Category Archives: exhibitions.

EXPO Chicago 2016, 22-25 September. International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art. (42 Photos).

Photographs and text by John P. Walsh.

Expo Chicago/2016 is the 5th annual exhibition of international contemporary and modern art held in Chicago at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. It took place from September 22 to September 25, 2016. Expo Chicago/2016 presented 145 galleries representing 22 countries and 53 cities from around the world. In alphabetical order, countries represented included Argentina, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.

This post’s 42 photographs are of that event.

Jeff Koons' 17th Art Car.

Jeff Koons, BMW M3 GT2, Expo Chicago/2016.

Alfredo Jaar, Be Afraid of the Enormity of the Possible, 2015 neon edition GALERIE THOMAS SCHULTE DSC_0742 (1)

Alfredo Jaar, Be Afraid of the Enormity of the Possible, 2015, neon, edition 3/3 + 3AP, Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, Germany. Expo Chicago/2016.

At Dittrich & Schlechtriem, Berlin (resized).

At Dittrich & Schlechtriem, Berlin, Germany includes artwork by Klaus Jörres and Julian Charrière. Expo Chicago/2016.

At Cernuda Arte Coral Gables FL. (resize)

At Cernuda Arte Coral Gables, FL. Manuel Mendive (foreground) Este Lugar Sagrado/This Sacred Place, 2009, acrylic on canvas. Expo Chicago/2016.

Art+Language Made in Zurich 1965-1972, London.

Paintings I, Art+Language, Made in Zurich 1965-1972, London. Expo Chicago/2016.

Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden.
The Art + Language group’s Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden in Chicago. Founded in the mid1960s in the United Kingdom by Terry Atkinson (b. 1939), David Bainbridge (b. 1941), Michael Baldwin (b. 1945) and Harold Hurrell (b. 1940), artist Mel Ramsden joined in 1970. Throughout the 1970s Art + Language dealt with questions about art production and attempted a shift from conventional forms of art, such as painting and sculpture, to theoretically linguistic (text)-based artwork. Art + Language remains active today in several collaborative projects. 
At Galerie Thomas Schulte (resize).

Jonathan Lasker, The Handicapper’s Faith, 2011, Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, Germany. Expo Chicago/2016.

Gallery MOMO, South Africa (resize).

At Gallery MOMO Cape Town/Johannesburg, South Africa. Artwork by Mary Sibande. Expo Chicago/2016.

Dialogues.

Dialogues programs. Expo Chicago/2016.

Margot Bergman, Agnes, 2016.

Margot Bergman, Agnes, acrylic on canvas, 2016, Corbett vs. Dempsey. Expo Chicago/2016.

Shannon Finley, Googol, 2015.

Shannon Finley, Googol, 2015, acrylic on linen, 4 panels 95 x 189 in., Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago. Expo Chicago/2016.

#12 FINAL COPY FUB BURST DSC_0867

Euan Uglow, Sue Wearing a Blue Swimming Cap, 1978/80, oil on canvas 19.5 x 27.5 in., Browse & Darby London. Expo Chicago/2016.

Deborah Butterfield, Hala, 2016.

Deborah Butterfield, Hala, 2016, cast bronze with patina, Zolla Lieberman Gallery Inc., Chicago. Expo Chicago/2016.

at Álvaro Alcázar Gallery, Madrid (resize).

At Álvaro Alcázar Gallery, Madrid. Art of Juan Garaizabal. Expo Chicago/2016.

April Martin, The Sun had not yet Risen, 2016.

April Martin, The Sun had not yet Risen, 2016, copper, thread, glass, vinegar, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Expo Chicago/2016.

Hermann Nitsch, Schüttbild (Shaped Image), 2013.

Hermann Nitsch, Schüttbild (Shaped Image), 2013, Acrylic on Canvas, Marc Straus Gallery, New York City.

Dialogue with Miguel Aguilar and Chris Silva.

Dialogue with Miguel Aguilar and Chris Silva, Conversation Pieces. Expo Chicago/2016.

Pace Gallery, New York City. (resize)

At Pace Gallery, New York City. Expo Chicago/2016.

Louise Bourgeois, Girl with hair, 2007. (resize)

Louise Bourgeois, Girl with hair, 2007, archival dye on silk, edition of 12, Carolina Nitsch, New York City. Expo Chicago/2016.

Carolina Nitsch labels.

Labels, Carolina Nitsch, New York. Expo Chicago/2016.

Genieve Figgis, Half Gallery, NYC (resize)

Genieve Figgis, Half Gallery, New York City. Genieve Figgis is an artist from Ireland who began her artistic career on social media. Expo Chicago/2016.

Buddha's tight ringlet curls by Qi Yu.

Buddha’s tight ringlet curls by Qi Yu. Ceramic cinnabar mineral mounted on canvas. Expo Chicago/2016.

