I hate the way the story of art is more about mythologies than it is about the paint on the palette. All too often the elites tend to buy into one story because it fits into an annointed narrative, while other wonderful artists can be overlooked. Now that Egon Schiele is lauded widely it is easy to forget that for most of the 20th century it was more a case of Egon Who? Like with Schiele, Tamara de Lempicka is having a second life as her paintings are being rediscovered by the current generation.
Tamara de lempicka has always had her loyal band of admirers (I count myself as one of them) but the greatness of her creative achievements has also been undercut by an art mythology that placed the steps to abstraction as the journey to take notice of and a mere portraitist like Lempicka would be regarded in the best light as a creative side road or at worst sneeringly regarded as artistic fluff.
Double Standards In Art History
It didn't help that lempicka was the first female art superstar. She lived her life of glamor as if it was a canvas to be painted with a flamboyant hand. In an age that valued compliant and moral wives Lempicka chose to be very different. The dazzle of her high society lifestyle was always surrounded by scandalous stories. it was almost expected for the male artists of her time to be a superstar, and have a history of dubious morality, but no female artist before her had had that level of audacity. How dare she!
For a male artist to be gay barely raises a mention, it is as if sexual experimentation is expected for the male creative person. Reviews of exhibitions by David Hockney or Andy Warhol do not focus on sexuality at the expense of discussion of the artwork. Why should Lempicka be treated any differently?
The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same
Even in today's more liberated times reviews of her Paris retrospective seem to discuss her lesbian notoriety as much as the pictures. This seems such a disservice. The importance of Lempicka's many female painting subjects is less whether or not the artist lusts for the sitter than in the sensuality which the artist conveys to the viewer. Sometimes I think that artist's biographies should be left at home when looking at pictures because the pictures need to be simply allowed to speak their language of brushstrokes without gossip getting in the road.
The Artist As A Strong And Confident Woman
To me Lempicka's iconic self portrait 'Tamara In A Green Bugatti' sums up all that is important to know about her - here is a modern woman with the strength and talent to paint her own way and to do it with confidence and style. Whether in her painting or her beguiling self portrait drawing she has nothing to prove. Her talent is up there with the best and her work is worthy of our full attention.
Tamara de Lempicka Self Portrait drawing
Tamara de Lempicka Paris Retrospective
The Pinacotheque in Paris is hosting a retrospective of Lempicka's work until the 8th of September. It is one of those times when I wish I could be in Paris. Unfortunately Paris is almost exactly half a planet away from Sydney and an artist's income doesn't allow for journeys around the world. It is a frustration for an artist not to be able to see so much of the world's great art. We tend to learn from the artists we most respect. Reproductions in books are a pale shadow of the real thing. Only up close can we see the subtle marks that give us an understanding of what the artist was doing and the thought processes that brought the artwork to fruition.
I have been lucky in my life because I have had the privilege of seeing fifty of Rembrandt's paintings up close but I have only ever seen one Lempicka. I know how big an effect those Rembrandt's have had on my art technique and insight. Sadly I will probably never have the chance of finding out just how much effect the wonderful Tamara de Lempicka might have on my art. For now Tamara can only live for me in my dreams.
I love rain. It is a wonderful warm experience to wake up with heavy rain on the roof. It starts as a sound as if a distant part of a dream and then the realization that the wet is outside and the sheets are dry causes a womb-like feeling of protection and safety. It doesn't happen very often so it is a mixture of familiarity with unreality.
Later I had to go to Macquarie Street to take photos to upgrade a website. On the way back I saw dozens of Sacred Ibis digging worms in the park. Photographing them lead to photographing reflections on the path and then to leaves and then to two leaves that seemed to interact with the lights and darks on the wet path in an extraordinarily beautiful way. I couldn't stop. Well, I could, but only after around 300 photos and the battery was getting low. I loved those leaves.
