Thursday, September 10, 2015

Day 29: Art of the 20th Century at Pompidou Center

In the 20th century, artists tumbled from one theory to another: Fauvism, Cubism, Orphism, Abstractionism, Expressionism, New Objectivity, Surrealism, Minimalism, etc. All of them rejected the mere depiction of visual reality as totally old-fashioned. Each theory emphasized different aesthetic values, whether color, shape, composition, or meaning. To complicate matters, many artists didn't stick with just one theory; they developed from one to another. And some geniuses, like Picasso, could paint in different styles in the same year, depending on which style best expressed what they were trying to communicate.

In Europe, the best place to see this played out is at the Pompidou Center—at least, they have the biggest collection of 20th century art, second only to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which we had visited on August 15. Here's my article: MoMA

The Pompidou's painting collection is arranged according to these art theories. I'm going to give a brief definition of each movement here because painting of the 20th century can seem very strange and mysterious if you don't have some idea of the artists' intentions. On the other hand, it's not always easy to pin a label on a particular painting, because artists may combine styles, or they may ignore current trends altogether.

Key Dates: 1905-1908

Fauve in French is usually translated as 'wild beast.' Painters who worked in this style were called 'wild beasts' because they moved painting such a great distance from the imitation of the real, which had been the tradition of centuries. They used vivid, non-naturalistic colors, and they schematized forms, distorted perspective, and left their brushstrokes clearly visible.

Matisse got the ball rolling in 1904 when he learned the theory of Pointillism from Paul Signac. He tried using tiny, uniform dots of pure color, but he was unable to be systematic. Both his colors and forms were distorted, but they were distorted in a very expressive manner. When I saw it in person, the painting below actually sent shivers of delight through me because it expresses the joys of living so buoyantly. Remember, you can click on any picture to see an enlargement.

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954
Luxury, calm, and pleasure, 1904
The wild, liberated colors and forms were at odds with the painstaking dot of a brushstroke, and Matisse and those who were inspired by his example, soon applied color in broader patches.

André Derain, 1880-1954
Two Barges, 1906
Georges Braque, 1882-1963
L’Estaque, 1906
Sonia Delaunay, 1885-1979
Young Girl from Finland, 1907

Key Period: 1910-1920 and beyond

Where Fauvism was driven by experimentation with color, Cubism was concerned with deconstructing forms. It was driven by Cézanne's idea that nature can be reduced to three forms: the cube, the sphere, and the cone. In the Post-Impressionist example below, he used blocks of colors to emphasize the geometry of the scene.

Paul Cézanne,
Gardanne, 1886
Internet Grab
Braque drove Cézanne's search for geometry even further on his way to developing a new approach.

Georges Braque, 1882-1963
The Viaduct at L’Estaque, 1908

Analytic Cubism
Key Period: 1910-1912

Cubism is generally broken up into two phases: analytic cubism, from about 1910 to 1912, and synthetic cubism, from then until about 1920. In analytic cubism, a scene is analyzed, broken up, and reassembled in an abstracted form. Instead of depth of perspective, all sides of the objects are brought to the front and flattened into an overall design.

Georges Braque, 1882-1963
The Rio-Tinto Factories at l’Estaque, 1910
In these paintings by Delaunay we see a similar progression from a degree of analysis that retains the look of the scene to analysis so complete that it results in abstraction.

Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941
The Towers of Laon, 1912
Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941
A Window, 1912
In the painting below, Léger analyzed a wedding scene into geometrical components, and rearranged them into lively pattern of dark and light shapes that captures the festivity of the occasion. The figures of the bride and groom are columns of dark planes; the woman's head is just below midline, while the man's head is just above. Around them are fragments of wedding guests and the village. With analytical cubism, part of the fun is trying to reassemble the image in your mind's eye.

Fernand Léger, 1881-1955
The Wedding, 1912
Synthetic Cubism
Key period: 1913-1920

After a few years, Cubists grew bored with the austere intellectualism of Analytical Cubism, and developed a more relaxed and whimsical aesthetic theory, known as Synthetic Cubism. Instead of breaking down an image and re-assembling it, they would build up an image from new elements and shapes. The really big break-through was to incorporate scraps of everyday flat materials, such as newspaper cuttings, tickets, and printed wall paper. They still emphasized geometry, but the design was created with a combination of paint and pasted materials. Even when they used only paint, their designs look like they might be compiled of cut paper shapes.

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace, 1917
The next painting synthesizes a dynamic urban space. The shapes represent the movement of machinery, a chaos of metal beams, signals of all sorts, and building facades.

Fernand Léger, 1881-1955
Discs in the City, 1920

Started 1912

Orphism was an offshoot of Cubism that used planes and geometric shapes in single colors to create abstract patterns that conveyed ideas such as light patterns or sound waves, instead of the usual objective subject matter. They wanted to create images with elements that the artist creates entirely by himself, images that originate from within. The principal artists in this school are Sonia and Robert Delaunay and Frantisek Kupka.

Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941
The Eiffel Tower, 1926
Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941
Endless Rhythm, 1934
Sonia Delaunay, 1885-1979
Rhythm, 1938
Frantisek Kupka, 1871-1957
Hindu Motif, or Graduated Red, 1921
Started 1910

All this analysis and de-construction of the various elements of painting inevitably led some artists to dispense with subject matter altogether. Wassily Kandinsky is always given credit for the first truly abstract painting, and his works still look good in comparison to his successors. As with Orphism, artists arrived at abstraction through various theories. Kandinsky had complicated theories about the relation of music to color, and others wanted to express occult ideas that were current at the time. The movement toward abstraction was broad and long-lasting, and it took many forms. It was a huge breakthrough to think of a painting as a thing-in-itself, instead of an imitation of the real world. It liberated artists to go every which way, and they did.

Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944
With the Black Arch, 1912
Francis Picabia, 1879-1953
Udnie (Young American Girl, the Dance), 1913
Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 1889-1943
Dada Tapestry, 1916

Paul Klee, 1879-1940
Rhythmic, 1930
Piet Mondrian, 1872-1944
New York City, 1942

Key Period: 1905-1920

While some artists were pursuing these intellectual approaches, others wanted art to express emotion. Expressionist painters embraced subject matter, but distorted its depiction in order to evoke moods or ideas. Form and color might be distorted and brushwork might be exaggerated in order to show what the artist feels about the subject.

In the early days of Cubism, Marie Laurencin painted a group portrait of its proponents in an Expressionist style. In the center is the poet and art critic, Apollinaire, who influenced many artists of his time. On the far left is the writer and art collector, Gertrude Stein. Next to her is Fernande Olivier, Pablo Picasso's muse of the moment, and behind her is a symbolic figure representing a muse. On the right side of Apollinaire is Picasso, with two poets, one man and one woman, and Marie herself at the piano.

Marie Laurencin, 1883-1956
Apollinaire and His Friends, 1909
The subject of slaying a dragon, as in the story of St. George, was a popular subject of religious art when religious art was popular. In this painting, Münter makes it very personal—an individual confronts the multi-headed beast within.

Gabriele Münter, 1877-1962
Combat with a Dragon, 1913
In this image, Matisse distorts the figure and flattens the space in order to express his dream of beauty. This type of seated nude in a romantic setting is called an 'odalisque.'

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954
Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background, 1925
Ten years later, Picasso created his own idea of an odalisque. His ideal woman is not sitting idly like part of the decor but painting a self-portrait with the aid of a mirror, while her dreamy inner self looks on.

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
The Muse, 1935
Starting circa 1911

In the early 1900s, Europe was swept by a wave of interest in primitive art. African and Asian folk art were discovered by Western Europe, while in Russia, artists elevated the folk aesthetics of their own peasants. Natalia Goncharov attempted to create a style that fused the crude drawing of peasants with qualities of Post-Impressionism and Cubism, such as the simplification of forms and colors and the rejection of perspective.

Natalia Goncharova, 1881-1962
Les porteuses, 1911

Started 1920s

Around 1900, the Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of a subconscious mind, an inner world with laws and symbolism of its own. He thought that people with mental illnesses were driven by this unconscious activity, instead of by their conscious intentions. He bolstered his ideas with captivating stories about the inner lives of his patients, which caused his scientific theories to gain widespread interest, and eventually to permeate people's assumptions.

Eventually artists turned their restless gaze toward the subconscious mind. Instead of analyzing the visual world or aesthetic values, they could analyze their own subconscious. The big advantage was that their paintings didn't have to make sense; painters could let their imagination run wild. They could paint real objects but combine them according to the logic of a dream.

