Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist @ the MNBAQ

Cottage Interior, 1886

Even before visiting the current show at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, friends mentioned that they had been discouraged from seeing the exhibition. They had been told that Morisot was a second-rate Impressionist and not worth their time. I took these remarks as examples of the resistance experienced by women painters of the era, a prejudice that has endured through the years.

In the Country (After Lunch), 1881

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), is perhaps best known by the company she kept. Married to Eugène Manet, brother of her colleague and friend Edouard Manet, she exhibited her work with other Impressionists, including Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley. Since her premature death, her work has often been shown together with theirs, or with that of her female contemporaries, including Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). This show is, then, a most welcome opportunity to consider Morisot's work on its own merits, and to understand some of the difficulties she experienced in the pursuit of her career.

Mr. Manet and his Daughter, 1883

From the MNBAQ website:
"The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (Québec City, Canada), the Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia, PA), the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas, TX), and the Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France) announced the internationally touring exhibition dedicated to one of the revolutionary artists of the French Impressionist movement, Berthe Morisot (1841–1895). Co-organized by the four institutions, Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist will focus on the artist’s figure paintings and portraits through approximately 50 to 60 paintings from both public institutions and private collections. This tour will be the first dedicated presentation of Morisot’s work to be held in the United States since 1987, the very first solo exhibition of her work to be mounted in Canada, and the first time since 1941 that a French national museum will devote a monographic show to this important painter."

Eugène Manet and his Daughter in the Garden at Bougival, 1881

In Morisot's time, women were barred from attending formal art schools; she was tutored privately. At the age of 23, two of her paintings were accepted into the "Salon de Paris". She continued to show her work regularly at the Salon until 1873, and then with the Impressionists, beginning with their first exhibition in 1874. In 1872 she sold 22 of her paintings to the private dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. Nevertheless, she destroyed much of her early work, dissatisfied with it. Many of her paintings remained in the hands of her family until recently, and this also may have contributed to a delayed appreciation of her body of work.

Young Girl in Green Coat, 1893

In Morisot's time, it was thought unseemly for women to frequent public places like bars, cafés, and theatres alone. While her contemporaries often found their subjects at the horse races, or in brothels, she found her inspiration in more domestic settings, concentrating on family members or paid models, and favouring interior scenes.

Portrait of Mlle J.M. (Julie Dreaming), 1894

I did find some of Morisot's compositions problematic. Often I felt the relationship of her subject to the background was awkward. A few of the works presented as paintings were "scribbly", and better seen as sketches. But what some refer to as "unfinished" I could see as having a spontaneous quality, that pushed the impressionistic approach to its natural limits. I preferred the paintings that had a range of value, of dark and light, as I found some of her too-pastel palettes a bit sugary for my taste.

Jeune Fille en Blanc, 1891

The exhibition is a very thorough exploration of Morisot's work and life, as seen both with contemporary eyes and through the lens of her own times. It continues until September 23, 2018.

Seated Young Girl (Julie Manet Holding a Book), 1889

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hand Made @ MNBAQ

Hand Made is currently running at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, until September 3, 2018. I always enjoy shows that celebrate the mastery of materials, and how craftsmanship can be employed to address provocative issues.

Guillaume Lachapelle, Untitled
nylon and paint

Here's an introduction to the show from the MNBAQ's website:
"Handicrafts, know-how and folklore come to the fore in contemporary art in this exhibition that dismantles the principles of hierarchy in art. Fait main / Hand Made presents these practices by exploring not only popular art, raw art and Pop Surrealism but also technology. More than 40 Canadian artists from Vancouver to Halifax have been assembled in this sweeping exhibition. Fait main / Hand Made promises a brilliant overview of a significant segment of contemporary output in Canada.
"The exhibition will encompass a broad range of practices, from wood carving to quilts, not to mention ceramics and embroidery. It includes a chair sculpted from newspaper, objects covered in knitting, textile videos and 3D printing.  The craft-based processes used will highlight the mastery of matter. The event ultimately examines the transformation of work, politics, labour and leisure."

