Leo Gestel, (Stedelijk Museum- Amsterdam)

Hi everyone!

As you may know, I usually write exhibition reviews on temporary exhibitions. When I was abroad in Amsterdam last spring, I wrote an average of one post per week, usually on an exhibit that would close within a few months. I always perused the permanent collection of whatever space I was in, but it never occurred to me to devote a post to any assortment of permanently-owned works.

My thesis research brought me to Amsterdam again this past January. I was on the hunt for works by the Dutch Cobra artists (you can read about my trip here). 1/3 of my trip entailed viewing works by these artists in the modern art wing of the Stedelijk Museum. As I walked through the chronological galleries, I was fascinated by the way Dutch painters encapsulated the progression of European modern art. And so, today I am going to take a closer look at one of these painters in particular: Leo Gestel.

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Leo Gestel was one of the leaders of the Dutch modernist movement. His painting style ranged over the years, though he was especially influenced by cubism and post-impressionism. Take a look at the following painting entitled Reclining Nude (1910).

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This painting was made in 1910. Some of the most famous post-impressionists- Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and Paul Cézanne- died in 1890, 1891, and 1906, respectively. Yet their influence is unmistakable. Note the geometric treatment of each brushstroke:

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One of the defining characteristics of post-impressionism was the mathematical attention paid to the brushstroke. Seurat was famous for ordering his brushstrokes so that certain patterns of closely painted colors would trick the eye into mixing the colors together, and perceiving a different shade entirely. Such was the magnificence of a work like A Sunday on la Grande Jatte (1984). Note how different the colors of the figure’s hair look in the zoomed-in image vs. the whole painting. Up close we can see blue, green, orange, yellow and red bits of color sitting next to each other within the confines of her hair. From far away, the eye doesn’t completely blend the colors as it does with a Seurat, but there is a fair degree of optical mixing. I feel a sense of blue, green, and brown when I look at the figure’s hair from far away, which supports the notion that Gestel was interested in scientific, painterly tricks.

But if he was interested in optics, why not devote his attention entirely to this process, as Seurat had, and Gestel’s contemporary- Paul Signac- was doing? Perhaps there was something to accomplish in failing slightly. In other words, there can be great significance in the act of failure to represent, or to fall short of representation. Paul Cézanne’s landscapes often oscillate between two and three dimensionality. His Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Bibemus Quarry (1897) illustrates this phenomenon. Notice the flattening effect of the rectangular brushstrokes. Try to make sense of the orange space in the middle ground; are these cliffs dividing a lower and a higher plane? They seem to be collapsing in space, allowing these two planes to fold in on each other.

I believe that the partial optical mixing that Gestel employs was inspired by a Cézanne-esque failure to fully represent a scene. The genius of Cézanne (and Gestel, in my humble opinion), is the ambiguity of space that this failure creates. Both artists’ paintings leave questions for the viewer about the significance of this ambiguity.

In Reclining Nude, Gestel places colors tightly together, but fails to mix them completely. The background is a vibrant splash of pink, green, and blue. The bedding is composed of rich gold and yellow with bits of pink and green. These colors hint at sumptuous fabrics and gaudy wallpaper. Are we supposed to infer that she is a courtesan, because she exists within a sumptuous and gaudy world? Or do these ambiguous spaces reflect her beauty? Are we meant to envision this woman as existing within an Eden of lovely colors and patterns that reflect the color of her spirit? These are the questions that ambiguity leave behind.

Also note how Gestel uses color to draw attention to her gender:

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Like the hair on her head, the hair on this figure’s body is painted with ‘unnaturalistic’ colors- purple, yellow, and green. It is already marvelous that a work in 1910 featured a woman with pubic hair. Doing so contradicted the Hellenistic ideals of beauty that characterized female nudes for thousands of years. On this figure, her gender and its natural accouterments are viewed as vibrant and colorful- just like the rest of her body.

Now, it is impossible to ignore the positioning of the figure. She lays on the bed, naked, with her entire body visible for the viewer to consume. And yet, she hides her face in her arm. And so, she remains anonymous to us. What is the purpose of this positioning? First, it is important to look back on all of the early modern nudes that Gestel would have been well aware of. Perhaps the most famous, Manet’s Olympia (1865), challenged the traditional depictions of the courtesan as a Venus figure, averting eye contact with the viewer and allowing him to take in her idealized body. Olympia was extremely controversial at the time, as her piercing gaze confronted the viewer for his voyeurism. Her unidealized form blatantly revealed her occupation as a courtesan without shielding her behind the moral legitimacy of Greek myth. She appeared as an actual prostitute in 1865 would, and she did not pretend to enjoy the encounter.

