Thursday, February 28, 2019

What If? The Life And Work of Fritz Ascher Part I

Fritz Ascher (1893 - 1970), Untergehende Sonne (Sunset), c. 1960,
oil on canvas, 49.2 × 50 in. ( 125 × 126 cm)
Private collection
Photo: Malcolm Varon. © Bianca Stock
Courtesy of the Grey Art Gallery

The current exhibition Fritz Ascher: Expressionist at New York University's Grey Art Gallery is artistically impressive and historically important. Accordingly, ArtWithHillary February 2019 and ArtWithHillary March 2019 are devoted to an account of the show.


The artist Fritz Ascher (1893 - 1970) suffered through a horrific period of time from 1933 through 1945 in which he was prohibited from producing art.  No one will leave the exhibit without thinking what if the artist had not been denied the freedom to work for twelve years - a period that  impacted profoundly the rest of his life.  


Thanks to the efforts of the show's curator Rachel Stern, Director and CEO of the Fritz Ascher Society for Persecuted, Ostracized and Banned Art, Inc., New York, the work of the relatively unknown Ascher has come to light.  There was an exhibition of Ascher's works on paper at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting & Sculpture in 2017, however, the Grey Art Gallery presents his first solo retrospective in America. On view are twenty-three paintings, forty-two works on paper, two sketchbooks and documents relating to the artist's persecution and personal life.  In addition, an informative twenty-two minute biographical video runs continuously.  


Ascher was born to a Jewish couple in Berlin in 1893.  He was the oldest child and only son.  He had two younger sisters. His father was a dentist who invented a tooth enamel which he successful sold through his company. The family was well-off.  In 1901, his father left the Jewish faith and had his children baptized Protestant. The reason for this is unclear but antisemitism and assimilation may well have been on the elder Ascher's mind.  Both his daughters married non-Jews.  The father recognized his son's talent when he was very young and took him to study with Max Liebermann (1847 - 1935), the most influential and avant-garde painter in Berlin at that time. Liebermann was the leader of the Berlin Secession, an artist group opposed to the conservative art establishment.  They championed Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and other modern art movements. Liebermann recommended Ascher, then sixteen years old, to the innovative Art Academy in Könisberg.  Ascher spent three years there (1909 - 1912) then returned to Berlin where he worked as a professional artist exhibiting in solo and group shows.  He also continued his art studies with leading painters such as Lovis Corinth (1858 - 1925) whose work combined Impressionism and Expressionism.  In addition, Asher took classes at the highly-respected Lessing University in Berlin.  

German Expressionism, Cubism and Fauvism and other modern art movements had an influence on Ascher. What remained of his library showed his knowledge of  old masters with books on Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), Michelangelo (1475 - 1564), Rembrandt (1606 - 1669) and others. He had interests in classical music, opera, theater and literature.  He was a painter, poet and composer.  


Ascher was not only an active participant in the Berlin art scene but also traveled, expanding his social and artistic circles. In 1914, Asher went to Oslo to visit the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944) who he much admired.  He was in Munich between 1919 and 1920 where the Der Blaue Reiter, an informal artist association, had been formed by Wassily Kandisky (1866 - 1944) and other artists like Franz Marc (1880 - 1916) in 1911.  The movement advocated a lyrical, abstract style of German Expressionism. 
This was in contrast to the earlier art group, Die Brücke, which began in Dresden in 1905. Founding members included Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938),  Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884–1976) and Erich Heckel (1883–1970). They promoted a form of Expressionism with distorted figurative imagery.  Munich was also the home of the modern art school established by Hans Hofmann (1880 - 1966) in 1915.  Hoffmann had lived in Paris between 1904 and 1914 and had first hand experience with all the trailblazer artists such as Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954), and Robert Delaunay (1885 - 1941).



Fritz Ascher (1893 - 1970), Der Vereinsamte (Loner), c. 1914,
oil on canvas,  47 1/4 x 37 1/4 in. ( 120 × 94.6 cm)
Private collection
Photo: Malcolm Varon. © Bianca Stock
Courtesy of the Grey Art Gallery

Der Vereinsamte (Loner) of 1914 demonstrates the abilities of the young artist.  A lone male nude stands against a turbulent background.  The figure looks downcast as if he carried the burden of the world. He may be remorseful about something.  His muscular body appears to be able to withstand whatever presses upon it.  


