MONDAY, JULY 15
Exhibition: Leonardo da Vinci at Metropolitan Museum of Art
TUESDAY, JULY 16
Screening: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Untold Story at Guggenheim Museum
THURSDAY, JULY 18
Exhibition: “36 Works on Paper” at Garth Greenan Gallery
Talk: “A Possibility That Exists Alongside” at New Museum
SATURDAY, JULY 20
Exhibition: Pierre Cardin at Brooklyn Museum
Performance: “The Dead Walk Into a Bar” at Park Avenue Armory
Performance: Onyx Ashanti at Tompkins Square Park
SUNDAY, JULY 21
Performance: “Alternatives & Futures” at Queens Museum
Party: “Power Play” at Rubin Museum of Art
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Minneapolis Institute of Art Will Hang Every Artwork Submitted for Once-in-a-Decade Open-Call Show ARTnews
The Minneapolis Institute of Art’s popular “Foot in the Door” series has returned for its fifth edition. The unique exhibition invites Minnesota-based artists to submit works that do not exceed one cubic foot in size—and all that meet this guideline will be accepted and displayed.
The previous iteration of the MIA series, “Foot in the Door 4,” took place in 2010 and attracted over 100,000 visitors. The original exhibition series began in 1980, with 740 artists from the state submitting works. The number of participants has steadily risen over the years, and in 2010, over 4,800 artists had pieces in the show.
More information on the submission process for “Foot in the Door 5” will be announced on the museum’s website in January, and submissions will be accepted in spring.
Nicole Soukup, assistant curator of contemporary art at the MIA, said in a release, “The exhibition quite literally enables artists to get their (cubic) foot in the door, often for the first time, at a major museum.” Aside from the new and emerging artists the exhibit attracts, “Foot in the Door” has also inspired multiple generations from artist families to participate as a group to submit a piece.
Soukup continued, “We welcome all artists, from the amateur to the professional, to participate. Everyone is encouraged to share their work, and we look forward to seeing the diversity and enthusiasm of Minnesota’s artistic communities on display in our Target Galleries next summer.”
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MADRID, Spain — Every Sunday he watched her emerge from her carriage and enter the church. He was fascinated by her long dresses and lace parasols, and one morning he summoned the courage to ask her if he could visit her closet. Amused, Micaela Elío y Magallón, the Marchioness of Casa Torres agreed. The boy apprenticed himself to the ironing staff at her palace after school, studying the Marchioness’s garments until she allowed him to design a dress for her. When she wore it to church the following Sunday, 12 year old Cristóbal Balenciaga entered the world of haute couture and high society. He would go on to become Spain’s most renowned fashion designer.
Balenciaga’s early days at the Marchioness’s palace provided a crucial education through her fashion magazines, books, and especially her painting collection. Some of the very same canvases that the designer saw there as a boy are now on display in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum’s exhibition Balenciaga and Spanish Painting, which pairs 56 works from the 16th to 20th centuries with 90 of Balenciaga’s designs — including 30 garments that have never been displayed publicly before. The comprehensive exhibition traces the undeniable influence that iconic Spanish painters like El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Goya exerted on the designer’s remarkable visual universe throughout his career.
Born the son of a fisherman and a seamstress in 1895 in Getaria, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, Spain, Balenciaga opened his first boutique in San Sebastián in 1919. When the Spanish Civil War broke out he moved to Paris, but he never forgot his roots. Balenciaga introduced Spanish fashion to a global audience through Manilla shawl-style embroidery, Spanish lace mantillas, bullfighter bolero jackets, and ruffles inspired by flamenco dresses. Fashion and high society photographer Cecil Beaton called Balenciaga “fashion’s Picasso.” Both artists came from the nation’s periphery (Picasso from Cataluña and Balenciaga from the Basque Country) rather than its center, both lived in exile during portions of its troubled history, and both made work that encompassed a more complex view of Spain.
Christian Dior once said, “We do what we can with fabric, but Balenciaga does anything he wants.” Balenciaga preferred heavier fabrics like wool, velvet, and stiff silk that he could fashion into unexpected forms and folds. His substantial, sculptural garments find their parallel in Zurbarán’s portraits of monks and saints, whose voluminous robes offer ample territory for the painter to explore the physical possibilities of fabric. Balenciaga’s streamlined, minimally embellished wedding dresses dialogue with Zurbarán’s life-size canvases, not only because they inject geometry into drapery, but also because they transmit purity through austerity.
