Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crème de la Crème, Part I.

The only way to understand painting [art] is to go and look at it. And if out of a million visitors there is even one to whom art means something, that is enough to justify museums.
-Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Every year Art in America, a highly esteemed magazine that provides an international review of the contemporaneous trends in the art world, publishes a "Museum Preview" for the current year of highlights to key shows, either current or upcoming, at art institutions nationwide, as well as selected exhibitions abroad. Maybe your not a subscriber, simply too busy to sift through the endless number of listings or having trouble pin-pointing which exhibition will satisfy your eyes and activate your creative side - not to worry, below I have featured, what I deem, will fill your eye's appetite of the crème de la crème museum happenings in 2011/12.  

Published every August, Art in America's  highly coveted, Annual Guide to Museums, Galleries & Artists, is viewed as the most worthwhile resource for art world connoisseurs and aficionados. 

A four part series separated by season, Crème de la Crème, will include one detailed coverage on a blockbuster exhibition I have visited, followed by a listing of current and/or future museum exhibition openings (culled from the Art in America issue seen in the above image), nation and worldwide for the remainder of 2011 and upcoming year of 2012.


Currently on view.

Lyonel Feininger
Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Presently on view until October 16th.

Humor, an auspicious trait I love to see in art every now and again, is impelled throughout one exhibition I recently viewed and I refreshingly post to you as the first blockbuster highlight to jump start this four part series, "Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World".  Organized by The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the exhibition features this, well over due, retrospective on the oeuvre of German-American, painter, caricaturist and comic strip artist, Lyonel Feininger.  Recognize the name, but can't quite place the name to the canvas? Well, it is no wonder, since Mr. Feininger has not had a retrospective surface on his US home turf in over 45 years!  Described as a serious painter with a "funny" side, the exhibition commemorates his lesser known works of whimsical comic strips, cartoonish fantasies and folksy compositions.  

Born and raised in New York, Lyonel Charles Adrian Feininger (1871-1956), made an odd-ball move when he headed to Germany to study the violin at the tender age of sixteen.  The violin pursuit quickly ceased, as he soon discovered an eagerness to contribute to the progression in the future of art.  Feininger, went on to become a caricaturist and political cartoonist and eventually one of the pioneers to the German Expressionist groups, Die Brucke (The Bridge) and Die Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).  Art became his life, not just through his creations but through his teachings, as he was the first professor appointed to Germany's most influential schools of modern design; Bauhaus, at its founding in 1919.  Not one to judge his flee back, after the Nazi campaign against modern art virtually gave him the boot in the 1930s, the US embraced him with open arms; he was displayed in several exhibitions immediately upon return, including New York's Museum of Modern Art.  

Classified often as a German artist, The Whitney trumpets him as American. He might of left the states early on, but that New York edge remained. A perfect classification when observing his Chicago Tribune comic strips - the "funnies" couldn't be more American. In 1906, a time in which a quarter of Chicago's population was German, James Keeley, the editor of The Chicago Tribune, recruited Feininger, while he remained and dwelled in Germany, to contribute to the comic strips sector of the Chicago Sunday Tribune. A pivotal moment in his career, Lyonel was one of the first cartoonists to incorporate comments into the commonly used, speech bubble.  The exhibition spotlights a detailed portion of these highbrow and artsy drawn comic strips of playful, yet dark humor that donned the expressions, "Git out of me way, you bucket headed lunatic" and the infamous line, "shiver me timbers" from the two cartoons, The Kin-der-Kids Abroad and Wee Willie Winkie's World (1906) Unlike Lyonel's career, his time with The Chicago Tribune was short lived, ending nine months later because, ironically, he refused to relocate to the States from Germany. After his graphic and laughable experimentations for The Chicago Tribune, Feininger, became more interested in establishing himself as a fine artist. 

 Lyonel Feininger, comic strip, The Kin-der-Kids Abroad, 1906.
The debut comic strip was premised around the Kids youthful adventures, who voyaged around the world in a giant bathtub, in order to avoid their Auntie Jim-Jam's quick-but-terrible fix of caster oil.
Image courtesy of

 Lyonel Feininger, comic strip, Wee Willie Winkie's World, 1906.
Contrast to The Kin-der-Kids strip, Wee Willie Winkie's World adventures take place in one spot; the surreal-like countryside, where, Wee Willie Winkie, the protagonist, frolics around the surrounding area of his grandfather's house, 
interacting with anthropomorphic objects.
Image courtesy of

Aside from the witty comic strips, the show exhibits Lyonel's fruitful career as a versatile artist. Although he strayed away from the caricature life, his playful side remained, which would later cause issues for art historians to make connections with the movements of his time. Typically the 20th Century art movements, specifically German Expressionism's, Die Brucke and The Blaue Reiter groups, were deeply emotional with violent imagery; areas of which Feininger's pieces lacked but his bold usage of color, primitive design elements, and distorted compositions prove otherwise as a I compare and contrast the below images of his works to his peers.

Lyonel Feininger, Jesuits II, 1913
Image courtesy of
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
    Potsdamer Platz (Ladies' Night), 1914         
Image courtesy of

Jesuits II is a great medley of movements that combine German Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism.  The geometric angled planes, with muted backgrounds, suggest Cubist elements, while the rapid strokes of the brush and the posed street walkers are reminiscent of Kirschner's (one of my favorite German Expressionists) figurative components. 

