Last Chance to See

Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy
Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy

Quite often a temporary exhibition will see two peaks of attendance: one at the opening and one near the close. A few excellent exhibitions in New York region will close in one or two weeks, thus this cold New York weekend, will be the last chance to see them.

1.  Met: American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765 – 1915. Last day: Jan 24, 2010

Geo commented that the exhibition was the best he had seen in years, and I agreed. Too often visitors are stunned by things, whose individuality strikes and trap them in objects alone. This show is as close to idea-oriented sociological exploration  as it can ever possibly get. There are still iconic pictures, of important figures or reverend places; but the majority of the pictures, like typical genre paintings, are of representatives of different ranks, profession, age and sex, of particular stratum of a society at some historical point. On the second layer, the sentimental, bucolic or satirical tones of the pictures betrays the political, economic or cultural standpoint of painters themselves. Thus the sensual joys from astonishing pictures of this special exhibition should not suppress the intellectual curiosity about the complexity of curatorial efforts, both in sociological/historical contents and artistic production. The show will travel to Los Angeles, but not all the big canvases, so treasure the rare opportunities to see the “American stories” told in multi-fold threads.

2. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Rembrandt’s People. Last day: Jan 24, 2010

Only two hours away from NYC, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art’s permanent collection would rival those largest museum in the country. Rembrandt’s People is the debut of a series of small-scale shows inspired by works in Wadsworth’s permanent collection. These works come from public and private collections, including the famous self-portrait owned by the National Gallery of Art. Those who have not tried a self-portrait should at least experiment once regardless of drawing skills. Man does not take up a neutral or objective attitude towards his own appearance; his participation is coloured more by his ‘will” than by his ‘idea’. (Max Friedländer) The power and tension from Rembrandt’s pictures justify that a small-scaled show would just satisfy or perplex any visitor, at least me, who have perpetually bewildered that how a self-contained inner truth is wholly exhorted under the light that barely brighten the tip of the nose.

3. Newark Museum, 100 Masterpieces of Art Pottery, 1880 – 1930. Last day: Jan 10, 2010

Another great museum whose decorative art collection is showcased in this exhibition. American art pottery has been doing better than other types of decorative art in recent years. The time period include gilded age till the end of the roaring 20’s.  The antithesis of anti-industrial attitude and mass material culture can be hardly more evident in these art potteries: factory production lines were checked by individuality that inserted the fine-art characteristics. That particularity from each makers or artists engenders art pottery with varied forms and techniques that one could easily get lost in the jungle of shapes, colors and textures. Luckily the show has divided art pottery in this period into different groups ranging from Victorian roots, China painters to sculptural art pots and only a handful of 100 masterpieces are presented.

4. Bard Graduate Center, Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick.  Last day: Jan 24, 2010

If Geo voted American Stories at Met as his favorite exhibition of the year, then the World of Margrieta van Varick, a faintly fabricated personification of Dutch New York from a piece of inventory list, gets my vote. Again, there are stunning objects, yet all centered around certain aspects of Dutch New York. For a woman whose looking we could only guess from her prominent descendants, her inventory list induced the most fascinated curatorial efforts that celebrates the Dutch root of New York city.

5. Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot: “The Life of Christ”. Last day: Jan 17, 2010

Tissot’s watercolor illustration of the life of Christ was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum at the turn of the century through public subscription. From then on (except the first two decades), the treasure is brought out to the public every 20 years or so. 124 of a total 350 pictures are shown in the current exhibition. It would be interested to look back the review and public reception of past exhibitions to explore how Americans of different generations perceive and interpret pictures of Christ. They are NOT typical biblical pictures. The bold perspectives and strong narratives make it clear that Tissot was not a preacher, but an artist to awaken general impulses of the soul, to address our senses and emotions. They are the most  daring and individualized pictures of Christ, the question is: Can we see them without connecting to that symbolic halo?

6. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorkey: A Retrospective and Arshile Gorky in Context. Last Day: Jan 10, 2010.

The highlight of the exhibition is a series of “creation chambers,” based on the artist’s description of his studio in Union Square, New York, in which some of Gorky’s most powerful and best-known paintings are being shown alongside their related studies and preparatory drawings. And perhaps inspired by the previous blockbuster show of the museum  “Cézanne and Beyond“, a smaller-scaled exhibition Arshile Gorky in Context bring in comparison works from those who influenced him, were influenced by him and those who worked with him. This comprehensive retrospective is the first full-scale survey of Gorky’s work in nearly thirty years.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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