Saturday, November 26, 2011

Last Call - Georges Braque and Geoffrey Johnson Pose Existential Questions

Georges Braque, Harbor, 1909, oil on canvas, 16 x 19 inches,
National Gallery of Art, Washington,
Gift of Victoria Nebeker Coberly in memory of her son, John W. Mudd
Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Georges Braque: Pioneer of Modernism, Acquavella Gallery through November 30.

The glorious Georges Braque retrospective, long overdue, is scheduled to close too soon.  For beautiful as it is, Braque's work may not be as easy to understand as it may seem superficially.  It requires multiple viewings at different times to understand this exploration of the seen and unseen all at one time.  This is truly Cubism: a conceptual intersection of space and time.  Ideally, one should see the show, read the brilliant catalogue essays by curator Dieter Buchhart, French modernist scholar Isabelle Monod-Fontaine and Cézanne specialist Richard Shiff, and then return for another look to study the writers' insights. 

However, if you have not seen the show already, just go before it closes midweek.  
Here are a few ideas that the art historians offer.

Buchhart: Braque's quote "Art agitates and science reassures" - the artist intuits the mysteries of physicality and opens the door to questioning perception. The artist feels the illusive while he makes his mark on the surface. Depicting the object is not the reason for making art; it is the vehicle through which the artist expresses his grasp of reality. Braque tried to show the multiple layers of reality in art and in the objects his art references.

Shiff: Braque understands Cézanne's concept of the pictorial fact and the "dematerialized space of visuality."

Monod-Fontaine: Braque's investigation of the "nature of things" considers the inside and outside of an object in terms of "sensory memory."  The philosopher Henri Bergson would add that this concept hinges on his theory of the duré.

On this Thanksgiving Weekend, I wish to give thanks to all who conceived of and contributed to this exceptional Georges Braque exhibition.  I am also thankful that we can view Braque's work without the usual context of other Fauves and Cubists. It is my most fervent wish that Braque will receive another retrospective study in a New York museum within the near future. 

Geoffrey Johnson, Untitled #4, 2011, oil on canvas, 17.5 x 24 inches, Courtesy of Hubert Gallery, New York

Geoffrey Johnson: New Paintings, Hubert Gallery, through November 30.

A bunch of smudgy marks locked into a vast expanse of icy artic whiteness stopped me dead in my tracks on the way to the Whitney Museum's Real/Surrealism show.  The sudden sense of connection was absolute.  Here was humanity visibly submerged into utter oblivion while struggling against the ultimate (perhaps inevitable) annihilation of us all.  Jean-Paul Sartre understood this feeling of no way out.  Albert Camus understood the need to, nevertheless, push on.

When will this existential angst end?  Ask the Occupers on Wall Street.  Ask the protesters in Tehrir Square. Or, simply visit Hubert Gallery to think about it on your own before this frosty bite of reality truly evaporates into the mist of Exhibitions Past.


  1. Beth, do you happen to know if anyone has copies of the catalog for sale? Aquavella is out of them, and they have no plans for a reprint. It seems they seriously underestimated demand; usually, their catalogs are available for years after the exhibition.

  2. Hi Cipher,

    I looked around a bit but was unable to find anything myself.
    This is tragic! It's a great book.
    Perhaps another publisher will reprint the catalogue.

  3. I hope so. I should have bought it while I was there, but I didn't feel like schlepping it back with me to Boston. Stupid!

    I can't understand Aquavella's attitude. My request can't be the only one they've received, and, as I say, their other catalogs are available for years afterward. You can even find them occasionally on Amazon.

    Otherwise, I'll have to wait for a second-hand copy to become available online (like I don't have enough to remember).