21 December 2006

"The Gross Clinic to Stay in Philadelphia"

On December 21, 2006, five days before the December 26th deadline, The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) and The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) , at a press conference that included Philadelphia's Mayor, John Street, announced that Thomas Eakins' “The Gross Clinic” will remain in Philadelphia. Though just shy of 30 million dollars has been raised, with 38 million more needed to meet the asking price, an agreement was struck with Thomas Jefferson University. Bank loans will make up whatever is not raised in the next thirty days, the deadline to pay Jefferson. The painting will be shared by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) and The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA).


According to a press release of PMA, " In the near future, the masterpiece will be on view at the Museum where it will be seen in context with Eakins and his contemporaries, and it will be shown at the Academy shortly thereafter. Wachovia Bank has agreed to provide any necessary financing."

Among the donations were $10 million from the Annenberg Foundation and three contributions of $ 3 million, according to an AP report.

A knowledgable source from PAFA said that according to the plan, the painting will be shared by PMA and PAFA, alternating five-year periods, the first of which will be at PAFA. Furthermore, he said that PMA has agreed to loan PAFA some of its paintings during the time that “The Gross Clinic” is at PMA.

Among the Eakins in the extensive PMA collection is a sketch for “The Gross Clinic,” [ Oil on canvas, 26 x22 inches]. “The Agnew Clinic,” [Oil on canvas 84 3/8 x 118 1/8inches] is currently on view at PMA, though it is owned by the University of Pennsylvania, where it had been in the foyer of the Morgan Building.

In November of this year the effort to keep "The Gross Clinic" in Philadelphia began. PAFA, where Eakins was a student and, later, a teacher, is home to an Eakins collection, The Bregler Collection, which includes photographs, drawings and letters. In a press release, PAFA provided background information about the painting:

“Painted in 1875, The Gross Clinic is widely considered Eakins’ finest work. The 8’ by 6’ painting, which stands as a testament to the strides Philadelphia made in the medical and educational fields, depicts famed Philadelphia Dr. Samuel D. Gross performing bone surgery on a young man, while a woman often thought to be the patient’s mother cringes in the middle ground. Depicted in Jefferson’s surgical ampitheater, Gross is dramatically caught in a shaft of light from the skylight, and turns majestically away from the patient to address his students as his assistants continue their work. From this perspective, the viewer occupies a seat alongside Gross’ students. At the right, Eakins depicts himself in the audience, attentively recording the scene.

The Gross Clinic, which Eakins completed when he was 31, was submitted for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition but was rejected from the Fine Art Gallery in Philadelphia’s Memorial Hall because of its shocking content.

Probably through the machinations of Dr. Gross and his colleagues, however, it was placed on view on the Centennial grounds at the United States Army Post Hospital, in a ward filled with hospital bedding and furniture. Commentators wondered at the placement: “It was one of the most powerful and life-like pictures to be seen at the Exhibition, and should have had a place at the Art Gallery, where it would have been seen but for an incomprehensible decision by the Selecting Committee.”

The critic William Clark—who had earlier written, “This portrait of Dr. Gross is a great work—we know of nothing greater that has ever been executed in America,” returned to his defense of the picture: “There is nothing so fine in the American section of the Art Department of the Exhibition and it is a great pity that the squeamishness of the Selection Committee compelled the artist to find a place in the United States Hospital Building. It is rumored that the blood on Dr. Gross’s fingers made some of the committee members sick, but, judging from the quality of the works exhibited by them we fear that it was not the blood alone that made them sick. Artists have before now been known to sicken at the sight of pictures by younger men which they in their souls were compelled to acknowledge were beyond their emulation.” (Marc Simpson, in The 1870s, essay in Thomas Eakins (Philadelphia Museum of Art 2001) ed. Darrel Sewell)

An art critic for the New York Tribune called it “one of the most powerful, horrible yet fascinating pictures that has been painted anywhere in this century …” In 2002, when it was exhibited in the Philadelphia Museum of Art-organized Thomas Eakins: American Realist retrospective exhibition at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman called it “hands down, the finest 19th century American painting …”

The painting was purchased for $200 by Jefferson alumni and given to the institution in 1878. It has remained on view at Jefferson, where Eakins himself studied anatomy, since its donation, except for periodic loans to exhibitions across the country.”

Appetite for Munch?

For those who, upon learning that the recovered paintings “The Scream” and “Madonna” may have been damaged irreparably, now want to see more of his work but who have no plans to go to Oslo where most of his work can be found, the Munch Museum’s website will provide several hours of satisfying browsing.

