Saturday, June 25, 2011

Innocence and the Nude: Two works at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam houses a collection of modern and contemporary art and design. For those in Toronto, I'd liken the collection to the Power Plant or the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art.

The Stedeljik is undergoing renovations so curators are presenting a selection of highlights called:  temporary stedelijik 2. There are a couple of works that I found appealing for their respective explorations of the nude female figure in art.

Marijke van Warmerdam's Handstand (1992) is a video installation that questions viewer perceptions of innocence. Here, an adolescent girl or a young woman does a handstand. The artist slows and loops the footage. On the surface, it's a playful moment. But as the viewer continues to watch the video loop the experience shifts from enjoying a whimsical moment to spying voyeuristically.

Helen Verhoeven's Thingly Character V (2010) was painted recently, and fits into the tradition of placing nude female figures amid dressed male figures in a salon/bar setting. Think Edouard Manet's Petit-dejeuner sur l'herbe. Thingly Character V is a large canvas and is intriguing for the several tableaus within the painting which explore and question the place of the nude figure in a seemingly out-of-context setting. This is interesting because Verhoeven, who was born in 1974, takes a artistic conceit and looks at it through the lens of a contemporary context.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Potato Eaters and Wheatfield with Crows at the Van Gogh Museum

Infused with natural light, the Van Gogh Musuem (VGM) has a jaw-dropping collection on view. I was reminded of the MoMA (home of The Starry Night and several other masterpieces by Van Gogh), and was impressed by the breadth of the VGM's collection and the lightness of its gallery space. In this post, I'll look at two paintings that can be found on the second floor. But of course there are many more that deserve our attention and admiration.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters (1885)
The Potato Eaters (1885) marked one of the first times Van Gogh attempted a masterpiece. As an undergraduate student, I wrote an Art History paper on it. I can only imagine I was drawn to the artist's documentary approach in terms of depicting the lives of peasants. Here, five peasants sit at a table eating a modest meal. Their lumpy hands and faces indicate the labour of their work. Van Gogh says he chose a dark colour palate that resembles the dusty, brown earth from which they gather their potatoes. Ultimately, he was successful in creating an uneasy, apprehensive mood in this scene.

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (1890)
Wheatfield with Crows (1890) is often regarded as Van Gogh's last painting. But I should note that this is not documented. In the painting, Van Gogh depicts a golden wheat field with three paths going in different directions while menacing black crows fly overhead. The sky is an eye-catching blue but looks threatening. It's often said this painting shows the artist's troubled state of mind. I was struck by Van Gogh's use of vivid yellows and blues applied with expressive thick brush strokes. And indeed the pure black crows are a foreboding presence, as I can almost hear them cawing and flapping their wings. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum De Meesterwrken is currently undergoing an extensive renovation until 2013. With an unrivaled collection of works from the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age, the museum has selected highlights to display.

My respective encounters with two masterworks marked my visit: Jan Vermeer's The Kitchen Maid (1658) and Rembrandt's The Night Watch (1642).

Rembrandt, The Night Watch (1642)

The Night Watch (less popularly known as The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch) is stunning. Rembrandt was commissioned to paint a towering group portrait of an Amsterdam militia company. Amidst the throngs of visitors to the Rijksmuseum, I was dwarfed by the painting and was gobsmacked as I admired both Rembrandt's use of light and the virtuosic way he created a sense of movement in the scene.

Jan Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid (1658)
By contrast, Vermeer's The Kitchen Maid is a much smaller painting in size and subject. It's a simple scene: Daylight streams through the window as a maid pours milk from a jug into a bowl. But Vermeer's use of naturalistic light to infuse life into this domestic moment is masterful. I have seen both works reproduced in books or slides, but nothing compares to visiting the works and seeing them in person.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Amsterdam Airport Transfer

When I arrived in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport this morning, I had no plans to take a taxi or airport limo to my destination in town. That's Toronto behaviour.

In Amsterdam, do as the Amsterdamers do. I took the train from Schiphol to Centraal Station and made my way to my final destination. It was dead easy to purchase a train ticket, find the platform, board the train and enjoy the view.

Cost? 4.20 Euros for a second class fare. I understand there's little value in purchasing a first class ticket. Time? 15-20 minutes from Schiphol to Centraal Station.

In Toronto, we like to complain about this missing piece of the puzzle -- a viable public transit option connecting Pearson International Airport with the city. Sure, we have public transit (TTC), a shuttle that takes users to the downtown core, taxis and limousines. The cost varies between 2.50 - 70 CAD. But convenience also varies depending on your mode of transportation.

Wouldn't it be grand to have an accessible, inexpensive airport transfer in Toronto? Dare to dream, eh.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jackson Pollock: Abstract Expressionist New York at the AGO

The Abstract Expressionist New York exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is a stellar collection of works by some of the better known artists of the art movement.

Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948
Of course there's nothing to replicate a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York to experience the paintings in their home. But the AGO's exhibition provides viewers with an an excellent look at Abstract Expressionism.

The Jackson Pollock works will surely be an attraction because he's such a famous painter synonymous with the drip technique as seen in Number 1A, 1948. The technique gave Pollock a way to create and interact with the canvas and paints by dripping, pouring and splattering in dance-like movement. Look for the Pollock's hand-print autograph in the top right corner of Number 1A, 1948. 

The Pollock works were wonderful to see. But don't miss the works by Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Clifford Still, and Mark Rothko. Watch for my blog post on Rothko coming soon.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Parasomnia by Viviane Sassen

For the 2011 Contact Photography Festival, the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art exhibited a series of images by Viviane Sassen called "Parasomnia".

Sassen is a fashion photographer in Holland, and as a child lived in Kenya where her father, a doctor, ran a medical clinic. Her return visits to Africa began in 2002. he images were captured in Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania.

What I found striking in her work was its non-documentary feel. By that, I mean Sassen's pictures don't appear to "capture" daily goings-on of their subjects. Instead, they're alluring for their use of bold colour yet remain distant as subjects pose to avoid the gaze of the viewer. These images are thoughtful constructions by an artist with a point of view that is informed by multiple perspectives.

Sassen's pieces was part of an exhibition called "Dynamic Landscape" which also included works by Olga Chagaoutdinova, Scarlett Hooft Graffland and Dayanita Singh.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I haven't lingered in the Art Gallery of Ontario's Walker Court since the AGO re-opned after Frank Gehry's redesign over two years ago. Of course Gehry's wonderful sculptural staircase is the grand feature in the space as it links the Walker Court with other spaces in the AGO. But on a recent visit, I was particularly struck by the marvelous natural light streaming through the windows and glass roof. It lightens the space and is a them throughout the entire gallery.