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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.


Guiseppe Arcimboldo - Summer - 1563 - Oil on panel, 67 x 51 cm - Kunsthistorisches Museum, ViennaWhat About Art? will be on vacation from July 18th through July 31st. Enjoy the rest of your July and we’ll see you in August. In the meantime…

Guiseppe Arcimboldo (1526-1593) was an Italian Mannerist painter whose odd (some would say grotesque) compositions of fruits, vegetables, animals, books, and other objects were arranged to resemble human portraits. In the 20th century these double images were greatly admired by Salvador Dali and other of the Surrealist painters. 

The following description of “Summer” has been excerpted from the Web Gallery of Art….

“The painting featured here is part of a cycle dedicated to the Four Seasons. [The artist created several other versions of the series, held in other museum collections.] Summer is the only dated picture of the series (1563). For the first time, Arcimboldo composes heads from all kinds of objects, whose selection gives meaning to the allegory. This compositional method was certainly not invented by Arcimboldo, but the sophistication and imagination with which the painter applies the themes in the picture-puzzles are a very personal achievement.

In the profile bust of Summer the cheek and neck area are composed of a large peach, quince, garlic, white young onions, yellow beets and white eggplant; the mouth and lips are formed of cherries and the open pea pod within imitates a row of teeth. The nose is a young wild cucumber and the chin is a pear; the eye shines as a glassy sour cherry between two small pears. The bulge of the forehead seems to be made of brown-skinned onions; even the eyebrows - a curved grain-ear - are not overlooked. On the temple are three hazelnuts in their covers, and in the place of the ear is a dried corncob. 

The ensemble is completed with a head covering, effectively a cap or a hat made of fruit and vegetables bedded in greenery, from which emerge oat spikes resembling a hat feather. The clothing in woven straw has a single artichoke and the woven signature and date are integrated into the composition as jewelry.” 


Agnes Martin: Grid-Like Abstractions

Agnes Martin - Untitled - 1952 - Watercolor and ink on paper - 11 3/4 x 17 3/4" (29.9 x 45.3 cm) - Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (click photo for larger image)Canadian born American painter Agnes Martin (1912-2004) was one of the leading practitioners of Abstract Expressionism in the 20th century. She was a prominent exponent of geometric abstraction. To her eye, a gray grid of intersecting penciled lines became the ultimate geometric composition. Her grid-like works were also noted for their light-soaked appearance and quiet effect. In the 1970s, she produced printed equivalents of her paintings.

Agnes Martin - Little Sister - 1962 - Oil, ink, and brass nails on canvas and wood - 9 7/8 x 9 11/16 inches (25.1 x 24.6 cm) - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (click photo for larger image)Born on a farm in rural, Canada, Agnes Martin immigrated to the United States in 1932. After earning a degree in art education, she moved to the desert plains of Taos, New Mexico. At the urging of New York gallery owner, Betty Parson, Martin moved to lower Manhattan in 1957—living among a community of artists benefiting from the then cheap, expansive loft spaces of Lower Manhattan, located in close proximity to the East River. It was there—and during the next decade—that she would experiment with abstraction, and arrive at her signature style. Martin is often referred to as a Minimalist, however she always referred to herself as an Abstract Expressionist.

Artists are rarely “born” with the style for which they become known. The creative process is evolutionary. While some artists do remain faithful to a particular passion or idea throughout their lives—such as Camille Pissarro (ca. 1830-1903) or Henri Matisse (1869-1954) — others, like Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)  continually change their styles and approaches. As noted from the Untitled work featured here (from 1952)—it took time for Agnes Marin to fully embrace non-representation and the grid! 

The Guggenheim Museum in New York will be hosting an exhibit of Martin’s works, from October 2016 through January 2017. I lead a Museum Preview series for the Center for Continuing Education, and Agnes Martin will be the focus of our October 6, 2016 program. Please check out the website to see the schedule and to register. These programs fully prepare attendees to go to exhibits and visit museum and gallery collections well-informed about the featured artists.


Did You Know?

Salvador Dali believed he was his dead brother’s reincarnation. There is also a portrait or a silhouette of Dali (or perhaps his brother?) in every one of his more than 1500 paintings.


Die Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity)

Max Beckmann - Descent from the Cross - 1917 - Oil on canvas - 59 1/2 x 50 3/4" (151.2 x 128.9 cm) - MoMA, New York (click photo for larger image)Die Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity) was an Expressionist movement founded in Germany, in the aftermath of World War I, by George Grosz (1893-1959) and Otto Dix (1891-1969). Its artwork is characterized by a realistic style combined with a cynical and socially critical philosophical stance. 

Another important participant in the movement was Max Beckmann (1884-1950) Beckmann was a medical officer during WWI—where he witnessed innumerable horrors. As an artist, he became (and remains) known for his emotional, symbolic, and expressive visual commentaries on the tumultuous times in which he lived. He drew upon a myriad of images and ideas from the entire history of art—and developed his own body of highly creative characters—to support his modern secular allegories.

In Descent from the Cross, Beckmann presents an unflinching look at bodily suffering—a timely topic in the midst of a seemingly never-ending war. The work “shows a darkened sun, symbol of utter despair. The future itself seems blacked out.” Beckman was drawn toward the "manly mysticism" of Northern Early Renaissance masters, and his style at this time was deeply influenced by their sparse, dour, hard-edged realism. Crucifixion scenes painted in the North, for example, are far more gruesome and graphic than their Italian counterparts—with the focus much more centered that the death (rather than the eventual resurrection) of Christ.

Max Beckmann - Carnival: The Artist and His Wife - 1925 - Oil on canvas - 63 x 41 in. (160 x 105.5 cm) - Kunstmuseum der Stadt, Dusseldorf (click photo for larger image)Of Carnival: The Artist and His Wife scholar Stephan Lackner has written: 

"Max and Quappi were married in September 1925. Out for an evening's entertainment, they have gone to considerable expense for preparations, and their costumes are chic and amusing. They arrive through the parting flaps of a curtain as if they were stepping onto a stage. Their faces are powdered and made up, and they obviously enjoy the masquerade. Beckmann's usually stern mien has loosened up, his expression is just on the threshold of a smile…. The artist and his wife have made up their minds ‘to belong’ and to have a good time. The viewer partakes of their good humor.” It is said that the artist’s second wife (an affluent and highly accomplished violinist—much younger than he) was able to bring some joy into a life that had long been tormented.

Artists like Grosz and Dix were never able to regain their creative footing after the Nazi persecutions. Beckmann, on the other hand, was one of those rare German painters who enjoyed a long and distinguished career—and who was able to sustain a consistent level of excellence throughout it.


Where Arts Collide – Movies About Artists – “Frida”

Salma Hayek as Frida KahloThe IMDB (Internet Movie Database) describes the film “Frida” as “a biography of artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), who channeled the pain of a crippling injury and her tempestuous marriage into her work.” Critics generally found “Frida” (2002) to be visually exciting and emotionally stimulating. Director Julie Taymor certainly went to great lengths to bring authenticity to the movie, filming it entirely in Mexico, and for everyone on the project it was a labor of love. Salma Hayak and Alfred Molina delivered outstanding performances as Frida and Diego, and all members of the supporting cast were excellent. Most noteworthy were Roger Rees, as Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, and Geoffrey Rush as Leon Trotsky.