Tag Archives: review

La Biennale Saturday Highlights

We started out day two at La Biennale di Venezia by heading back to Arsenale to try and catch some of the things we missed on Friday evening.

There was no shortage of intriguing stuff we’d missed the first time through.


At first, these magnificently detailed old tree drawings, by Belgian artist Patrick Van Caeckenbergh, look like classic black & white photographs.20130818-094803.jpg

The section curated by American photographer Cindy Sherman focused naturally on body image.
This lifelike nude sculpture by Denver artist John DeAndrea is actually a painted bronze.

Sherman also selected a group of early 20th century studio portraits by Belgian photographer Norbert Ghosoland.


After the Cindy Sherman section we encountered a video installation by American Ryan Trecartin. It seems to be investigating effects from today’s outlandish video culture of Vimeo and Reality TV.


We didn’t have enough time to see everything, but we did, of course, make it to the gift shop/café before heading to the next venue.


After a sit and sip, we wandered through the alleyways of Castello to find the much talked about installation by Ai Weiwei, which included 6 metal chambers resting in an old church like so many tombs. Each large box had two small windows for visitors to look through.

It’s what inside that matters, but you’ll have to wait for my detailed report to see the reveal! (or I guess if you’re impatient you could Google it huh?)

The next event we covered was the historic Manet exhibition held at the Doges Palace in St. Mark’s Square.

While not really a part of the Biennale, this unique show brought together many of the artist’s masterpieces and juxtaposed them with works by influential Italian old masters. Most notably, Manet’s Olympia 1863 (which has never before left France) is hung side by side with Titian’s Venus of Urbino from 1538. Seeing this pairing in person is likely a once in a lifetime experience.
Unfortunately the curators chose to ban photography of the exhibition. But a dozing docent gave me the chance to snap this gem.

This important exhibit, which includes works lent by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Uffizi in Florence among many others, has been extended until September 1st, 2013. Do catch it if you can! If not, see my detailed review coming next week.

We finished the day at the closing party for The Museum of Everything, back near Giardini. Live music and video presentations were accompanied by refreshing drinks and snacks. And a vibrant collection of artists, art appreciators, and party crashers was on hand for The Finissage of Everything!


But tomorrow is another day, and The Guggenheim Venice is calling our name as we sleep…



La Biennale Friday Highlights

Just a few quick highlights from our first day at the 55th Art Biennale in Venice.
We woke up late as usual, not good when trying to cram in as much art as possible. I’ll include many, many more examples and other artists in my comprehensive review later next week.
But for now, here’s a glimpse of what we encountered
Our first stop was at The Museum of Everything where we had nice coffee & cakes before seeing the magnificent paintings of Italian “Outsider” artist Carlo Zinelli in their back garden:

Then we moved quickly over to the Giardini where we hit the pavilions of Spain, Belgium & Holland before entering the main exhibition hall.

Lara Almarcegui at the Spanish Pavilion. (above)
J.M. Coetzee curates Berlinde De Bruyckere at the Belgian Pavilion. (above)
And Mark Manders presents a
Room with Broken Sentence in the Dutch Pavilion. (above)
“Outsider Artists” or Art Brut, was a major component of The Encyclopedic Palace (this year’s theme.) there were many intriguing works in Giardini’s main exhibition hall.
Above, Jack Whitten’s large abstract painting hangs behind 387 model houses presented by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser.

And the re-imagined tarot cards of Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris (above) are very striking.

I’ve so much more to show and discuss from this part of the exhibition so keep an eye out for my comprehensive review next week.

Popping into the Finnish Pavilion gave us a look into the wooden mind of Antti Laitinen. (above)

At the U.S. Pavilion, Sarah Sze has transformed the entire building into her “Triple Point,” a conglomeration including thousands of objects, both natural, commercial, and faux that stagger the mind. (below)

20130817-024305.jpgAs the Giardini was about to close, we dashed into the Venezuelan pavilion (below) and were really excited to see that they had chosen to highlight “Urban Art” from their fine tradition of graffiti artists.

After being herded out the gates of Giardini, I headed over to Arsenale, which was open till 9pm, to get a head start on tomorrows coverage.
Marino Auriti’s model plan for his Encyclopedic Palace of the World greets you as you enter the main exhibition hall at the Arsenale.

Nearby are photography exhibits by several different photographers. One of the most interesting ones is a series of mind boggling, early aerial shots by Swiss photographer and balloonist Eduard Spelterini, like this image above, showing the city of Cairo in 1904!

One of the next things that astounds the brain is an entire room filled with 207 pages of illustrations by notorious American comic book artist R. Crumb. The Book of Genesis!

and then this happened!
The Japanese artist Shinichi Sawada, who suffers from severe autism, creates these intricate clay sculptures that seem to have appeared from another dimension. (above) An entire menagerie is on display here.

One room not to be missed is filled with Venitians. (above) Polish artist Pawel Althamer cast the faces and hands of dozens of actual local Venetians in plaster and then used grey plastic to represent their bodies in his sculptural installation called, you guessed it, “Venitians.”

One of my favorite discoveries of the day was a wall of large scale collages (above) by German artist Albert Oehlen. He uses the familiar language of mass media and advertising to create an interesting assembly of juxtaposed imagery.

And just after viewing these works, the bells began to sound and I was instructed, in several languages, to head for the exit.

So that’s a cursory glance at some of the great work from Friday’s wanderings. As I stated before, I’ve got so much more to show and discuss, so keep an eye out for my more comprehensive reviews next week, which will include many individual reports on some of the other exhibits and more in-depth info on the ones covered here.

Ciao for now! See you tomorrow.


Pierre Lefebvre at Delire Gallery in Brussels

If you’re in the neighborhood, (possibly for the Mapplethorpe show at Xavier Hufkens) don’t miss this delightful small exhibit of paintings by Pierre Lefebvre at Delire Gallery in Brussels, running through 3, August 2013.

Lefebvre is showing some very unique paintings which really draw the eye of passers-by. They are like little windows onto a world which he has chosen to present to his audience. Only the window is one of frosted glass, and the scene isn’t a majestic landscape or remarkable event. Instead Lefebvre has chosen to present little vignettes in the every-day life of towns and cities.


The back of a dusty billboard, a bird’s-eye view of a warehouse, a rat’s-eye view of a rubbish skip, these are the kinds of things you can vaguely recognize through the window Lefebvre has given you to look through. And you’re thankful. He makes you stop and smell the roses.

And sometimes those roses are just crumpled Belgian flags, laying in puddles on the ground after a visit from the King.


Or the broken sign and missing poster from a Turkish advertising frame, somehow transformed into a portal of sorts, through which you might wish to pass into a peaceful, more pleasant world.

This isn’t the kind of work you see every day, so don’t miss your chance to catch this unique little exhibit.

 Pierre Lefebvre at Delire Gallery in Brussels, running through 3, August 2013.

Rue de Praetere 47D
1050 Brussels, Belgium

Wednesday to Saturday, 1 to 6 pm



Intimate Mapplethorpe show at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels thru July 27

Don’t miss the unique opportunity to see some of Robert Mapplethorpe’s exquisite early work at the Xavier Hufkens gallery in Brussels, running through July 27, 2013.


