Thursday, June 26, 2008
Mike at the Crocker on May 25, 2008.
Photo by Dave Hall.
I made two visits to the Crocker Art Museum. The first was on Sunday, May 25th. The second was on Sunday, June 1st. The first visit was to get reacquainted with the Crocker's collection and see what pieces appealed to me. I visited every gallery on all three floors, but spent the majority of my time on the first and second floor.
The Asian art collection on the ground floor is small and I remember spending time a few years ago looking at the prints in the Hansen Gallery. I decided to do a quick perusal of the current show, “The Language of the Nude: Four Centuries of Drawing the Human Body” with the plan of coming back later to get a better look. Two pieces impressed me immediately, Cavaliere d’ Arpino’s Christ at the Column after Sebastiano del Piombo’s fresco of the flagellation in San Pietro in Montorio, Rome and Funeral of a Hero by Jacques-Louis David. Christ at the Column is 15 15/16 x 10 ¼ inches and was rendered using black and red chalks. I was particularly impressed by the strong contour lines and the use of hatching to give dimension to the figure of Christ. Funeral for a Hero is “pen and black ink, brush and gray wash and white watercolor over black chalk on blue laid paper laid down to beige laid secondary support.” It is 10 5/16 high x 59 5/8 inches wide. This classical frieze is the subject of a book by Seymour Howard published by the Crocker in 1975.
If you take the stairs to the second floor on either side of the foyer you are greeted by two impressive oil paintings by Charles Christian Nahl. Fandango and Sunday in the Mines are two oil paintings that celebrate the early days of California. Other works by Nahl can be found in the Salon-Style Gallery that offers a mixture of European and California art. There is a good deal of humor in Nahl’s work. I considered buying a postcard of each of these, but the postcards on sale didn’t do justice to the colors found in the actual paintings.
I decided to avoid Renoir’s Paysage A Cagnes (Countryside at Cagnes) an oil on canvas as I entered the Friedman Gallery. It’s right by the passage to the left. On another visit to the Crocker a long time ago, I spent most of my time staring at it.
Before entering the Tsakopoulos Gallery, I spent sometime with John Mariscal’s Pitbull Phenomena. This is a very colorful ceramic piece made with cotton and wire.
One of the highlight of my May visit to the Crocker was seeing Stephen Kaltenbach’s Portrait of My Father. The photographs I’ve seen of Kaltenbach’s painting didn’t preparing me for its size or the patterns that overlap the entire image.
Seeing this work in person is more awe inspiring than looking at it on a computer screen or printed out in a study guide. It’s so nice to see artwork up close. A picture in a book can’t show you the texture of a Renoir or show the subtle play of light on a sculpture as you look at it from different angles.
I’ll come back to the Contemporary Art Gallery in a moment to discuss my favorite piece, but first, I wanted to mention the runner up I found in the European Art Gallery, Edward Marsal’s In the Artist Studio. I loved this oil from 1889. I liked it so much; I bought the postcard and debated whether or not I wanted to write about it. Maybe another time.
On my June visit, I took the docent tour of The Language of the Nude. Mary, the docent admitted that she didn’t know much about the exhibit, but walking slowly through the galleries and discussing each piece with the other two people on the tour gave me a chance to look at each drawing more carefully and get used to the dim lighting used to protect the delicate drawings from fading.
My June visit, was a chance to take a second look at Richard Notkin’s All Nations' Have Their Moments of Foolishness from 2006.
Notkin is an American, born in 1948. He currently resides in Helena, Montana where he has a studio called MudFire. Notkin is a firm believer that artists also need to be activists. Here is the Artist’s statement from his website:
We have stumbled into the 21st Century with the advanced technologies of "Star Wars" and the emotional maturity of cavemen. If we can't find more creative solutions to solving worldwide social and political problems than sending young men and women to shred and incinerate one another's flesh with weapons of ever increasing efficiency, we will not survive to celebrate the passage into the 22nd century. And to make a dangerous situation worse, our country and too many of our fragile planet's nations are now in the hands of right wing thugs and fundamentalist tyrants who are fumbling the planet towardsWorld War III.
It is for these reasons, and far more, that I have chosen to continue to make ceramic sculptures which reflect on the social and political dilemmas of our world. As André Malraux observed, "Art is a revolt against man's fate." Need I say more?
All Nations’ Have Their Moments of Foolishness is made up of “earthenware tiles fired in sawdust filled with saggars with added watercolor mounted on panel.” From a distance you can see a Dumbo eared portrait of George W. Bush, reminiscent of Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Newman, but as you get closer you begin to see the images cast on individual tiles mounted together to complete the portrait of our current President.
The tiles are many and varied. There are pictures of bombs, dice, skulls, sperm, representations of the KKK, and many more.
I’m looking forward to my next visit to Crocker. There are exhibitions of Warner Brothers’ cartoon art and Maxfield Parrish’s works coming up in the future.