Tuesday, February 28, 2017

China's Six Dynasties Period

Good Things From Chaotic Times
Head of a Bodhisattva, Northern Qi dynasty (550–577), 
sandstone; H. 12 1/2 ins. (31.75 cm),
unearthed in 1954 from Huata Temple in Taiyuan, Shanxi 
Collection of the Shanxi Museum

Sometimes good things come out of chaos.  Such is the case for the Chinese period known as the Six Dynasties.  From the 3rd through the 6th century, China was disunited.  Dynasties vied for control in the North and other regimes fought it out in the South.  The dividing line was the Yangtze river.  The Han - ethnically Chinese - controlled the South while the North saw a succession of mainly non-Han rulers, invaders from Central Asia.  War and instability reigned.  Many foreigners entered China bringing new influences.  Yet, out of the mayhem came some astounding achievements.  This is made clear in the China Institute Gallery's latest exhibition, Art in a Time of Chaos: Masterworks From Six Dynasties China, 3rd - 6th Centuries. 

This is the first exhibit in the United States devoted to the art of China's Six Dynasties and the first exhibit in the China Institute's new location on Washington Street. The Institute, celebrating its ninetieth anniversary, moved this year from an upper Eastside townhouse to a high-rise in the Financial District. Its new home provides much needed modernized space for the Institute's many worthwhile activities.  This includes the China Institute Gallery which has consistently shown exhibitions of historical and artistic importance during its fifty years of existence.   Like its old Gallery space, the new venue has maintained its sense of intimacy.  

The current show consists of over 100 objects.  Four major Chinese art forms are represented: ceramics, sculpture, calligraphy and painting. Many pieces have been unearthed in the last twenty years and have never been on public view in the United States.  Some have not even been displayed in China.  

Celadon Double-Rim, Lidded Jar with Underglaze Decoration,
Three Kingdoms period, Wu kingdom (222–280),
glazed porcelain; H. (total) 11 7/8 ins. (30.1625 cm), 
D. (at mouth) 5 7/8 ins. (14.9225 cm),
D. (at belly) 13 ins.  (33.2 cm), D. (at base) 7 5/8 ins. (20.0025 cm),
unearthed in 2004 from the construction site 
of Huangce Jiayuan on Xianhe Street in Nanjing 
Collection of the Nanjing Municipal Museum

The first two rooms are devoted to the famed, typically grayish-green, celadon porcelain which was developed during this period.  Glass vitrines are filled with items unearthed from tombs.  They are called mingqi, spirit objects, made for deceased use in the afterlife. Everyday wares such as jugs and bowls as well as figurines of attendants and music makers were produced. Spittoons, incense burners, chamber pots, models of a chicken coop and a dog kennel complete with a dog, all from tombs, communicate life in the Six Dynasties.

Group of Celadon Figurines. Three Kingdoms period, Wu kingdom (222–280), 
glazed porcelain; various dimensions, from 5 3/8 to 7 5/8 ins. (13.65 to 19.37 cm),
unearthed in 2006 from the Wu tomb at Shangfang in Jiangning, Jiangsu
Collection of the Nanjing Municipal Museum

Highlights include a Wu kingdom underglaze jar covered with decorations among which are bird-shaped handles, auspicious beasts, a lotus petal design and cross and scroll motifs; a set of ten figures each differentiated, one easily identified as a non-Han with his pointed cap, high-bridged nose and deep set eyes; and, three celadon urns, called "soul urns," with birds, figures and buildings, thought  to hold the soul of the deceased. 

Female Attendant. From a tomb dated to the Northern Qi dynasty, 
first year of Wuping (570),
earthenware with pigments; H. 11 1/8 ins. (28.2575 cm),
unearthed in 1979 from the tomb of Lou Rui at Wangguo village in Taiyuan, Shanxi 
Collection of the Shanxi Museum
The array of sculptures  comprise some delightful representations.  The many recognizable animals include a pig, lion, hen, camel, sheep and horse.  Two models of an ox pulling its oxcart one from the South and one from the North allow comparison of styles.  

The many figures of female and male attendants, some mounted on horseback, are individualized.  Clothing and hairstyles would indicate a figure's role in society.  The double coils of hair making up the top knot of one Northern Qi female attendant may indicate that she was close to the deceased.   