Mapplethorpe’s 1975 self portrait (at right) is among many treasures on display at Xavier Hufkens.

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89) was an absolute master of black and white photography. He is world-renowned for his classical portraits of the famous and beautiful, and for his stark presentation of the New York gay leather scene.  Many have touted the technical mastery of his large prints made from his medium format Hasselblad camera, but few people know about the small, intimate Polaroid pictures that marked his induction into photography in 1970. Those one-of-a-kind, instant photos, some of which have never before been exhibited, make this show a must see event for any connoisseur. Of course, keep in mind there are graphically sexual and controversial images in this exhibit, so those who are easily (or even not so easily) offended should  take this into consideration.


“Robert Mapplethorpe Au Début (works from 1970-79)”
The front window at Xavier Hufkens Gallery

The show is titled “Robert Mapplethorpe Au Début (works from 1970-79)” and features 95 pieces. In addition to the 29 Polaroids and the numerous, traditional, silver gelatin prints, there are three early multi-media / collage works which offer a rare insight to the graphic process that preceded Mapplethorpe’s photography.

Robert Mapplethorpe - Untitled multimedia collage. Early 1970s On exhibit at Xavier Hufkens

Robert Mapplethorpe – Untitled multimedia collage. Early 1970s
On exhibit at Xavier Hufkens

This untitled collage (above) from the early 70s includes two Polaroid pictures with geometrical collage elements. Interestingly, the blue/gray background element appears to be photographic paper exposed with a grid of dots using the “photogram” or “rayograph” method pioneered by Man Ray and others.


Viewing Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids at Xavier Hufkens
Photo by Lance Aram Rothstein

The relatively small Polaroid pictures necessarily draw the viewer close and this adds to their inherent intimacy. Mapplethorpe used the instant camera to capture friends and lovers, and these images have a certain spontaneous spirit that seems to be lacking a bit in the later, well-known studio pieces.

Untitled (Randy), 1975 B&W Polaroid by Robert Mapplethorpe

Polaroid enthusiasts will notice that some of these “B&W” pictures clearly benefit from the warmer tones offered by some of the early pack-films. And they will also be pleased to see that even legends like Mapplethorpe had to deal with the unpredictability of instant film technology.


Untitled (Nickey Waymouth) B&W Polaroid by Robert Mapplethorpe on display at Xavier Hufkens.

Pardon the poor image (above) shot through reflective glass, but notice the tell-tale Polaroid roller marks which still irk many an instant shooter today.  These anomalies are one of the things that make instant photographs so special and unique. Unlike a heavily lit, heavily worked darkroom print, these little gems were made “in the moment” and were likely shared with the subjects soon after they were shot.

Producing these little, instant, “arranged windows” may have led Mapplethorpe to explore what eventually became his strongest suit: composition. It seems as though he viewed all the elements of this world to be shapes and forms for him to arrange and compose within his own little, four-sided presentation box called the “photograph.”

Untitled, 1974 B&W Polaroid by Robert Mapplethorpe

Many people try to contemplate and judge the content of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, but when one simply studies the composition of the images, he seems to have taken a page out of Mondrian’s book. The world we inhabit is made up of shapes and spaces. Some of those shapes are flower petals, others are faces with expression, and others are dildos and sinks and whips and trees and hands and stove knobs and yes, some of those shapes are erect penises. And some of the spaces are sky, while others are assholes. Shapes and Spaces, all to be thoughtfully arranged, lit and captured with equal importance and reverence, just as were Mondrian’s lines and boxes.

Piet Mondrian Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray, 1921 © Art institute Chicago


Robert Mapplethorpe photographs at Xavier Hufkens

Moving on to the square-format of the Hasselblad camera seemed to strengthen his emphasis on composition. These four, square photographs, (above) hung together at the Xavier Hufkens Exhibition, highlight precisely this idea of arranging shapes in a box. You can imagine hearing Mapplethorpe thinking to himself, “Okay, here are the shapes and spaces I’ll be working with today, how shall I light them and place them in my little square box in a way that will be pleasing?” – And therein lay his brilliance. He always found a way that was pleasing, and this allowed pure emotion to shine through. Like the pure emotion a wild animal might feel when looking at a sunset before settling down to sleep.  No baggage!

Of course most humans can’t escape their baggage.  Many people can’t find a way  to get past the content to appreciate the highlights and shadows  of Mapplethorpe’s mastery.

Lily, 1979 by Robert Mapplethorpe

Phillip, 1979 by Robert Mapplethorpe

Take these two photographs (above) for example, on display in the exhibit. Most people can look at the flower and just think, “Oh, that’s nice, what lovely shapes and shadows.” But some people look at the second image and can’t help but wonder “Why this man is wearing toe-shoes, Why is he naked, Is he gay? Is he a transvestite? Why are you showing me this? Are my tax dollars funding this?”  They never allow themselves to even see the shapes and shadows.


Viewing the Mapplethorpe exhibition at Xavier Hufkens

I guess the real point is, there’s beauty to be found in everything. And Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the rare souls who not only realized that, but was able to capture it and present it to others in hopes of sharing that beauty. Don’t miss this rare chance to appreciate those efforts. Make the trip to the Xavier Hufkens Mapplethorpe Exhibit before it closes on July 27.


Xavier Hufkens Gallery at 107 Rue St-Georges in Brussels.

Photographer Joel-Peter Witkin said: ” As an artist, (Mapplethorpe) went out into the dark and came back with the best of what he saw in humanity and in himself. He was rare. It’s very hard to render emotions through a camera. Robert was a bright light, throwing light on aspects of mortality that society usually denies. He caught emotion.” Quote from the book “Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera” ©1994 by Jack Fritscher, Ph.D.

Viewing the Mapplethorpe exhibition at Xavier Hufkens

Viewing the Mapplethorpe exhibition at Xavier Hufkens


Xavier Hufkens Gallery at 107 Rue St-Georges in Brussels Belgium

Tel. +32 (0)2 639 67 30
Open Tuesday to Saturday,
11 am to 6 pm

More Info?  http://www.mapplethorpe.org/

ALSO – If you do make the trip to see this exhibit, you should pop just around the corner to see the nice Pierre Lefebvre exhibition at the Delire Gallery running through the 3rd of August, 2013.



Review: Gordon Parks “A Harlem Family 1967” photography at The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY – through June 30, 2013

Don’t miss your last chance to catch this moving exhibit of Gordon Parks’ photography called “A HARLEM FAMILY 1967,”  running through June 30, 2013, at The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.

Guest post by Karen Nurenberg Rothstein

A day spent in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood brought me to The Studio Museum of Harlem.


There I had the chance to see this touching and heart-wrenching exhibit of black and white photography by Gordon Parks .  Born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks (November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006),  he was also a well known musician, writer and film director. The exhibit is called “A Harlem Family 1967” and consists of about 30 silver gelatin photographs of the Fontenelle family.  Norman Sr. and Bessie Fontenelle, along with their eight children, lived in Harlem during a turbulent time filled with racial unrest, crime, and drugs.  But worst of all was the poverty, which made it fairly impossible to escape such a life.