Qi Yu, Beijing, China.

Artist Qi Yu of Redbrick Art Museum, Beijing, China.

North Cafe.

Coffee break, North Cafe. Expo Chicago/2016.

Art Catalogs. (resize).

Art Catalogs. Expo Chicago/2016.

Amy Sherald, Monique Meloche Gallery.

Amy Sherald, Listen, you a wonder. you a city of a woman. you got a geography of your own., 54 x 43 in., oil on canvas, 2016, Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Sherald’s painting title quotes American poet Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) – “listen, you a wonder. you a city of a woman. you got a geography of your own. listen, somebody need a map to understand you. somebody need directions to move around you. listen, woman, you not a noplace anonymous girl; mister with his hands on you he got his hands on some damn body!” Expo Chicago/2016.

Sandro Miller, American Bikers 1990-1995.

Sandro Miller, American Bikers 1990-1995, Catherine Edleman Gallery, Chicago. Expo Chicago/2016.

Bettina Pousttchi, Rotunda, 2016.

Bettina Pousttchi, Rotunda, 2016, photographic print on textile, 25′ diameter, Buchmann Galerie, Berlin/Lugano. Expo Chicago/2016.

Raffi Kalenderian, Sekula Benner Street, 2016.

Raffi Kalenderian, Sekula Benner Street, 2016, oil on canvas, Buchmann Galerie Berlin/Lugano. Expo Chicago/2016.

Kate Werble  Ernesto Burgos (resize).

Artwork of Ernesto Burgos, Kate Werble Gallery, New York City. Expo Chicago/2016.

Sims Reed Gallery London (resize)

At Sims Reed Gallery London. Expo Chicago/2016.

Ann Agee, Negishi Heights 1957, 2015, (resize)

Ann Agee, Negishi Heights 1957, 2015, acrylic on Thai Mulberry paper, P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York City. Expo Chicago/2016.

At the Expo.

At the Expo. Expo Chicago/2016.

Artistic performance. (resize)

Artistic performance outside Zwirner Gallery, New York City. Behind: Raymond Pettibon, No Title (Manhattan rising, advancing—), 2010, ink and acrylic on paper, 59 x 118 inches. Expo Chicago/2016.

Mel Bochner and Aloyson Shotz.

Mel Bochner, Blah Blah Blah, 2016 and Aloyson Shotz, Flow Fold #3, 2015, Carolina Nitsch Gallery, New York City. Expo Chicago/2016.

Alicja Kwade, Hypotheisches  Gebilde, 2016 (resize)

Alicja Kwade, Hypotheisches Gebilde, 2016, König Galerie Berlin, Germany. Expo Chicago/2016.

Bernar Venet, Indeterminate Line, 2013.

Bernar Venet, Indeterminate Line, 2013, rolled steel, 75 1/2 × 80 × 62 in. Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City. Expo Chicago/2016.

Richard Norton Gallery (resize)

Richard Norton Gallery.

Jannis Varelas, New Flags for a new country, (resize)

Jannis Varelas, New Flags for a New Country, The Breeder, Athens, Greece. Expo Chicago/2016.

#40 resize 65 65 35 35 FINAL NEWEST FSB 6.25.17 FNB KG DSC_0488

Rodney McMillian, Carpet Painting (Bedroom and TV Room), 2012, carpet and ink, Maccarone, New York City. Expo Chicago/2016.

Lucia Gonzalez Botello, Portrait #3, 2015 (resize)

Lucia Gonzalez Botello, Portrait #3, 2015, oil on canvas, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Expo Chicago/2016.

Expo's end.

End of the day. Expo Chicago/2016.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

 

EXPO Chicago 2015, 17-20 September. International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art. (41 Photos).

Featured Image is Ewerdt Hilgemann’s Habakuk (Homage to Max Ernst), 2014, stainless steel, Borzo Gallery and The Mayor Gallery. In/Situ Outside 2015.

Photographs by John P. Walsh. 

Expo Chicago/2015 is the 4th annual exhibition of international contemporary and modern art held in Chicago at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall on September 17 – 20, 2015. This year’s exhibition featured 140 art galleries representing 16 countries and nearly 50 major international cities including New York City, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Rome, Berlin, London, Paris, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

This post’s 41 photographs are of that event.

 

 

 

ART REVIEW: Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, The Art Institute of Chicago, February 14 to May 10, 2016.

OK draft DSCN2466

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at The Art Institute of Chicago, February 14 to May 10, 2016. This is the exhibition’s penultimate gallery featuring the three versions of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom.” Left to right: from the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris (1889), The Art Institute of Chicago (1889), and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (1888). The three masterworks are gathered together in North America for the first time.

By John P. Walsh. May 6, 2016.

