Art History 101 – Part 7: 1900-Present

Welcome to Part 7 (1900-Present), the conclusion of my survey of art history. The seven Art History 101 lists contain every work of art that was on at least three of over 34 ‘Best Works of Art’ lists that I collected from the Internet and books. Although most of the resources available to me focused almost exclusively on the art of Western Civilization, the list does identify some of the most significant artworks produced by the artists of Asia, Africa and South America. Because I believe visuals are essential for discussing the visual arts, I have included images of the art works. (I have tried to use public domain images where possible. In other cases, I believe this is a fair non-commercial use for educational purposes. If there are copyright concerns, please let me know.) Each entry includes the date of the work, the artist’s name, the name (or names) of the work, the style or culture associated with the work, and the location where the work was produced. In addition, I have included a brief essay with description (including measurements), artistic materials used, background and interpretation. To see the rest of the Art History 101 series, click on the links below:
Part 1 (Prehistoric Era-399 CE)
Part 2 (400-1399 CE)
Part 3 (1400-1499)
Part 4 (1500-1599)
Part 5 (1600-1799)
Part 6 (1800-1899)

To see a version of the meta-list organized by rank, go here.


576. Judith and the Head of Holofernes (Judith I)

Artist: Gustav Klimt
Date: 1901
Period/Style: Symbolism; Art Nouveau; Austria 
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 1.4 ft. wide
Current location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria

In the Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes, the Jewish heroine, knowing the enemy general desires her, puts herself in danger long enough to get him drunk and then decapitate him. Artists through the centuries have depicted Judith’s strength and determination in a series of works of art, either showing her with the head of Holofernes or (beginning with Caravaggio) in the act of cutting off his head. Klimt’s rendition focuses instead on the seduction instead of the decapitation: Judith as femme fatale, dangerously erotic, leading men to their death. His model is Adele Bloch-Bauer, who features in several other Klimt works, including two portraits. Judith’s head is set against a golden Art Nouveau landscape, and her head is separated from her partially-clothed body by a wide gem-studded collar of a type that was fashionable in Vienna at the time. Her facial expression – parted lips, half-closed eyes – appears to be seducing the viewer in the same way she seduced Holofernes, whose severed head, in almost an afterthought, is cut off by the frame. Random Trivia: Because Klimt’s depiction of Judith was so unlike earlier portrayals, some assumed the subject of the painting was Salome with the head of John the Baptist. To correct this misconception, Klimt had his brother Georg build a frame for the canvas with the words “Judith und Holofernes” pounded into the metal. 

577. The Beethoven Frieze

Artist: Gustav Klimt
Date: 1902
Period/Style: Symbolism; Art Nouveau; Austria 
Medium: Charcoal, graphite, black, red and colored chalk, pastel, casein colors, gold, silver, gilt stucco, applications (mother-of-pearl buttons, brass uniform buttons, mirror fragments, ground glass, brass curtain rings, upholstering nails, semi-precious stones) on mortar render over reed matting
Dimensions: 6.6 ft. tall by 111 ft. long
Current location: Secession Building, Vienna, Austria

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt painted the Beethoven Frieze on the walls of Vienna’s Secession Building, an exhibition hall dedicated to the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that left the Association of Austrian Artists in 1897. The frieze, was painted for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition in 1902 celebrating composer Ludwig van Beethoven.  The allegorical program of the frieze is based on Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, with the following characters/episodes, beginning from left: (1) Two floating genii embody man’s Yearning for Happiness (see first image above).  (2) A couple and child representing the Suffering of Weak Mankind plead with the Knight in Shining Armor (the External Driving Force) to take up the fight for Happiness (see second image above). Supporting the Knight are two women representing Compassion and Ambition. (3) In the search for Happiness, humanity confronts the Hostile Forces, represented by the monster Typhoeus with his daughters the three Gorgons (Sickness, Madness and Death) on his left, and on his right women representing Lasciviousness/Unchastity, Wantonness/Voluptuousness and Intemperance/Excess.  On their right, isolated, is Gnawing Sorrow (see third image above).  (4) Having flown past the Hostile Forces, the Yearning for Happiness genii find Poetry, playing her lyre (see fourth image above; (5) Finally, the genii reach the heavenly land of the Arts (represented by a narrow band of women with billowing hair), the Chorus of Paradise (singing the Ode to Joy), and finally The Embrace, or Kiss for the Whole World (see fifth image above). Scholars have noted that in making the Beethoven Frieze, Klimt has drawn from sources as varied as ancient Greek, Byzantine and Medieval art, Japanese prints and contemporaries such as Ferdinand Hodler and Edvard Munch. Originally intended only for the 1902 exhibition, the frieze was purchased by a collector in 1903 and removed from the Secession Building’s walls. In 1973, the Austrian Government bought the Beethoven Frieze and installed it in a specially-designed room in the basement of the Secession Building, where the public has been able to view the frieze since 1986 (see image below).  
Visitors look at Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze at the Secession museum in Vienna

578. Mont Sainte-Victoire (Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves)

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: c. 1902-1906
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas and watercolors on paper
Dimensions: The paintings are 1.9-2.1 ft. tall by 2.4-2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Various collections
cezanne mont-sainte-victoire-seen-from-les-lauves-1 In 1901, French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne bought some land in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, along the Chemin des Lauves road, in order to build a new studio.  Between 1902 and 1906, Cézanne, working en plein air, painted 11 oil paintings and 17 watercolors from this location, all featuring his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire. Cézanne had long since rejected the traditional concepts of perspective and proportion.  He was now engaged in a direct dialogue with nature, painting the reality he perceived and felt, using color, not modeling or one-point perspective, to create a sense of monumentality and space. As one scholar noted, the juxtaposition of pigments makes the picture vibrate while simultaneously creating the illusion of weight.  While Cézanne seeks to render a sensation, his process is much slower and more consciously cerebral than that of the Impressionists.  Four of Cézanne’s last oil paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire are shown: (1) Landscape at Aix (Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves) (1904-1906); 1.9 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow; (2) Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves (1902-1906): 2.1 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri; (3) Mont Sainte-Victoire (1904-1906): 2.1 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, at the Kunsthaus Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland; and (4) Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves (1904-1906): 1.9 ft. high by 2.4 ft. wide, at Kunstmuseum Basel in Basel, Switzerland.
cezanne mont sainte victoire zurich  Cezanne Mont_Sainte-Victoire_Seen_from_Les_Lauves_(Basel)_1904-1906_

579. Luxe, Calme et Volupté

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1904
Period/Style: Neo-Impressionism; Divisionism; Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 3.9. ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
An early work by Matisse, Luxe, Calme et Volupté (luxury, peace and pleasure) shows the artist’s adoption of the divisionist technique advocated by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, but with simplified forms, a sense of artificiality, and less realistic colors. Some have dubbed this painting the first Fauvist work of art, although Matisse would soon abandon divisionism and other Neo-Impressionist elements. The title comes from Charles Baudelaire’s poem, Invitation to a Voyage: “There, all is order and beauty/Luxury, peace, and pleasure.”  

580. Portrait of Henri Matisse

Artist: André Derain
Date: 1905
Period/Style: Fauvism; France; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.5 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

581. Water Lilies

Artist: Claude Monet
Date: 1905
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. tall by 3.3 ft wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Monet 1905 Water Lilies Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA Beginning in the late 1890s, Monet’s water lily pond and surrounding garden at his home in Giverny became the subject of an increasingly large proportion of his paintings. He began with somewhat standard Impressionist renderings of sky, foliage, and water, but as time went on, he began to restrict his subject matter, one by one abandoning the rules of conventional landscape painting. First, he eliminated the sky (see the Japanese bridge paintings from 1899, for example). Then, some time after the turn of the century, he eliminated the land and began to focus exclusively on the reflective surface of the water. There is no horizon line to anchor the viewer to a universe outside this patch of water. Instead, the artist asks us to explore the interplay of the real and the reflected. Although we are accustomed to seeing these paintings, it is important to recognize how radical was Monet’s decision to eliminate sky, land, and horizon line. In some ways, what Monet is doing is similar to what Picasso and the Cubists would do a few years later: challenging the illusion of three-dimensionality, choosing instead to paint a two-dimensional subject (the surface of a pond) on the two-dimensional canvas. In 1909, Monet exhibited 48 of these paintings of the water lily pond’s surface, with its lily pads, lilies, and reflections of the unseen sky, clouds and trees, in Paris, including the 1905 painting now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which is one of the earliest examples of Monet’s new perspective. As time went on (and he developed cataracts), Monet’s visions of the water lily pond would become more and more abstract.

582. Le Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life)

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1905-1906
Period/Style: Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.8 ft tall by 7.9 ft wide
Current location: Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
matisse joy of life The composition of Matisse’s Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life) may have been inspired by a print of Agostino Carracci’s late 16th Century engraving of a 1585 painting by Pauwels Franck called Love in the Golden Age, but it’s style of execution was radical and controversial. Contemporary critics savaged the painting, not just for the Fauvist use of color to express emotional reality, but more for the daring rejection of the rules of perspective: the sizes and shapes of the adult humans seem to depend on the viewer being in many places at once, including inside the world of the painting. This break with tradition – which outraged some, including painter Paul Signac, who thought Matisse had “gone to the dogs” – was inspired by Cezanne and in turn inspired Picasso, who is said to have begun Les Demoiselles d’Avignon after seeing this painting hanging in the Paris home of its then-owner, Gertrude Stein. (While others thought Matisse had gone too far, Picasso felt he had not gone far enough.) Stein recognized the importance of the painting, writing that it “created a new formula for color that would leave its mark on every painter of the period.” Random Trivia: Matisse returned to the circle of dancers, seen in the background here, in The Dance, from 1909 and 1910. 

583. The Large Bathers

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: Work on the painting began around 1898; it was left unfinished at the artist’s death in 1906.
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.9 ft. tall by 8.2 ft. wide
Current location: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
Paul Cézanne admired the Impressionists’ bright palette, treatment of light and emphasis on painting en plein air, but he rejected the notion that painting should represent only the impressions caught by the painters’ eyes. To Cézanne, who sought to infuse the spirit of Impressionism with the classical values of Giorgione, Titian and Rubens (the nude), Poussin (the landscape), and Chardin (the still life), a work of art was a product of both the artist’s eye and mind. The mind exercised control by imposing structure and form, thus revealing a deeper reality. Cézanne’s The Large Bathers is the last and the largest in a series of ‘bathers’ paintings he created around the turn of the century. The size of the canvas invites comparison to works with grand themes: history, religion, and mythology. But while Cézanne may have been inspired by the story of Diana bathing with her maidens (a frequent subject of past art), he makes no attempt to connect the bathers here with any specific identity or preexisting narrative. Instead, he concentrates on the forms: we see a triangle formed by trees (though the apex is cut off), and at the base of each side of the triangle, another triangle of nude women. In the center of the composition, there is a void – we can barely make out a swimmer in the river, and two enigmatic forms on the opposite shore. One art historian described the center of the painting as an empty stage, where the women might perform some ritual. (And we have no sense of motion in this frieze-like assembly; as curator Joseph Rishel noted, “There is a profound sense of eternal calm and resolution.”) The figures themselves are ciphers: flat, angular forms with blank or mask-like faces, in some cases half drawn, lacking sensuality; several of them are turned away from us; others seem to merge with each other or the trees. Cézanne disliked working with live models, so the nudes are based on Cezanne’s life drawings from his student days or his sketches of artworks at the Louvre, where he spent many hours. In emphasizing form over content, Cézanne confuses our normal sense of priorities; for him, the patch of blue water or sky is as important as a human figure. As Jack Flam noted in a 2012 ARTnews article, “[T]he solid forms in his paintings seem to be on the verge of dissolution, and the empty spaces on the verge of becoming solidified….” The work of Cézanne inspired modernist art movements such as Fauvism and Cubism (many critics see the figures of The Large Bathers as precursors to those of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon), but the general consensus at the time was that Cézanne’s works were ugly. Early 20th Century art critic Charles Morice wrote, “Cézanne’s pictures alarm the public and delight artists; all of the public, but not all of the artists.” Even in 1937, when the Philadelphia Museum of Art paid $110,000 for The Large Bathers, there was an outcry from the public and a newspaper suggested the money would have been better spent helping the needy. My guess is that Cézanne would not have been disturbed by these reactions; his goal was to make art that escaped from the bonds of any one particular time period, trend or movement; he did not seek appreciation in the present moment. The Large Bathers is now considered one of the great modernist masterpieces.

584. Charing Cross Bridge

Artist: André Derain
Date: 1906
Period/Style: Fauvism; France; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.6 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

585. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Artist: Gustav Klimt
Date: Klimt received the commission in 1903 and completed the painting in 1907.
Period/Style: Symbolism; Art Nouveau; Austria
Medium: Oil paints and silver and gold leaf on canvas
Dimensions: 4.5 ft. by 4.5 ft.
Current location: Neue Galerie, New York, NY
adele block bauerNear the end of 1903, a group of Viennese artists took a trip to Ravenna, Italy, where they visited the church of San Vitale, famous for its Byzantine mosaics, including the gold-inlaid portrait of Empress Theodora. All the artists were stunned by the experience, particularly painter Gustav Klimt, who was then a well-respected portraitist of the wealthy bourgeoisie of Vienna. Klimt was a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that rejected the conservative philosophy of the traditional art academies. Stylistically, he belongs to both Symbolism and Art Nouveau (also called Jugendstil), the latter of which looked to natural forms and structures for inspiration, but also treated design and decoration as seriously as human figures. Earlier that same year, Klimt had received a commission from Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Jewish industrialist and art collector, to paint a portrait of his wife Adele to give to Adele’s parents. Klimt was in the middle of his Golden Period, during which his works included elaborate, almost decorative expanses of gold leaf. He was acquainted with the Bloch-Bauers (a modern couple, they hyphenated their surnames when they married) and had already used Adele as a model for his 1901 painting Judith with the Head of Holofernes (see image below left). Some sources claim that Adele and Gustav were having an affair; others say the evidence is unclear. We do know that Adele Bloch-Bauer dedicated a room in her house to Klimt’s paintings and drawings, as well as a photograph of the artist himself. The resulting portrait is awash in gold, which covers most of the canvas. The subject’s head and arms are painted somewhat realistically with oil paints, but her dress, the chair, and the rest of the room melt into a dazzling sea of gold, festooned with myriad designs and shapes. Scholars have pointed out not only Byzantine influences (some have likened it to a religious icon), but also Egyptian (particularly the stylized eyes), Mycenean and Greek. There are also a number of designs based on A and B, the subject’s initials. Others note that many of the symbols have erotic connotations: eggs, triangles, open eyes, almond shapes. Klimt also painted a second portrait of the subject, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912, which lacks both the gold and the eroticism of the first. Adele, who had always been sickly, died in 1925 at the age of 43. In 1938, the Nazis annexed Austria and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer fled to Switzerland, leaving behind all the Klimt paintings, which were confiscated by the government. After the war, Bloch-Bauer’s nieces and nephews fought the Austrian government in court, finally receiving custody of five Klimts, including the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, in 2005. This remarkable story was the basis for the 2007 documentary Stealing Klimt, and the 2015 feature film Woman in Gold. Cosmetics giant Ronald Lauder bought the portrait for a record $135 million in 2006 for his Neue Galerie in New York, where it remains. Random Trivia: Klimt painted a second portrait of the subject, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912 (see image below right).
  klimt adele II

586. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1907
Period/Style: Modernism; Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8 ft. tall by 7.7 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Spanish painter Pablo Picasso’s deliberately shocking image of five prostitutes from a Barcelona brothel caused nothing less than an artistic revolution; it heralded a new modernism in art. Picasso’s biographer John Richardson calls it “the most innovative painting since Giotto.” Painted in Paris during the summer of 1907, following months of preparatory work and hundreds of preliminary sketches and studies, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon breaks all the rules: Picasso makes no attempt to create the illusion of three-dimensionality; he ignores the rules of perspective and abandons the idea of proportionality. Space in the painting’s world is fragmented and compressed; sharp angles abound – even a slice of cantaloupe becomes a lethal weapon. His women are not beautiful; their sharp-edged bodies seem capable of violence. They stare back at the viewer with “eyes that look out as if at death”, according to John Berger. In perhaps the most shocking of the painting’s shocks, the two figures on the right possess grotesque features influenced by Ancient Iberian sculpture and (although Picasso denied it) African masks. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (not Picasso’s title, he preferred to call it The Brothel of Avignon) was a conscious attempt by the 25-year-old Picasso to shake up the modernist art world. Drawing on influences as diverse as El Greco’s Opening of the Fifth Seal (see image below left); Cézanne’s The Large Bathers, and Paul Gauguin’s primitivist sculptures, Picasso’s large painting was in some ways a reaction to two recent works by his older rival, Henri Matisse: Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) (1906) and The Blue Nude (1907). As Picasso saw it, Matisse’s art – which had been hailed as revolutionary – maintained a connection with the forms, narratives and mythologies of the past; Picasso sought instead a violent break with those traditions. To emphasize this rupture, he removed any narrative elements from Les Demoiselles (early sketches show that his original conception included two male patrons in the brothel, a sailor and a medical student holding a skull) (see image below right showing early sketch now . While on one level the painting may be about raw female sexuality, Picasso’s complicated and unhealthy relationships with women, and (in a theory propounded by Suzanne Blier) the roles of women in different cultures, it is even more about the act of seeing and the act of making art. In Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso shows us that attempts to realistically represent the world (particularly its three-dimensionality) on a two-dimensional canvas are illusions and lies, and that perhaps the only way an artist can create truthfully is to expose the nature of that deception. This one painting would force every artist from that point on to either accept the challenge posed by Picasso (Georges Braque took Picasso’s experiments and formalized them into Cubism), or reject it – either way, this new modernist clarion call could not be ignored.

587. The Kiss

Artist: Constantin Brâncuși
Date: The first version was made in 1907-1908. Other versions were made in 1909-1910 and 1916. The Gate of the Kiss was created in 1938.
Period/Style: Modernism; Romania/France
Medium: Sculptures made from plaster and limestone
Dimensions: The original is 11 inches tall by 8.5 inches wide. The version in Philadelphia is 1.9 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide. The tallest version – 2.9 ft .tall by 0.9 ft. wide – is in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris (although it is currently covered by a box to protect it from the elements). The version in Târgu Jiu, Romania is called The Gate of the Kiss and includes the kiss motif on the two pillars of an immense stone arch.
Current locations: Muzeul de Arta in Craiova, Romania; Hamburger Kunsthall, Hamburg, Germany; Tomb of Tatiana Rachewskaia, Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris, France; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Gate of the Kiss is located in Târgu Jiu, Romania.
  Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, who spent most of his working career in France, sought to bring a modernist sensibility to the art of sculpture. After working for a very short time in the studio of Auguste Rodin (“Nothing can grow in the shadow of large trees,” Brancusi said upon leaving), Brâncuși took a theme made famous by Rodin – a couple engaged in a kiss – and transformed it into a modernist piece by simplifying, abstracting and reducing the reliance on mimesis, or slavish imitation of real human figures. The result is The Kiss, the first version of which Brâncuși carved in 1907-1908 (see image above left). The sculpture couples unity with duality, as two figures emerge from a single block of material and become one. The figures are cut under the breastline and the fragmented bodies stand directly on the floor. The profile of the figures’ partial eyes merge until they appear to be one cyclopian eye shared by both individuals. In creating The Kiss, Brâncuși abandoned the traditional method of building up a model from clay or plaster and instead created the figure by direct chiseling in stone. For the stone versions, Brâncuși brought out the character of the stone by the irregular treatment of its surface. Brâncuși returned to the motif of The Kiss again and again through his career. The earliest versions of The Kiss show a naturalistic treatment of the motif that hearkens back to the naivety of medieval figurative ornamentation. As time progressed, the arms became flatter, the bodies more elongated and the hair more distinctly linear, tending further toward abstraction (see 1916 version, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, above right). Random Trivia: An unusually elongated version of The Kiss adorns the Paris grave of anarchist Tatiana Rachewsskaia, who committed suicide after a failed love affair (see image below left). It has suffered some deterioration over the years and is now protected by a wooden box.

588. The Peasants’ War 

Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
Date: Kollwitz began the series in 1903 and completed all seven prints by 1908.
Period/Style: Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Paper prints created using line etching, drypoint, aquatint, 
Dimensions: Each paper print is 1 ft. tall by 1.4 ft. wide, although some of the prints are in landscape mode (1.4 ft. tall by 1 ft. wide).
Current location: Various collections
For leftists in early 20th Century Germany, the Peasants’ War of 1524-1525 was a touchstone – a symbol of the revolutionary spirit and discontent simmering beneath the surface of conventional German society. German artist Käthe Kollwitz, who in 1898 completed a cycle of prints inspired by another popular uprising, the Weavers’ Revolt of 1844, then turned her attention to the Peasants’ War. Over a period of six years (1903-1908) she produced a cycle of seven prints known collectively as The Peasants’ War: (1) The Plowmen (1906); (2) Raped (1907-1908); (3) Sharpening the Scythe (1905); (4) Arming in a Vault (1906); (5) Charge (also known as Outbreak) (1906) (see image above); (6) Battlefield (1907); and (7) The Prisoners (1908) (see image below). As with her earlier series, Kollwitz does not focus on historical accuracy but instead places the events in a timeless present to emphasize the universality of the situations. The poor and oppressed everywhere need to rise up against their oppressors, her prints suggest, to escape slavery and degradation, even at the cost of their lives. While rooted in carefully observed details, the emotional impact of the work transcends any particular time or place.

589. The Kiss

Artist: Gustav Klimt
Date: Begun in 1907; completed in 1908.
Period/Style: Vienna Secession; Symbolism; Art Nouveau; Arts and Crafts; Austria
Medium: Oil paints and gold and silver leaf on canvas
Dimensions: 6 ft. by 6 ft.
Current location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria
For Gustav Klimt, a loving physical connection between a man and a woman was not just erotic and sensual, but also provided a pathway to an eternal realm of peace and happiness. It is no coincidence, then, that embracing couples feature prominently in several of his works, including The Beethoven Frieze (1902) (see detail below left), The Stoclet Frieze (The Tree of Life) (1905-1911) (see detail below right) and, most famously, The Kiss (1908). The Kiss is the crowning achievement of Klimt’s Golden Period. The son of a goldsmith and engraver, Klimt was attracted to working with gold, especially after his visit to Ravenna in 1903 to see the mosaics of San Vitale. He provided the lovers of The Kiss with a flat gold background reminiscent of medieval religious paintings, where it symbolized the heavenly sphere. Surrounding the couple is a lighter gold cloak with swirling designs that serves as a kind of halo. The designs of the clothing owe much to both Art Nouveau (with its linear shapes) and Arts and Crafts (with its figures drawn from nature); these movements sought to erase the distinction between what is artistic and what is “merely” decorative. According to art historian Alesssandra Comini, in Klimt’s work, “the anatomy of the models becomes ornamentation and the ornamentation becomes anatomy.” The man in The Kiss is draped in bold vertical rectangles, while the woman’s dress abounds with circular motifs. More than one scholar has pointed out the sexual connotations of these contrasting designs. Most of the painting feels deliberately two-dimensional, like a tapestry or wallpaper, except for the faces and hands, which Klimt has painted with more modeling and three-dimensionality. The man’s face is hidden from us, but his stretching neck and caressing hands express a sense of power and intention, while the woman’s closed eyes and kneeling posture convey a sense of calm (even passivity) as she submits to the man, her own desire, or both. (Note that the kneeling posture creates the illusion that the woman is dominated by the man, but if she stood up, she would tower over him.) The two lovers are situated on a bed of wildflowers and vines, some of which are draped over the woman’s feet. As bucolic as the scene appears, the meadow appears to end abruptly, so that the couple is actually perched on a precipice. What lies below? Oblivion? The death of self, subsumed in an eternal union of two lovers? Or a merging happily into the universal unconscious?

590. Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room)

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1908
Period/Style: Modernism; Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.9 ft tall by 7.2 ft wide
Current location: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
matisse dessert Henri Matisse once said, “I find that all these things … only become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red.” After Russian art collector Sergey Shchukin commissioned Matisse to create a painting to be titled Harmony in Blue, Matisse tried his best to fulfill the request, but after a while, he painted over the blue room with his signature red. Dessert: Harmony in Red (sometimes called simply Harmony in Red or The Red Room) presents us with a room decorated with vases and bowls of fruit, a woman, a table and two chairs, and a window opening to a garden, but what draws us in are the wallpaper and tablecloth, which seem to blend together in a sea of oozing red that seems less like the color of an object and more like the simple existence of a large area of paint on a canvas. In this red sea, we find the self-conscious deconstruction of the illusions that had held sway in art since the Renaissance. 

591. Houses at L’Estaque

Artist: Georges Braque
Date: 1908
Period/Style: Cubism; France; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide
Current location: Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland

Cubist or proto-Cubist? In this and several other paintings made in 1908 in Cezanne’s hometown of L’Estaque, Braque takes Cezanne’s lessons about planes of color one more step towards abstraction.  This is the painting that led Henri Matisse to describe it as “little cubes”, a phrase picked up by an art critic that became the name of a revolution in art. There is another, smaller version with a simpler composition at the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art, in Lille, France.

592. The Dance

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: The Dance (I) was made in 1909. The Dance (II) was made in 1910.
Period/Style: Expressionism; Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.5 ft. tall by 12.8 ft. wide
Current locations: The Dance (I) is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. The Dance (II) is at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
matisse the dance Art historians are obsessed with influence: where did Artist A get the idea for X? Did it come from Artist B? The art historical approach to Henri Matisse’s The Dance begins with a 1786 watercolor by William Blake, Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing., which shows a circle of five dancers (see third image below); the composition resembles The Dance, although no one really knows if Matisse ever saw the Blake. Others relay a story by Matisse or someone who knew him that he was inspired by watching a group of fisherman dancing a traditional Catalan dance in the south of France. In any case, a circle of dancers (six, not five) first appears in the background of Matisse’s Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) in 1906. The next chapter in the story comes from Russia, where art collector Sergey Shchukin commissioned Matisse to paint two large canvases for the stairway of his new home representing Dance and Music (Matisse’s Music is shown below right). First Matisse made a full-size preparatory sketch, which is now in New York (see image at below left). He reduced the circle of dancers from six to five and placed them in a featureless landscape with a pure green earth and a pure blue sky. To create the final, commissioned version, he drew the figures with more internal markings, changed the flesh tones of the dancers to red and changed some of their postures (see image above). (Matisse’s role as one of the founders of Fauvism comes through in the choice of colors; for the Fauves, color should express not the surface reality, but the emotional reality beneath the surface.) The changes turn the playful (even joyful) ambiance of the sketch into frenzied primitive energy of the final version. In both versions, the two dancers close to us reach out for one another but do not touch. (By having this gap take place over another dancer’s leg, Matisse maintains a consistent band of color.) The bold simplified color scheme and loosely drawn figures, together with the lack of genuine perspective (the dancers farthest from the viewer are the same size as the closest figures), create a sense of flatness and two-dimensionality. The lack of individuality and absence of any detail that would place the scene in reality lead us to wonder if we are seeing mythical Golden Age, or a glimpse into an otherworldly realm. Some have made comparisons to the orgiastic rituals depicted in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. As the curator at the Hermitage Museum wrote, “The frenzy of the pagan bacchanalia is embodied in the powerful, stunning accord of red, blue and green, uniting Man, Heaven and Earth.” Scholars and art historians have long debated the meaning of the gap in the circle, where the hands of the dancers closest to us do not meet. Some say it is a tribute to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Others propose that it signals an unresolved tension among the dancers – a sense of incompleteness. I prefer the interpretation that the opening in the circle at the spot closest to the viewer is an invitation for us to join in the dance.
 matisse music 1910

593. The Dream

Artist: Henri Rousseau
Date: 1910
Period/Style: Naïve Art; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.7 ft. tall by 9.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
rousseau the dream Picasso and other modernists celebrated Henri Rousseau as a French-born primitive, whose naïve folk art, with its ignorance of human anatomy and the rules of perspective, unconsciously aligned with their own theories about art. But the art establishment and the public at large ridiculed Rousseau’s work and derided the retired tax collector as a no-talent amateur. All this changed in the spring of 1910, when Rousseau exhibited The Dream, a large canvas showing a jungle scene. Rousseau’s only experience of the jungle consisted in his frequent visits to the museums, zoos and botanical gardens of Paris, where he could see lions, monkeys and exotic plants from around the world. According to Rousseau himself, who wrote a poem to accompany The Dream, the nude woman lying on the sofa is a woman from his past – a Polish émigré named Jadwigha – who is asleep in her Paris apartment dreaming of a jungle filled with wild beasts and a snake charmer playing a tune on a musical instrument. As with Rousseau’s prior work (which included at least 25 jungle scenes), the animals and plants are not realistic; instead, he has stylized them into decorative motifs in a way that reminds us of advertising and interior design. The surreal juxtapositions of objects (the sofa in the jungle) was later admired by the Surrealists, who sought to paint dream landscapes. Unlike his earlier works, Rousseau’s The Dream attracted widespread praise from all corners. It is not clear whether the change resulted from the nature of the painting – with its grand simplicity of composition and generous attention to detail and color (there are dozens of shades of green, for example) – or whether it was just that the time was right for the public to appreciate Rousseau’s style. The acclamation came too late, however. Rousseau died a few months after the 1910 exhibition; The Dream was the last canvas he ever painted.

594. The City Rises

Artist: Umberto Boccioni
Date: 1910
Period/Style: Modernism; Futurism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 9.9 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
The_City_Rises_by_Umberto_Boccioni_1910 The Italian Futurists of the early 20th Century saw museums as graveyards for the dead art of the past. Instead, they sought to celebrate living activity: movement, machines, speed, and human laboring to create the world of the future. Umberto Boccioni’s large canvas The City Rises (originally titled Labor) was intended to be a visual manifesto for Futurist painting – it celebrates the erection of a new electricity plant in Milan, city of the future (in contrast with Venice and Rome, cities of the past). The streets are crammed with trams, people working, and magnificently rendered horses, all in motion. (Some have pointed out the irony that the central focus of the painting is horses – machines of the past – and not machines of the future, such as automobiles.) The City Rises shows Boccioni’s style in transition: the divisionism (a style of contrasting adjacent colors similar to Seurat’s pointillism) of his early training is still evident here; in a year or two, he would be borrowing from the Cubists instead. 

595. Self-Portrait with a Model

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Date: 1910 
Period/Style: Die Brücke; Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.9 ft. tall by 3.3 ft wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany

A founding member of Die Brücke, German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner professed to believe in a bohemian ethic of free love and casual nudity. In Self-Portrait with a Model, this egalitarian philosophy clashes with Kirchner’s perception of himself as an artist. The composition highlights the relationship between the artist and his model. Kirchner thrusts his boldly-colored figure into the foreground, pushing beyond the edges of the frame and completely dominating the canvas. With his loosely buttoned robe barely covering his naked maleness, he stands, smirking, smoking a pipe and holding his palette and phallic paintbrush. Cowering in the background is the female model, rendered as submissive and weak, who sits passively, one hand covering her genitals in the style of Venus Pudica, the other hiding behind the artist. Kirchner makes it clear that he, the artist, is in control.  While we perceive some sexual tension, the power imbalance undermines much of the erotic content.  

596. L’Atelier Rouge (The Red Studio)

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Modernism; Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.9 ft. tall by 7.2 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
matisse red studio French artist Henri Matisse, co-founder of an art movement that became known as Fauvism, depicted his art studio in The Red Studio (L’Atelier Rouge) as a place where time stands still, symbolized by the grandfather clock with no hands.  The only elements of the room that are pictured in somewhat realistic colors are Matisse’s own works of art – paintings, sculptures and ceramics – and the means of creation, in this case a box of crayons at the lower left – within his (and our) easy reach.  As Robert Hughes notes in The Shock of the New, the rest of the space is unreal, soaked in a flat red that “describes itself aggressively as fiction.”  The room’s furnishings and elements of the architecture are defined by scratchings in the red overlay to expose the lighter-colored underpainting.  The left corner of the room does not exist except as it is defined by the paintings on the walls, which seem to approach the place where the corner should be.  The flat surface at the left is only a possibility of a window. Hughes again: “The Red Studio is a poem about how painting refers to itself: how art nourishes itself from other art and how, with enough conviction, art can form its own republic of pleasure, a parenthesis within the real world – a paradise.”  

597. The Accordionist

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1911
Period/Style; Modernism; Analytic Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft tall by 2.9 ft wide
Current location: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque spent the summer of 1911 in Céret, in the French Pyrenees, where they both produced some of the most abstract examples of Analytic Cubism, including Picasso’s The Accordionist, which is so abstract that one of its owners apparently took it for a landscape. By this stage, Picasso had abandoned any attempt to represent objects through volume or perspective; he has also reduced his palette to a near monochrome to emphasize the broken fragments of painted space in various shapes and sizes that fill up the canvas. The effect is to make us peer at the canvas, trying to make an accordionist (or any familiar object) appear by imposing our will on the images before our eyes. Art historians tell us that there is a darker area representing a man’s face or head near the top of the painting, an arm resting on a chair on the right, and, in the center, several fingers playing three round buttons on an accordion. 

598. Le Portugais (The Portuguese)

Artist: Georges Braque
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Analytic Cubism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland

If attempting to depict three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface is a lie – as Picasso and other modernists alleged – then how should painters represent three-dimensional objects in a truthful way? Cubism’s answer was: by breaking the object into multiple two-dimensional sections and presenting them simultaneously on the canvas. The traditionalist looked at a subject from a single point of view and then drew or painted what he saw, using techniques like linear perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. The Cubists rejected these limitations. As Cubism co-founder Georges Braque once said, “Perspective is a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress.” One of the goals of the Analytic Cubism developed by Braque and Pablo Picasso in 1908-1912 was to show three-dimensional objects from all points of view – front, back, top, bottom, outside and inside – on the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. To do this, they deconstructed the scene – whether a portrait, a landscape, a still life or, as in The Portuguese, a musician performing in a café or night club – into a series of two-dimensional segments, each containing a portion of the total view. To emphasize the form and structure of the objects, Braque and Picasso chose a very limited, almost monochromatic palette of browns, gray and greens. What we see are complex, multiple views of objects and figures, presented as overlapping monochromatic planes, which seem to build up from, or in front of the canvas. (In traditional paintings, the frame seemed to open a window into a receding space in which objects appear to be behind the plane of the canvas.) As Analytic Cubism progressed, it became more and more difficult to determine what objects or figures are being deconstructed. In The Portuguese, we can make out parts of a human being (with a mustache, perhaps), the sound hole and strings of a musical instrument, and some accoutrements of a bar or café. By stenciling letters and numbers directly on the canvas (including “D BAL”, possibly a fragment of ‘Grand Bal’, or Grand Ball – maybe from a poster on the wall of the café, obscured by the guitar player), Braque is drawing our attention to its flat surface. In some ways, he implies, a canvas is no different from a page of a book or a newspaper or the wallpaper on the wall; when we read a newspaper, we do not expect the letters and words to create an illusion of three-dimensionality on the page, why should the representation of other objects be any different? By including extraneous material like letters and numbers, Braque is also laying the groundwork for collage, which was the basis for Synthetic Cubism, which Braque and Picasso developed beginning in 1912.

590. I and the Village

Artist: Marc Chagall
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Modernism; Cubism; Surrealism; Russia/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.3 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Russian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall painted I and the Village about a year after he relocated to Paris from the small Russian village where he was raised.  The painting represents a unique mixture of landscape, symbolism, and dream imagery.  Chagall’s work shows the influence of Cubism, which dominated the Paris art world at the time, but also employs intense colors that were shunned by the Cubists.  Scholars have offered many interpretations for the multiplicity of overlapping images.  The dominant figures are a green-faced man with a cap who is wearing a chain with a cross and holding a glowing plant or tree (possibly the Tree of Life).  The green-faced man is making eye contact with a large animal, possibly a cow or  goat, that has a small goat being milked on his face, possibly to remind us of the close connections between animals and humans in Chagall’s rural village, and a Hasidic belief that animals were humanity’s link to the greater universe.  Three intersecting circles may represent the sun, the orbit of the earth around the sun, and the orbit of the moon around the earth, or possibly an eclipse of the moon.  In the upper register, there is a row of houses and a Russian Orthodox Catholic Church.  Two of the houses are upside down, as is a woman playing the violin.  A man in black carrying a scythe walks past the upside-down woman.  Bright patches of red, green and blue form the palette for the center of the painting.  The artist appears to have no regard for natural color or size, or even the law of gravity.  This is consistent with a statement of Chagall’s, “For me a painting is a surface covered with representations of things … in which logic and illustration have no importance.”

591. States of Mind I: The Farewells

Artist: Umberto Boccioni
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Futurism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. tall by 3.1 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Italian Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni created a three-painting series called States of Mind that tells a story about travelers at a train station in the semi-abstract style that Futurists developed after deciding that Cubism lacked a sense of motion and activity, or a recognition of the technological nature of modern society. The first painting in the series, States of Mind I: The Farewells, shows us the swirling activity of a train station in Cubist-like segments, with the number on the train fixed near the center (see image above). The other canvases in the series show Futurist versions of States of Mind II: Those Who Go and States of Mind III: Those Who Stay (see images below). The three paintings are displayed side by side in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

592. The Wedding

Artist: Fernand Léger
Date: The date for the painting is variously given as 1910, 1911, and 1912.  The Musée National d’Art Moderne gives the date as 1911-1912. 
Period/Style: Cubism, France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.4 ft. tall by 6.7 wide
Current location: Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou. Paris, France

The Wedding is a large-scale Cubist painting by French artist Fernand Léger.  We see a large white central wave that may represent the bride in her wedding dress, flanked on both sides by processions of overlapping guests – a high density of small fragments of faces, limbs, clothing – and snatches of landscape features such as trees and houses in the background.  These representational elements mix (and contrast) with large plane surfaces, modular plastic swatches and, in contrast to Cubist godfathers Braque and Picasso, blocks of pure color.

593. Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash 

Artist: Giacomo Balla
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Futurism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. tall by 3.6 ft. wide
Current location: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Like Marcel Duchamp, Giacomo Balla and his fellow Futurists were intrigued by the chronophotographic experiments of Étienne-Jules Marey (see horse in motion below, from 1886).  Unlike the other Futurists, Balla was more interested in depicting motion than in the power of machines and technology.

594. Nude Descending a Staircase #2

Artist: Marcel Duchamp
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Cubism; Futurism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.8 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
By 1912, Picasso and Braque had abandoned Analytic Cubism for Synthetic Cubism. Other artists like Fernand Léger and Juan Gris adopted, then adapted Cubism, each applying his own individual twist. Robert and Sonia Delaunay and others created Orphic Cubism (also known as Orphism). In Italy, Futurism was a reaction against Cubism; Umberto Boccioni and the other Futurists rejected the still lives, portraits and landscapes of the Cubists and sought instead to infuse art with a sense of movement (especially speed), paying tribute to mechanical energy and technological progress. French artist Marcel Duchamp sought to bring to Cubism some of the Futurists’ interest in motion and machinery. In a series of paintings, he explored how a Cubist would deconstruct movement. Duchamp was inspired in part by the art of photography, which provided new opportunities to observe movement in humans and animals; high speed photography could dissect an action into fragments of a second to reveal what could not be seen by the naked eye. We don’t know if Duchamp saw the 1877 series of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge of a nude woman walking down a staircase (see image below from Muybridge’s book Animal Locomotion), but he had surely seen motion study photographs by Muybridge or Étienne-Jules Marey.  Duchamp’s painting – done in Cubist monochrome tones with overlapping fragments – shows a figure descending stairs from upper left to lower right. The sense is of frozen movement, of multiple exposures and of something partly human and partly mechanical. The Cubists rejected the painting for their 1912 Paris Salon des Indépendants exhibition on the grounds that it was too Futurist. According to Duchamp, he was also told by the committee (which included his brothers) that the idea of painting a nude descending stairs was ridiculous; nudes should be reclining, not moving. The criticism reached a fever pitch when Nude Descending a Staircase #2 was included in an exhibition of European art in New York in 1913 (the famous Armory show). Americans, not having much prior exposure to either Cubism or Futurism, were incensed. One art critic called the painting “an explosion in a shingle factory.” An art magazine held a contest to ‘find the nude’, and even Teddy Roosevelt registered his disgust. Ironically, the negative attention made Duchamp famous; some speculated that people were buying tickets to the show just to mock his work. He soon moved on from this Cubo-Futurist experiment to an even more daring concept: the readymades.

595. Tiger

Artist: Franz Marc
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Der Blaue Reiter; Cubism; Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. high by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
Franz-Marc-tiger German Expressionist painter Franz Marc played an important role in the development of abstract art. Marc was a founding member, with Wassily Kandinsky, of Der Blaue Reiter group, which was intensely concerned about color and, inspired by Van Gogh and Gauguin,  believed that certain colors could be linked to specific emotional and spiritual states.  In Tiger (also known as The Tiger), Marc explores the theory of color with luminous reds, purples and greens in the background, while the yellow and black of the tiger signal ominous imminent aggression.  But Marc is also indebted to Cézanne geometric shapes and the Analytic Cubism of Picasso and Braque.  Shape and color exist in tension with one another: here, the angular blocks of the tiger’s body conceal it among the similar background shapes, while the colors set it apart and thrust it forward. Random Trivia: Franz Marc died in 1916 at the Battle of Verdun.

596. The Windows (Simultaneous Windows)

Artist: Robert Delaunay
Date: Most of the paintings in the series were made in 1912, but Delaunay returned to the theme in 1913 and 1914.
Period/Style: Cubism; Orphism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: There are 22 paintings in the series of various sizes
Current location: Various collections
As French artist Robert Delaunay pushed the boundaries of Cubism into an exploration of color and vision that he called Simultaneism (but poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s term Orphism – from Orpheus – caught on instead), he began painting works along common themes, creating series that contain multiple individuals. These include the Saint-Sévrin series (1909–10); the City series (1909–11); the Eiffel Tower series (1909–12); the City of Paris series (1911–12); the Window series (1912–14); the Cardiff Team series (1913); and the Circular Forms series (1913).  In the Windows series, comprised of 22 or 23 paintings and sketches created mostly in 1912, with a few in 1913 and 1914, Delaunay approaches the level of complete abstraction.  The only representational object in most of the works in the series is a central triangle denoting the Eiffel Tower.  Among overlaid swathes of translucent contrasting and complementary colors, yellow predominates, perhaps a reference to the Parisian sunshine streaming through an open window. In each of the Windows series, Delaunay seeks to depict the process of vision and the ways that light structures vision.  Many of the series are in private collections, but a number are on exhibit in museums around the world. The image show: (1) A Window (1912) at Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (first image above);
(2) Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) (1912), made with oils on a canvas measuring 1.9 ft. tall by 4.1 ft. wide, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (second image above)
(3) Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) (1912), made with oils on a canvas measuring 18 in. tall by 14.8 in. wide, is at the Tate Modern in London (image below left); and
(4) Simultaneous Windows on the City (1912), made with oils on a canvas measuring 18 in. tall by 15.7 in. wide, is now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany (image below right).

597. La bouteille de Suze (Bottle of Suze)

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Modernism; Synthetic Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Pasted papers, gouache, and charcoal
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Kemper Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri

After spending several years exploring the possibilities of Analytic Cubism, Cubism co-founders Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque moved into the next phase of their modernist revolution: Synthetic Cubism. in which (in Frederick Hartt’s word), “the painters no longer sought to disintegrate the obect but to reassert it.”  In the process, Picasso, Braque and others invented what we now call collage (from the French word coller, which means to glue or paste). In Picasso’s La Bouteille de Suze, the artist uses piece of newsprint, construction paper and wallpaper, with gouache paints and charcoal, to show us a table in a cafe, with a liquor bottle and a burning cigarette in an ashtray. Calling La Bouteille de Suze “the epitome” of Synthetic Cubism, Hartt notes that the “[n]ewspaper clippings, used as opaque equivalents of the floating planes in Analytical Cubism, are held in a structure of lines, and dominated by the bright blue [table].” The scene recalls the common pasttime of many Parisians: drinking and smoking in a cafe while reading the newspaper. The newspaper articles report on war atrocities as well as Parisian social events. As the curator of the Kemper Museum points out, “Picasso’s work can thus be seen as simultaneously warning against the absurdity of modern life while also delighting in life’s simple pleasures.” 

598. Guitar

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Modernism; Synthetic Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Sculpture made from paperboard, paper, thread, string, twine, and coated wire
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide by 0.6 ft. deep
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Pablo Picasso was not trained as a sculptor, and his three-dimensional artworks have an unfinished quality that is certainly quite deliberate. As an important feature of flamenco and other Spanish musical forms, it is fitting that Spanish-born Picasso should select the guitar for one of his first sculptures. The most striking feature of his Guitar is the way that Picasso takes a negative (the sound hole of the guitar) and converts it to a positive by constructing a tubular sound hole and projecting it forward.  Two years later, Picasso replicated Guitar, this time with sheet metal and wire instead of cardboard and string, which is also in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (see image below).

599. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Artist: Umberto Boccioni
Date: 1913
Period/Style: Futurism; Italy
Medium: Bronze sculptures
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. tall by 3 ft. long by 15.5 inches wide
Current locations: Bronze casts are found in various collections, including: Museum of Modern Art, New York (1931 cast); Museo del Novecento, Milan (1931 cast); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1949 cast); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1949 cast); Museu de Arte Contemporânea, São Paulo, Brazil (original plaster sculpture and 1960 bronze cast); Tate Modern, London (1972 cast).
 Unique_Forms_of_Continuity_in_Space The Italian Futurists believed that artists should reject the outdated artistic values of the past (they described art museums as cemeteries) and embrace the speed and energy of the machine age. Futurist Umberto Boccioni was a painter until he was exposed to some of the three-dimensional art objects being created by the Cubists in France, when he suddenly decided to become a sculptor. His most successful sculpture is Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. The sculpture depicts a faceless, armless figure – human, super-human or man-machine – striding dynamically through the air. The figure stands on two small pedestals – one for each foot. It appears to be wearing a helmet or headpiece that projects forward with a cross-shaped appendage. To show the true experience of movement, Boccioni shows us not only the legs of the striding figure but the movement of the atmosphere itself as it curls about the striding limbs like flickering tongues of flame. For Boccioni, the energy of movement included not only the moving subject but the space around the subject – both elements make up the Man in Motion. In contrast to Duchamp’s analytical approach to showing motion in Nude Descending a Staircase in disconnected images, Boccioni’s sculpture shows the “synthetic continuity” of motion (as he put it). Boccioni made a plaster cast of the statue in 1913, but a bronze cast was never made in his lifetime. When World War I broke out, he volunteered for the army and died in a training exercise in 1916, trampled by a horse. The first bronze casts were made in the 1930s. Although Futurism as an artistic movement did not last very long, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space has had a lasting legacy; casts are possessed by many museums, and a drawing of the statue was chosen to be the image on the back of the 20-cent Italian Euro coin.

