Eye of the beholder
Malcolm Varon/image ¬©Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY
Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And in 2012, there are a number of exhibits within driving distance that not only examine a major artist’s work, but also consider the beholder—how those who collect or admire a particular artist fit into the picture.
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Rembrandt in America, for example, looks at what the Dutch master’s work meant to an American audience—and how we, as appreciators of his artistry, define and understand the concept of authenticity.
The Cincinnati Art Museum asks viewers to consider the sometimes surprising range of styles employed by Picasso, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art displays some unusual works by van Gogh that may be unfamiliar to many of his fans precisely because they were too radical and unusual to appeal to collectors.
An exhibit of works by Columbus native George Bellows at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., examines how the artist made a name for himself by defying the conventional wisdom about what collectors were interested in and tackling subjects overlooked by traditional painters. And an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago asks visitors to forget their preconceived notions of Roy Lichtenstein as a pop artist and appreciate the many layers of his work.
Rembrandt in America, at the Cleveland Museum of Art Feb. 19 through May 28, is bringing together the largest number of authentic Rembrandt paintings ever assembled from American collections. It takes a look at the Dutch master’s work through the eyes of those who brought his paintings to the New World.
“The main thrust of the exhibition is to talk about Rembrandt in North America and what Rembrandt paintings have meant to museums and private collectors,” says Jon Seydl, the museum’s Vignos curator of European painting and sculpture, 1500-1800. “What it becomes, however, is a survey of Rembrandt’s paintings through his career. As an artist, he always changes—he has a very complicated trajectory.”
Rembrandt’s works present a complication for collectors—it’s not always clear whether a painting is a “true” Rembrandt or not. The artist had many students, and he sometimes put his name on their works as an endorsement. He also may have added something to a particular painting on which other hands also made significant contributions.
“Attributions have always been so difficult to sort out—what makes a Rembrandt a Rembrandt,” says Seydl. “Our show has about 30 pictures that are real, authentic works and about 20 that are in various states of ambiguity. Some of them are incredibly beautiful and important paintings in their own right.”
That ambiguity has challenged collectors and museums alike, and the museum is putting the debate front and center in this exhibition. One of the museum’s paintings, “Portrait of a Woman,” is being examined in detail during the show. X-rays, ultraviolet light, infrared light and microscopes are being used to examine the authenticity of the piece.
“We’re using the show, in a way, as a laboratory,” Seydl says, noting that others may have tried to fix problems with the painting and altered it in the process. “So what you see in the gallery isn’t necessarily what Rembrandt put there.”
Advanced techniques have given new insight into the painting, Seydl says. “You can see through those layers to what’s underneath, which looks more like Rembrandt to me.”
After the show, the painting will undergo a restoration. “We’ll restore it to something closer to the original appearance of the picture,” he says, which gives visitors to the exhibition a unique vantage point. “People will have a chance to watch our progress.”
Another artistic treat that can be enjoyed without leaving
“He was very experimental in the use of the media that he worked in,” says curator Kristin Spangenberg. “It was really in the 1930s that printmaking became an important aspect of his work.”
One of the things the prints show is his range as an artist, she says. “He often worked simultaneously in several styles, but there are several themes that keep repeating in his work.”
In particular, Spangenberg says there are three themes visitors will see Picasso return to again and again: the artist at work, his interest in bullfights and the various women who served as his muses. “Sometimes his wife, sometimes his mistress,” she says.
The works are drawn from the museum’s collection as well as private collections in the
Spangenberg says putting together the exhibit was a joy. “It gives me a perfect excuse to enjoy one particular artist’s work. And it gives you a chance to scrutinize what’s in your collection and make a wish list. In this case, I was successful in getting my number one on the wish list.” That greatly desired work depicts a Minotaur over a sleeping girl. The museum secured the print after realizing there was a lack of representation in the existing collection of Picasso’s work utilizing Minotaurs. These mythological creatures—half man, half bull—were an important aspect of his work in prints, Spangenberg says.