It would seem impossible to replicate El Greco’s gravity-defying, gleaming fabrics in real life, but Balenciaga manages to do just that with his shimmering, sculpted evening gowns. Much has been said about Balenciaga’s use of the color black, which was popularized during El Greco’s lifetime by the court of Felipe II in 16th-century Spain. But Balenciaga’s super-saturated, jewel-toned colors seem to emit a supernatural glow like those in El Greco’s rapturous scenes. The exhibition’s most identical canvas-clothing pairing comes from Ignacio Zuloaga’s “Portrait of María del Rosario de Silva y Gurtubay, Duchess of Alba” (1921) and Balenciaga’s 1952 tiered taffeta gown in a lush, cherry red perfectly matched to the painting. Seeing them together is magical. Balenciaga truly brought the painting to life and made it real before our eyes.
In an interview with 25 Gramos, exhibition curator Eloy Martínez de la Pera compares the paintings in this exhibition to today’s catalogs and fashion editorials. Indeed, many of the paintings depict clothing embroidered with gold and silver thread, encrusted with jewels and pearls, and made with the finest imported cloth. At the time, the sitters’ clothing had more material value than the paintings themselves. And in this exhibition, the clothing has once again outpaced the paintings. I could hardly take my eyes off Balenciaga’s designs. After all, as Diane Vreeland once said, “If a woman came in a Balenciaga dress, no other woman in the room existed.” And in this show, it’s all Balenciaga dresses in every single room.
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Sadie Roberts-Joseph, a prominent figure in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was discovered dead in the trunk of a car on Friday, July 12. The Baton Rouge Police Department has not yet discovered the cause of her death and has not announced what led authorities to her body.
The 75-year-old activist and curator founded the city’s nonprofit Odell S. Williams Now & Then Museum of African American History in 2001. She has hosted a Juneteenth celebration in the Louisiana city for years and is known for saying, “Culture is the glue that holds a people together. Take a step back in time and leap into your future.”
According to the Associated Press, the museum exhibited African art, exhibits on Black inventors and growing cotton, and “a 1953 bus from the period of civil rights boycotts in Baton Rouge.” There were also exhibits on President Barack Obama, who Roberts-Joseph referred to as an inspiration to youth.
“We have to be educated about our history and other people’s history,” Roberts-Joseph told the Advocate in 2016. “Across racial lines, the community can help to build a better Baton Rouge, a better state and a better nation.”
In a statement, the Baton Rouge Police Department wrote:
They continued: “Our detectives are working diligently to bring the person or persons responsible for this heinous act to justice.” They ask that anyone who has information related to Roberts-Joseph’s death call detectives at 225-389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at 225-344-STOP (7867).
She was discovered approximately three miles from her residence. The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office will conduct an autopsy.
In a Facebook post, Louisiana State Representative C. Denise Marcelle said, “This woman was amazing and loved her history. She never bothered anyone, just wanted to expand her African American Museum downtown, where she continually hosted the Juneteenth Celebration yearly.”
NAACP Baton Rouge Branch wrote in a remembrance on Facebook, “From reviving Juneteenth, to the Culture preserved at Her Museum, she was a trendsetter and icon in this City.”
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Penske Media Corporation, the parent company of ARTnews, will acquire Art Market Monitor, an online publication run by its founding editor Marion Maneker since 2008. Through the acquisition, Maneker will become editorial director of Art Media Holdings, a company that oversees ARTnews and Art in America.
In a statement, Jay Penske, the chairman and CEO of PMC, said, “In the art world, where a significantly fragmented audience spans so many websites, newsletters, and brands, PMC sees the opportunity to augment these exceptional brands with further investments in content and editorial, complemented by robust data and analytic tools, and growing an engaging live media and event business. This acquisition adds a strong subscription business that expands PMC’s reach and influence in the art vertical.”
Prior to launching Art Market Monitor, Maneker was the publisher of HarperCollins’s business books imprint from 2002 to 2007. He also served as an editor at Simon & Schuster, and his writing has appeared in New York Magazine, the New York Sun, and Slate.