Gilles Mihalcean, Wormhole
wood and stain
Can you see the figure of the man, caught upside down
in a passage through the fragments of chairs?

Gilles Mihalcean, Wormhole (detail)
wood and stain

The gallery notes for Wormhole read, in part, "Milhacean's sculptures are made up of pieces of wooden chairs that have been piled up into monolithic masses shot through with numerous openings and gaps. Simultaneously dynamic and precarious, these structures allude to a state of constant transformation."

Cal Lane, Gutter Snipes I

Cal Lane, Gutter Snipes I (detail)
note cast shadow on wall above sculpture

Cal Lane's Gutter Snipes I is the first piece the visitor sees on entering the exhibition, making for a bold introduction. Lane uses a plasma cutter to transform a section of sewer pipe into complex, lace-like tracery. I first saw Lane's work at Stewart Hall in Pointe Claire, and posted about it. The artist typically takes pieces of metal (old oil cans, shovels, a munitions box, the hood of a car) that reek of industry or war, and changes them into something "pretty", playing with our tropes of masculine and feminine.

Michael Patten, Native Beating
baseball bat and glass beads

Michael Patten, Native Beating (detail)
baseball bat and glass beads

Again, from the museum's posted label:

"The economy of means employed by Michael Patten in creating Native Beating gives a disarming simplicity to a baseball bat covered in rocaille beads. Patten camouflaged this emblem of American sports culture using the traditional indigenous technique of beadwork. A closer look shows that the red beads representing bloodshed at the tip of the bat also form the map of Canada. This unmistakably political work underscores the systemic violence done to peoples who were assimilated on behalf of a hegemonic colonialist identity."

Guillaume Lachapelle, Book
plaster and epoxy

Guy Laramée, Good-bye,
altered Encyclopedia Britannica, archival pigments and ink

When I was a child, defacing a book was considered to be a sacrilege. Now, "altered books" are an entire subsection of art. Are books no longer precious? Or are they more precious than ever, now that we are faced with their imminent replacement by digital media? I find both works above to be challenging explorations of these questions and others.

Paryse Martin, The Wrinkled Universe
paper, cardboard, fibreglass and wood

Paryse Martin, The Wrinkled Universe (detail)
paper, cardboard, fibreglass and wood

Anna Torma, Metamorphosis
mixed media on canvas

Anna Torma, Metamorphosis (detail)
mixed media on canvas

A number of works in the show explored themes using fibre and stitch. Three large pieces by Anna Torma were included. The show's notes read,

"Torma's eclectic imagery unfolds across the fibre surface in a complex patchwork of hand-stitched embroidery and layered or stamped fabric. The artist has used her skill to create an entire world of formal elements and signs that recall the iconographic imagery of the medieval period, as well as outsider art. Fascinated by the symbolic heritage of fibre in material culture, Torma uses it as a vector for reflection on identity and other sociopolitical issues."

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Color Improvisations 2 @ the Textile Museum, Toronto

Riff #4: Calm, Nancy Crow
86.25" x 87.5", 2015

Riff #4: Calm (detail), Nancy Crow86.25" x 87.5", 2015

Can you manage a visit to the The Textile Museum of Canada in the next few weeks?  I was thrilled to see one of their current shows, and wanted to share the experience by posting some photos. I've included some of the texts posted with the exhibition.

The TM is pleased to be the sole Canadian venue for Color Improvisations 2, a groundbreaking exhibition that presents a group of bold asymmetrical quilts made in 2014 and 2015. Curated by celebrated American artist, quiltmaker, and teacher Nancy Crow, the exhibition includes 25 large-scale quilts by 25 artists from Canada, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and the United States - all of whom have studied with Crow, whose widely influential work emphasizes the graphic power of colour.