600. Composition VII

Artist: Wassily Kandinsky
Date: 1913
Period/Style: Expressionism; Abstract Art; Russia/Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.6 ft. tall by 9.9 ft. wide
Current location: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
kandinsky composition vii Once Matisse, Picasso, Brâncuși and others liberated art from the shackles of representation of things we see in the world, it was only a matter of time before artists began to conceive of art that had no relationship to the physical world at all. Abstract art has been around since ancient times in the guise of “decoration”, but the modernists’ use of abstraction as a subject in itself began with the desire to capture non-material truths by means of color and shape. Swedish painter Hilda af Klint, probably the first to make purely abstract art, did so in an attempt to represent her spiritual beliefs. Wassily Kandinsky also sought to represent abstract concepts derived from his understanding of the Bible, particularly the meanings behind the stories of Garden of Eden, the Deluge, Armageddon and the Last Judgment. For Kandinsky, artists’ attempts to represent objects and figures in their works of art was preventing the art from being able to express pure thought and emotion and bring about spiritual enlightenment. He sought to release color, shape and line from the prison of representational art and allow them to sing. In a series of paintings he called Compositions (because music was the ultimate example of abstract art), Kandinsky gradually abstracted recognizable physical objects until he reached the goal of pure abstraction in 1913’s Composition VII. This very large canvas may appear at first to be a series of random doodles, but it is actually the result of careful planning. Kandinsky made over 30 preparatory paintings and drawings before he finally began the final piece (see image below for one of Kandinsky’s preparatory sketches). From a central eye-like oval spreads a chaotic maelstrom of colliding shapes and colors with no clearly identifiable objects. The overall sense is of paradoxical impulses: chaos and order, destruction and rebirth. Kandinsky’s revolutionary embrace of pure painting – like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon six years earlier – presented future artists with a choice: representation or abstraction? To use art to represent the world outside, or to focus on creating a new world that only exists inside the work of art?

601. The Uncertainty of the Poet

Artist: Giorgio de Chirico
Date: 1913
Period/Style: Metaphysical Art; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.5 ft. tall by 3.1 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK
dechirico the-uncertainty-of-the-poet The Uncertainty of the Poet is an example of Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico’s ‘metaphysical art’, which sought to create images that evoke, in his words, “the profound and solitary joy of revelation” (see image above).  Like the Surrealists who would later claim him as their godfather, de Chirico presents ordinary objects in irrational relationships with their settings and each other.  The Uncertainty of the Poet, with its twisting marble torso, bunch of bananas and distant train, tells no story, but creates visual poetry that is reminiscent of the imagery of dreams.  Some critics have pointed out that de Chirico sets up a contrast between timeless objects (the marble statue) and fleeting phenomena (the decaying fruit), although one commentator has suggested that what appears to be a damaged statute is actually a headless, limbless creature made of living flesh.  To increase the sense of unreality, de Chirico deliberately breaks the rules of perspective: there is no logical connection between the building with the arches and the low brick wall behind it, for example; the train appears to be very distant, but it also seems very close to the end of the building, which is not far away.  The train itself appears to be riding on the brick wall, unless there is a more distant trestle and train track that happens to be the same height as the wall.  Most confusing of all is the top of a sailing vessel that seems to be in the same plane as the train, yet there is no other sign of water.

602. The Bride of the Wind (The Tempest)

Artist: Oskar Kokoschka
Date: 1913-1914
Period/Style: Expressionism; Austria
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.9 ft. tall by 7.2 ft. wide
Current location: Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland
The Bride of the Wind (also known as The Tempest), by Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka, shows two lovers in a strange bed reminiscent of a giant seashell, apparently outdoors – mountains loom in the background, and something moon-like sits in the sky. There are swirling masses of paint surrounding the couple. Are they in a boat in a storm? In their bed in a room? Or do the violent brushstrokes tell us of the inner thoughts of the man who cannot sleep, or the dreams of his partner? There is a powerful turbulence expressed by the forms and colors in what is considered Kokoschka’s masterpiece. The Bride of the Wind is considered an allegorical painting, but it is also a double portrait of the artist (on the left, wide awake, anxiously staring into space) and his lover Alma Mahler (on the right, sleeping and beautiful, and painted with a lighter touch than any other portion of the canvas). Kokoschka and Mahler, the widow of Gustav Mahler and a gifted composer in her own right, had a tempestuous three-year relationship that came to an end in 1914. Critics disagree about whether Kokoschka completed painting The Bride of the Wind before or after Mahler left him and he became creepily obsessed with her (to the point of commissioning a life-size mannequin in her image). Although Kokoschka rejected the label of expressionist, his style – with its dramatic colors, broad brushstrokes, reduced forms, and raw emotion – fits squarely within that movement.

603. The Rock Drill

Artist: Jacob Epstein
Date: 1913-1914
Period/Style: Vorticism; US/UK
Medium: Sculpture consisting of carved plaster figure and rock drill.
Dimensions: 6.75 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide
Current location: The original sculpture has been dismantled. A portion of it was recast in bronze in 1916 as Torso in Metal from Rock Drill and is at the Tate Britain in London.

American-born British artist Jacob Epstein created Rock Drill, part-sculpture, part-Readymade, in 1913-1914.  Rock Drill consisted of a robot-like carved plaster figure that sits astride an actual US-made rock drill (see photograph above). The plaster figure had a small figure nestled in its abdomen. Although Epstein did not sign the Vorticist Manifesto, the movement adopted Rock Drill as the pinnacle of Vorticist art.  At the time of its exhibition at the Brighton City Art Gallery from December 1913 to January 1914, Rock Drill was hailed as a celebration of modern machinery, power and masculine virility. Epstein destroyed the sculpture in 1915, however, and in 1916 reworked the torso into a bronze sculpture, Torso in Metal from Rock Drill, which critics described as defenseless and melancholic (see image below left).  In 1940, Epstein described Rock Drill retrospectively in negative terms as “the armed sinister figure of to-day and to-morrow .. [with] no humanity.”  In 1974, Ken Cook and Ann Christopher reconstructed the original Rock Drill, which is now located in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, in Birmingham, England (see image below right). Random Trivia: Star Wars fans have noted the resemblance between the figure in Rock Drill and General Grievous and his battle droids.
Torso_in_Metal_from_'The_Rock_Drill'_by_Jacob_Epstein,_Tate_Britain  Rock_Drill_Reconstruction,_1974_-_Birmingham_Museum_&_Art_Gallery

604. The Cyclops

Artist: Odilon Redon
Date: Various sources date the work to as early as 1898, but the majority (including the museum where it is located) date it to 1914.
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Symbolism; France
Medium: Oil paints on cardboard, mounted on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 1.7 ft. wide
Current location: Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, The Netherlands
Redon Cyclops
Instead of trying to recreate nature, French Symbolist Odilon Redon took the visions of his imagination and applied the laws of nature to them, or as Redon put it, “putting – as far as possible – the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible.” In The Cyclops, Redon reworks the myth of one-eyed Polyphemus, who, according to Ovid, fell in unrequited love with the naiad Galatea (who in turn loved another). We see a nude Galatea sleeping in a flower-covered meadow, her nestled body becoming one with nature. Behind her, peering over the rocky outcrops, is her one-eyed lover, who seems to be a mountain top come alive. Instead of depicting Polyphemus as the vicious man-eating of mythology, Redon makes him a shy giant observing (instead of eating) the object of his affection. Or is the cyclops’ sad single eye looking at us, the viewers, inquisitively? This ambiguity highlights the importance of the eye to Symbolism generally and to Redon’s visual language specifically. Disembodied heads and eyes feature in many Symbolist works; they can represent release from the constraints of everyday reality, or the attainment of a higher level of consciousness. (Redon once created a print entitled The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon, Moves Towards Infinity, which depicts a single human eye taking the form of a hot air balloon – see image below.) It is no coincidence, then, that the eye of Polyphemus is the focal point of the composition.

605. The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street

Artist: Giorgio de Chirico
Date: 1914
Period/Style: Metaphysical Art; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.8 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide
Current location: Private collection
Before Surrealism, there was Metaphysical Art. Founded by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, Metaphysical Art contrasted a crisp, classical approach to painting (rejecting both Impressionism and Cubism) but invested their scenes with a sense of mystery, melancholy, enigma, and foreboding. Unrelated and incongruous objects inhabit desolate city squares with stark contrasts between light and shadow. Raised in Greece to Italian parents, Giorgio de Chirico adored classical art and architecture. He attended art school in Germany, where he became acquainted with (but ultimately rejected) the Symbolism of artists like Arnold Böcklin. He moved to Paris in the 1910s and began painting eerie views of imaginary Italian piazzas, such as the one we see in Mystery and Melancholy of a Street. De Chirico presents the viewer with an Italian square that looks real and unreal at the same time. A girl, who appears in silhouette, almost a shadow of herself, rolls a hoop past an abandoned train car with open doors toward the source of the light, but also toward an ominous shadow of what may be a friend, an enemy, or just a statue. De Chirico deliberately chose very different perspectival vanishing points for the Renaissance-style arched buildings on the right and left, and while the only source of light appears to be the late afternoon sun coming from the top of the painting (casting dark, ominous shadows), there is a second, unseen light source illuminating the open-doored vehicle. The overall effect is that of a dream (or nightmare), an effect that the surrealists would adopt in their works.

606. Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies) (series)

Artist: Claude Monet
Date: Monet worked on the last, largest of his Water Lilies paintings between 1914 and his death in 1926. Some sources say that some of the works were started in 1920. Some sources say some of the works begun in 1914 were completed by 1920.
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Most of the murals are 6.5 ft. tall. They vary in width from single-panel works 14 ft. wide to triptychs nearly 56 ft. wide.
Current location: Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris (8 paintings); others are in various collections.
During the last 30 years of his life, French Impressionist painter Claude Monet created approximately 250 paintings of the water lilies in the ponds of his home in Giverny, France. As a group, the paintings are called Les Nymphéas or The Water Lilies, although many pieces have individual titles. He began with standard Impressionist landscapes, then reduced the elements – first the sky disappeared, then the horizon line, and then finally, around 1905, he began to focus solely on the surface of the pond, with the water lilies and pads sitting on top, and the sky and foliage reflected in the water. Beginning in 1914, Monet began work on a number of very large Water Lily canvases. His goal was to create paintings that would surround the viewers, engulf them in this watery world of surfaces and reflections. Each painting is over six feet tall and depicts a specific place in the gardens at a specific time; the flat surface of the water fills the canvas so we see no ground, no horizon line and no sky (although the sun, clouds and sky are reflected in the water, as are the trees and vines along the banks of the ponds). Monet sought to create the illusion of “an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank.” By showing us only the water’s surface, with no horizon or land, Monet eliminates conventional clues to vantage point, immersing the viewer in the space between the water’s surface and the light. The figures are simplified and the painting is sometimes rough, with multiple layers of paint and obvious brushstrokes. He worked on at least 15 of these large paintings over a number of years, and most of them were still in his studio when he died in 1926. A number of the paintings were so large that they required two or three panels and so became diptychs or triptychs. (The triptych titled Water Lilies: Morning with Willows may be the largest at 6.5 ft. tall and nearly 56 ft. long.) At the end of World War I, Monet offered a number of these paintings to the French government; he worked with them to design a special museum with oval rooms to display the works. The resulting Musée de l’Orangerie opened in 1927 and now shows eight of the paintings, for a total of nearly 2,000 square feet of canvas. Many of the other large water lily paintings sat untouched for many years until the 1950s, when museums began to be interested in them again. The rise of Abstract Expressionism and the action painting of artists like Jackson Pollock had rekindled interest in these late Monet works; Monet’s hands-on encounters with the canvas, building up a geography of thick brushstrokes in what comes very close to abstraction, were seen as a precursor to the style of Pollock and others.  The top image, from the Orangerie, shows (from left) The Clouds, Green Reflections, and Morning. The middle image is Setting Sun, also at the Orangerie.  The bottom image is Water Lilies, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Random Trivia: Late in life, Monet suffered from cataracts, which blurred his vision and limited his ability to see certain colors (particularly blue and violet). Some critics believe these vision problems had a significant effect on his later work, although others point out that his style did not change markedly after two eye surgeries in 1923.

607. Black Square (Black Suprematic Square)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich
Date: 1915
Style/Period: Suprematism; Russia
Medium: Oil paints on linen
Dimensions: The original is 2.6 ft. square. The version in St. Petersburg is 1.7 ft. square.
Current location: The original is State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. There are at least three other versions, including one in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
black-square-1915 After Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, modernist painters looked for new ways to express their dissatisfaction with artistic tradition. Cubists disassembled the three-dimensional form and reassembled it as two-dimensional planes. Others ignored perspective, used primitive techniques of drawing and composition, or altered color schemes to emphasize their unreality. The abstract artists used the canvas as a theater to give color and shape to the immaterial concepts of the mind and the spirit. None of this was enough for Russian painter Kazimir Malevich. He believed that painters needed to reject nature and spirit altogether and focus instead on geometry, rationality and “the supremacy of pure feeling.” According to Suprematism, as Malevich named his movement, no painter should try to represent the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional canvas. Art is not a conduit for appreciating the natural world; it is a world unto itself. Art is not a representation of something else; it is a representation of itself. All Malevich’s Suprematist paintings represent this philosophy, but none so much as Black Square from 1915, a type of painted manifesto. In the center of a white square, Malevich painted a black square – what he called “the zero of form.” The idea was simple, bold, and highly controversial. The color that is no color painted over the color that is all colors. When viewers walked into the first Suprematism exhibition, they saw Black Square mounted in a high corner of the room (see image below). This placement was not accidental, because that was the location where Russian Orthodox believers would hang religious icons. Malevich wanted his Black Square to be an icon for a new rational religion. Over the years, Malevich made many other paintings, but he returned three more times to the black square like a touchstone: each one slightly different in size, texture and hue. The original Black Square, at 105 years old, is now cracked with the wrinkles of age (see image above).

608. Self-Portrait as a Soldier 

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Date: 1915
Period/Style: Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide
Current location: Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
kirchner self portrait as a soldier
The trauma of World War I pervaded Europe. In order to avoid combat service, German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner volunteered to serve as a driver for an artillery unit. He was declared unfit for service due to medical problems and was sent to a facility in Halle to recuperate. It was there, while meditating on the horrors of war and his own fears of mutilation, that he painted Self-Portrait as a Soldier. In the painting, Kirchner stands in his studio wearing the uniform of the Mansfelder Field Artillery Regiment No. 75, which was based in Halle. His eyes lack pupils and reflect the blue of the uniform. His right hand has been severed from his arm, leaving a bloody stump. A nude female model stands like a statue and an unfinished painting hangs on the wall. Kirchner’s left hand appears to be grasping or resting on a red and white object. The severed right hand is a metaphor for the effect of the war on Kirchner’s creativity and artistic imagination. Instead of standing confidently before his model smoking a pipe as in Self-Portrait with Model from 1907, the artist here is creatively and metaphorically emasculated, green-faced and smoking a cigarette, and seems to have no connection to the wood-like model. The style of the painting is similar to that of the Berlin street paintings – primitive and sculptural, with broken, angular lines and short crosshatched brushstrokes. 

609. Paul Guillaume – Novo Pilota

Artist: Amedeo Modigliani
Date: 1915
Period/Style: Expressionism; Italy/France
Medium: Oil paints on cardboard mounted on cradled plywood
Dimensions: 3.4 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, France

In 1915, Italian-Jewish artist Amedeo Modigliani was living in Paris and trying to make a living as a painter. He was 30 years old and he had five years to live. At the same time, French art dealer Paul Guillaume was 23 and was already an established dealer of African art.  Beginning in 1914, Guillaume became the first dealer to purchase works by Modigliani; he would continue in that role until 1916.  Modigliani painted four portraits of his patron, including the 1915 portrait with the subtitle “Novo Pilota” or “New Helmsman.” The portrait, also known simply as Paul Guillaume or Portrait of Paul Guillaume, also includes Guillaume’s name, the inscription “Stella Maris” or “Star of the Sea”, a Star of David and a swastika, which would have been recognized as a Sanskrit symbol meaning ‘good omen.’ Modigliani sought to portray Guillaume as a heroic defender of contemporary art – a young, well-dressed man who is assured but casual, with a black suit, white shirt, deep blue time, hat, leather gloves and cigarette held carelessly, bringing a touch of the dandy to the likeness.  Modigliani painted another portrait of Guillaume the next year, which is in the Museo Novocento in Milan (see image below).

610. The Charge of the Lancers

Artist: Umberto Boccioni
Date: 1915
Period/Style: Futurism; Italy
Medium: Tempera and collage on cardboard
Dimensions: 19.7 in. tall by 12.5 in. wide
Current location: Private collection
The Futurists sought to wrench Italy from her languid nostalgia for its Classical and Renaissance past into the dynamic reality of the industrial present. When World War I broke out, Umberto Boccioni and other members of the Futurist movement in Italy put down their brushes and took up politics, as they argued in favor of Italy’s entry into the war against Austria. When Boccioni returned to the studio in the winter of 1914-1915, war was still on his mind and he produced his only war-themed work, The Charge of the Lancers. A collage with its roots in Synthetic Cubism, the work begins with actual newspaper headlines about La Guerra. The scene depicted is a cavalry charge against armed infantry soldiers. The diagonal composition shows a horse in the foreground, with numerous echoes of the form behind, creating what Ester Coen termed “a compact but indistinct swarm.” The lances of the horseman intersect with the bayonets of the soldiers, while other soldiers lying in trenches fire guns. As with many Cubist works, there are few bright colors. Instead, a repetition of metallic grays increases the sense of drama and tension, as the insistent rhythm and violent action of the cavalry leads to a decisive clash. Random Trivia: Ironically, a year after this painting of riders on horses, Boccioni was killed after being thrown by his horse and trampled.

611. Suicide

Artist: George Grosz
Date: 1916
Period/Style: Expressionism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK

German Expressionist George Grosz was best known for his satirical studies of German society. Suicide was made in 1916 in Berlin, after Grosz had been discharged from the army for medical reasons. The experience of war had filled him with disgust for mankind. He said later that his work from this period “expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment.” In Suicide, we see a well-dressed man with a cane, having presumably committed suicide, lying in the street, his skull emerging from his face. On his left is a ghostly apparition, possibly his soul. On his right is a red dog. In death, the man with the cane seems to be reaching for the foot of a man running out of the frame on the right (possibly a criminal, based on the dropped gun). In the right top corner, a topless, one-armed prostitute – lit up by the streetlamp so that with the missing limb she appears to be a marble Venus – holds a flower and stares at another suicide victim hanging from a lamppost, while her client, a bloated businessman, waits in her room. Another red dog appears to follow the criminal over the red sidewalk. In the upper center, an out-of-perspective church points a steeple heavenward. The windows in a nearby building look like crosses. The nocturnal scene pulsates with dark and lighter reds and portrays a wartime Berlin with no moral compass and no hope. 

612. The Gates of Hell

Artist: Auguste Rodin
Date: Rodin received the commission in 1880. The bulk of the work was probably completed before 1900, but Rodin continued to work on and rework the sculpture in his studio until his death in 1917.
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Set of doors with relief sculptures depicting 186 figures. The original is made of plaster, and there are eight bronze casts. Dimensions: 19.7 ft. tall by 13.1 ft. wide by 3.3 ft. deep.
Current locations: The original plaster cast is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Bronze casts are in various collections, including: the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia (1926-1928 cast); Musée Rodin in Paris (1926-1928 cast); and Kunsthaus Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland (1949 cast).
gates of hell 1
In 1880, the French government commissioned Auguste Rodin to design a pair of brass doors for a new decorative arts museum in Paris, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Five years earlier, Rodin had visited Florence, where he had studied Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors for the Florence Baptistery, dubbed The Gates of Paradise. Rodin conceived an elaborate sculpture based on Dante’s Inferno, to be known as The Gates of Hell. He imagined a Hell with no gravity, which would allow him more freedom in choosing positions and postures for his sculpted figures (see details in images below) When the plans for the decorative museum were put on hold indefinitely, Rodin decided to keep working on the project; it was still in his studio when he died in 1917. Among the figures are the originals for The Thinker, The Kiss (later removed) and The Three Shades, all of which Rodin made for The Gates but also enlarged into independent pieces. Over the 37 years that he worked on The Gates of Hell, Rodin moved away from the idea of depicting specific stories from the Inferno and began to focus on expressing universal truths and powerful emotions through his figures. After Rodin’s death, the plaster pieces were assembled to produce a version of The Gates of Hell. The plaster original is now in the Musée d’Orsay, which is located, ironically, at the same location as the never-built decorative arts museum. No bronze casts of The Gates of Hell were made in Rodin’s lifetime. The first two bronzes were cast in 1926-1928.

613. The Embrace (The Loving; Lovers (II); Couple (II))

Artist: Egon Schiele
Date: 1917
Period/Style: Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria
schiele embraceA protege of Gustav Klimt and together with Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, a member of the Vienna Secession, Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele was known (and was notorious) for making sexually explicit works of art featuring himself, girls and young women, and his model/mistress Valerie Neuzil. After Schiele’s marriage to Edith Harms in 1915, his work gradually became more concerned with love and intimacy than the objectification of sexual acts.  The Embrace, from 1917, shows a nude couple, presumably Schiele and his wife, in a tender moment.  Neither face is visible, but the way the woman has wrapped her arms around her lover expresses a deep tenderness.  A light-colored ruffled blanket frames the contrasting light and dark bodies, and the woman’s abundant dark hair overlaps the man’s shorter dark hair.  The couple on the bed seems to float against the yellow background. Sadly, a year after Schiele painted The Embrace, Edith, six months pregnant, died in the flu epidemic of 1918.  Egon Schiele died of the same illness three days later, at age 28.

614. Fountain

Artist: Marcel Duchamp
Date: The original was created in 1917 for the or an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, but was subsequently lost.  Duchamp created several replicas.
Period/Style: Dada, Readymades; France/US
Medium: Readymade urinal with signature “R. Mutt”
Dimensions: Standard-sized urinal
Current locations: Duchamp-authorized replicas can be found in various collections, including: Philadelphia Museum of Art (1950); Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris (artist’s proof), and Tate, London, England, UK (1964). 

One of the most audacious acts in the history of art was the decision of Dadaist and provocateur Marcel Duchamp to purchase a urinal from a plumbing supply store, turn it sideways, sign it “R. Mutt” and submit it to an art exhibition in New York in April 1917 with the ironic title Fountain.  In doing so, Duchamp questioned nearly every assumption about what art is and should be: the item was manufactured, not sculpted, painted or even assembled by the artist; the item had no apparent aesthetic value, and it implied that art was something one should urinate in (or on).  Duchamp’s Fountain (and earlier readymades such as Bicycle Wheel (1913) and Bottle Rack (1914)) was not so much a manifesto declaring a new type of art as it was a thumbing of the nose at the pretentiousness and exclusivity of the art world.   It was also very funny.  In the years since Fountain, critics and artists have explored, in both theory and practice, a series of provocative questions raised by Duchamp’s work.  Why do we value authorship so much in looking at works of art?  What constitutes authorship – does the artist need to physically create the artwork or can the artist’s choices (such as selecting a pre-made item and designating it as a work of art) be sufficient? Who establishes the criteria for what art is good and what art is bad?  If aesthetics are merely subjective, then why do we pay attention to what critics and curators tell us about art?  Do we have a too-narrow view of what is worth looking at?  Does art need to be beautiful?  Can artworks that require no technical skill have artistic value?  Can the idea behind an artwork be as important, or more important, than the resulting work of art?  Does art need to serve a particular purpose?  The photo above of the original piece by Alfred Stieglitz was taken at 291 Studio, New York in 1917 before it was lost.  Random Trivia: Among the artists who have paid tribute to Duchamp is Sherrie Levine, whose oeuvre explore the nature of authorship by replicating, recreating or, in some cases, photographing the works of other artists and presenting them as her own. See her bronze Fountain (Buddha) (1996) below.

