Russian Modernism: Cross-Currents of German and Russian Art, 1907-1917 (Neue Galerie- NYC)

Yesterday, I went to the Neue Galerie with my Mum to see the Russian modernism exhibit. Unfortunately, they don’t allow photographs beyond the lobby. On the bright side, this makes the flow inside the museum much smoother. People drift from room to room without worrying if they are walking in front of someone’s lens. It also forced me to stand longer in front of each work; I wanted to memorize each painting from top to bottom because I wouldn’t be able to refer to a picture later.

Russian Modernism: Cross-Currents of German and Russian Art, 1907-1917 examines the forms of modernism that were molded during this ten year span. The climate was different in Germany and Russia, but a very similar genre of art was born in each country. This exhibit displays works from each country side-byside, drawing comparisons between the genres. Side panels identify the conditions and artistic groups that were particular to Germany and Russia, and explains how these contributed to the development of modernist style. Paintings are broken into five categories: landscape, cityscape, portrait, nude, and abstract, to help the viewer isolate the stylistic characteristics of each country, genre, and artistic group.

I found it difficult at times to differentiate which paintings were German and which were Russian until I looked at the hallway lined with artist biographies. I was curious which paintings were which, because I was interested to see how certain conditions in Russia played out on the canvas. The containment of Jews to the countryside resulted in a strong connection between Jewish artists and the landscape. Much of Russian modernism drew from folk artists in the Jewish countryside. Many of the Russian landscapes exhibit bright, almost surrealist colors- purple skies and yellow houses- that evoke an emotional response in me. I feel a sort of pride for this landscape, a landscape that is so wonderful it defies the laws of physics. Or perhaps the colors express the emotion the painters felt for the countryside. I see a tie-in between the Jews being confined to the country and the country’s surreal illustration. Maybe the landscape became so intertwined with Jewish pride for the home that a depiction of trees signified a depiction of identity.

The cityscapes reminded me of cubist paintings in Spain, the way their parts were geometrically disassembled. This speaks to the large influence other European painters had on German and Russian modernism. Cezanne’s flattening of space and illusionistic perspective can also be seen as a source of inspiration for the cityscapes and landscapes in this exhibit. Alexei von Jawlensky’s “Oberstdorf-Mountains” (1912) features elements of landscape- mountains, trees- that seem to oscillate between the foreground and the background. One cannot gain footing in this painting the same way he cannot in a typical Cezanne landscape, because the ground appears to be shifting beneath him.

Other works stuck out as being manifestations of national trends. Erich Heckel’s “Bathers in a Pond” (1908) seems half-represented. Bits of canvas can be seen, intentionally poking through long strokes of color. The subjects, two naked figures, demonstrate the German notion of the fantastical woods, where nudity is part of a search for spiritual freedom. The animalistic portrayal of the people suggests a primitive quality to this imagined pastime in a way that seems to be the opinion of the artist.

What I felt most strongly about these landscapes and cityscapes, was that they depict the motion of the atmosphere. Modified cubism reflects the jumbled yet highly structured nature of urban life. Uneven roads that bend into the sky, defying the laws of physics, makes us feel like we are riding on a winding road, with the wind sweeping through our hair. Landscapes that confuse houses with grass give the sense of rolling around in a meadow. These paintings are about how we feel in nature, not what we are literally seeing. They expertly provide a visual representation of the tactile and emotional sensations of being outdoors.

I can speak similarly of the portraits and the nudes. They extract the inner being of a person and paint it on his or her surface. Some create caricatures of the human form, as in Mikhail Larionov’s “Self-Portrait” (1911-1912). The eyebrows have been painted at an extreme diagonal, and the teeth shaved into a frightening grimace. The eyelids have been dragged down in the corners, leaving the impression of dropping eyes. The resulting image looks less like a direct representation of the artist, and more of a depiction of how he views himself, both physically and mentally. Other portraits utilized cubist brushwork or minimalist coloring to keep the figure on the line between representation and not. What this modernist, stripped down technique does is isolate key characteristics of the human form and psyche and bring them to the surface of the canvas. Soulful eyes can be seen peaking out from a face colored in flat strokes; hard, black outlines of a figure’s face emphasize his jaw and serious demeanor.