I saw the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago (February 14-May 10, 2016) on the last Friday afternoon before the show closed. The museum that day was drawing a large crowd and it was challenging to navigate through the multi-room art show in a mass of frequently immobile art lovers. Exactly for what cause some stationary patrons might be transfixed could only be speculated upon but often no art was present. No one I think comes to art shows to be caught in a logjam of people yet that recurrent phenomenon in Van Gogh’s Bedrooms soon became one of its unpleasant features. The expansive exhibition space—striking for its illogical reasoning to display three relatively small masterpieces—proved impractical, or at least a two-edged sword, in terms of containing its throngs.

Those three featured paintings are this show’s raison d’être and prove a marvelous highlight after reaching them by way of a dozen or so high-ceiling galleries. Once arrived to the show’s penultimate room, my eyes settled on the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam’s version as the most intriguing of the three superficially identical works. The other two versions are from the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

When 35-year-old Van Gogh painted his The Bedroom series starting in October 1888, the Dutchman had been an artist only a short while: about 7 years. This had followed a variety of other occupations, although Van Gogh began his professional life as an art dealer.  By late 1888—less than two years before his death by self-inflicted gunshot in Auvers-sur-Oise in July 1890—Van Gogh had traveled long and far from his beginnings in North Brabant. He arrived into Paris in 1885 to paint and join his brother Theo who was an avant-garde art dealer in the Rue Montmartre. Looking to sell more of his artwork, he began painting in the bright Impressionist style for which Van Gogh is probably most famous today.  By February 1888 Van Gogh relocated to Arles in the South of France on account of his health and to possibly start an art colony.  Still quite poor and alone, this roughly 15-month period in Arles proved to be prolific for the artist’s production when Van Gogh completed 200 paintings, and over 100 drawings and watercolors. Many of Van Gogh’s most famous works were created in this fecund period—for example, his portraits of Eugène Boch (Musée d’Orsay), Postman Joseph Roulin and Augustine Roulin (both Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)  and Madame Ginoux (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) among several others; sunflowers and irises such as Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (National Gallery, London), Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) and Irises (Getty Museum, Los Angeles); 15 canvases of cypresses; and his iconic Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin in the Harvard Art Museums.

None of these contextual artworks were in the Chicago show but demonstrate the range and depth of Van Gogh’s artistic vision in the same time period that The Bedrooms—which shared his body of work’s intoxication with color and decorative strategieswere painted. Despite its title—Van Gogh’s Bedrooms—this show is not content to let their presence in Chicago suffice. Instead, much of the other parts of this massive show were from the Art Institute’s permanent collection of mostly Barbizon and Impressionist artwork.  Perhaps if they had been left on whatever museum walls from which they had come, these fine artworks might have maintained an even greater impact for themselves and this show’s ultimate purpose than crowding them onto walls into this special exhibition space.  That said, the condensed interpretive curatorial exercise of parts of the permanent collection in this show could prove interesting for visitors who are not willing or able to visit other parts of the museum. In a show that took on the formula of a typical Regenstein Hall blockbuster, its propensity for Impressionist rehash (“delve” was the museum’s word) had a boring art textbook’s sensibility. Recognizing that the show dipped into the museum storehouse to retrieve the life-size maquette of the Yellow House from AIC’s vastly superior exhibition Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South in 2001, produced a dispiriting effect on at least one viewer who recognized it. But so far I am quibbling: this AIC exhibition brings together the powerful canon of all three versions of Van Gogh’s The Bedroom for the first time in North America which is very special and undoubtedly sufficient to any museum goer’s time and interest. I don’t believe, however, that their full artistic power was best served by being able to see these objects intensely advertised in the media markets and then only hung at the show’s virtual end following a cacophony of mostly extraneous art historical resources however severely earnestly presented. Instead, a surfeit of front-loaded artistic riches labors to obscure these significant Van Goghs that finally appear in the second to last gallery, all of which are jam-packed with art, people, various filmic explorations, somewhat bloviating wall texts, whole house reconstructions, etc.

AMSR+TERDAM FINAL exh_vangogh-bedroom-Amsterdam_main_480

Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam,  October 1888. 72.4 x 91.3 cm.

CHGO Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom, 1889. The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.exh_vangogh_bedroom_main_480

Chicago, 1889. 72.4 x 91.3 cm. The version Van Gogh first painted in the asylum at St. Rémy.

PARIS FINAL exh_vangogh-bedroom_Paris_main_480

Paris, 1889. 57.5 x 74 cm. Destitute bachelor Van Gogh gave this version to his mother and sister.

