Friday, November 8, 2019

Skeletons, MegaShoulders, and Moody Stares at Detroit Institute of Art

We woke up to snowfall this morning. "I WILL NEED MY SNOW BOOTS!" our child exclaimed, as she lifted the deck curtain and saw the thinnest dusting on the leaf piles mouldering on our deck. I scooted her along, for today was special: her first FULL day of preschool and I was determined for us both to get as much out of it as possible. Now we are in the last few minutes of the day before I re-enter rush hour, but I find it's better to start something, even if in the very tiniest way. So, here we are. With the cold and with the cloudy, I need more museum time. I have resolved that I will actually honor this need consistently, going forward. So after a morning appointment, I was on the road to the D.I.A.

In some ways, the visit served to remind me of things I already knew.

1. I tend to love a good Parisian bar/cafe scene. The men are smoking, the women are bored, the female attire tends toward the constrictive and frou frou/confectionary.
detail of Cafe Scene in Paris (1877), Henri Gervex
Here we have the mysterious right edge, which seems to be rejected underpainting, but why was it framed to show it? The docent didn't have an answer, but thought it maybe reflected the artist's wish, "It's *part* of the painting," but I have trouble buying that.

So many things to love: the veins perfectly visible in this man's hand, the glowing cigar tips, liquid light in the glasses, the satin gloss of fabric and ribbons, the individual pools of isolation.
Painter inclusion: Gervex lighting his pipe
Visit full image here.

2. Portraiture: Degas beats out Renoir
My lack of affinity for Renoir nudes was brought home to me when I attended a solo exhibit in Philly years ago, but in this "Humble and Human" exhibit I was faced (hah) with a Renoir portrait next to a Degas. 
Woman in an Armchair (1874), Renoir
Portrait of a Woman (1877), Degas
I like that Renoir's woman seems to have some kind of interior life, but there's still too much peaches-and-cream to the skin. Degas' portrait draws me in so much more, though what can we really tell about her? She is half in darkness, the shadows render her face almost sooty and the coloring is splashy, on the darker end. I love the richness of the color, the strange brightness and sudden detail of the flowers inexplicably behind and above her. Somehow I believe in a richer interior life for this sitter, and a more storied life. Perhaps the clothing plays into it.  I'm not bothered by the artfully drooping chemise, but it does play up the appeal of the subject -- and positions her appeal at the forefront.  So I guess I'd offer the Renoir woman a cardigan (she'd probably ignore me, sigh loudly, or insist she was fine without) and ask the Degas sitter if she'd like some tea or something stronger, and see if I could draw out some stories.

3. I still don't care about Seurat or Pissarro. What else to say? They are not hurt for my lack of care.

Portrait of Postman Roulin (1877) Van Gogh

4. I love any of Van Gogh's paintings of the Postman Joseph Roulin. I don't think I can unpack it more than this, because what I like about it is what I -- and most people I think-- like about his work -- the heavy, energizing paint strokes, the vibrant colors, representations that are realistic enough to make us believe, but which then take us beyond, into a different realm.

Delicious hand-painted frame

And ALSO (one of my 4 yo.'s favorite phrases, currently): "You watch any Sponge Bob Square Pants lately? Because he's on there," The security guard gestures to Roulin. "On an episode. They have him mouthing, 'Sponge Bob Square Pants! Sponge Bob Square Pants! ' It's pretty funny...I spend a lot of time in here" With that, the guard recedes back to the far wall. And so it goes.

5. The annual Ofrendas exhibit is always worth a visit. And this exhibit is gaining in popularity! It used to only last 3 days and now they keep it up for almost a couple weeks -- closes on November 10th. This year brought several ofrendas honoring migrants, or those who have lost their lives attempting to get here.

"Desconcido" by Joanne Coutts was especially cohesive in its vision of three migrants traversing the desert. The description card reported 1,237 migrant deaths have been recorded in Arizona since 2011.

Refugee Ancestors: Descendants United in Friendship
Note the train tracks: a little train rounds the tracks, with engine and cars labeled "A Better Life," "Oportunidad," and "Safety."

Touching tribute to Dr. Christopher Pfaendtner, who died at 60
Christopher: the Healer,  by Patricia Pfaendtner

****Unexpected Bonus****

Gentleman, Possibly of the Trivulzio Family, late 1400s
I have passed this by for years. Exceptional artistry by Bernardino dei Conti, yes (if, indeed it's by him). European paintings of privileged white men, yawn. But, wait~~! It stopped me in my tracks today. Why does it feel so modern, so fresh? I envisioned it in my vaulted cieling-ed, glass and metal skyscraper flat, himself surveying a future domain from one very white wall. New sharp frame minimal enough for him to step out beyond it.

I love his eye sockets and nose, the set of his mouth. The ridiculous out-sized shoulders and heraldic red & gold of his...tunic? What was that even called? The delicate folds of white against his skin. The gentleman's gloves which looked suitable for hawk landings, though this is probably far from true. I love that the background is so heavily painted and textured it takes on a different sheen than the rest of it. And more than all of it, I love how indifference can morph into delight, with repeated exposure to any art, how resonance ebbs and flows, highlighting the variability of our being.


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