Madness, Brigitte Ammann
78.75" x 78.75", 2015

Madness (detail), Brigitte Ammann
78.75" x 78.75", 2015

Color Improvisations 2 grew out of what Nancy Crow calls her "ongoing mission to bring back the majesty, strength and energy of large textile works, specifically large quilts." She asks, "Why not work large? Why not take advantage of this wonderful attribute of the quilt?" 

"I believe that those of us who love working with fabric were originally drawn to this medium by its large forceful presence and the freedom to use color joyously." - Nancy Crow

Vibrant Color Bars, Ruth Bosshart-Rohrbach
81.5" x 86", 2015

Vibrant Color Bars (detail), Ruth Bosshart-Rohrbach
81.5" x 86", 2015

"All of the quilts that make up Color Improvisations 2 were created specifically for this exhibition, and together they represent a compelling, coherent and distinctive body of work. While the group's collective use of rich solid colors, improvisational piecing, and intricate machine quilting are all at the service of abstract design, each artist maintains a strong individual identity."

Linienspiel 13, Regula Emmenegger
78.75" x 81", 2015

Linienspiel 13 (detail), Regula Emmenegger
78.75" x 81", 2015

"As in making all art, there are starts and stops, excitement and discouragement. And there is the time of just plain slogging, sewing hundreds of tiny parts together, creating larger segments until the final piece is completed. Many more hours must be put into the quilting lines which will ultimately define the final outcome."

Shapes and Lines 19/20/21, Heide Stoll-Weber
83.5" x 79.5", 2015

Shapes and Lines 19/20/21 (detail), Heide Stoll-Weber
83.5" x 79.5", 2015

"Nancy Crow explains the process: 'The artist must have at the ready a palette of dozens, if not hundreds, of colors in cloth. The quiltmaker must be able to 'draw' instantly while using an extremely sharp cutting tool, making as few mistakes as possible. One first cuts out myriad parts on a table. Then, climbing a tall ladder, the artist begins pinning these parts onto the wall. One has to go up and down ladders multiple times over and over day after day and be able to visualize lay-outs of shapes [and] relationships of colors and values when stepping back to take a hard look.'

"Nancy Crow compares pieced quiltmaking to painting. 'Both require a strong classical sense of figure/ground composition,' she explains, 'and knowledge of how to mix and create colors (for quiltmakers, through dyeing), a strong sense of proportions, and drawing ability. Unlike painting, fabric colors, shapes, and lines are not brushed on, but sewn together. To cut parts, shapes, and lines by eye and manage color and value demands hours of practice. It takes obsessiveness, intensity, and a great eye.'"

Elizabeth Brandt, Flight Plan
88" x 85", 2015

Elizabeth Brandt (detail), Flight Plan
88" x 85", 2015

The first impression of each piece was very strong, and then came further delight in a close inspection of the quilting design, shown in the detail photos.  I was happy to buy the hardcover catalog that accompanies the exhibition, and that includes all 50 of the works in the show as it was originally staged, in Neumünster, Germany, as well as biographies and artist statements.

The show continues until September 23, 2018. Three future North American exhibition venues are listed on the show's site.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

My favourite Baltic city...

Stockholms skärgård.png

... had to be Stockholm. A beautiful city, actually an archipelago of emerald islands.  The early morning approach by cruise ship was an unforgettable experience.  More distinctive than Copenhagen, more human-scaled than St. Petersburg. I hope to return there some day.

Meanwhile, here are some snippets of the architecture I found so pleasing. Something about the bold colours of the buildings, the brilliant blue of the sky, the high contrast of black rooftops.... Or perhaps simply because it was the last city we saw before returning home.

Though our time was limited, it was refreshing to observe the Scandinavian way of life, a society that supports extensive parental leave, higher education, a more reasonable work week, local food sourcing, community-owned wind farms, and free health care. There seems to be less need to over-consume, and less income disparity. With so much of their territory at low elevation, there is a keen awareness of climate change and global warming. I wish our North American model could shift to something closer to that seen in Denmark and Sweden.