615. Suprematist Composition: White on White

Artist: Kazimir Malevich
Date: 1918
Period/Style: Suprematism; USSR
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.6 ft. square
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
After shaking up the art world with his Black Square (1915), Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich created a painting in which he painted a tilted white square on a slightly differently colored white background. (Anyone who’s ever selected house paints knows that there are many, many shades of white.) The image was titled Suprematist Composition: White on White. It was Malevich’s intent to make the top square seem as if it were floating above the canvas, literally taking flight within the new freedom. In addition to anticipating Minimalism by several decades (quite a few artists from the 1950s on, including Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, and Jo Baer, have created all-white paintings), White on White embodied the Suprematist intention to free viewers from the prison of pictorialism, the idea that what is on the canvas must in some way represent a reality in the world outside. Reducing picture to a bare minimum allowed Malevich to dispense with depth, volume and even color, but not the act of creation. As one critic noted, White on White is not impersonal because the trace of the artist’s hand is visible in the richly textured paint surface, the subtle variations of white and the delicate brushwork. As another commented, “The imprecise outlines of the asymmetrical square generate a feeling of infinite space rather than definite borders.” This freedom reflected the optimism that Malevich and many others had in 1918, a year after the Russian Revolution, when they believed they were building a new society where materialism allowed for spiritual freedom. As Malevich said in the program to a 1919 exhibition of his work, “Swim in the white free abyss, infinity is before you.” Random Trivia: Malevich’s very serious painting was preceded by a not-so-serious painting by French humorist Alphonse Allais, whose 1883 work entitled First Communion of Anemic Young Girls in the Snow, may be the first deliberate attempt at an all-white painting.

616. A Battery Shelled

Artist: Wyndham Lewis
Date: 1919
Period/Style: Vorticism; UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6 ft. tall by 10.4 ft. wide
Current location: Imperial War Museum, London, England, UK

The painting was commissioned in 1918 by the British War Memorials Committee to be hung in a Hall of Remembrance. 

617. Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany 

Artist: Hannah Höch
Date: 1919-1920
Period/Style: Dada; Germany
Medium: Photomontage; collage; mixed media
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany

Q. What do Kaiser Wilhelm II, Albert Einstein, Käthe Kollwitz, Karl Liebknecht, and Vladimir Lenin have in common? A. Their images all feature in Hannah Höch’s photomontage Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany. Höch’s Dadaist artwork was exhibited at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920. The Berlin Dada contingent, which also included George Grosz, John Heartfield, and Raoul Hausmann, was explicitly political, unlike their apolitical comrades in Switzerland and New York. Signs at the Fair read “Dada is Political” and “Art is Dead/Long Live the Machine Art of Tatlin.” A model of a German officer with a pig’s head hung from the ceiling. Photomontage was a common artistic medium at the Fair.  In the catalogue for the show, Wielande Herzfelde wrote: “The only program the Dadaists recognize is the duty to make current events, current in both time and place, the content of their pictures.” The source for their new pictures (including Höch’s piece) was “the illustrated magazine and the lead stories of the press.”

618. Monument to the Third International (Tatlin’s Tower)

Artist: Vladimir Tatlin
Date: 1919-1920
Period/Style: Constructivism; Soviet Union; architectural model
Medium: The planned building would have been made of glass, wood and steel. The scale model was made of wood.
Dimensions: The scale model was 13.8 ft tall and 9.8 ft in circumference. The planned building would have been 1,300 ft. tall.
Current location: The monument was never built and the original scale model has been dismantled.

The greatest work of Soviet architecture was never actually built. In 1919, Vladimir Tatlin designed the Monument to the Third International – a huge structure that would have served as both a monument to the Bolshevik Revolution and also as the headquarters for the International Communist Party. Made from glass, wood and steel, the building would have housed four separate rotating modules suspended within a massive outer framework, each with its own designated function. The lowest level would be a cube for meetings and conferences that completed one rotation in a year; above it, a pyramid with executive offices that would take a month to rotate; the next level would be a cylindrical information center that completed a rotation every day; the top would have been a hemisphere housing radio equipment. The entire structure would have been over 1,300 ft tall. In 1920, Tevel Shapiro, Sofia Dymshits-Tolstaia, Iosif Meerzon, and Pavel Vinogradov constructed a scale model of the structure under Tatlin’s direction, which only survives in photographs (see image above). Several attempts to reconstruct Tatlin’s Tower (as some have called it) have been made, including a 1979 version as part of the Moscow-Paris exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center in Paris (see image below left) and a 1:42 scale model at the Royal Academy of the Arts in London, from 2011 (see image below right).

619. The Skat Players (Card-Playing War Invalids)

Artist: Otto Dix
Date: 1920
Period/Style: Expressionism; New Objectivity; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas with photomontage and collage
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. tall by 2.8 ft. wide
Current location: Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany
At the end of World War I, 1.5 million German veterans returned home with serious injuries, including 800,000 amputees. The sight of such misery was too much for many Germans, for whom it reminded them only of their ignominious defeat. German Expressionist Otto Dix, who had fought in the war, suffered injuries and was possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, chose instead to paint the effects of war on these men with an unblinking eye. His 1920 painting and collage The Skat Players (later renamed Card-Playing War Invalids) provides a horrifying and detailed view of injuries resulting from artillery fire. Three veterans play a popular card game at a cafe in what appears to be Dresden, judging from the newspapers. The veteran on the left has no arms, a disfigured face, one original leg, which he uses to hold the cards, and one wooden leg. His remaining hair is carefully arranged. A listening device sitting on the card table is attached to his right ear. The man in the center has a prosthetic jaw, a prosthetic eye, a listening device and a bandage on his head with a figure sketched on it. He has no arms and two wooden legs; he holds a card in his teeth. The man on the right has no legs, one original arm and one prosthetic arm, a prosthetic jaw and a patch that covers his missing nose. He is wearing a jacket with the Iron Cross of the German army that is made out of the thick woven paper used to make clothing at the end of the war, but the jacket is not long enough to cover his genitals, which are exposed on the chair. His jaw contains a photograph of Otto Dix with the inscription, “lower jaw prosthesis brand Dix” (see detail in image below). The wooden legs of the men are barely distinguishable from the legs of the card table. Consistent with the philosophy of the Neue Sachlichheit, or New Objectivity, a movement with which he aligned himself, Dix mixed his paint with the elements of collage: the newspapers, the playing cards, and the blue paper jacket on the right are all real physical objects attached to the canvas. The result is a painting that mixes us up with the physical content of the time. 

620. Three Musicians

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1921
Period/Style: Synthetic Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: New York version: 6.6 ft. tall by 7.3 ft. wide; Philadelphia version; 6.7 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. wide
Current locations: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY and Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
picasso three musicians By 1921, the modern art movement known as Cubism had passed through several phases: analytic (1907-1911), synthetic (1912-1914) and crystal (1914-1918), and some thought the movement was dead. But in the early 1920s, Pablo Picasso and others returned to the style, creating a number of important works in the process. Picasso’s two 1921 paintings entitled Three Musicians recall the paper cutout collages and other multimedia experiments of synthetic cubism, though they do so using only oil paints. As with other Cubist works, the emphasis is on the flatness of the canvas – little or no effort is made to create the illusion of three-dimensionality. In the New York version (see image above), we see a trio of men, two of whom are dressed up as characters from 17th and 18th Century commedia dell’arte: sad-faced Pierrot, playing the clarinet, and multicolored trickster Harlequin, with a violin. Next to them is the darkly-shrouded Monk, with sheet music. A dog sits under the table, its hidden head casts a shadow on the wall. The three musicians are set facing front in a narrow stage-like space with odd dimensions (note that the floor on the left goes back further than on the right), like an ancient frieze. The bits of faux paper interlock like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and overlap so that the individual figures are melded with one another. Picasso may have meant the three characters to represent himself (Harlequin) and two of his close friends from pre-war days: the French poet Apollinaire (Pierrot), who died in the 1918 flu epidemic; and Max Jacob (the Monk), also a poet, who entered a monastery the same year Picasso made the paintings. The larger version in New York’s Museum of Modern Art is more famous, but Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Michael Taylor asserts that that their version of Three Musicians is more daring in its “far more aggressive use of its materials” (see image below).
picasso three musicians philly

621. The Elephant Celebes

Artist: Max Ernst
Date: 1921
Period/Style: Surrealism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.1 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK
German Surrealist and Dadaist Max Ernst obtained the inspiration for The Elephant Celebes from a photo in a British anthropological journal showing a large clay corn-bin used by the Konkombwa people of Sudan (see image below). Ernst transformed the corn bin into a metallic elephant-like machine/animal (see image above). He set the horizon low to emphasize the bulk of the contraption. A large hose or tube emerges from near the top of the body, ending with a white collar and a horned bull’s skull.  At the top of the body is a set of indeterminate items, perhaps metal sheets, in blue and red, with one staring eye or eye-like feature.  Two tusks peek out from the other end of the ‘elephant’, implying the existence of another head (or perhaps the only true head) at the unseen, opposite end of the creature. The elephant stands on a flat concrete or paved geometrically shaped patio surrounded by grass, with mountains in the distance.  To the left is a pole; to the right is a tall structure with totem-like sections. Two angled protrusions (perhaps phallic) point toward the elephant – one is bright red and near it hovers a red ball.  A short blue pole stands behind the elephant’s left ‘leg’.  In the lower right corner, a headless nude female figure wearing a surgical glove gestures, either for the viewer to look at the elephant or for the elephant to come to her.  Above, two fish fly or swim from left to right.  There is an airplane-like object in the air, as well as a trail of smoke pointing downward. Ernst’s original title was Celebes, which was the former name of the Indonesian island now known as Sulawesi.  Ernst told one of the owners that the title came from a German children’s rhyme with sexual connotations that begins “The elephant from Celebes/has sticky yellow bottom grease.”  As with so much Surrealist art, the painting possesses the imagery and logic of a dream, and may also draw on the Freudian technique of free association.

622. The Twittering Machine

Artist: Paul Klee
Date: 1922
Period/Style: Iconoclasm; Germany/Switzerland
Medium: Oil transfer drawing, watercolor, and ink on paper with gouache and ink borders on cardboard
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Paul Klee was associated with a number of different artistic movements during his career, including the Bauhaus, whose motto was “Art and Technology – A New Unity.” That motto may help viewers to make sense of Klee’s deliberately smudgy Twittering Machine, which looks so much like an illustration for a children’s book that it is common for parents to hang prints of it in their children’s bedrooms. But is it simply a whimsical machine with mechanical birds – a type of steampunk music box? Critics and scholars have attributed a myriad of meanings to the piece – not surprisingly, perhaps, as one thing critics seem to agree on is that Klee deliberately left his works open to multiple interpretations. Questions include: are these real live birds or some kind of animatronic robot birds? (Klee like to show living beings and mechanical analogs in his work – such as birds alongside airplanes.) If real, are they perched on the machine or tied to it involuntarily? Are the positions of their bodies meant to show a type of musical notation? (Klee was the son of a musicologist and grew up around music.) What will happen if someone turns the lever at far right? And what is the purpose of the large rectangular pit beneath the contraption? Is it, as some suppose, a pit that awaits the unwary? Klee’s Twittering Machine was on display in a Berlin museum in 1937 when the Nazis declared it ‘degenerate art’ and banned its display. Fortunately for art lovers, instead of destroying the work, the Nazis sold it to an art dealer to raise funds, and that dealer sold it to MOMA. Random Trivia: The musical aspects of Twittering Machine have inspired a number of composers to set the piece to music, including Gunther Schuller, the fourth movement of whose Seven Studies on Themes by Paul Klee, a 12-tone piece from 1959, is based on the painting.

623. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp
Date: 1915-1923
Period/Style: Dada; Conceptual Art; France
Medium: Construction made with oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, dust, and glass panels
Dimensions: 9.1 ft. tall by 5.8 ft. wide by 3.4 in. deep
Current location: The original is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Three authorized replicas are at: Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden (1961); the Tate Modern in London (1966) and the Komaba Museum in Tokyo.
The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even.   duchamp bride stripped bareMarcel Duchamp worked on The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (also known as The Large Glass), for eight years before finally concluding that it was “definitively unfinished” but ready to exhibit. The artwork was the result of conscious planning and chance events, and although Duchamp created an elaborate explanation for it, he also believed that the viewer’s judgment on the meaning of art was more important than the artist’s intentions. (One art history textbook describes the work as an “insoluble enigma” that was “intended to be so.”) When the piece sat unfinished in his studio for years, it accumulated dust. Duchamp brushed a layer of varnish over the dust to memorialize the passage of time. Then, after a 1926-1927 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, the large piece was damaged in transport, creating swirls of cracks in the glass. Now, Duchamp concluded, after the fortuitous intervention of chance, the piece was truly finished. He patched up the pieces, added a clear layer of glass to each side and enclosed it all in an aluminum frame. According to Duchamp’s (intentionally?) obscure notes, the work represents a conflict between the insect-like Bride in the upper panel (the Bride’s Domain), who is separated from the nine Bachelors (who look like hanging suits of clothes) in the lower panel and their odd machine (the Bachelor’s Apparatus). Duchamp’s notes speak of a state of perpetual desire and various erotic proceedings. The work, not truly either sculpture or painting (although some of the pieces are painted), changes with the changing light and based on who or what is visible on the other side of the glass (such as a Vogue model – see image below for a 1945 magazine cover featuring The Large Glass.) Like a window, the Large Glass blocks our passage (to go past it we must go around it), allows us to see it for itself, to see what is on the other side of it, and to see ourselves in its reflection.

624. Bird in Space

Artist: Constantin Brâncuși
Date: 1923
Period/Style: Modernism; Abstract Art; Romania/France
Medium: Sculptures made from white marble, black marble, or bronze
Dimensions: The sculptures range in size from 4.5 ft. tall to 6 ft. tall
Current locations: Various collections, including: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (1923, white marble); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (1923, white marble; 1924, bronze), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (1925-1926, bronze; 1927, bronze); Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington (1926, bronze); Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1928, bronze; 1941, bronze); Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA (1931, bronze); National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (c, 1931-1936, white marble and black marble).
 brancusi bird in space bronze
In 1926, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși shipped a sculpture entitled Bird in Space to the United States. When it arrived at customs, officials refused to categorize it as a sculpture because to them it did not resemble anything, certainly not a bird. This meant it was subject to a 40% import levy (from which artworks were exempt). Brâncuși sued and won, after a federal judge conceded the existence of a “so-called new school of art, whose exponents attempt to portray abstract ideas rather than imitate natural objects.” Brâncuși’s Bird in Space series of sculptures was his third and most abstract attempt to capture the essence of a bird in flight. First came the Maiastra sculptures of 1910 through 1918), then the Golden Bird of 1919. By 1923, he had eliminated almost all the attributes of a bird – wings, beak, claws, feathers – leaving only a representation of the bird’s movement, of the concept of flight itself. Brâncuși said that Bird in Space reduced reality to the essential, but critics have noted that achieving the grace and balance to transform a piece of marble or bronze into a soaring abstracted concept of a bird requires both skill and inspiration. Ironically, Brâncuși was among the most hands-on of sculptors – he rarely allowed assistants or machines to do what he could do by hand, yet his painstaking approach resulted in surfaces (whether marble or bronze) that look machine-made. His human hands worked to erase the evidence of the human work his hands had done. The original Bird in Space was made from white marble in 1923. After that, Brâncuși made six more marble sculptures and cast nine bronze versions, which can be found in museums and collections around the world.  The images above show a white marble version from 1923 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a 1928 bronze version at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

625. The Harlequin’s Carnival

Artist: Joan Miró
Date: 1924-1925
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
miro harlequin-s-carnival By the time he painted The Harlequin’s Carnival (also known as Carnival of the Harlequin) in 1924-1925, Catalan Surrealist Joan Miró was working almost entirely out of his imagination, creating creatures and objects that had little relation to objects in the world outside the canvas.  The occasion of The Harlequin’s Carnival is probably the Christian festival known variously as Mardi Gras or Carnival, on the eve of the fasting season of Lent, when people wear masks and engage in merrymaking.  Unfortunately, the host of the party, the Harlequin himself, is despairing.  Based on a common theater character, usually a servant who plays tricks on his master, pines for an unrequited love and plays the guitar, the Harlequin here is transformed into a guitar with a head, arms and feet.  He has a hole in his heart and a sharp spike in his head.  According to Miró, he painted The Harlequin’s Carnival during a time when he was struggling financially and not sure if he was going to succeed as an artist. Ironically, it was this painting that became his first acknowledged masterpiece.  

626. Carcass of Beef 

Artist: Chaïm Soutine
Date: c. 1925
Period/Style: Expressionism; Belarus/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide
Current location: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

From the Albright-Knox museum curator: “While living in La Ruche, an artists’ residence in Paris, he made friends with the employees of slaughterhouses and often painted the cuts of meat he acquired from them. In 1925, when he moved to a larger studio, Soutine procured an entire steer carcass and hauled it back to the space. Over several weeks, he executed at least four similar canvases as well as sketches and smaller paintings; all the while the meat decomposed.” From Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker: “Painted in reds and blues as luminous as those of Gothic stained glass, it communes with Rembrandt’s seventeenth-century masterpiece The Slaughtered Ox, which Soutine contemplated often and intensely in the Louvre, and it crackles with formal improvisations (one swift white line rescues a large blue zone from incoherence) and wild emotion.” Below left: Rembrandt’s The Slaughtered Ox (1655). Below right: Soutine’s Carcass of Beef (1925) from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

627. Pillars of Society

Artist: George Grosz
Date: 1926
Period/Style: Expressionism; Dada; New Objectivity; Germany 
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany
German artist George Grosz was best known for skewering the powers-that-be in Weimar Germany, a task he accomplishes with gusto in The Pillars of Society from 1926. Grosz introduces four characters, each presented with his ‘attributes’: (1) at front right, an aristocrat/lawyer with an old-fashioned collar, monocle, dueling scar and a swastika on his tie holds a fencing foil in one hand and a beer in the other; a horse armed for battle – the valiant knight of fantasy – emerges from his earless head; (2) to the left and slightly farther back, clutching newspapers, is a journalist, probably publishing baron Alfred Hugenberg, with a chamber pot for a hat, holding a pencil and a bloodied branch of peace palm; (3) to the right middle is a politician, possibly German president Friedrich Ebert, holding a Weimar flag and a pamphlet reading “Socialism Is Working” or “Socialism Is Work”; the top of his head is removed to reveal a pile of steaming excrement; (4) in the rear is an alcoholic clergyman, who preaches peace with eyes closed, ignoring the atrocities of the army and armed militias and the chaos that can be seen through the windows. The painting, whose title is an ironic twist on the title of an Ibsen play, lays the blame for the disruptions of 1926 Germany at the feet of the ruling class, but it also predicts that, if the Nazis were to gain power, it will be because these components of society – the aristocracy, the press, the clergy and the political establishment – either abetted them, looked the other way, or were too stupid or incompetent to stop them.  Just seven years later, in 1933, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party took control,  and Grosz’s work was condemned as ‘degenerate art.’ 

628. Several Circles

Artist: Wassily Kandinsky
Date: 1926
Period/Style: Expressionism; Abstraction; Russia/Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.6 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide
Current location: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, US
kandinsky several circles
Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky returned to Russia from Germany at the beginning of World War I and absorbed the influence of Suprematism and Constructivism, with their emphasis on geometric shapes, but he returned to Germany in 1921 after his belief that abstract forms had expressive content alienated him from his colleagues. At the Bauhaus, Kandinsky explored the relationship between shape and color, and in Composition VIII, he began working with the circle form.  Several Circles, from 1926, marked a turning point – according to Kandinsky, the circle is the primary form that “points most clearly to the fourth dimension.” The painting depicts approximately three dozen circles of differing sizes and colors, some overlapping others, some not touching anything else – all on a black background from which they seem to float out of the canvas. This floating effect, scholars point out, is not random – it is a  direct result of the choices that Kandinsky made about the colors, positions and sizes of the circles. Several Circles is considered an abstract painting, but the mind seeks to impose representation. For example, the largest circle, the only one with a rough, hazy edge, is also the brightest, although it is almost completely obscured by a purple circle (unless the purple circle is the largest, and the bright, hazy ring around it is a kind of halo or corona). It is easy to imagine that the large, bright circle represents the sun or another star being eclipsed by a large moon or planet.  (Others have imagined bubbles rising.) Having all the circles seeming to float against a black background brings to mind all the various types of astronomical bodies – stars, planets, moons, etc. And then again, maybe each circle is just a circle, or as Kandinsky described it, “a single tension that carries countless tensions within it.”  

629. Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden

Artist: Otto Dix
Date: 1926
Period/Style: Expressionism; New Objectivity; Germany; portrait
Medium: Oil paints and tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.9 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Otto Dix was famous for making the subjects of his portraits less attractive, but by 1926, he was famous enough that people were willing to pay him to make them uglier.  Sylvia von Harden was a poet and film critic and a regular at the Romanisches Café in Berlin, a hangout for artists and bohemians.  According to von Harden, Dix walked up to her one day and blurted out, “I must paint you, I simply must!  You represent an entire epoch”, to which von Harden replied, “You want to paint my lacklustre eyes, my ornate ears, my long nose, my thin lips? You want to paint my short legs, my big feet – things that can only frighten people and delight no one?” With her trendy bob haircut, monocle, public smoking of Russian cigarettes and androgynous look, Sylvia von Harden was the epitome of the Neue Frau – the new woman of 1920s Germany.  Dix wanted her portrait to represent a generation concerned not with the outward beauty of a woman but her psychological condition.  Dix’s commitment to the Neue Sachlicheit, or New Objectivity, meant not that his paintings were faithful to reality as seen by a camera, for example (see August Sander’s 1931 photographic portrait of Sylvia von Harden below), but faithful to the inner truth, no matter how ugly. So, in Dix’s portrait, we see the rings around von Harden’s eyes and her sagging stocking. Her checkerboard red and black dress clashes with the pink walls behind her. Dix stretches her fingers to monstrous proportions, and places her hands in the Venus Pudica pose, one hiding her chest (although her clothing is tailored to downplay feminine features) and the other across her lap. A series of circles (monocle, cocktail glass, table top) contrasts with the flattened body of the subject and her inscribed cigarette case. The ornate furniture seems to belong to a bygone era. Later, von Harden recalled that, after seeing what Dix hath wrought, she thought the likeness was terrible, but she also believed that a portrait by Otto Dix would help her writing career, so she came out in favor of it. 
sylvia von harden

630. The Forest (series)

Artist: Max Ernst
Date: Ernst painted the works in the series during the years 1927 and 1928.
Period/Style: Dada; Surrealism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: See text.
Current locations: See text.