Fritz Ascher (1893 - 1970), Golgotha, 1915,
oil on canvas,  53 3/8 x 69 in. ( 135.6 × 175.3 cm)
Private collection
Photo: Malcolm Varon. © Bianca Stock
Courtesy of the Grey Art Gallery

Still in his early twenties, Ascher painted Golgotha, a highlight of the exhibit.  Golgotha, also known as Calvary, is the hill outside the walls of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified along  with two convicted thieves.  The painter focused on the crowds surrounding the event.  Christ and the thieves are in shadow in the background positioned against the upper edge of the canvas. Although placed before a brilliant sky, they can easily be overlooked.  In traditional Crucifixion scenes, the holy figures are prominent and not the anonymous bystanders. In Ascher's canvas, in the middle ground on the right,  a soldier on horseback holding a spear appears to be pushing the crowd away. Some foreground figures are depicted as if about to flee out of the picture into the spectator's space.  These unnamed witnesses wear colorful robes and have the facial characteristics associated with Northern European portrayals of Jews - an unflattering stereotype.  The work's meaning is uncertain. Perhaps, as one scholar suggested, the artist was commenting on religion as some type of theater or entertainment for the masses.  


Installation view of exhibition Fritz Ascher: Expressionist
January 9 - April 6, 2019,
Grey Art Gallery
New York University
Photo: Nicolas Papananias
Grey Art Gallery Web site

From one point in the gallery, viewers can take in four extraordinary paintings:  Loner (c. 1914), Kneeling Male Nude (c. 1914), Golgotha (1915) and Der Gequält (The Tortured) (1920s).  The latter work is an unusual depiction of Saint Sebastian. Sebastian was a Christian who was sentenced to death by the Roman emperor because of his faith.  He was shot with arrows and left for dead.  Irene, a pious widow, nursed him back to health. Saint Sebastian imagery typically portrays the saint tied to a tree, his body shot with arrows or the saint is seen being attended to by Irene. In Ascher's painting, Sebastian, standing unattached to anything, is constrained by a binding rope which his torturers continue to tighten.   


Fritz Ascher (1893 - 1970), Mondnacht (Moonlit Night), c. 1918,
oil on canvas,  39 x 30 in. (98.5 x 75.5 cm)
Private collection
Photo: Malcolm Varon. © Bianca Stock
Fritz Ascher Society Web site

Not to be missed is Mondnacht (Moonlit Night).  This c. 1918 canvas, in the same room as The Torturedapproaches pure abstraction.  Vibrant colors coupled with charged brushstrokes create a compelling composition that makes its subject almost unrecognizable. Furthermore, figurative representation dominated Ascher's work during this period making landscapes the exception.


Ascher was not a participant in World War I (1914 - 1918) but would have been affected like everyone else. Things turned on him with the rise of the Nazis.  With the Nazi Party in power and Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, citizens had their civil liberties revoked after the burning of the Reichstag (Parliament) on February 27, 1933. Modern art was deemed an insult to Germany and labeled "degenerate art."  Although baptized, Ascher was identified as a Jewish degenerate artist and was not allowed to produce, exhibit or sell his art.  From then on he constantly moved from one place to another to avoid persecution.  On the night of November 9/10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, Hitler unleashed a rain of terror on the Jews, attacking them and their buildings, stores and synagogues.  Ascher along with some three thousand Jewish men was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the principal concentration camp for the Berlin area. He was released on December 23 due to the efforts of a lawyer friend. Almost immediately after that, Ascher was imprisoned in the Potsdam jail where he spent five months until the same attorney friend gained his release on May 15, 1939. Ascher intended to get out of Germany by a ship going to Shanghai but was required to settle some inheritance issue related to his mother's estate and was not allowed to leave the country. Both his parents were deceased. His father died in 1922 and his mother on October 17, 1938.  


Forced to remain in Germany, Ascher moved into a Jewish boarding house and was required to report to the local police three times a week and to their headquarters once a month.  In 1941, as a Jew, he was forced to wear the Yellow Star.  In 1942 his name appeared on a deportation list.  The chief constable warned him about his fate and he sought the help of Martha Grassmann (1881 - 1971), his attorney friend's mother.  Martha was twelve years his senior and had been a friend of  his mother.  The artist had known her and her son since they came to his studio to see his paintings in 1928. Martha, whose son had died of tuberculosis in 1941, agreed to hide him.  For the duration of the war, she hid Ascher.  They remained together for the rest of his life.  A chilling aspect of the exhibit are the documents related to Ascher's ordeals. In one glass table top is the facsimile of the typed list of prisoners released from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on December 23, 1938.  Ascher's name is number 3. In the same vitrine is the facsimile of the artist's Nazi-issued identity card dated June 2, 1939 . All Jews were required to carry these cards with them. The label informs that Ascher's middle name was "Israel" because Jewish men with non-Jewish first names were given the middle name "Israel."  Jewish women with non-Jewish first names were given the middle name "Sara."  