Do hope to return some day for further explorations!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cityscape possibilities from Tallinn

The old town of Tallinn is very picturesque. Somehow it seems like a small village, when in fact Tallinn is the largest city in Estonia, with a population of over 450,000.

Here are some pix I took while there. I will need to make a few Cityscapes before the end of the year, to add to a show scheduled for January. Perhaps one of these images will get the Cityscapes treatment?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

St. Petersburg: a mixed experience

Following are a few words of caution to any art lover planning a visit to St. Petersburg.

Seeing the Hermitage has long been an ambition of mine. I was especially excited about the prospect of visiting the General Staff Building, which houses the Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection.

General Staff Building, Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Independent travellers to Russia are required to obtain a visa. This is an expensive, complicated, and time-sensitive procedure.

So travellers are often tempted to book a cruise and register for a group tour, either with the cruise line or with an independent tour company, either of which will obtain a visa for you. The downside of this is that many of these tours list the Hermitage as a destination, but do not actually include a visit to the General Staff Building. If they do, your visit will be limited to an hour or less. AND you are required to stay with the tour guide at all times.

In other words, you can't extend your visit by skipping the group lunch and meeting up with the tour later.

For this reason I would advise anyone interested in spending more time with this exceptional art collection to book a private tour. Though it costs a bit more, remember that the amount is small relative to the cost of the entire holiday.

It was even more heartbreaking because the galleries were virtually empty. A long, lingering look at this collection would have been an unforgettable experience.

And now for another caveat about the collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings.

Some of these works were acquired by the Russians from the Germans at the end of the second World War, in what was seen by the Soviets as reparation for war damages. The difficulty is that the Germans acquired these paintings by confiscating them from Jewish owners. While the process of restitution to the rightful owners is ongoing in many countries, Russia has been slow to engage with these efforts.

Seeing all these masterpieces in one place is a thrilling, albeit tainted, experience.

Below are a few of the hundreds of gems in the collection.

Woman in Green,  Henri Matisse, 1909
acquired in 1930 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow
formerly in the S. I. Shchukin collection

Bathers, Paul Cézanne, c. 1890-91
From Otto Krebs's collection

Portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse, 1947
donated by L.N. Delectorskaya, 1967

Young Woman in a Blue Blouse (Portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya), 1939
Henri Matisse, donated by L.N. Delectorskaya in 1971

Dance, Henri Matisse, 1910
acquired in 1948 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow,
formerly in the collection of S.I. Shchukin

The Red Room (Harmony in Red), Henri Matisse, 1908
acquired in 1948 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow,
formerly in the collection of S.I. Shchukin

View of Collioure, Henri Matisse, c. 1905
acquired in 1948 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow,
formerly in the collection of S. I. Shchukin

Bouquet (Vase with Two Handles), Henri Matisse, 1907
acquired in 1934 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow,
formerly in the collection of I. A. Morozov

Still Life with Dishes and Fruit, Henri Matisse, 1901
acquired in 1934 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow,
formerly in the collection of S. I. Shchukin

Bottle of Pernod, Table in a Café, Pablo Picasso, 1912

Absinthe Drinker, Pablo Picasso, 1901
acquired in 1948 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow,
formerly in the collection of S. I. Shchukin

View of the Seine, Maurice de Vlaminck, c. 1906
acquired in 1948 from the State Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow,
formerly in the collection of Ivan Morozov

Port de Menton, Albert Marquet, 1905
from the G.E. Haasen collection

Children, Edouard Vuillard, 1909
from M. O. Tsetlin's collection

View of Fort Samson, Grandchamp, Georges-Pierre Seurat, 1885
from Bernhard Koehler's collection

Fruit, Paul Cézanne, 1879-1880
from S. I. Shchukin's collection