Lastly, the exhibit showcases a small room of abstract works. After seeing Kandinsky’s colorful, ethereal portraits and landscapes, I had a new perspective on his less representational works. “Black Form” (1923) evokes just as strong an emotional response in the viewer, despite its use of squiggles and circles rather than houses and faces. Kandinsky’s lines dance and vibrate, drawing the viewer’s eye all around the canvas. Patches of color overlap harmoniously. There is a surprise around every corner. Despite the use of geometric shapes, there is nothing geometric about the composition as a whole. The element of surprise and spirited use of line and color make me feel bright and joyous subconsciously. It is difficult to put into words what exactly speaks to me about his abstract works, and the abstract works of the Russian and German modernists as a whole.

I cam away from this exhibit feeling like I had learned something specific and contained. That’s the lovely thing about the Neue Galerie! It is small enough to see in one museum outing, and the story you come away with is succinct and special. I have a new appreciation for German and Russian modernists, and their emotionally riveting paintings. Come to the Neue before August 31st to see this wonderful show… I promise you’ll feel rejuvenated and inspired.

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

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Marbleized Clay Dish DIY

The other day I was feeling super adventurous and decided to try a medium that’s new for me- clay. What resulted was: one ruined manicure, two stabbed fingers and three beautiful clay dishes. The good news is, now I know what works and doesn’t work so you can save yourself a few bandaids. Here ya go! A Marbleized Clay Dish DIY!!

MATERIALS

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-Three oven-safe bowls. Their base should be the size you want your dishes to be. These are your molds.

-Oven-bake clay. I bought a jumbo size of white, and several accent colors.

A clay knife An exacto knife. As I will explain later, clay knives are terrible.

-A rolling pin/water bottle

MATERIALS NOT PICTURED BECAUSE I REALIZED I NEEDED THEM LATER

-A container with a circumference wider than the base of the three glass bowls (I only used it for two of the three dishes).

-Gold acrylic paint

-A thin brush

-Wax paper

STEP 1: Lay wax paper onto your workspace and tape down the sides so it can’t slide around. Then, break off a chunk of white clay and roll it into a snake that is roughly five inches long, and a couple centimeters wide.

STEP 2: Break off slightly smaller sections of the other colors and roll them into snakes. These can vary in length and width. As you make more of these dishes, you will learn what ratios of clay work best and look best. Also, you can always add more clay later.

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STEP 3: Twist the snakes of clay together, wrapping them around each other more and more tightly until they appear completely interwoven.

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STEP 4: Smush the jumbo snake together and roll it into a ball. If only a couple of the colors are visible on the surface, stretch it back out and roll it into a ball again.

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STEP 5: Use a rolling pin/water bottle to flatten the ball. Keep rolling until the circumference of the clay is wider than the circumference of your round container.

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Here is where you have several options!! Here is the way to do it that most people recommend, but I found kind of difficult:

STEP 6: Place the round container on top of the flattened clay, and trace around it with your clay knife, to cut off the excess clay. You should be left with a perfect circle of marbleized clay. However, my clay knife was a horizontal blade, and did not cut very well around a circle. Instead, it cut my fingers and created a very jagged edges on the circumference of the clay. If you have an exacto knife, this method will probably work a lot better.

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STEP 7: Finagle your circle of clay into one of the smaller bowls. It will be a little difficult, because it will be wider. You may have to use your knuckles to press the clay into the sides of the bowl and get rid of air bubbles. Allow the clay to fold up on the sides of the dish, creating a dish shape in the clay.

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If you’re feeling super inventive, or have a really bad knife like I did, you could also forgo tracing around the round container entirely. What I did for one of my dishes was 5)Roll the ball of clay into a patty using the water bottle 6)Press the misshapen patty into one of the glass bowls to create a dish shape 7)Cut down excess clay using the clay knife once the clay was inside the dish, checking to make sure it was level by holding it in front of me and rotating it.