Marc Chagall used an expressive style in his surrealistic paintings.

Marc Chagall, 1887-1985
Double Portrait with glass of wine, 1918
Magritte used a hyper-realistic style to create mysterious symbols.

René Magritte, 1898-1967
The Double Secret, 1927
The subject of a musician serenading a reclining nude was depicted by the Old Masters several times, notably by Titian in the 1500s. Picasso analyzed and distorted the figures, in the manner of cubism, to depict his subconscious life.

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
The Dawn Serenade, 1942
Key Period: 1920s

After Cubism, Picasso returned to an idiom with a more classical look. This took several different forms, but the following work is a lovely example. Being Picasso, he couldn't complete an old-fashioned portrait, such as Goya might have made; it's as though he were demonstrating that the old ways just don't work any more. Something has been lost.

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
Harlequin, 1923
New Objectivity
Key Period: 1920s

During the same period as Surrealism, a contrary theory developed that said, "Let's turn back to the real world for our subjects. Let's be sober and matter-of-fact about what we see." This theory, called the New Objectivity, was mainly practiced in Germany. When artists there took a sober look at the world around them, they didn't like what they saw, and they used their paintings to say so.

Otto Dix, 1891-1969
Memory of the Halls of Mirrors in Brussels, 1920
Otto Dix, 1891-1969
Portrait of Journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926
Christian Schad, 1894-1982
Count St. Genois d'Anneaucourt, 1927

Abstract Expressionism
Key Period: 1940s

Abstractionism came to New York in the 1940s. Here it was combined with expressionism to explore the subconscious mind through spontaneous creation of abstract images. In other words, Abstract Expressionism pursued the goals of Surrealism by combining Abstractionism with Expressionism. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence, and it put New York at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.

Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956
The Deep, 1953
Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992
Painting, 1956-1957
Key Period: 1950-1970

Not surprisingly, many artists were repelled by this messy direction, and turned the opposite way, toward order, geometry, primary colors and invisible brushstrokes. They wanted art to be stripped of content, whether outer or inner, and reduced to its basic visual elements. The painting was important as a thing in itself, without reference to anything else.

Ellsworth Kelly, 1923-2015
Kite II, 1952

François Morellet, b. 1926
3 x 3, 1954
Yves Klein, 1928-1962
IKB 3, Blue Monochrome, 1960

Frank Stella, b. 1936
More or Less, 1964

High-level Painting Summary

Painting in the 20th century was characterized by restless experimentation and theorizing. Various movements competed for attention. Through their work artists carried on an energetic dialog with each other about the nature and function of art.

Fauvism was developed by Matisse and Braque.

Cubism was developed by Braque and Picasso.

Abstraction was invented by Kandinsky single-handedly; he and Mondrian are its most famous practitioners.

Expressionism was a diverse movement with no dominant source.

Surrealism is strongly associated with Magritte, and sometimes with Chagall.

New Objectivity was a German movement in which Otto Dix was a major practitioner.

Abstract Expressionism was an American movement with artists like Jackson Pollock and Joan Mitchell.

Minimalism is exemplified by the work of Ellsworth Kelly

Sculpture Collection

The Pompidou's sculpture collection isn't nearly as extensive as its painting collection, but it has some important examples.

Started 1910

Raymond Duchamp-Villon brought cubism to sculpture. In a sculpture inspired by a horse, he reduced the figure to a structure of geometric forms, and arranged those forms to compare the power of a horse with the power of a machine.

Raymond Duchamp-Villon, 1876-1918
The Large Horse, 1914
Started 1912

Traditionally the process of making a sculpture started with a mass, such as marble, and the sculptor removed material in order to create a form. Constructivists wanted to make sculpture by adding elements to create a form. They liked geometric shapes, dynamic composition, and the use of open space.

Antoine Pevsner, 1884-1962
World, 1947
Antoine Pevsner, 1884-1962
Column of Peace, 1954
Started 1916

Dada was an anti-art movement initiated by people who were thoroughly disgusted with modern society and all of its traditions, including those of the art world. As a sort of ultimate gesture of scorn, Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and presented it as 'art.' Duchamp was a respected and talented painter, but for awhile he was interested in 'found objects' in the real world, and presented some of them as his own art. This group shows the infamous urinal plus a coat rack and a bottle rack.

Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968
Urinal, Bottle rack, Coat rack, 1914-1917

Started 1920s

Sculptors were also interested in exploring the world of the subconscious. Salvador Dalí is mainly known as a Surrealist painter, but he latched onto Duchamp's idea of using found objects, and used them in various combinations to represent his dreams and obsessions. It's like telling a story with a collection of symbolically charged objects.

Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989
Surrealist object funtioning symbolically—Gala’s Shoe, 1931
New Realism
Started 1960

The New Realists actually had a manifesto setting out their art values. It proclaimed that they were about "new ways of perceiving the real." In practice, they tended to incorporate real objects with symbolic significance into their sculptures, building on the Dada and Surrealist interest in found objects.

In the piece below, woman sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, covered the bride's bosom with toys symbolizing all the onerous duties that a woman takes on when she becomes a wife, at least according to the conventional ideas about women's roles.

Niki de Saint Phalle, 1930-2002
The Bride, 1963
Niki de Saint Phalle, 1930-2002
Detail of The Bride

Key Period: 1950-1970

The idea of using minimal means to make an artistic statement was a very important trend in sculpture. Minimalist sculptors hated complexity, detail, and the hand-wrought look. They wanted to consider one shape at a time, a geometric shape, rendered smoothly. Minimalists always seem to be asking "What if we tried…?" In the work below, Donald Judd was interested in the rectangular module. "What if it were made it out of plexiglas, with solid metal ends? How would that affect the light? How would using one brilliant color affect the light?"

Donald Judd, 1928-1994
Untitled, 1965
Felix Gonzalez-Torres limited his materials to light-bulbs, constantly asking, "What can I make with a string of lights?" One thing he could make was curves.

Felix Gonzalez Torres, 1957-1996
Untitled (Last Light), 1993
Immersive Installations

In recent decades, art theories with manifestos and followers have tapered off. Work has been so varied that critics haven't managed to clump it together and give it a name. It all tends to be lumped under Contemporary, which has no art definition; it merely refers to art by living, or recently living, artists.

One trend that has emerged is toward installations that are immersive environments; that is, the art 'viewer' walks into an enclosed space and undergoes some experience. Frequently the experience is controlled by specialized lighting. One of the most important 'sculptors' working with environments is Olafur Eliasson. In the next example, he filled a room with dancing reflections by shining a light through a complex spinning structure that is composed of reflective material.

Olafur Eliasson, b. 1967
Cold Wind Sphere, 2012
High-level Sculpture Summary

Sculpture in the 20th century was even wilder and more experimental than painting. Sculptors tended to drop figurative and realistic traditions with ease, and turn toward abstraction of every type. But sculpture did go through trends, similar to those affecting painting.

Cubism was brought to sculpture by Raymond Duchamp-Villon.

Constructivism is aptly exemplified by Antoine Pevsner.

Dada was the brain-child of Marcel Duchamp.

Surrealism was a flamboyant indulgence of Salvador Dalí.

New Realism was exploited by Niki de Saint Phalle.

Minimalism was the creed of Donald Judd.

Immersive installations are the specialty of Olafur Eliasson.

The Museum Environment

Although 'Pompidou Center' is the common name for the art museum, Pompidou Center actually houses several cultural institutions, and the correct name for the art museum is the National Museum of Modern Art. The art collection dominates the Center.

The Center is housed in one of the most remarkable—if not shocking—buildings of all time. It was designed in the 1970s by the architectural team of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, who were unknown at the time. What makes it look so strange is that it doesn't have outer walls; all of its utility structures are visible, and even color-coded. Here's Dan's shot of the back side of the Center.

Back of Pompidou Center
Photo by Dan L. Smith
An escalator encapsulated in a clear tube scales across the front side of the Center, creating a jagged red diagonal.

Front of Pompidou Center
Photo by dan L. Smith
We had a very expensive, and less than satisfactory, lunch in the trendy restaurant on the top floor. From the escalator landing, Dan took this view of the city.

Paris, with the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in the distance.
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Nearby the museum, and designed to complement it, is a whimsical fountain called the Stravinsky Fountain, designed by sculptor Jean Tinguely. It features sixteen moving and water-spraying sculptures by himself and by Niki de Saint-Phalle, representing themes and works by composer Igor Stravinsky. Here are a few pieces by Saint-Phalle.

Stravinsky Fountain, sculptures by Niki de Saint-Phalle
Photo by Dan L. Smith