Gordon Parks With The Fontenelle Family Harlem, New York, 1967

Gordon Parks With The Fontenelle Family Harlem, New York, 1967

Parks, a well known photojournalist, documented their lives as part of a 1968 Life Magazine photo essay that truly revealed the horrid conditions in Harlem during that period. He spent a month shooting the trials and tribulations they faced just getting from one day to the next. Some of the images have never before been shown to a public audience.

Gordon Parks was the first African American photographer on the staff of Life Magazine. He had done many glamourous fashion shoots for them, but he took the opportunity, with this assignment, to reveal to the American people what kind of lives so many Black Americans led during those times, and the images reveal an extremely personal look into this one family’s lifestyle.


Bessie Fontenelle Cleans Her Bathtub, Harlem, New York, 1967

Many of the photographs are a quite dark, perhaps symbolizing the rough world that surrounded this family. Times were not easy, but they tried to make the best of it. Mother Bessie also washed the family clothes in this tub.

This photo below, which was larger than most others in the exhibit, shows the many holes in the walls, which the family often taped-up or stuffed with clothes to keep out the cold and rats. 

Norman Jr. Reads in Bed, Harlem, New York, 1967

Norman Jr. Reads in Bed, Harlem, New York, 1967

Harlem was not a safe place then, with so much crime and drug activity. The children found themselves without much and made due with broken toys and an alleyway to play in. Little Richard was sometimes so hungry he ate the plaster off the walls. Parks really understood their plight and conveyed it well in the photographs.


Untitled Harlem, New York, 1967

Fontenelle Children Outside Their Harlem Tenement, 1967

Fontenelle Children Outside Their Harlem Tenement, 1967

Bessie tried to keep a little faith and it is shown here.

The Only Picture Hanging in the Fontenelle Home, Harlem, New York, 1967

The Only Picture Hanging in the Fontenelle Home, Harlem, New York, 1967

One afternoon when Parks walked into the Fontenelle’s apartment, he found Bessie and Little Richard huddled in the bed. He snapped this photo (below) and then asked what had happened. Bessie told him it had been a bad night. Norman Sr. had been drinking and got out of hand. When he finished kicking her, she got up and poured honey and sugar into scalding water, forming a kind of molasses, which she dumped over him.

He was in the hospital.

Bessie and Little Richard the Morning after She Scalded Her Husband, Harlem, New York, 1967

Bessie and Little Richard the Morning after She Scalded Her Husband, Harlem, New York, 1967

Gordon Parks took Norman Jr. to the hospital to see his father, who was badly burned. He told his son that he couldn’t understand why she did that to him.

Little Richard the Morning after She Scalded Her Husband, Harlem, New York, 1967

Norman Jr. visits Norman Sr. in the hospital, Harlem, New York, 1967

Parks said, ” Norman Jr. didn’t get along with his father, but to see him in the hospital, burned, shook him deeply.”

Gordon Parks clearly connected with this family and used his unique talents to show their plight, one shared by millions of other impoverished people around the world. He stayed in contact with the Family until he died on March 7, 2006.

Take the rare opportunity to be deeply shaken by this momentous photojournalistic essay. Walking out of the exhibition, I stopped a moment to consider all those that are still living similarly today… 

This is well worth a trip to the museum if you happen to be in NYC this weekend as it ends on June 30th 2013.


– What Became of Harlem’s Fontenelle Family? – NYTimes.com

– The Gordon Parks Foundation


The Studio Museum in Harlem


144 West 125th Street
New York, New York 10027
Museum Hours: Thursday: 12pm-9pm
Friday: 12pm-9pm
Saturday: 10am-6pm
Suggested donation: Adults $7.00
Seniors and students (with valid id) $3.00
Free for members and children under 12
Target Free Sundays: Free admission every Sunday thanks to the support of Target


All text and images by Karen Nurenberg Rothstein, a contributing writer for Labeauratore.

Lichtenstein Retrospective at Tate Modern! Last Weekend to see it.

Do not miss the massively brilliant Retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein at the Tate Modern. It’s a blast!


Running through May 27, 2013, this comprehensive retrospective is the first of its kind since the artists sudden death in 1997 at age 73.

The exhibition takes you on a journey through the evolution of Pop Art itself.


Walk right up to Lichtenstein’s breakthrough piece “Look Mickey” from 1961 and you can bear witness to one of the most pivotal moments in modern art.


It may seem trite today, but this colorful copy of a Disney cartoon led Lichtenstein to investigate the usage of the Ben-Day printing dot technique, which took him, and us all, on a wild ride, allowing us to question the pervasive impact of commercialism on society, and changing foerver, the way we perceive art.


Lichtenstein discovered the simple complexity of everyday objects.


He helped us look at the way advertising was infiltrating our collective mindset.


Controversially, he transformed the seemingly insignificant imagery of romantic and action comic strips into an oversized mirror on society, forcing us to question our stereotypical and outdated concepts of femininity and masculinity.

In some of his lesser-known work, Lichtenstein experimented with all sorts of materials and how they could be used in his Modern Art arsenal.

Plexiglass, brass, copper and chrome intrigued him as a means of repurposing the materials of the architect and transforming them into stylistic statements of his own.

The exhibition includes several cases of printed materials to peruse, highlighting Lichtenstein’s mastery of graphic arts.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, Lichtenstein had his own artistic conversation of sorts with many artists from the past, re-interpreting the styles and subjects of great painters such as Matisse, Picasso and Mondrian.


In his later years Lichtenstein grew more interested in sculpture and landscapes and there are some rare and wonderful examples in this exhibition.


I’ve only scratched the surface of this comprehensive show. There are so many little (and large) treasures in this exhibition, I really hope you get a chance to discover them for yourself.

I’m sure Roy would be tickled to see how his parodies of commercialism have become so commercialized themselves. As Banksey pointed out, we must “Exit through the Gift Shop.”

There you can buy just about anything with a Lichtenstein look, from tote bags to tee shirts and everything in between. And the line extended out into the gallery, proving Lichtenstein’s persevering impact on today’s capitalistic culture.


This isn’t a criticism, it’s a celebration and a success story of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
Go now and take advantage of this rare opportunity to see so many of his great works all in one place.

Lichtenstein a Retrospective
Runs through May 27, 2013 at the Tate Modern in London, England.
They even have a cool App in the Apple App Store and on Google Play for £1.99

All images and text copyright Lance Aram Rothstein 2013.

RUINS ~ Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi at ArtEco Gallery in London thru 18 May 2013

RUINS ~ Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi

at ArtEco Gallery in London thru 18 May 2013


Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

While in London last week to review the major Schwitters & Lichtenstein exhibitions, I was looking for a good local pub in the Wandsworth neighborhood where I’d rented a room. (The Alma fit the bill perfectly.) There I came across a great little gallery and to my surprise they were having an opening that very night.

The ArtEco Gallery, at 533 Old York Road, is run by Kristin Hjellegjerder. It has a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere and offers a spacious, well-lit environment for viewing and socializing.

Their current show “RUINS” features the work of Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi and runs through 18, May, 2013.


Works by Saad Qureshi on display at ArtEco Gallery.