STEP 7: Once you have made several bowls, with either method, pre-heat the oven to whatever temperature your clay indicates. Mine was 15 minutes at 275 degrees. Once the oven reaches that temperature, place your dishes inside and let them bake.

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STEP 8: Let them cool! I waited around 15 minutes for this. Then, turn them upside-down and lightly tap until the dishes fall out of the glass bowls. This could take a while. I let one of mine sit upside for an hour before it dropped on its own.

STEP 9: Use a thin paintbrush and gold acrylic paint to paint the rims of the bowls.

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STEP 10: Let dry! You can coat the final dishes with a glaze if you like.

STEP 11: Put all your rings and pretty things in your dishes, or let your friends wonder over your lovely marbleized clay artwork  🙂

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Hope you enjoy this lovely craft! I also hope you have an exacto knife! Until next time…

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Lisa Yuskavage (David Zwirner Gallery- NYC)

When I was little I was obsessed with fantasy. I even had an encyclopedia for everything fantasy related. On the busy crosstown bus I would explain to my mother the difference between a dryad (tree nymph) and a hamadryad (nymph of an individual tree), as well as what characterized a nereid (a sea nymph) and a naiad (a river nymph). When I was eight I started crying when I found out fairies weren’t real.

So it’s no surprise that I absolutely fell in love with Lisa Yuskavage’s ethereal, otherworldly paintings at David Zwirner. While her figures do not fall specifically into the categories my encyclopedia outlined, they are reminiscent of nature spirits. One can see the resemblance in their upturned noses, windswept hair, and at times, otherworldly skin coloring. Their nudity is a part of their existence as well, rather than a reflection of a moment during which they are unclothed. What makes these images most fascinating to me, however, is the moments of reality woven into the ethereal. A scarf, a rain boot, or even evidence of conflict ground these fantastical paintings in the contemporary.

Here is a striking painting entitled “Bonfire” (2013-2015).

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The painting has been completed on two separate canvases hung next to each other. The same, or a similar-looking, sprite is pictured on each canvas, facing opposite directions. Her upturned nose, perky breasts, and rounded belly emphasize fertility and give her an earthy, fairy-like quality. Her skin is tinted green like the trees, grass, and sky. On the first canvas on the viewer’s left, buxom creatures behind her celebrate together. Some grasp hands and dance, while other’s embrace. A thin yellow light peeks through a thick green cloud. It looks like some kind of pagan ritual. On the other canvas, the image of the sprite is merely flipped over, but behind her, the voluptuous creatures yield swords and axes. An orange flame leaps out from a pile of sticks. It is not entirely clear what these creatures are doing, but the representation of fire and weapons creates a fearsome mood quite opposite the celebratory one in the first panel. A moon hides behind the tree, emphasizing the contrasting nature of the two scenes. The title of the entire painting is “Bonfire,” which makes me wonder if, perhaps, it is a person who will be going into the bonfire. The crude, fantastic, perhaps pagan, nature of this world do not rule out this possibility. The result is an ominous painting that presents a different world that plays by a different set of rules. It is both tantalizing- the naked, fertile sprite draws the eye all over her body- and scary. Yet even this fear is thrilling. It is as if we are watching a fantasy film play out with oil paint.

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This is “My Rainbow Scarf” (2013), another stunning painting from the exhibit.

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This figure also appears other-worldly because her silver-beige skin matches the coloring of her surroundings, a quality of camouflaging nature spirits. Her hair is a mess of grey curls, dotted with flowers. Her pubic hair is thick, emphasizing her wildness and also her sexuality, both also characteristics of fantasy elves. She cradles a piece of grass between her fingers in a teasing motion, echoed by the look she gives the viewer. Her eyes are half-hidden behind masses of curls, but she still gives us a sideways smirk with an upturned lip.