Art Market Monitor offers in-depth news and analysis about the art market, and also offers a premium subscription service. In addition to its editorial offerings, the website produces a podcast called Artelligence.
PMC acquired ARTnews and Art in America in 2018. Other publications in its portfolio include Variety, WWD, Robb Report, Rolling Stone, and Indiewire.
Penske’s letter announcing the news follows below.
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From the Archives: A Look at Chicagos Budding Art Scene in 1955 by Museum Pioneer Peter Selz ARTnews
Peter Selz, the founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum in California, died last month at 100. Today we turn back to the October 1955 issue of ARTnews, which included an essay on Chicago’s budding art scene by Selz and Patrick Malone. The essay focused on five artists—Cosmo Campoli, George Cohen, Ray Fink, Leon Golub, and Joseph Goto—whom the two believed typified the Windy City’s art scene at the time. Though the artists lacked a style that bound their diverse work, Malone and Selz said they shared a “deep concern with the human image.” Their essay on the “Chicago school” follows below. —Alex Greenberger
“Is there a new Chicago school?”
An enthusiastic appreciation of younger talents developed in the Windy City
Behind the plastic surgery along Chicago’s lakefront lies the real city. It has been variously christened hog-butcher, slum-city and hustler’s haven. It also has a distinguished cultural heritage, and today, inviting comparison with the originality of its architectural and literary traditions, there are certain recent paintings and sculpture by five young people who are potential leaders of a younger “Chicago School.”
These artists—Cosmo Campoli, George Cohen, Ray Fink, Leon Golub and Joseph Goto—do not compose a unified group, nor have they a unified style. They share, however, a deep concern with the human image, which re-emerges in their work after an age of abstraction to direct the sensations of the spectator toward more specific responses. They also have in common their war experiences and education: all of them attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. All have taken part in Exhibition Momentum which brought them into close contact and enabled them to clarify their roles.
Cosmo Campoli teaches at the Institute of Design of Illinois Institute of Technology and directs its Junior Workshop. His sculpture reaffirms man’s affinity with nature. The cave paintings at Altamira, which he saw while traveling on an Art Institute of Chicago graduate fellowship, interested him less than the calcareous formations in an adjoining cave. The stalagmites and stalactites brought fangs and teeth to his mind and the dripping cave became a vast mouth, leading to his concept of Jonah and the Whale. For about four years he worked on the problem of how the artist could create a form which would communicate this experience of nature’s internal structure, and finally made two versions in lead of Jonah and the Whale. The teeth, or stalactites, were made from twigs, textured with foam-glass, and cast in lead before being welded to the cave-like mouth. The scales of the whale suggest the heaving waves of the sea. The figure caught within the mesh from which there seems no escape is an extremely personal identification: “I tried to make Jonah look as I would feel if I had been in a whale.”
Campoli is preoccupied with the image of man related to birth and death: Jonah caught in the whale’s mouth, the child emerging dead from his mother’s womb, the bird mother feeding its young. He created earth-like surfaces, “as far removed from our own slick, sterile surroundings as possible,” to confront the spectator with the primordial aspects of humanity. His sculpture is frequently disturbing in its expression of terror but this experience is relieved to some extent by the very fact that the artist has come to grips with those conflicts which alarm many of us by its mastery over materials and extraordinary sensibility to formal structure. We must agree with his own recent statement. “My sculpture is not made to match walls, to please or not please anyone, or to make some damn dog happy, but to have its own personality and exist as a strong personality exists. My sculpture is, and shall be, strong enough to make an ash tray alongside of it look only like an ash tray.”
George Cohen’s paintings and collages show a prime concern with the created object, which has its own reality and exists simply for itself.
Cohen stopped painting about the time he completed his formal art training: “I knew techniques but not what to say. Therefore, connected with the question of meaning, I turned to the study of art history after I came back from the war.” At present he teaches painting and art history at Northwestern University.
In his painting Avenger he fuses forms, creates his figure out of apparent contradictions, and presents the observer with a frightening dream image of hostile aggression. It lacks traditional proportion and harmony, but Cohen has also destroyed the clichés of distortion. He believes that “making art is the shattering of values—the more pieces that fall, the deeper the power of the work.” When asked if he does not wish to create new values, he points out that these result invariably from the work.
The figure in Dancing Girl is made of aluminum foil and set against a black background with bright stripes of color. While a great deal was left to chance in his earlier work, Cohen now exercises careful control and has made many drawings to achieve the final contours of this figure. As in Byzantine mosaics, the light seems to come from the figure itself. The image makes an intense impression, indeed, it is so profound, it seems to persist even after the lights are switched off. Unlike many contemporary painters, he does not encourage the viewer to evolve his own associations. He has also “shattered” conventional space illusions—which is ironically emphasized by the addition of mirrors—the ultimate in illusion.
Cohen is fascinated by the mirror because of its multiple associations and because it transports the observer into the work. In Anybody’s Self-Portrait, mirrors are combined with the dismembered parts of a doll in a strange, hypnotic construction that includes three pairs of eyes—two of which belong to the viewer. As he looks more closely, the viewer becomes aware of his multiple, distorted reflections which violate his image just as the doll has been cut apart. The doll’s arms and legs—used in much the same spirit as the same elements were used by Bellmer—are reminiscent of votive offerings at sacred shrines.
The similarity of some of Cohen’s work to Surrealism is only a surface resemblance; he is not concerned with destruction for its own sake, but rather points up our tenuous existence.
Ray Fink, instructor and graduate student at the Institute of Design, is less concerned about calling attention to the state of man and the world. He says, “My sculpture contains no sedative or revolutionary message; it simply reflects my way of life, and the emphasis is on creation.” Verbal understatement is characteristic of Fink but is belied by the strength of his work. In making a sculpture for the U. S. Steel exhibition in 1953, the title of exhibition, “Iron, Man and Steel” suggested the word “Triptych,” which immediately called up religious associations. These were sufficiently strong to suggest a religious subject. Christ and the Twelve Apostles, as well as the formal arrangement and the final title, Triptych. Over one-hundred preparatory drawings and woodcuts preceded the models which gradually became more abstract as the work progressed. The making of an abstract sculpture was not decided upon in advance but was more a matter of Fink’s becoming fascinated with certain major forms and movements as he worked.
He finally created a “gothic” image with hinged wings in which sharply pointed spikes and strong masses are combined by means of a series of delicate and graceful threads, implying the tenuous existing balance between “iron, men and steel.” Few sculptor are successful in making the base as integral part of the sculpture as Ray Fink. The base of Thou Sayest It is composed of welded, ready-made parts rusted to a ruddy brown which serves as a foil to the oxidized bronze figure held aloft on steel spikes. The figure is emaciated; its ribs and pelvis seem to cradle and bind at once. Its scorched and scabrous surface suggest it is a memento of some holocaust; it functions as a fetish. There is a strong fetishistic element in all of Fink’s work. This is particularly obvious in his jewelry—small cast and constructed objects.
Leon Golub is a highly educated painter. He has two B.A.’s (one in art history) and an M.F.A. He now teaches at Wright Junior College and Northwestern University. In an effort to evaluate his won painting and the art of his time, he has made critical revisions of some established evaluations of contemporary art and, in this regard, his writing is more socio-psychological than that of most artists. In a recent article, “A Critique of Abstract-Expressionism,” published in the College Art Journal, Golub wrote, “Only that rare artist who is iconoclastically remote, survives with an intrinsic and personal art. If an art form becomes too “free-floating,” that is, disassociated from representative contents, it may lose identification and become somewhat anonymous. Such anonymous objects have been functional in some collective cultures . . . and the mechanics of modern society certainly predispose towards anonymous responses.”
Golub feels that in order to avoid the dual dangers of anonymous and stereotyped responses, he must rely largely on semiconscious improvisation. He differs from many of his contemporaries by insisting on a precise denotation of image which he achieves by much reworking of the canvas. His images evolve around certain central ideational patterns: frontal figures rigidly, bi-symmetrically extended; hieratic priestly figures; double-headed monsters, seemingly atavistic; princes and kings.
His Hamlet was partially induced by a reading of Ernest Jones’s essay on Hamlet and Oedipus. Golub’s Hamlet is a thwarted prince whose bird-like leg-arms seem to twitch; his enormous hand grafted onto his dwarfed arm gestures imperiously, but impotently. The totemic degeneration of a once classic head is one of a series of ambivalences of power and frustration.