It is certainly obvious that Van Gogh’s Bedrooms possibly could have benefited by not pulling out all the stops (“in-depth study”) but to focus on the three colorful masterpieces uniquely gathered in their essential power. If one wants to read blow by blow explanations of virtually every curatorial application in the show, one might turn to other reviews cited in “Further Reading” below. The equitably in-depth appreciation of this trio of Van Gogh worksand minus the Disney World trappingsmight be advanced using timed tickets (as done for Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South) and within a pared down and simpler exhibition scope. The way things are constructed by the show’s curator Gloria Groom, Chair of European Painting and Sculpture at The Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition transmits encyclopedic knowledge while largely missing a tangible evocation of bachelor Van Gogh’s humble petit boulevard persona who produced in Arles in 1888 and in Saint-Rémy in 1889 these bold canvases of his simple bedroom and even gifting one of the versions (the one now in Paris) to his aged mother and sister to reassure them in his destitution. For Van Gogh the motif of his private and hard-featured bedroom in Arles continued his bold self-expression in a tightly woven and complex painting composed in broad outlines using a many-hued post-impressionistic palette in thick impasto. Despite Van Gogh’s reputation as madhe mutilated his ear in this bedroom in December 1888he soon carried on painting two more versions of The Bedroom (the last one slightly reduced) with the apparent added intention to express to his family and friends that the artist was as stable and restful as his artistic subject.

What should an exhibition advertised as Van Gogh’s Three Bedrooms wish to have its spectators looking for and come away with? By the time a visitor reaches Van Gogh’s three paintings after plowing through the aforesaid gauntlet of people and well-known Chicago art resources, the exhibition almost runs the danger of displaying these highly-prized artworks not as denouement but incidental. These Van Gogh paintings are hardly allowed to speak freely for themselves. Of course they have a fascinating history but to what degree should these particular artworks’ written history be simultaneous to their exhibition? Thinking of the viewer, does the display of three paintings of an artist’s bedroom (albeit Vincent Van Gogh’s) that when placed side by side measures the whole of about ten feet across merit thousands of cubic feet of mostly academic groundwork before a viewer can even see them? To what degree are artistic exhibition and their intellectual exposition necessarily complementary since many museum art shows follow this tactic?

The final gallery after the display of the three bedrooms continued Van Gogh’s Bedrooms’ devotion to comprehensive information and theatricalityalthough a side-by-side blow-up of the bedrooms’ diverging painterly details was perhaps the most useful techie display so to appreciate the artist’s handling of the individual paintings. Yet it begged a question: could this orientation to detail, to seeing the painting, somehow serve as the exhibition’s primary or sole introduction, such as in a film theatre? This last gallery then led directly to the ubiquitous and depressing gift shop hosting the galleries’ same multitude disporting themselves basically as they did there. Hearing its timbre I wondered if a unique opportunity to view together the three Van Gogh bedroom paintings“the first time in North America”had under- or overplayed its hand. Had Van Gogh’s Bedrooms rightly oriented and imparted to its viewers an intimate and perhaps personally revealing look into these three sensitive treasures of Van Gogh’s oeuvre as its elemental objectiveor had Van Gogh merely omitted to paint into the scene a proverbial kitchen sink?

FURTHER READING:

http://www.artnews.com/2016/03/14/domestic-dreams-van-goghs-bedrooms-at-the-art-institute-of-chicago-offers-a-rich-look-at-three-masterworks/

http://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment/art-institute-explores-van-goghs-bedroom-and-a-sense-of-home/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/van-goghs-bedrooms-review-1455750210

http://chirontolife.com/2016/review-of-a-view-van-goghs-bedrooms/

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/museums/ct-ent-0204-van-gogh-bedrooms-art-institute-20160210-story.html

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2016/03/blockbuster-art-shows

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Part 5 “Oviri (Savage).” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

#4 Oviri Savage

fig.12. Paul Gauguin, Oviri (Savage), 1894 – woodcut printed in black on cream Japan laid paper, 8.03 x 4.56 inches (204 x 116 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Clarence Buckingham Collection.

By John P. Walsh

By 1887 Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) had created over 50 ceramic sculptures as well as several carved decorative panels, so during his time in Paris between 1893 and 1895 it may be expected that he would create a woodcut based on his most recent and important discovery of the Paris interval: his hideous Oviri.

OVIRI CERAMIC

fig.13. Gauguin, Oviri, 1894, stoneware, 75 x 19 x 27 cm, Musée d’Orsay.

Gauguin made a large ceramic of Oviri (fig. 13) – the Tahitian name translates as “wild” or “savage” and more recently as “turned into oneself” – in the winter of 1894-1895. The artist submitted it to the annual exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts for April 1895. When Gauguin discovered this mysterious figure who holds a blunted she-wolf, crushing the life out of her cub – occasionally understood as a symbol of female sexual potency – he did not let her go.55 In this print impression– and he made 19 prints from the same wood block, none of which are exactly alike – Gauguin’s Oviri is encountered in the primeval forest as inky blackness. The ceramic, envisioned by the artist as a savage, modern funerary monument (fig.14), was rejected by the judges for inclusion into the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Gauguin’s latest Tahiti-inspired art was deemed too ugly even by an organization of artists that, since its renewed inception in 1890, is seen as Europe’s first Secessionist movement. Although Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was a founding member of the group and since 1891 working on his commission from the Société de Gens Lettres for a Paris Balzac statue (that “obese monstrosity”) it was ceramist Ernst Chaplet who insisted on Gauguin’s admittance.56

CHAPLET Paul Marsan, dit DORNAC (1858-1941)

Paul Marsan, called Dornac (1858-1941), photograph of Ernest Chaplet (Sèvres, 1836 – Choisy-le-Roi, 1909), octobre 21, 1904.

