Wall panels from Long Island Collects

 

Main panel: Long Island Collects
 
Inasmuch as the private collector is one of the museum's most important resources, it is fitting that this exhibition coincides with the 20th anniversary year of Nassau County Museum of Art. The whole first floor displays works that are borrowed from private Long Island collectors. The works are organized into in-depth groupings forming a sense of shows within a show.
 
The initial section entitled Poetic Journey, presents 19th-century American landscape painting, choice examples by Hudson River artists demonstrating a variety of individual stylistic approaches. This collection has never before been shown here as a unit.
 
In the adjacent galleries comprising the second section of the show, Impressionism and Modernism are represented followed by postwar American art. While these themes have been well represented in the museum's past exhibitions, nearly all the works on exhibition are being seen here for the first time.
 
The Europeans dominate the first of these rooms with previously unseen work by Turner and a Cezanne still life. Three oils by Renoir, a painting and a pastel by Pissarro, and two charcoals by Degas represent Impressionism. The moderns represented include Matisse, Vlaminck, Braque, Robert Delaunay, and a substantial body of work by Picasso, all but one never before hung in this museum. Also shown are a Chagall fantasy landscape, a vividly colored Léger, and several strong German Expressionist oils by Beckmann, Pechstein, and Münter.
 
The section on American postwar art begins with one of Hans Hofmann's classic abstract paintings, demonstrating his vibrant palette and formal concept of "push and pull" color relationship. The dynamics and scope of the Abstract Expressionist movement are further reflected in a charismatic work by Franz Kline, a small but distinctive Jackson Pollock, a drip and splatter painting by Sam Francis, and a serene color field painting by Helen Frankenthaler. Subsequent figuration includes work by Larry Rivers, David Hockney and Wayne Thiebaud. Large scale photo works by Cindy Sherman and Candida Hofer conclude this eclectic section of the exhibition. To complement the other elements of Long Island Collects, the museum has mounted a special Library Gallery showing of silkscreens by Andy Warhol.
 

Gallery III text
 
Wall #1
 
For more than 40 years, Hans Hoffmann performed the dual role of teacher and artist, inspiring generations of painters to become pioneers by taking their cues from the natural world while exploring and expounding their individual techniques. This large painting by Hoffman beautifully demonstrates his "push/ pull" theory in which colors, by their very nature, appear to either recede or project into space. Hoffman manifested this theory through vigorous brush strokes and an intuitive placement of pure pigment. The exuberant, color saturated result demonstrates why he played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionisms.
 
Sam Francis used a drip and splatter technique comparable to that originated by Jackson Pollock. In this work, brightly colored and thickly painted splotches fuse with an underlying design of more thinly applied paint. The continuous white background also sets off additional and purposeful drops of paint. The intimate Jackson Pollock, from his most mature period, reveals the artist's sustained interest in automatism. In this work, Pollock returned to the biomorphic imagery- suggestions of clouds, stones, or other topographic elements - which he had explored in his early experiments with Surrealism.
 
Wall #2
 
Abstract Expressionism was an exclusively American movement which took root in New York during the period after World War II. A decidedly romantic impulse, it bypassed rationality, order, and traditional techniques in favor of spontaneity, intuition, and free association. This was often achieved by employing novel techniques and materials. Jackson Pollock, who employed sticks, towels, knives and syringes to drip, fling and pour paint in a free-form but calculated method, inspired other artists to paint without a brush. This influence was felt most strongly by the color field painters of whom Helen Frankenthaler was the leading proponent. Her luminous large-scale composition was achieved through a soak-stain technique. With her canvas lying flat on the ground, Frankenthaler drenched it with vivid color that was literally poured on.
 
Hollow Men's Cave, by Robert Motherwell is a painting from his Hollow Men series, which is based on the poem by T.S. Elliot. This example includes ovoid forms which were central to Motherwell's long-running elegy series. The "cave" in the title refers to Plato's cave ­ a subject which occupied the artist's work. Like so many of his Abstract Expressionist colleagues, Motherwell also gravitated to Long Island's East End, which is the source of his collage bearing the title Montauk. The red circle suggests a sun while jagged shapes of cliffs frame the beach ­ though this interpretation hints at the surreal. The collage is built up of layered materials; one gets the sense that the accretions were a fusion of new with old, in an effort to achieve an unexpected result. The artist's mastery is evident in his skilled composition: he knew not only when to add but also when to stop.
 
Wall #3
 
Franz Kline's work is dominated by bold black lines that seem to thrust and hit as they make contact with one another. The result is a forceful network of black interacting with the white areas around them. Kline treated his paintings as if they were freely improvised calligraphy, and in the spirit of action painting, they create a sense of energetic and uninhibited movement.
 
