Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Synchromy in Purple Minor, 1918, oil on canvas,Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1970.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, many American painters struggled to understand the visual properties of light, color, form, and space. A new analytical approach to art flourished, rooted in the painterly investigations of the French Impressionists and in a burgeoning public understanding of recent scientific advances.
Working in Paris among an international community of painters who were all pushing the boundaries of established ideas, American artists Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell developed a system of abstract painting based on color harmonies and their alignment with Western musical structures. Synchromy in Purple Minor, painted by Macdonald-Wright after his return to New York, is considered one of the masterworks of this system, called Synchromism. Using his studies of Michelangelo’s sculpture, the Pieta, he described the abstracted female figure’s sculptural dimension primarily through color, rather than line or form. Using color’s capacity to suggest depth through juxtapositions that imply receding or advancing space, the artist generated illusionistic form without using traditional techniques.
Synchromy in Purple Minor charts an essential step in the evolution of this new abstract language, whose roots stem from the artistic and scientific discoveries of the day.
Luca Cambiaso, Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist,early 1550s, oil on panel, Purchase as a gift of the Cain Foundation in honor of Charmaine Hooper Denius, 2005.
Elbridge Ayer Burbank, Puget Sound, Washington, not dated, oil on board, Gift of Dr. Edgar and Annie Ray Poth, 1986.
Glenn Ligon, Untitled (Hands/Stranger in the Village), 1999, Silkscreen, coal dust, and glue on paper mounted on linen, Michener Acquisitions Fund, 2000.
Glenn Ligon has long investigated the relationship between image and text, race and identity, and often mixes paint with a shiny black waste product, an abrasive, granular substance used to sandblast buildings clean.
In this work, Ligon stenciled the last line of novelist James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village” over a documentary photograph of hands raised at the 1995 Million Man March in Washington D.C. Baldwin’s text reflects on race relations in the United States and ends with a statement: “The time has come to realize that interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too.”
Like the rest of Ligon’s work, Untitled is shot through with ambivalence. Both the image and lettering in Ligon’s painting are mostly illegible, which for the artist is “a metaphor for where we are now regarding these issues.” On the one hand, it was born of a desire to communicate with the viewer. Indeed, the excerpt from Baldwin’s essay demands—begs, even—to be read. At the same time, however, it scuttles any attempt at communication by obscuring the words with coal dust, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, for the viewer to discern their meaning.
TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, Henri de
In the Café: The Guest and the Anaemic Cashier
Oil on cardboard, 82 x 60 cm
Marcelo Pombo, La pinacoteca de los pobres [The Gallery of the Poor] (with details), 2008, enamel on panel,Purchase through the generosity of Judy and Charles Tate, 2009.
Ever since Pombo launched his artistic career in the late 1980s, he has challenged the description of his work as kitsch. In his view, kitsch in art is about ironic intention, and his work is without irony. It emerges instead from the places he has lived and worked, which are places he loves. He revels, for example, in the colorful, brash popular taste that thrives in the poorer parts of Buenos Aires where he worked as a young adult.
La pinacoteca de los pobres, with its extravagant ornamentation and bold color combinations, celebrates the “low brow.” The paintings within this painting, crowded together salon-style and hovering over an almost-empty surrealistic landscape, cannot contain their profuse decorations, which slip from the surfaces and fall like rain to accumulate on the ground. Pombo’s meticulous application of enamel paint dot by dot with chopsticks creates the illusion of a richly bejeweled surface. Pombo is considered the artist most emblematic of the “light” aesthetic that emerged in 1990s Buenos Aires. “Light” art reflected a cultural return to beauty, sensuality, and joy after years of military dictatorship. In contrast to conceptualism’s severity and the ponderousness of much painting in the 1980s, the style, as in this work, was airy and audacious.
This week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast features Teresita Fernández and Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Stephanie Barron.
Fernández has created a major new series of installations for MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass. Titled "As Above So Below," the exhibition moves through the museum’s architecture to create enormous vistas and smaller, more intimate moments with sculpture. The show includes three large-scale installations that are informed by Fernández’s interest in landscape, art about landscape, and our perception of landscape, including Black Sun, Sfumato (Epic) and Lunar (Theatre). Curated by Denise Markonish, “As Above So Below” is on view through March, 2015. The exhibition is accompanied by a sleek, handsome 96-page book.
This is Fernandez’s Black Sun as installed at MASS MoCA. Click to expand it to 1,200px wide.
In 2005 Fernández received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship, and she currently serves on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at MOCA North Miami, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Artpace, the ICA Philadelphia, Castello di Rivoli outside Turin, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and others.