Olympia paved the way for more honest depictions of prostitution and less idealized images of the female form. So where does Leo Gestel fit into this, and how can we understand the Netherlands within this narrative?

The Netherlands, though famous for legal prostitution today, was extremely conservative in 1910. Society was divided into distinct pillars- the Liberals, Catholics, Protestants, and Social Democrats- and people kept within their pillar. Paris was the land of courtesans, Moulin Rouge, and debauchery, not Amsterdam. Keep that in mind as we analyze the significance of this figure’s nudity.

There is celebration in the colors utilized here, and in the pleasure Gestel takes in filling in the contours of the figure’s body with paint. And yet, her hidden face is anything but celebratory. She is either extremely distressed or fast asleep.The alertness in her leg tendons suggest to me that she is awake and in a state of distress. Were she asleep, her legs would relax, and her muscles would not appear so engaged. Pre-Manet nudes depicted hollow-eyed Venuses who graciously accepted voyeurism. Manet and his contemporaries put forth confrontational nudes, in charge of their own sexuality.

It is here that I am faced with a dilemma. It seems  unlikely that Gestel, especially given his interest in post-impressionism, would turn back the clock 100 years and paint an idealized, nude, Venus. And yet, the way he blatantly positions her gender forward while hiding her face seems strikingly old-fashioned.

And yet, there is no power or confrontation in this figure’s body language to suggest her agency. She hides her breasts and burrows her head in the pillow. This is clearly not a work after Manet.

So what, then, are the implications of Reclining Nude? Is she a Venus or an Olympia? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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I hope you enjoyed this sampling of Dutch modern art. The Netherlands is a truly fascinating place, and its journey from Rembrandt to van Gogh to Gestel is absolutely fascinating. I can’t wait to share more.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

Hindeloopen Painting (Hindeloopen- Friesland)

Greetingz

I hope all is well! My Monday is going wonderfully, considering the fact that it’s a Monday in the third week of April, and it’s a rainy 48 degrees outside. I’m so happy because tomorrow is King’s Night, and Wednesday is King’s Day! During those 24 hours I will be celebrating the King’s birthday, and the entire country is invited. That means 24 hours of people dressed in Orange- the color of the House of Orange-Nassau- partying and reveling in the streets.

What better way to celebrate the King’s birthday than by writing about one of the most special places in the Netherlands?! Today I’m going to tell you about Hindeloopen, a tiny town of less than 900 inhabitants in the north of the Netherlands. The town is one of eleven towns in the province of Friesland, and is famous for its unique style of painting. A few weeks ago I visited Hindeloopen and stayed in a charming bed-and-breakfast. During the day, my friend and I surveyed all the cheese we could stomach, explored the harbor, and popped into the only two museums in the entire town. One was a fascinating museum about ice-skating in Friesland. The other? The Museum of Hindeloopen. I paid special attention to the exhibit on Hindeloopen painting. Take a look at the photos I took!

A beautiful painted plate:

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Tray decorated with an image of the Dutch navy:

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Another beautiful plate!

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I believe this is a fire screen:

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As you can see, this genre is highly stylized. Each work looks like it is part of a collection. The colors used on decorative objects are mostly red, green, and blue. This style was popularized several hundred years ago, when wealthy Dutch maritime traders decorated their homes with elaborately carved furniture decorated with this style of painting. An exhibition in Paris in the 19th century spread the painting of Hindeloopen to the center of the art world, where it became sought-after to a niche market. Today, tourists come from all across the world to purchase their own piece of Hindeloopen art. I bought my family some presents, and a lovely green box for my shelf.

The artwork of Hindeloopen might seem old-fashioned. After all, its history is documented in the town’s museum. But the style is still very much alive in the daily lives of Hindelooopen’s inhabitants.

Here’s a sign that hung outside one family home. Gerke, Penny, Elaine and Duncan have no idea just how famous they are:

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Here is an interior of a shop that sells hand-painted items in the traditional style. Note the variety of objects that are painted. In Hindeloopen, if it’s wooden and is more than a centimeter wide, it is probably painted. Consider that a rule of thumb:

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Hangers! Stools! Candelabras! Desks! Trays! Chairs! Plates! Frames! Wall-hangings with seemingly no function!

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Barrels! Cabinets! Bowls! Trunks! Boxes! Pots! Bells! Tiny shelving units! More oddly-shaped objects with seemingly no function!

And here I am, standing in a pair of clogs that are painted in Hindeloopen fashion. Please pardon my half-closed eyes. During my trip I managed to contract the Plague (really just a 101 degree fever) and was not particularly camera-ready.