Another example of Golub’s iconography is a series of sphinxes, conceived as both totems and enigmas. In the Prodigal Sphinx, the “Assyrian” father—ritualistically scarred—reaches tenderly to the proudly withdrawn, princely son. In the Siamese Sphinx, against a startling blood-pink background, one head stares defiantly, while the other seems to accept its destiny. Both paintings present insoluble conflicts communicated with profound insight and understanding.
In contrast to Golub, Joseph Goto places little confidence in verbal explanations. He says, “Just reproduce my work.”
Although Goto began as a painter, while still a student he developed an allergy to turpentine and turned to sculpture. Welded sculpture was a natural medium for him since he had spent six years as a welder for the U. S. Army Engineers in Hawaii where he was born. His ideas for sculpture take form in general sketches. Then he begins to build the sculpture, but has no set method of working. “Sometimes I start at the top and work down, or I may start on the inside and work out.” This does not imply anything disorderly or haphazard in his methods. Indeed it is more a result of his desire to take advantage of the fact that welding stainless steel is actually comparable to painting, inasmuch as it easily permits major changes during the course of the work. The finished sculpture which he accepts as the fully developed statement is invariably different in appearance from the sketch.
Individual pieces have either a strong vertical or horizontal quality. The ascending calligraphic line of Family Tree as well as the spire-like (and spear-like) J.M.G. exemplify the vertical tendency. Basically, they are twentieth-century totem poles. When seen in a gallery, quivering and swaying at the slightest vibration, they convey the magic and taboo of the jungle. Emanak is a mechanized jungle monster. Its horizontal body armed with sharpened spikes is poised to strike. It suggests the frightening mutations which might result from the use of modern super-weapons.
In addition to these five artists there are in Chicago a number of young painters and sculptors who have deviated from established standards to arrive at a frequently troubled and very personal imagery. Among them are: Don Baum, Fred Berger, Harry Brorby, Robert Kuennen, Norman Laliberte, Franz Schulze and John Waddell. Of special interest is the recent work of Fred Berger and John Waddell. At first influenced by Moholy-Nagy, Berger later worked as an Abstract-Expressionist and now paints immense human heads in which the exuberance of his surface treatment and line as well as his investigation of spatial relationships is retained but is brought to bear on more clearly defined human emotions. For Waddell the social statement is of paramount importance. His Look and See Yourself, 2 is a huge canvas evolved during the past three years: a grimly satirical, panoramic view of contemporary culture and the threat of destruction. Its strident color, distorted shapes, and the intensity of the dynamic, linear forms add up to a frenzied portrayal of struggle.
All these artists belong to a generation which follows that of the Abstract-Expressionists. While not denying the accomplishments of Abstract-Expressionism, they are concerned primarily with self-disclosure through abstract means, and they feel that painting and sculpture can express more than the recording of the artist’s process of working. They also believe that a work of art may communicate more than ineffable sensations, that painting and sculpture can, in fact, present visual symbols which may clarify and intensify our emotions about life and its meaning.
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Solange Teams With Brooklyn Museum LACMA and Other Institutions to Screen Extended When I Get Home Video ARTnews
Solange, who released her fourth album When I Get Home in March alongside a contemporary art-filled 33-minute video of the same name, is teaming up with museums around the world to debut an extended version of the film. Screenings will come to Brooklyn Museum, LACMA, MCA Chicago, Nasher Sculpture Centre in Dallas, MFA Houston, New Orleans Museum of Art, Perez Art Museum Miami, the Chinati Foundation, and the V&A in London beginning July 17 and wrapping up on October 13. The film will be widely released digitally and on streaming devices after August 5th.
The film, which was directed and edited by Solange with contributing directors Alan Ferguson, Terence Nance, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Ray Tintori, features computer-animated dance scenes from Satterwhite, animation from Robert Pruitt, and footage of Houston’s Rothko Chapel and the Forth Worth Water Gardens.
The final public showing of the film will take place at Marfa, Texas’ Chinati Foundation, a venue quite familiar to Solange, as she performed her song “Scales” among its collection of outdoor pieces by Donald Judd for a crowd back in 2016.
During a 2017 talk at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Solange spoke about her ongoing interest in working with artists and art institutions, stating that she is “interested in furthering my work in the art context when the context is right and when it feels right. Furthering it for the sake of saying, ‘I got credits at these museums’—nah.”