Mounted Drummer. From a tomb dated to the Northern Qi dynasty, 
second year of Wuping (571), earthenware with pigments; 
H. (total) 11 7/8 ins. (30.1625 cm), 
H. (horse) 10 1/4 ins., (26.035 cm) L. 9 1/8 ins. (23.1775 cm),
unearthed in 2000 from the tomb of Xu Xianxiu at Wangjiafeng village in Taiyuan, Shanxi 
Collection of the Shanxi Museum

Not to be overlooked are the Buddhist works which evince the strong impact of Buddhism. One of the most beautiful objects is an exquisitely carved sixth-century sandstone head of a Bodhisattva, a person who is able to reach the highest state of enlightenment but holds back in order to help others.

Calligraphy came into its own as a separate art form at this time. In China, it is the highest valued art.  Different scripts evolved for specific occasions.  Master calligraphers developed their own eloquent, distinguishable style.  Many examples survive because calligraphy was not restricted to paper.  Writings were incised on stone or incorporated on buildings' bricks or engraved on wooden slips used like business cards. The exhibit's offerings make an excellent introduction to this, for most, unfamiliar but fascinating artistry.  Please don't miss the six-inch grey earthenware dog in this gallery.  Its name, translated as Black Dragon, is incised on its back.  

Sarcophagus Platform Panel. From a tomb dated to the Sui dynasty, 
twelfth year of Kaihuang (592), unearthed in 1999 from the tomb of Yu Hong
 at Wangguo village in Taiyuan, Shanxi,
marble with ink and pigments, 
H. 21 3/8 ins. (54.2925 cm), W. (exterior) 97 1/4 ins. (247.015 cm) , 
W. (interior) 81 1/8 ins. (206.0575 cm) , D. 8 1/4 ins. (20.955 cm)
Collection of the Shanxi Museum

Very few, if any, original Six Dynasties paintings have survived the more than a thousand years between their creation and the present. Tomb murals and coffins with their carved reliefs and paintings provide insight into what paintings were like. Parts of the sixth-century sarcophagus of Yu Hong is a case in point.

Carved Tomb Panel from Sarcophagus.  From a tomb dated to the Sui dynasty, 
twelfth year of Kaihuang (592),
unearthed in 1999 from the tomb of Yu Hong
 at Wangguo village in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province,
West slab of the rear wall, marble, 
H. 37 7/8 ins. (96.2025 cm), W. 19 3/8 ins., (49.2125 cm) D. 4 3/4 ins. (12.065 cm) 
Collection of the Shanxi Museum

Yu Hong was a high official during three dynasties.  His tomb is enlivened with scenes of wine drinking, musical entertainment, dancing and hunting.  In one, a hunter holding a massive sword and riding an elephant twists around to attack a lion assaulting from the rear.  At the elephant's feet, a hound chases another lion.  The whole composition is energized with movement.  It appears as if the action continues beyond the relief's frame.   

I urge you to visit this exhibition.  Take it from me, you won't be disappointed.

Art In A Time Of Chaos:
Masterworks From Six Dynasties China, 3rd - 6th Centuries
September 30, 2016 - March 19, 2017

100 Washington Street, Manhattan
Enter at 40 Rector Street, 2nd Floor
Hours:  Monday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Thursday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Closed: October 10; November 8, 24, 25; 
December 24, 25, 26, 31; January 1, 2, 16; February 20
Closing at 1 p.m. November 23; December 23, 30

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How The Twains Have Met

De Kooning and Zao
Portrait of Willem de Kooning in his Long Island studio, New York, December 17, 1978. 
Photograph by Arnold Newman. 
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images
Courtesy of  Lévy Gorvy Gallery

Zao Wou-Ki in his studio, 1982. 
Photograph by Martine Franck. 
© Martine Franck/Magnum Photos
Courtesy of  Lévy Gorvy Gallery

William de Kooning (1904 - 1997) and Zao Wou-Ki (1920 - 2013) never met during their lifetimes.  One, Dutch born, made his home in New York; the other, Chinese born, made Paris his home. They meet now in an exhibition at the Lévy Gorvy Gallery.*  This is the first exhibit for the newly formed gallery and the first presentation of paintings by these artists in one show.  The paintings invite contemplation not only about different formulations of abstract art but also about what abstract art can convey.

