In his pseudo-intellectual film Manhattan, Woody Allen said he couldn’t go through life without Paul Cézanne’s famous pears and apples. Cézanne himself confidently knew he could make something special out of inanimate objects. “I, only I,” he once bragged to Camille Pissarro, “know how to paint a real red.” But the National Gallery’s exhibition Cézanne Portraits, curated by John Elderfield, shows the curious layman the artist’s struggle to take his unique, constructive method of painting and apply it to living, breathing subjects. It is the first exhibition concentrated on the artist’s portraits since 1910. And it’s about time.
“The younger generation just doesn’t get Edward Gorey,” an older woman said. She was dressed in a knitted brown cardigan, leaning on the elbow of her husband. She turned her head and noticed me. “Oh! Except for you of course. You’re here!” I was at the exhibit “Gorey’s Worlds,” a retrospective of the eminent author and illustrator accompanied by his collected art at the Wadsworth Atheneum in snowy, windy Hartford, Conn.
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.