Thursday, July 10, 2008

VENICE: The Peggy Guggenheim collection - COMING OF AGE

VENICE - PEGGY GUGGENHEIM COLLECTION: COMING OF AGE – AMERICAN ART, 1850s to 1950s. To mark the 60th anniversary of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice a wonderful exhibition entitled Coming of Age, American Art from 1850s to 1950s (until October 12th, 2008). Over the period from 1850s to 1950s, American art and culture came of age evolving from provincial to international and moving from literal depictions of the particular to abstract interpretations of universal ideals. Coming of Age explores the complex and extended process of maturation that took place throughout this formative century of American art. Drawn from the Addison Gallery’s renowned collection, the selection of works offers a comprehensive look at the major developments in a period of one hundred years marked by the rise of modernity and by a dramatic change in the physical and social landscape. In the photograph, Kitty and Stephen Sherrill, trustee of the Addison Gallery of American Art and the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Philip Rylands.

Coming of Age – 1860s. Albert Bierstadt, The Coming Storm, 1869. Bierstadt is best known among the Hudson River painters for his views of the Rocky Mountains and the Far West. This painting’s ominous back and white clouds, awesome crags and tranquil river shore in the foreground, inhabited only by a group of deer, create an effect of the sublime in contrast with the small scale of the work. The crystalline rendering of detail, a hallmark of the Hudson River painters, is also characteristic of the mid-century Dusseldorf School where German-born Bierstadt trained in the 1850s.

Coming of Age – 1890s. Winslow Homer, The West Wind, 1891. My favorite painting in the whole exhibition is this Winslow Homer. This extraordinary painting, an essay in browns, is one of Homer’s masterpieces. The place may be High Cliff near Prout’s Neck, Maine, where Homer lived and worked. The figure of the woman (a friend, Mrs. Landreth O. King) is mimicked by the juniper bushes as she leans into the wind, and embodies for us the sensations of a wintry gale that are vividly the subject of the painting. The recurrent theme of man combating the forces of nature is typical of Homer, and perhaps what makes him seem, painting in the years when the frontiers of the united States were still being extended, peculiarly American.

Coming of Age – 1900s. John Singer Sargent, Val d’Aosta: A Man Fishing, 1906. Like Whistler’s Sargent’s career was conducted primarily in Europe, where he was the most successful and sophisticated portraitist of his generation. He was born in Florence of American parents. In his later career he turned to landscape subjects. His technical panache and his compositional adventurousness are evident in this snapshot-like image of fishermen resting at noonday.

Coming of Age – 1910s. Man Ray, Ridgefield, 1913. In 1913 Man Ray, not yet 23 years old and still and art student, moved from his parent’s home in Brooklyn to Ridgefield, New Jersey. He met Henri and Bellows by this time and frequented Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in New York. There in 1911 he saw the paintings of Cezanne, which inspired this early painting of the view from his house overlooking Ridgefield. Man Ray eventually moved to Paris where he pursued a career as a photographer and contributed to both the Dada and the Surrealist movements.

Coming of Age – 1920s. Edward Hopper, Manhattan Bridge Loop, 1928. Hopper’s notes and sketches for this painting reveal his intention: “The very long horizontal shape of this picture…is an effort to give a sensation of great lateral extent…The color, design, and form have all been subjected, consciously or otherwise, to considerable simplification.” The close tones of the color palette, the simplified architecture, and the lonely figure isolated by the long stretch of the bridge ramp create a sense of urban alienation that is typical of Hopper’s work.

Coming of Age – 1930s. Sea Gull-Gaspe by Milton Avery, 1938. Gaspe is at the end of the peninsular of the same name on the Gulf of St. Lawrence in eastern Quebec. “One of America’s greatest colorist, Avery has been referred to as the ‘American Matisse”’ by William C. Agee in the exhibition catalogue. He both extends an Impressionist sensibility into the 20th century and anticipates the color abstraction of artists such as Gottlieb and Rothko, who were his friends in New York at the time.

Coming of Age - the 1940s. Jackson Pollock, Phosphorescence, 1947. This early and dense example of Pollock’s drip painting is a companion to Alchemy, also of 1947, in The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Guggenheim, who was largely responsible for launching Pollock’s career, gave Phosphorescence to the Addison Gallery at a time (1950) when his reputation was beginning to emerge in America.

Coming of Age - the 1950s. Frank Stella, Broadway, 1958. A beautiful Frank Stella entitled East Broadway. In this painting Stella was moving to clarity and elimination of the unnecessary, to the strength of the repeated line and shape as a corrective to Abstract Expressionism. In its emphasis on geometry, rhythm and intervals, this painting and others of this early period set the stage for Stella’s later pin-stripe paintings and shaped canvases.
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