Saad Qureshi‘s work is not easily categorized. His large, framed pieces feature intricately printed designs that are reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts, but instead of calligraphic scripture or princely portraits, the ornate designs seem to be framing something that isn’t there, or perhaps isn’t there any more.  The sooty clouds of explosive destruction suggest that the once main subject of these works has possibly been obliterated, leaving only the borders and smoke. 

Saad Qureshi “Beyond oracle and doubt” 2013
mixed media, wax pencil on giclee print 45×51 cm

They purposefully challenge the expected concepts of spacing and placement within their frames, often drawing the viewer to the edges of the work.  The multiple overprinting at first seems like someone went a bit overboard with the unsharp mask tool, but when combined with the smoke clouds, they actually give the feeling that perhaps the whole scene is still rattling from an explosion that the viewer has just missed by a matter of seconds.

More intriguing to me were Qureshi’s engravings on carbon paper.


Persistence of memory / Untitled, I-V
Saad Qureshi 2012 carving on carbon paper

These finely worked, fragile pieces are framed between two pieces of glass that protrude out into the gallery space so they can be viewed by both sides.

Qureshi also has several other mixed media, installation-type sculptural pieces in the show.


The work of Richard Stone really took me by surprise and I must say I became an instant fan. What on first glance may appear to be a faded, unfinished, or barely begun painting is actually a complete reworking and obscuring of an antique landscape painting. Reminiscent of Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing“, these works actually go much farther and seem to investigate the very nature of existence.

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 17.36.16

Only patches of the original paintings peek through the abrasions and the appearance is very pleasing to the eye. These ruins are genuine, and like an ancient tempra painting, unearthed from a Byzantine bath house, the viewer searches the remaining details attempting to decipher the original, secret subject matter.

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 17.39.17

But Stone isn’t giving-up the secret. Instead we quickly give in, and are content to appreciate the results of the process as a new work of art, incorporating the past and the present together as one.


Detail from Stone’s “days of violent light.”

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 17.20.51

In his four-part “waiting for england” series, Stone’s destruction is almost complete, and yet the spirit of the original painting, or perhaps just our perception of the original, offers us a sense of serene perfection. The kind of perfection found in dreams or in the anticipation of a great love affair, when the real thing seldom fulfills our expectations.

Stone’s work surpasses expectations and the only thing we’re left wanting is more of it.

Stone also featured several of his obscured sculptural pieces in the show.


Richard Stone “trophy” 2012
brass, wood & wax

On these vintage figures of porcelain, spelter, wood & brass, Stone uses a thick wax to obscure most of the details.

In a similar way to The Belvedere Torso and other ancient sculptural fragments, we’re forced to appreciate the remaining details for what they offer, and can only speculate as to what is hidden by Stone’s shroud of wax.

There are plenty of other interesting works I have not shown or discussed, so if you’re anywhere near London, take this opportunity to catch these two artists in the comfortable venue of the ArtEco Gallery before the show closes next weekend.

“RUINS” features the work of Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi and runs through 18, May, 2013.


ArtEco Gallery, at 533 Old York Road, London

Website of Richard Stone

Website of Saad Qureshi


REVIEW: Kurt Schwitters in Britain at the Tate thru May 12 then Sprengel Museum Hanover this summer.

THIS IS YOUR LAST WEEK TO CATCH THE MAGNIFICENT KURT SCHWITTERS EXHIBITION AT TATE BRITAIN running through May 12, 2013 Before it moves on to the Sprengel Museum in Hanover scheduled for June 2, – August 25, 2013.

Photograph of the Tate Britain poster for Schwitters in Britain.

Photograph of the Tate Britain poster for Schwitters in Britain.

The name Kurt Schwitters isn’t on most people’s list of must-see artists, but when I heard about the Schwitters in Britain exhibition planned at The Tate this spring, I knew it would involve a minor pilgrimage for me. Indeed, I spent about 16 hours of budget-class travel to see the show and it was worth every cramped and smelly minute for me.

There are many controversies surrounding the life and death of this German-born artist, but this is not the place to discuss them.  Best known for his collages and “Merz” projects, Schwitters’ other works span a wide spectrum; from powerful portrait and landscape paintings to quirky poetry and enigmatic sculptures.

Unfortunately, photography of this exhibition was prohibited by The Tate so I will be referring to some works which I am unable to show here. While there are several rooms dedicated to his earlier time in Germany and Norway, this exhibition focuses sharply on the eight years Schwitters spent in Britain, from his arrival and internment in 1940, until his death on January 8, 1948, just one day after he received notification that his British citizenship had been approved.

– Pre-Britain

Kurt Schwitters was born in Hanover, Germany on June 20, 1887. He studied art in Dresden at the Royal Saxon Academy of Art and participated in several local exhibitions before serving in the German military for a short time in 1917-18.

Ja-was?-Bild  (Yes-what? Picture) by Kurt Schwitters 1920 - Oil, paper, cardboard and wood on cardboard. 89x69cm [Collection of Victor &Marianne Langen]

Ja-was?-Bild (Yes-what? Picture) by Kurt Schwitters  Germany 1920
Oil, paper, cardboard & wood on cardboard. 89x69cm
[Collection of Victor &Marianne Langen]

After withdrawing from military service to focus on his artwork, Schwitters came in contact with members of the German avant-garde and was influenced by Cubism, de Stijl, Futurism, the Dadaists, and members of the Bauhaus school. His work was included in several international exhibitions.

It was during these formative years of 1918-21, that Schwitters began his collage and assemblage work and also delved into the world of poetry. He also refined and explained his new artistic concept of “Merz;” “… the combination, for artistic purposes of all conceivable materials,” and after his first solo show in April 1921 at Galerie der Sturm, in Berlin, he started to publish a Merz periodical to document the development of the movement.

In the 1920s and 30s, Kurt Schwitters’ star rose sharply.  After starting his notorious “sound poem”  Ursonate, he exhibited and traveled throughout Europe and associated with many of the cutting-edge artistic minds of his time, including Max Ernst, Oskar Schlemmer, Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausmann, Hans Arp, Nelly and Theo van Doesburg, Tristan Tzara, El Lissitzky, André Breton, Piet Mondrian, Walter Gropius and Lázló Moholy-Nagy.

It was also during this time that he began a structural assemblage of Merz Columns that would eventually evolve into six whole rooms of his Hanover apartment, and later entire buildings of assembled and arranged items he called Merzbau. These structures became an underlying obsession for Schwitters throughout his life.

Kurt Schwitters, Merzbau Hanover - a partial view from 1933 (destroyed in 1943)  Photo from Sprengel Museum Hanover © Photographer: William Redemann

Kurt Schwitters, Merzbau Hanover – a partial view from 1933 (destroyed in 1943) Photo from Sprengel Museum Hanover
© Photographer: William Redemann

With his family in 1932, Schwitters visited the Norwegian island of Hjertøya and there he began a small Merzbau which he continued to develop through 1939.  Back home in Germany, the rising Nazi Party included Schwitters in their Degenerate Art exhibition touring the country. Today, the official Nazi list of Degenerate Artists reads like a Who’s Who of brilliant creatives, but at the time, it was a sign that Schwitters was becoming unwelcome in his own country.

