Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Sense of Time

This Monday, so many art writers writing about each other instead of about art. Noah Becker sums it up, and says it's maybe just too hard to write about the art itself. Yes it is, and I'm going to take a stab at some art that is hugely complex. Hard to put words to what I feel about it, but here goes.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my favorite thing to do is to wander through to the medieval section. I love those polychrome statues of saints and important persons, love them because they reveal the essence of the real people they once were. I like to imagine what their lives must have been like, birth to death and and the discomforts in between.

At the Brooklyn Museum, I found correspondences between Kiki Smith's cast aluminum figures in the exhibition Sojourn, installed in a series of rooms on the fourth floor, and the Egyptian figures that are part of the exhibition To Live Forever. In both exhibitions, each figure imparts a sense of time transcended, of a permanent present that is rooted in the life of the person depicted. In an eerie way, the viewer senses a vision that emanates not from the artist's skill but from the statue itself. Each figure creates a tangible space around it. As I stood beside Smith's Annunciation (shown above), not knowing exactly what its blank eyes had seen or were seeing now, I knew that I too was experiencing the numinous. It came as no surprise to read that Smith has a deep knowledge of medieval art, or that her figures installed in the 18th century period rooms at the museum were right at home. I learned too that the ancient Egyptians believed that funerary statues contained the spirit of the deceased, and that a possible reason for the broken noses of so many of them was to prevent the spirit from coming back to life.

Sojourn is a new iteration of Smith's exhibition Her Home, installed in 2008 at the Kunstmuseen Krefeld and the Kunsthalle Nuernberg. In the accompanying catalog, Krefeld Director Martin Hentschel describes Her Home as "a scenario of life face to face with transience." Her work "links spirit, human and animal worlds," and in this way, I think, is very much like the art of ancient Egypt. Yet the title of the Egyptian exhibit, To Live Forever implies a different outcome to transience. At the Brooklyn Museum, transient time and eternity seem somehow the same.

Sojourn continues through September 12. To Live Forever is on view through May 2. The statuary at the Met is forever.

More on Kiki Smith
slide show
Brooklyn Museum
Flickr Source

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Kuniyoshi Tour-de-Force

Toward the latter part of 2009, this blog kind of got away from me, or I from it, but I am back and planning to make it a weekly post again. Rainy Monday seems like a good time to begin. I'm in New York, focused on Japanese woodblock and my own beginning efforts in that direction, and I am looking, looking, looking. More than 100 of Utagawa Kuniyoshi's prints from the first half of the 19th century are on exhibit at the Japan Society. I spent several hours there yesterday, and then, it being a perfect Sunday afternoon for walking, continued on to the Asia Society where two exhibitions, Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art and The Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: from River Plain to Open Sea, are on view.

The title Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters barely begins to describe the richness of imagery in Kuniyoshi's prints. There are warlords, Kabuki actors, feuding clans, beautiful women, exemplary women, landscape elements derived from the Dutch, and indeed, monsters, demons and ghosts, along with oversized toads, cat spirits, and politicians rendered as turtles. Equally fascinating for me were the patterned depictions of nature: floating leaves on shimmering river water, pouring rain (described as a tour-de-force on the part of the block carver) and subtle color fades in skies and sunsets. For the aspiring student, most valuable of all, examples of Kuniyoshi's sketchbooks and a few of the key block drawings that provide the line elements for the prints. A related exhibition, The 36 Views of Fuji by Hiroshige is at Ronin Gallery through March 31. I will see that later this week.

Now that I've gotten started there is much I could say about what I notice as obvious contrasts between the exciting line and vigorous color of the Kuniyoshi images that have had such an influence on manga, and the quiet presence of Vietnamese objects and Chinese scroll painting. My work as viewer is different depending on what I'm seeing. Entering into the space of the scroll painting, or even standing quietly before the dun tones of a large ceremonial vessel, I am making a journey into myself. But Kuniyoshi takes me out into other worlds that mirror faces and forms of his own time and also reflect the issues and mores of the 21st century.

Image credit: Kuniyoshi Samurai Print
Japan Society

Asia Society

Friday, March 12, 2010

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