More to come in ArtWithHillary March 2019.  



Fritz Ascher: Expressionist
January 9 - April 6, 2019
100 Washington Square East, Manhattan
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Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Accessible Cézanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné

Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906) Portrait de l'artiste à la palette, c. 1890, 
oil on canvas, 36.2 x 28.7 ins. (92 x 73cm)

Voilà!  On the 180th anniversary of  the birth of Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906), January 19, 2019, the artist's complete catalogue raisonné was launched online.  The Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings of Paul Cézanne by a team of dedicated Cézanne scholars presents the most comprehensive compilation of the artist's works to date and is freely available to the public. 

The authors are Walter Feilchenfeldt, Jayne Warman and David Nash. Feilchenfeldt worked with the eminent Cézanne specialist John Rewald (1912 - 1994) on the collation of the artist's paintings  published in 1996, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue RaisonneWarman also collaborated on the Rewald catalogue.  Nash, who long admired Cézanne and Rewald, is an art dealer who previously spent 35 years at Sotheby's auction house in the Impressionist and modern art areas.  Nash originally wanted to upgrade the Rewald catalogue with color illustrations since the book had only black-and-white reproductions.  The project grew into a digital version that not only includes the artist's paintings but also his watercolors and drawings.  In addition, it contains sections on collections, exhibitions, literature and resources.  

Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906) Baigneuses1899 – 1904
oil on canvas, 20 3/16 x 24 5/16 in. (51.3 x 61.7 cm)
 The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois


The advantages of a digital format are manifold.  Continuous input of the latest information is possible, searchability paths are limited only by one's imagination and images - which most importantly in this online catalogue are shown at relative size - are retrieved from one site.   

The catalogue has three main components:  Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings and Sketchbooks.  The first two sections are divided into themes such as landscape, portrait and still life.  Filters and the search box allow users to cull groups or specific artworks.  Over 140 primary category filters and innumerable subdivisions facilitate focused investigations. For example:  Go to the "Filters & Keywords" drop down menu. Click on "Bather" and 16 subcategories are brought up.  Click on "Bathers and Nudes"and another 7 categories appear.   Type in "bathers" on the search line for "Catalogue" and 146 works show up.


Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906) Skull and Book, c. 1895,
watercolor over black chalk on laid paper,
Sheet: 9 1/4 × 12 3/16 in. (23.5 × 31 cm)
Detroit Institute of Arts, Bequest of John S. Newberry, 65.139

Entries are rich in details and facts including the item's provenance, exhibition history and published references.  Type "skull" in the search box for example and 18 works - oil paintings, watercolors and drawings appear.  Click on one, such as the c. 1885 watercolor Un crâne.  The title in the catalogue  is Un crâne but the alternate titles section of the entry tells us the watercolor is also known as A skull and Skull and Book.  The latter is the one used by the Detroit Institute of Arts where the work resides.  Click on Detroit Institute of Arts and you see all the Cézannes in the museum's collection.  Such a search would entice viewers to make a trip there.  


Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906) La Montagne Sainte-Victoire au grand pin, c. 1887,
oil on canvas, 26 x 35 3/8 in. (66 x 90 cm)

Mont Sainte-Victoire, a limestone mountain near the artist's family home in Provence, was one of  Cézanne's favorite landscape subjects. He began painting the mountain in the early 1880s and continued to depict it from various perspectives repeatedly until his death.  Search "Mont Sainte-Victoire" and 97 works come into view. 


Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906) La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, c. 1900, 
watercolor on paper, 11 13/16 x 19 in. (30 x 48.3 cm)
  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA  

A heading titled "Additional Materials" sometimes is found on a entry page.  A click on it brings up  interesting connections.  Take the watercolor La Montagne Sainte-Victoire in the Barnes Foundation. This heading leads to an oil painting belonging to a private collection in Qatar which has the same composition as the Barnes's watercolor.

Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906) La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1902 - 04, 
oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 35 3/16 in. (69.8 x 89.5 cm)
  Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA  


By viewing in chronological order one theme like "Mont Sainte-Victoire," the artist's pictorial evolution becomes apparent. 

