Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The best art I saw in 2014

We’re now well into February, but I still have a couple of categories to go in my 2014 favorites series.

Chilean artist Francisco Tapia’s work remains my favorite individual piece of 2014. The two others are museum exhibits.

The first is almost a punchline – “You know you’re in Maine when…” “…you’re viewing ‘Andrew Wyeth: The Linda L. Bean Collection’ at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.” It doesn’t get much Mainer than that, unless maybe you’re there snacking on blueberries with Stephen King and a lobster named Bog. A beautiful, wistful exhibit in a gallery overlooking the sea.

The small museum is in a pretty, peaceful location, and I enjoyed their permanent collection quite a bit. My favorite piece was a 1979 sculpture, “The Tyrant,” by Clark Fitz-Gerald. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, they didn’t have any images of it in the gift shop and I can’t find a decent picture online.

The second was the “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937” show at the Neue Galerie in New York. The exhibit, so popular they had to extend its run, was extremely well done. It presented the history clearly and set the works (present and missing) in their historical context. One painting I was compelled to return to and ultimately had to tear myself away from was Lasar Segall’s stunning “The Eternal Wanderers”:


I read some reviews of the exhibit later and one concern some reviewers expressed, and which had crossed my mind at the time, was that because the show presented some art that was favored by the Nazis alongside the works they hated, it could lead to the message that art can or should be judged in these terms - if fascists liked it, it’s not good art, and vice versa. It’s a valid concern. The exhibit did show how the Nazis often (mis)interpreted art not on the basis of its political content or the artist’s “race” or politics but on its formal qualities. So an artist doing religious pieces in an expressionistic style, for example, could be persecuted for producing grotesque images or for denigrating or mocking religion, even if he was apolitical (or sympathetic to fascism) and even if he saw his work not as a criticism but as a celebration. The Nazis, unwittingly, were “right” in the sense that many of these works promoted a dangerously humanistic attitude; but that wasn’t the basis for their fearful rejection of these modernists. So it’s a complicated matter, and they probably could have done a better job in addressing it. Overall, though, a tremendous exhibit.

In related news, the Neue Galerie will host “Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in Gold” beginning on April 2 and coinciding with the April 3 release of the movie Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren:

(I don't know how good the film is. The trailer isn’t especially promising, and the early critical reviews are negative. On the other hand, it can’t be worse than The Monuments Men. Come to think of it, I learned of both stories through The Rape of Europa, which I would recommend quite highly.)

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