Larry Rivers' Mary, exemplifies the infusion of Abstract Expressionism into sophisticated modes of representation in the 1950s. The evanescence of form, partially revealed and partially obscured, combines with an all-over composition consistent with the sensibilities of this powerful movement.
 
Wall #4
 
The wedding in Jim Dine's diptych may refer to that of the cartoon characters, Popeye and Olive Oil, who appear as chalky silhouetted heads superimposed over the commanding array of flowers. Sumptuous bouquets dominate the composition: over it are two hearts which are iconic symbols in Dine's art. The presence of a skull, an overturned glass, and an antique fragment all suggest a vanitas: a mode of painting from the baroque period that represented a meditation on the brevity of human life.
 
Larry Rivers' tribute to Matisse at once incorporates images of the French master's portrait along with one of his most famous paintings. A perfect example of appropriation, or art about art, it dates from Rivers' late phase when he constructed his work sculpturally by building up layers of foam core beneath the canvas in order to create three dimensions.
 
 
Wall #5
 
Roy Lichtenstein's Still-Life with Cherry Pie utilizes a palette of primary colors and underlying grid structure which is a distinctive interpretation of Mondrian's work. The pie is reduced to red circles and a yellow wedge; a slightly angle line bisects the composition and diagonal stripes appear as shading or zones of color. The totality is crisp, pure and impeccable in its rendering, and typical of Lichtenstein's strong graphic punch.
 
David Hockney portrays a vista across a sun-dappled deck in the San Fernando Valley. The artist's presence is suggested by the vantage point of the table, set for tea with a figure reading in the foreground. Hockney believes that Cubism was never carried far enough, and he has endeavored to sustain aspects of its twisting vantage points, roving perspective, and enfolding forms in his treatment of these contemporary surroundings. His heightened palette reflects the richly warm colors of the vegetation and the refulgent California light.
 
 
Didactics-
Cezanne-wall #1
 
A radical at heart, Paul Cezanne left his native Provence to study art in Paris. He did so with the disapproval of his banker father but with the encouragement of his friend, the writer Emile Zola. Initially, Cezanne aligned himself and exhibited with the Impressionists. Pissarro was his mentor; the two explored the Impressionist principles, capturing the fleeting nature of bright color and strong light through everyday subjects. As Cezanne matured, he moved beyond these concerns and abandoned the impulse to capture sensory perceptions in favor a much more solid and architectural style. His highly personal approach was to emphasize the volumetric aspects of form and a tangible sense of pictorial space. As he declared, "I want to make of Impressionism something solid and lasting." His ultimate thrust toward geometric simplicity and multiple perspectives launched the fracturing of forms which led to the Cubist movement. Although he is classified as a Post-Impressionist, Cezanne was ultimately the bridge between Impressionism and Cubism.
 
Cezanne painted Les deux vases de fleurs in 1877, which was a decisive year in his development. As Lawrence Gowing explained, "The essential development of 1877 was that the atmospheric tones of Impressionism gave place to the intensity of local color: color, in fact, gained a kind of autonomy, and form, as if to serve it, became progressively simpler and more block-like.
 
Still-life held a particular fascination for Cezanne. Because these canvases were painted in the studio, he was able to readily work and rework each composition extensively, thereby exercising his predilection for order and stability. As Andre Perate said, "the conscientiousness of his craftsmanship is everywhere apparent in the still-lifes where it seems the sense of sight has been transformed for us into the sense of touch."
 
Wall # 2
 
In this gallery viewers may see works from the strongest areas in European art collected by Long Islanders: Impressionism, Modernism and German Expressionism. On the wall that sweeps from Turner to Chagall, one can compare the similarities and differences in how these artists treat composition, brushwork and color. In common among them is a strong suggestion of space around the main subject, a context of sky, architecture, landscape and the implied or evident touch of humanity. Within the period and style of each artist, brushwork spans a range from the most tightly rendered in Turner through the varied and tactile handling of Chagall.
 
Turner's Hampton Court Palace is by far the oldest work in this group. Dating from circa 1825-28, it was executed comparatively early in his career and shows the Romantic appeal of this English artist, who was perhaps the most important visionary of his era. Turner has been described as a pre-Impressionist but he may also be compared to the Luminists. More than a half century later, the French Impressionist, Pissarro, composed an English scene, but one of dramatically different sensibility than that of Turner. Pissarro used bright pigments, almost straight from the tube, and arrayed them in a tapestry-like effect to evoke a topographical sense of landscape, architecture and human form. Rather than blend his colors in a polished surface, Pissarro allowed each brush stroke to remain distinct so that colors interact by juxtaposition, an approach related to the influential pointillism of Seurat.
 
Among the Impressionists, Renoir is (along with Degas) most strongly associated with the figure. His subjects are often women, occupied with grooming, bathing, or other activities associated with fashion or beauty. His painting, Beaulieu Femmes et Garconet, combines his fascination with the figure along with the novel design possibilities presented by mountains, lakes and trees. Renoir's typical feathery brushwork blends his signature reds and greens with creamy white in a striking composition.
 
Wall #3
 
In the center of the wall is a portrait by Metzinger whose Cubist manifesto of 1912 did much to spread the style of which he was a founder. This work however reflects what the critics deemed a "the return to order" which occurred in France during the 1920's. Here Metzinger preserves a vestige of shallow Cubist space in his organizing principle, but the canvas is predominantly Neo-classical, with an elegantly draped partial nude - in the mode of a 20s flapper -- set against an architectural column and tropical plant. Shading is done in a moving tone as if on carved marble.
 
In Vlaminck's sailing scene, the pungent colors are arbitrary, favoring a palette of strong greens and blues. While these choices are visually logical; they were more the product of the artist's emotional sensations than directly linked to observation. This approach reflects the attitude of Fauvism, the early 20th century French movement associated with high-keyed color. Finally, the work by Chagall, an artist who defied classification as either Cubist or Surrealist, presents a rich composition with many of the elements that symbolize the period when he worked in France. The flowers, gigantic in size, are on a picnic blanket with a diminutive tazza or bowl of fruit. A shepherd and sheep stroll in the grass, and the town, with its roofs and church spire, spreads out in the distance. Chagall evidences, almost in the spirit of Cezanne, a striking individuality and verve in the manner in which his highly textured paint is applied.
 
Wall # 4
 
The work by Cezanne is deliberately sited as a central motif in this gallery since he was believed to be "the father of us all" as both Matisse and Picasso suggested. Cubism was a guiding premise of much 20th century painting and its shallow articulation of space and fragmentation of form can be traced directly to the optical explorations of Cezanne. The notion of painting as a "window on the world" dominated in prior epochs, but was supplanted by a new assertion that each painting was a self-contained realm whose ultimate point of reference was itself. The ultimate end to all of this was abstraction.
 
Wall #5
 
On this wall, which features Braque, Picassso, Leger and Delaunay, Cubist space is the predominant force. Braque and Picasso were known to have a symbiotic relationship and their still lifes share much in terms of line, the use of relatively flat color, and the varied, tactile expression in the handling of the material. Delaunay represents a distinctive phase of Cubism, known as Orphism (and also called Organic Cubism), with its heightened chromatic sense and pre-occupation with orbs, rainbows, and similarly arch-like forms. The setting, of lights glinting behind them, and the nearby Eiffel Tower, comparatively large in scale, suggests Paris under a rainbow. The primacy of color and the artist's trademark motif, the Eiffel tower, make this a prime example of the movement which he founded. Léger's work tends to be very stylized, each silhouetted shape, usually of recognizable forms, is rendered in a simple color outlined in black, and the design is flattened overall.
 
Prominent on this wall are three works by Picasso dating from the 1920s, 50s, and 70s. In the 1929 Buste de femme , the spiky cleaved head seems like two linear profiles facing each other with a split between them. Each pushes a pointed triangular tongue in the other's direction, as if engaged in a sharp exchange. The 1959 Nue assise, a full-figured female nude, has sinuously contoured forms and huge hands, all configured within a Cubist matrix featuring both side view and frontal, with the head done from multiple angle views. The 1972 Tete d'homme is a costumed figure with an elaborate hat, in the spirit of the artist's musketeers. It is the most painterly of the three, and emphasizes expressive gestures which are readily seen through the varying degrees of liquidity in the pigment and the sgraffitto (scratching into wet paint with a sharp instrument) technique used to incise details of the beard and hair. Eyes, nostrils, and mouth are all abstract, yet comprise a readable scheme of circles and lines.
 
Wall #6 (German Expressionists)
 
German Expressionism is a movement which is considerably less explored by Long Island collectors but crucial, nonetheless, to the history of this museum. Our first director, Serge Sabarsky (who was the inspiration and co-founder of the Neue Gallery), organized several German Expressionist shows in the formative years of NCMA.
 
German Expressionist art, in which emotion and exaggeration take precedence over representation and form, is not thought to be an especially decorative phase of art. It presents a somewhat challenging aesthetic which contrasts with the pleasurable sensations of Impressionism or the intellectual challenges of Modernism.
 
