Superstition Review, published by Arizona State University, is an "online literary magazine produced by creative writing and web design students at Arizona State University. Founded by Patricia Colleen Murphy in 2008, the mission of the journal is to promote contemporary art and literature by providing a free, easy-to-navigate, high quality online publication that features work by established and emerging artists and authors from all over the world."
Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (MAM) (Paris City Museum of Modern Art), is less talked about than other institutions in Paris, such as Musée du Louvre or Musée d'Orsay. But, a rich city as Paris has much to offer and even its "lesser" museum could be a treasure trove and MAM is just one of such wonderful museums. I stumbled upon this museum when I wandered about the city alone in 2008, and beside an amazing special exhibit which lured me in, I was very happy to see many wonderful permanent collections there, many of them by masters such as Modigliani, Bonnard, etc.
My pick of the two favorites, however, went to Pablo Picasso, both in the more representative style, which I appreciate more than his later works, whose abstraction and absurdity often baffled me. Here, I love his wonderfully melancholic bronze bust of a fool, Le Fou, whose sharp and intense feature contrast strongly to the title of the sculpture. A wisest fool, a soberest crazy one. A lovely bust.
Le Fou, 1905, Pablo Picasso
His somber mood carried over to his painting, L'enterrement de Casagemas, the interment of his friend, a fellow Spanish painter Carlos Casagemas (1881 in Barcelona - 17 February 1901 in Paris), who shot himself because of an unrequited love for Germaine Pichot, who was later one of the models depicted in Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon. The funeral scene was a fantastic one -- the mourners on earth juxtaposed with those overtly sensual ones, femmes fatale, in the heaven. The overall tone was almost religious and devotional. It is a very strange and moving piece of work, a most tender and personal one.
"Black Woods" video below, however, demonstrated the progress of this semi-representational and I hope that seeing the process of layers of upon applied upon layers prove interesting, at least not boring for my viewers.
My watershed year was 2003, when I started my Apocalypse Series of paintings and drawings, when the US was poised to invade Iraq and I made several dark paintings such as "The Triumph of Saint George".
In 2004 and 2005, I continued my effort but 2004 was an obvious recovering year, from deep emotions and 2005 was the year I tried to function as a "normal" person, less disturbed and angry. My works were less disturbing and less controversial, with more resigned sadness:
Continuing my archiving practice, I'm posting video recapitulations of paintings I completed in 2006 through 2008, in three videos below.
Those three years were years of experimenting and re-aligning, after several intense years of creativity, fueled by the emotions stirred up by the dark time and reality - the period George W. Bush invaded Iraq and suppressed civil liberty at home, a period and political situation reminded me cruelly of the repressive China I fled from. When emotions had been dulled by time, I needed to rejuvenate myself and rekindle my creative fire. Those three years were such period of the soul-searching and these three videos documented that journey:
Art Museums in Paris are far more than just the Louvre and d'Orsay and I was delighted to discover more and more during my second visit to Paris in 2008.
Not far from d'Orsay, crossing the Seine through Pont Alexandre III, I arrived at a little gem, Petit Palais (Little Palace), which was showcasing Goya's cycle of "Disaster of War", monumental and deeply moving. However, I'll stick to my rule, and discuss in my blog only the permanent collections of the museum.
Under its ornate dome, the works on display were rather somber and gloomy, and that particular contrast increased the poignancy of those paintings. My favorite painting there actually was a group canvases named "La Bouchée de pain (The Mouthful of Bread)", a study for "Charity", by Ferdinand Emmanuel Pelez de Cordova, called Fernand Pelez. This study showed people, all male, in their prime or older ages, bogged down by toils and weariness, waited in line for a portion of charity bread. The pain of those unfortunate were illustrated by their slow gait and bent bodies, mostly in clear silhouette, against muted background, silent and stoic. The moving emotion was authentic and intense however understated. These canvases, though not small, felt intimate and one felt intruding on those people's privacy and dignity.
La Bouchée de pain (The Mouthful of Bread), études pour La Charité (study for Charity), 1892-1908, Ferdinand Emmanuel Pelez de Cordova, called Fernand Pelez
La Bouchée de pain (The Mouthful of Bread), études pour La Charité (study for Charity), (detail), 1892-1908, Ferdinand Emmanuel Pelez de Cordova, called Fernand Pelez
With a great contrast, my second favorite painting was a sweeping drama of the battle scene in Cannae, took place in 216 BC, in southeast Italy. The panorama of melee and destruction showed the horrifying waves of slaughtering hosts and the tangles of lifeless limbs like the stumps of fallen trees. The carefully planned composition showed an utter chaos, with a muted color palette, as if the destruction was too painful to utter or to be heard; and it demonstrated one of the sources of the pain people suffered from in the charity line above.