In 1937, Schwitters took the opportunity to emigrate to Norway and moved in with his son Ernst. During this time, his wife Helma was able to transfer some of his major artworks to Norway from Germany, where the Nazis had confiscated a number of his pieces from museums. The natural beauty of Western Norway prompted Schwitters to paint many landscapes there and these naturally evolved into landscape-inspired abstracts and assemblages. In the 1937 oil on plywood painting “Mz. Oslo Fjord” (on display), Schwitters captured the spirit of the unique Norwegian coastline in a maelstrom of sharp strokes and reflective hues. He also completed several portraits there before his German countrymen finally invaded in April of 1940 and Schwitters made passage to Scotland on an ice-breaker with his son and daughter-in-law.

– The British Years

As were thousands of Germans and Austrians fleeing the war, Schwitters was deemed an “enemy alien” upon arrival, and was set for internment. The Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man came to be known as The Artist’s Camp because, in addition to Schwitters, there were a significant number of other talented souls held there, from virtually every branch of the arts .

Kurt Schwitters, Untitled 1941 (Roofs of Houses in Douglas, Isle of Man) Oil on Linoleum 38.7x43.7cm Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftnung on loan to Sprengel Museum Hanover

Kurt Schwitters, Untitled 1941 (Roofs of Houses in Douglas, Isle of Man)
Oil on Linoleum 38.7×43.7cm
Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftnung on loan to Sprengel Museum Hanover

It has been proven time and again that restrictions breed creativity and this was also true for Schwitters. During his 16 months of captivity, he used the meager supplies provided to capture the camp’s surroundings in stark detail. He also took the opportunity to paint striking portraits of some of his fellow artist friends at the camp.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Portrait of Fred Uhlman), 1940 Oil on wood 1000 x 730 mm Hatton Gallery: Great North Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Portrait of Fred Uhlman) 1940
Oil on wood 1000 x 730 mm
Hatton Gallery: Great North Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

Additionally, as he so often had, Schwitters continued to collect the bits and pieces of life discarded by others and assembled them into poignant works of art. These pieces seem even more meaningful when we learn they were the remnants of an internment camp, a necessary evil in the greater, unnecessary evil of war. In his Untitled 1940 piece (glass flower), Schwitters transformed a sharp, jagged-edged shard of broken glass, into an etherial, translucent blossom, standing strong against it’s unnatural surroundings. Not unlike the artist himself.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled assemblage 1940 (Glass Flower) 77.5 x 67.5 x 25.5 cm Ludwig Collection

Kurt Schwitters Untitled assemblage 1940 (Glass Flower) 77.5 x 67.5 x 25.5 cm Ludwig Collection

Upon his release in 1941, Schwitters settled in London where he met Edith Thomas who would later become his companion. His work was immediately influenced by these new surroundings. No longer restricted to the items found in the confines of the camp, the everyday minutiae of life in a world metropolis found their way into his art.

Kurt Schwitters  Untitled (This is to Certify that) 1942 Kunsthalle Mannheim

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (This is to Certify that) 1942
Kunsthalle Mannheim

Despite his newfound enthusiasm and new friendships with British artists such as Ben Nicholson and Herbert Read, Schwitters’ fame and recognition would slowly but steadily decline during his years in Britain. This was certainly not due to a lack of production or innovation.

After numerous international exhibitions that included his paintings, assemblages and live poetry readings, Schwitters began making small “hand-sized” sculptures and found great satisfaction in them. But bad things come in threes, and the years of 1943 and 44 brought a trio of tragedies for the, now 56 year-old artist. His first Merzbau in Hanover was destroyed by bombing and his wife Helma, who had been caring for their elderly parents back in Germany, died of Cancer. Schwitters looked for solace in his work but even that was hindered by a temporary paralysis brought on by the stroke he suffered in April of 1944.

Recovery came relatively quickly and by December of 1944 he held a substantial solo show at The Modern Art Gallery in London. Thirty-nine works were exhibited including ten of his new small sculptures.

Several of these, and later “hand-sized”  pieces are on display in this Tate exhibit.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Togetherness) c.1945
219 x 75 x 70 mm
Tate Collection lent by Geoff Thomas 1991 on long term loan

They seem to express a slight sense of unease. Perhaps after enduring war, captivity, destruction, debilitation, and the death of a loved one, making a monumental sculpture or composition seemed a bit far-reaching? These are works of art you could set on a nightstand to watch over you as you sleep, or cradle in your arms as you cross national borders on a dreary night.

Though the Tate museum strictly forbids it, these small works in wood, plaster and found objects, beg to be touched, concealed, comforted. One piece is simply a rock, painted wistfully with faded colors, and like the bowerbird that Schwitters was himself, I desperately wanted to put it in my pocket and secret it away to decorate my personal lair.

In 1945 Schwitters moved with Edith Thomas to Ambleside in the picturesque Lake District, and just as the items of the city streets had infiltrated his art in London, the items of the natural world took precedence in these new, serene surroundings. Schwitters called on his early training and painted quaint country landscapes and local landmarks to sell to tourists.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Bridge House) 1945
Oil on cardboard 255 x 191.5 mm
Courtesy of The Armitt Trust, Ambleside on short term loan

But even these paintings had a feeling of assemblage to them, as if each brush stroke were a colored matchstick, carefully put in it’s perilous place, joining with the others to form the familiar image.  But Schwitters’ collage work didn’t take a vacation during this time. Though he was physically secluded, he was still corresponding regularly with friends and colleagues in the art centers of the world and participating in exhibitions as well. And with the growing prevalence of print advertising and Schwitters’ fondness for English words, his collages inevitably became adorned with these pre-Pop images.

Kurt Schwitters, EN MORN, 1947
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013

1946 and 47 brought more health issues for Schwitters, but a second stroke, a broken leg and an asthma attack, didn’t dampen his resolve. At 60 years old, with financial assistance from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he embarked on his final Merzbau; an abandoned barn on an Elterwater estate. Schwitters had now worked on his Merzbau structures in each of the three countries he lived in. Although he had previously proclaimed each of them to be “finished,” he actually continued working on both until he was forced to abandon them. And this one would be no different.  He had gathered some of the remnants of the rural farm, part of a cart wheel, some sticks and stones, to help form a nature-inspired plaster structure, when his work would be interrupted yet again. Only this time is wasn’t angry politicians or invading armies. On July 17, 1947, Schwitters was struck by a hemorrhage and later admitted to Kendal hospital where he would eventually die of an acute pulmonary adema and myocarditis on January 8, just one day after being notified that his application for British Citizenship was scheduled for approval.

Kurt Schwitters had virtually fallen off the art world’s radar by the time he passed away, but as it did with so many great ones before him, his true genius and prolific legacy rose through the years to be counted among the masters of Modern Art.

The meager beginnings of his final Merz Barn were removed and in 1966, were installed at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle where it can still be seen today, but there are so many other treasures in this Schwitters in Britain exhibit, I implore you to see it for yourself. If not at The Tate before May 12, 2013, then head over to Hanover and catch the second act at the Sprengel Museum where it’s scheduled scheduled for June 2, – August 25, 2013.


