Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph

The Columbus Museum of Art holds one of the premier art collections in the midwest. It isn't a large facility, but many major artists have places in the permanent collection. It had been ages since I last visited, and what better time to go but on a Sunday morning when admission is free.

One of the current exhibits is "Shared Intelligence:  American Painting and the Photograph". It sounded intriguing. Do you take so many digital photos that, after a while, you no longer look at the composition? Do you no longer experience the moment, because you are too busy focusing and snapping and recording history?  Shared Intelligence invites us to "counter this numbing ubiquity and resist the growing homogenization of the image".

Many modern artists use photographs as the basis for their paintings. It is fairly well known that Norman Rockwell planned his paintings with elaborately staged photos of each character represented. And, of course, Andy Warhol projected black and white photos directly onto the canvas and then added color with oils, but I had no idea that it went as far back as the mid-to-late 1800's. Such esteemed artists as Edgar Degas, Thomas Eakins, Fredric Remington, and Georgia O'Keefe worked from photographs. O'Keefe used mostly the work of her lover Alfred Stieglitz.

There is Robert Bechtle, whose paintings look so much like the photographs from which he worked that one has to look very closely to tell the difference. And Chuck Close who superimposes a grid over the photograph and, among other methods, uses his fingerprints to "paint" the picture. Their art is known as photorealism.

One of the most interesting things to me was the way that artists like Degas and Eakins composed their photographs exactly as they would the painting, with light being the most important factor. Eadweard Muybridge, whose pioneering work in animal locomotion photography, was essential in Remington getting a galloping horse "right".

More modern artists used photographs, but didn't want their paintings to look photographic. They are sometimes known as "magic realists", or the subversion of reality. Artists such as Henry Koerner created paintings of his family and his hometown in Austria from photos of the destruction after World War II. They are quite moving in their symbolism. Honoré Sharrer and Ben Shahn also are included in this category. (There is no Wiki page for Henry Koerner.)  

An extreme use of photography in modern art is employed by Sherrie Levine, who uses highly pixelated  photos of famous photographs and famous paintings to create her works. To me, they just look like blocks of color, but I've never considered myself to be visionary when it comes to modern art.

This was one of the better exhibits I have seen. I'm thinking of going again, because I'm sure I will learn more from the wealth of material covered there. I wasn't allowed to photograph the show, but I did take a  few photos of the permanent collection. Well, 126 to be exact. Don't worry, I only chose the best ones. Whew!

Inside the grand salon, or Derby Room

Inside the hallway off the grand salon

One of the statuary halls

Dale Chihuly hand-blown glass sculpture

This fabulous painting, titled Sunflowers in the Windstorm, is by Emil Nolde, a German artist, whose works were declared "degenerate" by Adolph Hitler and was forbidden to paint. He painted in secret in his home in Seebüll, Germany, mostly working in watercolors, because the oils could be detected by the smell of the linseed oil. This work is in oils, because sometimes the subject just demanded that he risk his life for his art.

Boy with Cattle by Pablo Picasso, 1906

Schokko with Red Hat by Alexej Jawlensky,
1909 (Russian artist)
(So named because the model loved sipping hot schokolade [chocolate] while posing in the artist's studio.)

Weeping Willow by Claude Monet, 1918

The museum has several Monets in its permanent collection. This is a new acquisition from his later Giverny years, when he was losing his sight. I was fortunate to have seen an exhibit of his later works in the New Orleans Museum of Art in the mid-1990's. It was one of only two showings in the United States. His paintings from that period were dark and angry, reflecting his feelings about his encroaching blindness. Compare it to the following painting from his earlier years.

View of Bennecourt by Claude Monet, 1887

Houses at the Foot of a Cliff
(Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme), by Edgar Degas
about 1895-98
Degas, who is primarily known for his exquisite paintings of the ballet and its dancers, began painting sea and landscapes in the 1890's, "perhaps to spring them on an unsuspecting public". These works were painted mostly from photographs of the seaside resort town of Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, where he spent much of his later years. The scene depicted here does not exist. It was created from several photographs.

Bathsheba by Artemisia Gentileschi, about 1636-37

Endeavor by Lino Tagliapietra
Lino Tagilapietra is considered one of the premiere glass blowers of Europe. In the 1970's, glass art was at a crossroads in the United States. The desire to create was there, but the artists didn't have the European technical knowledge available to them. Dale Chihuly brought Tagliapietra to the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle to teach and mentor American glass artists. His impact on glass blowing is significant and immeasurable.

Autumn Leaves--Lake George, N.Y.  by Georgia O'Keefe, 1924

The next three paintings are by George Bellows, a native of Columbus, Ohio, and who studied at Ohio State University. He later moved to New York City and is known for his realistic depictions of urban life in that city.

Summer Night, Riverside Drive by George Bellows , 1909
A Stag at Sharkey's by George Bellows, 1917
One of his many lithographs depicting fight scenes.
Polo at Lakewood by George Bellows, 1910
Bellows was an accomplished baseball player and often painted scenes of sporting events.
One of my favorite pieces of art is this:  Ann Hamilton's "Lineament Ball". It is a continuous strip of sentences cut from, and still connected to in the book, Wallace Stevens' poem "The Planet on the Table". She actually cut the lines as a stage performance act and then preserved it as a work of art. Very cool.

If you would like to see the rest of my photos, please visit here.


Jeanie said...

What a rich and wonderful post! I get to Columbus on occasion and never have been to the museum. Pity-- I see what I've been missing. I wonder -- must visit the web to see how long the animal exhibit is there -- that would be my cup of tea!

Isn't nice to be able to take photos in museums now? I was shocked when I went to France and was allowed and now it's everywhere! (Although -- and maybe because it was a special exhibit -- my post on the Diana Dress exhibit was far less rich than it could have been since no cameras were allowed. Not easy to shoot photos from the gallery catalogue and have them look reasonable!)

Delighted to have discovered you and looking forward to many happy visits!

Susan said...

Hello, Jeanie! It's so nice to see you here! Thank you for visiting.

Please let me know if you plan a trip to Columbus. I would love to show you some of the interesting places in town. It's not just a cow town anymore and is quite cosmopolitan with scads of great restaurants and plenty of culture.

The Bumbles said...

I should bring you to Boston's MFA - they have a really nice Impressionist wing. I spent hours in there rather than in my Ancient Art History lecture in college. The dangers of having a course in a museum - the art is too big a draw to stay put in class!!!

Char said...

i have found a lot of the traveling exhibits cannot be photographed as that is how they make their money - selling souvenirs of those exhibits.

loved your walkthrough the other exhibits.

Tattered and Lost said...

You have certainly enlightened and enriched me today. And I love that shot of the statuary hall. I want to go there!

Sandy Nawrot said...

What a wonderful post! I am always in big trouble when I go to an art museum (the one in DC just knocked my socks off), because I could stay in there for days. And, might I add, that composition is quite lovely!

Ruth said...

Oh lovely. My favorite photo is the wrought iron gate outside the grand salon.

I am pretty happy to hear about these artists painting from photographs. Somehow it takes some of the mystique out of their work, makes them more real.

The Columbus museum is beautiful! Inside and out. It's dignified, and elegant, with extra color -- that ceiling in one of the statuary halls!, the glass ceiling, colorful walls. I'm used to white walls in museums, and these colorful details are sweet backgrounds for these glories.

Now that Wallace Stevens Lineament Ball is way cool. I never saw it before.

I loved your outing, Susie! And how you shared its beauties with us. Thank you.

Oliag said...

I do so love to go wandering about museums and I almost feel as though I went right along with you...I enjoy smaller muesems the most much more intimate.

I love that autumn leaves O'Keefe painting! And the photo show sounds wonderful...I hope it travels to the east coast:)

Thanks for taking me along Susan!

Susan said...

Molly, I get that...absolutely! I would love to visit Boston's MFA. Maybe I'll get up there again someday.

My friend Lynn, from whom I've learned so much about art, did her post-graduate work in Art History, specifically in the Renaissance period. She is soooo much fun to go museum hopping with. It's like having your own personal docent...well, better than that really.

Susan said...

Well, Char, they sold me! I bought the exhibit book and didn't blink an eye. I figured I got in free, so I should give back a little. :)

My photos were a little askew, but I was trying to get the best light without any glare, and I wanted to get the post up, so I didn't do any processing. It could have looked a little better, but thank you.

Susan said...

Tattered, aren't those halls gorgeous?!! They're all that way. Really, the building is a work of art in itself and photos don't do it justice. I wish I lived closer. I'd get a membership and go all the time.

I would love to give you a personal tour! :)

Susan said...

Sandy, I know! When I went to the National Museum of Art, I was on overload. You could spend days in there and not see everything. I barely saw any of the permanent collection, because my friend Lynn and I went to see the Vermeer exhibit that was there in 1996. It was the only showing in the U.S. My SIL, who lives in Alexandria, was supposed to get us tickets, but when she went, the line went all the way around the building twice, and it was January, so she left. Lynn, the scheming conniver that she is, was NOT leaving without seeing the collection, so she lied us into the show. It was the most fantastic thing I have ever seen outside of the Rocky Mountains. It truly changed my life. They even had "Girl with a Pearl Earring". OMG, was it gorgeous!

