Category Archives: Painting

“Diego Rivera’s America” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Diego Rivera, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Irene Rich (1941), oil on canvas, 24 x 17″; courtesy Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA), Northampton, MA
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The passage of time can be a merciless arbiter of reputation. Fashions evolve, sometimes double-back, and often peter out altogether. This is as true for art as it is for haute couture. Live long enough, and you’ll see how quickly The Next Big Thing turns into tomorrow’s Never Was, how this morning’s outrage de-evolves into this evening’s commonplace. All of which is worth taking into account when considering the fortunes of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera (1886-1957). 

Dial back the clock fifty- to seventy-years ago, and you’d discover that even the most cursory student of art would have recognized Rivera’s name. He was a star, a hard-charging bigger-than-life talent whose work was sought after by Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and other captains of industry. A luminary amongst luminaries, Rivera counted among his friends Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Fernand Leger and Chaim Soutine, and served as a link between the avant-garde and the Americas. He was passionate about politics, forever siding with the proletariado at the expense of any coherent social philosophy. And his ego! Forget fools: Rivera suffered no one gladly. His squabbles with all and sundry–the Soviet Union no less than the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, an organization predicated on a woolly brand of occultism–were the stuff of legend. Rivera played life to the hilt. The world paid attention.

But that was then, and this is 2022. Though Rivera isn’t unknown to contemporary audiences, his personality and accomplishments have been overshadowed by those of his wife, Frida Kahlo. Like Rivera, Kahlo was no stranger to celebrity culture, having famously posed for a 1937 photo-spread in Vogue. Still, no one could have predicted the extent of Kahlo’s fame almost seventy years after her death. Movies, books, exhibitions, umbrellas, restaurants, coffee cups and plush-dolls–how hasn’t that legendary unibrow been marketed? The beneficiary of historical revisionism and globalist outreach, Kahlo has become a ubiquitous and, for some, empowering figure–so much so, that not a few wags nowadays refer to Rivera as “Mr. Frida Kahlo.”

Diego Rivera’s America, a traveling exhibition organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is unlikely to stem the tide of Frida-mania. Still, it should do much to re-confirm Rivera’s place in the cultural firmament. Guest curator James Oles, a professor of art history at Wellesley College and a specialist in Latin American Art, has set a scholarly eye on Rivera’s “utopian belief in the power of art.” The exhibition focuses on a 25-year period of Rivera’s output spanning, roughly, from the 1920s through the ’40s.  Not coincidentally, this time-frame captures Rivera at the height of his powers. It was during this phase, Oles writes, that the artist “reimagined Mexican national identity on a vast scale, embraced the industrial age in the United States, and conceived of a greater America in which unity, rather than division was paramount.” 

Diego Rivera, The Flower Carrier (1935), oil and tempera on masonite, 48 x 47-3/4″; courtesy the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
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Oles has a significant collection to cull from: SFMOMA boasts among the world’s largest holdings of Rivera’s art. Along with loans from private institutions and public collections, America includes more than 150 pieces in a variety of media. Art historical staples like The Flower Carrier (1935) and Self-Portrait (1941) will be seen in conjunction with a host of preparatory studies, a smattering of documentary objects, and canvases that have rarely been on public display. 

Context is provided by the inclusion of work by Rivera’s peers, including photographs by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, and paintings by, yes, Frida Kahlo. Three galleries are devoted to video projections of murals done in Mexico and the United States. SFMOMA is touting America as the largest Rivera retrospective in over twenty years. Oles does the museum one better, claiming that the oeuvre hasn’t been as fully accounted for since 1949, the year Rivera was feted with a retrospective at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Whatever the case, the point is clear: America is a big deal.

The artist christened Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez was born in Guanajuato City, a municipality located in Central Mexico. His parents were affluent; his twin brother, dead at age two. Rivera showed artistic promise as a toddler, scrawling upon the walls of the family home. As it turned out, he was something of a prodigy: Rivera was accepted to the prestigious Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City at age 10. He worked with Santiago Rubill, a former student of Ingres, and, one feels, a decisive influence. Rivera’s skills garnered notice: the governor of Veracruz sponsored a European sojourn for the young artist to further his education.

It was during his stays in Spain and, especially, France that Rivera was transformed every which way. How could he not be? Paris, especially, was a hothouse of creative–indeed, revolutionary–fervor. Rivera absorbed the lessons of early Modernism with an enthusiasm that was nothing short of rapacious. He explored a variety of approaches, Post-Impressionism and Cubism in particular, and proved a deft hand at all of them. José Vasconcelos, Mexico’s newly installed Minister of Education, managed to woo Rivera back home, eager to have him take part in an ambitious new program for public painting. It is at this point in Rivera’s life that America begins the accounting of one artist’s attempt to (pace the catalogue) “radically transform the world.” 

Back home, Rivera immersed himself in indigenous cultures, reveling in the people and paying homage to their traditions. In the sections of America titled “South to Tehuantepec” and “Daily Life”, we see Rivera depicting ordinary folk and everyday rituals all the while keying into a distinctly local range of colors. His palette took on a cast indicative of the surrounding landscape and climate. Dance in Tehuantepec and Tehuana (Aurea Procel) (both 1928) are suffused with ripe variations on orange and red, as well as exhibiting a fidelity to native costumery of forbidding complexity. Works like Pneumatic Drill (1931) and Hombre Fumando (1937) evince an eye as attuned to the documentary as it was prone to the exaggerations of caricature. Mexico’s people, Rivera intimates, are of the earth and, as such, immovable.

Rivera’s approach to form became increasingly concrete and weighted. The human figure was subjected to stylizations that hinted at Cubist precedent, but seem more inspired by the totemic effigies of Pre-Columbian cultures and artifacts from prehistory. The woman and child seen solemnly making their daily bread in La Tortillera (1926) are rendered with an uncanny sculptural fortitude. 

