A few months ago, the Beav and I went to Toronto and saw The Great Upheaval, a show of works from the Guggenheim that was packed with kids on field trips. The exhibit was focused, coherent, and dense. Every work was major. We spent a few hours and walked through it twice.
For me, the revelation was watching Mondrian transform himself into an abstract-expressionist. The three early works that caught my attention all showed an artist, who was essentially a very late post-impressionist, discovering the beauty of painted lines on a flat surface. In chronological order, the paintings were (images from the Guggenheim):
The first and last are just gorgeous, but the middle one, which is less beautiful, fascinates me. It’s so obviously operating in Cézanne’s shadow, yet it’s also attempting to create a complex matrix of lines which are not merely outlines. I look at it and I see something struggling–actually struggling–to become something new. And that makes Still Life with Gingerpot II feel like a triumph.
(The painting of the dune–with it’s roughly horizontal lines and it’s solid blocks of layered colour–looks like it wants to become a Rothko.)
The Beav’s favourite was a painting by Chagall. He explained why, and I looked and stared–and the painting’s amazing! really it is–but I remain mystified. And, yes, I like the mystery. If our tastes were the same, I’m not sure museums would be so much fun.
We both agreed that this painting by a Russian we’d never heard of was one of the gems of the show: