Category Archives: Review

The Artist

(via New York Times)

Last night I took a trip back to the 1930s. I sat in the River Oaks Theatre (built in 1939), which as the photo shows, still operates with an old grand marquee. Our movie started, and there was silence. And then some more silence. And then music, but still no audible words but just captions on screen. Nor was there color, but just black and white moving images. It was The Artist, the French film getting a lot of Oscar buzz for doing something so old-fashioned and unimaginable: being a silent film. And it was lovely.

It was so interesting that even as the opening credits played (silently) there was almost a discomfort among us in the audience, this group of strangers sitting in a silent dark theater. We’re conditioned to think, “Are the speakers not on?” The opening scene of the film is so smart-we’re not only watching a silent film, but we’re watching people in the film watch a silent film in a 1930s theatre. And by doing that it makes us feel like we’re part of them and they’re part of us. We’re no longer removed from this bygone era; we’re in it.

The film tells the story of George Valentin, a suave and prideful star, whose the end-all be-all in the silent film industry, until the unthinkable happens. Silent films are on the brink of extinction with the invention of talkies, and he’s yesterday’s news. Enter young, aspiring actress Peppy Miller who concurs the world of talkies, while remaining adorable and lovable. George is horrified of the changing film industry, declaring that he’s not a puppet but an artist. His distaste and fear of the talkies is telling: his own tragic flaw is that he barely speaks in his real life, which is emphasized by numerous instances of people yelling at him out of frustration, “SPEAK!” (yelling in the silent film tradition of captions coming on screen seconds after the actors lip the words). Perhaps the biggest scene-stealer of the entire film, though, is George’s Jack Russell Terrier, the smartest dog I’ve ever seen and the most loyal companion.

The entire movie is nostalgically lovely and a much-needed reminder to sit still and enjoy a work of art (whether a film, a painting or a wonderful book) for its simplicity and genuineness.

1. A 1920s Continental typewriter makes a cameo in the film, instantly making me love it more. 2. The Corn Poppy, by Kees van Dongen, c. 1919 at the MFAH, could practically be a portrait of Peppy Miller. 3. Jack Russell Terriers, which have starred in The Mask, "Frasier" and My Dog Skip, are utter geniuses.

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This summer has been so

Robert Cottingham's "Hot," on view at the Wichita Art Museum

One of my favorite ways to escape the sweltering heat these days is to step into a nice air-conditioned museum. Even better when the art ends up being themed around summer. On a recent visit to Kansas, I visited the exhibit Been in the Dark at the Wichita Art Museum, which showcased around 45 artworks that had been kept hidden in the Museum’s vaults for a number of years. It claimed to not be centralized on any specific theme but I loved finding a common thread among the works: whimsy, fresh fruit, melting ice cream, playful beach moments and countless other summer images. I hope to have a review of the exhibit on Review sometime in the coming weeks, but until then I leave you with some of my favorite works from the exhibit and invite you to take a break from the scorching sun and feast your eyes on some art in your area.

Adrian van Suchtelen's "Cherries"

Mmm, cherries. One of my favorite summer fruits. Also a reminder that I still need to make this.

Steve Berman's "60 Million Gumballs With 10 Winners"

Don’t you just want to jump into this painting? It’s so colorful and bright.

Leon Kelly's "Silvia in Garden"

This is one of the most interesting paintings I have seen in a long time. I love that her body is depicted almost like a preying mantis while she tends her garden. I could just examine this picture for hours.

Robert Lazzarini's "Teacup"

This teacup looks like it’s melting from the heat! I feel your pain, teacup. I also want this sitting on my bookshelf. It’s so very whimsical.

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Show Me the Monet

Jonathan and I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City to visit the current Monet exhibit. After visiting Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris three years ago – where an entire room was dedicated to practically floor-to-ceiling paintings by the impressionist – it’s hard to be awed (pictures below).

But it was a good exhibit. It’s the first time in 30 years that three parts of this triptych have been reunited (each canvas is normally at the Nelson-Atkins, the St. Louis Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art) and only one other Monet triptych is in the U.S. (at the MoMA in New York). There is a lovely intro to the triptych with photos and videos of Monet painting in the garden he made in Giverny. Side note: I never imagined Claude Monet to look like this:

Anyway, the triptych is set in a dim room with lots of comfortable couches to sit and stare, examine and get up close and realize what it means to paint this massive painting over 10 years. In the next room there’s close-up shots of the painting with sketches of his studies. And then, introduce technology: four touch-screen tablets give visitors the ability to sketch their own Monet.