“The Minotaur serves as an alter ego for Picasso,” she says. “It sort of liberated Picasso to depict sexuality and the forces of the subconscious.”
Vincent van Gogh
While many exhibitions take an unusual perspective in approaching the work of the artist, a show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is focusing on the literal perspective of the artist. Van Gogh Up Close, Feb. 1 through May 6, concentrates on paintings by Vincent van Gogh in which the artist presented his subject matter in extreme close-up.
The idea for the show came from a realization that van Gogh has a number of works that combine extreme close-ups with unusual perspectives, says Jennifer Thompson, co-curator of the exhibit. “We thought this was a great opportunity to bring together works that did this,” she says. “We were surprised to find such a coherent and consistent body of work. [We] were taken by it because it’s something that hasn’t been looked at elsewhere in his career, and it has so much to offer.”
The more than 40 works, created between 1886 and 1890, take familiar subjects such as flowers, still lifes and landscapes and either put them into the extreme foreground of the composition or focus on them in unusual ways.
Many of the works may be new to viewers—even those who are fans of van Gogh. “These are works that are not as well known, because they are works that didn’t sell [as well],” Thompson says. “They were far too radical and unusual to appeal to collectors.”
So why did van Gogh go down such a strange path?
“I think there were two things at play here,” Thompson says. “On one level, what he’s doing here is trying to push the boundaries of traditional painting and picture making. He is very much trying to find his own way to make a name for himself and sell pictures and establish his own talent.”
But there also was something more personal going on, she says. “He grew up in the country, so being out in nature and being in the outdoors was always something that calmed him.”
There was a belief commonly held by the artistic community at the time that Japanese artists honed their skills by painting close-up images of nature (blades of grass, in particular) and in doing so both developed their skills and created a more contemplative, calm life for themselves. Thompson says van Gogh may have been attempting to follow their example.
“Every time he feels uncomfortable, we see this burst of creativity and these close-ups,” she says.
Bellows, a native of
“He is one of the great figures in the history of American art, and he has a particularly strong relationship with the gallery,” says Charles Brock, the museum’s associate curator of American and British paintings. “You don’t have to go too far to find a reason to do a big Bellows show.”
The exhibit is the first comprehensive look at Bellows’s career in more than three decades. “It’s been so long that young audiences might not be as aware of Bellows as older people might be,” Brock says. The show features around 140 paintings, including some from the Columbus Museum of Art.
Though his work is of interest to any American, Brock says,
The pieces in the exhibit focus on a broad range of Bellows’s work and examine his contributions to the American art scene. He left OSU at the end of his junior year and moved to
“They were subjects that were being overlooked by traditional painters,” Brock says. “His pictures, especially his boxing pictures, entered the cultural landscape of
Another artist with a connection to Columbus, Roy Lichtenstein, will be the focus of an exhibition running May 16 through Sept. 3 at the Art Institute of Chicago. With more than 130 paintings and sculptures, as well as more than 30 rarely or never-before-seen drawings and collages, the show is the first assessment of his entire career since the artist’s death in 1997.
First and foremost, the show is a comprehensive retrospective, says Erin Hogan, spokeswoman for the art institute. “It shows everything from his earliest work to literally works that were in his studio on the day he died.”
Lichtenstein was a student and art instructor at
Though today he is known primarily as a pop artist, Hogan says he was more than that. “We’re trying to broaden the view of Lichtenstein as an artist,” she says. “There’s a lot of different layers to his work and this exhibition is really about those layers.”
The display takes visitors through the artist’s life and shows how his work changed over time. It provides a special look at Lichtenstein’s relationship to historical art sources, including Picasso, Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism, German Expressionism and the American West. It also shows the wide range of alternative media Lichtenstein used, such as Plexiglas, Rowlux and perforated steel.
“The show is roughly chronological, but within that, there are different themes that interested him at different times during his work,” Hogan says. Some of it might come as a surprise to visitors, she says. “There’s a lot of works in the show that have never been seen before, in particular the collages and the drawings.”