Diego Rivera, La Bordadora (1928), oil on canvas, 31-1/4 x 39″; courtesy The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
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La bordadora (The Embroiderer) (1928)–a canvas as iconic in character, if not renown, as The Flower Carrier–is freighted by an almost Giottoesque stolidity, its two women having been wedged within the canvas to emphasize their mass. Monumentality had its symbolic functions: Woman with Calla Lilies (1945), with its mountainous effulgence of flowers, confirms the primacy of the natural world as well as our modest place in it.

Notwithstanding the circumscribed focus of the exhibition, America is wide-ranging in how it touches upon Rivera’s interests and accomplishments. His gifts as a draftsman are in abundant evidence, no more so than in Study for Germination [Tina Modotti] (1926), as nuanced an essay in sensuality as one could hope for. And although Rivera forever thumped the drum of social justice, he wasn’t without a sense of humor. Among the delights–and surprises!–of America is a suite of graphite and watercolor costume designs made for H.P. (Horsepower) (circa 1927-32), a ballet and symphony organized by the musician Carlos Chávez. With their unlikely amalgams of flora and fauna, Rivera divulges a Surrealist bent and a welcome air of whimsy. 

Rivera’s murals, by definition, are less amenable to travel, but a number of working drawings are on display–including a pair of gouache and graphite pieces featuring colorful and compartmentalized designs for the Paramount Theater. And towards the end of the exhibition, you’ll find Self-Portrait, in which the artist, surrounded by a field of luminous yellow, holds a note written in Spanish to the woman who commissioned the painting, actress Irene Rich. Clearly, Rivera’s political leanings didn’t override his communing with the rich and famous. Indeed, anyone familiar with Rivera the man knows that he was far too contradictory a creature to serve as a coherent role model for contemporary activists. But the artist? As Diego Rivera’s America makes plain, he’s a figure worth tussling with–the vagaries of reputation be damned.

(c) 2022 Mario Naves

This article was originally published in the July 2022 edition of Art & Antiques.

“Philip Guston Now” @ The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Philip Guston with The Studio in 1969; photo by Frank Lloyd
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The painter Philip Guston (1913-80) likened the creative act to attending a party. “When you’re in the studio painting, there are a lot of people there with you–your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics . . . one by one if you’re really painting, they walk out. And if you’re really painting YOU walk out.” “Philip Guston Now,” a retrospective on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, could be seen as the reverse. Guston hasn’t left the party; he was disinvited.

The exhibition has recently opened after an eleven-month postponement. The organizing institutions–the Boston MFA, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., London’s Tate Modern and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas–put a hold on the July 2021 opening date in response to events surrounding the death of George Floyd. “We are postponing the exhibition,” the organizers stated last fall, “until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted.”

This announcement met with significant pushback among artists and collectors. An open letter sponsored by The Brooklyn Rail garnered over 2,600 signatures–among the signatories contesting the exhibition’s delay were the choreographer Bill T. Jones, performance artist Laurie Anderson, and Agnes Gund, President Emerita and Life Trustee of the Museum of Modern Art. It’s likely the letter helped occasion the rescheduling of a show that had already been rescheduled. From a projected 2024 opening date, “Philip Guston Now” comes to us in 2022 having been framed within the context of “each viewer’s lived experience.”

What might Guston, a dyed-in-the-wool Lefty who cast a mordant eye on culture and politics, have made of this hubbub? He was no stranger to controversy during his lifetime. The young Guston was an ideological animal, a Social Realist who took a keen interest in the work of Mexican muralists like David Alfaro Siqueros and Jose Clemente Orozco. (Guston’s high school friend, Jackson Pollock, was also a fan.) In 1933, Guston’s painting Conspirators went on public exhibition and was subsequently destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan–not coincidentally, the subject of the painting.

Controversy followed Guston to the end of his days. After having established himself as a painter of luxurious abstractions, a body of work that carried him through the 1950’s and early 60’s, Guston returned to his figurative roots. When the resulting paintings were shown at Marlborough Gallery in 1970 visitors were puzzled when they weren’t shocked. What to make of these pictures of the KKK tootling around town in a boxcar sedan, smoking stogies or flagellating themselves with whips? The images were lumpy and cartoonish; the color palette, a garish range of pink, red and black.

Guston was vilified in the press; friends were lost. Only Willem de Kooning, his AbEx compatriot, took the paintings in stride, commending Guston for exemplifying the freedom inherent in the creative process. “Philip Guston Now” includes a section dedicated to the infamous Marlborough show amongst an overall count of seventy-three paintings and twenty-three drawings. A sharp light is being shone on a headstrong talent.

Guston was born in Montreal, Canada, the youngest of seven children. The family had fled Odessa to escape anti-Semitic persecution, later moving to Los Angeles to seek economic opportunity. It wasn’t forthcoming. Guston’s father committed suicide. Ten-year old Philip discovered the body. Philip’s mother encouraged her son’s interest in painting and drawing, and Guston enrolled in L.A.’s Manual Arts High School. He moved to New York in 1935, joined the Works Project Administration, and married the poet Musa McKim. Guston went on to achieve considerable success as first-generation Abstract Expressionist, but found himself increasingly frustrated by “all that purity.” He and Musa moved to Woodstock. Outside the social whirlpool of the New York City art scene, Guston got down to business.

“Philip Guston Now” traces an oeuvre that underwent a fair share of bumps even as it settled out according to its own ineradicable logic. Stylistic shifts that may have appeared capricious during the artist’s life reveal themselves to be organic and of a piece. That is, of course, the benefit of hindsight. The exhibition begins with Mother and Child (c. 1930), a monumental image that is barely contained by its modest format. In it, we see an attempt to reconcile the pittura metafisica of Giorgio de Chirico with the tight-lipped fortitude of Piero della Francesca, one of many Renaissance Masters Guston revered. The same impulse, albeit inflected by contemporary events, can be gleaned from Drawing for Conspirators (1930) a pencil study for the ill-fated painting.

Guston’s compositions became increasingly complicated during the 1940’s. Figures, objects and spaces became tangled, albeit choreographed with a steely attention to interval and edge. Children appear in the canvases, often seen battling on city streets. Guston’s love of vintage comic strips can be gleaned from the elasticity of form seen in Gladiators (1940). Dynamism eventually gave way to atmosphere. The children in If This Be Not I (1945), not-so-distant kin of Gladiators, line up and face the viewer as if awaiting judgment. Stillness reigns.