La Bataille de Cannes (TheBattle of Cannae), 1863, François-Nicolas Chifflart
When I visited Paris for the first time in 2000, Musée de l'Orangerie was closed for renovation, therefore I missed the chance to see the large assemble of Claude Monet's Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies). Eight years later, when I returned, I was delighted to bask in the glory in those two oval-shaped rooms, especially built to showcase this "series" Musée de l'Orangerie collected.
According to Wikipedia, "Water Lilies (or Nymphéas) is a series of approximately 250 oil paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840–1926). The paintings depict Monet's flower garden at Giverny and were the main focus of Monet's artistic production during the last thirty years of his life. Many of the works were painted while Monet suffered from cataracts."
"The paintings are on display at museums all over the world, including the Musée Marmottan Monet and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, etc. During the 1920s, the state of France built a pair of oval rooms at the Musée de l'Orangerie as a permanent home for eight water lily murals by Monet. The exhibit opened to the public on 16 May 1927, a few months after Monet's death. Sixty water lily paintings from around the world were assembled for a special exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie in 1999."
To see those glorious canvases in those two large oval rooms were an incredible experience - one felt the light danced around the room, the scent permeated in the air, the dark water absorbed all the toils and worries in the world, and gave back calm and comfort.
The mastery of Monet was astonishing - he didn't just created an atmosphere or brandishing his virtuosity - he created a world breathed and signed, full of life. His brushstrokes were broad and sure, though highly suggestive, with the aid of viewers' eyes, all the details were present and palpable. I felt that I was indeed immersed in the whispering pond.
Les Nymphéas, Claude Monet, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
There were many other works collected by the museum, besides the Les Nymphéas. I particularly loved a small piece by Maurice Utrillo, La Maison de Berlioz, which depicted a lone and lonely white-washed house, with deceptively plain surface which was actually full of textural details, amidst sparsely leaved young trees. Very simple yet enchantingly if one could bear the intense melancholic undertone.
2012 was a very difficult year for me, full of tragedy and sadness and my art make sometimes had to be pushed back and I was only manage to finish small canvasses - several larger, more ambitious one took much more patience and stamina than I was able to muster last year.
My day trip to Antwerp, after the Cathedral of Our Lady, where we saw amazing Rubens panels, included Rubens' House and the grandc (Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts), which boasted some masterpiece paintings of several centuries.
My favorite painting in this museum was a fifteen century painting, Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim, a stylish, otherworldly, actually very strange presentation of the Virgin, the Child and some strangely devilish red Seraphim, juxtaposed with equally sinister deep ultramarine blue Cherubim. All the figures were highly stylized and looked like plastic dolls, almost ghoulish; yet with very precise and delicate lines, Maria and Jesus, with their perfectly rounded head and her breasts, one of which exposed, were ultimately quite subtly ravishing, pale, pensive, accepting, frail yet steely, Their tone of pearl gray, brilliantly set off against the elements meant to be supportive and comforting but here not without an under current of menace. Utterly unforgettable.
Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim Jean Fouquet
1452, oil on panel, 94.5 x 85.5 x 1.2 cm
My second favorite painting there was another strange piece - this time it was the situation but not the presentation - Venus Frigida by Peter Paul Rubens, whose figures were just his usual Rubenesque, confident and glowing, even in distress.
Venus Frigida (Frozen Venus) Peter Paul Rubens 1614, oil on panel, 145.1 x 185.6 x 38 cm
Here, the love goddess Venus and her son Cupid, stripped of their protections, shivered in the cold, with their naked bodies exposed to the cruel element. Her back to the viewer, showing us her rather muscular physic and he hovering underneath her gauzy veil, shrank to a cute ball, on top of her discarded arrows. It was a funny situation and I wanted to laugh out loud ticked by the sight of the suffering Cupid, cuter than usual, but her accusing eyes stopped me from being insensitive. Even a goddess with a muscular back, she was suffering and it called for compassion. A satyr approached them, with his cornucopia filled with delicacies. Perhaps, as a follower of Bacchus, he was trying to reignite the fire of life in the them; or he was about to take advantage of the vulnerable two. Venus's turned away head might be a rebuke to his advancement. His dark and untidy appearance dramatically contrasted to the refined shapes of Cupid and Venus, adding spices to the drama, so did the stormy dark landscape to the left and the bare tree trunks to the right.
We had only a day trip to Antwerp, whose art scene was dominated by the great Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. In one of several stops, the Cathedral of Our Lady (De Kathedraal), we saw several of his great panels. Most ambitiously conceived and marvelously executed were two triptychs, which were my favorites in this great house of worship and temple of art.
Both triptychs depicted the crucial moment of Jesus's life cycle - The Elevation of the Cross (1610) and The Descent from the Cross (1612-1614) - moment before and after his death - the subject matters hardly need explain.
