Sunday, May 23, 2010

American Stories at LACMA

John Singer Sargent
(American, 1856–1925)
A Street in Venice
29 5/8 x 20 5/8 in. (75.1 x 52.4 cm) oil on canvas ca. 1880–82
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
© Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

“American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915” is currently on view at LACMA and unfortunately closes today. The exhibition includes more than eighty paintings which range in date from the Revolutionary War era to just before World War I. The stories are myriad and the paintings are narrative heavy and engaging.The museum is open till 7 pm and if you haven't seen the exhibition already, rush on down today.

Barbara Weinberg curated the exhibition “American Stories" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The website that the Metropolitan Museum put together for the exhibit is rich in detail and I enjoyed the audio elements with Barbara Weinberg and guests. The podcast with painter Eric Fischl discusses John Singer Sargent's "An Interior in Venice" and "A Street in Venice". Eric Fischl admits right out that he has not studied the history of the works in depth and so allows himself the imaginative freedom to wander into the paintings and describe what he finds in the artworks themselves.

Sargent is a painter's painter so I am not surprised that Eric Fischl would provide fresh insights into Sargent's work.

Eric Fischl describes Sargent's technique:
"Sargent is someone who has such extraordinary bravura, the kind of slapdash quality of the paint combined with his acute observations. It’s incredibly reductive in that he can see so accurately the essentials for what describes an ornate, gold Venetian table or what it takes to capture the quality of the material of the dress or something like that. I mean, it’s so luscious, so direct, and so perfectly observed. At the same time, it’s so fast and facile. It’s pretty amazing."

John Singer Sargent's "A Street Scene in Venice" seems to depict a chance meeting between the viewer wandering through the maze of Venetian alleys and a man and woman engaged in conversation outside a wine shop. The woman seems to stop mid sentence to gaze at us as we arrive on the scene. Eric Fischl sees the man as caught up in a flirtation or rendezvous:

"The other thing that strikes me in this painting is the way he’s painted her dress, which looks like a bonfire. If this painting’s about sex, about desire, about lust, whatever, then, you know, she’s absolutely the object of that desire and she’s on fire. And fire is something that is also being consumed by the huge, vast emptiness of that blackness that it reaches up into .... I think it’s more like the feeling of you’re moving through your life and you come on this scene. You interrupt something. You have the chance to pass by it, but for that brief moment it stops you and you take it in and then you go past, you know, you go into the light."

Much more at:
American Stories Exhibition Website at the Metropolitan Museum, New York
American Stories at LACMA


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