I present to you, my rendition of a flower and lilly pad, a la Monet.

And Jonathan’s masterpiece:

Check out other visitors’ works here and click View the Gallery.

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Painting vs. Sculpture

One of my favorite ways to think about art is to form connections between artists and works. That way, even if I don’t “like” it, I can still consider it and give it some thought. After all, the movement of art history is all about the ways artist react to their predecessors, are influenced by them or comment on them.

Artist John C. Wagoner currently has an exhibit at Artspace called Made Out of Paint. He references Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Treatise on Painting,” which debates whether painting or sculpture is most superior (Da Vinci concludes that it is painting). WIth his so-called “paint sculptures,” Wagoner strikes up this debate again. Although I don’t personally think one art form is superior to another, I enjoyed Wagoner’s take on the subject.

My favorite thing was seeing the clear references Wagoner’s pieces made to works by Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns.

Wagoner’s food, drinks and tablecloth made with paint (above)

Notice the Balantine Ale in Wagoner’s work; here, Jasper John’s Painted Bronze (1960)

Part of Claes Oldenburg’s The Store (1961)

Other objects Wagoner sculpted include head busts, books, paintbrushes and frames (below).

Johns’ other Painted Bronze piece (left)

It’s clear that Wagoner continues an ongoing discussion of painting vs. sculpture. Whereas Johns simply painted his bronze sculptures, Wagoner takes it a step further and completely blurs the line between the two mediums. The typical sculpture sits on a floor or podium; a painting is usually hung on a wall. Wagoner does both with his pieces; so are they paintings or are they sculptures? Does it matter, and is one better than the other?

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A Day at the Museum

I don’t live too far from the Norton Art Gallery and visit it rather frequently. But truth be told, 95% of my visits are spent outside with art that looks like this

It’s one of my favorite places to walk especially during springtime when azaleas are in full bloom. But today Mom and I ventured inside to see the Great Masters of Cuban Art exhibit on view until June 6. I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised at the quantity and quality of artwork that was featured. There was a nice variety of subject matter and time periods represented, too. Here were some of the highlights for me:

Jose Maria Mijares, Sueno en el puerto (Dream of the Port), 1943, oil on canvas

There is so much going on in this painting, which is part of what I love about it. A few things struck me right away, though. The colors seem subdued and monotone at first glimpse, but there are little bursts of colors peeking out that seem to signify the dream trying to break through of a bleak and mundane day. The narrow, long faces of the young women reminded me of how Amedeo Modigliani often painted his female portraits, with those unnerving hollow eyes. And I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Cubism himself, Pablo Picasso, because of the angularity and overlapping nature of the seaside buildings in the background.

Angel Valdes, Guateque, 1940, oil on canvas

A lot of what makes me like this work is that it reminds me of Thomas Hart Benton paintings. The figures aren’t quite as elongated as those in Benton’s paintings, and it’s missing that curvy and billowy landscape, but the thick wrinkles of clothing and facial muscles seem sculpted. And that’s so very Benton.

Domingo Ravenet, Escena de circo (Circus Scene), 1944, oil on canvas

The dreamy quality of this painting makes me want to hang it in my bedroom. It also reminds me of Chagall, but I can’t for the life of me find a painting of his that is comparable. Maybe it’s just the dreamlike quality that his works give off, too. We’ll leave it at that.

Juan Gil Garcia, Naturaleza muerta (Still Life), 1926, oil on canvas

Confession: I’ve never been crazy about still life paintings. But the other day I started reconsidering them and what they can represent. I happened to notice my pearl ring and earrings stacked together haphazardly on a table, a common enough sight, but as I considered them I thought how very me those objects and their placement are. In this work, the chewed and smoked cigar lying on a newspaper beside a half-peeled fruit paint a portrait of someone and his everyday routine.  There’s more I want to say about this topic, but I’ll save it for another post. For now, this painting was worth mentioning for me because it reminded me to reexamine a genre of art I’d prematurely cast aside.

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