Sunday, October 16, 2011

Don't Let the Ducks See You Naked. Listen to the Monkey. (DIA visit)

It's been over a week since I visited the animal print exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art -- seems like 6 months ago -- and sadly it's down now, but I still want to talk about it!

Weather-wise, the day was idyllic -- unseasonably warm, sunny.  The drive in was blissfully uneventful-- fast, calm, music-filled.  By the time I got in, a fortifying snack seemed like a wise idea. The huge iced brownies at the gorgeous Kresge Court seemed like too much, without Compatriot to share them with. Oddly, however, I felt perfectly fine with a slice of chocolate mousse pie in the cafeteria. I savored my silky confection in a small sea of mostly empty tables and mused over my good fortune for the afternoon. Nearby an older man hunched over his tray. There was nothing unkempt about him, but he still struck me as someone making a rare venture into civilization. Curious. His smallish frame was dwarfed inside a bulky brown corduroy blazer. I sighed over the finished dessert and gathered my things. But where to put my tray? I always forget this part. I wandered over to a likely receptacle.

"Just leave it at the table," Blazer says kindly. "Excuse me," he adds. His voice is beautiful-- quiet and deep.

I pause outside the cafe doors to write a note to myself. Blazer walks past me and inquires, "Are you finding everything ok? Do you know where to go?" A museum badge dangles down his front. I assure him that I'm fine, thanks. Hahaha, take that knee-jerk brain! He probably has a PhD and three masters. Which...uh, more unfounded assumptions, just made in the opposite direction...

Before the exhibit proper, we pass through a hall of Native American pieces.

Trapped within a glass cube, for all eternity.
Better than "wrapped in plastic," haha

I always like walking past this melancholy Anishnabe figure from the late 1800s. So expressive even within his reduced state.

Same with this rich "New England Landscape" by George Morrison-- huge, wonderfully textured. Simultaneously abstract and completely believable as countryside.
Just a wee detail
Less fond of this Inuit sculpture from the 50s. Not debating the artistry. I think it's the walrus ivory teeth that push it over the edge for me. She looks just a little too bitey for my comfort. She's happy -- and hungry.
I challenge you to find a creepier "bust of a girl."

But! On to the main attraction, "It's a ZOO in here! Animal prints from permanent collection." This print exhibit was SO.SO. fun! Had I gotten my sh*t together earlier in the season, I definitely would have revisited it. Woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, mixed media, screen prints were all represented. Political commentary, moralizing, religious symbolism, realism, nifties-fifties type visuals, Renaissance mastery-- all here. Heavy hitters included: Albrecht Durer, Picasso, Eduard Munch, Edouard Manet, Eugene Delacroix, Francisco Goya, Mary Cassatt and Honore Daumier, John James Audubon.

A fun touch from the museum-- periodically throughout the display space, there were panels of terms for animal groups. Many I was familiar with, like a "murder of crows" and "ostentation of peacocks," though others struck me as bizarre:

  • Rabbles of butterflies (such troublemakers!)
  • nuisances of cats
  • sleuths of bears (really? I just don't see them gathering clues around the edges, falling beneath one's radar)
  • lounges of lizards (hee!)
  • smacks of jellyfish
  • peeps of chicks (fitting, sure. Apparently the scary marshmallow makers knew whereof they spoke)
Favorite title:

"Fashion Notes for Goats" (Mahonri Young). Later tied by a Tudlik stone cut titled "Excited Man Forgets His Weapon!," of an Eskimo-looking hunter ineffectually chasing after his prey. Excited artist also drew an extra finger on the left hand of the hunter.

One of the most bizarre nudes I have ever seen was the etching "Surprised Ducks," by Felix Bracquemond. It depicts a young woman bathing in a pond. Figure-wise, she could have walked out of a Renoir. She is modestly covering her breasts...due to the presence of three ducks in the foreground. Let's say this again: she is trying to hide her nudity. From BIRDS. And the birds are watching her. More specifically, the middle duck is staring straight at her; the ducks to either side are looking at each other over the back of the middle duck, in a consulting manner. I ....don't even know what to do with this one.

"The Temptation of Eve," an engraving done by Jean Mignon in the 1500s (favor to yourself-- refrain from googling "temptation of eve" without adding the artist~~), was replete with members of the animal kingdom and also totally bizarre. Most fascinating to me was not the horribly freaky lion thing, but Mignon's decision to make the apple-proffering snake ALSO female. The she-serpent twines around the tree and extends the fruit down to a seated Eve, her snake breasts also hanging with fullness, echoing the fruit. She also has a classically elaborate hairdo. Eve is more normal: full-bodied, but doomed.

An adorable monkey sits on a nearby outcropping. His delicate paws are emotive, with one extended outward and the other almost pointing. His face is aghast and shows his desire to avert disaster. It is the face of someone engrossed in a horror movie:

"No! DON'T GO in the BASEMENT!! ...OMG, LOCK the DOOR!!!!" 

The bunny meanwhile, nibbles grass, but looks like he has things on his mind. Lots of the animals are just hanging out. Adam's toes are disturbingly long.

One of my favorites was this etching by James McBey: Dawn, the Camel Patrol Setting Out Museum dated it at 1917, though the link says slightly later. So dramatic. I love the empty space, featureless land, high sky. The camels themselves also kind of remind me of some of Degas' wonderful equestrian paintings and sketches. Incidentally, this was a curious omission for the show, given all the famous artists featured -- there was a jockey from Degas, but no horses...

The DIA posted a small handful of the images from the exhibit up. While I don't love Emile Nolde's panther, I *do* love how you have to peer into the painting in order to make out the back half of the animal. That's how it would happen, right? Slinking around the edges, you'd only see him when he's halfway past; or were being mauled. 

Hour Detroit featured a nice review of the exhibit also showed several prints by Charles Culver. I was completely unaware of him before! I absolutely loved his Bobcat and Longtailed Teetotaler. Wonderful strong lines and confident splashes of color.

Honore Daumier's political commentary features sweet sheep figures with targets on their foreheads and the following words: "Poor sheep...Ah You Struggle in Vain...but You Will Always be Fleeced." Ah, Honore: true as it ever was. A nearby polemical piece shows Napoleon with a tiger's body; he looks like he could have been drawn by Maurice Sendak, but was naturally drawn several centuries ago.

Across the way, a couple Picasso prints remind the viewer --as if s/he could ever forget-- that he was master of myriad media and styles. His "Owl with Chair" lithograph has a jaunty fifties vibe. Meanwhile, another lithograph titled "The Dove" is poetic, soft and beautiful. It carries a sense of tenderness and vulnerability. The kind of print that would bring you a sense of calm whenever you passed it.

After two hours in the gallery, I could have stayed way longer, but it was nearing closing time. The guards gave off a sense of heightened waiting and began to chat with each other.I did a rushed final pass, as if I could magically soak up the last little bits, and headed back into the sunlit Fall day.

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