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Built from ivory-colored, air-dry clay, affixed to wire armatures and bedecked with foliage handmade from the same materials, the 10-foot-long chain-link fence that bisects Rachelle Dang’s installation at mh PROJECT nyc, Under a Constellation of Leaves, is the centerpiece of a haptic Proustian meditation on the interplay between past and present, innocence and experience, safety and vulnerability. The fence’s floral tangle is a reconstruction from memory of plants found in the backyard of Dang’s childhood home in Hawaii.
On the ground beside the fence, an ivory-colored clay sleeping bag is also a mnemonic reconstruction, here of a sleeping bag Dang’s mother made. The sleeping bag’s wrinkles and folds echo the contours of the clay flower petals strewn on and around it; these fallen stephanotis petals, which evoke sensuous human lips, bespeak overripe loss. Yet the blanket’s mostly unadorned surface, as well as the simplistic toy train and “RACHELLE” lettering sculpted in relief on it, suggest youthful innocence.
Dang’s ingenious material choices suspend these conceptual tensions in delicate equipoise. At once soft in appearance and hard to the touch, the air-dry clay, a Play-Doh-esque material designed for children, embodies the installation’s atmosphere of brittle tenderness. The artist’s decision to leave the clay unpainted is equally apt. While the color white often symbolizes innocence and purity, its pervasiveness here gives Dang’s baroque tropical tableau a ghostly, washed-out feel.
It could also be indirect commentary on whiteness as a racial construct, and that construct’s role in Hawaii’s colonial history. Dang’s thoughtful and compelling 2018 solo debut, Southern Oceans, installed at Motel Gallery, explored Pacific colonialism’s symbolic, material, and ecological legacies, in this case through imaginative reproductions of breadfruits, 18th-century shipping containers, and wallpaper crammed with colonialist iconography (specifically, French painter Jean-Gabriel Charvet’s “Savages of the Pacific Ocean,” ca. 1805). Under a Constellation addresses related themes but from a more intimate, personal standpoint.
However personal or impersonal, Dang’s installations stand out for the way they transmute historical facts into poetic innuendos. Her sculptural reconstructions are most effective when camped out somewhere just shy of the literal. For instance, whereas Under a Constellation’s floral forms cogently evoke human body parts, the installation’s direct bodily representations — human ear sculptures embedded among the fence’s vines and flowers — appear overly realistic as forms and heavy-handed as symbols. Dang’s lyric historicism affords her the conceptual space to explore personal and cultural vulnerabilities without feeling entirely vulnerable.
Under a Constellation of Leaves continues at mh PROJECT nyc (140-142 2nd Avenue, #306, East Village, Manhattan) through July 14.
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Leonardo da Vinci’s “Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness” (begun c.1483) is a picture at war with itself. Famously unfinished, it has prompted centuries of speculation about why it never progressed beyond the umber underpainting, with guesses ranging from the loss of a patron to the artist’s insatiable impulse to rethink, revise, and reassess. But what if Leonardo stopped because there was no place else to go?
Brought to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Vatican Museums by the indispensable curator Carmen C. Bambach to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, the painting has been awarded a rare solo-object exhibition, spotlit in the darkness of a chapel-like setting, with benches on either side. Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jerome opens to the public on Monday, July 15.
(Bambach, the mastermind behind the Met’s once-in-a-lifetime Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer (November 13, 2017-February 12, 2018) is also the author of the new four-volume study, Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, from Yale University Press.)
The environment recalls the ritual settings of the Roman Catholic Church — the Eucharistic Adoration in particular — though Bambach, in her remarks at the press preview, likens the arrangement to the customs attached to artists’ funerals during the Renaissance, which often featured displays of their work, with an emphasis on sacred imagery. The elegiac air is augmented by the sound bleed from Ragnar Kjartansson’s endless video loop, Death Is Elsewhere (2019), installed on the other side of the wall in the court of the Robert Lehman Wing — a happy, or unhappy, convergence, depending on your point of view.
Saint Jerome, in a nutshell, was a 4th-century Roman whose most notable achievement was the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin. He was also a sharp-tongued gadfly who didn’t suffer fools gladly and made enemies easily. Like his friend and rival Augustine of Hippo, he led a wayward youth and converted to Christianity in early adulthood. He later became a monk and priest, as well as a hermit and an ascetic, fleeing the machinations of Rome, where he was denounced for sexual impropriety with a female follower, for the Syrian desert near Antioch, where he practiced penance and self-mortification.