Susan said...

Oh, Ruthie, I wish you could have been with me! I knew you would love that one of the wrought iron window. The light couldn't have been more perfect. I think I'm going to enlarge that and frame it for my bedroom.

That salon is so gorgeous with the sunlight streaming through the window ceiling. They often have weddings and receptions in there. By the time I left, they were setting up for something, so I'm glad I took those shots when I first arrived.

The building is sooo beautiful. All the halls on the main floor have that gorgeous ceiling and the acoustics of that design keeps everything quiet, which I love. You don't hear footsteps or chattering or loud voices. It just absorbs all that.

I had such a wonderful time there. Maybe someday I can share it with you.

Can you believe Eakins and Degas used photos? I was astounded that it went that far back. I wish I could have shown their works in progress from the exhibit.

I don't know if you went to the photo site, but I included a Diego Rivera there. It was part of a "Where does your food come from?" exhibit on the basement floor with interactive tables for children and adults below each set of paintings. It was very cool, too.

Susan said...

Oliag, I agree completely. I love the intimacy of it. I almost feel as if I'm part of the museum when I'm there. I'm so glad you enjoyed it with me.

Unfortunately, the show will only be here until April 24, when it moves to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, NM. They are the ones who put together the show. So, I guess if you're traveling to Santa Fe between May 20 and September 11, you might have a chance to see it. Or you could come and see ME and I'll take you! Wouldn't that be fun?!

Anonymous said...


What a wonderful post.
You brought it to life, and you've made me want to go to an exhibit soon. It's been too long.

When we lived in MD, we were closer to D.C. A friend and I used to visit the Hirshhorn Museum occasionally.

You've stirred my interest with this intriguing post. I just Googled The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. There's a Picasso exhibition until May 15. That should give me plenty of time to get off my bum.

Loved this. Thanks, Susan.

Kathleen said...

I love museums and yet it has been too long since I last visited one. I'll be going to San Francisco (just a short drive from my home) at the end of the month and plan to visit some of the many museums there. Your pictures are wonderful and have made me even more excited for my trip!

Susan said...

Bella, I've always wanted to go to the Hirshhorn. I know they have a wonderful collection. I love the earlier Picassos, like the one I posted here. Here is a National Gallery of Art piece about those years:

Thank you for your lovely comment. Enjoy your visit to the Hirshhorn! Wish I could go with you!

Susan said...

Hi, Kathleen! Your visit to SF sounds like it will be filled with wonderful opportunities to absorb some culture. I've been, but only briefly...not long enough to visit museums. Someday.

Ohio has several esteemed museums. The Cleveland Museum of Art and The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown are next on my list of ones to visit.

Thank you! Enjoy your trip!

Anonymous said...

Here I am! Not a clue where the other comment went, although I see wordpress fell victim to a huge dDoS attack. That may be the explanation.

Last Sunday I went to the Impressionist/Post-Impressionist exhibition at the Houston Museum. It was wonderful, and I came away with a couple of posts in mind. This one of yours is so wonderful I may gather my courage and try it!

I'm a great fan of O'Keeffe, but never have seen the leaves. They're wonderful. Also, "Lineament Ball". I love the word play in the title.

We were free to take photos in the rest of the museum, but not in the current exhibitions - which makes sense. I got around that by purchasing the exhibit catalogue - I can scan the images I want, and have the information about them readily at hand.

Lovely blog - I'll look forward to following along!

ds said...

Oh, how wonder-full. Like Ruth, I adore the scrolled window. Also the "angry" Monet and the brilliant "Lineament" (Mr. Stevens would have enjoyed that, I think). Your mini-gallery is quite wonderful too; you are some photographer, my friend.

It is fascinating to learn that so many of the post-Imps & moderns used photographs to help them create their Vermeer & company using the "camera obscura" to get their amazing photo-like details.

Such wealth you've given us, Susan. Thank you!

Susan said...

Hello, shoreacres! Thank you for coming to my place and for your lovely compliment!

The exhibit you attended sounds very interesting! Please DO post about it. I love art and I am planning to get beyond my slacker mentality and go often to these shows. It's amazing what one can learn...almost like having a little seminar.

I was very frustrated not being able to take pictures, although I understand the reasons. I did buy a catalogue, but it seemed a bit lacking in scannable pictures.

I'm excited to have you aboard!

Susan said...

ds, as always you are more than kind in your remarks. I should have taken more time to process the pictures...straightened a bit, removed glare, etc., but I was so eager to get the post up, I was hoping everyone wouldn't mind the amateurish look of it.

