Saturday, July 18, 2009

New at the Morgan

Many interesting items at the exhibition, "New at the Morgan: Acquisitions since 2004." An Irving Penn photograph of T. S. Eliot has the poet seated, cross-legged, and hiding his hands behind him. Another Penn photograph has Norman Mailer sprawled on a chair, crotch defying the viewer. A Diane Arbus photo of Auden and Marianne Moore, arm-in-arm, taken at an Auden reading. A letter from Eliot to a college pal when both were in their late twenties, and Eliot was already famous includes a jokey poem about buggery at the altar. A letter from Robert Frost to Conrad Aiken about a tennis date, which reminded me his stricture against writing without meter. A letter from Henry James to Zola supporting the latter's public protest in the Dreyfus affair. An early draft of "In the White Giant's Thigh" by Dylan Thomas: his handwriting is, surprisingly, small and neat. A still life drawing, with chocolaterie, by Matisse showing the impact of van Gogh's draughtsmanship. A delicate chalk drawing of a girl's head by Watteau. And by John Sargent Singer a lovely watercolor portrait of Paul-Cesar Helleu, who painted the ceiling of Grand Central.

The other exhibition "Creating the Modern Stage: Designs for Theater and Opera" looks at the influence of Swiss designer Adolphe Appia (1862-1928) and his British follower Edward Gordon Craig (1972-1966) on modernizing stage design. Instead of illusionism, they opted for atmospheric forms and colors that evoked the emotive force of the drama. The second section of the show looks at how Central Europe, in particularly the Viennese Secession, applies their ideas, and the third section highlights the Russians. The fourth and biggest section focuses on the Americans. I like this section best, especially the drawings that combine more realistic forms with a heightened poetry. They have greater human warmth than the more purely abstract approach of the Europeans. The designer Robert Edmond Jones (1887-1954) embodies the more eclectic and amalgamated approach of the Americans, putting stage design at the service of the director's vision.

I am not a big fan of illuminated manuscripts, but "Pages of Gold" has some wonderfully bold and beautiful single leaves by the Italians. In one, a prayer for the Eucharist, the initial is decorated with a painting of the last supper. Unlike the other disciples, Judas is haloed in black, edged with scorpions. The scorpions are apparently an allusion to Augustine's idea about the minds of plotters. They remind me of Macbeth's "O full of scorpions is my mind."

No comments: