: Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980
2018. USA. Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. 97 min.
The belle époque, a French expression meaning “beautiful era,” refers to the interwar years between 1871 and 1914, when Paris was at the forefront of urban development and cultural innovation. During this time Parisians witnessed the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the ascendancy of the Montmartre district as an epicenter for art and entertainment and the brightening of their metropolis under the glow of electric light. From the nostalgic perspective of the twentieth century, this four-decade period of progress and prosperity was a golden age of spectacle and joie de vivre.
For artists living through the epoch, however, the less triumphant details of daily life were often the ones that inspired creative expression: a puff of factory smoke mingling with the clouds; the saucy sneer of a cabaret performer; the densely patterned décor of a domestic interior. To convey the immediacy of what they observed, artists like Pierre Bonnard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec rejected the formalities of oil painting, preferring loose, sketch-like handling, abrupt compositional cropping and oblique points of view that situate the spectator within the scene. Many painters turned to printmaking as a newly compelling pictorial medium, one that invited bold aesthetic experimentation while broadening the potential market for avant-garde art. By Day & by Night: Paris in the Belle Époque surveys the rich range of artistic responses to life in the French capital through a selection of paintings, drawings, prints and photographs from the Museum’s collections. Together these works of art demonstrate that visual artists participated in the inventive spirit of the age by interpreting the everyday as something extraordinary.
Once Upon a Tapestry: Woven Tales of Helen and Dido presents a selection of artworks that explore the fates of two heroines from classical mythology whose stories have inspired poets, artists and musicians over the centuries: Helen of Troy and Dido of Carthage. Five tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries, along with a rare set of cartoons, illustrate the currency of these female-centric narratives in early modern Europe, the power of tapestry to visualize such stories and the inventiveness and skill employed to produce these splendid objects, made for the wealthiest and most distinguished patrons.
Homer’s epic poem of the Trojan War, the Iliad, written in the eighth century BCE, is the source for the dramatic story of Helen of Troy. Medieval poets updated the ancient tale and often added commentary to connect European nobles to their heroic Trojan counterparts. In the visual arts, these contemporized versions of the Iliad challenged artists to depict the conflict of battle, and the large-scale, multipaneled character of tapestry provided a magnificent vehicle for their ambitions. It is all the more notable then that Helen, an icon of beauty whose abduction from Sparta and her king provoked the Trojan War, figures so prominently in four of the tapestries exhibited. They chronicle Helen’s fate, from her arrival in Troy and marriage to Paris to her return to Sparta and her reconciliation with her first husband, Menelaus. Her leading role in these panels may be a stage for exploring the then-topical power of female beauty. Rich with detail, these luxurious silk and wool tableaux introduce us to contemporary court attire and to medieval stagecraft, as seen in the jewel-encrusted architectural framework that calls attention to the principal subjects.
AIR LAND SEA: A Lithographic Suite by William Crutchfield
Artist William Crutchfield (1932–2015), born in Indianapolis, Indiana, received a traditional studio training at the city’s Herron School of Art and later at Tulane University in New Orleans. His conventional education in the arts may have suited his eye for metronomic movement but perhaps not his prankish sense of humor.
Crutchfield moved to Los Angeles in 1967, settling near the shipyards of San Pedro, amid views of the bustling Port of Los Angeles. This industrial setting provided the artist with plenty of inspiration and subject material for his mechanically derived artworks (the artist once professed that the 1928 transatlantic flight of the Graf Zeppelin was one of his prime spiritual sources). The move also gave him the opportunity to create a more public persona after many years of teaching; that same year, he created a lithographic suite for publisher Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles and began regularly exhibiting in galleries.
Crutchfield continued to play with the theme of humankind’s fraught relationship with transportation throughout most of his career. Trains, ships, and airplanes are all portrayed as overbuilt models of modernity. AIR LAND SEA, a suite of 13 lithographs printed at Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles in 1970, exemplifies the artist’s master draftsmanship, his keen understanding of engineering, his wry wit and, most of all, his fascination with sundry modes of conveyance.
The Sweetness of Life: Three 18th-Century French Paintings from The Frick Collection
Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, the eminent 19th-century historians of French art and society, baptized the 1700s the “century of women.” Though 18th-century women did make strides in the sciences, literature and the arts, they were most often portrayed in genre scenes pursuing leisurely, quotidian pleasures and tasks. Three superb 18th-century French genre paintings from The Frick Collection in New York, part of an ongoing reciprocal exchange program, are on view this summer at the Museum. These artfully constructed visions of contemporary life and fashion, as depicted by François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, provide viewers with an intimate look at the lives of middle-class French women of the 1740s and 1750s. The paintings will be installed in the Museum’s 18th-century Rococo gallery among its own works by Chardin and Boucher, as well as paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
The odalisque, a harem slave or concubine, was a popular subject in European art throughout the colonial period. These erotic images of women in the geographically vague “Orient” evoked a life of luxury and indolence far removed from nineteenth-century industrial society (and twenty-first century standards of representing race and gender). Indeed pictures of odalisques were often a matter of creative fantasy and invention rather than one of cultural documentation. Harem environments were constructed in the artist’s studio using models dressed in costume and a mélange of exotic props. And artists did not always disguise the fact that their scenes were staged, whether by depicting the odalisque changing into her costume or appropriating imagery from famous precedents. Revealing the picture’s fiction did not detract from its visual appeal.
This small-scale focus exhibition gathers together seven such subjects from the Norton Simon’s collections—including Frédéric Bazille’s Woman in a Moorish Costume (1869), Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers, Version "I" (1955), and Henri Matisse’s Odalisque with Tambourine (Harmony in Blue) (1926)—to show how artists exploit the tension between reality and artifice in these images. Matisse, for example, claimed that he made odalisques as an excuse to “paint the nude,” and because he had seen harems firsthand on his trips to Morocco. Yet the numerous odalisques that he produced in Nice in the 1920s revel in the imaginary, with excessively decorative environments that threaten to subsume the female figure altogether. Matisse/Odalisque contextualizes this artist’s distinctive approach to the orientalist theme with a range of examples from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It demonstrates that artists consistently accentuated the seductive aspect of the odalisque by foregrounding color, ornament, and dazzling surface effects.