If you are curious about which artists collected Cézanne, go to the Collection section and drop down the "Filters" menu.  37 artist collectors are listed.  Pick an artist.  Claude Monet (1840 - 1926) owned 15 works; Edgar Degas (1834 - 1917) had 12. There is so much to learn from this exceptional Web site.

The catalogue benefits everyone.  From scholars to the general public - anyone who has even the slightest interest in the artist will find hours of exploration and enjoyment.  

An online catalogue raisonné under the direction of Walter Feilchenfeldt, 
Jayne Warman and David Nash

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Place Of Contemplation:  

The Buddhist Shrine Room
Installation view of The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room 
(October 26, 2018 - September 16, 2019)
The Rubin Museum of Art, New York
Photo:  David De Armas

The need for a period of quiet reflection may always be there but is especially true for the holiday season when life becomes more hectic.  It helps to find a time and place to do it.   The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room at The Rubin Museum of Art provides space for it. 

Since the museum opened in 2004, the shrine room has been a permanent exhibit. Objects in the room are changed periodically to conform with the observance of a specific Buddhist practice.  Presently the room is set up according to the Sakya tradition, developed in the 11th century and one of Tibetan Buddhism's four major schools.



Installation view of The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room 
(October 26, 2018 - September 16, 2019)
The Rubin Museum of Art, New York
Photo:  Hillary Ganton

Visitors may sit and gaze upon the variety of artifacts set before them and listen to a continuous recording of chanting of hymns, prayers and sounds of ritual instruments.  The throaty, sonorous and singsong utterances have a soothing effect enhancing a mood for ruminations.

Jangjya (lcang skya) Lhakhang (lha khang), interior, shrine,
view with villager lighting butter lamps, 2002, 
Jangjya village, Rebgong District, Amdo (Qinghai province)
Photo:  Artstor

Tibetan Buddhist shrines are located in a variety of places such as domestic households, temples and monastic complexes in addition to caves and public village buildings.  They are sacred spaces dedicated to worship and devotional rituals.  Whether the space is filled with a few objects or hundreds, all senses are engaged:  Butter lamps and incense address the sense of smell; painted and sculptural images involve sight; sounds of chanting and musical instruments engages hearing; the taking of blessed liquids entails taste; the use of prayer beads relates to touch and, consciousness, considered the sixth sense in Buddhism, is invoked by thought.  Offerings of food, money and religious items accumulate among the layered, sometimes crowded placement of many types of artifacts.  


Installation view of The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room 
(October 26, 2018 - September 16, 2019)
The Rubin Museum of Art, New York
Photo:  Hillary Ganton

The Rubin's shrine room displays over 100 objects including paintings, sculptures, bowls, lamps, textiles, manuscripts, furniture and musical instruments.  Such a room would have belonged to a wealthy home. Mostly everything on view is from the museum's own collection while other items are from private collectors and other museums. Lenders include Robert and Lois Baylis, the Newark Museum, New Jersey and the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, Staten Island. The two latter museums have extensive collections of art from Tibet and the Himalayan region.


   Installation view of The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room 
(October 26, 2018 - September 16, 2019)
The Rubin Museum of Art, New York 
Photo:  Hillary Ganton


In the museum, lamps are not lit by a flame in clarified butter nor is incense burnt but the flickering electric lights give the impression of illumination encountered in an actual traditional shrine room. All things in the room are symbolic and meaningful.  Light focuses the mind and aids meditation.  It symbolizes the elimination of darkness and represents wisdom.  Prayer beads, available for visitors, are used to mark the repetitions of prayers and devotions.  

To help with understanding, there is an interactive screen outside of the room that identifies and explains what is on view.  The museum's Web site also has an interactive section on the installation with videos of actual temple chanting sessions and a domestic shrine offering.

You may want to take a pause in your life and visit The Rubin Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room.   

The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room
October 26, 2018 - September 16, 2019

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Franz Gertsch: The Virtuosity Of A Swiss Painter

Installation view of exhibition, Franz Gertsch:  Polygonal Allover,
September 19 - December 2, 2018, Swiss Institute, New York
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

It is rare when a gallery show entices prolonged viewing - a desire to sit and look and think about what attracts.  The exhibition Franz Gertsch: Polygonal Allover at the Swiss Institute in the East Village does just that in an overview of the Swiss artist's decades of virtuoso works in painting and woodcut.

