September and October were busy months on our personal art circuit. It all started in Toronto with our friend Kathleen Ritter’s show, Camoufleurs, opening at G Gallery. Ritter, a well-known and respected curator, is now focusing full time on her art while living in Paris. The new work, shown at the Toronto exhibition, “…explores forms of encoded communication, camouflage and subterfuge.”
Next, we were at the Power Plant where our long-time friend, Shelagh Keeley, presented her commissioned wall-drawing installation, Notes on Obsolescence. Keeley is a conceptual artist whose drawings, often large scale, have been exhibited widely both in Canada and internationally. Her work is found in the collections of major art institutions in Canada, the USA and Europe.
In late September we headed to Europe, first to London and then to Paris. Our primary objective was to attend the opening of my cousin Ciara Phillips’ exhibition, Things Shared, at Tate Britain. Phillips is one of the four nominees for the 2014 Turner Prize (see my post Ciara Phillips: 2014 Turner Prize Nominee).
Also showing at Tate Britain was a collection of more than 150 paintings by JMW (William) Turner entitled Late Turner – Painting Set Free. These works were created in the last 15 years of his life, beginning in 1835 when he turned sixty. Many art critics identify these late works by Turner as the precursors to impressionism and abstraction. Given his attention to the representation of light, he is often credited with being a major influence on 20th century colour field painters such as Mark Rothko.
Turner’s inventiveness, even as he aged, is on full display. The sheer beauty of the paintings and the mesmerizing power of his swirling strokes of color knock you out. His themes cover everything from classical history and mythology to Biblical references. He loses me when he gets into mythology but that is a small price to pay to be able to see such masterpieces.
While in London we took the opportunity to visit the Saatchi Gallery to see the featured exhibition, Pangaea, which focused on the work of 16 contemporary artists from Africa and Latin America. The hype surrounding this collection was reminiscent of the Saatchi launch in 1992 of the Young British Artists. It didn’t work for me as I thought the works on display were uneven – some artists were very strong, others not so much.
At the Royal Academy of Art we took in a retrospective of German artist Anselm Kiefer who ranks among the best-known post-World War II European artists. Over his 50-year career his obsession has been to focus on Germany’s past. “Mythology, war, poetry, death – Kiefer makes big art with big themes.” His art isn’t for the faint of heart as his paintings and sculptures, mostly large scale and intimidating, are dark in theme and in the materials used – straw, sand and ash mixed in his paint, lead and acid washes. While it is helpful to know the context of his work (that present-day Germany must not forget the atrocities of the past), it is still quite a challenge to unravel all the nuances of a piece.
Our visit to Tate Modern was a chance to be reintroduced to the work of Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935). His colourful, geometric, abstract forms (1913-1917) first captured my imagination over ten years ago. To be able to visit such a comprehensive survey spanning his artistic career was a real learning experience. The movement he created, Suprematism, sought to reduce painting to nothing but shape and color. Such a radical concept developed by an artist who was isolated from the main artistic streams of the time and living under the iron fist of Stalin is truly remarkable. Even more so when you consider that his contemporaries were still turning out the traditional, representational images of the Russian people and their culture.
Our stay in Paris, for the most part, involved getting reconnected to a city that I have visited many times over the past 30 years. We went back to our favourite, off-the-beaten-track, small museum, the Marmottan Monet, where you will find over 65 of Claude Monet’s works, all of which were painted at his Normandy home at Giverny. On display was a special exhibition built around Monet’s Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), 140 years after it first appeared in 1874. This is the painting that gave the Impressionist movement its name.
In between taking in the sights we visited the Rodin Museum and Sainte-Chapelle and were able to get tickets for the Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective at the Grand Palais. Born Catherine Marie-Agnes Fal de Saint Phalle in 1930, she shed her upper-class and overly-disciplined upbringing to begin painting in the early 1950s. The focus of her art was to create an awareness of the central role of women in society. Her views preceded the feminist movement and were most strikingly represented in the sculpture-like creations, begun in the 1960s, of her take on the proverbial everywoman. She named her creations Nanas, a term roughly translated from the French slang as “chicks ”.
Art Appreciation Marathon to be continued……