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I hope you enjoyed this post! I found it nice to write about something different for a change. It’s a good reminder that art can be found in all different places- not just museums and galleries. It’s also a reminder that art is often functional. In fact, for most of history, art WAS functional. Religious art, pottery, and the art of Hindeloopen are some wonderful examples of art that is not meant to be hung on a wall. Keep your eyes out for art in functional places. You might be surprised how beautiful a cabinet can be…

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

Street Art 1 (Amsterdam)

Hi everyone!

I’m so happy to be writing again. I know it’s only been just over a week, but that feels like forever in abroad-time. I managed to semi-sprain my ankle ten days ago from dancing too much. I know, ridiculous. But after being miserable/icing my foot and not leaving my dorm for a few days, it got better! Now I can discover more beautiful things in this beautiful city 🙂

Here is my first installation of street art in Amsterdam. I love seeing such a variety of styles and subjects all over the city. Notice how the background material plays a role in the final image. In some, divisions in the wall/door and building texture are incorporated into the meaning of the work. In others, the building material is less important. Pay attention to how the works interact with one another. Often, street art is painted next to existing works. That means that there isn’t a clear boundary between the space of one work and the space of another. How do adjacent works impact each other visually? Do they enhance the viewer’s experience of a single work, or take away from it? What styles do you see employed? How would a frame change the way each work is perceived? How might weather impact the way a person consumes these works? Take all these questions into consideration when you view the following works. Enjoy!

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And here’s a photo of me in front of a really interesting door-framing work:

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Until next time,

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

The Awesome (The Public House of Art- Amsterdam)

After being here in Amsterdam for almost two weeks, I finally visited an art gallery (a whole bunch of art galleries, actually). I’ve spent two weeks getting fully oriented by not one, not two, but three orientation programs here in the Netherlands. I won’t bore you with the details, but the fact of the matter is I am DONE with scavenger hunts, DONE with awkward ice-breakers and DONE with hostel bathrooms. I am free to do what I will with my days.

Which means: I am about to be eating a lot more brunch and seeing a lot more art!

One of the galleries places I visited yesterday is called The Public House of Art. It is very adamant about its identity as NOT a gallery, but rather, a house in which affordable art is sold to everyone who is passionate about it. At the Public House of Art, there are four price brackets for buyers: 100 euro, 350 euro, 750 euro, and 1500 euro. I look forward to treating myself to a painting in the first price point by the end of my trip. Check out this video from the Public House of Art’s website, comedically explaining how they are different from typical art galleries.

The playful vibe of the House (I will be referring to it as a house from now on, so as to remind you all that it is not, not, not a gallery!) is emphasized by cheeky posters framed all over the space. Near the entrance is a sign that reads:

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I will be looking out for openings at the Public House of Art…

On the wall next to a row of photographs is a sign that looks like this:

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I enjoy these signs because they match the non-pretentious vibe of the House. They make the visitor- who might feel uncomfortable in a traditional gallery- feel welcomed.

This particular exhibit, “The Awesome,” is a collection of works by different artists reflecting on the phrase, “totally awesome.” In the catalogue book about the exhibit, the curators write, “the awesome became cheap, you can buy them online, subscribe to them, download them, refresh them.” They ask, “can an image still confound us, amaze us, leave us in awe?”

The answer, it seems, is yes. And the artists of the Public House of Art have responded to this question with images that reveal the awesome, despite their ability to be photographed, reproduced, and reloaded. There may be thirty limited edition copies produced of every work of art, but that does not make the content of these works any less awesome.

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Here is one of my favorite works in the House, entitled “Yuddith, 9:15 AM,” by Henri Senders.

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This print celebrates the female form and the female spirit. Yuddith’s skin glows in the ethereal light. Patches of sunlight highlight the curves of her hip and her breasts, as well as the tip of her nose and forehead. Her magenta hair brings out the pink undertones of her skin, and contrasts deeply with the barren gray wasteland behind her. Yuddith looks up and away from the viewer, allowing the viewer to consume her without feeling guilty or ashamed. Yuddith’s hands are positioned oddly in the air. There is too much tension in her fingers for her hands to be floating. Rather, they appear to be pressing against an invisible wall- perhaps a glass one. If so, she is trapped, naked in the wilderness. And yet she is remarkably calm. Her raised chin and closed eyes are the picture of sensual freedom. The image is a fantasy for the projected heterosexual male viewer. There is a beautiful, naked, otherworldly woman prancing about in the woods, unable to come any closer to the viewer due to some invisible barrier. Though the viewer desires her, she is untouchable. We look in awe upon her, and thus we carry out Henri Senders’ intention: that the female body and spirit be seen as awesome, despite the fact that images of the female nude are commonplace in society. “Yiddish, 9:15 AM” reveals more about a woman’s sensuality than a Playboy cut-out or a pornographic scene. It uses tiny details to form a string of associations in the mind of the viewer. Pink hair, pink skin, blurry exposure, an invisible glass wall- are all more titillating and awe-inspiring than any Victoria’s Secret advertisement.

