Sunday, June 28, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
I've always liked Caillebottes work a lot and thought that he was an important and influential artist in spite of the fact that he is not one of the first names you think of when you think of the impressionists. This may be in part because he started painting late, died young at 46, and stopped painting several years before dying. In fact he was a bit of a dilettante, and consequently doesn't have that large a body of work. The other reason, I think is that he didn't entirely buy into the whole plein air thing, and most of the work in the show is clearly not painted from life. This is the reason he was seen as something of a reluctant impressionist, even though like the impressionists he rejected the academy and chose to paint images from every day life. Also his rich colors, avoidance of detail, and loose painterly depiction of light in its many forms clearly make him an impressionist, but an idiosyncratic one.
Caillebottes stylistic signature was his unusual and complicated compositions, and his "bizarre perspective" as one critic called it. He liked to create deep illusionist space with a dramatic diagonal, and used it in some very ambitious and imaginative ways. The strange vantage points and the way he cropped his images are what give his paintings their abstract integrity, and I think what make him an important figure. This is most impressive in his urban street scenes and his images of boats, where he frequently painted from the perspective of the passenger. The way he renders the strange elliptical shapes of the boats and the light dancing on the surface of the water reminded me of some of Thomas Eakins paintings of the same theme, but with a more painterly French quality. He was obsessed with boats, and he designed and raced them as well as painting them. This was one of the things that kept him from painting full time. The show has a wall of half models from his designs which were supposedly very cutting edge for the time. Anyway, that's what they say. I don't know anything about boats.
The show's a bit uneven though. Some of the paintings have this bold imaginative structure, but some are more generic impressionist landscapes where he tries his hand at the plein air painting that was the signature of the impressionists. They're technically beautiful, but not distinctive or that original. The major problem should be blamed on the Brooklyn Museum. Caillebottes most famous painting is "Paris Rainy Street Day" which is in the collection of the Chicago Art Institute, but for some reason isn't in the show. There's also an important painting of his that I've only seen in reproduction called "Boulevard Seen From Above". I would like to see it in person, but that also wasn't in the show. It made me wonder what other jewels didn't make it in. They did put a lot of boat models in the show, but personally I would have rather seen the paintings. According to the Museum this is the first retrospective Caillebotte has had in the US in over thirty years, so you'd think they'd want to include his best stuff, right? I think Caillebotte is a really intriguing figure who deserves further exploration and examination, or at least better treatment than he's received here.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
To call Charles Ray an interesting artist would be a huge understatement. He's one of the most influential artists of his generation. That generation being of the late 80s and early 90s, which is why the three pieces chosen for this show were first exhibited over twenty years ago. "Ink Line", "Spinning Spot", and "Moving Wire" are all kinetic sculptures, or conceptual minimalist installations (whatever), and were all created in 1987 and 1988.
"Ink Line" is a continuous stream of black printers ink pouring out of a small opening in the ceiling of the gallery, and into an equally small opening in the floor. At first glance it looks like a static string or cable, and only on closer inspection can you tell that it's a moving liquid. "Moving Wire" appears to be two wires protruding from the galleries wall ten inches apart. Soon the viewer realizes that one wire is slowly moving out of the wall while the other one equally slowly retracts, indicating that the two wires are connected somewhere behind the wall. "Spinning Spot" is a cement disk inserted into the galleries cement floor that spins at 33RPMs. Personally I think It's the least intriguing of the three.
Rays work initially elicits a "cool, look at this" or "isn't that clever" gut level response, which I think undercuts the seriousness of the work. One thing he does that is pretty interesting is that he employs a hidden force outside the galleries interior for all of the works in the show, making the viewer more conscious of their environment, and how it limits what they see and know. Using that force he plays with perception in the tromp l'oeil tradition, but updating that tradition so that instead of dealing with two and three dimensional space he's dealing with static and kinetic energy. He also uses potential energy to take a unique turn on the artistic tradition of exploiting the seductive, tactile quality of the materials. You have a strong desire to touch the work, but (especially with "Ink Line") you know the potential damage you could cause. In fact it's the potential damage that amplifies the works tactile seductiveness. He's also one of the few conceptual artists I can think of that seems to make aesthetics a priority. Formally all three works function as very graceful, three dimensional line drawings, where elegance compliment conceptual imaginativeness. Now I'm Just wondering what he's doing today.