1024px-Oviri_on_the_Tomb_of_Gauguin

fig. 14. Bronze Oviri on the grave of Paul Gauguin on the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa.

Where exactly the ceramic Oviri was displayed in the salon is unclear, but its subsequent route into the Musée d’Orsay in 1987 is highly circuitous.57 Gauguin often exploited favorite images by repeating them in various media – and the ceramic transposed to the print depicts his goddess showering a black light that blots out most of the natural reality around her. In one more Gauguin print from this time period that fits in the palm of the hand, the artist offers a splendor of darkness, the mystery of a palm frond forest, and a stark confrontation with Oviri who is, as Gauguin described to Stéphane Mallarmé on the poet’s version of the print, “a strange figure, cruel enigma.”58

Les sculptures de Monsieur Rodin au Salon

Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1898.

NOTES:

  1. “turned into oneself” – Anne Pingeot, “Oviri,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, p. 140; “symbol of female sexual potency” – Mathews, p. 203; Gauguin’s ceramic and carved panel output -Barbara Stern Shapiro, “Shapes and Harmonies of Another World,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, pp. 117 and 126.
  2. 19 prints from one wood block – Shapiro, p. 126; savage, modern funerary monument – Mathews, p.208; first secessionist movement – Hans-Ulrich Simon, Sezessionismus. Kunstgewerbe in literarischer und bildender Kunst,: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart ,1976, p. 47; Gauguin and the 1895 Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts salon – Mathews, p. 208; “obese monstrosity” – Grunfeld, Frederic V., Rodin:A Biography, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1987, p. 374.
  3. Anne Pingeot, “Oviri,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, pp. 136-138.
  4. Quoted in Shapiro, Gauguin Tahiti, p. 128.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

MORE WORK BY PAUL GAUGUIN in THE FRANCE INTERLUDE:

gauguin-003fixed

Reclining Nude, 1895, 9 1/2 x 15 1/2 in., counterproof from a design in pastel, selectively reworked, on japan paper. Private collection. Apparent derivative study for Manao tupapau (1892).

gauguin-003fixed1

Reclining Nude; study for Aita tamari vahine Judith te parari, 1894/95, 11 3/4 x 24 1/4 inches, charcoal black chalk, and pastel on laid paper; verso worked over with brush and water. Private collection.

Part 4 “Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina.” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

#3 TAHITIAN IDOL-THE GODDESS HINA

Fig. 9. Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina, 1894/95 – woodcut in black ink, over ochre and red, with touches of white and green inks, on tan wove paper, 5.78 x 4.72 inches (147 x 120 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.

By John P. Walsh

For some pieces of graphic art Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) uses the moniker “P.Go.” to sign them.52  In Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina (fig.9), it is present in the lower left corner slightly on its side. While Day of the Gods, painted in Paris in 1894 at the same time as the woodcut, received a simple signature of “Gauguin” (the painting was not exhibited in the artist’s lifetime), Gauguin sometimes used these new graphic art works as “image translations” to explain his Tahitian art to the Parisian public. This may explain the pretension of the anagram here.53

Gauguin’s obsession with the primitive, the savage, is evident in this work. The small woodcut is an image of a Tahitian goddess where the composition’s diverse elements congeal to a single mask to be held in the palm of one’s hand. Goddess Hina, immobile and august, is fitted into the composition as a first among equals. A tree fills the left border like a totem with a V-formed sprout. At the woodcut’s top border – and peering out of a branch at the tree trunk’s crux – is a profile of an evil spirit represented by a head. The grassy hair of the goddess fills about half the background and falls to nestle by her left arm. Gauguin uses several stock elements in different attitudes or positions. For example, he used the evil head in the 1892 painting Parau na te Varua ino (Words of the Devil) (fig.10) and this woodcut’s symbolism likewise remains complex. In the woodcut, to Goddess Hina’s right and immediately below the malevolent spirit who materializes in strange and frightening humanoid forms, appear abstracted forms of a coiled snake and other ceremonial visages. Goddess Hina is primitive and statuesque whereas the evil head possesses a sinister aspect with circles that serve as open eyes.