Besides the paintings, there’s an online, searchable catalogue of prints (748 graphic motifs). An intaglio print, drypoint and burnisher, printed by Sabo (l894) and a hand-colored impression of the lithograph (lithographic crayon, tusche and scraper) printed by Lassally (l895/1902) of Madonna are found here; This was “printed in monochrome black, brown, green or red ink. Multicolored impressions printed from the keystone and two or three color plates.” An l895 lithograph (lithographic crayon and tusche) of “The Scream” printed by Liebmann can be found here.

Gerd Woll notes, “While he did not create pure transfer lithographs until the following year in Paris, some of the lithographs from 1895 also show signs that the rough outline of the drawing itself may have been transferred. In The Scream, for example, the motif is printed the same way round as in the painting, which in itself indicates that the image on stone was preceded by a drawing. If we look at the print in more detail, we can also see that under the strong tusche lines lies a thinner outline in crayon, in which the motif ends several centimetres above the final design. In all likelihood Munch first drew the motif on paper with lithographic crayon, transferred this to stone, and then continued with tusche directly on the stone. A similar procedure may have been used for Madonna, which is also not a mirror image of the painting. In this work, besides lithographic crayon and tusche, Munch also makes great use of a pointed scraping tool to scratch fine lines into the stone.”

14 December 2006

Great Art is Not Priceless

After all, sixty-eight million will buy an Eakins—but for whom?

On November 11, The Board of Trustees of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. announced that they “authorized the sale of Thomas Eakins’ painting The Gross Clinic (1875) to the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Bentonville, Arkansas). Through a private sale arranged by Christie's in New York, the Board has accepted an offer of $68 million for the painting, the highest price ever paid for a work by the artist and, by far, a record for any work of art created in the United States before World War II. Local art museums and governmental institutions have the opportunity to match the offer with a preemptive bid within 45 days.

The painting has been the property of Thomas Jefferson University since its purchase in 1878 and is considered to be Eakins' masterpiece.”

Stephan Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer Culture Writer, noted “Mayor Street nominated The Gross Clinic, owned by Jefferson since 1878, for protection as a "historic object" under the city's historic-preservation ordinance. Designation, rare but not without precedent, would place the painting under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, which would have to approve any attempt to move it.

The city preservation ordinance does not bar sale of the painting, however, just as it does not bar the sale of a building - nor would it stop the clock from ticking on efforts to match the sale price, preservation officials said.
Stephanie Naidoff, city commerce director, said yesterday that the mayor was not "making a judgment" on whether the painting should be designated.

"He is asking the Historical Commission to consider it," Naidoff said. "It was because of the tremendous groundswell of public interest in the painting and in finding a way to keep it in Philadelphia."

By asking the Historical Commission to become involved, she said, "the mayor very specifically mentioned not interfering with [Jefferson's] property rights."

Politcal Poetry

While political poetry is often heavy on the politics and light on the poetry, this isn’t so in Tanure Ojaide’s poem, “To the Janjaweed,” which is a litany both of their evil deeds and curses which should befall them, each curse suited to the action.

For example:

“may those you chase out of life in these raids
turn round to pursue you out of the next life

may you have sway of night your haunt
and day reduce you to the lowest vermin

may you escape justice of Khartoum’s courts
and be condemned forever in a higher trial”

At the end, the reader wants to say, “Amen.”

13 December 2006

Free Mozart

Sheet music of all of Mozart’s compositions is now available free online. “ The unique initiative, entitled NMA Online -- for 'Neue Mozart Ausgabe,' or new Mozart edition -- was launched with the help of the Packard Humanities Institute in Los Altos, California.”

The "Digital Mozart Edition" (DME) website -- http://dme.mozarteum.at -- features over 600 works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, separated into ten categories, from concertos for orchestra to chamber music and pieces for piano.”

Or if you aren’t looking for the sheet music, but for recordings of the works, many of those are also free online, as is Mozart’s diary.

12 December 2006

Kuspit Contextualizes Somoroff

Donald Kuspit has written about archisculptor Michael Somoroff again. An earlier article in artnet "The Matrix of Sensation" placed Somoroff's Query IV and Query II in the context of such artists as Seurat and Manet. Kuspit writes about the computer and art: "A digital image is a double vision: a code in the process of crystallizing into an image, and a self-regulating matrix of "electrifying" sensations. It is because the sensations electronically vibrate that the digital image can never be a reification of the matrix and the code."