I just love that scroll work...the lighting and the timing was just perfect. So glad I did that first and didn't wait. It wouldn't have been the same.

Oh my gosh! I can't believe i forgot to mention Vermeer's camera obscura! I learned all about that when I attended the exhibit at the National Gallery. Aarrrggh! Thank you for mentioning it. That was the most wonderful exhibit I've ever attended. A once-in-a-lifetime event. There is a plate in the catalogue of a photo that Alfred Stieglitz did reminiscent of Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. Only his girl is writing a letter. I'll try to scan it and add it to the collection.

stacybuckeye said...

It's been years since I visited. College, maybe? CAn't wait to start pushing my stroller through museums :)

ds said...

Oooh! Stieglitz made his own version of a Vermeer painting? You must scan that! post it!
You really did hit that scrollwork just right, and I don't think there is anything "amateurish" about your photos at all (I am no photographer, but even so). Also, I mentioned this post at another blog & got everything about "Lineament" wrong. Am going back to fix that in hopes that you will gain a new visitor...

Susan said...

Oh, Stacy! You have one of the best museums in the country nearly at your doorstep! You must go! Gage would love all the colorful paintings. I can just see him ooh-ing and ahh-ing and kicking his little feet! :)

My friend and I are doing our annual "girls weekend" in Cleveland this year, and I'm hoping to persuade her to do a Sunday morning visit with me at the museum. On Saturday we're going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which I'll post about, of course. We're staying out in Willoughby. Is that good?

Susan said...

ds, I have some free time today, so I will get some scanning done for a follow-up post. That is, if they turn out well. I'm not very good at scanning from books. :-/

Dutchbaby said...

Holy moly, 126 photos of the permanent collection! You could be their web master!

I love how more fine art is showing up in this corner of the blogosphere. You are a capable curator and docent for this collection. The iron gate is a beaut and so is the statuary hall with the sky-blue ceiling.

I did not know that Degas used photos for his compositions. Though he does so much more than just copy.

How did Tagliapietra make glass look so fluid? What a great installation.

I took a look at your Picasa set. Other images I liked: Edward Hopper's "Morning Sun", Rockwell's "Morning After the Wedding", Matisse's "Yellow Roses with Cage of Parakeets", but my most favorite of all:
"Bathsheba's bowl and hands". Wow!

Thanks for my art tour - it was thoroughly enjoyable!

Anonymous said...

I just came back for a second look, and realized I'd said nothing about the Chihuly. His work is astonishing - I love it.

There was a terrific exhibit of his work in Phoenix, at the Desert Botanical Garden. I wasn't able to attend, but a friend did and her photographs were spectacular.

There are a few photos here at the DBG website.

Susan said...

Thanks, dutchbaby! They need a new web master. I don't think they have the best web design.

The building is one of my favorite parts of visiting there. It really is beautiful and the pictures don't really do it justice. All the main halls have the same blue-domed architecture. It makes me feel as if I'm in a European building.

I think what is great about Degas and the other masters using photographs is they were already artists before, and they just used the new-fangled invention to heighten and enhance their paintings. They didn't base their paintings strictly on the photo.

The Tagliapietra is one of my favorite installations. It is just gorgeous and amazing in person. The uplighting makes it seem ethereal.

Oh, lordy! The Bathsheba! Isn't it fantastic! That bowl is just amazing. It really seems metallic when you're standing there looking at it. Gentileschi was obsessed with murdering men in her paintings...obviously she never got over being raped by her teacher. The story is should read The Passion of Artemisia. It's fiction, but based on Gentileschi's history.

Susan said...

shoreacres, Chihuly is truly gifted in glass art. I had planned to go to the Franklin Park Conservatory on the same day I went to the museum, but I ran out of time. They have a permanent installation of several of Chihuly's pieces there. My favorite is installed in a hallway ceiling under glass, beautifully backlit. They also have their annual butterfly exhibit going on now and I plan to take some of the grandchildren when they are on spring break.

Dutchbaby said...

Fascinating about Gentileschi. Her story sounds heartbreaking. Fantastic that she was able to work out her demons on canvas.

I saw that Chihuly installation of "Desert Towers" at the Scottsdale Botanical Gardens with my sister last week. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We arrived when the sun was setting and the sculptures were backlit just so. I'll never forget it. I hope to carve out some time to post about it. I hope I got a couple of good photos there.

Susan said...

Dutchbaby, I was totally fascinated by her story for a while. She was a very strong woman to have overcome what she did and become the first woman to join the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno.

I would love to see a post from you about Chihuly. You're a much better photographer than I am.