Picasso to Warhol

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Picasso to Warhol: A High Museum of Art Exhibit
– April 23, 2012

Was able to catch the Picasso to Warhol exhibit at the High before it disappeared. Thought I might make some comments.

As for the show, it was a small show: there were only a handful of pieces by each of the artists – perhaps a high of seven or so by Matisse, a low of three by de Chirico. Since the pieces showed various points in the artists' careers, there was little continuity within each artist (except for de Chirico, but then there were only three). And with nothing, outside of the title of exhibit to relate the artists to each other, there was discontinuity vertically as well as horizontally. And you would think that in that the ostensible purpose of the exhibit was to chart artists who "redefined the very idea of art" there would be some historical context, but there you go.

Nonetheless, it was well worth the ticket price. Getting to see de Chirico for the first time was excellent. And Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror. Every time I see Matisse I am more and more pulled in, and more understand him. Interior with a Violin did strange things to my head. Very fun.

We did the speaking tour (or whatever you call the taped messages) and it was barely worth the cover charge (and perhaps I'm being generous). Most of the commentary was nothing short of daft: speaking to particulars when ignoring general concepts, or not speaking of the art at all. A few times I felt they had completely missed the effect of the piece, as with Léger's Le Grande Julie: the comments completely missed the most obvious element of the work, the division of the field into left and right, and spoke against that division in the explication. What frustrated me the most was in trying to sound all art historical they missed opportunity after opportunity to simply open the works up to the viewer, especially viewers who knew little of art history. Complete shame that, because if there was one thing that the selection carried, it was the ability to do just that. Might as well also point out how silly the statements attached to the works were. It would have been nice if they actually spoke about redefining the idea of art beyond occasional and casual glances. There were a couple 'major' U.S. artists on it – the only one whose name I remember was Alex Katz. He did not impress me, and made himself sound rather ignorant at times – though, that could be the fault of the editors. (I will say, though, the three, four pieces of Katz's that the High has in their permanent collection were unimpressing to the point of being collegiate in level.)

I'll speak briefly of the artists – I'll work in order of the High's web page:


First time I bought a full retrospective of Picasso was the first time I fully understood just how beyond the pale was his genius. Any time I get to see anything of his is a good day.
There were only a couple, including Trafalgar Square. Since the audio was so bad, and the statements useless, there was nothing there to help an unknowing audience get access to Mondrian's explorations. Really, if you don't show his tree sequence – even if just in small reproduction, he's mostly inaccessible.
A great selection, including Joie de Vivre (which was in the High's Olympic exhibit). (Though, the two or three cutout works – also in the Olympics exhibit – did not meld well.) But not a syllable about his flattening the perspective, so the show completely missed a major point of what he was doing. I would say he was best represented, and perhaps least accessed.
De Chirico
Three works, including Song of Love and I believe it was Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon. As I said, it is the first time I have seen de Chirico, and it cemented my attraction to his works. His are works that speak subtly yet loudly of how inadequate book photographs can be.
I sigh for the people who can not stand in front of his major action paintings and not get lost in them. Unfortunately, they are incredibly painterly, and as is true with all great artists, he is speaking primarily to other artists. But, as with Picasso, any day in front of a Pollock is a good day.
What, six pieces?! Some large, some small. Always fun when someone is bashfully blowing upon the mobiles to make them move – No worries! You are supposed to do that. I have a feeling, though, one of them got bent up along the way to somewhere – one part of it did not follow the flow of the rest of the piece.
God-awful presentation of Duchamp. The only thing of any presence were his – oh, hell, I forget what they are called – his discs to put on phonographs. And, of course, they had them set up in a case. Rather missed the point, there folks – they need to be moving, eh? Now, Duchamp is genius at the level of Picasso, if not beyond. But in distinction, Duchamp loves a good joke. They rather missed that. I actually think they should have simply left him out rather than put forward that poor, scattered showing.
Love him, love him, love him. And it the audio was completely daft. Not enough to really give a feel for him, though. Not enough to understand what he was exploring. Nothing, of course, to explain how he changed art.
Somehow, I never came upon Léger, in all my reading and wandering. How this happened, I do not. But I do now know what will be the next art book I purchase. Knocked on the floor. His alone made the ticket worth the purchase price.
Jasper Johns to me is something like E. E. Cummings: how you see them presented in texts betrays greatly what they are really about. Johns was nothing if not about art: that is, about the craft, the creativity, the effects, the experience of art. To focus on the fact that he is painting a map of the U.S. (Map) rather than seeing what is creating out of the map is missing him entirely. Cultural object were was spoke to him: but he was not defined by the cultural objects. If you can not look at 0-9 and see how he is speaking to artists, and what he is speaking to artists, then stop talking about him.
Her presence can only be explained by the fact that they needed a woman somewhere. I will admit I do not not terribly much about her, but I have seen a number of her pieces, and I have never been impressed. To me, Louise Bourgeois is not unlike Denise Levertov in poetry: a moderate talent at best, passing off as something greater by continually mimicking other artists. Unfortunate because there are other women who were far more influential – and better artists – even if less known.
To be honest, Brancusi is still somewhat enigmatic to me. Though, I understand the brilliance of some of his works: the curve that defines Newborn (I believe it was, but may be mistaken) screams how much Brancusi had moved beyond convention and schema. It is, essentially, something that does not exist in nature. Something that is beyond 99% of sculptors.
Like Léger, Bearden was an unknown to me. And like Léger, I was swept away. I look forward to learning more. (To note, more idiocy here by the recorded speakers: again missing the obvious. And not in a way that makes it seem a chosen absence; it sounded like they never saw it to begin with.)
What is interesting to me is how at times I can walk right through a Warhol room and look only long enough to see what is there. It is an unfortunate thing, but artistically if you have seen one, you have seen them all. Of course, that's the point. But still . . . . (I can not say if the audio gave any anchor on what he was about because I had stopped listening by then. But I doubt it.)