Behind her, white-clad people work the land. They similarly blend into the background. Is this a commune? A cult? A fairy circle? One’s imagination can swirl like the bits of brown and grey smoke lifting this painting up, and yet something brings us back to the present: this figure’s colorful scarf. It is yellow and flecked with green, red, blue and orange, draped stylishly around her neck and sashaying out of the corner of the painting. The scarf looks contemporary and out of place with the rest of  “My Rainbow Scarf.” In a very fantastical interpretation, this nymph has found the scarf dropped by a human and decided to wear it, and is giving the viewer and impish smile that says “I stole this from you.” But there is also a possibility that Yuskavage meant something deeper when she placed this scarf on her protagonist. Perhaps it is meant to lend humanity to the figures, and suggest something else about people in general: We are all part of the earth, no matter how much we try to separate ourselves from it.

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“In the Park” (2014) provides a similar idea.

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This girl bears features from this world and another. Her bikini tan line is a product of contemporary social norms- a fairy would not be wearing a bikini. Her green rain boots are also manmade products. Her stance, a little pigeon toed- is impish and young, in a way that doesn’t match her developed body. But it gives her an otherworldly air in that it makes her seem like she is trying to inhabit things that don’t belong to her. She is not a child trying on her mother’s shoes. She seems like a creature, a pubescent one at that, who is playing pretend with human garments and norms.

Her wispy blonde hair and red puffy cheeks also create a youthfulness that is uncomfortable given her physical development. It is uncomfortable to see someone who looks so young seem so fetishized- perhaps that is why I am choosing the interpretation that she is merely a nymph, a creature who always looks childlike. Yuskavage’s choice to keep this figure’s representation on the line between child and creature creates discomfort that is very likely intentional. It makes one think about the sexualization of young girls and how the media- even fantasy genres- reinforce this phenomenon.

***

“Dude of Sorrows” (2015) is a little different from the other paintings.

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For one thing, it features a man, not a woman. Other paintings in the exhibit featured naked men in a way that sexualizes them just as much as women are in the previous paintings. But I want to focus on this one because it really drew me in. I was struck by the contrast between his charcoal skin and his rainbow beard. The necklace around his neck looks like a string of dog tags to me, which could loosely identify this man as a soldier or veteran (feel free to argue with me on that one). His right eye is extremely swollen. He could have been injured in a fight or battle. The naked and sexualized quality of these figures could also mean that syphilis has affected his eye. Regardless of the reason for his discomfort, it is clear that this “Dude of Sorrows” is indeed very sorrowful. The grayness of the canvas emphasizes this. And yet, his bears and tufts of his hair are incredibly colorful. Is this the manifestation of hope? Is the painting in transition from gray to rainbow? Or is the transition going in reverse. Will all of his hair slowly turn gray as well to match the rest of the canvas? We are meant to wonder. I am left thinking about his future, and whether the joyous pink near his cheek will be enough to help him pull through. Yuskavage uses color to emotionally connect with her audience. Without the color gradient, this would just be another painting of a sad man.

***

This exhibit closes June 13th. I highly recommend it. Yuskavage appeals to the child and the adult in all of us… keep an eye out for Hippies (2013) which inspired the whole exhibit. Does that make you curious? Head down to David Zwirner to see for yourself!!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

Galaxy Jar DIY

Feeling ~trippy~ ? Make a galaxy jar out of simple household items! Well, if fabric dye is not typically in YOUR household, then a trip to the craft store might be necessary. In my house we have 100+ jars of acrylic paint but no milk or detergent, so there’s that.

Anyway

Follow these simple steps to add some trippy, out-of-this-world vibes to your home.

MATERIALS

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-Cotton Balls

-Fabric Dye (I used some from an old tie-dye kit. Food coloring also works, if you can find pink, purple, and blue food coloring.)

-2 Glass jars

-Glitter

-A long stick (Mine’s a shish kebob stick)

-Water

STEP 1: Fill up one glass jar a little less than halfway.

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STEP 2: Pour in a few drops of fabric dye, and mix thoroughly with a stick. Just use one color.

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STEP 3: Put a bunch of cotton balls in the mixture. I used around 10 because they are very absorbent. Push them down with the stick so that they are completely submerged, and there is only a thin layer of mixture on top.

STEP 4: Sprinkle glitter on top and mix with the stick.

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STEP 5: Place another bunch of cotton balls on top of this mixture. Meanwhile, pour water into the other jar until it is 1/4 filled. Then use a different color of dye to dye this mixture.

