Thought-Pourri: Gone Fishing Edition

Tomorrow I’m headed out on vacation, so chances are you won’t be seeing a new post for at least a couple of weeks. During my absence, you can follow my Instagram and Twitter postings, if you’re interested in seeing what I’m up to. Rest assured, I’m anticipating that there will be plenty of art and architecture posts, not just images of beaches and food (although there will be plenty of that as well, naturally enough.)

And now, on to some art news.

Fishers Of Compliments

One would think that, after the blasphemy and sacrilege on display at the Met Ball and the associated “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition – and do read this excellent editorial in The Art Newspaper condemning the show, which is a solid piece of writing and a rare instance of a secular art outlet getting it right when it comes to understanding Catholicism – the exhibition’s greenlighter, Cardinal Ravasi, would have done quite enough for one lifetime to bring scandal to the Church. Apparently, that is not to be the case. His Eminence likes being quoted in the art press saying thoughtless things, as well as having his picture taken with celebrities who despise Catholicism and the Faith, so his latest effort is really all of a piece.

For the first time, the Vatican will be participating in the Venice Architecture Biennale, sponsoring a group of ten chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the Venetian lagoon. As reported in The Art Newspaper, the starchitects involved in the project aren’t exactly following the example of Bernini, Borromini, or Bramante when it comes to their ecclesiastical designs:

They need contain no reference to the Christian Church except for a pulpit and an altar, because, said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. “These are the expression of the Holy Word that is proclaimed and the Eucharistic Supper that is celebrated by the assembly of believers.”

A bizarre enough statement, but then His Eminence goes on to further muddy the waters, as he is quoted here in Architecture Daily:

A visit to the ten Vatican Chapels is a sort of pilgrimage that is not only religious but also secular. It is a path for all who wish to rediscover beauty, silence, the interior and transcendent voice, the human fraternity of being together in the assembly of people, and the loneliness of the woodland where one can experience the rustle of nature which is like a cosmic temple.

To my mind, a “cosmic temple” sounds like a place where one undergoes the Klingon Rite of Succession, or where Yoda and Samuel L. Jackson have a confab, but be that as it may. Still, I suppose that there is at least one lasting element of intellectual value to this project. The fact that these structures are little more than flimsy, empty spaces means that they are an all the more appropriate metaphor for the mind of the man who commissioned them.

Venice

Salute Campari

It’s fairly well known in my social circles that Campari, the syrupy, extremely bitter Italian liqueur, is one of my favorite tipples, even though more often than not, when I get someone to try it for the first time they find it one of the most awful drinks they’ve ever tasted. For my part, I like it in warm weather with soda on the rocks and a slice of orange. I also like it in any weather as part of a cocktail that I accidentally invented, along with some help from a clueless French waiter on the Upper East Side, a Dominican priest, and my closest friend.

However, I must confess that I wasn’t quite so aware of the really interesting Italian art dedicated to this beverage over the years. This summer, the Estorick Collection in London is mounting a show to showcase these images, which ranges from the languid ladies of the Gilded Age to Italian Futurism to Mid-Century Minimalism. I likely won’t be able to get there myself, but am definitely going to keep an eye out for the exhibition catalogue. “The Art of Campari” opens on July 4th, and runs through September 16th.

Campari

Dreaming The Future

Speaking of 20th century Italian art, another show on that subject which I doubt that I’ll get to this summer – ah the woes of being an art writer who can’t go see all of the things one would like to see – has just opened at the Ateneum in Helsinki. “Fantastico! Italian Art from the 1920s and 1930s” looks at the concept of Magical Realism in Italian art during this period, as represented most famously by Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), and some of the interesting, often strange works of art that came out of this exploration of things such as dreams with hidden meanings, and the relationship of the individual to the anonymous state of urban society. The figure in this 1931 painting of “Woman at the Café” by Antonio Donghi (1897-1963) looks quite modern, in a Greta Garbo or Myrna Loy sort of way. Yet at the same time, Donghi is undeniably looking back to those similarly flat portraits of Florentine matrons and maidens that characterized the earlier part of the Italian Renaissance. “Fantastico!” runs through August 19th.

Donghi

 

Thought-Pourri: Cut The Crap Edition

You may recall the contretemps that took place back in 1999 when a work by overrated British Contemporary artist Chris Ofili entitled “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996) went on show at the Brooklyn Museum, as part of the “Sensation” exhibition organized by the loathsome advertising mogul Charles Saatchi. Saatchi is perhaps best known on this side of the pond for an incident in 2013 involving his now ex-wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, while they were dining at Scott’s, my favorite London restaurant. The only reason you may have heard of Ofili, of course, is because of this particular piece, which “features a black Virgin Mary with exaggerated features, surrounded by butterfly-like images of women’s butts cut from porn magazines. Shimmering yellow, gold, and blue, the piece rests on two spheres of elephant dung; another adorns her breast.”

Unfortunately said work, which I will not illustrate here, is now coming back to New York – permanently. It was purchased by the (equally loathsome) hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen in 2015 for $4.6 million, and Cohen is now donating it to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. As someone commented to me recently, when they visit MoMA they have to avoid certain sections of the museum, and I would imagine that this piece will presumably be located in one of *those* galleries. It is a pity that our cultural institutions continue to proudly display work that can at best be described as poorly-executed manifestations of the workings of diseased minds, as supported by people of horrifically bad taste.

On that note then, on to some more interesting stories.

