Giorgio Morandi, “Peculiar Realist”

Detail of Autoritratto (Self Portrait), 1930, oil on canvas
This is the last of the very few self portraits Morandi painted

There are several ways I could begin this report. The first would be to tell you that when you walk off the elevator on the fourth floor of the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in SoHo you encounter a
many-times-larger-than-life photograph of Morandi’s rectangular palette, which, though scraped clean, retains a deep ochre hue—except for the place by the thumb hole where the wood remains clean.  

Another would be to start with a portrait of the painter as a young man, somber of mien and hue. This modest easel-size painting is set in the center of a wall that faces you as you enter the main gallery, not so much to greet you as seemingly to square off with you. He's not smiling.

Panoramic view of the main gallery at CIMA, with the Morandi self portrait just to the left of the center poles

Still another would begin with a panorama of the main gallery, dramatic in the way its space and light set off the paintings. And finally, it could begin with an almost-life-size black and white photograph of Morandi's studio, located in a corner of his bedroom in his Bologna home.

But for the narrative, we’re going to follow the lead of the CIMA fellow who took my group around: starting in the kitchen of the loft and then working our way around the galleries.

Inset above left: the Morandi palette;  above: view of the artist's studio on Via Fondazza, photographed by Antonio Masotti in 1982 

I’ve wrestled with how much to show and tell you. While the Institute encourages visitors to photograph the works and blog or tweet about them, I don’t want to ruin the experience for those who will see this exhibition. At the same time, for those of you who will not see it in person, I want to share as much as I can with you. So, spoiler alert: If you plan to see the exhibition, you may want to read this after you’ve visited. (And then I’d love to know your comments.)

In the Kitchen: “A Vocabulary of Objects”
There’s a reason we're starting in the loft’s fabulous modernist kitchen. The tour is set up in the same way visitors to the Milan apartment of collector Gianni Mattioli experienced the work of Morandi, beginning with an espresso before being led through the apartment. Mattioli’s daughter, Laura, founder of CIMA in New York City, has maintained the tradition here.

Looking around the kitchen you see a beautiful series of photographs of the glass and tin objects Morandi painted. Joel Meyerowitz photographed them last summer, the group was told.  What I knew about these objects from my conversations with the dealer Stephen Haller, which were confirmed here by our tour leader, Matilde Giudelli-Giudi, is that Morandi altered the appearance of the objects by covering them with matte paint or filling them with paint, or wrapping household boxes with paper to transform them from quotidian objects into something more quirkily his own.

This photo, by Walter Smalling Jr. from CIMA's website, gives you a sense of the enormous kitchen in which Joel Meyerowitz's photographs are placed

Above and below: A selection of Joel Meyerowitz photographs showing Morandi's collection of the objects he placed in his still lifes

Above: An object that appears frequently in Morandi's painting, like the still life, below, Natura Morta, from 1955

What I didn’t know is that Morandi set up his still lifes at three different levels: on the table, and on shelves at two different heights, so that even when he  painted the same motif—he revisited similar compositions many times—he may have altered them via perspective, as well as by light source, or by adding or subtracting the number of objects in the composition. I mean, I'd noticed the difference in perspective, but I didn't know until the visit that Morandi had a system for it.

Here’s another thing I didn’t know until I saw the photographs: The table on which the objects rest contains numerous pencil marks. It became quickly apparent that these marking indicate the placement of certain objects in particular still lifes.

On Morandi's table, the marks he made to indicate placement of objects.  Also, you can see how the object at left has been painted matte white

Giudelli-Giudi referred several times to Morandi’s “vocabulary of objects,” noting that the dust resting lightly on some of them was integral to the artist’s vision. “A merging of object and ground” is how she described the dusty vessels. She also described the artist as a "peculiar realist," which provided the title of this post.

In the Main Gallery: Paintings and Prints from the 1930s
For the most part, the many paintings and several prints in this room are from the Thirties, a time when Morandi’s palette was largely ochre toned and his brush strokes thick, almost impasto.

The facts of Morandi's life are simple enough. He was born in Bologna in 1890, lived in a large apartment with his three unmarried sisters, taught etching at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) in the Thirties. According to Giudelli-Giudi that Morandi traveled with some regularity to Florence and Venice to view art. She describes 1930 as an “eventful year” for Morandi, because it was when he abandoned portraiture and figuration in favor of the still lifes and occasional landscapes he would produce.  Additional comments about the artist and his work are included in the captions.