Walking further I discovered blue shed like constructions around two large equestrian bronze sculptures. A Japanese/German artist, Tatzu Nishi has enclosed Gilbert Bayes bronzes so that they now appear to be inside a room. My favorite is the one in the photo that looks like the horse and rider are stepping onto a bed. I know that it is a rather fashionable idea to dress up someone else's artwork to give a new appreciation from a new perspective, but this was a particularly good version of that genre. Like the rain on the roof it had a delicious unreality about it, as if it was a Magritte painting that had just come to life.
The afternoon was busy with hanging and dealing with the difficulties artists present hanging crews. It seems many artists think that somehow magic is involved in holding an artwork on a wall because sometimes there is no easy way to get excessively heavy, warped, and poorly constructed "stretchers" hung in any kind of professional looking manner.
Miracles are necessary. A little swearing sometimes helpful. But some how, some way, the last of the paintings were hung just as the first visitors arrived. Just enough time to quickly change into a suit and get presentable for the show.
My role from there is to greet visitors and speak. Lesley welcomed everyone, then I did a small talk and thanked everyone and then introduced our official opener - alternative media publisher Lawrence Gibbons.
At the exhibition opening visitors vote for the Peoples Choice award. This year it was a thousand dollars donated by a lawyer who likes life drawing and remaining anonymous. Her generosity is appreciated by all.
Yesterday I had the great privilege of listening to Christo and Jeanne-Claude talk about their work, and afterwards actually meet them. As a couple they are as fascinating as their art works. Two beautiful people with an extraordinary vision. They are a delight to listen to. Like great performers they know their lines well, and have developed impeccable timing. They play the audience like puppetmasters, yet for all that they are open, and surprisingly candid about the intimate details of how their work comes to fruition.
The Corcoran Gallery Of Art in Washington D.C. is widely regarded as one of the world's great collections of art. What is less well known is the up-hill struggle the Corcoran has to keep its doors open these days.
Founded in 1869 as a private art gallery its mission was to encourage American genius in art. By that measure it has been wildly successful, at least in its early days, but with a strategy so nebulous it was bound to have difficulties once more finely focussed (and state supported) institutions opened their doors starting with The National Gallery Of Art in 1937.
In this light public perceptions are hugely important, and for many years substantial private donations kept the Corcoran's coffers awash with sufficient cash reserves to enable them to initiate the planning for a Frank Gehry designed new wing estimated to cost $115 million. By 2001 it was reported that they had raised $60 million, yet 2005 the project was cancelled due to lack of funds.
Now in 2007 the Corcoran spends $2 million to stage a huge exhibition called "Modernism", attracts 60,000 less patrons than the 2002 exhibition "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years" and appears to have lost as much as $500,000 yet the Corcoran leadership describes Modernism as a "smash success". Huh?
Each year in Sydney there is an exhibition festival called Art And About. I am most familiar with it due to the photography exhibition which happens in Hyde Park and I have to walk past it on my way to the city. The photographs are printed on large (about 2 meters x 3 meters) canvas and then strung beneath the fig trees on the main promenade. It is always engaging. This year my favorite is one called Fly Boys by Quentin Jones of a whole lot of children flying model planes in a swarm, but there are several other images I like a lot. Being outdoors in a public park the exhibition is viewable 24/7. Recommended.
A travelling exhibition of models of Leonardo's machines is in town at the moment over at Fox Studios (now re-named Entertainment Quarter). 60 of his inventions and devices are on display, many of which can be operated with handles and so on. It is possible to go inside his room of mirrors to see your own back and so on. The catalog is a useful addition to my library for my Leonardo web site still in progress. The whole exhibition is very timely for my writing. Here are some highlights.
Lesley Dimmick has finally come of age. 18 years of running the best underground gallery in Sydney. Literally thousands of young artists have had their first show at TAP.
Ten years ago I met Lesley when I wanted to stage the first Real Refuses exhibition. That started a close friendship that has endured while I have seen TAP grow slowly year by year. I remember TAP's 10th birthday party. It seems like it was only a couple of years ago.
So tonight Lesley celebrated with an exhibition, with a band, with friends, and with a wall of photos of the madcap people and events of recent years.