Tate Britain

Sprengel Museum Hanover

Hatton Gallery in Newcastle


all text © Lance Aram Rothstein 2013

LAST WEEK TO CATCH The Art of Mail Art at Louis Vuitton Espace Culturel Paris

 One week left to catch Ray Johnson and the art of Mail Art in the exhibition:

Correspondances” running until the 5th of May 2013
at the Louis Vuitton Espace Culturel on the Champs-Elysées, Paris, France.


Detail of artwork by Ray Johnson on display in the “Correspondances” exhibition.

Just imagine… It’s 1956 and you’ve received an envelope from an artist acquaintance named Ray Johnson. Upon opening it you find an odd conglomeration of cut-out ads, collage, drawings and customized rubber stamps. The seemingly nonsensical phrases vaguely remind you of a conversation you may or may not have had with this quirky artist, recently out of the legendary Black Mountain College.  Somewhere between a snipped-out Lucky Strike logo and a James Dean clipping stamped “Claude Picasso Fan Club”, there’s a little bunny-faced drawing that seems to instruct you: “DETACH AND SEND TO JIM ROSENQUIST” followed by the world-famous painter’s home address…

What you would have in your hands would be the very birth of a strange little underground art movement. One that has flourished over the years and grown into the worldwide practice known as “Mail Art.”


Detail of artwork by Ray Johnson on display in the “Correspondances” exhibition.

That very type of thing happened to dozens of unsuspecting people who crossed paths with Ray Johnson, the man who started what he called the “New York Correpondance School” (spelled that way purposefully.) He did his correspond-dance with friends and acquaintances virtually non-stop until his mysterious death in 1995. Of course Johnson wasn’t the first artist to send his work through the post. Here’s a charming postcard drawn by Pablo Picasso and sent in 1905 to his friend Guillaume Apollinaire in Amsterdam.


Postcard sent from Picasso to Apollinaire.

I was lucky enough to come across this gem at the Museum of Letters & Manuscripts in Brussels recently. (Review coming soon.)

So Johnson wasn’t doing something that hadn’t been done before, he was just doing it in a way that was very different from virtually anything that had been seen previously, and he seemed to be using the Post Office and the recipients as part of the work itself so that it wasn’t actually “art” until after it was mailed.


Detail of artwork by Ray Johnson on display in the “Correspondances” exhibition.

The multitude of connections made during this process spawned a vast and varied series of chain reactions that is nearly impossible to track, but the spirit and influence of Ray Johnson’s mail art haunts the work of many artists that followed and continues to do so today, even with artists who never encountered Johnson.

This unique exhibition has gathered together works from twelve different artists, many of which were never initially intended to be seen in a gallery context. And the Louis Vuitton Espace Culturel is certainly not your typical Paris art gallery. It can be accessed through the main showroom or via a (less commercial) side entrance, but both routes take you up to the show in a “sensory deprivation elevator” which some may find a bit scary, but it serves a wonderful purpose. This light and sound-free ascension chamber, operated by an attendant, seems to purge the mind of noise and clutter from the commercial surface of the Champs-Élysées, and transports one skyward to “another level,” enabling visitors to experience the artistic creations with fresh senses. It is reminiscent of the custom, in Japanese cuisine, of chewing Gari (pickled, young ginger) to cleanse the palate between dishes.


…and the view isn’t bad either.

Greeting you first is a large display including several glass cases filled with works by Ray Johnson, who has rarely been exhibited in France. Seeing these little, groundbreaking pieces is truly a satisfying experience. They offer a peek into the personal, creative interactions and inspirations that started the Mail Art movement.

IMG_7004s   IMG_7013s

Much of it has a very Dada feel and seems fairly indecipherable, precisely because it was intended to be somewhat of an “inside joke” between Ray and receiver. Some humorous references are evident and often scathing, but the true genius lies in the ephemeral nature of each individual piece. You must force yourself to remember that someone had the honor of retrieving every one of these little mind-benders from their mailbox and viewing it for the very first time, and then had the sensibility to hang on to it for all these years.


Detail of artwork by Ray Johnson on display in the “Correspondances” exhibition.

Many different artists have taken Johnson’s Mail Art idea and run with it. Eleven of them are included in this show.  Chilean artist Eugenio Dittborn has sent several of his large, collaged Airmail Paintings, one portraying a fictional correspondence between Ray Johnson and the French poet Ronsard.


Shipping materials for Eugenio Dittborn’s “Airmail Paintings.”


A guide talks to visitors about Eugenio Dittborn’s “Airmail Paintings.”

There is a lovely triptych by Jan Dibbets, from Amsterdam, of his Halifax Diary, showing photographs of the artist on a train, alongside postcards sent during the journey .

American artist Eleanor Antin’s piece entitled 100 BOOTS includes a series of 51 ominous photographs showing (what else) 100 black boots arranged in different ways at different locations, and sent out as post cards to 1000 addresses over a two year period. This work serves to spotlight one of the major purposes of most Mail Art; circumventing the entire “art scene” and connecting on an individual basis with the addressee.


Detail of “100 Boots” by Elanor Antin.

Vittotio Santoro, who lives and works both in Paris and Zurich was represented by a graphically diverse installation showing dozens of letters he received after mailing out invitations for people to send him a letter including the phrase: “Silence destroys consequences.”


Detail from Vittotio Santoro’s “Silence destroys consequences.”


Part of the display for “Silence destroys consequences.” by Vittotio Santoro.

Walead Beshty has included two of his large polished copper cubes. These monolithic, minimalist boxes still shine in places beneath the accumulated labels, handprints, scuff marks and dings, due to their FedEx transport from the artist’s home city of Los Angeles.


Polished Copper Cubes by Walead Beshty.

There are four pieces by Italian conceptual artist and member of the Arte Povera movement, Alighiero Boetti, (December 16, 1940 – February 24, 1994.)  These works he sent through the mail to his daughter and wife as he traveled through Afganistan in the 70s & 80s. They incorporate various different stamp placement compositions, continuing the theme of permutation he used in much of his other work throughout his life.

Perhaps the strongest piece in this show is by New York artist Stephen Antonakos. His Package Project is displayed in a store window at ground level near the Louis Vuitton entrance.  In 1971, during an artist’s residency in Fresno, California, Antonakos sent requests to about 100 artist friends, asking them: “Would you please send me something in a package for a project I am doing . . . “


Detail from Stephen Antonakos’ “Package Project” on display in the Louis Vuitton Store Window.

Antonakos signed and dated each one of the packages when he received them and, according to his original plan, they have never been opened. They are always to be displayed with the addresses facing the viewer. Some of the notable packages included are from Ray Johnson, Judy Chicago, Christo, Connor Everts, Ruth Vollmer and  Robert Indiana.


Part of the “Package Project” by Stephen Antonakos on display in the Louis Vuitton Store Window.

These worn and weathered packages strike the viewer with wonder at what could possibly be inside each of these 40+ year-old time capsules, destined to stay sealed precisely because the wonder is the best part of it all.

Also included in the exhibition is a film by Clarisse Hahn, in collaboration with Thomas Clerc, combining a fictional correspondance with video footage shot in Mexico;  Poignant letters translated by the father of Vietnamese artist Danh Vò; Decorative Invoice by wine merchant and “undomesticated artist” Kurt Ryslavy (in catalog only?); and a colorful mail-ish installation by French artist Guillaume Lablon presenting sections of residential “Entrance Doors” with their mail slots included.


