Gallery Columns Header

Gallery Columns Header

Monday, November 9, 2015

Inside Grace Hartigan's Grand Street Brides

Grand Street Brides | 1954
Oil on Canvas | 72 9/16 in. x 102 3/8 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Grace Hartigan thought deeply about the colors she would use before she tackled her six-foot-by-nine-foot painting, titled in her journals, Bridal Store Mannequins. She walked around the Lower East Side neighborhood of her 25 Essex Street studio, taking in the drifts of white fabric, lace, and wispy netting displayed on the dainty mannequins imprisoned behind the glass storefronts on Grand Street, then known as “Bride’s Row.” Hartigan purchased a two dollar wedding gown from a thrift store and tacked it to her studio wall, along with photos of the bridal shop windows for further inspiration. She once said, “It seems ludicrous to me to go through all that fuss,” referring to the fiasco of a wedding in the 1950s. Hartigan added that she painted “things I’m against to … give them the magic they don’t have.” She once said that she had “two serious marriages and two frivolous ones.”

In this post-war world, Hartigan personally smashed the stereotype of the modern American woman—the married, child-rearing, housewife. The tradition that began with a woman floating down the aisle, draped from head-to-toe in virginal white, being handed over to another man by the woman’s father, to be cared for the rest of her life. This ideal couldn’t be more removed from Hartigan’s own personal life. She struggled with her identity in a male-dominated, testosterone-fueled art community in mid-century New York City, even going so far as to sign her early work George Hartigan.  By the time she painted Grand Street Brides, Hartigan had been married twice and had sent her young son to live with his father's parents. She sometimes wrestled with what she needed to do to make her way as an artist versus society's expectations of her as a woman.

Also, a part of her thinking during the time she executed this work would have been the knowledge of the arranged marriages rampant among the immigrant population living in her Lower East Side neighborhood. Note the dead and hollow eyes of the brides in her picture, devoid of love or feelings, yet dressed up pretty and put on display for all to admire.

In a letter to critic Harold Rosenberg in 1954, Hartigan attempted to explain her work: "I think some of my subjects are loneliness, alienation, and anxiety. The figures in my paintings ask, 'What are we doing? What do we mean to each other?' The figures never look at each other, but have some personal meaning." The same year Frank O'Hara wrote of the brides who "face without bitterness the glassy shallowness of American life as their showcase."  Hartigan also makes reference in her journals to Picasso's 1907 Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (seen below), which not only parallels the poses of the subjects, but perhaps makes a connection between her impression of what it meant to be a bride and the prostitutes he painted in that work.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon | 1907
Pablo Picasso
Oil on Canvas | 96 in. x 92 in.
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Grace Hartigan's Grand Street Brides: The Modern Bride as Mannequin by Aliza Edelman (2013)
The Journals of Grace Hartigan, 1951-1955

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Knox Martin's Homage to Jan de Heem

Dutch and Flemish artists took remarkable delight in creating images of the natural world. Gardening and the breeding of beautiful hybrids satisfied their interest in art and in science. The flower paintings of Jan de Heem celebrate the beauty of flora while at the same time exemplify the concept of “art is long, life is short” embodied in 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings. Depictions of striking and exotic flowers also bared their far-flung explorations and their expertise in botany. 

Thirty-one species of plants are portrayed in De Heem’s Vase of Flowers. Poppies, tulips, roses, wheat, and peas reach out in dynamic rhythms, while insects crawl and flutter about the arrangement and glass vase. Reflected in the vase, is the light streaming through De Heem’s studio window. Interestingly, such a composition could not have existed naturally, as his choice of flowers and insects did not flourish and live during the same seasons of the year.

Knox Martin pays reverence to De Heem's Vase with his own monumental canvas, Homage to Jan de Heem. Martin’s use of color and scale is captivating and magical. At nearly three times the size of De Heem’s still life, Martin’s composition is even more fantastical because he doesn’t confine it within the boundaries of the canvas itself. His elements stretch far beyond the borders in such an extraordinary way that you feel like it goes further than your peripheral vision could allow, making it up-close and personal.

