Completed in 1963, Helen Frankenthaler’s Wizard stands apart from her then contemporary paintings, with its vertical orientation, body-sized scale, and figural allusion in both name and form. One of the last paintings Frankenthaler worked entirely in oil, Wizard should be understood as a crucial experiment in both method and medium, presaging key changes in Frankenthaler’s established approach. The artist’s works of 1962 show the last influences of didactic expressionism, where apparently unguided drips and blots of oil punctuate wide expanses of unprimed canvas, each piece emerging as an autonomous work.
The Eternal City (1934 – 37) was inspired by a trip Peter Blume took to Rome in 1932 — ten years after the fascist takeover of Italy. The dictator Benito Mussolini, depicted here as a deranged Jack-in-the-box with a green head, bulging eyes and pouting red lips, dominates the composition.
He lords over a woman begging for money amid marble ruins and an incongruous shrine of a bejeweled Christ. In the distance, people wind through labyrinthine catacombs toward the Roman Forum, where they are greeted by threatening officers. A searing indictment of fascism, the painting presents a nightmarish vision of a once glorious city being steered toward ruin.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Jean Dubuffet (1901 – 1985) sought to replicate the immediacy of the art of the untutored. In this sheet, he incised four figures into a ground of opaque watercolor, exposing the sandpaper he used as a support. The technique shares more with graffiti and the scrawls of children than with academic drawing. The artist once remarked, “When I say ‘draw,’ I’m not to the slightest degree thinking of faithfully reproducing objects . . . No, its a matter of something quite different: to animate the paper, to make it palpitate.”
Chuck Close is known as much for his detailed representation of the human face as he is for his subsequent deconstruction of it. Close uses head-on portraits as his templates, exploring portraiture and his subjects through a variety of drawing and painterly techniques, as well as through printmaking, tapestry and photography. John (1971–72) one of Close’s earliest paintings, is described as photo-realist. Indeed, Close refers to photographs to create his artworks, employing their inconsistencies perspective as much as their verisimilitude.
Here, the sharp detail of the rim of the subject’s glasses contrasts with the blurred soft focus of his shoulders and the back of his hair, as it likely did in the original photograph. But instead of using mechanical means to transfer his images onto canvas, Close works entirely from sight to achieve the intensely animate detail, sectioning off the reference photographs into grids and transferring each piece by hand onto is monumental canvases,
In 1880 Maria Berna, the American-born widow of a German diplomat, visited artist Arnold Böcklin in Florence, where she saw an unfinished version of this painting, Island Of The Dead (1880) — now in the Kunstmuseum Basel— on his easel. She commissioned the present work as a memorial to her husband, requesting the additions of the draped coffin and the shrouded female figure. Prodded by his dealer, Böcklin painted three other versions by 1886. This romantic image would become one of Germany’s most beloved, widely circulated through poor reproductions as well as a related etching in 1890 by Max Klinger (1857 – 1920).
Photographed In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877) often painted the rocky grotto at The Source of the Loue (1854), the river that flows through his native village, Ornan, in the French-Comte region of eastern France. This view is probably one of four he mentioned to the art dealer Jules Luquet in the spring of 1864 when he wrote, “I’ve been to the source of the Loue these last days and made four landscapes [measuring] about 1 meter 40.”
Photographed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Actor Mel Gibson rose to stardom in the 1979 film Mad Max, an action movie set in a dystopian future. In 2006, Gibson directed and cowrote Apocalypto, a dystopian fantasy set in the past. Drawing on durable colonialist tropes, Apocalypto portrays the indigenous civilizations of a pre-Colombian Central America as irredeemably brutal and doomed; the film ends with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. During the time that elapsed between the release of these two films, Gibson’s life took many sordid turns that land Apocalypto’s melodramatic tagline — “No One Can Outrun Their Destiny” — an ironic air. Mel Gibson Story (2010) by Jonathan Horowitz illustrates the actor’s downward spiral through a five-panel metamorphosis of the two movie posters.