Lyonel Feininger,  Jesuits III, 1915
Image courtesy of
Franz Marc, Der Wasserfall, 1912
Image courtesy of
The variations of greens, purples and golds in Jesuits III, was a keen practice in tensioning planes of color during the Blaue Reiter period.  Influenced by their peers (a necessary in the progression of art), the essence of playing with color is quite evident in Franz Marc's piece on the right, and not shown, but wholly relatable are the works of master colorist, Robert Delaunay and earthy tones of the Fauvists.  The bulbaceous components of Feininger's piece on the left can hold reference to the works by one of the original Cubist and forerunners of Pop Art, Fernand Leger (not displayed).  
Image courtesy of

George Grosz, The Street, 1915
Image courtesy of

Lyonel Feininger, Carnival in

Image courtesy of

Capitalizing on the entire spacial composition, both Feininger and Grosz, visually narrate with stylistic distortions, the rise of urban society through the two depictions of a street scene.   On the left we see the cartoonish fantasy of a carnival parade in Feininger's, while to the right is Grosz's corrosive vision of city life.  Instead of boldly creating the apparent ugliness of urbanity with pudgy businessmen, drunkards, and prostitutes as Grosz so eminently did on the right, carnies, jokesters,  and elongated trumpet players prance happily on the left.  A whimsical portrayal at a glance, but look closer and you will see facial perversions and worn down figures,  sublimely suggestive; where in, both works, convey the tensions and stresses of the political times.  

When glimpsing at the entire trajectory of Feininger's body of work, particularly, his subject matter, it is relatively difficult to place him in one single genre of an art movement - almost as though his oeuvre covers a span of three generations.  However, as harsh politics ruled the day and society transitioned from rural to urban, Feininger employed, as a way to cope with the trials and tribulations of his time, a cheerful art style of themed creations with masked narratives that sublimely leaked reflections of the early 20th Century. Art historians need not ponder no more, as this exhibition solidifies Feininger as a true and one of the first, German Expressionists. 

Yet another astutely curated exhibition by Whitney Museum Curators, Barbara Haskell and Sasha Nicholas, who also curated Breaking Ground: The Whitney's Founding Collection, an exhibition I covered in a previous post (click on link The Ultimate Collector.), The Lyonel Feininger retrospective brings to light a man who had a prolific career as a fine artist who contributed and helped define several movements within Modern Art, through his actual works and associations with the Berliner Sezession, Die Brucke, The Blaue Reiter, the Blue Four and the Bauhaus groups.  

The exhibition travels to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, January 20–May 13, 2012.


Currently on view:
While they all are listed with an end date, all end at that particular listed location on the said date and travel elsewhere around the world, there after. If interested, please post in the comments sections and I will happily provide you with their upcoming destinations.

Tony Cragg
Featuring about 30 of his large-scaled sculptures made since 1984. 
The Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas
Ends Jan. 8, 2012.

Taryn Simon
A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters
A project about strange and surprising stories of family bloodlines.
Neue National Galerie, Berlin
Ends  Sept. 22 - Jan. 1, 2012.

A series of six exhibitions, each focused on artist duos or collaborative projects.
Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut
Ends Dec. 31, 2011.

Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei: Art/ Architecture
Showcases the political Chinese artist's lesser known architectural projects.
Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria
Ends Oct. 16, 2011.

General Idea
Haute Culture: General Idea-A retrospective
The activist Canadian collaborative, comprised of AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal,  are surveyed as the subject.
Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada
Ends Jan. 1, 2012.

September 11-Ten Years Later
September 11
Works selected before and after the tragic event, detailing how it has altered the culture landscape via art and critical discourse. (Features Diane Arbus, Thomas Demand, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gordon Matta-Clark and Barbara Kruger.)
MoMA PS1, New York
Ends Jan. 9, 2012.

De Kooning
Retrospective of Willem De Kooning.
MoMA, New York
Ends Jan. 9, 2012.

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990
Thorough examination of the movement.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Ends Jan. 15, 2012.

Israeli Origins
Blowing on a Hairy Shoulder Grief Hunters
A gory exhibition questioning the concepts of origins and originality. 
ICA, Philadelphia
Ends Dec. 2, 2011.

Alina Szapocznikow
A provocative ensemble of her Surrealist and Pop works premised around the human body.
Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels
Ends Jan. 8, 2012

Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye
Known to most for his work, The Scream, this exhibition focuses on Munch's stylistic relationship with modernity and new technology.
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Ends Jan. 9, 2012.

John Martin
Retrospective featuring his apocalyptic painted scenes of human destruction and natural catastrophe. 
Tate Britain, London
Ends Jan. 15, 2012.

Light and Space
Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface
Presents 13 artists who used light as a medium in LA throughout the 60s and 70s. (Features Bruce Nauman and James Turrell)
The Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Cali.
Ends Jan. 22, 2012.

Dana Schutz
If the Face Had Wheels
10 year survey. 
Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, New York
Ends Dec. 18, 2011.

Warhol: Headlines
Examines his core themes of celebrity, disaster and current events in some over 80 works.
National Gallery, London
Ends Jan. 2, 2012.

Coming soon during the winter season, Crème de la Crème, Part II.

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