Archive for the ‘Painting’ Category

The Met’s Tinterow on Picasso

October 1st, 2010

Recently at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC was an exhibition of hundreds of works by Picasso from the museum’s permanent collection. Curator Gary Tinterow talks with Charlie Rose in a revealing, warm, and varied discussion of Picasso, the Met’s checkered history toward the artist, and the discoveries they made while putting together the exhibition. It’s quite long (it is an episode of Charlie Rose, after all) but you’ll be rewarded with a candid history and an in depth look at several of the more significant works from the show, such as Seated Harlequin from 1901.

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Pablo Picasso Was Never Called an Asshole

May 27th, 2010

Recently, the Picasso painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (seen behind the man himself in the photo above) sold for a record auction price of $106.5 million. The public outcry over this hefty transaction has been raucous. This is not an unpredictable public response to an anonymous rich dude dropping 100 mill on a picture of a naked lady, but the sale – and the mystery buyer – have been getting crap from every direction. That the painting may be a bit thin in canonical importance or artistic influence has critics balking. The questionably violent depiction of a nude, supine young mistress – being either caressed or decapitated by ominous shadows — has opinionistas up in arms. The worldwide economic downturn nevertheless bearing witness to such a public show of disposable wealth has “normal folk” aghast with either disgust or envy (perhaps a little bit of both?).

In light of this outpouring of negativity, let’s take a look at some of the other Picasso works that have made their way onto the list of the top one hundred most expensive paintings of all time. Is the painting really that atypical? Does it hold the same mystical allure?

One of the most striking things about this list of price busting paintings is how many Picassos there are on it. The man represents with 10 paintings — the most of any artist (second and third place, respectively, go to Van Gogh with 7 and Warhol with 3). Another striking thing is that almost all of these paintings were made in the last 150 years, with the bulk being from the 20th century. This type of collector confidence in Modern art – and particularly in Picasso himself – is the prime reason people are willing to pay so much money to have a good Picasso in their collection. Owning a work by the artist has become practically a requirement in keeping up with the Geffens.

The list below depicts the top five of these paintings starting from the most expensive (in 2010 dollars, to make their relative purchase cost more apparent).

Garçon à la Pipe – $119.9M

This painting, which sold for $104.2M in 2004, is an early Picasso. It was painted over the course of a couple months in 1905 when he was in his rose period. The model is some kid from the neighborhood that used to hang around the studio. The work is another that is considered pleasant but of minor importance. This painting, too, was bought at auction by a mysterious bidder (rumored to be Russian).

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust – $106.5M

This painting, which sold for $106.5M just a few weeks ago, depicts a 23-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, the mistress of a then 51-year-old Picasso. When this painting was made in 1932, the two were already six years into their illicit relationship. In another few years, Marie would give birth to Picasso’s daughter (boldly named María de la Concepción). The pregnancy would shine light on Picasso’s infidelities, causing his wife Olga (a ballerina) to leave him. To say that there is some drama behind the scenes in this painting is an understatement.

This sizable (64″ x 51″) painting was made in a single day, and Picasso really went for it on this one. He threw some Cezanne in there, some Classical bust action, some Matisse-ish plants, a lurking Picasso behind the curtain. All this in service to a the pink blobby Marie laying naked in the foreground, cradled ominously by shadows.

Dora Maar au Chat – $102.3M

This painting, which sold for $95.2M in 2006 to an anonymous Russian bidder, is another that depicts one of Picasso’s lovers – in this case, the 34-year-old photographer/poet Dora Maar. Picasso was 60 by the time he made this in 1941, but that didn’t stop him from seeing both Maar and the above-mentioned Marie-Thérèse Walter after divorcing his wife (you got that?). Maar sounds like kind of an intense woman. She suffered from sterility, cut herself, and was really into art, politics and intellectualism. This painting reflects a lot of that intensity and complexity with its multiple fractured planes, bold colors and patterns, and, of course, a little black kitty.

Les Noces de Pierrette – $85.3M

This painting, which sold for $49.3M in 1989 was created in 1905 during Picasso’s blue period (so named because of the blue colors often used in paintings from this time, and also because Picasso was depressed following the suicide of one of his friends). Paintings from this period, such as the famously torn work The Actor, are generally considered the most valuable, beautiful, and recognizable of all Picasso’s works.

After changing hands many times – from Picasso’s friend to Picasso’s son, from a Swiss banker to the French government – it was finally purchased for the aforementioned huge pile of cash by a Japanese real-estate developer. After his company went south, he was forced to give the painting as debt collateral to a construction company who then had to give it to a loan company. Currently, it rests unseen and unenjoyed – crated up in a bank vault somewhere in Japan. Unfortunately, a bunch of paintings have disappeared this way when Japan’s economy tanked in the 90′s. Mwah mwah….

