Photography Colleagues!! Get yourself to the National Gallery of Art to see the current show, “Gordon Parks The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950.” The show will hang in the West Building until Feb. 18, 2019. It is a large exhibition consisting of 150 of his most important prints, most taken with a large format speed graphic camera—supported by his sturdy and heavy tripod. Parks’ images are masterfully printed in conventional darkrooms (older photographers remember those long hours under amber lights swishing paper prints in toxic chemicals). Photography brought Parks (1912-2019) out of poverty and segregation from Kansas to Minnesota to Washington, DC to NY City. His talent and reputation exploded as he grew in his profession, and the exhibition divided into five sections describes his rapid evolution. The show starts with his early years, with portraits of society and celebrities, moves to a second section during which he joined Roy E. Stryker and the staff at the Dept. of Agriculture documenting rural poverty with the Farm Security Administration. A third section documents the home front and projects for the Office of War Information, followed by coverage of Standard Oil (trying to document the company favorably), and finally a fifth section, “Mass Media.” Some of Parks most memorable and identifiable photographs are in this section. He worked for many media outlets, notable Ebony and Glamour Magazine among many others. Parks’ talent, consistency, and reputation, (having won many fellowships and awards), led to employment with one of the world’s most prestigious news magazines, Life where he was America’s first Afro-American staff photographer. Park contributed cover after cover, and many of Life’s important stories. My personal observation in walking through these galleries was a mixture of admiration and gratitude. His work is extremely personal and honest –I don’t recall any splashy, gimmicky or manipulated photos. His work is honest, and inviting—he leads the viewer into his photographs. One feels present in viewing steamy urban landscapes or workers, farmers, the homes lived in by America’s poor, or alongside international ultra glamorous personalities. Gordon Parks, having experienced the long road out of poverty, documents laborers, clerks, sweating construction workers, and simple families with dignity and empathy. A superb catalogue is available at the National Gallery Museum Store with extensive text and hundreds of photographs beautifully printed and researched. It is available at shop.nga.gov, or at 202-842-6002, (Marshall H. Cohen).
The National Gallery of Art (NGA) brings together the works of England’s well -known sculptor Rachel Whiteread (b.1963). The exhibition at the NGA which is on view until Jan. 13, 2019 includes about 100 works ranging from Ghost a recreation of the entire entry parlor of an actual Victorian home, to a series of small multi-colored toilet paper rolls and “plasticized” hot-water bottles. The exhibition starts with her monumental Stairs (2000) an up-and-down large scaled work. This Escher-like introduction to the show may alter our perception and memories of everyday objects. As the show catalogue suggests, the work reminds us that perhaps stairs have been made obsolete by elevators! In one of her most popular works, Ghost could be perceived as a mummified interior of a real space once occupied by Graham Whitely who lived in the original London house until 1940. The work, according to Whiteread, transforms the living room in to “ a big concrete anonymous space.” Creating monumental works as Whiteread’s Ghost, House, and many of the outdoor sculptures on exhibit were the result of hard, physical labor. For example, the artist applied applications of plaster to nearly 100 grids on the interior wallsurfaces of Whitely’s actual home to create Ghost. These grids were assembled and covered with concrete for installation thus preserving an inner space alive in memory. Her Trafalgar Square monument in London, which replaced a bronze statue of King William IV, used eleven tons of resin and is the largest object ever made of resin. Another work which changes and updates our memories of the 21st century is The Holocaust Memorial 2000 located on Vienna’s Judenplatz. It is an abstract large bank of books representing only traces of human existence—in this case 65,000 murdered Austrian Jews. The East Building of the NGA is a perfect space to accommodate these large scale sculptures while retaining their emotional meaning and impact—namely to memorialize both personal and political places and events, and the changes that time imposes on everyday lives. I strongly suggest viewing the catalogue and wall notes for a fuller understanding of the show. The catalogue, “Rachel Whiteread,” includes essays by the exhibition curators and an interview with Ms. Whiteread, and is available at the gallery shop at shop.nga.gov
Corot’s Female Models Bring Beauty and Attitude to the National Gallery.
