Modern Self Portraits

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A quickie this time. The Met’s Modern Art Mezzanine has an exhibition called The Lens and the Mirror showing self-portraits from the Museum’s own collection.

We loved the pair of William Roberts drawings, the first from 1911 (when he was sixteen!) and the second from around 1920. In both, the artist’s face is tilted down a bit, giving him a kind of menacing, Alex DeLarge look. There’s also an Egon Schiele watercolor, below, in which the artist appears eroticized and grotesquely emaciated. So, yeah, pretty much like any other portrait he ever did (ProTip: The Neue Galerie, just a few blocks north of the Met’s main entrance, has a fantastic Schiele collection in a weirdly intimate setting).

We enjoyed the Matisse intaglio, an expressive drawing by Umberto Boccioni (who was discussed previously on Suggested Donation) and the wonderfully rigid self-portrait by modernist photographer Edward Steichen (shown below as an unintentional self-portrait of a self-portrait—bad photographers and brightly lit objects behind glass do not mix. Metafictive! Kind of! . . . We’re like an accidental Charlie Kaufman).

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This group of work dates from the1880s through the 1940s; in August, curators will hit the reset button and put up another round  of self-portraits from the collection, this time from the 50s through today.

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Ayo Technology

Lauren’s post on the awesome World Digital Library reminded us of another impressive online art collection, Google Earth’s Masterpieces of the Prado. These images weigh in at 14,000 megapixels, meaning you get closer to works by Dürer, Bosch, and Reubens in Google Earth than you would be able to in person. It’s pretty remarkable—you can see brushtrokes and cracks in the oil paint, but never any pixelation.

Definitely best viewed in full screen Google Earth mode, but you can also check out some of these massive images in Google Maps.

‘Pressions

Oh, Impressionism. You’re the least offensive of art movements to our modern eye, with your treatment of light and refusal to delve into the tortured interior life of humanity. Who knew that, at your inception, you were considered shocking and radical? We did, thanks to taking Intro to Art History.

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Impressionism was distinct from earlier Euro painting styles in its focus on moments—how the light hits the facade of a church at a certain hour—but not moments of historical import. Impressionists traded in genre pictures (a term first defined as a negative—not a still life and not a history painting [NSFW if you W for Puritans]. Anyway, genre painting portrays everyday life–people walking around a city, sitting on a bench, or working in a field).

An Impressionist canvas might show light glancing off water, or smoke rising from a chimney, with just a few broad brushstrokes, but the viewer connects with it more intimately than he would with photorealistic representation. Maybe it’s something about omitting details so the audience has to unconsciously participate, supplying their own memories to fill in the broad patches of color.

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Who the fuck knows? Not us. What we do know is that these paintings are pretty as all get-out and seriously, you should be going to this museum all the fucking time. Someday you’ll have kids and you’ll move to Connecticut and it will be boring as shit and you’ll miss the days when one of the world’s great repositories of cultural history was just a subway ride away, but you blew your chance to be a regular there because you got high or spent time with your girlfriend when you’re missing the goddamn point because you don’t seem to realize that you would enjoy being high in the Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection, or that you could french your sweetheart upstairs while looking at the fucking Rodins which are the most erotic objects in the universe, Legends of the Fall-era Brad Pitt included.

You fucking asshole.

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So anyway, in Impressionism, a premium was put on depicting light. Although paint was often applied impasto—thickly—and the style appears sketchy and imprecise, Impressionists slaved over their compositions as much as their pre-Raphaelite forbearers. A bit of wall text in one of the rooms in the Annenberg Galleries notes, “Despite the seemingly rapid brushwork and the summary treatment of detail, [Manet’s portrait of his wife] was preceded by at least two drawings and an oil sketch.” Which is of course great, because it takes so much mastery and practice to achieve this effortless, spontaneous effect.

Art. Is the best. Except for Damien Hirst.

PS A moment of silence for Leonore Annenberg, who sponsored 9 rooms of European 19th century painting (one of which we were nominally reviewing here) and who, despite serving in the Reagan administration, donated a shitload of art and money to the Met. The Annenberg Foundation has also given away some $3 billion dollars to institutions like PBS and NPR, which makes her A-OK in our book, Gipper or no.

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The Annenberg Galleries (1 of 9)

Highlights: Beardy McBarbarossa (below) (not his real name). He looks kind of sad, but still like he wants to be friends with me.

I accept.

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Memorable Quote: “Monet’s art depends on observation of his environment, and to that extent, it is always autobiographical. In his pictures, one can chart the seasons, the weather, or as here, the look of women’s fashion in 1873.” From the wall text for Camille Monet on a Garden Bench, 1873

Next week: Self-portraits in the Modern mezzanine.