Artwork of the week for Aug. 17, 2009


Franklin Carmiachel
Island, Georgian Bay (late 1920)

I’m currently in Ontario, Canada, visiting family and immersing myself in Canada’s big wild — which is why I turn once again to a paper written not so long ago on Canadian landscape painting. More Americans need to know about their neighbors to the north. Yes, there are artists in Canada.

It comes as no surprise that landscape painting should be the definitive artistic genre for Canada, a country so in love with and so self-consciously characterized by its wilderness that its citizens voted to make a leaf the focus of its national flag. Just as tourist bureaus have used Canada’s natural wonders and resources to market the country as a unique vacation destination (and in the nineteenth-century a unique place to settle), so have artists employed the landscape to promote a distinctly Canadian artistic identity.

The uniquely Canadian style of landscape painting took root in May 1920 with the first exhibition of the Group of Seven at the Art Gallery of Toronto. The founding members of the Seven, including Carmichael, felt the highly representational and exacting approach favored by the English school was inadequate when it came to portraying the ruggedness, elusive spirituality, and distinctiveness of their country’s territory. Motivated by a nationalistic urgency to find a more Canadian way of painting the Canadian landscape, the Group developed an expressive and painterly style. The Group of Seven’s depictions of the Northern Ontario landscape are beautiful, rhythmic, and mobile with a light that radiates from within. Whether or not their style is wholly unique to Canada, an organic development that emerged from extended submersions in Ontario’s forests, is debatable. Regardless of the verdict, the Group of Seven and their contemporaries were singled out in their lifetime as breaking with the standing artistic traditions of their country and of finding a mode of expression as distinctive as their environment. They were viewed as an avant-garde group that broke with mainstream tastes and as such initially occupied a marginal place in the market. However, their style inspired the younger artists in the region and soon their work earned international recognition as “the only living Canadian art.” By the 1930s they were unequivocally Canada’s “National School.” Today, their legacy has eclipsed all that came before. The Seven stand as Canada’s artistic ambassadors.


The Man of Summer 2009…

…Looks an awful lot like a lost Beach Boy. beach boys

Seriously. The skinny ankle-skimming jeans, the boat shoes, the stripped/plaid shirt tucked in behind a slim belt, the floppy hair — the whole look is there. The only things he’s missing is a surf board (not practical in NYC) and his little deuce coupe. I was crossing at the corner of 74th and Madison this morning, when two guys, in their mid-twenties, both dressed in the uniform described above approached from the opposite corner. They were moving like they had just run away from their barbershop quartet rehearsal. Yes, men in the city have a new uniform, and it’s no longer the powersuit.

Hipster men have killed the plaid. Have emasculated it and made it so ubiquitous that its lost its appealing campy quality. Plaid used to have a statement. It used to be associated with an outdoorsy lifestyle, and all-Americaness. Now… it’s urban and hipster.

(I’d just like to say, that I was on the plaid band-wagon before there ever was a plaid bandwagon. It’s because I’m part Canadian. Plaid is in my blood)

This is the problem with hipsters in general. They colonize trends and render subcultures that had meaning meaningless. There was a piece in the Times today about men and their hair. It said that once upon a time a man’s hairstyle was a mark of particular associations. In 1969, long wavy hair with a beard to match meant the fella probably listened to Hendrix and was antiwar. Today, a hairstyle says nothing about the man that wears it, perhaps only that he’s a freethinker? While I’m not crazy about the Adam Lambert/Flock of Seagulls coifs, I’m glad fuller hair is back in for men. It’s our turn for us ladies to have something we can run our fingers through.

The general theme of today’s Times Style section was New York men and their clothes. I think it’s time to accept that fashions for men are pretty standard, and in no season are the more standardized than in summer. Jeans, sandals and a white tee have been the go-to warm weather ware for men since Levi Strauss stepped on the scene. You know fashion writers have run out of trends to talk about then they start calling a pot-belly the latest trend in men’s wear. Seriously, couldn’t the explanation for the exceedingly number of bulging bellies in Brooklyn simply be that there are only 3 chain gyms in all of Brooklyn… and that none of them are in the hipster parts of town?

Artwork of the week for Aug. 10, 2009

street dresden

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Street, Dresden (1908, dated 1907)

(better late than never)
The jarring colors and densely-packed figures of Kirchner’s “Street, Dresden” capture the cacophony and claustrophobia of modern urban life. People dressed in somber black blur into one another as they move through the city, pressing into and out of street cars. Yet, despite the throngs, Kirchner’s canvas conveys a sense of solitude and isolation. Despite the numbers, a city is a lonely, alienating place.

I’ve always been interested in the women in this painting, in particular, in the central placement of the female child. Throughout the history of western art, women have been the object of the male viewer. Urban living allowed women to leave the home. No longer confined to the domestic, the city streets and department stores put women in the public sphere, where they at once exercised new independence and further became the object of the masculine gaze. Look closely at the painting — the few men whose faces are visible stare directly at the women marching unemotionally toward us.

“Street, Dresdan,” part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, was the subject of my first independent art-history research project in college. This week, after months of waiting, I found out I had won a coveted internship at MoMA (1,000 people applied for approx 20 appointments). Woot! I couldn’t think of a more appropriate Artwork of the week than the painting that launched me into academic art history

A Few Important Insights to Why I’m Me

Why I’m so happy in the kitchen:
Besides a life long love of food, my mother gave me my first cookbook (appropriately entitled “My First Cook Book: A life-sized Guide to Making Fun Things to Eat” with equally appropriate 1990s food styling) in 1990, when I was 5 years old. I don’t recall ever making anything in the book… I started watching the food network non-stop when I was about 8. My favorite show was “how to boil water.” These days I prefer “Escoffier: The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery” and Michael Chiarello’s “Napa Style” (when he’s not on Top CHef Masters).

Why I’m an art historian:
As an only child I had to keep myself amused often. I had a lot of coloring books and sketchbooks and colored pencils and prismacolor markers — all of which went with me everywhere, even out to restaurants. My favorite coloring book was called “Color Your Own Degas.” My motto was “you can never have enough crayons.”

Why I have a shoe problem:

As a toddler, my mother used to take me to The Merry-Go-Round, a children’s shoe store in Hartsdale. All my shoes came from France. I also blame The Wizard of Oz. It was my favorite movie and of course, those ruby pumps were a pretty integral part of the plot development. I continue to have an unhealthy obsession with red patent.

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