The Elevation of the Cross (1610)
The Descent (Deposition) from the Cross (1612-1614), Visitation (Left), Presentation (Right)
The most impressive aspect of these panels was the dynamism of the central panels. Everything, everyone was animated, on the move, actively engaged in a vivid, moving drama. It seemed that subtracting any muscle would have caused the collapse of the whole mass of people and object centering on the passive and immobile Jesus. There were large swaths of colors surrounding the parlor of Jesus. Another wonderful contrast of the artistic decision. Rubens' figures were fully modeled and differentiated and characterized. One felt that one could tell who they were and what they had done and what they were to become.
There were some continuity between these two triptychs - both Jesus or Jesus and his throe cut across the enormous panels diagonally, adding the sense of dynamism. Unsettled. Dangerous. The side panels of "Elevation" were the continuation of the central panel, sad and moving, while the side panels of "Descent", both calm and happy, described before and after Jesus's birth - the Visitation and the Presentation, adding poignancy to his agonizing death.
As a renown colorist, Rubens gave us a combustion of varied yet subtly harmonized colors. The achievement of his through these two triptychs alone were monumental.
Bruges, Belgium, so-called Bruges-la-Morte, according to the novelist Georges Rodenbach, in reality was nothing but dead, particularly during its commercial height several hundreds years ago, when it was one of the most vibrant and presperous cities in the world. It was during those golden years, Bruges acquired one of its most valuable treasures - a marble statue of Virgin and the Child by no other than Michelangelo, a centerpiece of the great cathedral of the city - Church of Our Lady, or Onthaalkerk Onze Lieve Vrouw Brugge, which became my favorite artwork from that cathedral during my visit in 2006.
This statue was brought back to to Bruges by its merchant during Michelangelo's life time - the only one left Italy had such distinction. It was bought by Giovanni and Alessandro Moscheroni (Mouscron), from a family of wealthy cloth merchants in Bruges, for the price of 4,000 florin. This piece, belonged to the subtle and/or subdued sculptures by Michelangelo, such as Pieta, David, versus others more energetically charged with tension, such as the Bound Slaves. This Madonna was becalming, soothing and comforting, despite the sad fate awaiting on the mother and son. The child, larger than normal, was thoughtful, vulnerable yet composed and even confident, seemingly only dependent out of courtesy to his mother. Maria was serene and without much facial expression. Nothing was stirred, no one was surprised. There was a great simplicity to this marvelously modeled statue which was also deceptively simple looking. Even the sea shell canopy was very subdued and humble, rendered the throne rather homey. The mother and son were so softly sculpted and so real that one expected them to stretch and moved about from their time-imposed, several hundred years' immobility.
Madonna by Michelangelo Source: ArtMechanic via Wikipedia
My second favorite work there was a triptych by an unknown artist, in the late-medieval fashion, with golden plate halos and golden border decorations, and in the style of Flemish Primitives, with the typical Flemish rural landscape and rigid or ornate figures in impossible contortions. The most striking aspect of these panels were the rich colors the artist(s) employed. Vivid, rich, sparkling and harmonious. Old fashioned, in a most lovely and assertive way. Unforgettable.
The St Johns Hospital in Bruges, Belgium (Sint-Janhospitaal, Memlingmuseum, Brugge), hosted the The Memling Museum, where six paintings by the 15th century painter Hans Memling can be seen. The oldest known document with rules for the hospital dates from 1188 and the oldest part of the building (ward) below dated back to 13th century.
Hans Memling (also spelled Memlinc; c. 1430 - 11 August 1494) was born as Jan van Mimnelinghe in Seiligenstadt (located on the river Maine in Germany) and became a citizen of Bruges in 1465. He moved to Flanders and worked in the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting. From the 1460s until the end of his life he became one of the leading artists, painting both portraits and several large religious works, continuing the style he learned in his youth from his masters such as Rogier van der Weyden. Memling lived for a long time in the St. Johns hospital and died there.
Of the works collected by the Memling Museum, I like the below portrait, Portrait of a Young Woman (Sibylla Sambetha), most. It was a most serene deferential portrait of a pale yet determined young woman, whose confidence and humbleness made a striking impression on me. I loved the ethereal aura of her and the almost translucent presence. Her gossamer hairpiece, her robe of strikingly contrasted black, red and white gave her strength, and the curves of her chin, her necklace echoed and reinforced the while stripe on her rope and bound them together.
Portrait of a Young Woman (Sibylla Sambetha) 1480 Oil on panel; 38 x 26.5 cm (without frame), 46.5 x 35.2 cm (with frame) Bruges, Sint-Janhospitaal, Memlingmuseum
The second favorite piece of mine there was a wooden shine, the Shrine of St. Ursula, a carved and gilded wooden shrine containing pictorial oil on panel inserts (87x33x91 cm) by Memling, dating to circa 1489.
