California Literary Review

Art & Design

Maryhill Museum of Art, One Hundred Miles East of Portland


September 27th, 2011

Mannequins in pale satins and gauzy tulle pose in a lofty attic whose roof has been torn open as if by an air raid, revealing a black and white cityscape seen as if from the angle of a pilot.

Purity and Danger: The Many Lives of the Italian Renaissance


August 25th, 2011

More importantly, the good-for-you, vitamin-enriched Renaissance we know today is itself a fairly recent, and largely American, historical construction.

Art Review: Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, Philadelphia Museum of Art


August 8th, 2011

Living in close proximity to the growing Jewish population of Amsterdam, the biblically-minded Rembrandt experienced an artistic epiphany of lasting significance. Why not paint the portrait of Jesus, a 1st Century Jew from Galilee, using a live model with Jewish features? The resulting portraits, seven out of a likely eight that were painted, now grace the walls of a landmark exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Art Review: Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life, Art Institute of Chicago


August 7th, 2011

Stasis, whether in art, life, economics or political culture, was distasteful and to be done away with. Having spent much of the 1920’s doing typographic and book design as well as designing toys and puppets, Sutnar was well-placed to bring his left-of-center, democracy-inspired radicalism to everything from porcelain to book covers.

Beauty & Bounty: American Art in the Age of Exploration, Seattle Art Museum


July 21st, 2011

The highlight of the gallery would have to be the three paintings by lesser-known artist Martin Johnson Heade. In comparison with the majestic landscapes of mountains, waterfalls and canyons, the rather unremarkable marshlands and haystacks seem out of place. Yet, thanks to a rather humorous and talented Heade, the swirling haystacks and strange storm clouds leave the viewer with an eerie sense of calm, much like the sensation one feels before a summer storm.

Stacey Steers’ Night Hunter


July 8th, 2011

Here, Gish finds herself amidst a riot of Freudian imagery – snakes, earthworms, and phallic blades of grass; mysterious pulsating eggs that seem to ooze blood. Among the few touches of color (added by hand) are splashes of red in Gish’s clothes (and oozing from those eggs). These, along with the old house deep in a tangled wood which forms the setting, evoke Little Red Riding Hood, perhaps the modern world’s favorite fable of sexual awakening and sexual danger.

Art Review: Marvelous Mud at the Denver Art Museum


July 7th, 2011

Marajó is a vast island lying at the mouth of the Amazon, much of which is underwater during seasonal floods. Between 400 and 1300 AD, a culture flourished here on artificial mounds built to rise above the flood waters. The current indigenous inhabitants disclaim any connection to the earlier residents; the makers of these objects had vanished before their ancestors arrived, they say.

Collab: Four Decades of Giving Modern and Contemporary Design, Philadelphia Museum of Art


June 9th, 2011

Put them together as an integrated unit and you have a masterpiece. And in doing so, you have a vivid testimonial to Nelson’s famous 1965 evocation of “junk” as the “crowning glory” of modern consumer culture, “the symbol as clear a statement as the pyramids, the Parthenon, the cathedrals … the rusty, lovely, brilliant symbol of the dying years of your time. Junk is your ultimate landscape.”

Art Review: Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


June 6th, 2011

The pieces presented in this forty-year retrospective are bright and smooth, often dauntingly large, and composed of multiple parts that cluster together like organisms in an ecosystem or diverse components within a cell. They are frequently plantlike, vital and faintly menacing, and sport attachments that suggest insect pincers or lobster claws. They’re organic and goofy, as if they’d grown themselves, rather than being made. Yet at the same time there is something stubbornly artificial in their fantastic symmetries.

Art Review: Cities of Splendor: A Journey Through Renaissance Italy, Denver Art Museum


May 16th, 2011

The shepherds look up in bewilderment at the announcing angel whose golden halo, rose-pink robes, and orangey-bronze wings seem to glow. Surely, this is what a supernatural visitation should look like. And yet the effect of nocturnal shadow shows the painter to be as interested in earthly experiences as heavenly ones – here already is the keenly observational eye of the Renaissance.

Art Review: Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore


May 12th, 2011

While Robinson’s depiction of a pensive young woman in a sylvan setting hardly seems revolutionary today, his painting marked a significant moment of transition in the American art scene. During the 1890’s, wealthy Americans like Henry Frick were buying Rembrandts by the cart-load.

Badlands Revisited


May 11th, 2011

Badlands was filmed on location in southern Colorado, and recently I finally made it to Pueblo, Colorado’s Rosemount House Museum, aka the interior of the “rich man’s house.” Fans of Malick’s offbeat, lyrical American aesthetic should find plenty to like there.

Denver’s Camera Obscura Gallery Closes


May 9th, 2011

In dramatic contrast to the wide-open, sleekly minimalist aesthetic of most modern art galleries, Camera Obscura’s displays rambled through a series of rooms whose uniform coat of white paint barely obscured their past as a Victorian home. It was in this casual, intimate, even cluttered environment that I encountered many of the luminaries of modern photography, such as Edward Weston, Eliot Porter, Imogen Cunningham…

Art Review: Health for Sale, Philadelphia Museum of Art


April 15th, 2011

Designed for short-term use to promote public health or sell the latest “miracle” drug, medical posters have often been ignored. Traditionally, these posters have ranked well below the “stars” of Ars Medica collections, such as books of hand-tinted herbal remedies or anatomical drawings from the 16th century. But each of the prints in Health for Sale tells an amazing story, often confounding the expectations of the viewer.

Art Review: Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle, Philadelphia Museum of Art


March 30th, 2011

Chagall was a major exception to the ready embrace of western modes of art and thought by artists from Eastern Europe. However much he might borrow a stylistic element from Cubism or Orphism, Chagall maintained a spiritual element in his art that was in keeping with his Jewish and Russian heritage.

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