Saturday, June 27, 2015

EXHIBITIONS: "Van Gogh in Nature" soars at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA

 Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890 
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington 

On a sunny June morning, we drove across Massachusetts' verdant Berkshires
-- a perfect route by which to approach the Clark Art Institute's 
much-heralded exhibition "Van Gogh in Nature". The show, which was 3 years 
in the making, is a beautifully curated stunner. Its nearly 50 paintings 
and drawings, sourced from thirty museums and worldwide 
private collections, are mindfully selected to show the artist's versatility in styles 
and influences. Thoughtfully-written wall notes add to  the viewer's understanding 
of the show, without being overly directive or highfalutin.

"In the face of nature, it's the feeling for work that keeps me going", 
Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo.

                                                                     Winter Garden1883, pen and brush and ink on paper
           This melancholic drawing was done when Van Gogh was living with his parents in Nuenen.  
 No matter the season, the artist was always fascinated with landscape. In one 
of his letters to Theo, he wrote about this garden, "It sets me to dreaming." 
                                                                                                               Image courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The exhibition is divided into six sections, representing the locations
where Van Gogh lived and worked during his all-too-brief lifetime: 
rural Holland (1881–1885), Paris (1886–1888),  Provence (1888–1890), 
Arles (February 1888–May 1889), Saint-Rémy (May 1889–May 1890)
and Auvers (for 3 months). Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, at the top
of this page, was painted just days before his death.

 Despite changes occurring over time in the artist's mood, palette and technique, 
his passion for nature remained a constant.

                           Farmhouse in Provence, 1888
This painting was done shortly after Van Gogh arrived for the first
time in the south of France. Its vivid, exuberant colors demonstrate that
he had "arrived" in more ways than one.
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 

 Hospital at Saint-Remy, 1889
With his mental health failing, Van Gogh admitted himself to an asylum in in the French
countryside. There, over time, he found serenity and artistic inspiration. During his yearlong stay at the hospital, he painted over 150 canvases. In a letter to his sister he wrote, 
"The last days in Saint-Rémy I worked like a madman ... great bouquets of flowers, 
violet-colored irises, great bouquets of roses."
Image courtesy Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA

                         Cypresses, 1889
Cypresses was painted shortly after Van Gogh arrived at the asylum in Saint-Rémy. 
He found these trees to be "beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk." 
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

Horikiri Iris Garden, woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige
Van Gogh was particularly inspired by the spare, contemplative art of Japan, and 
admired Hiroshige's work. Its influence can be seen in many of his paintings.
Gift of the Rodbell Family Collection, image courtesy Clark Art Institute

Trees in a Field on a Sunny Day, 1887, oil on canvas
P. and N. de Boer Foundation, Amsterdam

                                                                                       Pine Trees at Sunset, 1889, oil on canvas
                                                                                                    Image courtesy of Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands

The OliveTrees, Saint-Rémy, 1889
Image courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York 

"Oh my dear Theo, if you saw the olives just now ... the leaves,
old silver and silver turning to green against the blue.
And the orange-coloured ploughed earth. It is something quite different
from your idea of it in the North, the tender beauty, the distinction!
... the rustle of an olive grove has something very secret in it,
and immensely old. It is too beautiful for us to dare to paint it
or be able to imagine it."

One of my takeaways from seeing this emotionally rich exhibition
was the artist's utter humility in his encounters with the natural world.
Van Gogh's paintings are never about himself, despite his unique vision
they seem always to be looking outward, churning forward, keenly observing.

He sees even the tiniest creatures and plants  -- moths and sparrows, 
pansies and violets -- as being just as worthy of his passionate 
attention as panoramic landscapes.

                                                         Butterflies and Poppies, 1890
                                                                           Image courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 

Unfortunately, the same reverence for the natural world cannot be found
in architect Tadao Ando's reconfigured entryway to the Clark --
 always a primary statement in a public building's design. 
The formerly glorious view of hills and meadows that for decades greeted 
visitors upon approaching the venue's grounds is now perplexingly blocked  by 
an off-putting12-foot-high granite wall, which detracts
substantially from the arrival experience.

The lengthy trudge along this severe wall, from the parking lot to the 
poorly-identified entrance, is especially unwelcoming to elders and disabled visitors.

If you treasured the warm, gracious gestalt of the"old" Clark, 
be prepared for a shock upon arrival! But don't lose heart; the lovely reflecting 
pools on the new building's upper level, the plethora of footpaths winding up the 
museum's sculpted 140-acre grounds, and -- especially -- the treasures 
awaiting within will make a long, leisurely visit well worth the effort.

“Keep your love of nature, for that is the true way to understand art more and more.” 
... Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh in Nature runs through September 13, 2015.

And more ...

In celebration of the Clark's 60th anniversary this year, there will be a summer-long array of special exhibitions, lectures, musical programs, guided nature walks and family events. A free concert series will begin on Tuesday, July 7, running weekly through the end of the month. Tree-lovers' hikes will be offered on Fridays at 11 AM in July and August; and a Van Gogh and Nature Family Day will take place on July 26 from 11 am–4 pm. Admission to the galleries, grounds and all activities will be free on that date.

For more information on the Clark's summer concert series, link here.

~ oOo ~

No comments:

Post a Comment