Saving Salus Populi

Now here’s an image of Our Lady which I’ll happily share with you. After months of careful cleaning and restoration, the medieval Byzantine icon of the Madonna known as the Salus Populi Romani (“Salvation of the Roman People”) was recently put back on display at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Years of dirt, soot, and grime were removed, along with badly-executed previous overpainting, to reveal the original splendor of the image of Mary holding the Child Jesus. The painting is a particular favorite of the current Pontiff: he went to pray before it on the morning after his election, and comes to visit before and after every time he travels outside the country, leaving a bouquet of white roses when he does so. In a papacy filled with many regrettable moments to date, this is at least one thing for which I can roundly applaud this pope.

Clean

So Long, Chagall

In a bit of a Scylla and Charybdis situation, the National Gallery of Canada has decided to sell one of the paintings in its permanent collection in order to purchase another painting; what’s highly unusual about this story is that the Canadians are selling a Modern painting in order to purchase an Old Master. The painting that the museum wants is by the Neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), the most important French painter of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. “Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment” (1779) is an extremely rare religious work by David, who was an anti-Catholic freemason, and dates prior to the French Revolution. The work that the National Gallery intends to sell is “The Eiffel Tower” (1929) by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Personally, I’d rather have the Chagall, but I can understand the reasoning here. As you would imagine, this is what is known in the trade as a “developing story”, so stay tuned.

Jerome

Seeing Delacroix

Speaking of French art, The Louvre has just opened a major exhibition on the life and work of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1862), whose work as head of the Romantic school of French painting is essentially the antithesis of David’s. Personally, I’ve always found him something of a mixed bag, as I find the majority of his most famous works rather muddy and melodramatic. His portraiture, however, is often very interesting, such as in the 1837 self-portrait of the artist shown below.

If you can’t get to Paris between now and July 23rd, not to worry. The show will travel to The Met in New York from September 17th through January 6th, albeit at the slightly reduced size of 145 paintings instead of the 180 on show at The Louvre, since a number of the pieces in France cannot travel. This will be the first major American exhibition ever held on the work of Delacroix, which may cause some of us, myself included, to reconsider our currently-held views on this enormously important and influential 19th century artist. We shall see.

Autoretrato

 

 

Thought-Pourri: Take A Seat Edition

As the weather improves and things become more busy both professionally and socially, it becomes increasingly more difficult for me – and, I daresay, for you – to find some time to sit back, relax, and enjoy an interesting meander through things that we do purely for pleasure, rather than because we have to do them. So with that in mind, take a few minutes when you can, and have a flick through some of the art news stories below. They won’t clear up your calendar for you, but at least they will (hopefully) provide you with something of a break.

Easy, Chair

One of my favorite periods in decorative art is the style known as “William and Mary”, corresponding roughly to the reign of William III and Mary II of England. It was popular in Britain, Holland, and their respective colonies in the first quarter of the 18th century, and you see a lot of it in places like Boston or Colonial Williamsburg. Characteristically very architectural, furniture in this style often features carved elements such heavily crested rails, or playful barley twists, reproducing on a domestic scale the heraldic pediments and twisted columns that were popular during the Baroque era of architecture. Although it enjoyed a brief revival in this country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries – along with, it should be said, virtually every other historical design style – it’s never been quite as popular as some of the other styles that came before and after it, due to the perception that it is rather too dark and uber-masculine.

Now, following years of painstaking research, the Philadelphia Museum of Art may be about to change how we think about this period of American decorative art. Known as the “Emerson Easy Chair” because it had been owned by ancestors of the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, the newly-restored William and Mary armchair shown below should dispel any notion that everything about this period of design was oppressively heavy. This fascinating article in Antiques by the restorers who worked on the piece describes how they went about bringing this piece of furniture back to its formerly sumptuous appearance, complete with vibrant crimson upholstery and intricate gold trimmings. The end result is a piece of historical design that really makes you sit up and take notice.

Chair

New Director, Same Old Met

After a long search, a new Director will be taking his seat at the (to my mind) troubled Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose travails I’ve written about before, both here and for The Federalist. The new head of America’s largest art museum is Max Hollein, an Austrian who is currently the director of San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums; he previously served stints at museums in Frankfurt and at the Guggenheim in New York. So far reaction in the art press has been largely positive, mostly because Hollein brings a reputation for embracing Contemporary Art and raising lots of money, both of which are important to the leadership of The Met, if not to those of us who wonder whether The Met hasn’t become something of a lost soul in recent years. As Marion Maneker commented yesterday in Art Market Monitor, “[t]hat this directorship was also the focus of hopes and demands about diversity and representation within museums is only confirmation that the role of the museum in 21st Century society has changed dramatically.” None of this sounds like much of an improvement, frankly.

Met

Supposedly Shifting Sands

Since his assent to the position of man behind the throne in Saudi Arabia this past June, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been gaining a reputation for being something of a reformer and maverick, at least comparatively speaking. Women can now drive in his country, for example, and he had a hand in the extraordinary sale of Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”. Now news comes that the Saudis have reached out to the French to help them establish cultural institutions which the country currently lacks, including a symphony orchestra and an opera; the French are also being called on to do archaeological work at the major Nabatean site of Hegra, a location which I’ve told you about previously, in the hope of drawing foreign tourists to visit the remote site.

Of course if you’re a Catholic – and there are more than 1.5 million of them in Saudi Arabia – you can’t openly practice your faith. There are no churches in the country, and if you want to attend some type of service you must do so in a private home, but since the Saudi government does not allow non-Muslim clergy to enter the country in order to perform religious services, you can imagine how that goes. Moreover, if you convert to Catholicism from Islam, or if as a Catholic you try to evangelize others, you can be executed. So forgive me if I’m not particularly impressed by His Royal Highness’ so-called “reforms”.