Guston found himself increasingly drawn to abstraction. The compositional underpinnings of the figurative work gave way to an infirm and cobbled geometry. The Tormentors (1947-48), a smoldering web of ratcheted forms, was a stepping stone from If This Be Not I to the magisterial “Abstract Impressionism” of canvases like Summer (1954) and Dial (1956). Touch took precedence during this phase, though not at the risk of structure. Imagine Monet meeting Mondrian in a post-Hiroshima milieu.

The 1960’s put paid to Guston’s relationship with abstraction. The era’s political and cultural tumult rankled his inner moralist.  “I was feeling split, schizophrenic . . . what kind of man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything—and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue.”  For the first time in decades, Guston started painting objects and figures–or parts of figures, anyway. The compositions were blunt in their rendering, close to cack-handed. The signature Guston brushstroke–tha tenderly inquisitive slur of oil paint–took on a klutzy and comedic temper. Guston had always been a fan of George Herriman, the pioneering comic strip artist who created Krazy Kat. Herriman’s inimitable scratchiness came to the fore in Guston’s use of line. Sensuality was up-ended by agitation.

And then came the figures in hoods, galumphing pyramidal shapes that pick up where The Conspirators left off some thirty years earlier. These are the KKK pictures that gave pause to the organizers of “Philip Guston Now”–as well they should have: images are potent bearers of meaning. Certainly, Guston didn’t choose his cast of characters lightly; placing the KKK amongst them was, in no small terms, a freighted decision. It was also a provocation. Guston was never afraid to play with fire or, for that matter, ambiguity. Art was nothing without contradiction.

The Klan were soon overtaken by motifs that were alternately mundane (cherries, cigarettes, cities in the distance), personal (Musa, stuff in the studio), and bizarre (disembodied legs, cyclopean heads, bugs). The late work, in other words, isn’t altogether dependent on imagery that is potentially objectionable. All the same, the Boston MFA is skittish enough to provide an “emotional preparedness” warning for museum visitors. How that will skew the audience’s perception remains to be seen. In the meantime, “Philip Guston Now” offers an overview, circumspect and wary, of a profound and unruly artist.

(c) 2022 Mario Naves

The article orignally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Art & Antiques.

“Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott” at the New Museum

Installation of “Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott”; courtesy The New Museum, New York, NY
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“Resignation to life’s absurdities likely accounts for the peculiar lack of rancor in an oeuvre that doesn’t exactly stint on scabrous imagery.”

The entirety of the review can be found at “Dispatch,” the blog of The New Criterion.

“Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Winslow Homer, The Gulf Stream (1899/1906), oil on canvas, 28-1/8 x 49-1/8″; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
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The advance buzz on Winslow Homer:Crosscurrents wasn’t good. “Woke Winslow” — that’s how observers, online and through the grapevine, pegged the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition of paintings and watercolors by Winslow Homer (1836-1910). The stalwart purveyor of maritime adventure and manly pursuits, woke? One glance at the enlarged black-and-white photo displayed at the front end of Crosscurrents–a blurred portrait of Homer in his Maine studio–makes clear that the fusty man with the impatient glare is no one’s idea of a social-justice warrior.

Looks aren’t everything, of course.Truth to tell, Homer’s art does touch upon important aspects of American history. But did the summer of 2020 really beg for a “diachronic focus on conflict and struggle in [Homer’s] production?” So promises Sylvia Yount, the Met’s Lawrence A. Fleischman curator-in-charge of the American Wing and co-organizer, along with Stephanie L. Herdrich, of Crosscurrents. Is it possible, in so many words, to reconcile “The Gulf Stream” (1899/1906), among Homer’s most iconographic canvases, with George Floyd and Black Lives Matter?

Consider “‘The Various Colors and Types of Negroes’: Winslow Homer Learns to Paint Race,” an essay in the exhibition catalogue by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Those familiar with Homer’s pictures of black life, whether as seen in the American South or the Caribbean, know they are characterized by a rare and carefully grained objectivity. Shaw knows this, but she’s not happy about it. So after commending Homer for “trusting his own instincts on coloring potently raced bodies,” Shaw puts him in his place for an “oblique reliance on the negatively stereotyped tropes of Black representation.” The professor giveth, and the professor taketh away.

The good thing about Crosscurrents is that it isn’t the catalogue. The begrudgery typifying our curatorial class is outshone at the Met by artistic fact. The show is the largest overview of Homer’s work in twenty-five years, containing eighty-eight pieces. “The Gulf Stream” is at its center, but there are other signal pictures on display. There are so many, in fact, that you begin to realize just how thoroughly Homer’s vision has been absorbed into the body politic. If anything, the work makes a case for the expansiveness of the American spirit. The old Yankee, bless his soul, does not go gently into that woke night.

Winslow Homer was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a businessman prone to bad decisions, his mother an amateur watercolorist. The extent of Homer’s formal training was an eighteen-month apprenticeship to a commercial lithographer. A knack for the anecdotal and a clipped sense of composition, along with a daunting work ethic, led to a career in illustration. During the Civil War, Homer contributed on-site battlefield drawings for Harper’s Weekly. At the age of twenty-three, Homer packed his bags and headed to New York City, intent on becoming a painter.

Crosscurrents is divided into eight sections, each of which is devoted to a theme–the seaside of the Northeastern United States, for instance, or trips taken to tropical climes. “War and Reconstruction” opens the show, and the paintings featured in it are almost Tocquevillian in their perspicacity. Homer’s experience as a journalist, working amid the carnage of war and its aftermath, likely accounts for the sobriety typifying the imagery. Homer was no sentimentalist. The pictures are bare-bones dioramas endowed with almost Biblical portent: a foolhardy soldier taunts the enemy, children attempt to farm wartorn ground, and a pair of young women wander through a field of cotton.

