Sacred Allegory (detail), about 1500-1504, Giovanni Bellini, tempera (?) and oil on wood panel. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence. Photo credit: Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, NY
D.K. Sole has worked at UNLV's Marjorie Barrick Museum since it changed its focus to fine art in 2012. An artist and former resident of Melbourne, Australia, she held her first one-woman Las Vegas show, 'Some Time Ago," in 2015 at Clark County's Winchester Gallery. She was co-manager for the highly praised downtown Las Vegas gallery, Satellite Contemporary. She loves art.
By D.K. Sole
I was haunted all last year by a shape – by the roughly triangular patch of air framed by the elbow of the woman in [Jean-François] Millet's "Shearing Sheep" (1852-53). I saw the painting at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in February 2017. . It teased me, the way this central triangle seemed to concentrate and focus – like a prism – the foggy atmosphere of tenderness that hung over the rest of the picture.
Why did I grip that detail? Did it seem so infinitely suggestive to other people? I never discussed it with anybody.
Instead – and this turned out to be something like a substitute for discussion – I visited the small Bellini exhibition at the Getty in January 2018. Here was an artist who had devoted attention to small areas of intensely-realized appearance. This exhibition, which was named "Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice," asked you to look at the painter's intelligent use of the countryside around his city. "One of the most influential painters of the Renaissance, he worked in and around Venice," explained the text, "and while his landscapes are highly metaphorical, they also accurately reflect the region’s topography and natural light."
I found that I wanted to look at the little things he had made: the judicious crumbs of light along the side of a reed-like plant growing out of a crack in the rock, or a single skull as carefully shaded as the rocks around it, in the bottom third of a crucifixion.
No one who came across a real landscape like the one in "St Jerome Reading in the Wilderness" (1505) would see a lizard, a pebble, and a cliff with riveting, equal clarity all at once, as the painting does. The implied glance in the Millet is more casual: the colouration of the scene suggests a hazy blur, telling us we have scanned it rapidly and come back with a convincing, incomplete impression, softly stirred by our emotions. The softness of this painted glance exists in tension with the stern, buried architecture of the composition. But Bellini's attention fuses attention with the viewer's eye. He paints a stare. He puts his areas of attention in a more ambiguous emotional territory.
This St Jerome asks: are you capable of the intensity he has assigned to you? Does intensity evade the devotional purpose of the painting or help to define it? These smart treasures scattered across the countryside of the work are a machine to save the devotee from boredom.
You look. The tiles and fenceposts in "Sacred Allegory" (c. 1500 – 1504) are so neat that you imagine him tracing along the edge of a ruler, as if his hands are still remembering the day when his teacher showed them how to make perspective. You decide that teacher must have been his father, Jacopo, since painting was the family business. Thinking about the amount of time it would have taken to create the work you conclude that the family was stable and prosperous, with a reliable clientele. There must have been physical space dedicated to Bellini's work and people around him who respected what he was doing. He had some area that functioned as "a room of one's own." No wonder he appealed to Ruskin, so quickly moved to anxiety and a sense of loss. Nothing is lost in Bellini, you think. When he wants to pull your attention away from something he often just blots it a little darker. That's why the red trousers on the shepherd in the background by Christ's wrist in "Christ Blessing" (c. 1500) are less noticeable than the clear brown tips of the curls on Christ's shoulders. Online reproductions make the trousers look like mud.
Christ's eyes point in different directions and the area around the one on the left is asymmetrically large. The Getty's label says he is "gazing straight at the viewer as if lost in thought." As I stood in front of the painting I imagined this a little further. The weird set of the eyes meant that the figure was not gazing at me even though his face was aimed in my direction. It was difficult to say if this was the expression of a person who was seeing or thinking anything at all. Rising from the dead, his brain was still trying to bring the physical world into focus. A point about the division between material and immaterial worlds had been made through the invention and subsequent tolerance of this physiognomic strangeness.
Looking around the room with that in mind, I felt that the uncanny amount of attention Bellini paid to everything had given each stone or house its own state of invisible, private interior being, concurrent with its presence in the visible world of landscape and sea. They were insistently with me but I would never be able to absorb them. He preferred the three-quarter view of heads, the face that turned to the viewer and still meditated on itself. (Did the odd distance between Christ's eyes come originally from this habit of depicting people with their heads turned? Bellini: Cubist.) That was the style of the age, but this shadowy room at the Getty isolated it in Bellini alone, and I was surrounded by faces half-aside and stones that existed both in and behind their shading.
In Bellini, unlike Millet, the prisms of attention suggested individual thingness rather than the existence of a wider emotion. The Venetian treated his objects with the mindfulness that French painter's woman gave to her half-shorn sheep, tracing the contours of its skin with care and never jabbing the surface with her scissors.
Giovanni Bellini, "Christ Blessing," circa 1500. Getty Museum
For the Los Angeles sister blog, María Margarita López went to the March opening of “L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective" at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The stories of Latino history are Los Angeles centric, but the impact of this mural's history belongs to the Southwest. The story was first posted at viewfromaloft on March 10.
By María Margarita López
As a Girl Scout walking through the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Barbara Carrasco never dreamed her work would one day grace its walls.
After 25 years of being stored away, Carrasco’s controversial 1981 mural, “L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective,” will be on view in Los Angeles for the second time. It was a highlight of “¡Murales Rebeldes! L.A. Chicana/o Murals Under Siege,” co-curated by LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and the California Historical Society as part of the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. It hung in Union Station.