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STEP 6: Pour the new mixture into the original jar. Put more glitter on top of this and mix with the stick.

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STEP 7: Repeat steps 5 and 6 with yet another color of dye, or just alternate between the two colors. Do so until the jar is mostly filled.

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STEP 8: Screw on the lid and find a good spot to house your new galaxy jar 🙂

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P.S. If you like the look of the coaster my galaxy jar is resting on, check out the Alcohol Ink Coaster DIY here: https://canvasandcrumpets.com/2015/01/02/alcohol-ink-coasters-diy/

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Laurie Simmons: How We See (The Jewish Museum- NYC)

The Jewish Museum has always interested me because of the way it interprets art as belonging to its central theme. Sometimes this means Jewish artists, and other times it refers to the art itself. The permanent collection offers a view of Jewish history and the objects that reflect it, while the contemporary wings present a variety of artwork. A few days ago I went in and saw not one, not two, but three incredible exhibits. Today I want to highlight Laurie Simmons’ exhibit, How We See.

Here are several of the works from this show:

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Does something seem a little off? That’s because their eyes are all closed. The eyes we see have been painted on top of their eyelids. Simmons is referencing the “Doll Girls” subculture, which revolves around the use of makeup, costume, and surgery to create a doll-like appearance. Here, Simmons has created her own Doll Girls by enhancing the look of these models’ eyes with false eyes painted on their lids. What does this say about her perspective towards this unique subculture? By taking away her models’ vision, they are incapable of actually seeing. What they project outward is the appearance of seeing, but it is not real. Simmons is making a commentary on the actual Doll Girls, and society’s obsession with cosmetics in general. The application of false eyes (or eyeliner, or a nose job, etc) creates a startlingly real-seeming image that takes something away from the wearer. She is stripped of sight, or perhaps individuality, or even happiness in her own skin. This is the effect of cosmetics; they create a version of reality that exists for public image, and closes the wearer off from seeing how beautiful she (or he) actually is.

Simmons poses her models in front of colorful screens, and crops them at the chest. This is reminiscent of a pose for a school picture, and raises questions about how young girls are influenced by the cosmetic industry beyond the “Doll Girls” subculture. Girls are, quite literally, being blinded by the over-sexualized and over-feminized images of women in media.

Here’s a third portrait and a  close-up of the eyelid effect:

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One leaves this exhibit feeling a little creeped out. I personally wanted to burn every fashion magazine I own. It is a wonderful example of aesthetically beautiful and interesting artwork that addresses social issues. I thought it was especially good that Simmons included models of different ethnicities, in order to show that all women are affected by the cosmetic craze and the allure of appearing a certain way online. It affects me too. The amount of time I have spent analyzing Instagram filters is pretty disgusting, and yet I’ll probably do it again tomorrow.

Come see this eye-opening, pun completely intended, exhibit before it closes August 16th. And while you’re there, check out “Repetition and Difference” and “Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television.”

In the meantime, I’m on my way to Michaels in a bit. Feelin a lil crafty hehe

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Visions of China (The Metropolitan Museum of Art- NYC): Special Event

On Monday night, the Met opened from 8-10 pm for college students to enjoy the new “Visions of China” exhibit, as well as food, drinks, and music. I think everyone between the ages of 18 and 22 in NYC was at the Met on Monday night- THAT’S how packed it was. But it was beautiful to see the Met all lit up in pink and purple. It was also fun to have an excuse to get all dressed up with friends and take pics! My girlfriends and I showed up in all black (whoever said orange/beige/slate/maroon is the new black is clearly deluded).

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All around the lobby, servers handed out steamed pork buns. Probably a highlight of the evening. We made our way past the DJ booth and into the incredible new Visions of China exhibit.

Visions of China explores Orientalism as a positive cultural response to the West’s interactions with the East. It attempts to diminish the binaries that have defined the western-eastern relationship (The west being appropriative and superior, the east being authentic and fetishizied). Visions of China does not try to erase the detrimental effects of Orientalism and the racist “otherness” that it created. It examines the relationship from a more objective perspective in order to see that aspect as only a part of a larger process through which there were positive creative results. What is left after these binaries are scraped down is a two-way conversation between two parts of the world, and the creative dialogue that ensues.

