Thursday, January 15, 2009

Georges who?

Office hours seems as good a time to blog as any (since I've finished my AMS abstract and reread the notable passages in Audiotopia, but still feel uncompelled to do real dissertation work). Pair that with a gray, snowy, freeze-your-face off day, the Brahms second piano concerto, leftover spiced pumpkin squares, and wireless, and there's little reason to leave anyway.

Continuing my look back at 2008, the highlight of the art museums was Europe. I'm sad I don't get to much here. I went gallery hopping in KC over the summer, I went to the National Portrait Gallery and Hirschorn museums in DC, and the Met in NYC, but there's little that has stuck with me.

Europe is a feast of architecture, certainly, and I thrive off that. My favorite stop, The Museum of Transport in London, kept me enthralled for hours with tales of early trains, angry letters about subway discomfort, failed plans, old advertisements and maps, and models to play with. The two Tates and the Art History museum in Vienna were packed with masterworks, and the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin had a Joseph Bueys exhibition, the sort that seriously turn me off (best example: a video of a man slicing sausage while a TV covered in felt plays. Yeah, okay, moving on), though some of it was sort of beautiful in its rusty bleakness but doesn't really sustain a full exhibition.

But my favorite was a small retrospective of Georges Braque. A colleague/competitor with Picasso, Braque helped to create cubism. His canvasses are a bit more orderly, there's a holdover from his pointillist days in the small designs he favored drawing. But whereas Picasso remains a fixture of art history, Braque disappears, despite the fact he painted through the 1960s. And you begin to see why. Picasso kept reinventing himself. Braque continued to work in a cubist mode, creating these paintings that looked like collages, with off angles, and an appealing pallette of colors that looked like once-bright-now-faded, olives, deep yellows, dusty peaches. It reminded me somewhat of another George, that from Act II of Sunday in the Park, the way the paintings seemed to rearrange ideas over and over again, but never really coming up with something new. And then, at the end of his career, two paintings. One a simple drawing of two birds, white and black, on pink and yellow, the other a pointillist drawing of an empty beach. Out of nowhere, a new direction, and a reminiscence of the old. And that's the end. It's the sort of fascinating one-man show, tracing a once-great artist's descent into mediocrity, and yet rescuing him somehow from obscurity. There is a haunting beauty to the elaborate collage-like paintings, an elegaic quality to the seemingly bright colors, and the feeling of familiarity that accumulates after all those canvases. Rarely does a retrospective feel that insightful or necessary.

I hope in 2009 to see more art, to hit my favorite museums, and to see at least a couple shows, works, galleries, or something that I hadn't seen. And to learn something new from those I know.


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