The noted art historian and collector Bernard Berenson called Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) “one of those mighty ones” equating him with other masters of fine art such as Rousseau and Millet. Berenson was largely impressed by Corot’s masterful landscapes that enhanced the artist’s glowing reputation in France including its most important artists. This show moves beyond Corot’s landscapes. The 44 works in the show, all painted between 1830 - 1870’s show the introspective inner lives of Corot’s models. The four galleries in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art contain an eye-stopping exhibition of “Corot’s Women” on view until December 31, 2018. Corot predated Freud (b 1856) by over 50 years, but the models on view could be subjects for Freud’s interest in the subconscious! Many show a rich inner life, some melancholic, others detached, dreamy, and in some cases, shockingly nude and confidently erotic. Many works explore Corot’s love and knowledge of fabrics, since he apprenticed for textile merchants including his family. See his Agostina in the first gallery, painted in 1866 using an Italian model. Her features are severe and she is appears deeply introspective, and her ornamental costume is rich and detailed. Corot’s interest in working with costumed models and his expert choice of colors and styles and textures is seen in many of the works on display: Young Italian Women; Poetry; Woman with a Large Toque and a Mandolin; Italian Woman at the Fountain; Bohemian Woman at the Fountain; and Jewish Woman of Algeria, to name a few. Colorful and detailed costumes are worn by moody, introspective and somewhat melancholy, self-directed personalities. In contrast is the Young Woman in a Pink Skirt shown in the above illustration. She is in a simple country skirt and blouse with little ornamentation, directly confronting the viewer. It is a simple composition but psychologically powerful and very modern. In contrast, view the nude images in the last exhibition gallery. Don’t dwell too long at Diana and Actaeon, in which the goddess Diana transforms the hunter Actaeon into a stag! The excellent show catalogue explains that this painting was inspired by the Roman poet Ovid’s warning that mortals should be cautious when interacting with deities. The catalogue, Corot Women, a must for a fuller understanding of the artist and his models, may be purchased at the National Gallery of Art’s bookstore, or at shop.nga.gov. The catalogue’s suburb essays also discuss Corot’s use of photographs for his studio portrait work during the early decades following the birth of photography.
(Marshall H. Cohen)
HUMOR AND MARINE PAINTINGS OFFER SUMMER ESCAPES AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART.
Two shows are currently on view at Washington’s National Gallery of Art (NGA)--one will entertain and enlighten viewers about the role of humor expressed in prints and drawings since the Renaissance, and the other shows the importance of maritime fleets and the sea during the Dutch 18th century. The first show, Sense of Humor: Caricature, Satire, and the Comical inPrints and Drawings from Leonardo to R. Crumb hangs in the West Wing Galleries until January 6, 2019; Water, Wind, and Waves, Marine Paintings fromthe Dutch Golden Age may also be viewed in the West Wing until November 25, 2018. Both are stunning and memorable exhibitions, unique and timely. We rarely think of fine art as humorous, but humor was used since the Renaissance very seriously—as caricature, social criticism and satire, as well as to explore the comical in everyday life. The show, totaling 100 prints and drawings, hangs chronologically in three galleries starting with the Renaissance with works by the schools of Leonardo da Vinci (an early caricature called Two Grotesque Heads), and Joseph De Ribera (The Drunken Silenius). By the 17th and 18th centuries timely and provocative satire is shown in images by William Hogarth (Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn), Honore Daumier (The Legislative Belly, and James Gilray (Midas, Transmuting All Into Paper—in which William Pitt, the Prime Minister, as King Midas digests gold and excretes worthless paper to an outrages public!.The third and final gallery includes a bit more rib-tickling works such as Andy Warhol’s Vote McGovern which is a large lurid screen-print of former President Richard Nixon humorously supporting his opponent Senator George McGovern! A satirical civil right’s theme attacks the stereotyped familiar image of a smiling black chef advertizing Cream of Wheat, a screen-print called No More O’ This Shit. One showstopper features Roy Lichtenstein’s Swee’Pea of Popeye fame, in a satirical takeoff on the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s The Scream –and shows a large comic figure of an open mouthed baby screaming and showing its discontent; it can be seen through the entrance doors of the three galleries.