A curator cares for and maintains the items that have been entrusted to her. Political activism–hell, political commentary–shouldn’t be a prerequisite for the job. But let’s not be naive. Politics haven’t just seeped into our institutions; they’ve inundated them. When Herdrich, the Met’s associate curator of American Painting and Sculpture, insists the work be viewed “through the lens of conflict,” you know that Homer is about to be dragooned into the intersectional hothouse.

Winslow Homer, The Cotton Pickers (1876), oil on canvas, 24-1/2 x 38″; courtesy the Lost Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

Homer had a pointed, if subtle, sense of irony. “The Cotton Pickers” (1876) is swathed in a beneficent light, but it’s no Arcadian idyll. The women pictured are emancipated slaves; the cotton they carry a reminder of their servitude. It’s an uncanny painting, marked by quietude and suffused with intimacy. The author F. Hopkinson Smith, a friend of Homer’s and a capable painter in his own right, described the canvas as “the whole story of Southern slavery.” Hindsight endows the painting with a preternatural gravitas–a sense of history as a burden foretold.

The most renowned of Homer’s pictures are centered on the ocean and dramatized by storm. Skies are dank and gray; waves surge and then surge some more; boats capsize; and those who sail the sea or live by it–well, good luck to them. Nature is relentless and violent, unforgiving and ominous. Typical is the “Ship’s Boat” (1883), in which a cadre of men grasp onto the side of an upturned lifeboat. The murky distance to which they signal for rescue offers slim chance of hope.

Homer’s paintings of tropical climes are, on the whole, less roiling in character. Certainly, the clarifying Caribbean sun suited Homer’s gift for watercolor, wherein the barest swipe of the brush yoked a radiant sense of climate from the white of the page. Homer thrived on the immediacy offered by the portability of watercolor: “I prefer every time a picture composed and painted outdoors. The thing is done without your knowing it.”

Which isn’t to say that life in the sunshine was without hazard. And here we circle back to “The Gulf Stream.” It’s a gripping image, for sure: a lone black man, shirtless and distracted, lies on a teetering skip, its mast broken off at the base. Blood filters through the surrounding waves; sharks are circling. Pitched on the horizon is a schooner sundering away from the crisis at hand. The canvas brings to mind a host of precedents, not least John Singleton Copley’s “Watson and the Shark” (1778) and Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa” (1818-19). Homer’s painting is starker in its theatricality and not tied to a specific narrative– which may account for the consternation engendered upon its initial public display.

Viewers wanted a backstory. Homer did not suffer the public gladly. “The unfortunate negro,” he wrote, “will be rescued & returned to his friends and home, & ever after live happily.” Over and out! He went on: “I have crossed the Gulf Stream ten times & I should know something about it. The boat & sharks are outside matters of very little consequence.”

“Outside matters of very little consequence?” Nonsense. Artists are rarely the best interpreters of their own work. Contrary to Homer’s testy dismissal of narrative, “The Gulf Stream” betrays grim determination, a stoic refusal to grant credence to the most trying of circumstances. Homer’s moralism, like that of Melville or Conrad, is inescapable and weighted, stubbornly independent and elusive in its probity. Like the best art, “The Gulf Stream” resists ideological pigeonholing or the machinations of fashion. Homer will survive the distrust and condescension of our theory-besotted gatekeepers. In the meantime, Crosscurrents is filled with paintings that merit our puzzlement and earn our pleasure.

(c) 2022 Mario Naves

This article was originally published in the June 2022 edition of The Spectator World.

“Picasso: Painting the Blue Period” at the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Pablo Picasso, The Soup (1903), oil on canvas, 37 x 48 cm.; courtesy the Art Gallery of Ontario
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What is there left to say about Picasso? This question, posed by a colleague apropos of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, an exhibition on display at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, is inevitable. There are few cultural figures whose life and accomplishments have been as exhaustively accounted for as the man born–take a breath!–Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. Innumerable exhibitions, books, scholarly tracts and films have been devoted to this relentlessly protean artist. Even after his death almost fifty years ago–Picasso died in 1973 at the age of ninety-one–he looms large in the public consciousness. Picasso’s stature in the upper echelons of the art world has, admittedly, been somewhat diminished by the promotion of Marcel Duchamp and his nose-thumbing progeny. Feminists have taken umbrage at the lionization of Picasso maltratador–which is how he was described last year at Barcelona’s Picasso Museum by a group of students protesting his treatment of women. Certainly, there are few artists less amenable to the unforgiving puritanism of our professional classes.

I mean, what might the woke-adjacent make of the subtext undergirding Painting the Blue Period–that Picasso was a socially conscious individual, an artist acutely aware of his proletarian status and an ally of the poor and the homeless, the underserved, incarcerated and marginalized? In late 1901, Picasso began visiting the Saint-Lazare women’s prison near Montmartre under the offices of Louis Jullien, the facility’s resident doctor and a specialist in venereal diseases. (Dr. Jullien went so far as to forge a medical identity for Picasso so that he could roam the grounds unaccompanied.) The young artist was, we are told, moved by “the struggles faced by poor women and their children in the modern world.” Twenty-first century sophisticates will snigger at this attempt to humanize Pablo the Perpetual Misogynist. And it is worth recalling the story, as related in John Richardson’s four-volume biography of the artist, that Picasso extolled the “models” at Saint-Lazare because they cost him not a centime. Still, human nature is nothing if not contradictory. The rest of us are defined by motives, ignoble and otherwise. Why not extend the benefit of a doubt to Picasso?