The Romantic landscape painters imagined an invisible realm at work in the natural world, while the Surrealists saw the forest as a metaphor for the imagination. German painter Max Ernst combined these seemingly contradictory attitudes about the forest with his childhood experience of the forest as the embodiment of both enchantment and terror in painting the Forest series (also known as the Forest and Sun series) in the late 1920s. The Forest paintings featured a wall of trees, a stylized solar disk (possibly in eclipse) and often one or more birds, which may represent Ernst himself, caught in the forbidding landscape. Probably the most highly-regarded of the series is Forest and Dove, from 1927, now located in the Tate Modern in London (see image above). The works evoke both elements of apparently incompatible dualities, for example, joy and sadness, freedom and captivity, or hope and unease. To create the unusual textures of his Forest paintings, Ernst employed a technique he invented called grattage, in which he scraped paint from prepared canvases over underlying materials such as wire mesh, chair caning, leaves, buttons and twine, thus revealing the imprints of the foreign objects and adding a random or automatic element to the creative process. The images above show five of the paintings in Ernst’s Forest series:
(1) Forest and Dove, 3.3 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, from 1927, Tate Modern in London (image above);
(2) Forest and Sun, 2.2 ft. wide by 2.7 ft. wide, from 1927, Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois (below, top row left);
(3) The Wood, 1.9 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, from 1927, National Museum of Cardiff in Cardiff, Wales, UK (below, top row right);
(4) The Forest, 3.1 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide, from 1927-1928, Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy (below, bottom row left); and
(5) Petrified Forest, 2.6 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide, from 1927, National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo (below, bottom row, right). 
ernst forest and sun $$$-ERNST A503 300dpi/A3-0
ernst forest ernst forest 2

631. American Gothic

Artist: Grant Wood
Date: 1930
Period/Style: Regionalism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

One of the most recognized pieces of American art, American Gothic depicts two figures standing in front of the Dibble house in Eldon, Iowa. It was the architecture of the house that first caught Grant Wood’s attention and gave the work its title. The house was built in the Carpenter Gothic style; Wood thought that adding a Gothic window to an ordinary frame house was pretentious. Wood made a pencil sketch of the house while visiting Eldon in August 1930; he returned the next day (with the permission of the owners) to make another sketch using oils on paperboard. When Wood returned to his studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he recruited his sister Nan to pose for the woman and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, to pose for the man (see image  below left showing the models with the painting). Although there is some evidence that Wood’s initial intent was to portray a husband and wife, Nan insisted that, at her age, she was supposed to be the farmer’s daughter, not his wife; Wood tactfully never disputed her interpretation. Wood entered the painting in a contest at the Art Institute of Chicago; it won third place and a cash prize of $300. According to Wood, he intended to make a statement in support of the traditional values of the American heartland – hard work, stoicism and resilience – as the Great Depression was just beginning. Some saw it that way. Others interpreted the painting as a biting satire of narrow, backward, small town people and attitudes. At some point during the Great Depression, American Gothic acquired a reputation as a tribute to the steadfast pioneer spirit. Wood’s iconic image was even selected for a patriotic poster by the U.S. Government during World War II. In modern times, the painting has been the source of many parodies, mostly affectionate, and is considered a cultural icon. Random Trivia: Perhaps the most powerful critique of American Gothic is Gordon Parks’ 1942 photographic portrait of Ella Watson, an African-American government worker, which he also entitled American Gothic (see image below right).
American-Gothic subjects  gordon-parks-american-gothic-30

632. Early Sunday Morning

Artist: Edward Hopper
Date: 1930
Period/Style: American Scene Painting; American Social Realism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. high by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
hopper early sunday American painter Edward Hopper once told the story of a late-night discussion with college friends about what a room would look like when no one was looking at it. Hopper’s 1930 painting Early Sunday Morning may be an answer to that question – it is a view without a viewer. The viewpoint is that of someone standing directly across the street from the row of storefronts. The time is early morning (not necessarily Sunday – Hopper blamed someone else for the title) and the rising sun casts long shadows. While the scene was inspired by Seventh Avenue in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, Hopper has eliminated or blurred identifying details so this could be an urban streetscape almost anywhere (as long as the neighborhood is apparently devoid of living things). In an early version of the painting, a tenant stood in one of the second floor windows, but Hopper painted over the figure, leaving us with the unsettling sense that people live behind those shades and curtains but they are missing from the painting’s world. There are other unsettling signs. A tall object outside the frame to the right casts a very long shadow that slices down the middle of the sidewalk. The dark rectangle in the upper right corner may be a skyscraper menacing the neighborhood. Even the many horizontal lines and forms that appear to extend past the right and left edges of the canvas (storefronts, sidewalk, curb, street) bring on a feeling of desolation that even the warm light of early morning on red stone cannot dispel.

633. Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

Artist: The statue was designed by Paul Landowski and built by engineers Heitor da Silva and Albert Caquot. The statue’s face was created by Gheorghe Leonida.
Date: Begun in 1922; completed in 1931.
Period/Style: Art Deco; Poland/France/Brazil
Medium: Sculpture made from soapstone and reinforced concrete
Dimensions: The entire sculpture is 125 feet tall. The statue is 98 ft. tall. The pedestal is 26 ft. tall. It weighs 635 metric tons.
Current location: Corcovado Mountain, Tijuca Forest National Park, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The inspiration for the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was a feeling among certain Roman Catholic Brazilians that the world had entered a time of godlessness. The group raised money for a statue and eventually chose Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski to design the immense monument. In working on the design, Landowski began with Leonardo da Vinci’s rule that the body of a statue should be 7.5 times the height of the head. But Landowski soon recognized that the rule did not work on this colossal scale.  Using Leonardo’s measurements would make it look like Jesus had a giant head on a stumpy body. Instead, Landowski’s designed a statue in which the body is approximately 12 times the height of the head. Not only is Christ the Redeemer a major religious monument, it is also landmark that can be seen from nearly everywhere in the city below (see photo below by Mariordo), a tourist attraction and the inspiration for similar statues around the world.

634. The Persistence of Memory

Artist: Salvador Dali
Date: 1931
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 9.5 inches tall by 13 inches wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
dali persistence of memorySmall in size but large in its influence, The Persistence of Memory is Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali’s most famous creation (other than perhaps himself). Dali and other Surrealists drew much of their inspiration from the theories of Sigmund Freud, who believed that much of human behavior was motivated by urges in our unconscious minds, and that the unconscious was revealed through dreams. Surrealists rejected the surface reality of day-to-day life and sought instead to depict other, hidden realities, such as those we see in dreams. To do this, they created images that appeared hyperrealistic in some ways but completely unnatural in others. According to Dali, he painted The Persistence of Memory using a “paranoiac-critical” technique that involved placing himself in a self-induced hallucinatory state. The result was an otherworldly combination of objects – some strange and some familiar. The most famous are the three melting watches. The incongruity of seeing something hard and metallic depicted as flaccid and flexible is intended to shock us out of our preconceptions about the nature of reality. Some have sought to connect the melting watches to Einstein’s theory of relativity, which proves the elastic nature of time, but Dali claims he was inspired by watching some Camembert cheese melt in the sun. A dead tree grows out of a man-made platform. Ants swarm over a fourth watch as if they are feasting on its decaying flesh. In the distance, we see cliffs (possibly of Dali’s native Catalonia) and an unnaturally placid sea. In the foreground there is a strange gray creature with a closed eye, a nose and a tongue (?) that may be a self-portrait of the artist. Perhaps he is the dreamer of this quiet nightmare. Random Trivia: More than 20 years after painting The Persistence of Memory, Dali revisited and updated his earlier work on a considerably larger canvas (see image below). Known as The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the 1954 painting is at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

635. Ad Parnassum

Artist: Paul Klee
Date: 1932
Period/Style: Divisionism; Switzerland/Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide
Current location: Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland
Klee; Ad Parnassum, 1932 Swiss German artist Paul Klee created Ad Parnassum using a complicated four-step technique: (1) paint large blocks on untreated canvas; (2) paint small blocks in white on large blocks; (3) paint over small white blocks using color; (4) add dark lines and orange circle (see entire work in image above and detail of technique in image below).  Termed divisionism after Seurat, Klee’s technique arose in part from his belief that all natural processes involved the permutation and movement of fundamental units of construction. Other elements of Klee’s multifaceted aesthetics include his ideas about color and his exploration of the connections between painting and music. One of Klee’s largest paintings, Ad Parnassum was the final entry in a series of ‘magic square’ paintings, in which Klee applied his theories about color, music and fundamental units of construction. Scholars have suggested that the work supports multiple interpretations, even across such fundamental boundaries as whether the painting is representational or abstract art.  According to one theory, Ad Parnassum (translated as ‘toward Parnassus’) represents a gate that leads to the triangle-shaped mountain Parnassus where, in Greek mythology, the god Apollo lived with the nine Muses, the goddesses of the arts (and knowledge). The notion of direction is represented by four arrow-like black outlines, each pointing to one of the four compass directions. Another representationalist theory equates the triangle shape with the Great Pyramids, which Klee saw during a trip to Egypt in 1928, and the blocks of paint with the building blocks used to make the pyramids.  The triangle could also represent a mountain near Klee’s home.  Another theory focuses on Klee’s fascination with polyphonic music and its relationship to visual art. The phrase ‘gradus ad Parnassum’ has been commonly used for centuries to describe any process of learning that requires gradual steps, and is also the title of a 1725 work on musical counterpoint by Johann Fux that Klee may have seen.  Under this theory, the elements of the painting constitute separate, simultaneous themes, similar to the themes in polyphonic musical work; the arrows could indicate crescendo and diminuendo effects.

636. Departure

Artist: Max Beckmann
Date: 1932-1933
Period/Style: Expressionism; New Objectivity; Germany
Medium: Triptych made with oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The center panel measures 7 ft. tall by 3.8 ft. wide. Each side panel is 7 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
beckmann departure German artist Max Beckmann created his first triptych, Departure, as the Weimar Republic was crumbling and Hitler’s Storm Troopers were committing mayhem and murder in the streets of Berlin. In this time of chaos, Beckmann looked back to a Gothic religious form, the triptych, that signified a time when the dominant institution in the community proclaimed common beliefs through art. Here, however, the beliefs portrayed by Beckmann are anything but common. As one scholar has noted, the three panels of Departure contain highly specific representational images, but are not susceptible to any obvious interpretation. Beckmann himself was harassed by patrons and admirers to provide an explanation, but his responses, while intriguing, were mostly cryptic. The overall scheme appears to be tragedy, horror and despair on the dark, outer panels, with hope and freedom in the brighter, less crowded center panel. A. Left Panel. We see four figures, three columns, a still life and a mirror/crystal ball. The central figure, known as the executioner, carries a weapon with a bag of fish at the end of it. Around him are three victims: (1) a ghostly white, possibly nude man stands with his arms over his head, bloody stumps where his hands used to be, arms tied together and around a column, with a gag across his face, facing outward; (2) a clothed man stands with his back to us, facing a column, standing in a barrel of liquid, hands tied at the wrists; and (3) a woman kneels on the floor, nude except for a tight corset around her middle, her arms over her head, tied at the wrists, she is face down on the crystal ball, which seems to display a building with windows; she kneels on an upside-down newspaper (Zeitung in German), although only the word “Zeit” or “Time” is visible. B. Right Panel. We see a stage with a proscenium arch with five figures in front of it and stairways in the background, on which people perch, watching. The figures are: (1) a uniformed blindfolded bellboy with a large fish; (2) a woman with one exposed breast carrying a lamp; (3) a man tied upside down to the woman’s front with his hands tied behind his back and his head facing the woman and touching the stage; (4) a very small, but amply endowed, human figure (possibly a naked child) behind the woman; and (5) in front of the stage, a man wearing a Louis XI costume wearing a bass drum. C. Center Panel. We see five human figures on a boat in the ocean: (1) a hooded man stands next to an oar in the left foreground, wearing a red drapery and yellow arm bands, and holding a very large fish with both hands; (2) a man with a yellow crown (which seems to float on the horizon), a blue drapery and a yellow waistband holds a net full of fish with his left hand and makes the Christian sign of blessing with his right. Sitting in the background but visible between the two men in the foreground are (3) a woman with a yellow arm band, a Phrygian cap and a necklace/collar, holding the leg of a naked yellow-haired child with her right hand; (4) a barely-visible man with a cap holding the same child with his right hand; the child’s head obscures the man’s right eye; and (5) the yellow-haired child. Interpretations abound so I will only mention a few. All three panels feature fish. In Beckmann’s mythology, fish may represent the male phallus, the male life force, the will, or abundance/fecundity. In Christian iconography, the fish is a symbol of Jesus, who asked his disciples to become ‘fishers of men.’ The crowned figure in the boat holding a net full of fish may be Christ or a Christ-like being. Some find political meaning in the images – the sadism and tragedy represented in the side panels may have been inspired by the Nazi atrocities going on at the time. In addition, the drummer in the right panel resembles Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propagandist, with what might be one of millions of Nazi posters pasted to his drum. Others say that the painting condemns the state’s oppression of art and artists – they note that the executioner in the striped shirt resembles Beckmann himself. As possible support for such topical interpretations, Beckmann was on the verge of departure himself; he would flee Germany after his work was condemned in the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich beginning in July 1937. Others believe that a specific anti-Nazi interpretation oversimplifies the timeless and universal aspects of Departure. Beckmann said as much when he described the center panel to his patron Lilly von Schnitzler in February 1937: “The King and Queen, Man and Woman, are taken to another shore by a boatsman who they do not know, he wears a mask, it is the mysterious figure taking us to a mysterious land. … The King and Queen have freed themselves, freed themselves of the tortures of life – they have overcome them. The Queen carries the greatest treasure – Freedom – as her child in her lap. Freedom is the one thing that matters – it is the departure, the new start.” From the three panels of Departure flow a stream of unanswered questions: If the man with the crown is the King and the woman is the Queen, then who is the other man holding the child? Why is the face of the woman on the stage in shadow, when she is holding a lamp? Are we seeing the same characters in all three panels at different stages of life? Are the columns in the torture chamber a reference to The Flagellation of Christ? Why is the executioner so small? Why is there a still life in the middle of a torture chamber?  (Are we in an artist’s studio? Is there a connection to the still life in Les Demoiselles D’Avignon?) Has the woman in the left panel been raped? Enough. 

637. The Human Condition

Artist: René Magritte
Dates: Version I: 1933; Version II: 1935
Period/Style: Surrealism; Belgium
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Each canvas is 3.2 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current locations: Version I: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Version II: Simon Spierer Collection, Geneva, Switzerland

The paintings of Belgian Surrealist René Magritte, whose hyperrealistic painting style owes its origin in part to Magritte’s early years as an advertising artist, are both witty and eerily unsettling. Magritte gave the name The Human Condition to two different paintings with the same theme (and the same size), made two years apart. In both works, we see what is apparently a completed painting on an easel. In the first, we are looking through a curtained window (windows feature in many of Magritte’s works, almost always seen from inside looking out) onto a somewhat bland landscape; in the second, we are looking through an archway onto a (also somewhat bland) seascape. In both works, the painting on the canvas both blocks our view of the actual landscape, while also recreating and blending with that landscape perfectly, an effect achieved through a deft manipulation of the rules of linear perspective. The paintings ask questions about both the nature of perception and the nature of art. Magritte draws on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Ludwig Wittgenstein to posit that when we look at the world, what we see is not the reality (Kant’s noumena, or “thing-in-itself”), but a mental representation of that outside world that exists only inside our heads. Yet we persist in taking the mental picture for the real thing. This conflict – the impossible desire to perceive the world outside our minds, and the lie we tell ourselves that our perceptions put us in contact with that external reality – is the human condition. But Magritte is also commenting on the issues raised by Matisse and Picasso and their modernist followers. We assume that the landscapes on the canvases in these paintings block the “real” landscape behind them, but do they? Why do we believe that we know what we will see if the easels are removed? Both the “real” landscape and the landscape on the easel are painted. Neither is real and so neither needs to follow any of the physical rules that apply to external reality (that is, external to the painter’s canvas). Just as a mental picture of a thing is not the thing-in-itself, a painting of that thing is also a kind of lie. Magritte is reminding us that traditional perspectival painting (the kind that Magritte is using here) is a lie – not only is it impossible for a two dimensional canvas to reproduce nature’s three-dimensionality, but any attempt to represent external reality in a work of art must fail. Art, then, merely makes overt a delusion that is normally covert: we cannot gain direct access to the world of our perceptions, whether we perceive reality or artistic representations of reality.

638. The Epic of American Civilization

Artist: José Clemente Orozco
Date: Begun in 1932 and completed in 1934
Period/Style: Mexican mural art; Mexico
Medium: Mural 
Dimensions:  24 fresco panels covering approximately 3,200 square feet
Current location: Baker Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

A. The Coming and Departure of Quetzalcoatl: Migration, Snake and Spears, Ancient Human Sacrifice, Aztec Warriors, Coming of Quetzalcoatl, The Pre-Columbian Golden Age, Departure of Quetzalcoatl, The Prophecy, Totem Poles.
B. Cortez and the Modern Era: Machine Totems, Cortez and the Cross, The Machine, Anglo-America, Hispano-America, Gods of the Modern World, Symbols of Nationalism, Modern Human Sacrifice, Modern Migration of the Spirit, Chain of Spirit, Modern Industrial Man

639. Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)

Artist: Salvador Dali
Date: 1936
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. square
Current location: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
Dali soft-construction-with-boiled-beans Did Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali have the ability to see the future?  Most scholars agree that Dali created preparatory sketches for Soft Construction with Boiled Beans in 1934 and completed it in early 1936, about six months before Generalissimo Francisco Franco began the Fascist uprising that sparked the Spanish Civil War.  Yet most scholars also agree that the painting’s depiction of two halves of a gruesome man-monster battling each other (Dali himself described it as “a vast human body breaking out into monstrous excrescences of arms and legs tearing at one another in a delirium of auto strangulation”) refers directly to Spain’s political schism.  Even Dali agreed, as shown by his decision to retitle the work Premonition of Civil War.  Perhaps the political turmoil preceding the war, as it rumbled through the collective unconscious and onto Dali’s sketch pad, made the gigantic creature(s) inevitable.  As usual, Dali takes bizarre, unlikely and grisly distortions of everyday objects and figures and paints them in a hyperrealistic style, perhaps to make sure that we believe in their reality despite the urging of our rational minds to disregard them. The parallelogram-forming monsters exist in the arid landscape of Dali’s Spanish homeland.  A normal-sized man peers over a giant hand. Boiled beans are scattered about, perhaps a reference to the Catalonian custom of offering beans to the gods. An inexplicable box or chest of drawers provides support for the arm/leg/torso of the lower giant. Note that, assuming Dali was intending to make a political statement, he did not take sides (unlike Picasso in Guernica, which came down squarely on the side of the Republicans).  In fact, not long after the Spanish Civil War began, Dali’s right wing politics led the Surrealists to eject him from their group, prompting Dali’s declaration, “I am Surrealism!”

640. Lobster Telephone

Artist: Salvador Dali
Date: 1936
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain/France
Medium: Composite made from painted plaster lobster atop plastic telephone.
Dimensions: 6 in. tall, 12 in. wide and 6.6 in. deep
Current location: The five versions are located at: Dalí Universe in London, UK; the Museum für Kommunikation in Frankfurt, Germany; the Edward James Foundation in London; the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra; and the Tate Modern in London.
Lobster Telephone 1936 by Salvador Dalí 1904-1989 Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí  once wrote, “I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone.” Dalí answered his own question with Lobster Telephone, a 1936 composite of an ordinary working telephone mounted by a lobster made of painted plaster. The object and was commissioned by wealthy, eccentric English poet Edward James, who also owned three Dalí sofas shaped like Mae West’s lips. Lobster Telephone fulfills the requirements for a Surrealist object: the artist has combined items that are normally not associated with each other to produce an effect that is simultaneously playful and menacing.  For Dali, both lobsters and telephones had sexual connotations; to emphasize this connection, he placed the sexual organs of the lobster directly over the mouthpiece of the telephone.  He also believed that Surrealist objects such as Lobster Telephone could unlock the hidden desires of one’s unconscious mind.  On another level, Lobster Telephone is simply (and intentionally) hilarious.  There are five versions of the original Lobster Telephone, four of which were originally purchased by Edward James to replace all the standard phones at his country manor. Random Trivia: There are also six versions of Lobster Telephone made with an off-white telephone at various museums.

641. The Old King

Artist: Georges Rouault
Date: Georges Rouault began painting The Old King in 1916, but didn’t finish until 20 years later, in 1936.
Period/Style: Expressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas 
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide
Current location: Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Considered a masterpiece of Georges Rouault’s Expressionist style, The Old King, which shows an unidentified ancient monarch in profile, hearkens back to the stone reliefs of Assyria and Egypt, and portraits on Greek and Roman coins. The portrait expresses the burden but also the majesty and mystery of kingship in those times. Rouault introduces more modern themes by placing springs of white flowers in the king’s hand, instead of a scepter or crown. According to one scholar, “the white flowers, —by embodying the fragility of life, the inevitability of death, and the inexorable cycles of birth and decay—, confront the king with the limits of his power. Thus, a symbol that speaks of spring, innocence, and renewal gives a dark and bitter twist to the meaning of the traditional royal icon.” As a young man, Rouault had served as apprentice to a stained glass maker, and that training is reflected in his style: large patches of glowing primary colors surrounded by thick black outlines.

642. Object 

Artist: Meret Oppenheim
Date: 1936
Period/Style: Surrealism; France
Medium: Fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon
Dimensions: Cup: 4.4 in. diameter; saucer 9.4 in. in diameter; spoon 8 in. long
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

643. Nude in the Bath (series)

Artist: Pierre Bonnard
Dates: Bonnard’s first painting on the subject was created in 1925, but his most highly acclaimed entries in the series were painted between 1936 and 1946.
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Nabis; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas Dimensions: The paintings range in size from 3 ft. tall by 4.8 ft. wide to 4 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide.
Current locations: Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France (Nude in the Bath, 1936); Carnegie Institute Museum, Pittsburgh, PA (Nude in the Bath and Small Dog, 1941-1946). Several paintings in the series are located in private collections.
In the late 19th Century, French painter Pierre Bonnard and like-minded artists formed a Post-Impressionist group called the Nabis (named after the Hebrew word for prophets), whose members idolized Gauguin and Cézanne and believed, like the symbolists, that art should represent not the world as we see it with our eyes, but as we imagine it, with a central focus on the expressive power of color. Bonnard’s subject matter was bourgeois domestic life: the garden, the parlor, and especially the bathroom. Many of these scenes of intimate home life (nearly 400 works of art, according to some sources) feature Marthe de Méligny, Bonnard’s partner from the 1890s until her death in 1942. De Méligny (whose real name was Maria Boursin) was a lower class woman of whom Bonnard’s haute bourgeoisie family disapproved, which may explain why they didn’t marry until 1925, and then kept it a secret from many. De Méligny had been prescribed hydrotherapy (frequent bathing) for a number of ailments she suffered from, and beginning in 1925, Bonnard’s paintings began to feature her in the bathroom, either before, during or after a bath. He painted a series of several works (some sources say four, others more) between 1935 and the mid-1940s, which focus almost exclusively on Marthe’s nude body in the tub. The works feature a daring and opulent use of color, particularly in the rendering of the tile work, which appear to transform the bathroom into a Byzantine church, its walls covered with colorful mosaics. In this interpretation, the paintings are a homage to Marthe, who rests like a queen in a multi-colored temple. Other commentators have noted that the resemblance of the tub to a sarcophagus, and Bonnard’s rendering of the flesh tones as approximating a rotting corpse. Bonnard painted the scenes from memory (which may explain why the final canvas in the series was completed after Marthe’s death and why Marthe remains eternally young in all the bathtub portraits); he would make some sketches but then allowed his imagination to produce the final work. (In fact, there is some evidence that the bathroom tiles were all white and the colors are a product of Bonnard’s artistic imagination, which saw the room not as it was but as it should be.) The bathtub paintings Bonnard made in the 1930s and 1940s, which all have similar titles, are considered some of his greatest achievements. The images show: (1) Nude in the Bathtub (1935), in a private collection (see image above); (2) Nude in the Bath (1936), in the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in Paris (see image below left); and (3) Nude in the Bath and Small Dog (1941-1946), in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (see image below right).  
bonnard bathtub 1 Bonnard bathtub 3

644. Guernica

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1937
Period/Style: Cubism; Surrealism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 11.5 ft. tall by 25.5 ft. wide
Current location: Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
guernica An anti-war icon, Guernica was Picasso’s impassioned response to the bombing of a Basque Country village by German warplanes supporting Franco’s Nationalists on April 27, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso painted Guernica for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, where he was living at the time. (Ironically, the theme of the Exposition was a celebration of modern technology.) According to Hugh Honor and John Fleming, Picasso’s aim in painting Guernica was “to press into ideological service all the sophisticated techniques of modern art.” Guernica was painted using a palette of mostly black, white and gray to set a somber tone. Among the elements of the work are: (1) on the left, a bull stands over a grieving woman holding a dead child; (2) in the center, a horse with a gaping wound in its side falls in agony; (3) the bull’s tail becomes a flame with smoke; (4) beneath the horse lies a dead soldier; his severed arm holds a broken sword from which a flower grows; (5) a lightbulb/evil eye/sun (lightbulb is ‘bombilla’ in Spanish, while ‘bomba’ is Spanish for bomb) hangs over the horse’s head (see detail in image below); (6) a woman floats into the room through a window to witness the horror, while her long arm holds a lamp near the lightbulb; (7) a woman stares up blankly at the lightbulb; (8) instead of tongues, daggers emerge from the mouths of the bull, the horse and the grieving woman; (9) there is a drawing of a dove with an olive branch on the wall, and a crack in the wall lets light in from outside; and (10) a man on the far right raises his arms in terror as fire engulfs him from above and below. Interpretations of the mural are many and varied and often contradict one another, although all agree that this is Picasso’s protest against the bombing of Guernica in particular and war in general. Picasso’s response to questions about the meaning of his work was, “This bull is a bull and this horse is a horse.” After the Fascists won the Civil War, Picasso refused to allow the painting to go to Spain as long as the Fascists remained in power. As a result, Guernica was sent to New York and was exhibited at Museum of Modern Art until 1981, after the restoration of democracy in Spain. Upon its arrival in Spain, Guernica was displayed in the Casón del Buen Retiro, part of the Museo del Prado in Madrid. In 1992, the painting was moved to a specially-constructed gallery in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

635. Weeping Woman

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1937
Period/Style: Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK.