Panorama of the left side of the main gallery. On the white wall: Paintings from the 1930, of which Natura Morta (Still Life), 1931 is shown fourth from the right, and directly below in full view. Near the windows are three etchings, one of which is shown below. (In the foreground is a sculpture in wax by Wolfgang Laib)

 Above and below selections from the panoramic shot. I much prefer the painter's slightly wobbly lines--each paintings feels like it's breathing--to the printmaker's perfectly crosshatched etchings

Continuing around the main room we come to Morandi's self portrait

Autoritratto (Self Portrait), 1930
I love how Giudelli-Giudi described it: "Morandi looked at himself so long he's almost disappearing."

We turn to the right side of the main room and its centerpiece, the fireplace, above which are two related works

Giudelli-Giudi noted that Morandi frequently revisited not only same themes but same compositions

These two still lifes are identified as being from 1931 and 1929 respectively. I would have thought differently, that the brushier, more textured one was earlier, but the labels don't seem to indicate that

View of the wall perpendicular to the fireplace

Below: One of the paintings on that wall, Natura Morta, 1937.
The graphic quality of this painting is one of the few I've seen that bridges Morandi's paintings and prints. (But that gilt frame seems so un-Morandi-like, no?)

In the Other Rooms: Earlier and Later Work
At the opposite end of the hallway from the large main room is a small space dominated by a copper vessel on a pedestal, one of the rare objects that wasn’t painted or covered. Nearby was a beautifully chromatic painting in which the vessel figures prominently. This room holds a selection of paintings from the Teens, Fifties, and Sixties, a lovely rounding out of Morandi's oeuvre, and an opportunity to see how much changed (or didn't) over the years.

Above and below: A copper vessel that Morandi has specially made for his still lifes

Still Life from 1963, with that copper vessel. This painting features a lovely washy brush stroke and a surprisingly chromatic palette

A wall of paintings from different decades, two of which are shown below

Natura Morta from 1955, above, and 1916, below

My favorite painting in the show, also from 1963: a single, almost purplish vessel set against forms that appear architectural. The oil was brushed on in a wash so light it looked like watercolor

The Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) is located at 421 Broome Street. Its mission is to examine and exhibit the work of Italian modern artists—Giorgio Morandi is its third annual exhibition—and to foster scholarship through a fellowship program. The guided tours are led by these fellows. CIMA is open to visitors by appointment on Fridays and Saturdays. To see Giorgio Morandi you must reserve a place. The exhibition runs through June 25, 2016.


Morandi: A Look Back (at a Look Back)

With two Morandi exhibitions in New York City right now--at the Center for Italian Modern Art in Soho. left, and David Zwirner in Chelsea, below--I'm linking to a 2009 interview I did with the art dealer Stephen Haller, who spent time with Morandi at the end of the artist's life. Click here for the story.

Haller with a book on the artist. The frontispiece is from a photograph, shown below, taken of the two in Bologna in the early 1960s

Below: Haller showing photographs of himself with Morandi, and of Morandi's home in Grizzana, outside Bologna


Jack Tworkov: Mark and Grid

View at the top of the stairs at Alexander Gray Associates in Chelsea

If you're in New York City and reading this today, stop what you're doing and head over to Alexander Gray Associates in Chelsea. The splendid exhibition, Jack Tworkov: Mark and Grid, 1931-1982, is up through tomorrow, October 24. If there's no chance of your getting there, read on.

There's an entire first floor of early work by Tworkov, including landscapes and still lifes--he had a 50-year career--but I was most taken with the work from the last two decades of his life. The title of the show, Mark and Grid, best describes the work on the second floor, which I'm showing you here. Gallery notes describe Tworkov in this period as "a forerunner of post-minimalism." I love that. The tension of the grid and the self-imposed limits of minimalism are here broken by the clear presence of the artist's hand. Marks, almost cursive, are contained within  geometric compostitions which are, in turn, laid over a grid. The illusion of space--fractured, unfolding, or deeply dimensional--is strong in these works. I've  included some details, because at-a-distance viewing doesn't reveal the subtleties contained within.

Born in Poland, Tworkov emigrated to the United States at 13 and studied at the Art Stuents League and the National Academy of Design. He lived and worked in New York City and Provincetown, and he had a definitive influence on the art of the Sixties and Seventies as a professor and then chair of the art department at Yale. Viewing this work, you would probably not be surprised to learn that Jennifer Bartlett, Brice Marden, and Robert Mangold were among his students.

Jack Tworkov: Mark and Grid, 1931-1982 was curated by the gallery in collaboration with the redoubtable Jason Andrew, who among his many curatorial projects manages the Estate of Jack Tworkov.

