Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova (Padua), Italy, boasts a thrilling fresco cycle by Giotto, whose works were so delicate, that the viewers were limited to 10- to 20-minutes guided tours, and could only enter the chapel after a 15-minutes temperature and moisture modulation sessions.
That cycle was simply breathtaking - enormous scope, brilliant colors, remarkable compositions, "modern" technique of rendering volumes and understanding of human anatomy and perspectives, and above all, exotic and even bizarre visual symbols, not all of them could be understood readily by modern casual viewers, though that fault could hardly dampen visitors' collective awe.
One of my favorite was the Final Judgement Scene - restrained and classical, without baroque sentimental exaggeration of the later period. Giotto captured the essence of human conditions which were almost primordial and touching in its piety and simplicity.
My second favorite depicted the scene of the Kiss of Judas — menacing yet becalming, with its ritualistic violence cloaked/contained in stylized manners, simultaneously timelessly still and dynamic. Unique and unforgettable.
The motive behind my oil painting Trot was my wish to explore tonal contrasts and arrive at a certain balance of playfulness and menace. The subject of this study is a cat, or two. Before I started my oil, I made several preliminary sketches and once I committed my ideas to the canvas, I proceeded with a cat with upright head. Somehow, after the composition had more or less taken shape, I noticed a more dynamic and emotional sketch with a cat whose head was bending down, thus I incorporated that cat into the canvas. Trot / 小跑 / Trab Oil on Canvas 22" x 22" Completed in 2016 The finished painting more or less achieved my goals, though the subject can be seen as two cats running side by side, or just a cat captured at different time.
My favorite of such was the great altar, which dazzled with brilliant blue, yellow, white, red, and gold hues. A bit kitschy from distance, perhaps; but on the spot, I was quite easily transported by the mysterious shimmering light.
My second favorite was a fragmented mural, with cleanly delineated figures, animals and walled city, evoking the ideal of early Renaissance epoch - urbane, sophisticated, refined and pure.
I was most taken by small a bronze sculpture of a winged foot for its elegant shape in an assertive yet delicate style and the absence of the rest of the body made this piece more intriguing and unforgettable.
My second favorite was a stone sculpture of a squatting bird-woman. Comparing the he sleek foot above, this one looked quite primitive, with its rough finish and the ungainly posture of the person/beast. If that foot belonged to a polished Roman god, this humble yet assured stone figure was the primordial earthy Sphinx. In reality, this figure might be a torso of an ordinary man but I would like to think it as the mythical Sphinx.
My first successful pastel painting, Typhoon, is an abstract piece inspired by devastating typhoons unfortunately have been creating ever-heavier havoc recently, due to the undeniable climate change. Exploring spatial relationships, subtle variations of tones and shifting of patterns, I tried to capture the something unpredictable and the menacing.
Typhoon / 颱風 / Taifun Pastel on Paper 8.5” x 11” Completed in 2015
This painting is currently being exhibited at Expressions Gallery in Berkeley, in a show aptly titled "Into the Future".
Last week, UC Berkeley's Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive opened its new building to guest. Thursday was the gala opening day for donors; Friday, opening day for students; Saturday for members of the Museum/Archive; and Sunday, a community open house.
I visited the Museum on 30 January, Saturday and it was nice to see so many members and their families and friends exploring the space and artworks on display. The place was full of excitement and high energy but the visitors didn't overwhelm the quite airy space. Comparing to the old site, this one was slicker and had more conventional gallery layout, thus easier to mount exhibitions. Because the Museum did not exhibit their usual collections at the opening exhibition, it was hard to gauge how much the exhibition space had changed. Once the the permanent collections are back, visitors might be able to understand it better.
The initial exhibition had many exciting works and here are a handful of the highlights:
Macadamia wood bowl
Solitary, semi-social mapping of ESO-510 613 connected with intergalactic dust by one Nephila clavipes - one week - and three Cyrtophora citricola - three weeks, spider silk, glue, paper, ink, Tomas Saraceno
Spider silk installation
4 Brushstrokes over Figure & 21 Brushstokes, Hyun-Sook Song
4 Brushstrokes over Figure, Hyun-Sook Song
21 Brushstrokes, Hyun-Sook Song
2 Brushstrokes, Hyun-Sook Song
In case one forgot, this picture below reminded people that we were in the quirky Berkeley:
There were two movie theater to showcase amazing collections of Pacific Film Archive (PFA) - one medium sized and a smaller one perhaps built for art house movies, in which I saw a wonderful short, featuring a woman in Baroque dress and modern sunglasses, running around in and around fountain and gardens, underneath an extravagant hat of a fountain:
A very promising beginning.
On Sunday, it was reported that some UC Berkeley students protested at the museum, "protesting the campus’s decision to designate funds to the creation of an art museum rather than to increase benefits for campus workers."
I do support some of their arguments; yet, I cannot agree with their Leninist and Maoist approach. Universities have societal obligations to stimulate minds and art museum is one of the very useful tools for such an endeavor.
