Max Ernst painted the first state of Woman, Old Man and Flower in 1923, the year after he moved from Cologne to Paris to join the nascent Surrealist group. He subsequently modified elements of this picture. Most astonishingly, he added the mysterious, partially transparent, partially modeled, fan-topped figure in the foreground — presumably the flower referenced in the painting’s title. Even before leaving Germany, Ernst had been thinking about translating the collage and overpainting strategies of his small Dada works on paper into oil on canvas. The results achieved included radical leaps in scale, intensified colors, and what he described to fellow Dadaist Tristan Tzara as “a much insaner effect.”
Photographed as part of the Exhibit, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, Up Through January 1st, 2018 at the Museum of Modern Art.
Bruce Nauman’s neon sculpture, Human Nature / Life Death (1983) is a circle of words corresponding to the defining contradictions of human existence — life and death, love and hate, pleasure and pain — are trisected by the words “Animal,” “Human” and “Nature.”
In the aggregate, the words form a colorful, illuminated peace symbol. Human Nature / Life Death is anything but serene or amicable, however, and not only because of its content. As the words flash and darken erratically, Nauman’s neon devolves into a jumble of disjointed signs that break the continuity of the composition and jerk the eye across the wall.
The French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp was a member of artist Florine Stettheimer’s family’s inner circle. He is depicted here in the company of Rrose Selavy, the female alter ego that he invented in 1920. He casually carries out his game of sexual transformation by means of a contraption operated from an armchair. The clock and the chess knight are both Ducahmpian symbols: the one being a reference to the circularity of Dada time; the other an illusions to Duchamp’s prowess at chess. The frame (also by Stettheimer), composed of Duchamp’s monogram in a circle of infinite repetition, wryly comments on his program of artistic self-promotion and his obsession with identity and its ambiguities.
Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy (1923) was Photographed in the Jewish Museum in Manhattan.
Amedeo Modigliani (1884 – 1920) immortalized the Spanish landscape painter Manuel Humbert Esteve, a struggling artist whom he met in the ethnically diverse environment of Mantparnasse, in Portrait of Manuel Humbert (1916). In such paintings, he continued to question portraiture’s claim to truth, presenting the genre as ever-ambiguous. Here, he renders the sitter’s head as mask-like, with a narrow, triangular face and stylized arched brows connected to a thin. straight nose. He distinguishes personal features as well — pursed mouth, parted hair — constantly altering the counterpoise of individuality and formal abstraction.
Photographed in the Jewish Museum in NYC as part of the Exhibit Modigliani Unmasked, which is Up Through February 4th, 2018.
The thin stretchers and measuring devices in Giorgio de Chirico’s elaborate composition, The Jewish Angel (1916), combine references to his own profession and to that of his father, who was a railroad engineer. De Chirico lived in Paris from 1911 to 1915, creating melancholy cityscapes that became exemplary for the surrealist movement. When he returned to Italy at the beginning of World War I, he began making paintings of interiors filled with strange objects, such as The Jewish Angel.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
In this cityscape, Andre Derain (1880 – 1954) rendered the London sky with dramatic color. In the summer of 1905, he developed the bright palette of Charring Cross Bridge while painting alongside his elder peer, Henri Matisse in Coullioure, France. There, the two artists produced their most radical paintings to date — paintings purged of shadows and filled with imaginative, unbridled colors. When several of these works were exhibited in Paris that fall, the public and critics found the palette to be startling, and ridiculed their efforts. As Derain later recalled, “It was the era of photography. This may have influenced us, and played a part in our reaction against anything resembling a snapshot of life. Colors became charges of dynamite.”