In all of these rooms, ancient Chinese statues and tools are placed next to clothing that has been, in some way, inspired by Chinese culture. Some are high-end designer pieces, and others are dresses from movie sets. Some were designed by Chinese designers, and others are not. The juxtaposition of old and new is at times very beautiful, when the source of a design is very clear. At other times it seems like an anachronism of time and space, especially when hoards of girls in heels pose in front of Chanel gowns, but not ancient Bodhisattvas. At times like these, the sources seem to fade into the background. I would like to come back on another day when the crowds are smaller to take some time and really look at the ancient works, picking apart the details that have been woven into silk dresses.

Here are some highlights from the exhibit:

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A british designer, Craig Green, put together this look that is displayed between glass impressions of bamboo. Lit from within, the glass shines brightly white, contrasting strongly with this dark ensemble. The white bamboo forest take over much of the first room.

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Behind the bamboo forest stands this Bodhisattva from the Shanxi Province. It was created between the years 550 and 600. The jewels cascading from the Bodhisattva’s neck foreshadow the incredible jewelry in the rest of the exhibition, and demonstrate a source for its inspiration. It’s  massive size serves as a foil for the technologically impressive bamboo forest several feet away. It is impossible not to look back and forth between the two, mentally searching for a connection.

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A gown by Guo Pei, a Chinese designer.

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The petals on this dress echo the sweeping curves of the fabric adorning the surrounding statues. The rich color and ornate pattern of the fabric echo the surface of these statues as well. Even the pedestal of this particular statue bears the circular motif woven into the surface of Pei’s gown. Both the gown and the statue exhibit a tight bodice in addition to the flowing fabric that covers the rest of the body.

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Here is a headpiece designed by Alexander McQueen. It is inspired by a Chinese garden. It does not even seem as much an inspiration as a direct translation of a scene that McQueen saw in person or in a book, and carefully reproduced. The fancifulness of the scene is at home as a whimsical headpiece, physically encircling the realm of the imagination.

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There is an entire room dedicated to the Chinese actress Anna May Wong, whose career bounced between playing the Lotus character and the Dragon Lady. Such limited roles did not diminish her star power. She went back to Europe after exhausting Hollywood and became a muse for more avant grade artists. Some of her gowns are shown, though they were very difficult to photograph (all the more reason for you to go!). Here is a terrible picture of a gorgeous costume:

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The exhibit places a photograph of Anna wearing this exact dress right above it, as if she is looking down on her legacy from up above. Photographs near the ceiling also create another dimension in this exhibit, emphasizing the circular nature of the western-eastern relationship.

***

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This is my FAVORITE dress in the entire exhibit. It is Chanel, which makes sense when you see the classic lines, tiny pleating, and (obviously) the use of black and white. The surrounding walls are lined with ancient Chinese writing. The dress mimics these scrolls and panels with inky black characters screen-printed onto silk fabric. Of all the non-Chinese designers, I thought that Chanel paid the best homage to the source. The small pleats echo the lines of Chinese dresses (we are shown these through videos playing throughout the exhibit). The characters are not arranged in lines, but the structure of the dress recalls the linearity of the source material. Aside from all that, it is a beautiful dress, and I want it.

***

This is only a small preview of a MASSIVE exhibit. I couldn’t photograph everything, partially because I was really enjoying seeing everything and kept forgetting to take pictures, and also because we were packed in there like sardines. In fact, five minutes before closing, I was buying a postcard when the cashier asked me how I liked the Anna Wintour section of the exhibit. I had no idea what she was talking about. Apparently, the show isn’t JUST on the second floor. There’s a whole other part in the Anna Wintour Costume wing downstairs. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to go back! And hopefully on a Wednesday at 10 AM this time… I like being alone when I look at art!