The three works presented are all still-lifes. The Pechstein and Münter are early examples from the first phase of this movement. They reflect how the Germans discovered the high-keyed and arbitrary colors of such earlier artists as Gauguin and Van Gogh. This is evident in the sunflowers of the Pechstein and the brilliant jewel-like palette of the Münter. They infused Expressionist qualities into their own distorted and exaggerated sensibilities. Colors became darker and lines rougher as elegance was supplanted by expression.
 
The Beckmann, featuring snow-drop flowers set in the context of a library, is bookish and refined, yet equally rendered with heavily wrought line and a decisive earthy palette.
 
 
 
Hall didactics
 
Hallway I
 
Works on paper -- in charcoal, pencil, and pastel ­ provide a variety of spirit and technique, even when they are done by the same hand. The two Degas demonstrate this artist's very different approaches to pastel. The first, of three women, is linear and open. In the second, the body of a single bather is heavily wrought with multiple strokes and shading. The Matisse pencil drawing depicts one of his signature odalisques. It is finely drawn with a stiletto outline that carefully and graceful marks the contours of the figure and its costume. A Socialist, Pissarro, captures the essence of labor in his pastel of working men. Pissarro employs an Impressionist sensibility, through prismatic color and an absence of black or brown for shading. The handling is tactile; multiple strokes overlap in varying directions, as form arises out of the interaction between these numerous and distinct marks of color.
 
This wall also includes a contemporary American pastel by the Californian, Wayne Thiebaud. His drawing is less "Pop" than some of the work he is best known for, but it maintains his ever playful artistry and humor. Thiebaud's sensitive handling of the pastel blends various tones into the distinctive shape of a pear and its shadow. Despite its small scale, the simplified space -- just a surface and a background -- and the isolation of the pear in its airy surroundings, lend a monumentality to a single piece of fruit.
 
 
Hallway II
 
This section provides a transition between the European and American artists with a variety of works in eclectic styles, media and geographic origins. In the oil, Self Portrait by Marchand, we can see the artist's precise control of his medium. A palette of earth tones and the planar definition of the facial structure evokes Cubism of which this work is a particularly early example. Edges and shading are variously defined with fluid paint handing, active gestural brushwork, clear lines and firm, black contours.
 
Larry Rivers pays homage to Surrealism in a three-part work entitled De Chirico's Dilemma. Here, a colorful mannequin figure is joined by horses standing amidst classical ruins, both of which are adopted from the paintings of de Chirico. At the center is the Surrealist's own pencil portrait suggesting a photograph. Rivers is expounding on the concept of "art about art" or art appropriation, in which a prior artist's work becomes a valid subject for a new artist's creations. In Rivers' interpretation, the two paintings adopted from de Chirico are rendered through repeated strokes of colored pencil, whose waxy qualities are evident in the heavily-worked and definite surface. De Chirico's own painting, which we have hung adjacently, shows a horse on a beach littered with classical columns; the very subject which Rivers uses for his inspiration .
 
Another proponent of Surrealism, Leonora Carrington, combines vignettes suggesting rituals or voodoo in her fanciful drawing. The imagery is done in pen and ink, tinted with watercolors that range from deeply pigmented to fluid washes. Finally, Picasso's portrayal of a bug-studded flower utilizes a multiplicity of lines, all in colored pencil, creating a vibrant floral which pops out against the stark white background.
 
 
Hall part II
 
The photography of Cindy Sherman and Candida Hofer displays a clarity, intensity and large-scale formats with impacts that are more often associated with paintings. Sherman uses herself as both model and photographer, creating a character through the controlled orchestration of pose, make-up, costume and lighting. She is her own muse and works without any other presence in the studio, embedding her identity into each and every image.
 
Hofer works with a pre-existing subject: typically the grand and sumptuous rooms of libraries, palaces, banks and ceremonial buildings that boast a significant past. The sheer scope and sustained focus of her manner, and the subjects rich in abundant period detail create an almost overwhelming sense. They also suggest the meeting of earlier architectural episodes, in this case Baroque with present interpretations. Take note of the velvet ropes in the central section of El Escorial VI. To envision how the artist arrived at this image, look for the center point, where lines of perspective converge. Now try to imagine the height of the artist's vantage point in taking the picture.
 
Jim Dine's diptych of two robes is from a series often thought to be implicit self-portraits. By dividing this work into two perspectives, the artist suggests a multiplicity of personalities. The left panel, on roughly textured paper, bears marks of abrasion, creating a play between raw white areas and the soothing pigment. The right section, done with bravura abstract expressionist brush stokes, bears a whole vocabulary of converging colors, smears, drips and splashes which admirably conveys the image.


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