One of the “Entrance Doors by Guillaume Lablon installed at the exhibition.

Mail Art, like the more popular “Street Art” has been a way for traditional artists to experiment with non-traditional methods and has also been a way for emerging and amateur artists to make meaningful connections, get feedback and feed off the ideas of others. Today there are many groups that have evolved around the practice of Mail Art.  The International Union of Mail-Artists claims to have nearly 2000 members and the Flickr “Mail Art” group has more than 13,500 images in it’s pool.

In short, this exhibit is not to be missed. It is a chance to view some rare and innovative work that is highly underrepresented in most galleries. Admission is free and there is also a wonderful free hardback catalog of the show (while supplies last.)

So stop reading and get going. The exhibit closes  May 5, 2013.


Louis Vuitton Espace Culturel Website: http://www.louisvuitton-espaceculturel.com/index_GB.html

Mobile version:  http://correspondances.louisvuitton-espaceculturel.com/

phone + 33 1 53 57 52 03
Main entrance: 60, rue de Bassano – 75008 Paris
Entrance by the Louis Vuitton shop: 101, avenue des Champs Elysées – 75008 Paris
Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday, 12am to 7pm;
Sunday, 11am to 7pm


Storefront of Louis Vuitton on Champs-Elysées, Paris, France.

all text and images © Lance Aram Rothstein 2013

Review: Frida & Diego at the High Museum Atlanta


Frida & Diego exhibition at The High Museum.

Review: Frida & Diego at the High Museum Atlanta

Guest post by Karen Nurenberg Rothstein

I recently was submerged in a day of Passion, Politics and Paintings during a visit to the “Frida & Diego” exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

This is the largest collection of works by Mexican artists Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and Diego Rivera (1886-1957) ever shown in the United States. It consists of about 120 works by the artists and includes many important photographs of them by several well-known photographers of the time (and some unknown photographers). If you are (or plan to be) in the area, don’t miss this wonderful exhibit running through May 12th, 2013.

Both artists are notorious for their communist beliefs as well as their passion for one another and for Mexico. While Frida is best known for her expressive self portraits of beauty and pain, and Diego is famous for his massive, politically charged murals, their range of talents far exceeded those preconceived molds and they supported each other’s work even when their relationship was turbulent and painful. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to peek into the couples’ tumultuous life and glimpse the full range of their talent.

Approaching the front of the High Museum from Peachctree Street, Frida’s well-known “Self-Portrait with Monkeys” entices all from a mural-sized announcement of the exhibit within. (see photo above)

Entering the lobby, you’re greeted by a life-sized, colorful “standee” of the dynamic couple that visitors can put their faces into for a memorable snapshot. It highlights the notable difference in their size and appearance.


Frida & Diego exhibition at The High Museum.

When the elevator doors open on the exhibition, there they are: Frida and Diego blown-up on a freestanding wall and you are at once in their lives.


Frida & Diego exhibition at The High Museum.

Beginning the exhibit are two self-portraits that really seem to encapsulate the stories of each artist.


“Self Portrait with Wide Brimmed Hat” by Diego Rivera – 1907. On display at The High Museum.

In Rivera’s “Self-Portrait with Wide-Brimmed Hat,” (1907) we see a 21-year-old Diego projecting the rich mystique of bohemian Madrid. A four-year scholarship brought him from Mexico and afforded him access to the European avant-garde which proved very formative.


“Self Portrait With Necklace” by Frida Kahlo – 1933. On display at The High Museum.

In Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Necklace,” (1933) she shows-off a string of vibrant, pre-Columbian, jade beads. Frida had an extensive costume jewelry collection, which figured prominently in her self-portraits. She loved bright clothes and used them to reflect the traditional dress and talents of her people and the place of her heart, Mexico. This painting was done while in Detroit as Diego was working on a mural at the Detroit Institute of Art.

The couple did not meet properly until a fateful party thrown by photographer Tina Modotti in 1928. Diego was 42 years old and had been painting since the age of 10. Frida was half his age and had just begun to discover painting while recovering from massive injuries resulting from a bus accident in 1926.

Rivera had been painting for more than 30 years before they came together, so the exhibit naturally begins with his earlier work. Surprisingly however, it continues to display the artist’s works in separate sections rather than showing their artistic progression side by side.

After 1907, Diego traveled around Europe, including a stop in Bruges, Belgium, where he studied the Flemish masters and met the Russian émigré artist, Angelina BeloffShe later became his companion and common-law wife when they set up residence in Paris around 1912. There, he eventually abandoned realist painting, and took up with the artists of the Cubist Movement. He did several well-known pieces in this style, some of which are included in this exhibit. A favorite of mine, although not the most widely known, is a 1915 oil on canvas called “The Flea Market.”


“The Flea Market” by Diego Rivera – 1915. On display at The High Museum.

Also included in the exhibition is one of Diego’s most accomplished and better known works in Cubism, “Young Man with a Fountain Pen.”


“Young Man with a Fountain Pen” by Diego Rivera – 1914.
On display at The High Museum.

Painted in 1914, it portrays his friend and fellow Mexican, Adolfo Best Maugard, who was also in Paris at the time. A year earlier, Diego did a more naturalistic painting of his friend. This portrait is not on exhibit but is pictured beside “Young Man with a Fountain Pen,” highlighting Rivera’s drastic shift in style toward Cubism.

Another strong Cubist piece on show is “Knife and Fruit in front of Window,” from 1917.


“Knife and Fruit in front of Window” by Diego Rivera – 1917.
On display at The High Museum.

It is said that this work “captures the vertical qualities of Paris” and was inspired by Paul Cézanne, who Diego admired. The round shapes and vivid fruit colors, contrast with the muted, angular, rooftops  to make this a lovely work. This moving piece was painted just three days after his firstborn son, Diego Junior had died, not yet two years old.

Another room displays some of Diego’s wonderful lithographs.


“The Agrarian Leader Zapata” by Diego Rivera – 1932.
On display at The High Museum.

“The Agrarian Leader Zapata,” (1932) is a superb piece and reveals his political allegiances as does much of his work.

One of Rivera’s more famous murals is dramatically reproduced in a larger-than-life format among the lithos. Titled “In the Arsenal,” it is located in Mexico City at the Ministry of Education building and was painted in 1928. This mural has rich, bold colors and shows Diego’s activism as a member of the Mexican Communist Party.

Most of his murals portray his social and political beliefs, and this one is a fine example. Pictured in the painting are many of the people active in revolutionary Mexico at the time. In the center of this mural Frida Kahlo hands out guns to the workers. Other well-known activists depicted include Julio Antonio Mella, a founder of the “internationalized” Cuban Communist Party; Vittorio Vidale, an Italian-born Stalinist sympathizer; and Tina Modotti, an Italian photographer and revolutionary political activist.


“In the Arsenal” (reproduction) by Diego Rivera – 1928. On display at The High Museum.

This piece really caught peoples’ attention at the High Museum.