Willem de Kooning (1904 - 1997), Sail Cloth, 1949, 
oil, enamel, charcoal, and graphite on board,
27 x 32 ins. (68.6 x 81.2 cm)
Private collection
Photograph by Elisabeth Bernstein
Courtesy of  Lévy Gorvy Gallery

Twenty paintings, including five museum loans, are handsomely installed on three floors of the gallery's building.  Two early works, de Kooning's Sail Cloth from 1949 and Zao's Untitled  from the same year, set the stage for the Dutch-American and Chinese-French dialogue.   Both artists creating their own expression of landscape art.

Zao Wou-Ki (1920 - 2013), Untitled, 1949, oil on cardboard, 
17 7/8 x 21 1/2 ins. (45.5 x 54.5 cm),
Private collection
Photograph by Patrick Goetelen
Courtesy of  Lévy Gorvy Gallery  

De Kooning's heritage is European, specifically Western figurative representation.  Although influenced by modern art in general, his contemporary Arshile Gorky impacted him the most.  Sail Cloth's biomorphic forms and inherent suggestions of nature attest to Gorky's significance.  

Zao came out of a tradition of Chinese painting and Eastern calligraphy but was highly  affected by modern masters such as Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso.  He owes much to Paul Klee's inventive pictorial language with its emphasis on drawing and color relations.  

Zao Wou-Ki (1920 - 2013),  Montagne déchirée (shattered mountain), 1955-1956,
 oil on canvas, 51 3/16 x 79 3/4 ins. (130 x 202.6 cm),
Collection Walker Art Center,
Minneapolis.  Gift of T.B. Walker Foundation, 1956
Photograph: Artwell Guide website 

In works like Montagne déchirée (shattered mountain), Zao transports viewers to distant landscapes of mists and mountains not unlike the landscapes of the great Song period paintings.  Calligraphic surface strokes evoke Chinese characters as well as small figures and vessels in the distant haze.  

Zao once said, "I like people to be able to stroll in my works as I do when creating them."  His canvases do evoke a sense of such depth that strolling in them may be possible.  Moreover, they impart a feeling of swimming in shimmering or turbulent waters.  Zao's good friend the poet, writer and painter Henri Michaux made the sea/water/waves an important aspect of his poetry.  In his 1935 collection La nuit remue (The night is stirring) swimming is likened to freedom.  In Laziness Michaux writes about the soul loving to swim - leaving the body to swim as an act of liberation.  He speaks about the waters rising and falling - losing the self as the ground "seems to fall away under your feet."  Take a look at Zao's 1956 La nuit remue (the night is stirring), named, no doubt, with his friend's poems in mind. Sensations of being lost in a watery abyss fluctuate with impressions of a dizzying foreign landscape while black, linear text-like marks return the visitor to the surface. 

Zao Wou-Ki (1920 - 2013), La nuit remue (the night is stirring), 1956, 
oil on canvas, 76 x 51 3/16 ins. (193 x 130 cm),
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Kootz
Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago

Paintings like these connect Zao to Peter Paul Rubens' rich oils such as Rubens' Hero and Leander paintings.**  When Zao uses a sunnier palate, such as his 1976 05-03-76***, links to the seascapes of J. M. W. Turner predominate.

De Kooning's oils also look back to Rubens taking more of the seventeenth-century artist's action-packed nature along with his painterly tactility and sensuality. 

Willem de Kooning (1904 - 1997), Door to the River, 1960, 
oil on linen, 80 1/8 x 70 1/8 ins. (203.5 x 178.1 cm)
Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art 60.63
Digital Image © Whitney Museum, N.Y
Courtesy of  Lévy Gorvy Gallery

The artist's Dutch heritage is evidenced in works like the Whitney Museum of American Art's Door to the River or the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's Untitled.  A door,  house, tree, grey sky or river may be discerned as the scene brings to mind landscapes of the seventeenth-century  Golden Age of Dutch painting. 

Willem de Kooning (1904 - 1997), Untitled XVI, 1976, 
oil on canvas, 60 3/8 x 54 1/8 ins. (153.4 x 137.5 cm),
Photograph by Tom Powel Imaging
Courtesy of  Lévy Gorvy Gallery

For de Kooning, however, landscape mostly evolved from his paintings of women.  He said, "The landscape is in the Woman and there is Woman in the landscape."  The fleshy quality to the artist's paint - color and texture - conjures imagery of the female nude.  As his abstract landscapes developed, its ties to the female body become less and less clear.  Movement and the sense of touch is never lost.

