|"Factories at Clichy" by Vincent Van Gogh|
I have an amazing capacity to miss things: the big game, the hot concert, the hit TV series, the latest best-seller. General acclaim is off-putting to me — I avoided the Harry Potter books for years because I assumed anything that popular had to be crap.
My Achilles heel is museums. If I go to a city, I want to visit the local museum, to see what they've got. There isn't much in Dallas after you've clapped eyes on Dealey Plaza, but if you slide by to convenient Fort Worth, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art does have Grant Wood’s wry masterpiece, "Parson Weems' Fable," and that's enough to make a trip to Dallas worthwhile, almost.
Museum shows are even more compelling — unprecedented in-gatherings of great works from all over the world. You miss one, and it's never coming back. You can motivate yourself to go see a famous work that has taken up brief residence at the corner of Adams and Michigan. Or you can haul your ass to the Hermitage.
Though I don't rush to be among the first. I've done that. I think it was opening day of the Monet show, years ago. The advertising had been particularly aggressive, and everybody else in Chicago had the same idea. I said to Edie, "This is like trying to look at art in a crowded 'L' car."
And I don't come at the very end, because that too, is crowded with stragglers. (Though I do remember arriving 90 minutes before closing of a Georgia O'Keeffe show, flashing my press card and blowing in).
So I wanted to see the Dali Show before it closed. Even though I don't particularly like Dali. Why? The paintings are small, distorted, dark, weird. His showman's aspect. His paintings are circuses in oils. His whole personality. The waxed mustache. The affectations. The way Dali let himself be taken advantage of at the end, signing stacks of blank paper. All art is fraud, but Dali overdoes it.
But you never know. Sometimes the comprehensive museum show of a particular artist will win you over. I didn't think much of Andy Warhol, either, until he got the full Art Institute treatment. You had to be impressed with the skill, the creativity, he shifted from an ad illustrator drawing shoes to the darling of the creative world. This was Dali's first major exhibition at the Art Institute.
Plus my wife really wanted to go. She had seen an early 1925 Dali portrait of a woman turned away from the viewer, when we were in Barcelona at the Reina Sofia, and it struck her.
The optical illusions were not without charm, though his phallic tower seemed more juvenile than transgressive. Fame and art are generally at odds, and there he was, part of the 1939 New York World's Fair and on the cover of time. He's more in the realm of Peter Max of artists famous for being famous more than famous for being good. Though I invite readers who disagree to make their case.
I am not, as a rule, a big landscape fan — I like people in my art — but this focused on the tortured Dutch painter and his circle of younger artist friends lighting out for the suburbs to find their muse — as a suburbanite myself, I enjoyed the narrative that Van Gogh had to escape the narrow confines of Paris and find his true artistic self in the suburbs an hour away.
|"The Seine at Saint-Ouen, Morning," Charles Angrand|
It groups five artists — not just Van Gogh, but Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Emile Bernard, and Charles Angrand, who painted together, argued, inspired and disgusted each other between the years 1882 and 1890 during the three months he painted at Asnieres, Clichy and the Island of La Grande Jatte. One was Charles Angrand, and I admired a painting of the Seine that was mostly green and blue dappled water.
Indeed, I found myself appreciating the words of the lesser-known artists even more than Van Gogh, who could include these stiff little figures in his landscapes, and had not yet entered into the blazing glory of his final phase.
The show not only discusses the artists and their work, but the societal changes going on at that exact moment, as greenery gives way to train stations, bridge embankments, and the factories that Van Gogh captures so charmingly above.
If the "Grand Jatte" above sparked an association, you've seen the Georges Seurat masterpiece "A Sunday on the Isle of Grande Jatte." He was among the group of painters working in the Paris suburbs — the first to fix on the bucolic retreat in the Seine between Neuilly-sur-Seine and Levallois.
He did hundreds of sketches and preliminary studies for the enormous canvas, a number included in this show, and one of the takeaways for me was just how much trial and effort it took for him to get the composition right, arranging and rearranging the trees, playing with the angles of their limbs, experimenting with various groupings and individuals.
Some of the quick studies were themselves engaging works of art, such as trying to get the exact angle of a woman turned away from the viewer in this Conte crayon sketch, and it's only now that I realize it's something of a mirror image of the Dali work at the top of this short summation that captivated my wife. Birds of a feather. We spent a lot of time reading the commentary of the show. Van Gogh died at 37, but Seurat was even younger, 31, when he succumbed to an infection. If "Grande Jatte" weren't singular enough on its own, it's the only major painting he created, along with "Bathers at Asnieres."
On that note, it's probably best for me to start my day and let you go about yours. My apologies for this awkward veer into art criticism — a reader in the comments section yesterday asked for it, and I figured, it's as good a theme as any.
The Dali Show only runs until June 12, so you'll have to get a move on if you want to see it. The landscapes exhibit — Van Gogh's name is in the title, but only 25 of the 75 works on display are his, opened mid-May, and will run all summer, until Sept. 4. Many of the works are from private or obscure collections, have never been publicly displayed before and might never been seen again. Now's your chance.