My landscape/allegorical oil painting, Shadow, depicts a fantastic world - a vast furrowed dark brown field, whose parallel ridges converge towards the distant horizon, which was dotted with a cluster of very insignificant white buildings, centering on a little church spire, which was barely visible. The contrast between the enormous dark fields and the tiny white village is highly dramatic, yet that is topped by several huge leaden and apparently weighty clouds, which curiously cast no shadows; instead, adds mysterious and menacing atmosphere, gliding over the entire field, s a huge shadow of an invisible bird, very much the personification of foreboding.
Shadow / 影子 / Schatten Oil on Canvas 30″ x 40" Completed in 2008
Interestingly, this painting just joined a group show, titled "In to the Future". Perhaps, this ominous world is the vision of the future?
Ca' Pesaro in Venice is known for its modern collections, including paintings by Gustav Klimt, Pierre Bonnard and Marc Chagall. When I visited the museum, Klimt was not on display so I chose these two pieces as my favorites.
The sculpture "Cardinal" by Giacomo Manzù was a very striking piece. From the front, it looked like a well formed symmetrical shrub, or an over-sized checkers piece, which definitely was nothing but simple and had multiple layers of meanings. The side view of the cardinal was an even more fascinating figure, which sat on an invisible seat, therefore gave the viewers a view of that support-less cardinal sloping down to the ground. A political metaphor?
Cardinal by Giacomo Manzù
My other favorite was a still life painting, done with rich but not obsessive impasto, therefore a contrast and drama. The humble subjects and narrow breadth of somber hues lent an overall feeling of austerity, deceptively so, because the painting was really rich of subtlety and interplay, such as the shape of a vase rack and its shadow on the wall in the center of the canvas. The gradation of the shades was broad but subtle, and such tonal contrast generated another tense drama. The light and shadow almost added tangible movements to the absolute stillness of the piece. One could pulse the ticking clock underneath those layers of silent paints.
In Distant Country / 在遙遠的国度 / In fernem Land Oil on Canvas 22″ x 28" Completed in 2011
The left side of the painting, in shades of washed-out gray, depicts the Old St. John's Hospital, an 11th-century hospital in Bruges, Belgium while the right side zooms in one of the omnipresent swans and the symbol of that ancient city, painted in intensely saturated rich hues. I conceived this painting while visiting Bruges, when I was quite intrigued and even moved by the stark contrast of immobile and somewhat faded history and threadbare nobility, and the living creatures full of grace, energy and slight menace.
Furthermore, I named this title to ensure that the German title In fernem Land is the first line of the most celebrated aria by the title character in Wagner's opera Lohengrin, a mysterious knight arrived in a boat drawn by a swan, narrating his mythical original and his frustrated hope by lacking of faith he demanded from a woman he loved and rescued, whose child-ruler brother was turned into that swan and his disappearance had triggered a chain of events.
The medieval building and the medieval story interwoven, the purity and menace of this lofty bird, along with the historical baggage of Wagner, conspire to add extra meanings to this rather deceptively simply painting.
Almost every major old mansion, or Ca', as called by the locals, in Venice, are an impressive museum. Ca' d'Oro, is the most iconic of them all, famed for its Gothic columns, arched windows and fascinating asymmetrical façade, and it not only boast artifacts demonstrating the life in the begone era, it also houses some impressive artworks as well.
My favorite work my saw during my 2012 trip was a painting from the workshop of one of my favorite Renaissance artists, Andrea del Sarto, titled Madonna and Child with St. John, which had all the hallmarks of the said great master, particularly the pale green, blue and pink tones of draperies, and those rosy cheeked, plump figures announcing the advent of mannerism, which outgrew the naturalism of Renaissance.
Madonna and Child with St. John, Andrea del Sarto's Workshop, Ca' d'Oro
My second favorite was a sculpture of a nude male torso, which situated in the middle of a courtyard whose walls and floor were covered with very intricate and elaborate mosaic, and contrasting wonderfully against those complicated background with its restrained classical simplicity.
Collezione Peggy Guggenheim (Peggy Guggenheim Collection), located in an unfinished 18th-century palace, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, boasts many modern masterpieces ranging in style from Cubism and Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism.
One of my favorite work there was a sculpture in the garden: The Cloven Viscount (Il visconte dimezzato) by Mimmo Paladino, which was simultaneously formal and fluid, familiar and strange, comforting and unsettling. The figure, installed inside a small square brick confinement, in a small pile of gravels, was unassuming and even humble, but his intentionally stiff posture, resembling age-dried twigs, bore the traces of the ravage of time and wearying journey.
The Cloven Viscount (Il visconte dimezzato), Mimmo Paladino, 1998
My second favorite work was a painting by Giogiro de Chirico, titled The Red Tower, in the typical style of the highly individual artist - subtly yet strikingly contrasting colors, enigmatic landscape and cityscape, opaque symbols and overwhelming sense of desolation and loneliness. The focal point of the work, the Red Tower, was really a foreboding fortress squatting somewhat in the background, and held secrets the artists refused to divulge.