This is where we find him in Leonardo’s portrayal, which the artist started when he was 31, seven years after he was accused of sodomy — charges that were later dismissed through the intervention of the Medici. While “Saint Jerome” was a commissioned work, the personal meanings that the subject may have held for Leonardo are compelling.
A gay polymath bastard, born out of wedlock to Piero da Vinci, a notary, and a peasant woman known only as Caterina, and raised with no formal schooling, Leonardo would have found a deep and immediate connection to Jerome’s ostracism at the hands of the envious and the hypocritical. That the hermit is caught in the act of beating his chest with a fist-sized stone makes us wonder whether the picture itself might be a form of penance for the painter’s guilty pleasures.
As Antonio Forcellino writes in his recent book, Leonardo: A Restless Genius (2016, translated by Lucinda Byatt, 2018):
Forcellino renders a swift verdict — “This seems unlikely” — asserting that the saint is portrayed “like […] a plant: perfect, rigorous, and detached,” while the lion at Jerome’s feet “explodes” with sensuality, “which in Leonardo’s life and art is the true driver of his creativity […].”
Again, we must remember that the artwork was a commission, and so we should measure Leonardo’s emotional investment in the imagery with skepticism. But my reading of the painting is very different from Forcellino’s. For one, Jerome’s face is a deeply etched study of despair, with his eyes trained on the barely legible crucifix in the upper right corner (which I was able to discern only after Bambach pointed it out), his brow furrowed, his mouth parted in prayer or abasement. The composition may be perfect and rigorous, but the expression is hardly detached.
It is also worth noting that of all of the artist’s sacred paintings, “Saint Jerome” is the only one that doesn’t depict a member of the extended Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, Saint Anne, and/or John the Baptist. For Jerome to be such an iconographic outlier can only prompt us to wonder further about the significance that the desert monk might have held for the young artist.
And, taking a cue from Forcellino, we might also wonder whether the emotional turbulence that the painting represents was the cause of his inability to finish it. At the risk of insupportable speculation, could the conflict between the artist’s desires and the demands of religion and society, embodied by the stone in Jerome’s hand, have resulted in artistic paralysis?
Or, as proposed above, did he stop because the painting’s formal extremities couldn’t be resolved within the idiom of his time? Even if this conjecture doesn’t remotely approach the truth, the aesthetic consequences of these broken boundaries appear perfectly legible and complete to us today.
Forcellino suggests that Leonardo’s stoppage might have had something to do with reaching an endpoint, describing the painting as “a superb sketch: a sketch so perfect that it discouraged any attempt to complete it.”
But what is so fascinating about “Saint Jerome” is that it is wildly imperfect — an agglomeration of at least five conflicting styles whose visible seams electrify the entire stitched-together surface.
(And the stitching metaphor can be taken literally: in circumstances that remain murky, the painting’s walnut panel was at one time sawn apart so that the saint’s head could be sold separately, attesting to the deep historical roots of the rapacity of the marketplace.)
The landscape in the upper left-hand corner, the only part of the painting that includes a color other than umber or sienna, is a J.M.W. Turner, pure and simple — a haze of pigment lashed by a few quick, calligraphic strokes defining mountains rising skyward. The color, to my eye, looks like a simple mixture of terre verte and white lead that Leonardo spread over the sienna ground (which emerges as a soft pink through the sfumato scrim) with his fingers. (A wall panel directs you to the section where you can spot the artist’s fingerprints.)
The delicacy of the rendering in the upper left quadrant has nothing to do stylistically with the sharply cut, acid-brown abstraction of the rock formations behind the saint, or with the anatomical exactitude of his shoulders and torso, which seem to be lacking an epidermis — more Jean-Antoine Houdon’s “L’Écorché” (“Flayed Man, 1767) than Leonardo’s own “Vitruvian Man” (c.1490).
And then there’s the outstretched arm — an unadorned contour drawing that contrasts so harshly with the blackish browns of the backdrop that it behaves like an independent element of the composition, conceptually detached from the saint’s body and so isolated against the dark field that your eye would be stuck on it if not for the bright patch of ground on the painting’s opposite side.