In “Calla Lily Vendor,” (1943) an oil done on masonite (as several of the works in the exhibit are), Diego shows simple workers and every-day people. Many paintings done in the later years of his life turned to this style after the revolution was over.


“Calla Lily Vendor” by Diego Rivera – 1943. On display at The High Museum.

In this one, you can see only the vendor’s arms and hat.  The Calla Lily is a recurring flower in Diego’s work. Some have proposed it is because he was influenced by Freud’s overtly sexual comparison to the female genitalia.

Perhaps Rivera’s most famous mural in the USA is one that was destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller, “Man at the Crossroads.” After commissioning the painting for his Rockefeller Center, the business magnate had it destroyed because Diego wouldn’t remove the image of the Communist leader Vladimir  Lenin. In 1934, Diego reproduced the mural in Mexico and called it “Man, Controller of the Universe.” In it were many well-known faces including Lenin and Leon Trotsky as well as Rockefeller holding a glass of champagne in one hand and a woman’s hand in the other (effectively portraying him as a drinking womanizer). Needless to say, Rockefeller was not pleased.  This recreated mural has a room all its own at the High. It is bold and quite fabulously exhibited. Take a while to examine it.


“Man, Controller of the Universe” (reproduction) by Diego Rivera – 1934.
On display at The High Museum.

This final piece of Rivera’s work I have chosen is from his “Sunset” series of oil and tempera on canvas. It was painted in 1956, not long after Frida had died and Diego was diagnosed with cancer, a sad period in his life.  It reminds me of Vincent van Gogh’s work, the colors are wonderful and so striking.


“Sunset” by Diego Rivera – 1956. On display at The High Museum.

Just one year later, in November of 1957, Rivera died in his Mexico studio.

We now take a turn into Frida’s world and although for most of it, Diego and Frida are tumultuously intertwined, this painting called “The Bus” portrays an earlier time in her life.


“The Bus” by Frida Kahlo – 1929. On display at The High Museum.

At age 18, after a pleasant day spent with a boyfriend, Frida and the young man boarded a bus for the journey home. In a life-changing accident, the bus collided with a streetcar and many were killed. Frida was found with a handrail piercing her body. Initially thought to be untreatable, she defied the odds but faced a long recovery in bed. During this time, she stopped studying to be a doctor and turned instead to painting. With paints given to her by her father (a photographer), she taught herself, creating many self portraits. Having a mirror attached to her bed, “Frida” was what she saw the most of.

“The Bus” an oil on canvas, was done in 1929 and shows Frida (at right) on the bus before it was hit. Seated beside her are a five others, portraying a range of people from Mexican society; a woman holding a shopping basket, a man in blue overalls, an indigenous woman dressed in rich colors, a young boy looking out the window and a well-dressed banker holding a sack of gold.  The museum’s multimedia guide suggests that the blue collar worker in bib overalls, may represent the man who actually removed the rail to help save her.

This accident caused her pain and heath problems throughout her life.

After marrying Diego in 1929, Frida accompanied him on many trips. In 1932-33 Rivera was commissioned to do his famous Detroit Industry frescoes and Frida went with him. Here she had a miscarriage, her second, and was admitted to the Henry Ford Hospital.


“The Henry Ford Hospital” by Frida Kahlo – 1932. On display at The High Museum.

“The Henry Ford Hospital,” (oil on metal – 1932) is also known as “The Flying Bed.” It recalls one of the most traumatic moments in her life as she realized she couldn’t bear children and was hospitalized in a strange town. This is a small but horrifying look into Frida’s deep sadness. Frida is pictured lying in a pool of blood with six images surrounding the bed, all connected by red strands representing umbilical cords. The plaster female torso, the fetus, the snail, the machine, the orchid and the fractured pelvis, all symbolize aspects of the trauma she endured. She relied on her earlier medical training for some of the anatomical details. In the background, you can see the Ford family factories in the skyline of Detroit as she saw it. On the side of the bed are the words HENRY FORD HOSPITAL DETROIT.

Next I enjoyed these three works by Frida. They show her talent and versatility.


“Portrait of Natasha Gelman” by Frida Kahlo – 1943.
On display at The High Museum.

The wonderful “Portrait of Natasha Gelman” is an oil on masonite from 1943. Natasha and her husband Jacques were supporters of Diego and Frida and accumulated a vast collection of Mexican art.


“Lady Cristina Hastings” by Frida Kahlo – 1931.
On display at The High Museum.

This is a carefully and superbly executed colored-pencil drawing of Lady Cristina Hastings, done in 1931. She was the wife of Lord Francis Hastings. The couple often traveled with Frida and Diego in order to be close to great art. Frida liked Christina for her vibrant personality, and it is said that the two women likely had a romantic affair.


“Still-Life with Parrot and Flag” by Frida Kahlo – 1951.
On display at The High Museum.

During another phase, Frida made several still-life paintings.  “Still-Life with Parrot and Flag”  is an oil on masonite from 1951. By this time, she was becoming quite weak and endured constant pain, though she was still able to execute this piece with great detail. It is said she turned to still-life because she wanted to see the beauty in life, for hers was so painful.
In 1950, Frida’s heath was deteriorating. She underwent several operations on her spine,  and after surgery, she wore this plaster cast which she painted.

Many of Frida’s most famous self-portraits are shown together in this exhibition. “Self-portrait with Monkey” (oil on masonite – 1945) was my favorite in this room. In it, Frida shows herself with her favourite Xoloitzcuintli dog and her pet spider-monkey who peers out nervously from behind her shoulder. A pre-Columbian statue with a pensive appearance sits to the right and a golden ribbon connects them all with Frida’s signature and date encircled at top.


“Self-portrait with Monkey” by Frida Kahlo – 1945. On display at The High Museum.

She painted many of her pets and loved having them with her, perhaps to take the place of the children she and Diego could never have.

She died in her sleep on July 13, 1954.

The last room displays an interesting array of photographs showing the couple together, with friends and separately. These are the four I chose to share:


Frida Kahlo in her bedroom holding a baby goat. Photograph by Bernard Silverstein, 1940.

This bedroom is where Frida did so much of her work when she was ill.


Frida with Cigarette in a photograph by Nickolas Muray, 1941.


Frida and Diego at a Rally by an unknown photographer.


Color photograph of Frida by Nickolas Muray – 1939.

Lastly, surrounded by these historic photographs, is a little painting showing a face that is half Diego and half Frida all framed with shells. Frida presented it to Diego on his 58th birthday. This special piece in its precious frame, shows how Frida always considered them one, and how even through their tumultuous relationship, neither could live with out the other. The snail and the scallop symbolize their union.


“Double Portrait of Diego and I (I)” – 1944. by Frida Kahlo. On display at The High Museum.

This one touched me the most, as it seemed to embody the love she had inside her.

Of course this is only a fraction of  the amazing works on display in this exhibition. This is a show you don’t want to miss. It promises to enthrall all who attend.

Text and photographs by Karen Nurenberg Rothstein – April 2013.


Frida & Diego – Passion, Politics and Painting runs through May 12, 2013

The High Museum Atlanta, Georgia, USA – Half-Price entry after 4pm on Thursdays!

Visit their website for hours, tickets and more information: http://www.high.org/frida-diego