Truth to tell, the organizers of Painting the Blue Period have little truck with the moral soundness of Picasso’s moral probity. Co-curators Kenneth Brummel of the Art Gallery of Ontario and Susan Behrends Frank, associate curator of research at the Phillips, are interested in Picasso as–dare one say it?–an artist. Turns out that Brummel and Frank actually like art. Among the blessings of the exhibition is the absence of political posturing–guilt-mongering, really–that is all but de rigueur for curators nowadays. Instead, visitors learn how a given drawing, painting, sculpture or print was influenced by Picasso’s immediate environment or a particular motif (whether sacred or profane), and how it was realized through the accumulation of graphite, charcoal or oil paint. A significant part of the exhibition is, in fact, given over to process, conservation and scientific analysis. Three canvases–“The Soup” (1903), “Crouching Beggarwoman” (1902), and the Phillips’s own “Blue Room” (1901)–were subject to a variety of intensive imaging techniques. Painting aficionados will relish the opportunity to see X-ray photographs displaying how Picasso recycled canvases and imagery. Discovering how he upended a landscape painting and morphed it into “Crouching Beggarwoman” provides an especially telling sidebar. At the age of twenty-one, Picasso was already attuned to the power and possibilities of transformation.

Pablo Picasso, Crouching Beggarwoman (1902), oil on canvas, 101.2 x 66 cm.; courtesy the Art Gallery of Ontario
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Which isn’t to say that Painting the Blue Period highlights a kingpin of the avant-garde. The artist whose radical innovations would reshape the traditions of painting and sculpture? He ain’t here. What we have is Picasso at his most–well, let’s not say “derivative.” Having left Spain in 1901, Picasso traveled to Paris, settling in a studio a stone’s throw from the Moulin Rouge. He shared the apartment (if not the expenses) with his agent Pere Mañach, a transplant from Barcelona and scion of a family of industrialists. “Self-Portrait (Yo)” (1901)–a hardscrabble picture done on cardboard–evinces a man of chiseled good looks and unwavering confidence, a temperament out to make a name for itself in the demi-monde. That, and it divulges a proud reliance on the stylistic mannerisms of Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec. Lautrec died just a few months after Picasso’s arrival in France; from all accounts, the two never met. But Lautrec’s example weighed significantly on Picasso. He adopted many of the older artist’s subjects–cabarets, cafés and brothels–as well as the lifestyle attendant to them. “Catcalls and Capers” and “Lures for Men” (both 1901), comic illustrations Picasso did for the magazine Le Frou-Frou, could be touted as Lautrecs and few people would blink an eye.

Lautrec himself makes an appearance in Painting the Blue Period: his efflorescent “May Milton” (1895), a mixed-media depiction of the English dancer, is hung adjacent to “Catcalls and Capers” and “Lures for Men.” By placing these works in close proximity, Brummel and Frank underscore Picasso’s preternatural ability to absorb and integrate influences. Throughout the exhibition, Picasso’s efforts in oil, graphite, charcoal and bronze–including “Seated Woman” (1902), his first attempt at sculpture–are juxtaposed with works by historical figures, as well as those of artists within his milieu. “Nude Woman Standing, Drying Herself” (1891-92), a lithograph by Edgar Degas, and two sculptures by Auguste Rodin, “Eve” (c. 1881) and “Crouching Woman” (1880-82), are set alongside Picasso’s early explorations into the expressive potential ofthe female form. Elsewhere, Honoré Daumier, Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Luis de Morales and El Greco amplify Picasso’s work in revelatory ways flummoxing ways, too. Who would consider mashing-up Puvis de Chavannes’s arid neoclassicism with the decorative contouring of Vuillard? It’s an endeavor that would strain most imaginations. But imagine Picasso most surely did, particularly with “The Soup.”

The gallery devoted to “The Soup” is among the most gratifying museum installations in recent memory. Brummel and Frank, with tremendous scholarly acumen and no little sense of nuance, set out the genesis of a simple image–a mother providing a bowl of soup for her daughter–and prove just how complex it it. Painting during a return trip to Spain, “The Soup” revisits a motif Picasso had touched on before: motherhood and poverty. Whereas “Science and Charity” (1897)–an earlier painting not included in the exhibition–was couched in nineteenth-century convention, “The Soup” is startlingly modern, if not strictly speaking Modernist. Writing in the catalogue, Brummel describes it as a “pictorial settlement” between Daumier and Puvis de Chavannes. That’s putting it mildly. What Picasso does is streamline Daumier’s muscular caricatures and bypass Puvis de Chavannes’s Hellenism to channel Third Dynasty Egypt. The accompanying studies on display–done in pastel, oil and ink–testify to the tenacity, grit and gravity with which he approached the picture.

The upshot is a painting whose modest scale can’t contain the monumentality of its forms. In point of comparison, the smattering of pieces that close the exhibition–presaging, as they do, the Rose Period–is small beer. Then again, some respite is in order after the intensity of mood that dominates Painting the Blue Period. It’s a great exhibition.

(c) 2022 Mario Naves

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 edition of The Spectator World.

“Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle” at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Installation view of “Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; all photos courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The paintings of Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) have never looked quite as good as they do, right now, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It’s worth mulling why that is. I mean, Kandinsky is old news, right? He’s a mainstay in the common consciousness of those who make art their livelihood, and the paintings remain on view at any institution that presumes to untangle the story of Modern art. Given the current vogue for politics and inclusivity, Kandinsky seems an unlikely figure for reappraisal: he’s a tough nut to enlist for this-or-that cause. As for excluding him from the canon–forget it. Dead white male though he may be, Kandinsky is immovable. Granted, his status as the first abstract painter has been called into question. A few years back, the Guggenheim mounted a survey of canvases by Hilma af Klint, the Swedish visionary who, we were told, painted the first abstraction in 1906–beating Kandinsky to the punch by a good decade. An interesting factoid, for sure, but making a horse race of history rarely tells us much about the quality of the work under consideration.

“Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle” was organized by Megan Fontanella, the Guggenheim’s Curator of Modern Art. As a peg on which to hang an exhibition, the circle is a no-brainer. Geometry is prominent throughout Kandinsky’s oeuvre, particularly in the later work wherein the principles of Constructivism and the Bauhaus figure prominently. (Kandinsky taught at the Weimar branch of the Bauhaus for over a decade.) Wise to the allegorical connotations of the circle–suns, moons, planets, like that–Kandinsky employed them as adjuncts of his mystical leanings.

