Dialogue: feeding the mind & the eye
I’ve just come back from the member’s opening of the Fisher Collection at SF MOMA. It’s a collection that some say has put the SF MOMA as second only to the New York MOMA for modern art.
I meant to spend more time on the people and the event itself, I really did, but I haven’t had enough time to really look at art on my own since my child has gotten big enough not to sleep through a museum visit. It was wonderful to take that time.
I had a beautiful moment in the rooftop garden, listening to the music in the fog, standing under one of Louis Bourgeois’ Spiders, thinking about her in her studio, the drive through several states and two blizzards to get to the salon talk, how blessed I felt that she had shared her time with me and discussed my work with me. Even more so that she liked it.
Then I sat in the fog and drew the spider to the music.
I had a number of interesting conversations with people, but mostly I was glad to have a moment with the work. Sitting in front of Cy Twombly’s “Rome” piece was another wonderful moment. I loved the layers of history it suggested, the way it makes one want to tell the story. The mark, the scope of it. It only affirmed my recent urges to do large-scale paintings inspired by (or starting from) my 20 month old daughter’s lines and process. I envy the purity of it. I just want to take oil sticks and a large canvas and let pure energy and impulse interact in layer after layer until it hums.
Last week I went to the DeYoung’s current show The Birth of Impressionism Masterpieces from the Muse D’Orsay. It surprised me. Until the last couple rooms, the color was not anything like what I associated with Impressionism (and fairly enough- it wasn’t Impressionism yet, it was the seeds of Impressionism).
The experiments in composition, mark and subject were clear enough, but the experiment in color seemed to be initially about removing it rather than about natural light. Certain pieces looked like fledgling surrealist bits (a screen painted with fans in a Manet painting has a fan that is so #D it seems to float over the screen). Whistler’s painting “Arrangement in Gray and Black” clearly wanted to be a minimalist arrangement of shape and color. The portrait of his mother seems to be there only to satisfy the audience. It is as simple as it can be- rectangles and lines in shades of black, gray and white.
There were a rooms full of pieces that were nearly black and white or sepia-tones (except for the colors of the french flag, and those straight out of the tube). Rooms full of tube-y paintings (colors that are straight out of the tube, not uniquely mixed). They were even mixing colors with black (rather than using a complimentary color) to get the shadows! The colors that were there seemed to just be given volume by mixing with whole or black without any hint of other colors. The influence of Japanese prints was there early on though.
A little later you start to see hints of what one would consider Impressionist color in the backgrounds, starting with Monet. Little bits of that dappled many-colored color where (for example) blue has hints of green and even salmon color and pale yellow. Then everyone is suddenly doing it.
Seeing these works together, seeing the painters together, and seeing how they influenced each other first hand made their influence on each other so much more striking to me. Then seeing so much representation from the New York School at the Fisher Collection Opening underlined the value of artistic circles once again for me
We don’t really get groups of painters any more, and if we do I can’t see them from the perspective of here and now. I do see groups of movements of a kind (like Burning Man), but nothing that would be taken seriously as an Art-art movement now. Then again, neither were the Impressionists for a good long time. Who knows?
Technology and the internet have changed the way we interact forever. What will it do to art? I don’t think we will be able to clearly see for some time.
These shows helped recharge my art-brain. They reminded me how much I know already (which is always more than I think until I’m looking at things or teaching), and how much I don’t know and want to learn (such as needing to know a great deal more about the New York School). It puts me in motion.
Funny, with a small child, every free moment is that much more precious. I have felt that when I have time to work, I should always be working. What I have pushed aside is the time to think and study and look– all of which I knew were important, but somehow got dropped recently. This past week has reminded me just how essential that time is, and how it is as much a part of the work as the act of creating. I think producing good work demands dialog-with those who are no longer with us as well as those who are.