Weeping Woman developed from the figure of the woman with the dead child in Picasso’s Guernica, which was completed in the same year (see detail of Guernica in image below), during the Spanish Civil War. 

636. The Two Fridas

Artist: Frida Kahlo
Date: 1939
Period/Style: Surrealism; Folk Art; Naïve Art; Mexico
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. square
Current location: Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico
the-two-fridas-1939 Of the many self-portraits painted by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas is the largest and most highly regarded. The double self-portrait was painted shortly after the artist’s divorce from Mexican muralist Diego Rivera after 10 tempestuous years of marriage. (The couple later remarried.) The double images represent the two sides of Kahlo’s heritage. Born in Mexico to a German father and a Mexican (Spanish/Indigenous) mother, Frida Kahlo was torn between two identities. When she married Rivera, he encouraged her to explore her traditional heritage. Against a backdrop of stormy clouds, two Frida Kahlos sit together on a bench. The Frida on the right is the one Rivera loved; she wears the traditional Tehuana huipil and skirt, with her heart exposed but intact. In one hand she holds a small medallion with a picture of Rivera as a child (see detail in image below). An artery leads from the medallion to Frida’s heart and then to the heart of the Frida on the left, the one that Rivera did not love. She wears the white dress of European colonials and her heart is broken. She tries to cut off the flow of blood from the artery, but it continues to drip, creating a pool on her dress. (The blood may also represent the miscarriages Kahlo suffered, and her lifelong struggle with physical pain from childhood polio and a serious accident). The two Friedas, already connected by the blood of Rivera’s memory, hold hands, echoing a portrait of Kahlo and Rivera at the time of their wedding. The message seems to be that, damaged heart or not, Frida can put her trust in herself, no matter how turbulent her life becomes and how much pain she must endure. Kahlo’s representational style is difficult to categorize. Her work has been characterized as Folk Art or Naïve Art due to its heavy reliance on symbols and images from native Mexican cultures, but she was also embraced by the Surrealists, who admired her dreamlike imagery and irrational juxtapositions. Kahlo rejected the label, saying, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

637. Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 

Artist: Paul Nash
Date: Begun in 1940; completed in 1941.
Period/Style: Surrealism; UK; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

Paul Nash, an official war artist for the British Air Ministry in the early years of World War II, came upon a huge dump filled with wrecked British and German aircraft at Cowley in Oxfordshire and took a number of photographs, which became the basis for this, his most highly-regarded work. Nash said later: “The thing (the salvage dump) looked to me, suddenly, like a great inundating sea. You might feel – under certain circumstances – a moonlight night, for instance, this is a vast tide moving across the fields, the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain.” Ironically, Nash was soon fired from his job at the Air Ministry because some of his superiors did not like his artistic style. On the other hand, the painting was a success when it was displayed at the National Gallery in May 1941, and Kenneth Clark, chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, called it “the best war picture so far.”

638. Nighthawks

Artist: Edward Hopper
Date: 1942
Period/Style: American Scene Painting; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.75 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper 2 The most famous work by American artist Edward Hopper, and one of the most recognizable American works of art, Nighthawks depicts a much simplified and enlarged version of a restaurant in Hopper’s Greenwich Village, New York neighborhood, rendered in such a way that this could be nearly any city in 1940s America. We see a man and a woman, another man with his back to us, and a diner server. No entrance or exit is visible, so the large windows create the sense of a giant terrarium or zoo enclosure, its occupants trapped inside and put on display. According to notes made by Hopper’s wife Josephine, she was the model for the woman at the counter, and the two men in suits are both Hopper self-portraits. Her notes refer to the man in the suit next to the woman as “night hawk” due to his beak-like nose; she refers to the man with his back turned as “sinister.” Hopper’s treatment of artificial fluorescent light at night here – note the greenish tinge of the light as it hits the sidewalk – is considered masterful. As with so many Hopper paintings, Nighthawks conveys a mood of alienation and loneliness, which the artist has acknowledged. “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.” The image has been copied and parodied in popular culture, most famously by Gottfried Helnwein, whose best-selling 1984 poster Boulevard of Broken Dreams inserts Humphrey Bogart, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe for the patrons, and Elvis Presley for the waiter, substituting celebrity kitsch for the original’s dangerous and lonely anonymity (see image below).

639. Broadway Boogie Woogie

Artist: Piet Mondrian
Date: 1942-1943
Period/Style: Neo-Plasticism; The Netherlands/US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. square
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
mondrian broadway-boogie-woogie
According to the self-imposed rules of Neo-Plasticism, Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, who arrived in New York from war-torn Europe in 1940, was limited to using straight horizontal and vertical lines and a palette of red, blue, yellow, white, black and gray.  In Broadway Boogie Woogie, a paean to his new home of New York and its jazz-inflected rhythms (and one of the artist’s last works), Mondrian replaced the black lines of earlier works with basic yellow, punctuated by small blocks of color that imitate Manhattan’s grid of streets and intersections with their insistent traffic, while also creating a pulsating visual rhythm.  As the Museum of Modern Art’s curator writes, “These atomized bands of stuttering chromatic pulses, interrupted by light gray, create paths across the canvas suggesting the city’s grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz.” Mondrian does not simply feed us candy-like dots and lines of primary colors, however.  He offsets the color with carefully-interspersed neutral blocks of gray and white.  

640. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Artist: Francis Bacon
Date: c. 1944
Period/Style: Expressionism; Ireland/UK
Medium: Triptych made with oil paints and pastels on Sundeala fiberboard
Dimensions: Each panel is 3.1 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon considered Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, made when the artist was 35 years old, to be his first mature work of art (see first image above). Throughout his life, he tried to suppress or destroy pieces he created prior to the date of this piece, which was made in 1944 during World War II. Bacon originally intended the figures in the panels of the triptych to be included either at the base of the cross in a painting of the Crucifixion or in the predella beneath a larger, separate Crucifixion panel for an altarpiece that Bacon never made. (One art historian has even suggested that Bacon intended the three figures to replace Christ and the two thieves on their three crosses, although this is a distinctly minority viewpoint.) Each panel of the triptych depicts a non-human creature painted in sickly shades of whitish-gray, with modeling to create the illusion of three dimensionality, standing or sitting on a household item, set against a garish orange background with some black lines barely indicating the floors and walls of rooms.  In the left panel, we see a creature with no limbs, a long neck, rounded shoulders and a thick head of hair, who sits on a table. The figure in the center panel stands on or near a pedestal; it has a a mouth full of teeth near the end of a long neck; a white cloth is wrapped around the part of its neck next to its mouth, which could be covering its eyes, in a possible reference to Matthias Grünewald’s 1503 The Mocking of Christ (see image below); a semicircular flap on its body could be a wing. The figure in the right panel also has a mouth near the end of a long neck-like appendage, which it has opened to let out a scream or yawn at an angle that would be impossible for a human; its mouth contains a row of teeth on the upper jaw only; an ear protrudes from behind its lower jaw. The figure in the right panel appears to have its front leg(s) standing on an irregularly-shaped patch of either shag carpet, porcupine fur, or grass meadow. As one critic succinctly summarized, “the subjects are anatomically and physically distorted, and the mood is violent, foreboding, and relentlessly physical.” Scholars have had difficulty linking the three figures in Three Studies to any Christian iconography and have had more luck with Bacon’s later statement that he based the figures on the Furies, ancient Greek deities who avenged crimes, particularly the killing of parents. Bacon’s source was the Oresteia Trilogy by Aeschylus, which tells of the killing of Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra and the killing of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes, who is then pursued by the Furies. Bacon was fond of quoting a line Aeschylus has one of the Furies speak: “The reek of human blood smiles out at me.” 

641. Sleeping Venus 

Artist: Paul Delvaux
Date: 1944
Period/Style: Surrealism; Belgium
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. tall by 6.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

Delvaux painted this Sleeping Venus (his fourth painting on the subject) in Brussels while Germany was bombing the city during World War II.  Delvaux said later: “The psychology of that moment was very exceptional, full of drama and anguish. I wanted to express this anguish in the picture, contrasted with the calm of the Venus.”

642. Christina’s World

Artist: Andrew Wyeth
Date: 1948
Period/Style: Contemporary Realism; US
Medium: Egg tempera on a gessoed wood panel
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Wyeth Christinas World Why is it that, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York not long ago published a list of the most important works of art in its collection, American artist Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting Christina’s World (which MOMA bought in 1948) was not mentioned? Probably because, although Christina’s World is beloved by many members of the public as a beautifully understated and profoundly moving painting, many critics and art historians find the work drab, kitschy and overly sentimental. Wyeth met Anna Christina Olson in the 1940s on one of his summer trips to Cushing, Maine, where Olson and her brother lived in a picturesque farmhouse on a hill. When Wyeth first saw Olson, he watched from a window while she, 55 years old at the time, slowly crawled across a field up to the house. Wyeth and his wife Betsy befriended Christina, who had a degenerative muscle disorder (possibly polio), and did not want to use a wheelchair, and he eventually decided to paint a scene with a composite figure that would represent Christina’s dignity and struggle. For the figure’s legs, torso and head, Wyeth used Betsy, then in her mid-20s, as the model. An aunt sat as the model for the figure’s hair, and Christina herself modeled for the figure’s arms and hands. Wyeth rearranged the buildings of the farm to more properly balance the asymmetrical composition. Employing a style known as magic realism, Wyeth recorded the arid landscape, rural house, and shacks with great detail, painting minute blades of grass, individual strands of hair, and nuances of light and shadow. Known for his muted palette, Wyeth’s use of pink in Christina’s dress, while conservative by Expressionist standards, emerges as a shock of vibrant color against the surrounding landscape. Wyeth’s subdued tones were in part a result of his choice of materials. In 1942, he switched from oil paints to quick-drying egg tempera, the medium of choice in Medieval Europe.

643. Number 5, 1948

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1948
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; US
Medium: Synthetic resin gloss enamel on wood fiberboard
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 8 ft. wide (or 8 ft tall by 4 ft wide (Pollock never specified whether the painting should be displayed horizontally or vertically).
Current location: Private collection
pollock number-5 1948 In 1947, American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock began creating a new type of painting in which the action of making the art became a process of discovering what the painting wanted to be. He rejected representation and narrative. Inspired by Navaho sand painting (see second image above), Pollock took his canvases off the easel and placed them unstretched and unprimed on the floor of his barn. He used synthetic resin-based paints called alkyd enamels and industrial house paints, put aside paintbrushes and worked with pieces of wood, glass and metal instead.  He walked, almost danced around (and on) the canvas, spilling, throwing and spraying paint over it until it reached an emotional peak. Sometimes he would hang the canvas on a wall for a time, to allow gravity to pull the paint earthward.  When finished, there were layers of paint covering the canvas, thicker in some places than others. In the first years of the drip technique, the palette of the paintings wavered between black and white, on the one hand, and muted earth tones, on the other. Pollock also generally rejected descriptive titles, which implied that the painting was ‘about’ something other than itself, in favor of numbers and dates. He created in relative obscurity – although critic Clement Greenberg was an early booster – until August 8, 1949, when Life magazine asked, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” After that, Pollock was a superstar. Number 5, 1948 has been described as having the quality of a dense bird’s nest. The painting is a ‘replica’ of an earlier version that was damaged while being shipped to its purchaser, Alfonso A. Ossario. Instead of attempting to repair the damage, Pollock decided to paint an entirely new canvas. Random Trivia: In 2006, Number 5, 1948 was sold for $140 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting at that time. 

644. Elegy for the Spanish Republic (series)

Artist: Robert Motherwell
Dates: Motherwell created over 150 paintings in the series between 1948 and 1971.
Period/Style: New York School; Abstract Expressionism; US
Medium: Paintings on canvas, using oil paints and other materials
Dimensions: Various
Current locations: Various collections
motherwell elegy to the spanish republicRobertMotherwell-Elegy-to-the-Spanish-Republic-No-34-1953-54  Camera 360
American artist Robert Motherwell was 21 in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War began, but it was not until 1948 that he began his epic series of paintings entitled Elegies for the Spanish Republic. The Elegies grew out of a 1948 ink illustration that Motherwell drew to accompany a poem by Harold Rosenberg in a short-lived literary magazine.  The essential form of the Elegies has remained the same since that initial 1948 illustration, as Motherwell has gone on to paint over 150 canvases in the series, some of them quite large.  One or more black rectangles or boomerang-shaped swaths hang down from the top of each canvas, never touching the bottom, while one or more black oval shapes are held or inserted between them.  The backgrounds are predominantly white, but sometimes brighter colors, including the colors of the Spanish Republic’s flag (red, yellow and mulberry) also appear, as do neutral grays and tans.  The painting technique is such that the brush strokes – the manner of creation – are evident.  Motherwell, an Abstract Expressionist, believed that non-figurative visual forms could express ideas and emotions.  His Elegies to the Spanish Republic are, one critic stated, “majestic commemorations of human suffering and … abstract, poetic symbols for the inexorable cycle of life and death.”  Motherwell himself described them as “a funeral song for something one cared about.”  Four paintings in the series, which spans over two decades, are shown in the images:
(1) Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 108 (1965-1967), oil paints on canvas, 6.8 ft. tall by 11.5 ft. wide, Museum of Modern Art in New York (top):
(2) Elegy to the Spanish Republic XXXIV, (1953-1954), oil paints on canvas, 6.8 ft. tall by 8 ft. wide, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (above left);
(3) Elegy to the Spanish Republic, (1958-1961), oil paints and charcoal on canvas , 5.7 ft. tall by 8.3 ft. wide, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (above right);
(4) Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 110. Easter Day 1971 (1971), acrylic paints with graphite and charcoal on canvas,  6.8 ft. tall by 9.5 ft. wide, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (below left); and 
(5) Elegy-to-the-Spanish-Republic, No. 58 (1957-1961), oil paints on canvas, 7 ft. tall by 9.1 ft. wide, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (below right).

motherwell elegy 110  

645. Woman and Bird in the Moonlight

Artist: Joan Miró
Date: 1949
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.2 ft. wide
Current locations: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

646. Somerset Maugham

Artist: Graham Sutherland
Date: 1949
Period/Style: Neo-Romanticism; UK; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.5 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide
Current locations: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

647. Empire of Light (series)

Artist: René Magritte
Date: 1949-1955
Period/Style: Surrealism; Belgium
Medium: 17 paintings made with oil paints on canvas; 10 works made with gouache on paper Dimensions: The paintings range in size from 7.1 in. tall by 9.8 in. wide to 3.7 ft. tall by 4.8 ft wide.
Current locations: Various collections
Belgian Surrealist René Magritte made seventeen oil and ten gouache versions of L’Empire Des Lumières (known as The Empire of LightThe Empire of Lights or The Dominion of Light), most of them between 1949 and 1955. Each painting in the series depicts a nocturnal street scene with houses and trees. (As the series progressed, the settings, originally urban, became more suburban.) In the center of the canvas, a streetlamp illuminates a house, which is often shuttered. Some of the paintings show artificial light coming from behind residential windows. Above the nighttime streetscape is a daytime skyscape, which shows a bright blue sky streaked with billowing white clouds. As with other works by Magritte and the Surrealists generally, an impossible scene is rendered very realistically. According to one theory, the experience of simultaneous day and night not only collides with the viewer’s understanding of reality, but also triggers an emotional reaction of fear, unease and distrust of the day, a reaction usually associated with the night. (Magritte had a more positive spin: “This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us.”)  The Empire of Light series became very popular among Magritte collectors, who put pressure on the artist to produce more versions, leading to the multiple variations that now exist. Three of the oil paintings are shown: (1) The Empire of Light II, 1950, made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.6 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide, now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (see image above); (2) The Empire of Light, 1955, made with oils on a canvas 6.4 ft. tall by 4.2. ft. wide, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (see image below left); and (3) The Empire of Light, 1954, made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.7 ft. tall by 4.8 ft wide, now in the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium (see image below right).

648. Number 1, 1950 “Lavender Mist”

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1950
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; US
Medium: Oil paints, enamels and aluminum on untreated canvas
Dimensions: 7.2 ft. tall by 9.8 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
pollock lavender-mistJackson Pollock was one of a subset of Abstract Expressionists known as Action Painters, because they believed that the act of creating the artwork was the artwork. The resulting painting or sculpture was, in effect, a byproduct of the process, like a documentary film of a performance. Pollock grew up in the American Southwest and he was fascinated by Navajo sand painters, for whom the meticulous creation of abstract patterns with sand served a religious purpose (see image below left). Pollock eventually gave up traditional painting methods and began to lay unprimed canvases on the floor of his studio and stand over them, flinging or dripping paint onto the surface. He did not like to give titles to his “drip” or “action” paintings – he just liked to number them, but titles apparently made the paintings easier to sell. Art critic Clement Greenberg is to blame for the title Lavender Mist that has attached to the drip painting that Pollock titled Number 1, 1950. Even though there is no lavender in the painting and “lavender mist” sounds like a perfume or a tacky landscape painting, Pollock agreed to add it as a subtitle. The large-format canvas contains many layers of paint, mostly black, white, russet, orange, silver and stone blue, which do create a mauve, possibly even lavender glow. Thick long streaks of black, often near the edges of the canvas, present focal points of emphasis, but, as one critic noted, “The eye is kept continually eager, not allowed to rest on any particular area.” Instead of looking at a finished product, a work that has reached its resting point of equilibrium, “everything is in flux, caught in the act of becoming”, as one scholar pointed out. Texture is also an element that Pollock chooses to manipulate through random processes as well as conscious control. In some spots, the multiple layers of paint create a three-dimensional architecture of paint rising from the canvas (see detail in image below right). Perhaps to emphasize the primitive aspects of spattering paint on a large surface, Pollock signed the work by placing his handprints in one of the upper corners, like a prehistoric cave painter.
sand painting  pollock lavender mist detail

649. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1950
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; New York
Medium: Oil paints, enamel and aluminum on an untreated canvas
Dimensions: 7.25 ft. tall by 9.8 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
pollock autumn The center of artistic innovation moved across the Atlantic from Paris to New York after World War II, and the dominant style (really a collection of styles) of the postwar years acquired the name Abstract Expressionism, because, like the Expressionists, these artists used art as a means to express ideas and emotional truths without concern for realistic representation, and because, like the Abstract artists, their artworks rarely depicted figures or objects from the external world. Jackson Pollock was one of a subset of Abstract Expressionists known as Action Painters, because they believed that the act of creating the artwork was the artwork. The resulting painting or sculpture was, in effect, a byproduct of the process, like a documentary film of a performance. Pollock grew up in the American Southwest and he was fascinated by Navajo sand painters, for whom the meticulous creation of abstract patterns with sand served a religious purpose. Pollock eventually gave up traditional painting methods and began to lay unprimed canvases on the floor of his studio and stand over them, flinging or dripping paint onto the surface. Nineteen fifty was a watershed year for Jackson Pollock and his new way of painting. His solo exhibition at Betty Parsons’ gallery in 1951 included the painting shown above, then entitled Number 30.  When the same painting was exhibited at Sidney Janis Gallery in 1955, Pollock had changed the  title to Autumn Rhythm. Pollock began Autumn Rhythm and his other large paintings from 1950 by first laying down a linear architecture with black paint on an unprimed canvas, and then applying successive overlayers using various colors. Autumn Rhythm‘s palette is limited to black, white, and muted shades of gray, brown, green and turquoise. The emphasis is less on color than on the interplay of line and the contrasts between the linear structure and the areas of overlapping and pooling paint. 

650. One: Number 31, 1950

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1950
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; US
Medium: Oil paints and enamels on untreated canvas
Dimensions: 8.8 ft. tall by 17.4 ft wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
pollock one number 31 Some people want to believe that Jackson Pollock was an idiot savant or a pure automatic artist, whose works are the result of unconscious chance processes, like a natural landscape, not made by human hands. But the evidence proves otherwise. Although chance plays a role in every drip painting, including One: Number 31, 1950, Pollock controlled the timing and extent of any random factors, and he made many important conscious choices throughout the process. A slow movement created a thick line; a quick flick of the wrist, a thin one. Pollock also chose how big to make the canvas; which colors to use; when to use glossy paint, when to use matte; when to allow paint to puddle; when to prop up the painting to allow puddles to drip down; whether to paint wet on wet, or wait for the paint to dry before making another pass over the canvas. In One: Number 31, 1950 (one of Pollock’s largest canvases), “calligraphic looping cords of color animate and energize every inch of the composition, which seems to expand visually despite its enormous size,” one critic noted, adding that, “The density of interlacing liquid threads of paint is balanced and offset by puddles of muted colors and by allover spattering.” Unlike some of Pollock’s drip paintings, One: Number 31, 1950 has a well-defined border – another conscious choice.

651. Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Artist: Barnett Newman
Date: 1950-1951
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; US
Medium: Oil paints of canvas
Dimensions: 7.9 ft. tall by 17.7 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
newman vir heroicus
In Barnett Newman’s 1948 essay “The Sublime is Now,” he asks the question, “If we are living in a time without a legend that can be called sublime, how can we be creating sublime art?” Vir Heroicus Sublimis (“Man, heroic and sublime”) can be interpreted as one answer to that question. Barnett’s massive canvas engulfs the viewer in an enormous field of saturated red that is punctuated by differently colored vertical lines that Newman referred to as “zips.” The two zips closest to the center of the painting create a perfect red square. Newman intended viewers of the painting to interact with it directly in a way that he analogized to “meeting another person.” (See viewer with Vir Heroicus Sublimis below left.) Art critics refer to Newman’s style as chromatic abstraction, a form of abstract expressionism, like the color field painting of Mark Rothko, “color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself.” (National Gallery of Art, Themes in American Art: Abstraction. May 9, 2010.) (See Mark Rothko’s 1958 color field painting No. 16 (Red, Brown and Black) below right). 