Like many early abstractionists, he was prone to abstruse belief systems, and counted himself a devotee of Theosophy, a species of cross-cultural spirituality founded by the redoubtable Madame Blavatsky. Several Circles (1926), a canvas in which an abundance of circles float within milky patches of black, could well serve as a stoner’s riff on the big bang.  Several Circles is a staple of the museum’s collection and, in fact, all the items on display–not only paintings, but watercolors, woodblock prints, and illustrated books–are culled from the Guggenheim’s holdings. 

Vasily Kandinsky, Black Lines (Schwarze Linien) (1913),
oil on canvas, 51-3/8 x 51-5/8″

Fontanella circles Kandinsky in another way: “Around the Circle” is, in significant part, an iteration of the museum’s original mission plan. Ambling amongst Kandinsky’s kaleidoscopic accumulations of glyphs, squiggles and biomorphs, one is reminded that this tourist-laden fixture of Manhattan’s Upper East Side was once something more marginal and considerably less toney. Founded in 1937, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (as it was then known) was the doing of two people: Solomon R. Guggenheim, a businessman who made a fortune in textiles and mining, and Hilla Rebay, his advisor and muse.

Rebay, a full-time connoisseur and sometime painter, left her native Germany with a purpose: to proselytize on behalf of advanced art. Kandinsky was her poster boy. Rebay had Guggenheim by the ear; Guggenheim took Rebay at her word. The industrialist purchased 150 Kandinskys, making his museum the world’s single largest repository of art by the Russian abstractionist. Frank Lloyd Wright’s building, with its vertiginous warp-and-woof, provides a happy environment not only for Kandinsky’s quixotic ambitions, but those of Guggenheim and Rebay as well.

Fontanella uses the museum’s distinctive architecture in a similarly quixotic way. Ascending the Guggenheim’s ramp–beginning at the beginning, as it were–we notice that Kandinsky’s art is set out in reverse order. Museum-goers start at the end of the artist’s working life, and are led up to his early experiments in Post-Impressionist facture and Symbolist form. The installation, we are informed, “reconsiders Kandinsky’s career . . . as a circular passage through persistent themes centered around the pursuit of one dominant ideal: the impulse for spiritual expression.”

How does this bassackwards approach succeed in its goal? Pretty well, I guess. Kandinsky, Fontanella insists, was ever thus. But the same could be said for any artist of note. The commonalities in Ribbon With Squares (1944), a bopping inventory of cartoonish shapes, and the sloping forms and encompassing spatial sweep of The Golden Sail (1903) aren’t made any more evident by up-ending chronology. It’s enough to make you think that some curators are getting a mite bored with their duties.

Vasily Kandinsky, Several Circles (Einige Kreise) (1926),
oil on canvas, 55-3/8 x 55-1/4″

Vasily Kandinsky was born in Moscow to a family of prosperous means: his father was a tea merchant, his mother a scion of the upper-class. After studying law, economics and statistics at the University of Moscow, Kandinsky did fieldwork amongst the Zyrians, a tribe located in North-Western Russia. That experience proved transformative. Upon entering the homes of the local population–architecture rich in color and decorative ornament–he “felt surrounded on all sides by painting.” It wasn’t until Kandinsky reached the age of thirty that lightning or, rather, Claude Monet and Richard Wagner struck. Upon encountering the former’s haystack paintings and the latter’s Lohengrin, Kandinsky felt the pull of art–it resounded, he wrote, like a “wild tuba”.

No time was wasted: Kandinsky packed his bags, bought a ticket to Berlin, attended art classes, and the rest is history. A messy history, to put it mildly, one that includes two World Wars, the Russian Revolution, being flagged as “bourgeois” by the Communists, and dismissed as “degenerate” by the Third Reich. Through daunting circumstances, Kandinsky persevered, longing for an art that would meld the natural world with the transcendental.

A nagging question remains: did Kandinsky achieve this synthesis? Is it true, in the artist’s estimation, that “the impact of the acute angle of a triangle on a circle is actually as overwhelming in effect as the finger of God touching the finger of Adam”? In giving body and form to spiritual yearning, Kandinsky was only partially reinventing the wheel. We don’t know much about our cave-dwelling forebears some 30,000 years ago, but it’s a good bet their paintings of bison, bears and lions were freighted with metaphysical import. And God touching the finger of Adam? Yeah, Michelangelo was wise to art “animated with a spiritual breath.” In jettisoning representation, Kandinsky freed himself to pursue higher modes of knowledge and feeling–or so he thought.

Vasily Kandinsky, Decisive Rose (Entscheidendes Rosa) (1932),
oil on canvas, 31-7/8 × 39-3/8″

But representation benefits from recognizability and, with it, a readier sense of empathy. Can a clean arrangement of ideograms placed upon an encompassing field of buttery yellow–that would be Decisive Rose (1932)–deliver anywhere near the same gravitas as Gerard David’s The Crucifixion (ca. 1945), a painting located a few blocks down Fifth Avenue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? A cruciform bereft of symbolic portent and a recognizable context becomes one sign among others. Decisive Rose is a splendid picture, but convert the wicked or unruly it won’t.

Kandinsky’s ballast-free compositions suggest the otherworldly; his palette evinces an aesthetic informed by Russian icons and stained-glass windows. Shape, space, line and color, in-and-of-themselves, can prompt a multitude of reactions. But does Kandinsky strike a chord because he taps into the divine or is it because the pictures are–how to put it, exactly–fun? Turns out, these world-changing abstractions are not a little whimsical and often downright goofy. From the early forays into fairy tale imagery to the not altogether coherent improvisations of his middle-period to the tightly plotted rebuses that ended his days, Kandinsky discovered a guilt-free reason to play. Much in the same way Piet Mondrian rooted himself in some dubious precincts of the occult so that he could boogie-woogie down Broadway, Kandinsky indulged airy-fairy theorizing in order to follow up on some rather promiscuous caprices. When the brush was put to canvas, in so many words, Madame Blavatsky was given the bum’s rush. Take note of the religious heavy breathing surrounding “Around the Circle”, but don’t let it obscure the way in which a troubled man who lived during troubled times discovered the means by which he could let his hair down. In the end, that may be the most spiritual pursuit of all.

