Monday, May 24, 2010

Monet at Gagosian - An Alert

Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1906,
oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 36 5/8 in. (81 x 92 cm)
Private Collection

Once again, the Gagosian Gallery has mounted a museum quality exhibition, Claude Monet: Late Work. Set against the gallery’s pearly grey walls, Monet’s late paintings resonate with light and color. The setting and space encourages contemplation. This viewer can think of only one other installation that is more illuminating: the Nymphéas (Water Lilies) of the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, which was chosen and arranged by the painter himself.

Here twenty-seven paintings in four gallery rooms are hung in approximately chronological order. All are oil on canvas. Ten are from private collections and the rest from Paris, Japan, Basel, Honolulu and Chicago. None are for sale and no wall labels distract from Monet’s vision. Just two works are under glass which further enhances the joy of looking.

In the first gallery, easel-size paintings shimmer with images of Monet’s famed water lily pond. The effect is often dizzying as reflections of trees and sky mingle with floating flowers and leaves. Yet the palette of pinks, blues, violets and pale greens evokes calm and quiet. One painting, the 1907 Nymphéas from the Musée Marmattan Monet, Paris, is different. Its vertical sun burst of color practically negates any sense of the pond, leaves realism behind and previews what is to come.

Bolder, larger canvases dominate the next room. Here is movement. Touches of vermilions, oranges as well as calligraphic brush strokes excite and activate the works.

The paintings in the third gallery are also big but verge more closely to pure abstraction. From Basel, the Foundation Beyeler’s Nymphéas of 1916-1919, has almost no attachment to nature. We get lost in a swirl of light, color, space and are taken into a sublime state.

Lastly, we enter a space hosting primarily smaller paintings. Concerned with series, The Pont Japonais (The Japanese Bridge) and L’Allée de Rosiers (The Path Under the Rose Arches) are each seen in three versions. Monet takes to masterly impasto technique. Layers of pigment are laid as if he wanted to prolong the experience of painting and capture all of nature’s changeability. Think of Leonard Bernstein’s late penetrating recordings of Mahler’s symphonies - long and thoughtful as though the conductor did not want the music to end.

These paintings testify to Monet’s late in life bold creativity. You want to remain before them, prolong your view, as time reveals the natural world’s fluctuations.

This is a marvelous exhibition. Gagosian is to be congratulated and praised. In 2009, the gallery gave the pubic two matchless shows: Piero Manzoni Retrospection and Pablo Picasso Mosqueteros. The later was curated by the renowned Picasso biographer John Richardson. Now, we have the Monet. In so doing, the Gagosian becomes synonymous with value, distinction and excellence. It is a win-win situation for the gallery and the public.

A couple of hints:

  • Bags must be checked so leave briefcases/computer cases at home. Ladies just take small purses.
  • An exhibition checklist may be obtained at the entrance reception desk.
  • Visit on the early days of the week especially Monday when there are fewer crowds. (Yes, the gallery is open on Monday.)
Gagosian Gallery
522 West 21st Street, Manhattan
Monday - Saturday 10 AM - 6 PM
Through June 26, 2010

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