652. Woman I

Artist: Willem de Kooning
Date: Begun in 1950; completed in 1952.
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; New York
Medium: Oil and metallic paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.3 ft. tall by 4.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
dekooning woman 1
From the time that Dutch-born American artist Willem de Kooning began his series of Woman paintings in the early 1950s, they have ignited controversy.  The Abstract Expressionist was accused of being a misogynist and of committing violence against women with his paintbrush. The first entry in the series, Woman I, took de Kooning nearly two years to finish. He made numerous preliminary studies and repainted his canvas several times.  According to de Kooning, his inspirations were female icons through the history of art, from the faceless Venus figurines of prehistory, with their enormous breasts, thighs and buttocks, to fleshy nudes of the Renaissance and Baroque masters, and finally, sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe and other curvaceous 20th Century pin-ups. “The Women had to do with the female painted through all the ages, all those idols,” de Kooning once said.  Focusing on this subject allowed him to “eliminate[ ] composition, arrangement, relationships, light – because the woman was the thing I wanted to get hold of.”  Others who have analyzed de Kooning’s Women believe his art explores his complex feelings about women, including feelings of rage.  Using aggressive brushwork and an intense palette, de Kooning’s Woman I is hefty, wild-eyed, menacing and ferocious, but she is also a flattened two-dimensional figure, an imaginary monster of the Id, and a fertility goddess. Instead of creating a three-dimensional space for a monumental figure, the artist forces the woman’s massive head, arms, legs, and breasts into the shallow space of the flat canvas. Paradoxically, one critic noted, the figure is “exaggeratedly, absurdly physical and at the same time not there at all.”  As for technique, de Kooning puts the oil paint through its paces: depending on his needs at the time, his treatment is either thick or thin, rough or slick, opaque or translucent. He puts an arc of fluid paint here and coarse bursts of color there.  Thick smears alternate with spots where the paint merely stains the canvas. Like fellow Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, de Kooning sometimes allows pooled wet paint to drip down, adding an element of chance.  Woman I is a mid-20th Century American masterpiece.

653. Number 11, 1952 “Blue Poles”

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1952
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; New York
Medium: Enamel and aluminum paint and embedded glass on canvas
Dimensions: 6.9 ft. tall by 16 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
pollock_blue_poles By 1952, American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock had been creating so-called ‘drip paintings’ (also known as action paintings) for five years, and he was about to change direction again.  The drip painting that began life as Number 11, 1952 and is now generally known as Blue Poles (a name either given or approved by Pollock),  marks a departure from earlier drip paintings in at least two ways.  First, the color palette is strikingly bold compared with the prior work: orange and ivory splashes create a festive mood, which the blue of the ‘poles’ complements.  It is the poles themselves that signal the most significant break with the past.  These eight long straight bars, possibly made by dipping a length of wood in blue paint, impose a form and structure on the art work.  Angled and of differing lengths, the poles compartmentalize and tame the chaotic rhythms of the swirling, dripping color around and, because they were painted last, below them.  It is as if Pollock felt it was time to exert more control over the unbridled emotional upheavals of the drip technique.  Like so many great works of art, Blue Poles is no stranger to controversy.  According to the New York Times, fellow artists Tony Smith and Barnett Newman may have collaborated with Pollock on Blue Poles, although others (including Newman himself and Pollock’s widow, painter Lee Krasner) swore that, no matter what may have happened in the early stages, the final painting is Pollock’s alone.  Another controversy arose when the government of Australia paid a record price for Blue Poles in 1973, to the confusion of the many citizens who were unaware of Pollock’s importance to modern art or who did not believe that Pollock’s work had such value.  The controversy gave some public figures an opportunity to use the public’s lack of information about the painting and Abstract Expressionism as a way to score political points, but the painting came to Australia nevertheless, and is now located at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

654. Mountains and Sea

Artist: Helen Frankenthaler
Date: 1952
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; US
Medium: Oil paints and charcoal on canvas
Dimensions: 7.25 ft. tall by 9.7 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Abstract Expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler’s first major work, Mountains and Sea may be seen as a landscape painting that becomes abstract or an abstract painting that hints at a landscape.  Reportedly painted after a visit to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Mountains and Sea appears to show a landscape at the right – with solid forms and a blue sea, with a horizon line – but as we move to the left, any representational quality dissipates and we find ourselves among various shapes (some quite biomorphic), patches of color, and lines drawn with charcoal. Some elements of the work appear to be the product of chance, a la Pollock, whom Frankenthaler admired, such as splashes of paint. “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once,” Frankenthaler once said. “It’s an immediate image.” In order to eliminate any illusion of three dimensionality, Frankenthaler used a technique called “soak stain”, in which she poured paint heavily thinned with turpentine onto an untreated canvas, allowing it to soak into the canvas fibers, thus eliminating any sense that the painting rests on top of the canvas. 

655. The Destroyed City

Artist: Ossip Zadkine
Date: 1951-1953
Period/Style: Modernism; Cubism; Expressionism; Belarus/France
Medium: Bronze sculpture atop granite pedestal.
Dimensions: The statue is 19.7 ft. tall. The pedestal is 6.6 ft. tall.
Current location: Schiedamse Dijk, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
zadkine destroyed city
In 1946, Belarus-born French artist Ossip Zadkine made a terracotta sculpture about 2.3 ft. tall of a figure raising its hands in horror, which he exhibited in Prague in 1947 under the title First Sketch for a Monument to a Destroyed Town.  On the way back to France, he visited Dutch friends and toured the center of Rotterdam, which had been completely razed by German bombs in May 1940.  The terracotta having broken during the trip, Zadkine made a new version of the sculpture in plaster, about 4 ft. tall, which he exhibited in Brussels and Amsterdam in 1948.  In 1949-1950, after learning the Rotterdam was planning to erect a monument, he cast the maquette in bronze and retitled it Project for the Destroyed Town of Rotterdam and exhibited it in Paris and Rotterdam.  In Rotterdam, the sculpture was presented with dramatic lighting in front of a photo of the 1940 destruction and won many admirers.  Not surprisingly (although there was at least one powerful dissenter), when Rotterdam issued an official request for proposals, Zadkine won the commission for a monument to the destroyed city center, to be placed in a public location of the artist’s choosing.  He chose the Leuvehaven section, near Rotterdam’s port, where there were few high-rises and the statue could stand unobstructed against the sky.   Monument to the Destroyed City, generally known as The Destroyed City, was unveiled in May 1953 in Rotterdam.  In Zadkine’s words it is “[a] cry of horror against the inhuman brutality of this act of tyranny.”  Atop a stone pedestal designed by J.A.C. Tillema (the local official who had opposed Zadkine’s statue), a mutilated, agonized, semi-abstract bronze giant stares up in horror, stretching his arms to the sky.  His limbs bend in painful angles, suggesting his inner torment but also a dynamic sense of movement and weight, particularly as he leans against a supporting tree trunk.  A gaping hole has been torn into the center of his torso, where his heart would have been, a reminder that the bombing destroyed the heart of the city.
The Destroyed City.  zadkine destroyed city 2

656. Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Artist: Francis Bacon
Date: 1953
Period/Style: Expressionism; Ireland/UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa
bacon study after velazquez's portrait
In Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon transformed a 17th Century character study (see image below left) into a deeply disturbing modern image. Instead of gazing at the viewer with a complex look of calm self-confidence with a touch of viciousness, the pontiff now wears the face of a horrified character from the Odessa Steps sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s classic silent film Battleship Potemkin. (Bacon had a photo of the screaming woman pinned on the wall of his studio, like a chloroformed beetle – see image below right). The color scheme has gone from regal and ostentatious to garish, and there are various lines and shapes whose meaning is not immediately obvious. The Screaming Pope (as this and the 40+ similarly-themed paintings are sometimes called) appears to be trapped inside some kind of box or cage (it vaguely resembles a boxing ring, or, as some have thought, the electric chair), although it is not clear whether the yellow ‘ropes’ are inside or outside the Pope’s white satin gown. Below, strips of blue and tan of indeterminate nature emanate from the Pope or his robe. From above, strips of some ghastly translucent curtain hang down in front of the Pope’s face (or do they rise up?), placing the agonized Pope behind a barrier and beyond our help – we can only watch through the translucent blinds as he suffers through an eternal moment of searing pain. And yet we continue to watch. Although Bacon is not referred to as a post-modernist, what he is doing here fits squarely within the post-modern sensibility (though perhaps without the crucial element of irony). He takes an iconic work of art and modifies it to create something entirely new and completely unlike the original, yet completely derivative, commenting on it (this is a “study”, after all), and at the same time commenting in a larger way on how artists use the art that came before them – to imitate, pay homage, parody, critique, transform, even destroy. Some art historians have suggested a political interpretation for the image: They propose that Innocent X is actually a stand-in for 20th Century Pope Pius XII, who looked the other way as Hitler ravaged Europe and slaughtered the Jews, and is now getting his comeuppance, courtesy of Bacon. Strangely, even though Bacon’s studio walls were covered with copies of Velázquez’s papal portrait, when the artist visited Rome in the 1950s and finally had an opportunity to see the original Portrait of Pope Innocent X in the Galleria Doria Pamphilij, he very publicly declined.
diego-velazquez-pope-innocent- Still-from-Battleship-Pot-001

657. Figure with Meat (Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef)

Artist: Francis Bacon
Date: 1954
Period/Style: Expressionism; Surrealism; Ireland/UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Figure with Meat, also known as Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef is one of Francis Bacon’s many reworkings of Diego Velázquez’s 1650 Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The work substitutes hanging sides of beef for Velázquez’s royal red draperies and converts Velázquez’s calm, assured, even ruthless Pope into a screaming, terrorized torture victim with clutching, claw-like hands and corpse-gray skin.  (One critic is convinced that the figure has opened his mouth for food, not to scream.)  The meat motif has a long pedigree.  Bacon would certainly have been familiar with Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef (1657, see second image), as well as 20th Century artist Chaïm Soutine’s Rembrandt-inspired Carcass of Beef (1925) and related works.  Is Bacon implying that the Pope deserves this treatment?  Is this, as some scholars have suggested, a Crucifixion scene?  Or are we wrong in assuming that Bacon’s screaming victim is the Pope?  Maybe he is just another suffering human.  Let us not forget Bacon’s cheery observation, “We are meat; we are potential carcasses.” Random Trivia I: In 1962, photographer John Deakin photographed Francis Bacon for Vogue magazine with angel wings of beef (see third image).  Random Trivia II: In Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman, the evil villain known as the Joker (played by Jack Nicholson) takes over an art museum and destroys dozens of priceless masterpieces.  When he gets to Bacon’s Figure with Meat, he tells his henchman, “I kinda like this one, Bob.  Leave it.”
carcass-of-beef-rembrandt-1657  Deakin Francis Bacon Vogue, 1962

658. Flag

Artist: Jasper Johns
Date: 1954-1955
Period/Style: Neo-Dada (precursor to Pop Art); New York
Medium: Encaustic and oil paints and newspaper on fabric mounted on three panels of plywood
Dimensions: 3.5 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
johns flag As one exasperated critic asked when American Abstract Expressionist Jasper Johns first exhibited Flag, “Is this a flag or a painting?” The answer, of course, is “Yes.” Americans and many others recognize the object immediately.  But then there is the second glance, the stepping closer and examining the object, the materials and the methods, and in some ways it is not what it seems.  Flag is constructed, not sewn.  It is an object, with solidity and thickness, not a piece of fabric.  Its surface contains visible lumps, smears and drips of encaustic, a type of paint made from pigment and molten wax.  Beneath the paint, we see strips of newspaper, and although it is difficult to decipher any of the words and pictures, there is enough to tie the construction of this art to a specific time – the early 1950s – which we know from history was the McCarthy era, when loyalty to the flag was an issue that could cost someone dearly.  According to Johns, Flag began with a dream.  But Johns also made a conscious decision to paint common, easily recognizable objects and symbols, things, he once said, “the mind already knows.”  This choice to make art about what is common and familiar to us became a key element of Pop Art.  For the artist, not having to start with a new design freed up the artist to focus on the process of making the art.  In this sense, Johns was an action painter – he thought process was integral to meaning.  

659. Target with Plaster Casts

Artist: Jasper Johns
Date: 1955
Period/Style: Neo-Dada, US
Medium: Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location:  Private Collection

660. Bed

Artist: Robert Rauschenberg
Date: 1955
Period/Style: Neo-Dada, US
Medium: Wood frame covered with sheets, pillow, quilt, paints and pencil
Dimensions: 6.25 ft. tall, 2.6 ft. wide and 8 in. deep
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
American artist Robert Rauschenberg was interested in the space between life and art.  His combines took everyday objects (like the wood frame, sheets, pillow and quilt of Bed), assembled them and applied ‘art’ to them.  In the case of Bed, Rauschenberg scribbled with a pencil and splattered dripping paint a la Jackson Pollock. Then he hung the resulting construction on the wall.  So Rauschenberg made his bed, but he made sure that neither he nor anyone else could lie in it.  This, then, was the space between life and art: a bed that looked like a work of art; a work of art that looked like a bed hanging on a wall.  Art historians see Bed and other works by Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns as the beginnings of the post-modern irony of Pop Art, or at least an ironic commentary on the dominant style of the day, Abstract Expressionism.  Each Abstract Expressionist had a unique individual style; Rauschenberg doesn’t care about uniqueness – he is happy to imitate Pollock.  The Abstract Expressionists believed that they could imbue the artwork with the essence of their souls, the interior of their dream lives. Bed mocks such pretensions: “Here is where I dream,” Rauschenberg sneers, “Try and titrate the essence of my soul from this.”

661. Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Artist: Richard Hamilton
Date: 1956
Period/Style: Pop Art; UK
Medium: Photocollage
Dimensions: 10.2 in. tall by 9.8 in. wide
Current location: Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany

Many people have the misconception that Pop Art began in the U.S. in the 1960s with artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, but members of the Independent Group in the UK (including Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton) were experimenting with images from popular culture and the mass media in the 1940s and 1950s.  Hamilton’s 1956 photocollage Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? is considered by many the first work of Pop Art.

662. Monogram

Artist: Robert Rauschenberg
Date: Rauschenberg began work on this combine in 1955. The piece went through several iterations before Rauschenberg decided it was complete in 1959.
Period/Style: Neo-Dada (precursor to Pop Art); US
Medium: Monogram was made with oil, paper, fabric, printed paper and printed reproductions on canvas, metal, wood, rubber shoe heel, tennis ball, stuffed Angora goat, and rubber tire.
Dimensions: 3.5 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide by 5.4 ft. deep
Current location: Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
rauschenberg monogramIn the 1950s, American artists Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and other artists began to react against the seriousness of abstract expressionism – then the dominant style – by bringing back some of the humor and nihilism of the early 20th Century Dada movement. Not every work of art needs to plumb the depths of the artist’s tortured soul – art can be fun, inexplicably weird, even silly. By questioning the importance of personal expression in art, the Neo-Dadaists also opened the door for the mechanical production techniques of Pop Art. Legend has it that Rauschenberg would roam the streets of New York City looking for interesting trash to turn into art. In the 1950s, Rauschenberg was experimenting with ‘combines’ – neither paintings nor sculptures, these works of art put together non-traditional materials and objects, including other folks’ trash, in innovative ways. According to another story, Rauschenberg, who grew up on a farm, was forever traumatized when his father slaughtered his favorite goat. When Rauschenberg ran across a stuffed Angora goat in an office supply store, it sparked the idea for one of his most highly-regarded combines, Monogram. Artnet’s Jerry Salz calls Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram “a love letter, a death threat and a ransom note.” Just describing Monogram feels like a subversive act: A stuffed goat stands on a raised platform containing a large oil/collage painting and several objects. The goat’s face is painted with a bright mix of colors, and a car tire encircles its midsection. Directly behind the goat, a dirty tennis ball rests on the surface of the painting (see image below). A wooden police barrier and a rubber shoe heel are also involved. Some scholars have noted that goats like to consume everything, even items not normally considered consumable. Similarly, Rauschenberg believes that we can make anything into art. Others believe that the goat treats the collage/painting beneath its feet as a pasture in which to graze, and the dirty tennis ball is its gastrointestinal response to the art of the past.

663. Painted Bronze: Ale Cans

Artist: Jasper Johns
Date: 1960
Period/Style: Neo-Dada; Pop Art; US
Medium: Bronze sculpture with oil paints
Dimensions: 5.5 inches tall by 8 inches wide by 4.7 inches deep
Current location: Offentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel, Switzerland
johns painted bronze American artist William de Kooning once complained/joked that gallery owner and art dealer Leo Castelli could sell anything, even a couple of beer cans. American artist Jasper Johns, famous for his reworkings of the American flag, heard the story and decided that two beer cans would make a good sculpture. A student of Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, Johns was interested in the difference between an object and an artistic representation of the object. Johns made bronze casts of two cans of Ballantine Ale. One is punctured, hollow and light; the second has no holes in it and is much heavier. Johns painted the cans to look like Ballantine Ale cans and placed them on a small pedestal. At first glance, we seem to be looking at real beer cans, but close inspection reveals brush strokes and blurred writing. So that no one would miss the point that these were not really beer cans, Johns titled the piece Painted Bronze, also known as Painted Bronze (Ale Cans) to distinguish it from another sculpture with the same title. Many of Johns’ works involve the reworking of everyday objects into art – things like flags and targets that we see so often we no longer really see them. As one commentator put it, Johns “eliminates the role of composition through his choice of subject – by doing that, he forces you to focus on the means of representation.” Some commentators interpret the pair of cans as a representation of Johns’ close relationship with Robert Rauschenberg, which took a turn for the worse about this time when Rauschenberg moved to Florida. This theory may explain why Johns painted the word “Florida” on one of the cans. Epilogue: Although he never sold any actual beer cans, Leo Castelli did sell Painted Bronze for $900.

664. Anthropometries of the Blue Period

Artist: Yves Klein
Date: February and March, 1960
Period/Style: Minimalism; conceptual art; performance art; UK
Medium: Performance including artist, nude women, pigment, and paper.
Dimensions: Various. 
Current location: The performances took place in Paris.  Photographs of the performance and the paintings created are in various collections.

In 1960, French artist Yves Klein staged a number of performance pieces, each one titled Anthropometry of the Blue Period. In each piece, one or more nude women would cover the fronts of their bodies with blue pigment (an artist-designed color that Klein eventually trademarked as International Klein Blue) and imprint their bodies against paper to create blue images.  Klein would direct these “human paintbrushes” in the application of the paint to their bodies and the application of their bodies to the paper.  During the performance, musicians would play Klein’s Monotone Symphony, which consists of a single note played for 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of silence. The image above shows one of the paintings created at an Anthropometry of the Blue Period performance in 1960, which is now in the collection of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou. Paris, France. The photographs below right and left were taken during the performances.  

665. Campbell’s Soup Cans

Artist: Andy Warhol
Date: 1962
Period/Style: Pop Art; US
Medium: Synthetic polymer paint on 32 separate canvases
Dimensions: Each of the 32 prints is 20 in. tall by 16 in. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
warhol campbell's soup It was 1961 and American pop artist Andy Warhol was looking for a subject for his next series of artworks. He wanted to get away from his comic book series (featuring Popeye, among others) as it was too similar to the work being done by Roy Lichtenstein. A friend suggested that Warhol paint “something you see every day, like a Campbell’s Soup can.” Warhol, a big fan of Campbell’s soup, thought it was a great idea. He went to a supermarket, bought one can of every one of the 32 varieties of Campbell’s Soup then on the market, and began painting them. He projected the images onto a canvas and painted what he saw, stenciling the lettering, with some alterations (he simplified the design for the gold medallion, for example). For the row of fleur-de-lis at the bottom, he created a rubber stamp, and stamped the image on the canvas. The results shocked the art world, while at the same time establishing Warhol as a leader in the Pop Art movement. Warhol’s celebration of the lowly can of soup challenged the notion that only certain things – of the sort approved by elitist traditions – were the proper subjects for art. For Warhol, a mass marketed consumer good was as worthy a subject as a still life, a landscape or a portrait. Presented together, the 32 canvases were also a challenge to abstract expressionism. Warhol’s careful renderings of the soup cans and their labels obliterated the notion of personal expression and negated the notion of authorship. For all that one could tell, these might be products made by an unthinking machine. The mechanized process and the sameness of the results blurred the distinction between art and commerce. If someone could reproduce a commercial product’s label and sell it as their own, then what was the role of originality, creativity and technical skill in making art? Warhol’s work brought all those assumptions into question, and the questions he and other Pop artists raised in the early 1960s still generate controversy today. When they were first exhibited in a Los Angeles art gallery in July 1962, the 32 canvases were displayed along a narrow shelf, one by one. (A snarky rival art gallery nearby put actual soup cans on display and advertised them as cheaper than Warhol’s.) Five of the paintings were sold, one to a young actor named Dennis Hopper. But fortunately for art history, the gallery owner recognized that this was a set that should be kept together, and he bought back the five canvases that had sold, then purchased the entire set for $3000. When the Museum of Modern Art obtained the artwork, it first displayed them in a box shape, arranged in the order that the varieties had been first issued. (Tomato soup was the first, issued in 1897.) Warhol returned to the soup can theme many times over the years, usually making silkscreen prints (his preferred method from late 1962 onward). The subsequent soup can prints include a number of variations; some use unrealistic color schemes, others show torn labels or crushed cans. Although Warhol staunchly refused any commercial tie-in for his soup cans while alive, in 2012, Campbell’s Soup, in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation, created a limited edition set of Andy Warhol commemorative soup cans. And a quick search online reveals a number of actual soup cans signed by Andy Warhol up for sale.

666. Marilyn Diptych

Artist: Andy Warhol
Date: 1962
Period/Style: Pop Art; US
Medium: Acrylic paint on canvas covered with 50 silkscreened reproductions of a photograph
Dimensions: 6.7 ft. tall by 9.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate, London, England, UK
warhol_marilyn_diptychAndy Warhol and other Pop artists rejected the notion that artists – their intentions, their emotions, their technical skill – should be the focus of art. Instead of turning inward, they looked out to the society and culture surrounding them, a society filled with factories, superhighways, mass-produced consumer goods, advertising jingles, and the cult of celebrity. Just days after the death of mega-celebrity Marilyn Monroe in 1962, Andy Warhol bought a publicity still photograph of her from the 1953 movie Niagara. This photo formed the basis for his large Marilyn Diptych. The diptych consists of 50 reproductions of the publicity photo, 25 on the left, painted with bright but unrealistic colors, 25 on the right in black and white, fading as we move to the right. By titling this painting a diptych, Warhol hearkens back to the tradition of altarpieces in Roman Catholic churches of the Middle Ages; each panel of the diptych would show a scene from the life of Mary, Jesus or one of the saints. Warhol’s title tells us that he believes Monroe, a celebrity and a tragic figure, is a secular saint. The use of a publicity photo means that we are always looking at the celebrity as shaped by the Hollywood machine, not the real person. The multiple images remind us of the 24-frames-per-second that generate the illusion of reality in the movies. On the left, the Technicolor Marilyn appears as we see her in the movies and the publicity machine. On the right, we get a glimpse of the dark reality of fame, and the fading mortality of Marilyn’s star. On the one hand, the repetition destroys the subject’s individuality, reducing her to a cog in a machine. Yet, at the same time, Warhol’s diptych acts as a secular shrine where the viewer can feel a sense of the pathos of this woman’s too-short and tragic life. Warhol shows that even while he is mechanically appropriating mass produced images, he can use the creative process to achieve an original and powerful result.