(c) 2022 Mario Naves

This article originally appeared in the January 2022 edition of The Spectator World.

“Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle” at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Vasily Kandinsky, Black Lines (Schwarze Linien) (1913), oil on canvas, 51 3/8 x 51 5/8″; courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

“The paintings of Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) have never looked quite as good as they do, right now, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. It’s worth mulling why that is.”

Read the entire article in the January 2022 edition of The Spectator World.

“Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing” at The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Jennifer Packer, For James (III) (2013), oil on canvas, 72 × 48″; courtesy Private collection. © Jennifer Packer. Photograph by Marcus Leith. Image courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, and Corvi-Mora, London

At the beginning of each semester, I sit my students down, turn off the classroom lights, and have them watch Why Beauty Matters, a 2009 BBC documentary written and narrated by the late philosopher Roger Scruton. In the video, Scruton ponders the fate of art and architecture since the advent of modernism and offers counsel on how art can reclaim its purchase on the beautiful. The young artists in my class invariably dismiss Scruton’s opinions and ideas: the musings of an old white man—British, too!—are deemed woefully out-of-touch. The observations and prescriptions stated in Why Beauty Matters are open to debate, but students do find themselves taken aback when Scruton speaks about how “creativity is about sharing” and “art is a call to others.” Generosity of spirit is the last thing they expect from the presumably censorious Scruton or, for that matter, contemporary art. Attitudes that advocate for the generative instead of the rote or nihilistic are all but unheard of.

How likely it is that the painter Jennifer Packer is familiar with Scruton, I don’t know. But in an interview with Hans Ulbrich Obrist featured in the catalogue accompanying “Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing,” on now at the Whitney, the artist evinces a positivity and receptiveness that is, if not Scrutonian, nonetheless rare in a culture as contentious as our own. Packer’s thoughts on portraiture? “The important thing is that . . . [the sitters] are humans worth thinking about beyond their relationship with me.” How about realism and its relationship to pictorial form? “I’m interested in something that runs through the work despite what the image is.” Packer extolls the visual: “Our eye recognizes things more quickly than our brain.” An artist who doesn’t partake in the gratifications of narcissism and places a premium on her métier—can you imagine such a thing? Packer does bandy about acronyms like “BIPOC” as if they were organic extensions of the language, and she gets in the requisite knocks on colonialism. But she makes a point of abjuring the buzz-word “bodies”—an ugly intersectional trope that diminishes individual worth for theoretical grandstanding. Packer even has kind things to say about Clement Greenberg!

Installation view of Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing with Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Breonna! Breonna!), 2020. Photograph by Filip Wolak

Well, okay, Packer mentions that she’s interested in Greenberg, but the light she shines is favorable. All in all, the interview reveals a painter who thinks hard about the medium, relishes its malleability, is conversant with history, and privileges the independence of her materials. And here we go beyond the catalogue and its accumulation of words, words, words to enter the exhibition itself. “The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing”—the title comes from Ecclesiastes—is among the most heartening displays of contemporary painting seen at a major institution in some time. Packer first appeared at the Whitney as part of the 2019 Biennial; her canvases stood free and clear of the usual postmodernist folderol. Particularly memorable was Jordan (2014), a portrait of the painter Jordan Casteel seated amongst the clutter of an artist’s studio. Packer’s attention to attitude and body language was sharp: Casteel is corporally at ease, mentally not so much. To the right we see a figure in motion, but, then, the entire canvas is abuzz with painterly incident. Using a palette of dusky earth tones along with rough-and-ready brushwork, Packer managed to create a sense of intimacy that, though counterintuitive, was true and earned. The lone holdout in the vaunted Whitney Biennial made a lot of us curious about what else she might be capable of.

Jordan is included in “The Eye is Not Satisfied with Seeing,” an exhibition of thirty-five paintings and drawings that originated at London’s Serpentine Galleries. The earliest pieces are from 2011, during Packer’s time earning her Master of Fine Arts degree at Yale University; a few portraits, rendered largely in monochrome, date from last year. From the evidence on display, Packer has been on some kind of ride over the past decade—in career trajectory, sure, but also painterly acumen. History gets in the way, of course. Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Breonna! Breonna!) (2020) is an encompassing swath of unstretched canvas prompted by the death of Breonna Taylor in the spring of 2020. The painting is, to put it gently, acidic. Suffused in a bilious yellow-green, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Breonna! Breonna!) depicts a man, clad in boxer shorts, lying on a sofa. The surroundings are mundane—an iron, a fan and cabinetry, things like that—but the mood is meditative. The left portion of the composition is less tangible in its imagery, as Packer engages in some off-the-cuff mark-making. Symbolist portent is seen at top left: a bird soars through a tightly cropped field of azure blue.

Jennifer Packer, Tia (2017), oil on canvas, 39 × 25″; Collection of Joel Wachs. © Jennifer Packer. Photograph by Matt Grubb. Image courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, and Corvi-Mora, London

Packer is a master of the telling detail. Take note of the right hand, the right foot, and the crook of the neck in Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Breonna! Breonna!): they twitch and reach, the body’s tension having been rendered palpable and with no small amount of nuance. A person reclining, Packer tells us, isn’t necessarily a person at peace. Packer’s knowledge of the human form is estimable, and her ability to hold onto the rigors of likeness and anatomy without sacrificing interpretative brio even more so. The sizable charcoal drawings on view are supple in their transitions of mass, line, and volume, but oils are in Packer’s wheelhouse. The art scene is rife with artists who put brush to canvas as if it were a distasteful chore; Packer is an artist who actually likes her medium. The surface of each picture is a compendium of skepticism and possibility, in which gritty slurs of oil coalesce into sharply focused definition, and then devolve into patches of sinuous linearity. A handful of still-life pictures are less convincing, being greasy and cluttered. The figure is Packer’s compositional anchor— a moral anchor too, perhaps. The painterly freedom to which it gives license is bracing to behold, the depths hinted at impressive. “The Eye Is Not Satisfied” is an uncommon and most welcome exhibition.

