Buoyed by the price of cheap gas, this writer recently broke out of winter hibernation for a trip to the world class art museum at Princeton University. The purpose was to look at a specific painting in question and see how it related to a famous one on the market, but the American Pop works distracted, so the best laid plans went astray or in this case, got momentarily delayed.
"Coupling his interests in celebrity and tragedy, Warhol began began producing the iconic portraits that popularly define his achievement with this portrait of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, shortly after the time the troubled artist committed suicide. Around the same time he had begun experimenting with silk screening a technique used to reproduce existing images. The image of Marilyn seen here is based upon a 1953 still for the movie Niagara. By duplicating a famous photograph and exploiting screen printing's tendency to shift colors and produce off register effects, Warhol subverted the tradition of portraiture. Instead of producing Marilyn as a unique individual, Warhol presents her as an indefinitely reproducible image thus contribures to her fame and to the cult of celebrity with which he is interwined."
"Following the assassination of Presdient John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Warhol began collecting press images of Jacqueline Kennedy and began turning them into a series of screen prints. Here, Warhol presents tightly cropped pictures of a smiling Jackie on round metallic canvases, documenting the First Lady's happy expression just moments before the assassination. Much of the works effect derives from the silkscreen technique, which through the black ink becomes smudged and the resulting image abstracted. The flattening effect of the screenprint also achieves a distancing from the heightened emotionthe subject would have had in 1964. By replicating a ubiquitous newspaper on a reverential gold background, Warhol suggests his and our obssession with fame and with the tragic as it is played out in public."
"Among Warhol's best known works are the sculptures that mimicked the packaging of mass-produced commodoties- Kellogg's Cornflakes, Del Monte peaches, Brillo scouring pads .The sculptures were created like ordinary products - efficiently and systematically, one after the other using the labor of many different hands. It was no accident that Warhol named his studio The Factory. Even so, no two sculptures are identical, nor do they appear all that mechanical, despite having been screenprinted. In the case of the Brillo box seen here an array of drips, slips and imperfections mars its surface."
"In the late 1950's Johns began turning pervasive symbols such as targets, flags and numbers into cultural icons. Unlike the Abstract Expressionists, who used gestural brushwork to convey their emotional states, Johns used the style to create flat paintings that acknowledge their two dimesnionality and reveal the process of their making"
"Here with the aid of a stencil, Johns paints a grid of numbers ordered in a predictable sequence. The resulting image is neither figurative nor abstract, highlights method over subject. Instead of painting to express his inner being (still cloaked in closet), Johns paints to explore the qualities, such as color and thickness of paint itself."
"Barnett Newmann sought to create art of the pure idea by rididng his work of the narrative and figuration, he would be able to speak to the abstract mysteries of the human condition, such as life nature religion death and tragedy. With elegance and economy, Newman expressed emotions and conveyed collective experiences. Like other artists of the 1940s and 1950s he liberated painting from the representation. developing a distinctive formal vocabulry that included large fields of color interupted or unified by "zips," thin verical strips of color. According to Newman, the zip is "a field that brings life to other fields, just as the other fields bring life to the so-called line." An early variant of the Zip appears in untitled."
Weighty words written by the unknown student above often sounds like regurgitated pseudo babble until one recalls that in 1946, the civilized world was recovering from the aftermath of World War Two where the grotesqueries of death and suffering on a scale previously unimaginable populated the media, thus abstract mysteries of the human condition when placed post war seemed too normal in context.
"Launched in 1950, Albers’s series Homage to the Square exemplified a growing interest among artists in seriality and repetition as well as geometric abstraction and spatial and chromatic illusionism—the optical illusions that are generated by, and that effect our perception of, space and color. All of the works in this series contain nested squares; what distinguishes each from the others is the mathematical ratio governing the size of and space between the squares. Within this standardized program, Albers experimented with chromatic variety and intensity. As seen here, the squares are rendered in colors whose variations in tone and brightness create optical reverses that cause some squares to project and others to recede. Albers once described works like this one as stages on which color might "act." Color, the artist believed, is an especially mutable, even deceptive, phenomenon: any one color is invariably impacted by the colors around it, altering its identity and manipulating perception."
A teacher in Germany at the famed Bauhaus, Albers eluded Nazi persecution by moving to the United States in the 1930's where he taught at Black Mountain College in Ashville, North Carolina and later in Connecticut at Yale University, with a year at nearby Trinity College, in Hartford, CT in 1965. One of his students and fellow teachers at Black Mountain College was the young Dutch painter Willem deKooning, whose fluid work rebelled against the linear strictures of Albers hard edged lines, but in his choice of pigment deKooning used in his mature phase post NC, he clearly owes a debt of gratitude to the older artist.
"Willem de Kooning was a member of the New York-based Abstract Expressionists, a circle of artistsd who worked in the dynamic enviroment of post war New York. During and after World War II, the city’s artistic community absorbed European émigrés, such as the abstract painter Piet Mondrian and the Surrealist Max Ernst. Each associated artist demonstrated in using abstraction to covey strong emotional content, access universal themes and reflect the turbulent times in which they lived. De Kooning often incorporated elements of observable reality in his work. In Black Friday an essential work from his black and white series he produced in the late 1940's (pre albers influenced color) de Kooning reconciles abstrraciton and representation while exploiting the formal and emotional power of gesture and a restricted palette. Curved white lines evoke the human form, while straight lines suggest architectural structures. The title conjures up a host of disquieting events, such asthe economic crises of 1869 and 1929 and the Passion, more commonly called Good Friday but also known as Black Friday."
"I saw Three Cities is at once realistic and mysterious. Presiding over the haunting abandoned landscape, shown here is a guardian whose fluid drapery and sinuous curves recall those of the ancient Greek statue Nike of Samothrace. Sage's sentinel, however lacks the Nikes effervescense, its' drapery animated but its' core rigid and static. This uncanny presense- neither dead nor alive, neither man nor woman- reflects the American surrealist fascination with robots and other examples of mechanized humanity. Sage whose husband was French surrealist Yves Tanguy, helped several French artists reach the United States after the outbreak of World War II."
"In October 1939, late in his life, Marsden Hartley made the arduous trek to remote Mount Katahdin, Maine’s loftiest peak. The artist spent eight days in a hunter’s cabin on the south shore of Katahdin Lake, making sketches for what became a remarkable series of nearly twenty paintings executed over the next three years. Although Hartley’s trip was inspired by the desire to create salable images of a well-known landmark—and, for marketing purposes, to associate himself with the iconography of his native Maine—it proved a deeply personal encounter. The artist’s resulting identification with Katahdin was profound; shortly after his return, he wrote: “I now know my own beloved Maine as I have never known it before, and I shall mmortalize that mountain, as no one else has or likely will, as it is my mountain, and I the ‘official’ portraitist of it.” Completed in 1942, Blue Landscape is among the last of the series and culminates a progression from Hartley’s more literal early portrayals toward an increasingly simplified and abstracted evocation of the peak’s mystical atmosphere, in which descriptive ridges, shadows, and other details have been suppressed in favor of elemental forms of pronounced power and effect."
The Admission is always free
Princeton Art Museum, McCormick Hall, Princeton, NJ 08542
The road trip will continue to many more museums this year as at last gasoline is cheap. Tired of being screwed by high tax socialist governments as they rob the driver at the pump, one hears in Europe that gas trades for north of five dollars a gallon. One of the great perks in America is pulling up to the pump in New Jersey and observing the latest numbers. Nothing says, "Welcome tourists," better than the photograph below.
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