Yesterday, Sunday October 23rd 2011, I attended a talk by author Ross King at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) – very enjoyable!
Ross King is the author of a number of art history (and fiction) books, two of which I have in my collection. This talk based on King’s 2006 book “The Judgement of Paris”, coincides with current exhibitions at the AGA – A Passion for Nature: Landscape Painting from 19th Century France and 19th Century French Photographs.
The approach of King’s book and this talk was to compare two French painters in the mid-19th century, the time in which Impressionism was born. King presented a picture of the era, the time of Emperor Napoleon III. It was a a time of change, of modernization but also a time of tradition and a longing for the simplicity and stability of earlier times. The leading French painter of the time was the traditional painter Ernest Meissonier, a painter noted for his highly detailed depictions of battle scenes, a painter who was commanding the highest prices ever at the time! Ironically, his name is pretty much forgotten today while the artists and movement that were developing (and ridiculed) at the same time, are now the most broadly known of all time. I am speaking of Impressionism. King chose to contrast Meissonier with the generation younger Edouard Manet, who would become the supportive father figure to all of the famous names associated with French Impressionism.
The talk was just over an hour long (with a good question session), so King couldn’t go very deep or dig into all of the nuances of the time and these two artists. Still the talk was very interesting and inspiring – I will have to re-read Judgement of Paris some time soon.
Ross King’s other most notable book (for my tastes and interests) was his 2010 publication, Defiant Spirits, The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven which talks about the Canadian Group of Seven and significantly its ties to the French Impressionism. I reviewed that book in this earlier blog post.
Today I paid a visit to the AGA (Art Gallery of Alberta) in Edmonton. The primary reason was to visit a new exhibit, 19th Century French Photographs. The show features 66 photos from the era that saw the birth of photography. I was fascinated by the historical description of the various technological developments in photography during that century. In fact I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t already know more of this history.
One of the things that excited me most about this exhibit is that it includes works by Eugene Atget, one of my favorite photographers. Truth be told, the half a dozen Atget prints were not as great as I would have hoped. He has captured some excellent depictions of French life in that era but I found the subject matter on the photos in this show to be just average.
This exhibit runs through to January 29th on the main floor of the AGA and I will definitely be back for a second look and especially to pay more attention to the photo technologies displayed
Also on display and worth a visit, on the main floor until January 29th is the Prairie Life exhibit, a display of two-dimensional works from the AGA’s collection.
I also made a second visit to the UP NORTH exhibit on the 3rd floor. It is interesting but I can’t say the installation pieces (a number of videos and found objects) really appeals to me like the photographs and paintings do. It is however worth a visit if you are at the AGA before it closes on January 8th 2012.
Yesterday I popped into the Art Gallery of Alberta for a short visit. I only had time to take in one of the half dozen or so ongoing exhibits, and the one I was there to see was Timeland (2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art).
Located on the top floor of the AGA, this exhibit is diverse, challenging and interesting. Although I had hoped to maybe see a bit of Alberta landscape in paintings, this was not what this show is about. It is contemporary – modern art – the stuff that will challenge and frustrate the traditionalists and delight, amuse and inspire thought in the open-minded. There is some painting, video, sculpture, installations – something for all contemporary tastes.
With 22 diverse artists represented in this exhibit, I will not attempt to talk about each but I will mention a few of my favorites.
Lyndal Osborne has a wonderful assemblage of shells and other natural objects in jars, beakers and flasks. Rubber tubes connecting the containers evoke the feeling of a scientific laboratory workbench.
There was some painting to satisfy me in this exhibit. I liked the works of Paul Bernhardt – some large colorful abstract inspired by non traditional landscape subjects (parking garages, industrial settings).
The next to last piece, as you work through the exhibit, might have been my favorite. Rita McKeough, installation piece is intended to bring thought to explosive urban development that is swallowing the grasslands of the prairie. It was effective, I felt moved as I walked through this space populated with many, many models of structures and construction cranes.