(c) 2022 Mario Naves

This review was originally published in the January 2022 edition of The New Criterion.

“Magic” at Metaphor Projects in Brooklyn

I’m pleased to have a painting of mine included in “Magic”, a group exhibition at Metaphor Projects in Brooklyn. See the invitation above for more information.

There will be an opening reception this coming Saturday, December 4th, from 5:00-8:00 p.m.

“Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure” at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Installation view of “Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure”at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

“Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure” has to be the most genteel exhibition of art the Guggenheim has ever mounted. Not the most over-hyped; not the worst. Unlike the museum’s recently concluded show of photographs by Deanna Lawson, “Light’s New Measure” avoids overt politics. Nor does it place an emphasis on pictorial innovation like the concurrent show devoted to the pioneering abstractionist Vasily Kandinsky. The Adnan exhibition is just . . . mild. There’s no sin in that. Were contemporary artists inclined more toward gentility than provocation we might be better off. And Adnan’s art—the paintings, in particular; the tapestries, ditto; the videos, not at all—bears suitable merit to invite pause. Pause over what, you might ask? The vagaries of reputation, for one; the primacy of the painted mark, for another. The museum touts Adnan’s work as “an intensely personal distillation of her faith in the human spirit and the beauty of the natural world”—boilerplate PR, you might say, but it’s to the credit of Adnan’s color-saturated pictures that they capture some of that optimism.

Occupying the bottom two rungs of the Guggenheim’s rotunda, “Light’s New Measure” is the first of three exhibitions organized in conjunction with the aforementioned “Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle,” an array of paintings and works on paper culled from the permanent collection. (The other shows will feature the artists Jennie C. Jones and Cecilia Vicuña.) Katherine Brinson, the Daskalopoulos Curator of Contemporary Art, and Lauren Hinkson, an associate curator, have set out to establish commonalities between Adnan and Kandinsky, painters who “explore the potential of abstract form.” Locating a shared purpose between artists living and dead is to be applauded, particularly at a cultural moment in which history is vilified or distorted—that is, when it’s acknowledged at all. Kandinsky would have approved of Adnan’s likening abstraction to music—Kandinsky insisted, after all, that color could convey sound—as well as the goal of creating “depth of meaning that has nothing to do with words.” Great minds think alike, right?

Etel Adnan, Untitled (1983), 0il on canvas, 29 × 29 in. (73.7 × 73.7 cm); courtesy Private Collection and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Adnan’s partner, the sculptor Simone Fattal, extols the work as being reminiscent of icons or talismans, intimating that the paintings embody visionary longings. The pairing with Kandinsky would seem to reinforce the point. At the risk of indulging in semantic nitpickery, let me say that the paintings featured in “Light’s New Measure” aren’t talismanic or iconic. They’re grounded and concrete, predicated, as they are, on specific motifs and spatial relationships gleaned from observed experience. The basis for several of the pictures is Mount Tamalpais, a distinctive peak in the Marin Hills near Adnan’s home in Sausalito, California. Divining mystical portent from the landscape is an age-old pursuit. But notwithstanding some coloristic liberties, Adnan is less a mystic and something closer to a classicist. Structure is her bread and butter. She’s more in the spirit of Nicolas Poussin and Georges Seurat than Caspar David Friedrich or George Inness. A cynic might be forgiven for wondering if some of this supernatural heavy-breathing is an attempt to poach upon the afterglow of Hilma af Klint—the subject of a recent and hugely popular exhibition at the Guggenheim. Now there was a visionary. Adnan’s lack of hocus pocus is, in point of comparison, straight talk. Strong-arming the paintings in the service of their antithesis is the curatorial equivalent of fake news.

Adnan has lived life as a true multiculturalist. She was born in Beirut in 1925. Her father was a Syrian-born military officer in the Ottoman Empire and a non-practicing Muslim, her mother a practicing member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Adnan learned Turkish and Greek at home; in school, she was taught French. After studying philosophy and literature at the Sorbonne, Adnan traveled to the United States to attend Berkeley and Harvard. After teaching at Dominican University of California from 1958 to 1972, Adnan returned to Lebanon to work as a journalist. She fled to Paris at the onset of the Civil War. That conflict served as backdrop for Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose, a novel based on Marie Rose Boulos, a Syrian social worker who was executed by the Christian militia. The book went on to win a prize from the Association de solidarité franco-arabe but remains Adnan’s only prose work. Poetry is her primary literary focus. Included at the Guggenheim is Funeral March for the First Cosmonaut (1968), an accordion book that features the title poem as well as a surrounding array of watercolor drawings. “I write what I see,” the artist has stated, and “paint what I am.”

Etel Adnan, Mount Tamalpais (1970/2017), wool tapestry, 63 x 78¾”; courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

And what is Adnan? A ninety-six-year-old dab hand at buttery surfaces and ramshackle geometries, a genial temperament with a tart and sunny palette. Her canvases are small and simple: a few snug forms cobbled together and animated by gently bumptious rhythms. Adnan’s chock-a-block shapes and rich impasto have earned comparisons to Nicolas de Staël; her nudgy insistence on contour recalls Serge Poliakoff. A few years back, Adnan’s art was exhibited alongside that of Paul Klee—a pairing that is, on the whole, more propitious given Adnan’s off-kilter compositions and quirky distillations of shape. An untitled canvas from 1983—a centrifugal composition of staccato marks punctuated by cool greens and anchored by a clarifying white—is Adnan at her most engaging. When she settles for less—a line here, a circle there, a cursory swipe of pigment—the results are not more. The attendant tapestries benefit from an increase in scale, and, with that, greater complexity and dynamism. It’s worth mulling over whether collaboration—in this case, with various weavers—benefits a poet for whom painting is a happy sideline. Isolation can, after all, be limiting. Let’s hope Adnan invites more guests to the studio in the coming years. In the meantime, “Light’s New Measure” provides an amiable enough entry into one of the myriad outskirts of contemporary culture.

(c) 2021 Mario Naves

This review appeared in the December 2021 edition of The New Criterion.