The Red Tower (La Tour rouge), Giorgio de Chirico, 1913
Venice has almost as many museums as its numerous Palazzi; one of these stately buildings stands along the Grand Canal is Ca' Rezzonico, whose art collections are fully in line with the peculiar tastes of the 18th century Venetians, decorative, precious, and a bit silly, but redeemed somewhat by whimsical playfulness and perhaps self-mockery.
The favorite piece I saw there was a fresco titled "Mondo Novo" by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, featuring vivid and even theatrical figures populating the streets in Venice, very much like those portrayed by the great Venetian Commedia dell'arte playwright Carlo Goldoni.
My second favorite was a bas-relief, Priamo chiede ad Achille (Priam Implores Achilles), a poignant and messy scene presented in restraint, manifested in those cleanly rendered classical lines:
Il Ghetto and Museo Ebraico (The Ghetto and Jewish Museum) in Venice were poignant places to visit and unsurprisingly, one of my favorite artifacts there was a series of reliefs mounted on the wall of the huge courtyard, depicting momentous experiences of the Jewish people:
Another favorite of mine was an ancient map/landscape of a walled city (Jerusalem?) housed inside the museum. I was struck by the harmoniously interwoven pleasing blue and green tones throughout the lovely piece, and the stylized presentation of a city and its surrounding countryside.
A grand building in Venice, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, houses a huge cycle of paintings by Tintoretto, commissioned in 1564. For next twenty-seven years, he and his assistants, including his son Domenico, created this opus magnum. From this cycle, I cite these two below as my favorites.
The first one is "The Annunciation" which depicted this familiar subject in a startlingly dramatic way and the dynamic momentum and the stark tonal contrast were overwhelming.
The Annunciation from the Tintoretto cycle, Image courtesy of Wikicommons by Web Gallery of Art
The second one is "Miracle of the Bronze Serpent", which composition is even more dramatic. It told the story of the resentful Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt and God sent snakes to torment the hungry and thirsty people. Eventually they were compelled to go to Moses and asked him to pray to God for forgiveness. God dictated him to make a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: "and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live."
The small yet centrally positioned Moses and the miracle serpent occupied a small swatch of the canvas, filled with light, a small hope, perhaps; while the rest managed to emerge from dark shadows - limbs and bodies intertwined in the formation reminiscent of that of the serpent. Unforgettable.
Miracle of the Bronze Serpent from the Tintoretto cycle, Image courtesy of Wikicommons by Web Gallery of Art
Il Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer) is located on a small island facing Venice across a lagoon, and a short trip by boat brought me to see some of its eclectic artworks.
My favorite painting in the church was Baptism of Christ by Veronese. This painting did not present a panoramic scene of the event; rather, it brought viewers to the close proximity of the main characters in the drama -- Jesus and John the Baptist, presented as virile young men, vigorous and poised, dynamic even in a arrested still moment. Froze in the middle of an action, their seeming pause gave the painting an ethereal atmosphere and a sense of timelessness. The strong modulation of their bodies and the bold outlines gave added to their confidence. They were visited by holy ghost, hovering over Baptist's blessing hand; and observed by two female biblical figures to their left; two donors, dictated tradition occupied the lower right, who in turn, were balanced by cherubim on the upper right corner of the painting.
Baptism of Christ, Paolo Caliari known as il Veronese
My second favorite painting was Transport ofChrist to theSepulchre, by JacopoNegretticalled Palmail Giovane.
This was a beautiful painting, with typical coloration of Italy idyllic paintings, almost too much so for such a sad subject. The curiously tranquil scene was accented by two grieve stricken female figures on the upper left and lower right of the painting. The composition was dynamic yet understated, despite of those two female figures, whose postures were a bit overtly dramatic.
The painting was installed between two columns and underneath a weighty pediment, which echoed the semi-circular top part of the painting. The small "dome" and the understated trimming at the inner edge of the painting let the entire ensemble an more decorative air. However, the pureness and openness of the setting were slightly disturbed by a massive golden crown above a crucifix nearby. Impressive surely but a bit too oppressively rich and earthly to be next to this ethereal painting.
Transport ofChrist to theSepulchre, by JacopoNegretticalled Palmail Giovane
Without that amazing and controversial work, which would be my most favorite, I move on to cite other two sculptures as my favorites. The first one was a 2010 metaphoric one titled Vater Staat (Father State) by Thomas Schütte. It presented a wizened and stiffly upright man in a humble monkish habit and a boxy brimless hat, a figure was simultaneously self-effacing, dignified, and somewhat pompous and ridiculous, ever so slightly. It was a perfect personification of such strange concept.
Vater Staat by Thomas Schütte, 2010, in front of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
The second favorite of mine was a group sculpture of Atlas, symbolizing the might of the fabled Republic of Venice. The golden ball was held up by two giants, or two slaves as some claimed, and upon which stood a 17th-century Fortune, which turned in the sea wind - a perfect documentary of the fantastical seafaring power.
Two giants supporting Atlans, upon with stands Fortune