Thursday, August 02, 2007

Neo Rauch, Contemporary Photographs, Manet

Neo Rauch sounds like a new art movement, which is almost true since a loosely-organized German school has arisen around this Leipzig artist (b. 1960), according to the curatorial note. The paintings, specially done for this Met exhibition, mix Surrealist and social realist images. I found the paintings hard to appreciate because most of the time I felt I was trying to read code without a key. I did like a few of the paintings. "Hunter's Room," with its cartoon figures in a social realist setting, reminded me of Otto Dix and fellow German expressionists.

"The Next Move" struck me as humorous in its juxtaposition of the artists thinking about their next projects, and the seduction in bed behind them.

I also looked in at "Hidden in Plain Sight: Contemporary Photographs from the Permanent Collection." Jean-Marc Bustamante elevates a newstand in a narrow alley into an image of great formal beauty, full of light and shade.

I saw William Eggleston's works for the first time. He used a process called dye transfer to achieve brilliant colors. I cannot find the photograph I liked so much: a box of tin cans on a piece of sandy ground cratered by two puddles, and embossed with tire tracks. His website showcases other works. The lone Stephen Shore print there more than held its own against the others.

I also spent some time looking at Manet's painting of his wife, in the European paintings collection.

Madame Manet (Suzanne Leenhoff, 1830–1906) at Bellevue, 1880.

Manet painted this last portrait of his wife three years before his death in 1883. He was only 51 when he died. I think the painting is a moving tribute to her strength and support for the artist. Not only is the figure sitting with her back straight and resolute, her chair, with its brown back and curling arm-rests, resembles a tree and its roots. Her own clothes are painted in shades of brown, her hat in straw color, her hands in ochre. Though seated, she is wearing her hat, as if she is ready to take a walk along the path, of which only a wedge can be seen. Her eyes hidden behind the hat, she preserves an autonomy opaque to the artist and the viewer. What are revealed, in this meticulously-dressed woman, are her strong nose, and her firm but sweet lips.

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