St. Ursula's story was one of the craziest and my favorite from the Catholic canons. Ursula, a princess from Brittany in France, agreed to marry the son of King of England, on one condition, that she would be allowed to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome accompanied by 11,000 virgins. The troops passed by the city of Basel and the Alps until reaching Rome, where they were received by Pope Cyriacus. On the way back, they were stopped in Cologne by the Huns and killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.
The shrine had three painted tondoes on each side, depicting, on one side, the First Eleven Virgins with the Pope, a Cardinal, a Bishop and Etherius (characters of the saint's legend); on the other side, theCoronation of the Virgin with the Holy Trinity. The two "façades" contain the representations of the Virgin and Child between Two Nuns (the two donors, including the abbess), and St. Ursula Protecting the Holy Virgins. Both the scenes are embedded within a painted niche which simulates a perspective interior of the shrine. At the sides, under two small arcades, are six scenes of the life and martyrdom of St. Ursula, which resemble the style of the stained glasses in contemporary churches. They include:
Arrival in Cologne
Arrival in Basel
Arrival in Rome
Leaving from Basel
Martyrdom of the Pilgrims
Martyrdom of St. Ursula
These paintings, done in the typical Flemish style, though small, were full of wonderful details and bound together with same pictorial background of northern German cities (such as Cologne, with the unfinished Cathedral). The multitudes of the people were painted with great care - all the postures, expressions and emotions were done with purpose and the modeling of the body, though slender, was done with sure hands and the coloration was both consistent and varied, and absolutely enchanting. The story was a gory one but the paintings were done in a serene and comforting style, very comforting, if this sad story could ever be.
Bruges, Belgium was glittering jewel since medieval time and though its commercial activities has largely subsided, its glories can be seen from every corner of its old city, particularly in its rich museums. The most important museum in Bruges is Groeninge Museum, which boasts some very fine examples of Flemish Primitive paintings, such as those by Jan van Eyck, which present in Bruges was like that of Botticelli in Florence, Italy.
To modern eyes, the elaborately wrought paints by Van Eyck could be too much a good thing - all those endless draperies, mind-boggling intricate patterns and infinite details vying with one another for attention. Yet, it was an idiom what rendered Van Eyck's oeuvres so remarkable. His paintings were sumptuous, but these details enhanced, instead of dwarfing the stories and characters. His paintings were far more than just pageantry. Rather, he used the rich background as auxiliary means to tell stories, to add meanings and layers, and more importantly, to add significance and status to his saints and donors, etc. These details were exhaustive but not exhausting. Together, they formed a very specific and special time and space, somewhat fantastic but really idealized. Van Eyck's colors were simply glorious and one could not praise it highly enough. His figures might a tad stiff or mannered, but just as those by Botticelli, they didn't mean to be naturalistic. They were stylized and became immortal in their fixed postures.
I chose the painting below, The Madonna with Canon van der Paele, as one of my very favorite paintings from the Groeninge Museum, Bruges.
For my second favorite from that museum, I chose a copy after Rogier van der Weyden, another giant of the region in 15-16th century.
Copy after Rogier van der Weyden, Saint Luke drawing the Madonna, ca. 1491-1510 Source: Aiwaz.nethttp://www.aiwaz.net/
This painting, a copy after Rogier van der Weyden, showed Saint Luke, the patron saint of artists, drawing portrait of Mary breast feeding Jesus. The most striking aspect of this group portrait was the calmness of Mary, under close scrutiny, in a rather intimate and private moment, and the obvious pride and joy on her face, and the intensity on the keenly observant face of Saint Luke. He obviously took his task seriously and he knew that he was recording a supremely important event for posterity. To emphasis the status of Mary, Van der Weyden sat her under a brocade canopy, amidst a rather bourgeois interior.
Adding some visual interests were two persons in mid-distance, in typical Flemish dress, surveying a typical Flemish town, tranquil, imperturbable, sharing the same luminosity of the painting itself, a wonderful achievement of Van der Weyden and his copier.
According to Flemish Primitives, "the presentation is based on a legend from the 6th Century, in which it is said that Luke paints the portrait of Mary. For this reason, Saint Luke is the guardian saint of painters, and the guilds in which painters united were often named after him. This story is then also a cherished theme as altarpiece for the chapel of the Saint Luke's guild. The painting from which this Bruges work is a copy, is painted by Rogier van der Weyden before 1440. He probably makes it for the chapel of the Brussels Saint Luke's guild, of which he is a member. The original is preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In addition to the Bruges work, there are also two true copies known that are kept in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich and in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The Bruges painting is the best in terms of quality of these copies and was probably painted around 1500."