Now, in an article in Per Contra Donald Kuspit looks at Michael Somoroff's archisculpture "Illumination I," which was commissioned by the Rothko Chapel. Kuspit's essay also considers the architecture of the Rothko Chapel as well as the paintings by Mark Rothko, contrasting these with Somoroff's piece. " It “realizes” the light for the spectator, represents the moment of his or her inner illumination, of “seeing the light” that is immaterial but that has been made material—literalized, as it were—in Somoroff’s work. It rises upward, slowly but inevitably ascending, unlike the flat paintings fixed in place on the chapel’s walls, conveying the “breakthrough” into the light that is every human being’s birthright."

The same issue of Per Contra also carries an interview with Somoroff. More on that in another entry.

11 December 2006

Pioneer in New Media

Are limitations freedom in disguise?

Lynn Hershman Leeson talks about this and other questions in her recent interview in Per Contra.

"MK: I saw that your work is going to be available on mobile phones. What? What do you think of that new method of getting work seen? How will its constraints create new forms?

LHL: No constraints at all, as I see it, just more access.

MK: What about the limitations on length of the art work, on the size of the screen, the double possibility of speaker phone and positioning the cell phone to the ear (which allows for much more intimacy, especially if the image speaks to the viewer and asks for that or vice versa?

LHL: Sometimes limitations can be an advantage. There is a lot of freedom in limitation, and it is just a matter of exploiting potential."

19 June 2006

For What it's Worth: 135 Million

The five Klimt paintings recovered after having been looted by the Nazis were, since April 4, on view together at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in a special exhibition.

The group included two portraits of Adele Bloch Bauer (wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer)---and three landscapes "Houses of Untreach on Lake Atter," l9l6, "Apple Tree I," l911 or l9l2), and "Beech Woods (Birch Woods), 1903.

Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator of Modern Art at LACMA, described the gold portrait and its subject, "Foremost among the rare "gold style" works, the painting captures its elegant and intelligent subject as the ideal of feminine beauty. The figure dissolves into sumptuous patterning reminiscent of the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, Italy, portraying the Empress Theodora, which Klimt had visited in 1903. Klimt's fine craftsmanship in this work is evident in his varied uses of real gold: as a diffuse background luster reminiscent of Japanese lacquer, as the fabric of a flowing gown, and as a pattern punctuated with Egyptian god's-eye motifs. In contrast with this rich decorative treatment, Adele's face stands out as an extraordinarily modern psychological portrayal, while her hands are arranged gracefully to conceal a deformed finger. Self-assured yet introspective, she comports herself as a woman of privilege devoted to the world of the intellect."

The sale of "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" to Ronald S. Lauder--for the Neue Galerie, the New York museum he founded--may represent the record price for a painting, reportedly $135 million, the previous high being for Picasso's "Boy with a Pipe" in a 2004 sale by Sotheby.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the sale,

"Randol Schoenberg, a Los Angeles attorney and Bloch-Bauer family friend who fought Austrian officials in American and Austrian courts for more than seven years over the paintings, said, "It's terrific. They sold it for a fair price, and it's going to be on public display. It's going to be in a real art capital. For Maria and me it would have been nice to have it in Los Angeles. But New York is a nice place to display it."

The Neue Galerie, which Lauder opened in 2001 to focus on turn-of-the-century German and Austrian art, sits in a six-story former private residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Though the young museum has thousands of items on long-term loan, including several Klimt paintings, the Bloch-Bauer portrait joins just 166 works owned outright by the museum. The institution gets about 200,000 visitors yearly.

Lauder serves as president of the Neue Galerie's six-member board."


The good news for those on the East Coast is that all five paintings will be on display together at The Neue Galerie from July 13 through September 18. The museum, which has as its focus German and Austrian art from the turn of the 20th century, currently includes several other Klimt paintings on loan.

18 June 2006

Indian Writer making international headlines

This blog a service of Online Sprinboard, where you'll find comprehensive resources for the arts, news and art newsmakers.

From AP

"NEW DELHI (AP) -- Every week or so the phone rings in the professor's home, a tidy ground-floor apartment set behind a wooden gate and a flower-filled garden, and a voice echoes from a guerrilla hideout far to the east.

The professor, Indira Goswami, is a prominent scholar of the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic. She is also the best-known novelist in India's northeastern state of Assam, a woman born to a wealthy landowning clan whose books reverberate with the struggles of India's vast underclass.

Her caller, Paresh Baruah, has spent 20 years on the run, leading a militant group fighting to take control of the forests and towns of Assam. Working from secret bases, many apparently in neighboring Bangladesh, he controls the military wing of the United Liberation Front of Asom, the most powerful militant movement in an isolated region riven by poverty and ethnic turmoil."


The full article outlines an intricate relationship and is worth a complete reading.