 1923. The Neoplastic style of abstraction as defined by Mondrian would prove to be the greatest influence on Bolotowsky's work. He began producing his own strictly abstract art in the early 1930s, and his admiration for Mondrian's approach is evident even in such late works as the one featured here, Large Blue Horizontal. Like Mondrian, Bolotowsky strove to establish a balance of horizontals and verticals that would be simultaneously harmonious and dynamic.

Bolotowsky was a constant and strong advocate of abstract art. He was a founding member of American Abstract Artists, which included American artists as well as European artists living in America, among them Fernand Léger, Joseph Albers, Jean Hélion, and Mondrian himself. Bolotowsky was also a member of The Ten, an artists' group that included Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. (All of these artists are discussed elsewhere on What About Art?)

During the Great Depression, Bolowtowsky created a number of abstract murals for buildings in New York, as part of the WPA’s Fine Arts Project. In 1946, he was appointed head of the art department at Black Mountain College in Asheville, NC, which ceased operations in 1957. This was the first of many teaching positions Bolowtowsky would hold throughout his career.


Did You Know?

Andy Warhol, at the end of every month, would seal a box and add a date to it to create “time capsules.” Some of those boxed items might include objects such as a mummified foot, Caroline Kennedy’s birthday cake, a 17th-century German book on wrestling, and drawings of 1950s icons’ objects, such as Jean Harlow’s dress or Clark Gable’s boots.


Ukiyo: The Floating World

Hishikawa Moronobu - Cherry-blossom Viewing at Ueno - Edo period - Six-panel folding screen; ink, color and gold just on silk - 38 7/16 x 16 1/4 in. - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA (click photo for larger image)Ukiyo-e (pronounced oo-kee-oh-ay) was a popular form of printed art in Japan during the Edo period (1600s-1867). It was inexpensive and usually depicted scenes from everyday life.

Ukiyo translates as the floating world—an ironic wordplay on the Buddhist name for the earthly plane, the sorrowful world. Ukiyo was the name given to the lifestyle in Japan's urban centers of this period—the fashions, the entertainments, and the pleasures of the flesh. Ukiyo-e is the art documenting this era.

Ukiyo-e is especially known for its exceptional woodblock prints. After Japan opened trade with the West after 1867, these prints became very well-known and influential in Europe, and especially in France. Japonisme (as it was called) influenced such artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and Whistler. It also influenced the graphic artists known as Les Nabis. (These artists and Les Nabis are all discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) 

The founder of the Ukiyo-e school was the 17th-century artist, Hishikawa Moronobu (c. 1618-1694). He was born in Hota on the Boso Peninsula (present-day Chiba Prefecture). His father is said to have been a brocade artisan producing nuihaku embroidery (using gold and silver thread) who had moved to the Kanto region from Kyoto. Moronobu left home for nearby Edo in 1662 to study painting. While it isn’t known who taught him, we do know that he learned the basic techniques that had been developed by the Kano school.

Before long, he became active as a book illustrator. There are more than 60 extant books bearing his signed illustrations. He also became well-known as a scroll and screen painter. His favorite subjects included flower viewing at Ueno, people enjoying the evening breeze along the Sumida River in summer, and people attending plays. It seems that he received many contract orders, and some of his works were produced in ateliers where he employed several pupils. He was successful in popularizing some of his originally one-of-a-kind paintings by making copies as woodblock prints.

Moronobu produced only 12 handscrolls, but each of these was later adapted to multiple production in the form of monochrome woodblock prints. Moronobu's pupils of a somewhat later generation experimented with large monochrome prints based on what were originally hand-painted bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) produced as hanging scrolls.

Moronobu's importance lies in his effective consolidation of the ephemeral styles of early genre painting and illustration. His controlled, powerful brushstrokes and solid, dynamic figures, provided the groundwork for ukiyoe masters of the following two centuries, Ando Hiroshige among them.


Paul Cadmus: Pushing the Envelope

Paul Cadmus - Gilding the Acrobats - 1935 - Oil and tempera on masonite - 36 3/4 × 18 3/8 in. - Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York, NYMagic Realism is an American style of art with Surrealist overtones. The art is anchored in everyday reality, but contains elements of fantasy and wonder. The term was later also applied to the literary works of authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.

One of the artists associated with this movement was Paul Cadmus (1904-1999). A native New Yorker, Cadmus began his art studies at age 15, at New York City’s National Academy of Design and then later at the Art Students League. He landed work at an advertising agency, and later traveled with his partner, artist Jared French, to Majorca, in Spain where he created two of his better known paintings, Shore Leave and YMCA Locker Room (both 1933). Upon returning, Cadmus painted for the Public Works of Art project. It was during this time that he created The Fleet’s In! (1934). This was one of a number of works by the artist that were controversial. A work of social satire, it depicts sailors on shore leave and contains elements of prostitution, homoeroticism, and drunkenness. The work infuriated navy officials, and was pulled from an exhibition in Washington, D.C., in 1934. It was not displayed publicly again until 1981.  

The work featured here, Gilding the Acrobats, “reenacts literally the experience of painting the figure with thinly veiled homoeroticism. In an era when homosexual behavior was criminalized and homoerotic imagery was intensely policed, gay artists like Cadmus turned frequently to circus performers and athletes as the few socially permissible subjects that offered the opportunity to lavish attention on the male body.”


Quote of the Day

“Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye.. it also includes the inner pictures of the soul.”  - Edvard Munch