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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ancient Buildings, Modern Use


The gigantic Temple of Olympian Zeus, Agrigento, was damaged by earthquakes before completion. This new statue, a flying bronze, echoes the temple's fallen state. The wing overlaps and seems to touch a huge Doric capital to the right of the middle.



I was recently in Sicily to view mainly the ancient Greek sites. My camera broke and thankfully Kelli Palmer is letting me share her pictures of Agrigento, a city known for the beauty of its golden limestone.

The Temple of Concord in Agrigento is one of the best preserved Greek temples standing today, probably due to the fact that it was used as a church in the Middle Ages. Right now contemporary sculpture is on display there and at the other temples in Agrigento. The combination of antique/modern -- though not always successful -- is particularly well done at this site because it does not detract from the ancient architecture while displaying the new work effectively. The sculptures seem to be made for this purpose.

A nude comfortably "bronzes"herself on the
porch of a 5th
century BC Doric temple. It is
not known to whom the temp
le wasdedicated.








Bronze hands reach upward, perhaps
expressing aspirations appropriate to
either church or temple. The arches date from the middle ages. The medieval builders cut arches into the walls, changing the ancient temple's "cella"
into a church's nave.





The modern marble figure, draped in a fashion reminiscent of the Venus de Milo, is far more sensual than a cult statue to Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite or even the Christian Mary would have been in a religious building. But it stands harmoniously in this room which had been converted into a church's nave in the 6th century. The relationship of a church's nave to its side aisles is similar to the relationship of an inner temple (the cella) to the outer colonnade.












Thursday, April 8, 2010

Torrents of Rain and Gusts of Wind

Jean-Francois Millet, The Gust of Wind, 1871-73, National Museum of Wales

It's disappointing that the Corcoran exhibition, From Turner to Cezanne, had to be taken down early as a precaution over environmental concerns......I was counting on going Friday, April 9, three days after it abruptly closed. What am I missing? A spectacular collection from the National Gallery of Wales, little-known paintings of well-known artists that are seldom seen in the US..................... Torrents of Rain and Gusts of Wind.....


Vincent Van Gogh, Rain, Auvers, 1890, from the National Museum of Wales
Vincent Van Gogh's suns, stars and flowers from sunny Provence express the intensity he experienced in the South of France. But in May, 1890, he moved north of Paris to Auvers-sur-Oise and painted Rain, Auvers in July. This painting conveys a heavy impact of rain with Van Gogh's uncommon ability to combine actual texture of the paint itself with the tangible, tactile sense of objects painted. I really wanted to see Rain, Auvers to experience the downpour. Exaggerated or not, Van Gogh has the power to create a reality that makes us feel its presence more keenly. But the rain in this painting, deliberate gashes to the canvas surface, warns of a downpour more powerful than rain, the artist's impending doom--he shot himself July 29th.

Even more than the Van Gogh, I was also looking forward to seeing paintings by Daumier and Millet, two mid-19th century French painters who are often overlooked, particularly in their gifts of great draftsmanship. Van Gogh seems to have admired them. One of Millet's paintings from this Davies Collection at the National Museum of Wales is The Gust of Wind, 1871-73. Millet conveys the full fury of a storm in the countryside. He captures the birds, leaves and branches with jagged, undulating brushstrokes. Along with the wind, his tree is uprooted and the birds, man (a shepherd whose sheep can barely be seen) and flock scatter in a fury, as the luminous colors of daylight poke through the background.

It is commonly understood that Van Gogh's paintings of The Sower were inspired by Millet's The Sower. No doubt Van Gogh knew many paintings by Millet and shared his appreciation for man's connection to the land. He adopted Millet's expressive lines, but thickened the contours and turned up the volume on color. Brandon, one of my students, was amazed to discover the wind that Van Gogh captured in The Olive Orchard, now on view in the Chester Dale Collection at the National Gallery of Art. Certainly Millet was one of Van Gogh's most inspiring teachers, along with the Japanese artist Hiroshige, whose woodcuts gave Van Gogh the motif of diagonal cuts for rain.

In May and during most of the summer, this exhibition travels to Albuquerque Museum of Art in New Mexico. However, while the O'Keeffe exhibition remains at the Phillips until May 9th, its worth seeing the weather photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and comparing them to paintings about weather.
Ando Hiroshige, Rain Shower on Ohashi Bridge, 1857
woodcut, at the Library of Congress. The rain, treated like gashes in the wood, influenced the gashes in "Rain,Auvers"



Van Gogh, The Olive Orchard, 1889, Chester Dale Collection,National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC





detail, The Gust
of Wind, shows
how Millet's lines influenced Van Gogh