Self Portrait: Yo Picas-so – $84.1M

This painting, which sold for $47.85M in 1989, is a blue-period self portrait made in 1901. It was purchased by the president of a hospital management company – someone who probably wouldn’t want to be flaunting his millions these days. It doesn’t seem like a particularly revealing portrait, but I like that it looks like he fell against his palette, staining his cravat orange. Not a bad look for a passionate artist. For a guy that painted so many self portraits, and included himself in so many paintings, it makes sense that one of them would have made this list. In my opinion, though, I like the ones where he appears as a minotaur better.


So the myth of Picasso endures, seemingly growing larger and larger as time passes – making his work all the more coveted. Even if a particular work isn’t his best or his most interesting – everyone wants a piece of the man. I think Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers put it best…

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Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, and my Calathea Lancifolia

April 8th, 2010

My girlfriend bought me this plant, a striking Calathea Lancifolia, from the Volunteer Park Conservatory here in Seattle. If you live in Seattle and haven’t been, the Conservatory is a classic paradise well worth an hour of your afternoon. They have a few of these little guys integrated into their tropical exhibit, and it is perhaps my favorite species in a room filled to the brim with incredibly beautiful and curious flora.

Why do I like this little plant so much? Several reasons should be fairly obvious from the photos above. Besides the fact that it is simply a visually stunning plant — with contrasting green variegation, a gradient green, gently waved edge, and a bold purple underside — my favorite aspect is how the markings on the top of the leaf appear as if the silhouette of a different sort of plant has been imprinted over top. It makes me think of a plant wearing a plant suit, which amuses my easy-to-amuse mind to no end.

Speaking of plant-within-a-plant, the notion of self-reflexivity is also at the heart of this particular fancy. Within the realm of the arts, the aspect of High Modernism that I always respected was how closely form and philosophy are married. If you were in art grad school in the 60′s, you probably would have been evangelized to the notion that a piece of artwork is most true to itself — most correct — when all of its visual, objective qualities reflect both the reason for and action of its creation. This notion began with abstract artists like Josef Albers (below left) who was interested in light and color and whose painted forms echoed the shape of the canvas they were painted on. This idea reached it’s apex with artists like Jackson Pollock and Frank Stella (below right). Stella made works where each mark was the width of the brush he painted it with, and whose canvases where sized to efficiently house the number of marks needed to complete the composition. Pollock’s work looks crazier, but his dynamic sloshing of paint is just as much an overt index of the painting process. They are very simply paintings about the act of making a painting.

So, while it might be tempting to see Calathea Lancifolia as a particularly Modernist plant because of the way that its appearance echoes its meta reality as a plant, it turns out that there something hindering this interpretation. There is an alternate way of spinning the appearance of plant-like markings on Calathea Lancifolia’s foliage. They can be seen not as a self reflection, but instead as a mask. While there is a certain self-consciousness — a redundancy of selves — to the wearing of a mask, any deeper reality must acknowledge the falseness of a second face. Once the train of thought turns towards the issue of costume, we enter into the realm of the Post-Modernists.

Starting with Marcel Duchamp, whose Rrose Selavy and Monte Carlo Bond characters set his reputation as the early father of Post-Modernism, and finding it’s full concentration within the work of Cindy Sherman (above), using disguise became a means of subverting the rules and exposing the artifice of Modernist ideals. It’s fun to think of Sherman as the anti-Stella, as her work exposed photography not as a reflector of any sort of truth, but as an agent for boundless uncertainty.

So, at the the end of the day, I think that within my little Calathea Lancifolia, I get both a modernist masterpiece and a post-modernist schizophrenic. Either that, or its just a really cool looking plant. Only time will tell how this little plant is to positioned by art historians within the hallowed canon of fine art.

(plant photos courtesy of Sara Lawrence at Soft Dimension, Albers and Stella images courtesy the unexpectedly excellent Saint Louis Art Museum, and Cindy Sherman images courtesy the Internets)

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Monochromatic shoes

December 17th, 2009


My new shoes are uniformly this one bright blue color; The color of painter’s masking tape. Putting on these bad boys makes me feel okay about my style even when everything else I’m wearing is black and grey.

Maybe you should try bright shoes this winter.

For inspiration, here’s some Matisse, Yves Klein/Ellsworth Kelly, and Rothko kicks as delivered by ALife+Reebok, Kitsune x Pierre Hardy, and Sneaky Steve. Any one of these would make me smile.


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Graffiti and Vermeer

December 2nd, 2009

I love the pictoral vibrancy of some these contest entries on the Photoshop project site The assignment was to ”improve” Classical art with spraypaint. Sometimes this type of synthesis can totally seem like the doorway to a valid new aesthetic language. Now that I think about it, the mashup of Classical era drafting proficiency and editorialism with the contemporary graffiti culture might be what has propelled Banksy to such popular heights (well, that and his wit).

This update of Eugene de Blaas’ Flirtation at the Well is one of my favorites from the contest. The spraypaint compliments the swagger, and vice versa:

graffiti painting

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