That leaves another 19 artists/works that I have not mentioned. To learn more, I recommend checking out the AGA’s Timeland web page or better yet, see these works in person. This exhibit, curated by Richard Rhodes, is on until August 28 2010 (only another week as I write this). If you are in Edmonton I suggest this show (and the AGA in general) is worth a visit .
Particularly fortunate for me was that my visit coincided with the exhibition “Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay. I attribute my birth as an artist to the works of the impressionists and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, undoubtedly has the greatest collection of works from this era. Fortunately because the Orsay is undergoing renovations there is a very rare opportunity to have a significant collection of their works travel out of France.
Being a big expensive exhibition there was a separate admission charge over the normal one for visiting the de Young. Also given the stature of this show the entry were by reserved times. We did a quick tour of part of the regular de Young exhibits then lined up for the Birth of Impressionism about 15 minutes before the 12 noon time on our tickets. I was happy when just a few minutes before 12 they let us in, well let us head downstairs to where the show is. Unfortunately downstairs we encountered another queue – much larger than the one upstairs – and so we waited…
Now I didn’t mind waiting since (I figured) that meant they were doing a good job of controlling the crowd. Unfortunately once I got in I was very disappointed – It was very crowded. The experience was not one i expect when looking at art and I must say it really detracted from the experience. I was really hoping to study these masterpieces – to look up close at the brushwork then move back, sit down and take in the whole image. Generally this just wasn’t possible. So while there were a number of the very masterpieces that I’d seen in books about Impressionism I wasn’t able to make the connection with them.
So would I recommend this exhibit? Would I have gone knowing what it would be like? Would I go again? Yes, probably. It is one of those almost once in a lifetime experiences that you just have to go to say you did. Perhaps i was just there at a bad time (midday on Sunday) but still I would have thought the point of timing entrance was to minimize this very crowding. *
So what about the rest of the museum? Well unfortunately we only spent about half an hour looking through one quarter of it before taking in the “Birth of Impressionism” and then we left to do other site seeing immediately after. I was however very excited before we even went in the front doors of the de Young, because this is what I saw:
Andy Goldsworthy ( http://www.morning-earth.org/artistnaturalists/an_goldsworthy.html ) in an artist I have admired for a long, long time. Most of his works are of a non-permanent nature ( made of nature in fact: leaves, ice, etc) and appreciated only through photography. Goldsworthy’s piece extended from the front street maybe 30 meters to the front doors of the museum. This is what it looks like:
I had fun explaining to my family that this crack was a work of art and this other crack over “here” is, well, just a crack. Joking aside i truly do admire Goldsworthy work and wish I could create like that.
especially interesting and admirable is when the one crack splits and travels up and over these large blocks of stone:
If you ever find yourself in San Francisco be sure to venture into Golden Gate park and at the absolute very least check out the Goldsworthy at the entrance to the de Young Museum.
*also worth noting is that in the fall of 2010 the de Young will be hosting a companion/follow-up exhibit entitled “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay”. I personally would enjoy this one even more and wouldn’t miss it if I happen to be in San Francisco anytime between September 25, 2010 – January 18, 2011 – crowded or not!
More information about the building can be found here:http://www.sfmoma.org/pages/about_building
There is a great collection of modern paintings – so many of the big names of abstract expressionism and other modern movements are there. How wonderful it is to see the actual works of the iconic artists in their natural color and size.I was very pleasantly surprised to be able to take photos of the paintings and sculptures in the SFMOMA. There was one exhibit of photographs that they asked photos not be taken. Here are a few of the photos I took of the works that I admired:
Not only are there many excellent paintings, the SFMOMA has a interesting display of 3-dimensional works such as these:
I came out of this place inspired and absolutely pumped-up, eager to create, to paint, to paint big!
When I get back to SF, I will definitely be revisiting the SFMOMA and I don’t hesitate recommending it to everyone with a taste for modern art.