Art

The Life Ecstatic: Judith Schaechter at Claire Oliver Gallery, 513 West 26th Street. New York, Sept 9 – October 22.

Judith Schaechter, The Life Ecstatic, at the Claire Oliver Gallery, New York. Photo Virginia Raguin.

All artists strive to depict the human condition; Judith Schaechter does this in a series of extraordinary narratives in stained glass that address life, consciousness, and the unending richness of created form. A recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts awards as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship, Schaechter teaches in the Craft and Material Studies department at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Her recent show at Claire Oliver Gallery focuses on flight and space, actual or imagined in new and brilliant ways. Birds rule throughout! Schaechter admits that she has recently become a bird watcher although she always enjoyed animals, even as a teenager. She confides that a bird’s shape is appealing—a living form but without the complex appendages of arms and legs (hard to draw).

Experiments of the Ordinary: Giorgio Morandi at the Center for Italian Modern Art

Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta, 1963

All accounts suggest that the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) enjoyed a life of uninterrupted calm and isolation. Introverted by nature, Morandi spent his entire lifetime in Bologna, in the same apartment no less, and was dubbed il Monaco due to his almost monastic reclusiveness. He tended to paint at home, either in his bedroom or an adjoining studio, committing himself almost exclusively to the natura morta, or still life.

Danish Solitudes: Vilhelm Hammershøi at Scandinavia House, closes March 26, 2016

Vilhelm Hammershøi, The Buildings of the Asiatic Company, Seen from St. Annæ Street, Copenhagen, 1902. Oil on canvas, 57 5/8 x 55 1/3 in. (146.5 x 140.5 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.dk

Widely recognized in Europe during his lifetime and engulfed by obscurity for decades thereafter, today the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) is primarily considered to be a “painter of tranquil rooms.” “Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor,” one of twenty-four paintings displayed in an intimate recent exhibit at New York’s Scandinavia House, is an archetypal Hammershøi work. A solitary woman hunches over a table with her back to the viewer, her identity and activity unclear. Daylight pours through a large central window, leaving a slanted, luminous grid ghosted on the floor. While the subject matter is characteristic of the period—paintings of bourgeois women and interiors were both immensely popular in 19th century Denmark—the approach is defiantly atypical.

The New Contemporary at the Art Institute of Chicago. Reopened December 2015.

Jasper Johns. Alphabet, 1959. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection. © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

For a museum that bills itself encyclopedic, the Art Institute of Chicago was long lacking a comprehensive contemporary section to complete its smorgasbord of the world’s greatest art. Last April, plastics tycoon Stefan T. Edlis and his wife Gael Neeson changed all that with a gift of forty-four pieces by such recognized names as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and several others. These works are currently on display in the Modern Wing of what TripAdvisor has dubbed “the world’s best museum.” The Institute’s pledge to display the works rather than pack them away was “an offer I could not refuse,” Edlis stated, leaving him and the general public equally happy. Edlis, although still in good health, wanted worthy homes for his extensive collection while still alive. These forty-four works now rest comfortably on the “Big Shoulders” of his adopted hometown.

Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts until March 13, 2016

Rodin in his studio

Auguste Rodin is one of those institutional artists, whose last name has become synonymous with a distinctive​ kind of art, much the same as Donatello or Rembrandt, but Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, is as remarkable as it is unexpected. While it covers the salient points in Rodin’s oeuvre, the focus here is neither marble nor bronze, but rather the humbler medium of plaster. The underlying thesis is that Rodin was more of a modeler than a carver, a practice reflecting the nature of the art market in his day as well as the sculptor’s natural inclination. Created jointly by the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Montreal, the exhibition showcases two hundred works that emphasize Rodin’s pivotal place in the grand tradition of sculpture, between the worlds of Michelangelo and of Brancusi.

Vermeer’s Astronomer at the MFA

Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632–1675), The Astronomer (1668), Oil on canvas, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The distinguished senior curator of European paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Ronni Baer, has put together a compelling and instructive exhibition of 17th-century Dutch art (mostly oil painting) that focusses on complex layers of social class (Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, through January 18; which then reopens on February 20 for three months at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, MO). There isn’t a painting in the show without interest, including a heaping handful of out-and-out masterpieces: early Rembrandt, Hals (in both intimate and heroic—or mock heroic—mode), Ruysdael (those bleaching fields near Haarlem under an enormous cloud-filled sky), de Hooch (that radiant courtyard; that dim geometrical interior), Ter Borch (those glittering satins; that velvety cow suspiciously eyeing a nearby axe), a Van Dyck, and a crisp, penetrating Thomas de Keyser portrait of the Dutch statesman, poet, and musician Constantijn Huygens, father of the scientist Christiaan Huygens, who discovered the rings of Saturn—a big discovery for me.

Kiki Smith at the IFPDA Print Fair

Kiki Smith. Photo Virginia Raguin.

At the IFPDA Print Fair on Saturday, November 7 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, curator Wendy Weitman spoke to Kiki Smith about what informs her printmaking practice and its inherent connection to her sculptural work. Smith’s popularity was obvious in the line of people that snaked through the entrance hall of the Park Avenue Armory, waiting to enter the Board Officers’ Room to hear her speak. Extra chairs were set up in additional rows to accommodate the crowd, while many still stood along the walls. Smith and her multidisciplinary practice have been dissected and examined time and again throughout her decades-long career. She is a sculptor, a printmaker, a photographer. She is innovative and unconventional.

Donatello in Motion – A Spiritello Rediscovered, at the Moretti Williams Gallery, 24 East 80th Street, New York City, CLOSING November 25

Donatello, Spiritello, wood, Andrew Butterfield Fine Arts. Photo Maggie Nimkin, New York.

In an art world teeming with crass nouveaux riches grabbing trophies at auction for insane prices, once prominent dealers in prison, ArtBasel Miami, and the “Da Vinci” industry, it is deeply comforting to find an enterprise like Andrew Butterfield’s refreshingly sober, but gorgeous and energizing exhibition of a single work of art: a spiritello (more commonly called by its 16th century name, “putto“) which he found, eventually purchased, and now presents to the public with a carefully researched, modestly proposed attribution to Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, Florence, 1386 or 1387 to 1466), the greatest of Italian sculptors of the Renaissance—I have always preferred his work to Michelangelo’s. As a teenager I made my way around the David in the Bargello with my father, and we both agreed it was superior to Michelangelo’s, and, as much as I’ve admired Michelangelo’s sculpture, and written about it, I still consider Donatello to the greater of the two. If Dr. Butterfield’s exhibition achieves nothing else, it pinpoints the reasons why Donatello is in fact the greatest and most influential sculptor of the Italian Renaissance.

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