This time it will be featured at the Natural History Museum’s (NHMLA) for “Sin Censura: A Mural Remembers L.A.” It runs from March 9 through August 18, 2018.
Carrasco stood mid-room, absorbing the impact of her mural displayed as she had never seen it before, wrapped around three walls giving it a more intimate feel. She is excited how the piece is uncensored and and it can be seen at the institution that helped make the mural possible in the first place. The late NHMLA curator William Mason helped Carrasco when she first researched subjects in the vignette, and loaned her photographs for source material. Much of the imagery was used in the final work. “This was my chance to show what I wish was in the history books.” said Carrasco.
It was the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the same agency that commissioned it in the first place, that objected to fourteen of the depicted scenes. Some of those stories do not place the city of Los Angeles or the CRA in the best light. Both had histories of injustice in under served communities. These are the L.A. stories you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
“As she grew older she became more aware of her surroundings and really started to open up her eyes regarding the injustices that surrounded her and our communities and many of us growing up.” said Supervisor Hilda Solis of the artist. “I think her art has a way in which she shared those lived experiences meanwhile drawing attention to problems in our society. Barbara is a community champion.”
Supervisor Solis went on to suggest that NHMLA is the best place to give this mural a permanent home.
A highlight of the exhibition is the 70-inch digital touchscreen that details the people, places and events in each of the vignettes. From an image of Juan Francisco Reyes, LA’s first black mayor, to the lynching of 20 Chinese residents to memories of Grand Central Market, Luis Valdez’s “Zoot Suit," and a group portrait tribute to LA that includes Dolores Huerta, Jane Fonda, Ricardo Montalban, Martin Sheen, Rick James and other artists, activists and politicians.
The interactive touchscreen gives full details of people and place in English and Spanish.
Los Angeles has many untold stories. This mural beautifully depicts Los Angeles’s past, and present with a nod to the future, also including portraits of the interns who helped make the mural. It’s a history lesson worth visiting.
María Margarita López has covered arts and performances for viewfromaloft since 2011. On behalf of viewfromaloft, her photos have also appeared at KCET.org, the LATimes, and Hyperallergic. As a film producer, she is co-founder of AjuuaEntertainment, plus consulted and produced media under her company ValorFilms since 2005.
Jasper Johns, Flag, 1967. Encaustic and collage on canvas (three panels). 84.138 x 142.24 cm. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection. Art © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
By Jian Huang
How many objects do we come across in a day? A few hundred? A few thousand? Think about the desk from which you are sitting as you read this article. What are the objects around? A pencil? A computer mouse? A cup of coffee? And of those objects with which we cross paths daily, how many do we see?
This critical thinking of the everyday, where we can look at many objects to make a whole, fits in the overall saturation of media. We were prepared for it by Jasper Johns.
His retrospective at the Broad museum, “Jasper Johns: ‘Something Resembling Truth,’” begins with his most well-known piece, “Flag,” (1967). The 100 works in the exhibition span across six decades. “It all began with the American Flag,” Johns famously said. Now age 87, his work weaves through the defining decades of Modern Art, Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, and is still influential to artists today. The art movements followed him.
Like his contemporaries Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, Johns’ body of work points to objects and the meanings with which we, as readers of objects, project onto them.
Johns gained notoriety during a unique time in US history. With World War II ending and the American economy bouncing back from a depression-era conservatism came the advent of modernity: prefab homes for the single-family, personal automobiles, and television sets. The world was limitless for us Americans; we even put an American flag on the moon.
“This exhibition is thematic rather than chronological,” said Joanne Heyler to the NY Times. Heyler, the Broad’s founding director who co-curated the exhibition stated, “With an artist like Johns — who returns many times, over decades, to motifs and ideas — is a very rewarding way to understand the work.”
As potent today as it was then, the curators organized the exhibit with “Flag” as the headlining piece. As the I meander through the exhibit from one room to the next, I get a sense of Johns’ arc as an artist from his earlier works, charged with the powerful politics of the time, to the intimate pieces he made during his relationship with Rauschenberg, to cross-genre collaborations with writers like Samuel Beckett, and ending on his contemporary paintings with recurring motifs of contemplation--rulers, eyes, the things we use to measure, the things we use to see.
Crossing the courtyard after the exhibit, I found myself asking, “What did I see?” Years of seeing these works in photographs cannot do proper justice to them. Two hours was hardly enough time to take in the extraordinary body of work of Johns--I would recommend at least two hours a day for two weeks. Even then, we can only begin to grasp as casual visitors the bigger question:who is Jasper Johns beyond the Flags?
Jasper Johns, "Untitled," 1992–4. Encaustic on canvas. 199.4 x 300.7 cm. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection. Art © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Jasper Johns 'Something Resembling Truth'
Feb 10 – May 13, 2018
The Broad museum
Downtown Los Angeles
Jian Huang is writer and a 2016 PEN Emerging Voice recipient. Raised in South LA, Jian graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Art History and Communication and been involved with arts organizations, including LA County Arts Commission’s Civic Art Program, LA County Museum of Art, and Inner-City Arts. Jian served as past Chair for the Public Art Coalition of Southern California and Senior Editor for Angel’s Flight Literary West.
Above: "Blue Angel: Between Heaven and Earth" at The Neon Museum's Ne10studio.