443px-Paul_Gauguin_-_Parau_na_te_Varua_ino_(1892)

fig.10. Gauguin, Parau na te Varua ino (Words of the Devil), 1892, oil on canvas, 91.7 × 68.5 cm (36 1/8 × 25 15/16 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

When Gauguin wrote from Tahiti in March 1899 to Belgian Symbolist poet and critic André Fontainas with reflections on the South Seas, he expressed strong feelings of awe, personal vigil, and dream-like vision. Such qualities must have been experienced on his first Tahiti trip for they permeate a work like Tahitian Idol – The Goddess Hina:

“Here near my hut, in utter silence, I dream of violent harmonies in the natural fragrances that exhilarate me. A pleasure heightened by an indefinable sacred awe which I divine towards the immemorial. In bygone days, an odor of joy that I breathe in the present. Animal figures in statuesque rigidity: something inexpressibly old, august, religious in the rhythm of their gesture, in their rare immobility. In dreaming eyes, the cloudy surface of an unfathomable enigma. And here is nightfall – everything is at rest. My eyes close in order to see without understanding the dream in the infinite space that recedes before me, and I have a sense of the doleful march of my hopes.”54

paul-gauguin-7 hut

Paul Gauguin’s hut in Tahiti – Jules Agostini (1859-1930), December 31, 1904. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In a work of approximately 5 x 4 inches―and its small size in no way diminishes its artistic force – Gauguin achieves in Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina a craftsman’s unity of good and evil in nature. Before his first visit to Tahiti Gauguin already had familiarity with this theme of nature’s duality for he uses it in his 1889 painting Self-Portrait (fig. 11) where halo and snake vie within and for creation.

smaller self portrait

fig.11. Gauguin, Self-Portrait, 1889, oil on wood, 79.2 x 51.3 cm (31 3/16 x 20 3/16 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

NOTES:

  1. Brettell., p. 330.
  2. Ibid., p. 330.
  3. Delevoy, Robert L., Symbolists and Symbolism, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, 1982, page 54.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

MORE WORK BY PAUL GAUGUIN in THE FRANCE INTERLUDE:

507px-brooklyn_museum_-_tahitian_woman_-_paul_gauguin_-_overallfixed

PAUL GAUGUIN, Tahitian Woman, 1894?, irregularly shaped; charcoal and pastel, selectively stumped, and worked with brush and water on wove “pasted” paper, glued to secondary support of yellow wove paper mounted on gray millboard. The Brooklyn Museum. A pastel where Gauguin subverted the medium.

young-christian-girl

PAUL GAUGUIN The Young Christian Girl, 15 3/8 x 18 inches, oil on canvas, Clark Institute Art Institute, Massachusetts. Gauguin painted this work in Northern France fusing imagery from his recent experiences in Tahiti. She is shown in a dress similar to those brought by Christian missionaries to the South Sea Islands.

 

 

Part 3 “Tahitian Landscape.” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

 

#2 TAHITIAN LANDSCAPE

Fig. 5. Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Landscape, 1894 – watercolor monotype, with brush and watercolor, on cream wove paper, 8.66 x 9.72 inches (220 x 247 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.

 

By John P. Walsh

As Belgian critic Emile Verhaeren saw him, Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) produces “child art.”47 The artist’s anagram “P.Go.” looms large in the lower left hand corner making it plain that the 46-year-old Gauguin made this print. Gauguin’s use of color and form are significant as they build up the image of five women in a landscape―two foreground figures more fully defined than the three figures merging into the background. It is ambiguous whether it is a channel of water or grass that separates the two foreground women who appear to perform a rite of worship and a trio in conversation or, as Richard Brettell interprets, dancing.48 As the Seine flows through Paris where Gauguin created this print, there exists in Tahitian Landscape (fig. 5) a commentariat on the Right Bank and artisans spilling blood in their offerings on the Left Bank. Modeling of the three women has affinities with Ta Matete of 1892 (fig.6) as Gauguin uses the same flat, static figures that have been traced to Egyptian painting with the ethnological implication that the Polynesians’ origins are in mankind’s oldest civilizations.49

ta matete 1892 Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

Fig. 6. Gauguin, Ta Matete (The Market), 1892, 28.7 x 36.2″ (73 x 92 cm), Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel.

Continual rhythm or “musicality” of bodily contours with intervening empty space gives Tahitian Landscape a Synthetist sensibility to the figures while its overall Symbolist ambiguity is a result of pale color and de-emphasized form. The figure of the woman on her knees to the right is engaged in a ritual bathing as Brettell believes or may be bowing before a vague natural stone construct (Brettel, however, denies any hint of religion). A pool of red flows at, or under, her chest that may represent bathing water as Brettell offers or perhaps a hint of light or shadow or, more intensely, the figure’s blood. Red appears again in one of the three dancing figures. In this landscape Gauguin allows for several possible interpretations.