Just a leetle claustrophobic,

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

The Pre-Raphaelite Paintings (The Tate- London)

Over spring break I spent a glorious four days in London visiting family, but I was able to pop to several museums all the same. I decided it was about time I finally see the Tate. One of the things the Tate is most famous for is its expansive collection of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I am hoping to write my senior thesis on this group of artists, so it was fun to get a little forecast of the next year and a half of my life(!).

Quick history lesson: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, or PRB, was a group of English painters who opposed academic painting. The founders, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt, sought to portray a moral seriousness in their work that recalled the style of painting before the High Renaissance, and specifically, Raphael. Many of their subjects were religious, because religion was thought to be more direct and to evoke deep spiritual feeling. Their subjects frequently display hyper-detailed, almost claustrophobic portrayals of women. The PRB felt that sharp and photographic attention to detail, for example, painting every scrap on the floor, created more realistic and moral works of art than the art featured in the Royal Academy.

ANYWAY, on to the art! All of the PRB paintings are held in one, giant, tear-inducing room. (I literally started crying when I saw “The Lady of Shalott.” I cried so hard I decided that painting needs its own post, coming soon). I also recognized a bunch of the paintings from art history courses at Tufts. It was marvelous to see these paintings in person!

Here’s “The Beloved (The Bride),” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1865-1866). It was very difficult to photograph, so look it up online for a sharper image. “The Beloved” features one central female, encircled on all sides by several other females. Engraved on the frame below is a phrase from The Song of Solomon. It reads. “My beloved is mine and I am his. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.” The central female appears to be a bride who has just pushed back her veil to reveal her face. Four bridesmaids and a page surround her. What I first noticed about this painting was the untraditional outfit of the bride. And when I say untraditional, I mean untraditionally western, because her physicality is pointedly very western. Her pale skin, light eyes, and soft red lips all fulfill western standards of beauty, and yet she wears a Peruvian veil and a dress sewn from Japanese fabric. The integration of these nonwestern cultures to a wedding scene signals exotic references that are hyper-sexualized from the western perspective. While she conforms to western standards of beauty, the bride is exorcized and eroticized by her garments. The inclusion of the African page enforces the ties with the Oriental. However, the components of this painting do not entirely line up. It is awkward and stuffy due to the overcrowding of figures within a small frame and the bizarre placement of the page below the bride. If the Bride has just lifted her veil, are WE, the viewers, the groom? And if so, why does it feel like we are not only fetishizing our bride-to-be, but the page and the bridesmaids as well? Femininity is on display here, but it is not given space to thrive and flourish. Rather, it is crammed into a frame that bursts with sexuality. The Bride’s face is blank- she has given herself up for her groom. Since we are in the footspace of the groom, then she is giving herself up to us, and we are put in the uncomfortable position of voyeur.

However, this does feel like a very modern interpretation. A viewer in the 19th century may have marveled at this painting for its “trendy” oriental elements. Furthermore, he may have enjoyed the voyeuristic position the painting put him in. After all, this discomfort felt by the viewer is a product of the feminism that allows us to see how objectifying this image is.

After ranting talking about how overly sexualized Rossetti portrayed the women in this picture, it may seem kinda confusing why I love Pre-Raphaelite paintings so much. The truth is, I find the seemingly dated perspective towards women in these works very relevant today. “My Beloved” paints a story of gender roles and issues that is just as prevalent today as it was in 1865. I also find the paintings aesthetically beautiful to look at- which seems to contradict my feminist standpoint here, but really supports it. People know that the media feeds us idealized images of female beauty, through photoshop in 2015 and through oil paint in 1865, and yet we as a society still idolize these images.

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Edward Burne Jones was a later member of the PRB. He painted “The Golden Stairs” in 1880. Again, terrible picture. I swear it’s heavenly in person. There is no backstory here. Jones left the identities of the eighteen women up to interpretation. They seem to me to be angelic; the staircase is the staircase of heaven. Several are playing instruments. The fluidness with which the women walk and the drapery of their dresses evoke musicality as well. The entire scene seems to have been lifted from a dream. It is undoubtedly a male’s dream. While the women are not obviously sexualized with low-cut garments and puffy red lips, the mass of women still has a tantalizing effect. I have to wonder how this painting reflects the morality that the PRB sought to attain through painting. “My Beloved” upholds the sacredness of the marital bond, despite the sexualized bride. There does not seem to be much here to uphold; we do not even know who these women are. It is easier that way. One does not think too hard while looking at this painting, but relaxes in its elegant pleasures.