667. Floor Burger (Giant Hamburger)

Artist: Claes Oldenburg
Date: 1962
Period/Style: Pop Art; US
Medium: Canvas filled with foam and cardboard boxes, painted with acrylic paints
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 7 ft. wide
Current location: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
oldenburg floor burgerBorn in Sweden, Claes Oldenburg, who became an American citizen in 1953, is considered the foremost sculptor of the American Pop Art movement. Pop artists shared not a style but an attitude. They rejected the Academy and the introspective elitism characterized by Abstract Expressionism. They drew inspiration from Dada, especially Dada’s playful side, but not to the point of being anti-Art. In acting out this playful, anti-elitist attitude, they filled their works with the objects, images and icons of mass-produced, commercial culture, with all its crassness and clichés intact. Along with their challenge – Why can’t a soup can be art? – they also acknowledged the seductive power of consumerism. Oldenburg’s particular variation on the Pop Art attitude was to take everyday objects and transform them so that they are completely recognizable but no longer functional – except as art. He achieved this goal by using two very simple methods: (1) making the object much larger than usual or (2) making the object much softer than usual. In Floor Burger (also known as Giant Hamburger), Oldenburg used both methods. Using canvas stuffed with foam and cardboard boxes, he constructed a very soft, but very large hamburger, which he then painted with realistic colors using acrylic paints to show a bun with a meat patty inside and a pickle on top. The sight of a 4 ft. tall, 7 ft. wide hamburger – even one that is clearly not made of bread and meat – is bound to spark a reaction, if only amusement. Because we can’t eat it, we have time to look at it, to think about hamburgers, even food in general, from an aesthetic perspective. What will we think the next time we look at a real hamburger? Oldenburg’s sculptures of giant ice cream cones, clothespins, shuttlecocks, and binoculars have often elicited controversy, and Floor Burger was no different. Back in 1962, when the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada paid $2000 for the work, a group of students marched in protest, carrying a 9-ft-tall ketchup bottle they had made for the occasion. Oldenburg’s only comment: “I only wish they had made it out of something soft.” Random Trivia: For one of Oldenburg’s later, non-soft sculptures, see Giant Three-Way Plug (1970), shown below at Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio. 

668. Whaam!

Artist: Roy Lichtenstein
Date: 1963
Period/Style: Pop Art; US
Medium: Acrylic and oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. tall by 13.3 ft. wide
Current location: Tate, London, England, UK
Lichtenstein_whaam It was 1963 and, according to the Abstract Expressionists, figurative painting was dead.  Or was it? The Pop Artists begged to differ.  American Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein found the salvation of representational art in comic books, advertisements and other commercial art sources.  Lichtenstein was intrigued by the way these media handled highly emotional content (love, hate, war) in a detached, impersonal way, thus allowing to viewers to draw their own conclusions.  Lichtenstein concentrated on creating stereotyped imagery using bright primary colors with black outlines. To add another layer of verisimilitude to his images, he added imitation Ben-Day dots, which were used in the comic book printing process.  The result, according to Lichtenstein, was an image that is “supposed to look like a fake.”  Whaam! is derived from a panel from a 1962 DC Comics publication called All American Men of War (see image below).  Lichtenstein, who served in the Army in World War II, created a number of war images during his career.  Although Whaam! appears to be an enlargement of an actual comic book panel, it is not.  Lichtenstein changed the types of aircraft (borrowing from other comic book images), deleted a line of dialogue from the victorious pilot (“The enemy has become a flaming star!”), changed the color of the onomatopoetic “Whaam!”, and painted the aircraft and the explosion so they fill more of the canvas.  Perhaps most importantly, Lichtenstein divided the image in half, creating a diptych in which the action on the left is separated from the consequence on the right. The result, according to Jonathan Jones of the Guardian newspaper, is a “comic image of American male freedom.”

669. Fall

Artist: Bridget Riley
Date: 1963
Period/Style: Op Art; UK
Medium: Polyvinyl acetate paint on hardboard
Dimensions: 4.6 ft. square
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK
Fall 1963 by Bridget Riley born 1931
As British Op-Artist Bridget Riley tells it, her goal is straightforward: “I try to organize a field of visual energy which accumulates until it reaches maximum tension.”  In the early 1960s, Riley was experimenting with optical stability and instability by contrasting black and white.  In Fall, from 1963, Riley first created a single perpendicular line running the length of the canvas from top to bottom that curved, first in a slow, graceful arc, but then in higher frequency arcs as it approached the lowest point.  Then, she painted closely spaced repetitions of the line until they filled the entire canvas. “I wanted to put that curve under as much pressure as I could without losing its character,” Riley explained later.  The resulting painting has odd visual effects on those who view it – some see movement, some see color, others become seasick.  

670. War

Artist: Marc Chagall
Date: 1964-1966
Period/Style: Surrealism; Russia/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.3 ft. tall by 7.6 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthaus Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland
chagall war 2
Symbols abound in Marc Chagall’s War, but even without a decoder ring, the horror and human suffering are evident. In a small Russian village, buildings burn; some people die, while others flee. A small family (Joseph, Mary and Jesus?) ride a white horse, perhaps to safety. In the upper right corner, we see the Crucifixion, and a strange being who may be the Devil, relishing the destruction. Chagall, despite (or perhaps because of) his Jewish heritage, employs Christian iconography to tell the story. 

671. Hang Up

Artist: Eva Hesse
Date: 1966
Period/Style: Minimalism; Conceptual Art; U.S.
Medium: Acrylic on cloth over wood; acrylic on cord over steel tube
Dimensions: 6 ft. tall by 7 ft. wide by 6.5 ft. deep
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

From the Art Institute of Chicago curator: “It is an ironic sculpture about painting, privileging the medium’s marginal features: the frame and its hanging device, represented by the cord that protrudes awkwardly into the gallery. .. Collapsing the space between the viewer and the artwork, Hang Up creates a sense of disorientation and toys with our ability to discern a clear demarcation between painting and sculpture.” 

672. A Bigger Splash

Artist: David Hockney
Date: 1967
Period/Style: Pop Art; UK
Medium: Acrylic Liquitex paints on white cotton duck canvas
Dimensions: 7.9 ft. tall by 8 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK
hockney bigger splash British painter David Hockney spent a lot of time in California during the 1960s and during that time he became fascinated with the ubiquitous phenomenon of the backyard swimming pool.  He painted several small works on the subject in 1964 and 1966.  Then, in 1967, inspired by a photo in a book about pools, Hockney began painting a large white duck canvas with acrylic paints, which he had recently discovered. He created a border for the painting by placing masking tape along the edges.  Then, using a paint roller, he painted the large blue sky, blue water, and patio, then brushes to paint details like the trees, shrubs and chair.  The modern single-story house came from a notebook of architectural sketches Hockney had made. He arranged the composition so that the border between the patio and the pool (which is left unpainted) divides the painting in half.  The house and the edge of the pool all line up with the horizontal lines at the top and bottom margins of the canvas.  The yellow diving board jutting out from the corner on a diagonal sends motion and energy to the central splash, and beyond it to the empty director’s chair.  Presumably, the person who was sitting the chair is the same as the person who has just dived into the water.  Hockney said that his primary goal was capturing and freezing the splash, which was normally a split-second phenomenon.  He joked in an interview about taking two weeks to paint a splash that takes two seconds. The absence of any visible human life, yet the knowledge that there is someone underneath the water, creates a tension, as does the contrast between the calm sunny day and the violence of the splash.  Random Trivia: Why A Bigger Splash?  Because the painting is larger than two previous splash paintings made in 1966.

673. Big Self-Portrait

Artist: Chuck Close
Date: 1967-1968
Medium: Acrylic paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.95 ft. tall by 6.95 ft. wide
Current location: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

On April 17, 1970, an exhibition titled Three Young Americans opened at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. The exhibition was the first public viewing of Big Self-Portrait by American painter Chuck Close. The immense canvas features a painted enlargement of a close-up photo of the artist’s face. Close later said in an interview: “People think that if you have a photographic image, there is pretty much only one thing you can do with it, that because of its iconography, it is fixed … but changing the medium, the method of mark-making, and the scale transforms the experience of that image into something new.”

674. Spiral Jetty

Artist: Robert Smithson
Date: 1970
Period/Style: Land Art; Environmental Earthworks; US
Medium: Earthwork sculpture in the Great Salt Lake composed of basalt, salt, mud/earth, salt, and sand.
Dimensions: The jetty is 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide. Construction involved moving 6,650 tons of rock and earth from the shore into the lake.
Current location: Great Salt Lake, Utah
Spiral-jetty spiral jetty spiral jettyAmerican artist Robert Smithson was tired of the antiseptic and elitist halls of art galleries and museums, which he described as “mausoleums.” He wanted art to be out in the open, part of the landscape, like Stonehenge or the pyramids of Giza. Art, he thought, should be experienced in relationship to an actual place in the world, not in anonymous rooms with white walls that could be anywhere. Smithson was also fascinated with the concept of entropy – the notion that everything tends to go from order to disorder. Spiral Jetty is a site-specific earthwork sculpture that Smithson constructed on the northeastern short of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, a site selected because of the presence of salt-tolerant bacteria and algae that turn the water a blood-red color. The environmental sculpture, which Smithson expected to slowly change over time, consists of a counterclockwise coil jutting into the lake like a giant corkscrew. (The spiral is a shape found both in nature and in ancient stone markings in the American West.) In its immensity, which dwarfs the viewer, the piece hearkens back to the ancient monuments of prehistoric times. Construction required moving 6,650 tons of rock and earth, and took six days. Spiral Jetty may be visible or submerged depending on the lake’s water level. The water level rose in the early 1970s to submerge it for most of the next 30 years. The sculpture has been above water – and sometimes far from the water’s edge – since 2002. Spiral Jetty, like nearly every piece of land or environmental art, cannot be hung in a gallery and cannot be bought or sold. To bring his work to a larger audience, Smithson took many photographs of the project – including aerial photography – and made a short film documenting the planning and construction of Spiral Jetty. Sadly, Smithson died only three years after completing Spiral Jetty when a plane he was using to survey sites for his next project crashed in Texas. His wife donated the work to the DIA Foundation in Utah, which maintains access to the site and documents the work as it changes over time. In keeping with Smithson’s beliefs about entropy, the Foundation has no plans to preserve the artwork but will allow the elements to do their work.

675. Untitled Film Stills (series)

Artist: Cindy Sherman
Date: 1977-1980
Period/Style: Contemporary art; art photography; US
Medium: 70 black and white photographs
Dimensions: Each print is 8.5 in. by 11 in.
Current location: Prints of the photos are located in various collections; they are also collected in a book.
From 1977 to 1980, artist Cindy Sherman created a series of still photos from films that never existed. The star of each of these nonexistent movies is the artist herself. Although Sherman did not always trip the camera’s shutter, she created the images: invented the characters, did their costumes and make-up, and selected the settings, lighting, and angle for the shot. The photos mimic the Hollywood movies and European art house films of the 1950s and 1960s. Because we don’t know what is happening outside the frame, or before or after this moment, we must invent scenarios, plots, and characterizations to fill in the gaps. Even the glossy 8.5 X 11 print form in which Sherman produced the series faithfully copies the stock publicity photos of the era. The characters are often stereotypes – the femme fatale, the damsel in distress, the brazen hussy – and they often look outside the frame to something or someone we can’t see. As Josephine Van De Walle points out, “All Sherman’s personas in Untitled Film Stills project the constructed idea of the women’s image, pointing out the arbitrariness of the female stereotypes.” Sherman highlights the sexist underpinnings of female roles in cinema and in real life, which are so often defined by their relationships to men, by removing men from the picture, literally. Thus, the woman becomes an independent agent and so perhaps reveals the lie underlying the stereotype. Sherman wrote, “I definitely felt that the characters are questioning something – perhaps being forced into a certain role. At the same time, those roles are in film: the women aren’t being lifelike, they’re acting. There are so many levels of artifice. I like that whole jumble of ambiguity.” Shown above is Untitled Film Still #21 (1978). Shown below are Untitled Film Still #13 (1978) and Untitled Film Still #16 (1978).

676. The Dinner Party

Artist: Judy Chicago
Date: Begun in 1974 and completed in 1979
Period/Style: Feminist art; US
Medium: The artwork consists of a triangular table with 39 place settings and includes numerous materials including ceramics, porcelain, various metals, and textiles.
Dimensions: Each side of the triangle 48 ft. long. 
Current location: Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, NY, US


677. Tilted Arc

Artist: Richard Serra
Date 1981
Period/Style: Minimalism; US
Medium: Cor-Ten steel sculpture
Dimensions: 12-ft. tall, 120 ft. long and 2.5 in. thick
Current location. The sculpture was removed in 1989. It is either in storage or destroyed.
tilted arc 3
According to Minimalist American sculptor Richard Serra, the large plaza in front of the Jacob Javits Federal Building in Manhattan served no useful purpose.  It was merely a place to walk through to get to somewhere else.  When the federal government solicited proposals for a public sculpture in the plaza, which was empty except for a fountain, Serra proposed a 12-ft. tall steel wall 120 ft. long and 2.5 in. thick, curved in an arc and titled toward the federal building, that would bisect the previously open plaza, blocking views and paths in both directions.  The result would be a work of art that would change the entire character of the site, making the buildings part of the sculpture instead of the other way around. As time went on, the untreated steel would slowly oxidize (i.e., rust). The federal government selected Serra’s bold and confrontational design, called Tilted Arc, which was installed at the site in 1981.  Almost immediately, the workers in the Javits Federal Building and other nearby offices began to protest. Tilted Arc wasn’t art, they said, it was an ugly rusting blight that inconvenienced workers, who had to walk around it to get across the plaza.  After a series of hearings, at which artists and intellectuals praised the work and office workers castigated it, the General Services Administration decided to move Tilted Arc to another location.  Serra sued the government, arguing that Tilted Arc was a site-specific artwork and to move it would be to destroy it.  Serra ultimately failed to keep the government from removing Tilted Arc from the plaza – it was disassembled and transported to a warehouse in 1989 and, per Serra’s instructions, will not be erected again unless it is permitted to return to its original location.
tilted arc 2  tilted arc

678. Untitled (installation of 100 mill-aluminum boxes)

Artist: Donald Judd
Date: The first of the 100 boxes was installed in 1982; the final box was installed in 1986.
Period/Style: Minimalism; US
Medium: 100 boxes made from mill-aluminum
Dimensions: Each box is 3.4 ft. tall by 6 ft. wide by 4.2 ft. deep
Current location: Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas
donald juddJudd-100-untitled-works-in-mill-aluminum-detail-1982–86-aluminum.-2009 Photo-Douglas-Tuck Although he rejected the label, American artist Donald Judd was one of the leading practitioners of Minimalism, an artistic style that sought to present “pre-determined, repetitive, unvaried, ‘cool’ objects that generally sought to be nothing other than what they were: pure forms.” To Judd and other minimalists, their works allow viewers to focus without distraction on “the main aspects of visual art: … material, space, and color.” When Judd purchased a decommissioned Army base in Marfa, Texas, he chose two former artillery sheds to house a massive art installation that is the culmination of his artistic philosophy and his greatest achievement. He modified the sheds to house the installation and designed the installation to fit the sheds. First, he replaced the garage doors with continuous walls of square windows (divided into quarters) that extend from floor to ceiling and bathe the rooms with sunlight. He also added a galvanized iron vaulted roof on top of the original flat roof. Inside the buildings, Judd installed 100 mill aluminum boxes (48 in one building, 52 in the other). The boxes were constructed by the Lippincott Company of Connecticut and installed between 1982 and 1986. While the exterior dimensions of the 100 boxes are identical, each box is unique: some are whole, some are transected, some have recesses or partitions. Without actually representing or symbolizing anything in particular, the boxes have lessons to give about space and time and how we perceive them. According to Jim Lewis in a 2007 essay, “What [Judd] was after, and what he achieved, was … a specific engagement of the senses, called forth by that metal with that surface, arranged in those forms, in that building, awash in that light, in that landscape.” After spending a month at Marfa, Lewis also recognized that, sitting three-in-a-row in rooms with glass walls, the reflective metal boxes take on the role of “sundials, calendars, clocks: They measure time as elegantly as they apportion space.” Note:  The second image above is a 2009 photograph by Douglas Tuck.

679. Puppy

Artist: Jeff Koons
Date: 1992
Period/Style: Neo-Pop Art; US
Medium: The original 1992 version was made with wood and steel frame (with geotextile fabric) in the shape of a puppy supporting flowering plants growing in soil. The Bilbao version has a steel frame with an irrigation system.
Dimensions: The Bilbao version is 43 ft. tall by 27.1 ft. wide by 29.8 ft. deep. There are approximately 70,000 plants growing in 25 tons of soil.
Current locations: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain. Another version was made for Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Connecticut, but it is not clear whether it still exists.
koons-puppy-germany puppy BilbaoJeff Koons is an American artist whose work includes aspects of Pop Art, Minimalism and Dada. He is known for creating artworks using the visual language of advertising and the entertainment industry, and likes to play with the boundaries of high and low culture, ‘turning kitsch into art’ as one critic put it. When Koons was excluded from the 1992 Documenta 9 exhibition in Kassel, Germany, he entered an exhibition in Arolsen, 40 miles from Kassel, and stole the show with Puppy, a topiary sculpture of a West Highland terrier measuring over 40 ft. tall, with a frame of wood and stainless steel, on which approximately 20,000 flowering plants grew (see first image above). Some saw it as a “monument to the sentimental”, while Koons himself described the piece with a straight face as “a modern-day Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Koons rebuilt the sculpture in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia in 1995 with a stainless steel frame and 70,000 plants. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation purchased Puppy in 1997 and installed it in front of Guggenheim Bilbao, where it remains (see second image above). The 70,000 flowering plants, including marigold, begonias, impatiens, chrysanthemums, lobelias and numerous varieties of petunias, grow in 25 tons of soil, watered by an internal irrigation system. As one critic pointed out, Puppy can be read as an analogy for certain aspects of our culture, which seem out of control but are actually carefully constructed and highly contained. Peter Brant commissioned a duplicate of Puppy for the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Connecticut. In 2000, a version of Puppy was displayed for a brief period in front of Rockefeller Center in New York. Random Trivia: Basque separatists tried to blow up Puppy in 1997 just prior to its dedication at Guggenheim Bilbao, but were foiled by police, one of whom (a Basque officer) was killed.

680. Balloon Dog

Artist: Jeff Koons
Date: First one created in 1994; the series was completed by 2000
Period/Style: Neo-Pop Art; US
Medium: Stainless steel sculpture with transparent color coating (five full-size versions in different colors) Dimensions: 10.1 ft. tall by 11.9 ft. long by 3.75 ft. wide
Current location: Various collections, including the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Jeff-Koons-Balloon-Dog Balloon Dog is a mirror-polished stainless steel sculpture with transparent color coating that was created as part of Jeff Koons’s Celebration series. Jeff Koons made five full-size versions, one each in blue, magenta, orange, red and yellow,  Each Balloon Dog appears to be made by twisting a pliable (and easily punctured) balloon into the shape of a dog, but is actually a heavy, solid metallic object. Koons insists that his sculptures have no deeper meaning or hidden agenda, but art critics and scholars beg to differ. Some condemn Balloon Dog and other replications of banal objects as kitsch or crass appeals to consumer culture, while others find Koons to be a true artist who is challenging the way we view the ordinary objects of our world and what are appropriate subjects for art; challenging the divisions between highbrow, middlebrow and low brow. Koons recently collaborated with Bernardaud to make a limited edition porcelain version of Balloon Dog encased in a transparent container. The only Balloon Dog on permanent display – Balloon Dog (Blue) – is at the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (see image below right). Balloon Dog (Magenta) is owned by the François Pinault Foundation in Venice (see image below left). The other three are in private collections.

681. Angel of the North

Artist: Antony Gormley
Date: 1998
Period/Style: Contemporary art; UK
Medium: Cor-Ten steel sculpture with concrete base.
Dimensions: 66 ft. tall; 177 ft. wide.
Current location: Gateshead, England, UK. Gormley also made five life-size cast-iron maquettes, one of which is on display at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
angel of the northWhen drivers on the A1 and A167 roads in the far north of England pass a hill in Gateshead that sits atop a former coal mine, they encounter a remarkable vision: a statue of an enormous angelic figure, standing firmly against the sky (see image below). Angel of the North is a steel sculpture by British artist Antony Gormley, who served as the model for the angel’s body. It stands 66 ft. tall, with a wingspan of 177 ft. across. The wings are curved forward at a 3.5 degree angle, to create the sense that the faceless statue is embracing the land in front of it. The body weights 110 tons; the wings are 55 tons each. Built to withstand 100 mph winds, the sculpture is anchored to bedrock 70 feet underground by 660 tons of concrete. The statue is located in a part of England that has suffered greatly in the transition from the heavy industrial economy of the past to today’s information age. Gormley’s intentions in making the statue and placing it in Gateshead were threefold: (1) to commemorate the coal miners who worked beneath the hill from the 1700s to the 1960s; (2) to inspire the community as it finds its way in the new economy; and (3) to serve as a focal point for people to express their hopes and fears. Although some opposed the project at first, it has become a beloved icon; it is the largest sculpture in the United Kingdom. Gormley also made six life-size maquettes from cast iron; one sold for two million pounds in 2008. A much smaller bronze maquette that was used in fundraising in the 1990s became the most valuable item ever appraised on the TV show Antiques Roadshow, where it was valued at 1 million pounds.


682. The Matter of Time

Artist: Richard Serra
Date; The Matter of Time was assembled in 2005. Components were created over the period 1997-2005.
Period/Style: Minimalism; US
Medium: Cor-Ten steel sculptures
Dimensions: Many of the sculptures are approximately 14 feet tall.
Current location: Guggenheim Musuem, Bilbao, Spain
serra matter of time 2 American artist Richard Serra practiced a form of abstract sculpture that did not require bases or pedestals.  His pieces confronted the viewers in their own space, thus sparking a new relationship between sculptor and viewer: these were sculptures you could move around, sometimes move in and through. Beginning in the 1960s, Serra worked exclusively with large sheets of weathering steel, often spot-welded together, that took on the color of rust as they oxidized.  For the opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum in 1997, he produced Snake, consisting of three 14-ft high curving sheets of steel that encouraged viewers to walk between them.  For a subsequent commission by the same museum, Serra chose to build on Snake by installing the 1997 piece as the center of a string of eight steel sculptures taking on various forms.  The entire multi-sculpture piece is called The Matter of Time and was unveiled in 2005. As with all Serra’s mature works, he organizes the steel plates to control the viewer’s movements through them and through the space around them.  Some scholars see The Matter of Time as autobiographical, allowing the viewer to follow the evolution of Serra’s art from simple double ellipse to spiral, ending with sections of toruses and spheres, which create in some viewers a dizzying sensation. Art critic Robert Hughes, writing in The Guardian, sees more: “a marvellous complexity unfolds almost of its own inexorable will and nature from apparently simple premises which, once they are granted and enunciated, generate the form.” The Matter of Time consists of eight sculptures: 1. Torqued Spiral (Closed Open Closed Open Closed) (2003–04); 2. Torqued Ellipse (2003–04); 3. Double Torqued Ellipse (2003–04); 4. Snake (1994–97); 5. Torqued Spiral (Right Left) (2003–04); 6. Torqued Spiral (Open Left Closed Right) (2003–04); 7. Between the Torus and the Sphere (2003–05); and 8. Blind Spot Reversed (2003–05). The Matter of Time is now part of the Guggenheim Bilbao’s permanent exhibit in Bilbao, Spain.  Random Trivia:  Curving the two-inch-thick sheets of steel along both the horizontal and vertical axes, as Serra required, is so difficult that only one steel mill in the world – the rolling mill in Siegen, Germany – could do the job.

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