Under close examination the artist seems to encourage bewilderment by producing a scene of ambiguity and mystery. If Gauguin acted as an ethnologist―as art critic and historian Roger Marx compared him in November 1893 – it would be impossible for the artist to depict an authentic blood sacrifice in Tahiti since, in the 1890s, it was prohibited by French law. The artist then dreams a scene in a Tahitian setting of a woman and her associates offering a savage blood sacrifice to a stone god. This piece asks questions about Gauguin’s attitude for Tahiti and sheds light on some of his deepest desires in Paris. The formulation of the sky, waters, and ground create a Synthetist landscape but it is the Symbolist figures and the mystery surrounding their presence that is the central power of the work. This use of mysterious figures in a landscape is found in Gauguin’s previous  work in Martinique (“the land of the Creole gods”50 he wrote in a letter) and in Brittany (figs. 7 and 8).

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fig. 7. Gauguin, By the Sea, oil on canvas, signed and dated at lower left, P. Gauguin 87, 18 1/8 x 24 in. (46 x 61 cm), private collection, Paris.

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Fig. 8. Gauguin, Be Mysterious, 1890, low relief, polychrome lime tree wood 73 x 95 x 5 cm., Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

In Tahitian Landscape, on the other side of the green, blue, and peach-color chasm heavily outlined on the right and halted by a built-up “shore,” the three dancing women who are barely modeled or detailed appear to be observed by an idol figure. It lies in blue shadow in dense foliage and is nearly invisible. As in Tahitians Fishing (see part 2 of “Savagery in Civilization…” ) it is by way of foliage, boulders, and rounded forms of the landscape that there emerges a similarity with the jigsaw puzzle-like lagoon in that same year’s Day of the GodsHowever, the forms in Tahitian Landscape are flatter and less organic-looking.  As popular graphic art methods could not produce the deliberately pale character of the surface Brettell proposes that this image was made as a transfer or counterproof on wetted paper from a now lost watercolor matrix.51

NOTES:

  1. Thomson, Gauguin, p. 130.
  2. Brettell, p. 359.
  3. Thomson, Gauguin, p. 152.
  4.  Brettell, p. 80;  “denies any hint of religion” and “bathing water”- Brettell, p. 359. Brettell’s denial here of Tahitian religion does not preclude his proposing that the bowing figure may be an adaptation of the naked and penitent Magdalen at the foot of the cross, which is part of Catholic tradition.
  5. Ibid., p. 359.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Part 2 “Tahitians Fishing.” Savagery in Civilization: Paul Gauguin and His Tahiti-Inspired Graphic Work in Paris, 1893-1895.

By John P. Walsh

To look at a selection of four prints produced by Paul Gauguin in Paris between his two long trips to Tahiti not only elucidates his artistic ideas but benefits by this brief commentary on his methods and techniques he used to make them. The consummate craftsman – even Gauguin’s modern art opponents largely conceded this point – his traced monotypes (also called watercolor transfer drawings or printed drawings) employed a simple but creatively unique process to offset his watercolor or gouache designs onto paper.

The first step in Gauguin’s process was to place slightly damp paper over his hand-drawn design and with the pressure he exerted from the back of an ordinary spoon the moisture in the paper and the water-based medium worked to transfer the reverse image of the design onto the paper. Gauguin could then reprint his design so that each would be variable images, imparting a pale, soft value to the work – outcomes the artist sought for these Tahitian pieces.

By 1898, back in Tahiti, Gauguin created a new print medium which was essentially a reversal of early Renaissance silverpoint. His new technique required Gauguin to apply a coat of ink to one sheet of paper, place a second sheet over it, and draw on the top sheet with pencil or crayon. The pressure of the drawing instrument transferred the ink from the first sheet of paper onto the back or verso side of the top sheet. Gauguin greatly admired his technical discovery and considered it an expression of “childlike simplicity.”

#1 TAHITIANS FISHING

Fig.1 . Tahitians Fishing, 1893/5 – watercolor and black ink, over pen and brown ink, on vellum laid down on brown wove paper, 9.84 x 12.48 inches (250 x 317 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.

In this small work (fig. 1) the figures are flat, with little modeling or detail. The impact created is one of a dream. Gauguin presents a primitive world that is half-naked and childlike. In its Synthetist elements, it is reminiscent of a major painting he completed the year before, Fatata te Miti (By the Sea) (fig.2) It shares its flat colors, abstract shapes, and unbroken curves uniting to make an integrated decorative pattern. Yet Tahitians Fishing is a sketch. It is divided into distinct zones like Day of the Gods (Mahana No Atua) (fig.3) created by Gauguin in the same years. The grassy foreground and sea/vegetation/sandy shore create two horizontal zones. These are bisected by a dominant vertical―a tree―that divides the piece into informal quadrants. The tree, a powerful element, is a void – a space of black ink – while its branches and roots are delineated with the same facile modeling as the rest of the composition. The pair of main roots and twelve or so ancillary roots sit ambiguously atop the grassy foreground with its childlike delineation of blades and sinks into sandy soil. The tree surrounds a naked squatting female, her bare breasts exposed. Is she hiding herself from a second woman working with a net in the area of sand and sea? This second worker is aided by three others who are perhaps completely nude figures that stand waist deep in water. Two are male but the third figure’s sex is uncertain as s/he is turned so the viewer sees only a naked back.  There is very little personality to the figures. They are, instead, composition elements like cartoons.