Side note: What is the statue in front of “The Golden Stairs” doing? Stretching? Posing? Whining? Having a temper tantrum? I’m conflicted.

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“The Awakening Conscience,” by William Holman Hunt (1853) is an extraordinarily interesting painting. The woman’s face was actually painted over after the painting was initially displayed. Infrared technology has shown that her expression used to be one of horror. That might make more sense once I talk a bit more about “The Awakening Conscience.”

The female protagonist’s ringless fingers suggest that she is this man’s mistress. She is in the midst of jumping off her lover’s lap due to a moment of revelation; her awakening conscience, so to speak. Lots of symbols point to this interpretation. The cat is a symbol of sexuality, the yarn represented a tangled mess, the dropped glove suggests impropriety.

The technical details of the painting create a claustrophobic mood. What seems to be a window is revealed to be a mirror when we notice the woman’s reflection in the corner of it. Without access to the outside world, the world of this one music room suddenly shrinks. There is no space to move about; every surface is covered with a detail that brings us back to this couple’s indiscretions. Every surface is heavily detailed in the Pre-Raphaelite style, from the patterned wall to the strands of her hair to the threads of the rug. The overwhelming specificity of the room is agonizing, which would match much better with the agonized facial expression this woman used to bear. Her moment of awakening conscience is the moment she has a realization of her wrongdoings. This facial expression is too calm, too dull, to portray such an epiphany. It is more beautiful, which was likely Hunt’s motivation for the change, but it does not have the same intensity of feeling as it would have if she looked aghast.

Regardless, “The Awakening Conscience” is a typical PRB painting in that it upholds the virtue of a moral life. The female is offered redemption for realizing the error of her adulterous ways.

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You may recognize “Ophelia” by John Everett Milais (1851-1852). She is the same Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who drowns after a branch breaks on a willow tree she is climbing.

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“Ophelia” weaves together themes of life and death. Ophelia’s floating body seems to have experienced accelerated decay. Her legs have lost all substance. Below her waist, there is a swatch of grey paint meant to indicate her dress, but it has no sense of weight, no three-dimensionality. It is as if, in her death, Ophelia is receding from existence. And yet, her eyes are slightly open and her mouth parted. It looks as if he could be awake. We have to wonder, is she asleep? Or is the taking her last breath before dying? Or is she truly dead, despite her open gaze? Her hands are prettily perched, palms up. They float limply in the water but maintain a liveliness- if the painting were turned sideways, she could be standing upright, reaching out to hug someone. The contradiction between Ophelia’s upper and lower body point to a questioning attitude towards death. Millais seems to be exploring death and its effects on the human form. He also paints Ophelia beautifully, leaving her lips rosy red, and hinting at her lush red hair. He even surrounds her with flowers. If she were not portrayed as dead (or close to dead), then these choices would sexualize Ophelia. But since she is dead, it makes the viewer uncomfortable to know that he finds a dead woman even remotely appealing. I doubt this was done on purpose- necrophilia would hardly be considered “moral” by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood- but it points to the male-dominant gaze that prevailed in the 19th century. Even in death, women are meant to be lovely.

I also have to stress how insanely DETAILED this painting is in person. I tried to take close-up photographs, but they don’t fully do the painting justice. Every individual blade of grass is highlighted, every flicker of light on the water defined to the atomic level. It has a photographic effect, and also serves to create the claustrophobic mood I mentioned before. One starts to feel death creeping up on them, despite the fact that life flourishes all around.

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I would have written about every single painting in this room if I had time/thought a reader could stomach it. As it is, I’ve given you the best of the best. Just know there’s tons more if ya want it! Check out the Tate website for some more… “Christ in the House of His Parents” is really interesting and worth a look.

I feel super accomplished for finally writing about the Tate! More current exhibits to come, as well as some more flashbacks. Until then…

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