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.
Interlocking organic shapes of dull and sharp appendages support one another like a monument in the characteristic space of Yves Tanguy’s My Life, Black and White (1944). Having met the poet Andre Breton in 1925, Tanguy remained true to the Surrealist movement throughout his work, borrowing shapes and motifs from Jean Arp and Joan Miro.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
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.
In 1962, Alice Neel (1900 – 1984) moved to her final apartment and studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Delimited by what was visible through a north-facing window, this scene in 107th and Broadway (1976) excludes the streets below that give the painting its title. Indeed, this absence animates the composition, whose dominant feature is the crisp shadow cast by the cusped moldings and straight edges of Neel’s apartment block on the whitewashed building across the street. The presence of people, too, is discernable only indirectly through the half-opened windows and partially shuttered blinds. Capturing the effects of sharp light on a hot summer day, this window onto the world becomes the occasion for a painterly exploration of color, form and structure.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit, Alice Neel: People Come First, Which Continues Through August 1st, 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
Marcia Hafif (1929 – 2018) made this painting in Italy, where she lived for nearly eight years in the 1960s between college and graduate school. Her works from this period feature certain abstract forms that elude to landscapes, music or the body. For example, she characterized the hill-like curve — which here appears twice and inverted — as “a compact shape, archetypal, referring to the cave, the house, the home, safety, endurance, intensity.” Hafif embraced an open-ended approach to abstraction that was grounded in observing the world, and the nature of painting itself.
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,
Memorial Day weekend is literally a washout here in Manhattan, but I managed to save the day on Saturday by taking a trip to the Whitney Museum to see the Julie Mehretu exhibit, which is just mind blowing! Mehretu is an Ethiopian-born, New York-based abstract painter whose monumental canvases create layered worlds and vortexes of energy that must absolutely be experienced in person to really lose yourself in their surreal presence. Two Thumbs way up on this one. Be sure to follow me on Instagram by clicking on the image above so that you don’t miss out on any of my exciting weekend art adventures!