Martin mirrors the natural components in De Heem’s work, but with his own exceptional flair. He obliterates the black background and traditional dark colors of Dutch paintings of that time period, and makes it fresh and new with his bright colors and large scale. Martin used dazzling hues of red, blue, purple, pink, green, yellow, and black that are wonderfully dream-like, transporting you to a land filled with enchantment.

Although Martin stayed true to many of the elements in the earlier painting, including the reflection of the window in the vase, he puts his own mark on this tribute piece by placing a lobster in the lower left corner. I’ve been privileged to not only see De Heem’s original painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, but honored to have seen Martin’s stunning work in his studio not long after its completion—a witness to art history.

Homage to Jan de Heem
Knox Martin
Acrylic on linen | 80 in. x 66 in.
©Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Vase of Flowers | c. 1660
Jan de Heem
Oil on canvas | 27 3/8 in. x 22 1/4 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washingt2on

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Intrigue of the Little Black Book

The "Little Black Books" of some American artists are currently on view at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C. In this era of digital communication, contacts can be quickly updated, shared, and even deleted at the click of a button. Before smartphones and computers, traditional address books stored important, and sometimes confidential, contact information, and other details. 

The little black book has long been considered the secret space where the most intimate, mysterious details were once kept—a femme fatale’s list of lovers, a business magnate’s key clients, a detective’s code-named informants. These unadorned volumes, where a person would jot down contacts and other personal details, is less coherent than a diary, but its scattering of names, numbers, and appointments is in some ways more intriguing.

The show dives into the personal address books—complete with enigmatic notes, strikethroughs, and ink stains—of artists like Jackson Pollock and Joseph Cornell. The books offer a glimpse into the personal lives of these luminaries, and a portal into a time when important private information was scribbled into a modest volume, and carried around, unsecured, and dog-eared.

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's list of friends is a Who's Who of the day's top artists: Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, and critic Clement Greenberg. Also, in their address book, Pollock's psychologist and the homeopathic doctor who tried to "cure" his alcoholism.

Just as an address book provides a vehicle through which to understand a person, it also served in one case as a pathway to a much larger world for its owner. Assemblage artist Joseph Cornell was a known recluse, who rarely left his home in Flushing, New York. But his address book is packed with names of avant-garde artists with whom he frequently exchanged letters and gifts, many of which he used in his collages. 

Although Cornell never really left New York, he did accumulate through all his friends and people listed in his address book, all these experiences from around the world.  People seemed to really enjoy corresponding with him. They brought the world to him. He didn’t leave much, but still had a really interesting life through those relationships.

"Little Black Books" runs through November 1, 2015 at the Archives of American Art Fischbach Gallery in the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Restoring the Grandeur of Rome

Rome's famous Spanish Steps closed to the public Wednesday for a restoration project funded by luxury jeweler Bulgari that is expected to last several months. Bulgari is putting $1.7 million into the refurbishment. The 18th-century Baroque-style stairway, which has 144 steps, was last restored 20 years ago. 

The work, which will be carried out by local restorer is expected to be finished by spring 2016, at which point the steps will be "restored to the whole world in all their beauty and splendor," Rome mayor Ignazio Marino said. 

The steps will be closed to pedestrians until December 7—the start of a special Jubilee year expected to draw millions of Catholic pilgrims to Rome. 

"Rome has always been the number one source of inspiration for Bulgari so it is right to give back to Rome what Rome has given Bulgari," the jeweler's CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said as work began. 

The work includes re-levelling the steps to repair natural wear, maintenance of the rainwater drainage system, as well as restoring the original lamps which illuminate the steps by night. 

The Spanish Steps, which links Bernini's "boat" fountain with the Trinita dei Monti church at the top, were made famous in the United States by the 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. 

Bulgari pledged the money last year in response to a government plea for help in financing Italy's heritage monuments. In addition, the private sector is already helping restore other UNESCO monuments: in Rome, luxury shoemaker Tod's is financing works at the Colosseum, while high-end fashion house Fendi is refurbishing the Trevi Fountain.