Apollo

The Apollo Fountain in the gardens at Versailles.IMG_0391

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The Winged Victory of Samothrace (2nd century b.c.e.)

This gorgeous statue, also called the Nike of Samothrace, is currently located in the Louvre in Paris. It is one of the iconic artworks of that museum, standing at the top of one of the main staircases.

Sculpted out of white marble, this statue  demonstrates the high standards of Greek art at the end of that nation’s dominance of aesthetics. Rome was already overtaking Greece as the major military and political power in the European, North African, and Middle Eastern worlds at the time.

This statue apparently stood on the island of Samothrace, marking a victory of the Greek fleets against the Egyptians, until in 1863 a French amateur archeologist. brought it to Paris. It has stood in the Louvre in the same spot since 1884.

Except during World War II when it was removed from Paris and hidden in 1939.

Link to Louvre: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/winged-victory-samothrace

Gerhard Richter Retrospective at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Last night I went to this amazing, huge, sprawling show. Left overwhelmed and exhausted by the fifty-year career of this artist.

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The show starts with his early (1960s) work on photographs, where he enlarged photos and then painted them, but, while the paint was still wet, used a brush to blur the edges. It is completely hard to describe, but the final effect are large-scale paintings that look like photos, only blurry… but as if there is a secret you cannot quite find there. Like this black-and-white of a tiger. Not a photo, a painting about 6×7 ft.

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Then a series of landscapes and other paintings informed by Richter’s grounding in the classical tradition of painting. And yet transcending/passing classical traditions with the absolute freshness of the way he handles his images, and the eerie photographic reality of the work.

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Then the first series of abstracts, using size/scale, color, and media in extraordinary ways.

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This one is from a series of small paintings done in enamel on glass. The colors in person are unreal, as is the edginess of the work because of the sharpness of the enamel/glass combination.

Then a roomful of portraits–and one self-portrait–that were tremendously moving and personal.

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Then a roomful of nothing but gray paintings and glass works (sculptures?) using painted and plain glass sheets or mirrors.

Then the final series, including September 11. Ten rooms: brilliant and moving and exhausting.

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Richter is clearly a man and an artist with a very, very smart brain, a sense of humor, and the willingness to take risks. And to experiment. Most of what we saw last night could be put down to an artist continually learning and re-learning his craft, and experimenting with technique and his own curiosity,  and a ruthless self-honesty.

Tete by Amodeo Modigliani (1912)

A few years ago the best museum in my city had an exhibit on Modigliani. The paintings and sculptures were stunning.

I admit: I am a fan (seen my avatar?). The paintings have an amazing use of color and style. One can easily see how Modigliani was influenced by other artists of his period (Picasso & Lautrec, f’r instance) but also by Asian and African art. This sculpture shows both.

By the way, it also sold for 43+ million euros. Here is a Christie’s gallery talk about it. Lovely!

Modigliani is better known for his paintings (there are only 27 sculptures but lots more paintings), both of nude women and key figures in the world of art and letters in the 1903-1920, when the artist killed himself. Sadly, during the final ears of his life he not only produced most of his best work–and a lot of it!–but suffered from tubercular meningitis made worse by his alcoholism (primarily, absinth) and use of drugs (hashish). He was also involved with several women serially, including his final lover, Jeanne Hebuterne, who was nine months pregnant with their second child when the artist died. She threw herself out of a window and killed herself and the unborn child five days after his death. The artist died penniless, but now his work is (obviously) valued.

The work is quite sensual, and meant to be seen from all sides. In 1914 Modigliani abandoned sculpture to concentrate on painting. These sculptures, however, were clearly influential on his two-dimensional works.

Danaid by Rodin (1886; 1902)

This beautiful statue, usually on view at the Rodin Museum in Paris, was carved by Rodin out of white marble. The subject is Danaid, one of the 50 daughters of Danaus who all killed their 50 bridegrooms on their wedding night and were condemned to draw water in a sieve for eternity…

The statue is obviously drawn from a gorgeous piece of flawless marble; the beauty of the submissive or surrendered pose of the nymph allowed Rodin to carve the smooth “skin” of the back and the tendrils of hair, as well as use Michelangelo’s technique of leaving the statue embedded within the rock, calling attention to the difference between its natural state and the carved figure emerging from it.

The erotic quality of the pose and the naked state of the figure counteract the despair and sadness of the woman — the observer is taken out of a subjective state in order to appreciate, objectively, the sexuality of Rodin’s study.

As it is usually placed in an upstairs room, seen in the natural light of the huge windows there, I find the sculture evokes both an appreciation of its beauty and a feeling of poignancy for the woman embedded in the rock.

Cycladic figurines, 3000-2000 b.c.e.

I love these carved statues.

They can be found in many large and small museums. I took a lot of pictures of the figurines at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford eighteen months ago.

They are ancient, mostly coming from a group of islands in and near Greece, and are all female. Carved stone. Some are large, some are only heads, some are pregnant.

For me, they have a charm that I cannot explain. The simplicity, the minimalism, the beauty.

Sigh. When I look at them, I feel a great sense of peace.

La Valse by Camille Claudel (1890-93)

This is a beautiful sculpture by Claudel, who was the longtime lover of Rodin. Rodin was also her mentor.

This sculpture is lyrical, passionate, powerful. The suppressed emotion of the two dancers is incredible.

Claudel’s work is on view at Paris’s Rodin Museum. She was considered a genuis by critics and peers of her own time, but in 1913 she was “voluntarily” committed to a mental institution, where she remained until her death in 1943.

Claudel’s story is undeniably sad.  

The 1988 film Camille Claudel follows Claudel’s relationship with Rodin. Claudel is played by Isabelle Adjani, while Rodin was portrayed by Gerard Depardieu.

David by Michelangelo (1501-04)

The artist’s most famous work–excepting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I can vividly remember seeing this in person, about 30 years ago. You cannot really appreciate it in pictures–honestly–because the setting is so important.

As you can see from this picture, the David is larger than lifesize and the lighting in the space makes the white marble glow… and not in a Twilight way.

Michelangelo intended David to be on a raised platform, which is why the feet and hands are larger-than-life, while the body seems by contrast delicate.

David is a young man, and I love the expression on his face. Some say it is a warning, but I think it has a touch of uncertainty, of confusion, of the young boy David who was not yet a hero or a king but a simple shepherd.

It is, seen in person, indescribably, breathtakingly beautiful.

I do also like Michelangelo’s Hercules:

 Which depicts and older, world-weary man, someone who has been through battles and tests–unlike David. And the slave figures, which are still partially encased in the stone blocks Michelangelo only started to carve…

These are, metaphorically, fascinating and also fine examples of the mature, muscled male bodies the artist does so well. The contrast of movement and “slavery”, of flesh and rock are so absolutely brilliant. They are not unfinished, but a really gorgeous example of the sculptor’s craft.