This is Tworkov's last painting. What a way to leave this plane, eh?
Compression and Expansion of the Square (Q3-82 #2), 1982, oil on canvas

Detail below, with mark and grid very much in evidence 

P73 #5,1973, oil on canvas

Gallery notes tell us that this painting is the first of ten works in a series painted in the artist's studio in Provincetown . It is to me the most architectural of the paintings in the exhibition, its space defined in perspectival terms. You see this painting from a distance in the opening photo in this post

 Details above and below 

At the top of the stairs looking left, with Note, shown below, on the far wall

Note, 1968, oil on linen

View of the opposite end of the gallery, shot with Note at my right shoulder

Closer view of the far corner, with Knight Series #8 (Q3-77 #2), 1977, oil on canvas and Alternative IX (OC-Q1-78 #5)

Alternative IX (OC-Q1-78 #5), 1978, oil on canvas

Gallery notes tell us that ten paintings make up this series as well, and that the gridded composion is based on "a Fibonacci sequence derived from a 3:5:8: ratio." Tworkov's aim was to use this sequence to create-- I think these are the artist's words-- "identical structures but make each one a totally different painting experience (through) the color and the brushing." I am lingering here because this series is my favorite of his oeuvre. 

(I have a fond memory of rounding the corner at the Cape Cod Museum of Art a few years ago and seeing this painting >>, clearly related, if not from the same series, on a yellow wall.)

And here we are where we started
I mean it: If you're in New York City, go see this show



No, Your-ami!

The over-the-top art fest that takes place in Miami the first week of December can feel wonderfully inclusive to all the artists participating in the two dozen or so fairs scattered throughout the city, but you don't need me to tell you that it can feel woefully exclusionary to everyone else. This year the embrace of opportunity extends a bit wider to artists thanks to two interesting initiatives.  

Both have specific offerings and terms, so here I'm describing the highlights and providing a link to the specific websites. Then it's up to you to decide whether and which you choose to enter. I'm posting info early because submission deadlines are approaching.

View from last year's edition of Square Foot at Projects Gallery, Miami

Square Foot Art Basel Miami Three
Projects Gallery, Wynwood
Submission deadline:  November 6, 2015
Exhibition Dates:  November 28, 2015 – January 9, 2016
Cost to enter: $60 for two entries
Full prospectus here

Allow me to quote directly from the gallery's Call to Artists: "Once again Projects Gallery will create a mosaic-style hanging that will cover all the walls in its Wynwood Lofts gallery in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami.  Last year’s event showcased over 300 works from around the world. The first 100 artists to apply will automatically have artwork on the wall. New this year: Twenty-four works will be shown in the gallery’s suite at the Aqua Art Fair, December 2-6."

A view into Projects Gallery suite at Aqua Art in 2014

The 24 works will be curated by dealers Helen Hyder and Frank Hyder from the works submitted. All artists working in all mediums are eligible, but there is a size and price limit. Works cannot exceed 12 inches in any dimension and must be priced at or below $1,000 retail. I like the inclusionary aspect of the submission process as well as the possibility of curatorial selection into Aqua Art, and I like that the gallery exhibition will continue into January.

(Just so you know, I have shown with Projects Gallery and will again have work with them at Aqua Art.)

. . . . . .

Art in America
Curated by artist and independent curator Julie Torres at The Satellite Show, one of 
40 rooms in Tiger Strikes Asteroid's event, Artist Run
Ocean Terrace Hotel, Miami Beach
Submission process: Ongoing as of this posting
Exhibition dates: December 1-6
Cost: There is no charge to upload an image to the exhibition website, but selected artists may be asked to contribute $50 toward the cost of the exhibition
Full prospectus here

Here's Torres describing her vision and plan for the show: "Art in America will assemble a constellation of artwork from across the U.S., featuring one small work per artist, representing every state plus Puerto Rico. The installation will act a visual and quite literal map of activity, documenting the current conversation of and about artmaking that is quietly taking place across the country, often among emerging, remote and in some cases under-exhibited artists. Art in America will provide an engaging survey of compelling work being made outside metropolitan art meccas, while highlighting commonality of surface, approach, material—and the rich visual language spoken in myriad dialects throughout the U.S."

Part of the page from the exhibition website

When you load your image onto the exhibition website, it becomes part of an enormous grid, so even work that is not selected will have visibility here before and after the show. Torres describes it as "a living document being viewed and shared by hundreds of visitors."

Geographical context for the exhibitions
Both exhibitions are situated near other fair venues. Projects Gallery is in the Wynwood gallery and design area near the Art Miami and Context fairs, as well as the Rubell and Margulies private collections. Aqua Art is short walk to the Convention Center where Art Basel Miami takes place, as well as to Untitled, and Scope. Torres's Art in America exhibition at the Ocean Terrace Hotel is a couple of miles up from the Convention Center, on the beach near Miami Project, Art on Paper, and NADA.