Form and formless, figurative and abstraction, always play out in de Kooning's work.   As such, Zao may be considered the more abstract of the two painters.  Wait.  This conclusion is perhaps the result of a Western sensibility.  An Eastener's response may find the de Koonings' work more abstract.  

Allow this writer to digress and address those readers who question abstract painting's ability to mean or convey anything.  Think of music, which is probably the most abstract of art, non-narrative dance or architecture.  Without words or palpable representation, these art forms are capable of communicating a variety of feelings and experiences.  Musical notes, melodies, harmonies and tempos can elicit from listeners at times sadness or happiness or triumph or excitement. Music may cause a recall of an event not formerly thought of and/or induce a sense of well-being or discord.  Non-narrative dance, or dance without a story line, is also able to bring forth many emotions.  Joy, sorrow and even humor can be expressed by various footwork, body bends, gestures, patterns and repetitions.  
In a similar way, a building's configuration of verticals, horizontals, volumes, colors and apertures can communicate cheerfulness, comfort, unease or power.  Such is also the case for abstract painting.  It is expressive even in its renouncing the depiction of reality.  People can and do respond.  With lines, colors, textures and compositional variation, these paintings make a bond with the beholder, transmitting visually what music can do through the ear. As for its value?

This brings up the classic study of abstract and representational art by the German art historian Wilheim Worringer (1881 - 1965).  His book Abstraction and Empathy, first published in Germany in 1908 and issued in English in the United States of America in 1953, had an enormous impact on art and criticism.  Worringer saw the beauty both in art that produced realistic depictions of the world and art that suppressed illusionism - did not depict the "real" but created abstractions.  Empathy, the life-like portrayals of the observable, and abstraction, the repression of real-life representation or the expression of the essences of things - are, according to Worringer, two forms of the human artistic experience. He suggested that empathy comes to the fore when there is harmony between mankind and the world - man has confidence in his surroundings.   Abstraction comes about during social upheavals, unrest when man is in conflict with outside world and is unsure.  At such times, reducing the observable to their fundamentals is man's aim and the result is abstraction.  Throughout the course of art, the pendulum swings between these two tendencies. Worringer's words are worth considering.  

Visit the Willem De Kooning Zao Wou-Ki at Lévy Gorvy Gallery and delve into abstraction at its finest.  

*In December, 2016 Brett Gorvy, former auction house Christie's Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, joined the Dominique Lévy Gallery in an equal partnership with the dealer Dominique Lévy to form
the Lévy Gorvy (ĹG) Gallery.   The Lévy Gorvy Gallery occupies the entire landmark 1930s former bank building which previously housed the Dominique Lévy Gallery and Galerie Perrotin.  The Galerie Perrotin's new New York space at 130 Orchard Street opens this spring.

**See the versions at the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut and the Gemaldegalerie, Dresden.

***For an excellent digital image of Zao's painting 05-03-76, see Christie's Auction House Asian Contemporary Art & Chinese 20th Century Art (Evening Sale), 29 November 2009, Hong Kong, Lot 1005.

Willem De Kooning
Zao Wou-Ki
January 19, 2017 - March 11, 2017
909 Madison Avenue, Manhattan
Tuesday - Saturday,
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Mondays by Appointment

Friday, December 30, 2016

Pairings Highlight the Sculptural in a Painter's Art

Chamberlain and de Kooning

Mnuchin Gallery, Installation View, 
Chamberlain / De Kooning Exhibit (November 2, 2016 - January 28, 2017),
Photo:  Tom Powel Imaging, Mnuchin Gallery Website

You can count on the Mnuchin Gallery to mount thought-provoking exhibits.  Such is the case of the current show, Chamberlain / De Kooning where eleven John Chamberlain (1927 - 2011) crushed and bent metal configurations are paired with seven Willem de Kooning (1904 - 1997) fluid canvases.  The gallery's well-proportioned townhouse rooms afford an intimate setting to compare the painter's and sculptor's work.  

 Mnuchin Gallery, Installation View, 
Chamberlain / De Kooning Exhibit (November 2, 2016 - January 28, 2017),
Photo: Tom Powel Imaging,  Mnuchin Gallery Website
Chamberlain is said to have turned Abstract Expressionist painting into sculpture.  Touches of paint on his crumbled, manipulated car parts and debris evoke action painting and emphasize his indebtedness to the brushstrokes of the movement's painters.  

