Amedeo Modigliani’s nickname was Modi, in reference to maudit, meaning “cursed.” The artist believed he was destined to live a short life after a streak of bad health, and indeed, he died at 35 after a 19-year battle with tuberculosis. Up to that point he lived the life of a quintessential bohemian artist, broke, drenched in alcohol, and searching for meaning through creativity. In such a short career he managed to leave behind a heap of art, and this winter a small portion can be seen at the Jewish Museum in New York in its latest exhibit on the artist, “Modigliani: Unmasked.” It is a modest show but succeeds in showing how a Sephardic Jew from Italy grappled with his complex identity in the years leading up to the Holocaust.
“Let it be inscribed on the portals of the world’s museums,” Robert Hughes wrote. “What you will see in here is not meant to be a social experience. Shut up and use your eyes.” This is precisely what the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest colossal achievement, “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer,” demands. The exhibit, open until February 12, provides a behind-the-scenes look into the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti through his most intimate works—the incomplete, the first drafts, the drawings he made for his lovers—rendered in the most delicate mediums of chalk, ink, and graphite on paper. The show has been called an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it is.
Through no fault of his own, Edvard Munch could be considered an agent of kitsch. He feared this would be the case, writing in his undated diaries that “kitsch” was something “I have worked against all my life.” But after his death, re-creations and imitations of his paintings and prints—mostly of the “Scream”—weakened his paradoxical purpose: to simultaneously provide the viewer with an escape from and confrontation of anxiety. Although the “Scream” has been battered by commercialism, Munch’s angst pulsates in each of the 21 pieces held in the National Gallery’s latest exhibit on the prolific printmaker.
Art historians enthusiastically contextualize artists, but it is a more difficult task when the artist is alive to watch their attempt. Rearranging several paintings before the opening of his first retrospective show in the United States, Markus Lüpertz wanted everything to be perfect. “He choreographed the exhibit,” Phillips Collection director Dorothy Kosinski said with well-earned pride.
If I were inventing a country off the top of my head, I bet it would look a lot like Canada. The landscape is beautiful, the weather perfect. Everyone has health care. The government did not ostentatiously bail out its banks in 2008. The citizens are kind beer-drinking sports fans who will give driving directions to random foreigners. They have quaint, almost absurd-sounding names for their money, which is emblazoned with images of waterfowl. There is a queen.
Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” has been described as the most “selfie-worthy” art show touring North America. But Kusama’s work is not necessarily pitched at the Instagram hordes who line up by the hundreds to witness her famous mirror-lined rooms. A picture—however many likes and shares it gains—cannot convey the mental afflictions that provoked each piece.
As someone who once went out after dinner as a graduate student and spent my last remaining dollars on a used book, figuring that I could squeeze an advance on my next stipend disbursement out of the college dean the next morning, I get what Count Carl Gustaf Tessin was about. Tessin was a Swedish politician, man of letters, memoirist, and art lover who, following the success of his party in 1738, accepted an appointment as an ambassador to the court of Louis XV. Once in Paris, he embarked on a glorious binge of collection, commissioning, and buying vast numbers of paintings and prints.
Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époch opens at the Phillips Gallery Saturday, presenting for the first time in the United States a rare collection of ninety-six prints and posters from the artist’s lithographic period, along with five works by his contemporaries. This exhibition is the first collaboration between the Phillips and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and allows its patrons a glimpse at the lively nightlife of the turn of the century and the celebrated figures who enjoyed it, and a look at the peak convergence of art and advertising in the posters that lined the streets of Paris.