The self-mortifying gesture is no elbow-to-chest tap, but the full-shoulder swing of an arm pulled so far back that it is almost cut off by the panel’s left edge. The impending blow, which seems perfectly capable of cracking the saint’s sternum, led Forcellino to consider the painting “among the most violent images of the Renaissance.”
By leaving the arm as a contour drawing, Leonardo has simultaneously emphasized and deemphasized it: the purity of its form turns it into the most important part of the painting, while its blankness prevents the ferocity of its implied arc from breaking the picture plane.
The action of the arm is amplified by the saint’s kneeling left leg, which seems to project his body forward, a far more dynamic pose than the seated position that a quick reading might suggest (the robe falling from his left shoulder and draped over his elbow seems to take the shape of a leg in repose, creating a solidity and symmetry that is undercut by the actual leg as it zags backward like a cocked trigger).
The cutout-looking lion at the saint’s feet and the temple or church, which could be the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, at the bottom of the light patch on the right, are also rendered as drawings. But the lion’s body is a darker tint than the arm, and it is more embellished, with its face and mane described through yet another approach, in careful daubs of what could be a wash of terre verte or diluted ink, while the temple is dashed off with restless sepia strokes, a quick architectural sketch.
The separate sections of the composition — the misty landscape, the modeled head and torso, the bright silhouette of the arm, the darker silhouette of the lion, and the abstracted swathes of dark and light — chafe against each other abrasively and vibrantly: Jerome’s spiritual struggle mirrored in Leonardo’s aesthetic struggle.
The inner conflict laid bare in “Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness” can be seen as the engine that animates Leonardo’s painting practice, which over the course of his career swung like a pendulum between porcelain clarity and atmospheric mystery. (A conflict notably absent from the frontal, stolid “Salvator Mundi,” c.1500, which Bambach has attributed to Leonardo’s follower Giovanni Boltraffio, with only touches by the master.)
The irresolution of “Saint Jerome” is precisely what speaks to us with such stunning freshness. Its sparkling contemporaneity militates against the ornate frame surrounding it and the encroaching shadows beckoning it into the past. It is another of Leonardo’s flying machines, taking to the air.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jerome opens on Monday, July 15, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) and continues through October 6. The exhibition is organized Dr. Carmen C. Bambach, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, with the collaboration of the Vatican Museums and the support of its director, Dr. Barbara Jatta.
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The space race at the upper echelon of the art market shows no sign of letting up. The latest move: David Zwirner will open a gallery in Paris in October. It’s Zwirner’s sixth gallery overall; the French capital will be the fourth city the enterprise has entered. The news comes a month after Gagosian said it would add a location in Basel, Switzerland, and Hauser & Wirth added one in Menorca, Spain.
Melanie Gerlis of the Financial Times had the scoop, and quotes Zwirner saying: “Brexit changes the game. After October, my London gallery will be a British gallery, not a European one.” (The British are scheduled to exit the European Union on October 31, whether or not they reach a comprehensive agreement on their departure with the EU.)
In Paris, Zwirner is taking over an 8,600-square-foot space in the Marais that the retired dealer Yvon Lambert called home for three decades, until 2015. Following Lambert’s departure, VNH Gallery moved in. VNH, which was co-founded by Hélène Nguyen-Ban and represents artists like Mircea Cantor, Candida Höfer, TJ Wilcox, and Sandra Vásquez de la Horra, is closing. VNH partner Victoire de Pourtalès will co-manage the new venture with Justine Durrett, a 12-year veteran of Zwirner who’s coming from New York.
Zwirner currently has branches in London, Hong Kong, and New York, where he has spaces on West 19th Street, West 20th, and East 69th. A five-story flagship gallery designed by Renzo Piano is also under construction on West 21st Street.
The opening of the Paris space will coincide with the FIAC art fair. First up in the space will be a show by veteran Zwirner artist Raymond Pettibon, who has not exhibited in Paris since 1995.
“In recent years, Paris has quickly become one of the most vibrant cities for the visual arts in Europe,” Zwirner said in a statement. “It’s a city where history meets the present, and we are endlessly excited to be able to occupy one of the most beautiful and legendary gallery spaces in Le Marais… We look forward to continuing the tradition of groundbreaking exhibitions at 108, rue Vieille du Temple, our new home in Paris.”
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