Franz Gertsch (1930 - ) focuses on portraiture that is a modern take on art historical sources, specifically the Baroque portrait tradition and old master techniques. In the 1970s Gertsch made huge portraits of young friends who were living together in Lucerne, Switzerland.  These youths included the now admired artists Luciano Castelli (1951 - ) and Urs Lüthi (1947 -).  

Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), At Luciano's House, 1973, 
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 95 3/4 x 139 3/4 in. (243.21 x 354.97 cm)
The Sander Collection
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

The painting At Luciano's House, 1973, captures three friends in preparation for going out. The young lady on the right, Marina, Luciano's girlfriend at the time, is looking off to the right apparently regarding herself in a mirror located outside of the picture space.  She adjusts her fur-trimmed jacket under which she wears a blouse patterned in the red, white and blue "stars and stripes" of the American flag.  This was a period of strong American influence on Swiss youth. The blond on the left, Barbara, who was an art student in Lucerne, seems to be tucking her top into her pants.  The kneeling center figure, Luciano, picks up some type of garment lying on what appears to be an odd-shapped shag rug popular in the 1960s and 1970s and associated with a bohemian lifestyle.  

Detail of Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), At Luciano's House, 1973, 
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 95 3/4 x 139 3/4 in. (243.21 x 354.97 cm)
The Sander Collection
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

The threesome wore elaborate make-up and an unusual mixture of clothing - Luciano wears a skirt and his girlfriend jeans.  (A silkscreen in the exhibit shows the flamboyant clothes of the people in At Luciano's House hanging out to dry on a clothesline with Marina's "stars and stripes"  blouse prominent. )  

The outcome of all the preening is the self they would present to the outside world.  There is an androgynous quality to these young people who work their way into trying to find their identity and what they would like to become.  Scattered like debris on the wooden floor are such items as records including a recently released Rolling Stone album, a book, knickknacks and ornaments which give hints to their interests and lifestyle. 

Gertsch painted a butterfly with distinctive markings on the far wall which seems to make an analogy between its vibrant coloration and the youth's decorative dress.  

Detail of Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), At Luciano's House, 1973, 
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 95 3/4 x 139 3/4 in. (243.21 x 354.97 cm)
The Sander Collection
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

The painting's saturated colors are intense and the details prominent. Passages such as Luciano's hair and the pattern of the curtains highlight the artist's ability in the rendering of different textures and forms. 

Gertsch achieves all this by employing an unusual technique. He takes photographs of his subjects with a flash and projects the image onto an unprimed canvas.  He paints in the dark relying on his color memory. The method is not too different from the way the camera obscura was used as a painting aide by artists such as the Dutch Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675).  Gertsch's methodology, like the camera obscura, made visible optical phenomena which couldn't be seen with the naked eye, particularly specs of brightness on objects, multiple-viewpoints and the blurring effects captured by mechanical means.  The raking light produced by the flash illuminates everything equally and brings to the fore the surface of things.  


Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Luciano II, 1976, 
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 95 3/4 x 136 1/4 in. (243.21 x 346.11 cm)
Private Collection
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Gertsch has been called a photorealist referring to the photorealism art movement in vogue in the 1960s and early 1970s in the USA. Photorealists took everyday reality as their subjects and developed a style based on photographic images.  They made their art look like a photograph often working with an airbrush instead of a paint brush to eliminate any suggestion of brushstrokes.  Viewers may confuse a photorealistically painted work with a photo.  With Gertsch's art, this confusion does not occur.  He never lets the viewers forget his paintings are paintings.  

Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Detail of Luciano II, 1976, 
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 95 3/4 x 136 1/4 in. (243.21 x 346.11 cm)
Private Collection
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Gertsch painted some thirteen portraits of Luciano attracted no doubt to his beauty, way of life and play on gender fluidity.  A detail of the large portrait Luciano II, 1976, reveals how the paint seeps into the unprimed cotton canvas and the way irregular lines and dabs of paint make obvious the artist's touch.  


Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Luciano's Leibchen, 1977, 
oil on canvas. 20 1/4 inches x 20 1/4 in.  (51.44 x 51.44 cm)
Private Collection
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

That Gertsch was interested in the means of visualization as opposed to exact replication of reality is communicated in Luciano's Leibchen, 1977, a fragment of a version of the Luciano II portrait. Unsatisfied with this earlier Luciano likeness, he cut up the canvas but retained four parts of the young man's striped shirt.  Framed, the fragment became a study in abstraction formed in part by the shirt, a bit of neck, hair, chair and wall. 


Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Portrait of Urs Lüthi, 1970,
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 67 x 98 1/4  in. (170.18 x 249.56 cm)
Art Collection EFG Private Banking
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

The paintings Portrait of Urs Lüthi, 1970, and Luciano I, 1976, are other monumental canvases in the show.  Lüthi works in many media including photography illustrated by his camera set on a table in Gertsch's portrait.  


Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Detail of Portrait of Urs Lüthi, 1970,
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 67 x 98 1/4  in. (170.18 x 249.56 cm)
Art Collection EFG Private Banking
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

The camera, the half-filled glass of beer and the sitter's dark glasses are a tour-de-force of reflections.

Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Luciano I, 1976,
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 78 x 117 1/4  in. (198.28 x 297.82 cm)
Private Collection Switzerland
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Luciano I depicts the end of a dinner party.  The remnants of a meal are on the table.  The many cigarette butts left in a dish used as an ashtray suggest a long repast.

Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Detail of Luciano I, 1976,
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 78 x 117 1/4  in. (198.28 x 297.82 cm) 
Private Collectin Switzerland
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

The table is in disarray:  dirty dishes are piled up, broken glass remains and cups lie on their sides.  The tablecloth is covered with stains of spilled food and drink as well as paint marks indicative of the youth's vocation.  


Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Detail of Luciano I, 1976,
acrylic on unprimed cotton, 78 x 117 1/4  in. (198.28 x 297.82 cm)
Private Collection Switzerland
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Objects and areas of note include a partially filled wine glass which rests precariously at the table's right edge, the broken glass and the room's walls and doors along with their hardware.  The triangular shaped space formed by Luciano's arms and knees through which is seen part of his chair's wooden top rail, some wallpaper and a small slice of the door, echoes the painting's compositional structure.  

The work's indebtedness to the moralizing domestic scenes of 17th-century Dutch genre paintings does not take away from the appreciation and pleasures of Gertsch's work.  


Installation view of exhibition, Franz Gertsch:  Polygonal Allover,
September 19 - December 2, 2018, Swiss Institute, New York
l. to r.  Natascha IV (1988), Natascha IV (1988), Natascha IV (1988), Schwarzwasser (1991)
hand-printed woodcut prints on Japanese paper, 108 1/4 x 85 1/4 in. (274.96 x 216.54 cm)
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Between 1986 and 1995 Gertsch stopped painting and worked exclusively in the print medium.  The show includes three large-sized woodcuts from the series he made of a young woman, Natascha IV, 1988. These prints sought to create realistic representation using a limited number of colors.  Here he utilized Japanese blue ink.  The woman's three-quarter view with an ear pierced by a small hoop earring is reminiscent of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, Mauritshuis, The Hague.  

The Natascha IV prints are installed next to Schwarzwasser, 1991, a woodcut study of a water surface where enlarged details become a form of landscape.  By pairing the particulars of a face with the particulars of nature as is the artist's practice, Gertsch points to the relationship between the two.  Both are the uppermost layer of something and a part of a larger whole.  Both are part of the natural world.

The two printing blocks used to print Natascha IV, also on exhibit, answer questions concerning how these works were accomplished.   The blocks inspire awe.  


Franz Gertsch (1930 - ), Spiegel, 1961,
oil on canvas,  29 1/4 x 40 in. (74.30x 101.6 cm)
Franz Gertsch Family
Photo:  Daniel Perez
Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Early paintings, drawings and woodcut prints demonstrate the artist's enduring consideration of the mirror as a means of identity perception. You can see these in the small gallery at the back of the first floor.  I suggest you begin your viewing here.  

A word about the Swiss Institute: The Swiss Institute is an independent, non-profit  art institution founded in 1986 by a group of Swiss living in the United States.  It showcases artists from all over the world who work in a variety of media.  The Institute's current home, its fifth, opened in June 2018.  Designed by Selldorf Architects, the 7,500 square foot space covers four floors including a basement and roof garden.  Printed Matters/St. Marks, a satellite of Printed Matters, the bookstore dedicated to artist' books and related publications, is located in the lobby.

Franz Gertsch:  Polygonal Allover
September 19 - December 2, 2018
38 St. Marks Place, Manhattan
Hours:
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 2:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Saturday, 12 noon - 8:00 pm
Sunday, 12 noon - 6:00 pm