paul-gauguin-fatata-te-miti-by-the-sea-1892

Fig. 2. Gauguin, Fatata te Miti (By the Sea), 1892, oil on canvas, 67.9 x 91.5 cm (26 3/4 x 36 in.), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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Fig.3. Gauguin, Day of the Gods (Mahana No Atua), 1894, oil on canvas, 26 7/8 x 36 in. (68.3 x 91.5 cm), The Art Institute of Chicago.

In the time Gauguin was making Tahitians Fishing, he was working on the text and suite of ten wood block prints for his book Noa Noa. Tahitians Fishing also involves text and the visual image. Gauguin places a verse by living French Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) into a visual work about Tahiti. This artistic admixture could be part of Gauguin’s reaction to one of Symbolist art’s major indictment by naturalist modern art critics – that it is preoccupied with ideas and should be subsumed exclusively into the domain of literature.41 Gauguin’s literary career began in the midst of this critical argument that predated his first departure to Tahiti and maintained itself at his return. From an artist who confronted disparate parts to create something new, Tahitians Fishing is a hybrid piece of Symbolist literary and visual elements using Gauguin’s obsession with Tahiti as its unifying theme. It indicates that the artist was reflecting on his Tahitian art, if not searching for more. Many Paris critics believed his art confused East and West. Gauguin gives validity to that belief by putting a poem at the top of the sheet in its own artistic “zone” and not straying into the visual image itself or making letters into art. While his pillaging from the Western world could set Gauguin’s critics alight, sympathizers saw his juxtapositions as a productive and creative artistic strategy.42 Verlaine’s nature poem – “Qu’as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà/Pleurant sans cesse./Dis, qu’as tu fait, toi que voilà/De ta jeunesse?”43 – provides another facet to Gauguin’s imposition of the Edenic dimension of good and evil onto the image.

Tahitians Fishing tested Gauguin’s powers to illustrate text which he was working on for Noa Noa, a phrase that means “perfume.” The Man with the Ax (fig.4), a print from this Paris period (1892/94)  is a complex of thinned gouache and pen and black ink over pen and brown ink on dark tan wove paper and laid down on cream Japanese paper. At approximately 12 x 9 inches it is – by virtue of its tripartite landscape, stooping figure and monumental and vertical figure enclosed in Cloisonnist dark contour – a retrospective of work done in Tahiti between 1891 and 1893.

man with ax-b

Fig. 4. Gauguin, Man with an Ax, 1892/94, thinned gouache with pen and black ink, over pen and brown ink on cream wove paper (discolored to tan), laid down on cream Japanese paper, 317 x 228 mm, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Tahitians Fishing is new as it reflects Tahiti and adds a contemporary French Symbolist text. It contains similarities in composition, theme, and figures to the forward-looking painting Day of the Gods. Both share the image of a “Savage Eve” figure which obsessed Gauguin throughout 1893 to 189544 and both have a dominant central vertical―a tree in Tahitians Fishing and an idol in Day of the Gods.  Each has distinct horizontal zones and ground-and-water block-like forms. Even the amoeba-shaped waters in Day of the Gods are reflected in the steeply pitched water-as-sky in Tahitians Fishing. Maurice Denis identified Gauguin by his bright, unnatural colors45, but this exercise piece is more than that. It explores compositional forms and themes of his Tahitian and Synthetist works and includes avant-gardist French Symbolist verse. Gauguin’s work in these pieces is not always simply, as Julien Leclerq wrote in December 1894, “(the) transposing into another medium motifs from his Tahitian works.”46 Gauguin may have used this particular Verlaine poem if he was anywhere outside Paris, but it seems less likely. He continued to experiment with mixing text and visual image, a courageous act in the face of conservative critics who, with artists Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne, castigated Gauguin for the repetitive elaboration and recombination of pictorial ideas. On the recto side of this work no signature of any sort is detectable.

NOTES:

  1. Marlais, p.99.
  2. Salvesen, p. 51.
  3. “What have you done – you who are Forever crying? Speak! What have you done – you who are so young?” – my translation.
  4. Brettell, p. 332.
  5. Crepaldi, Gabriele, trans. Sylvia Tombesi-Walton, Gauguin, Dorling Kindersley, London, 1998, p. 97.
  6. quoted in Barbara Stern Shapiro, “Shapes and Harmonies of Another World,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, p.131.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.