Mnuchin Gallery, Installation View, 
Chamberlain / De Kooning Exhibit (November 2, 2016 - January 28, 2017),
Photo:  Tom Powel Imaging, Mnuchin Gallery Website

De Kooning, of course, is the towering figure of Abstract Expressionism.  He is the consummate master painter whose Museum of Modern Art's de Kooning:  A Retrospective, September 18, 2011 - January 9, 2012, New York, offered seven decades of inventiveness and thrilling creativity.  

Mnuchin Gallery, Installation View, 
Chamberlain / De Kooning Exhibit (November 2, 2016 - January 28, 2017),
Photo:  Tom Powel Imaging, Mnuchin Gallery Website

The pairing of Chamberlain and de Kooning has been done in the past. In 2001, the Pace Gallery exhibited Willem de Kooning and John Chamberlain: Influence and Transformation.*  The show accentuated the two artists' strong connections.  Oils on canvas and steel arrangements corresponded in colors and pictorial gestures.  Likeness was the key word here expressed in an astutely handled installation of well-chosen works. 

Mnuchin Gallery, Installation View, 
Chamberlain / De Kooning Exhibit (November 2, 2016 - January 28, 2017),
Photo:  Tom Powel Imaging, Mnuchin Gallery Website

The Mnuchin exhibit makes evident a different viewpoint.  Links between the artworks such as coloration and forms of layering abound but an important distinction stands out.  De Kooning's work appears more spacious, more three-dimensional than Chamberlain's actual sculptures in three dimensions.  The latter's pieces seem to constrict spatial expansion.  Metal planes are compressed creating narrow spatial relationships not unlike the compositional characteristic of sixteenth-century Mannerist art.  The sculptures displace volume but do not appear to extend any further than their outlines.  De Kooning's oils on the other hand explore and open up space. His canvases expand inward and have great depth.   Their space is almost palpable.  Spend time in front of the paintings.  Follow a line here and there.  Try to see a back plane.  The paintings seem never ending.

Mnuchin Gallery, Installation View, 
Chamberlain / De Kooning Exhibit (November 2, 2016 - January 28, 2017),
Photo:  Tom Powel Imaging, Mnuchin Gallery Website
The exhibit brings out de Kooning's formidable strengths which can overpower the sculptures.  As for Chamberlain, the show raised some questions and desires.  Wall protrusions, the sparkle/glitter of paint, mirror polished aluminum bring to mind another artist.  This reviewer would like to see an exhibition of Chamberlain sculptures and Frank Stella's Indian and Exotic Bird series of 1978 - 79 and, perhaps, Stella's Circuits series of the early 1980s based on the artist's love of car racing. Is there or is there not a relationship?  A comprehensive Chamberlain retrospective which would include the artist's sculptures as well as his paintings, drawings, prints and photographs is long over due.  

Another de Kooning pairing is coming to New York soon.  His work will be seen alongside paintings by the Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-Ki (1920 - 2013)
at the Lévy Gorvy (ĹG) Gallery, formerly the Dominique Lévy Gallery.**  The exhibit, Willem De Kooning Zao Wou-Ki, opens January 19, 2017 and runs through March 11, 2017. Until then, take a look at Zao's paintings currently at the Asia Society Museum in the exhibition No Limits Zao Wou-Ki.  

*At this time, the Pace Gallery was known as PaceWildenstein Gallery.  From 1993 - 2010, Pace operated with the old master gallery Wildenstein & Co.

**Brett Gorvy, former auction house Christie's Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, will join the Dominique Lévy Gallery in an equal partnership with the dealer Dominique Lévy.  The gallery will be known as the Lévy Gorvy (ĹG) Gallery.  Dominique Lévy had previously been partnered with Robert Mnuchin (M&L Gallery now the Mnuchin Gallery) but left in 2013 to start her own gallery.  

Chamberlain / De Kooning
November 2, 2016 - January 28, 2017
45 East 78th Street, Manhattan
Tuesday - Saturday,
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Or By Appointment

No Limits
Zao Wou-Ki
September 9, 2016 - January 8, 2017
725 Park Avenue, Manhattan
Tuesday - Sunday, 
11 am - 6 pm 
Friday 11 am - 9 pm (September through June)
Closed Mondays and major holidays

Willem De Kooning
Zao Wou-Ki
January 19, 2017 - March 11, 2017
909 Madison Avenue, Manhattan
Tuesday - Saturday,
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Mondays by Appointment