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I am also quite fond of this work, a mixed-media piece by Lola Cervant called “Harlequin.”

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The name of this work, Harlequin, is a response to the way the girl’s hands create a mask on her face. A Harlequin is a character from an Italian theatre style called Commedia dell’Arte, in which characters wore masks to indicate which role they were playing. The audience could identify a character purely by the mask he wore. The matte, pastel pink hue of the girl’s finger-mask contrasts with the grey pencil shading in the contours of her face.  The effect is a kind of oscillation between front and back. It is difficult to focus on both her twisting pink fingers and her eyes all at once. Her wrists appear less solid than her carefully shaded lips. One struggles to find something to grab onto here; it is as if this girl lives in a plane where different dimensions can exist simultaneously.

As I stared at this work, I became less and less certain that the model was a young girl. Her slightly parted lips and intense gaze bear a maturity and sensuality not known by the prepubescent. Perhaps the mask of her hands helps to disguise her true age, and transitively, her true identity. It is ironic, then, that her name is Harlequin, because the Harlequin’s mask serves to identify him to the audience. This Harlequin mask hides her. Identity, then, is that awesome thing Cervant wants us to consider- a set of characteristics that we set aside to put into a category. If something is missing- a face, an age- can we still make sense of the whole?

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I have always been fond of psychedelic art, and was pleased to see it well represented at the Public House of Art. Here are two works that I found especially trippy and awesome:

Eugenia Loli’s “Moonstroke (Until the End of Time) and “Sunday” can be interpreted as depictions of an acid trip. While this is undoubtedly true, Loli takes the trope of the LSD moonscape and turns into something else, that reveals both the awesomeness of a hallucinogenic trip and the awesomeness of humanity.

In “Moonstroke,” a boy caresses a female whose face and arms have been replaced with a psychedelic blue fabric. All of the tiny details make for a trippy image- the pom poms on the girl’s dress, the rocky landscape, and the suburban boy are all tropes of psychedelic art or details meant to interest the wandering mind. And yet one still feels as if he or she walked in on a young couple enraptured by each other.

“Moon stroke” is actually a lesson in tenderness. Despite the fact that we know nothing about these unidentifiable strangers, we can sense the softness with which the boy cradles the girl’s back. While we cannot see the girl’s face, the boy looks right through her blue patterned skin, as if he can see something that we cannot. They are isolated in some rocky landscape, as people often feel when they are young and in love, together. It feels as if there is no one else on the planet. Perhaps what is so awesome about young love is the way it makes people see stars, and feel as if they are walking on the moon.

“Sunday,” has just as many trippy motifs. Half the picture is created from black-and-white images, while the other half is technicolor. The sun is rimmed with red, and the blue sky becomes less and less saturated as it approaches the horizon. Whimsical hot air balloons dot the landscape. Black-and-white images of little boys are perched in the sand like cardboard cut-outs.

Beyond the psychedelic fascination with earth vs. sky, there is also a hint of nostalgia in “Sunday.” The title alone evokes a carefree day of play and trips to the beach to watch the hot air balloons fly close to the sun. Old-fashioned images carry inherent nostalgia in them, their grainy exposure recalling simpler days when it was harder to preserve a moment on camera.

The two boys in “Sunday” look up at the sky in awe. How awesome is it, for a little boy or a grown one, to understand the humans can fly so seemingly close to the sun? That two-legged creatures can board a jet or a balloon and soar into the sky? When did we stop thinking about how totally AWESOME it is that HUMANS CAN FLY??!?!?!

“Sunday” is a simple reminder of the awesomeness of humankind, and the way that children are often the ones to remind us, in all their youthful wonder, how truly awesome the world is.

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Looking back, I wonder why I did not take more photographs in the Public House of Art. I suppose I was just enjoying looking at all the artwork so much that I simply forgot to take more pictures. But I do implore you to take a look on their website and take a look at these incredible works- so many I didn’t analyze here! Marvel at awesome photographs, sculptures, digital art, and paintings without becoming extremely depressed because you’re 20 and have a part time job at school but are currently abroad without a job and you just bought yourself a new coat because it’s cold in the Netherlands and tram tickets really add up and you can’t afford to buy the art you love.

If that described you half as well as it describes me, then you should really visit the Public House of Art.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