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  • 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.
Monday
Jul152019

Giacometti: An Existentialist 

Alberto Giacometti - Three Men Walking - 1949 - Bronze - 30 1/8 x 13 x 12 3/4 in. (76.5 x 33 x 32.4 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkSwiss artist Alberto Giacometti  (1901-1966) had a remarkable career that traced the shifting enthusiasms of European art before and after the Second World War. As a Surrealist in the 1930s, he devised innovative sculptural forms, sometimes reminiscent of toys and games. As an Existentialist after the war, he led the way in creating a style that summed up the philosophy's interests in perception, alienation and anxiety.

In the late 1930s, Giacometti abandoned both abstraction and Surrealism, becoming more interested in how to represent the human figure in a convincing illusion of real space. He wanted to depict figures in such a way as to communicate a perceptual sense of spatial distance, so that viewers, might share in the artist's own sense of distance from his subject. The solution he arrived at involved whittling the figures down to the slenderest proportions.

Giacometti’s Surrealist works influenced such sculptors as Henry Moore (discussed elsewhere on What About Art?). His figurative work was instrumental in re-establishing the figure as a viable motif in the post-war period, at a time when abstract art dominated. 

“The rough, eroded, heavily worked surfaces of "Three Men Walking (II)" [featured here] typify his technique. Reduced, as they are, to their very core, these figures evoke lone trees in winter that have lost their foliage. Within this style, Giacometti would rarely deviate from the three themes that preoccupied him—the walking man; the standing, nude woman; and the bust—or all three, combined in various groupings.” (metmuseum.org)

Friday
Jul122019

Henry Moore: “Truth to Materials”

Henry Moore - Reclining Figure - 1935-36 - Elmwood - h. 19; l. 35; d. 15 in. - Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo (click photo for larger image)Henry Moore (1898-1986) is widely regarded as the most important British sculptor of the 20th century, and the most popular and internationally celebrated sculptor of the post-war period. He is best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures, which are located around the world as public works of art. Moore also produced many drawings, including a series depicting Londoners sheltering from the Blitz during the Second World War, along with other graphic works on paper.

Non-Western art was crucial in shaping his early work. He often used abstract form to draw analogies between the human body and the landscape. 

The foundation of Moore's approach was direct carving, something he derived not only from European modernism, but also from non-Western art. At one point in his career, he abandoned the process of modeling (often in clay or plaster) and casting (often in bronze) that had been the basis of his art education, and instead worked on materials directly. He believed in the ethic of “truth to materials”—the idea that the sculptor should respect the intrinsic properties of media, letting them show through in the finished piece.

His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically depicting mother-and-child or reclining figures. Moore's works are usually suggestive of the female body, apart from a phase in the 1950s when he sculpted family groups. His forms are generally pierced or contain hollow spaces. Many interpreters liken the undulating form of his reclining figures to the landscape and hills of his birthplace, Yorkshire.

Wednesday
Jul102019

Did You Know?

Wassily Kandinsky is credited with being one of the first true abstract painters. His paintings are colorful displays of shapes and lines on canvas, and his artistic choices make sense, given his alleged synesthesia. Synesthesia is the sensory impression of one sense leaving a sensory impression on another. Kandinsky was known for incorporating musical elements into his works, and this is because he saw color as he listened.

Monday
Jul082019

The Cone Sisters: Matisse’s “Two Baltimore Ladies”

Photograph of Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, Etta Cone - 1903 - Cone family pictures, The Baltimore Museum of Art (click photo for larger image)Claribel Cone (1864-1929) and Etta Cone (1870-1949), bolstered by their wealthy brothers (founders of Cone Mills), became ardent supporters of Henri Matisse in the 1910s. (You can read more about Matisse here on What About Art?) While the nature of the artist’s relationship with the sisters is unclear, the truth of their inspiration is undeniable.

Five-hundred works by Matisse in the Cone Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art form the largest and most representative group of his works of art in the world. The Cone sisters also purchased and acquired many of Picasso's works (whom they’d met through Gertrude Stein). In addition, they purchased fine arts by American artists, more than 1,000 prints, illustrated books, and drawings. Prior to the museum’s receipt of the collection, it became so large that it overtook their homes. Claribel (who was also a physician and researcher) rented a second apartment to hold what she called her “museum”.

The sisters developed relationships with some of the most famous artists of their day. Etta Cone even played an active role in Matisse’s Large Reclining Nude of 1935. ­­While he was painting the work, Matisse had it photographed and sent 22 photographs to Etta in Baltimore. 

After Claribel’s death, Etta commissioned Matisse to paint her sister’s portrait. Instead, she received four drawings of Claribel and six of Etta, which Matisse gave Etta as a gift, to express his gratitude to the sisters who had been such strong supporters of his work.

While the collection remained private until Etta's death, she occasionally loaned pieces to museums to exhibit. Claribel had willed her paintings to Etta, stipulating that these pieces should eventually be given to the Baltimore Museum of Art "if the spirit of appreciation of modern art in Baltimore should improve.” It is to that museum that the bulk of the collection eventually was given.

Friday
Jul052019

Brâncuși: Elegance in Simplicity

Constantin Brâncuși - Bird in Space - 1923 - Marble - 56 3/4 x 6 1/2 in. - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkRomanian-French artist Constantin Brâncuși (1876-1957) is often regarded as the most important sculptor of the 20th century. His visionary works of art often exemplify ideal and archetypal representations of their subject matter. Bearing laconic titles such as Fish, Princess X, and Bird in Space, his sculptures are deceptively simple, with their reduced forms aiming to reveal hidden truths.

Unlike the towering figure of Auguste Rodin, for whom Brâncuși briefly assisted early in his career, Brâncuși worked directly with his materials, pioneering the technique of direct carving, rather than working with intermediaries such as plaster or clay models.

“Explaining that ‘[t]he artist should know how to dig out the being that is within matter,’ Brancusi sought to create sculptures that conveyed the true essence of his subjects, be they animals, people, or objects by concentrating on highly simplified forms free from ornamentation. While many regarded his art as abstract, the artist disagreed; he insisted on the representational nature of his works, asserting that they disclosed a fundamental, often concealed, reality.” This is not far removed from Michelangelo’s claim that, “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” (Several posts about Michelangelo appear on What About Art?)

Whether one regards Brâncuși’s work as abstract or not, there is no question that he was a “pioneering force in modern sculpture, paving the way for many generations of artists.

In the work featured here, the artist focused on the movement of the bird, rather than its physical attributes. And yet, the viewer does “see” a bird there, along with feeling its motion.