Category

20th century

Making Damage an Advantage

Marcel Duchamp, "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)," 1915-1923. Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels, 9 feet 1 1/4 inches × 70 inches × 3 3/8 inches (277.5 × 177.8 × 8.6 cm)

Marcel Duchamp, “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass),” 1915-1923. Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels, 9 feet 1 1/4 inches × 70 inches × 3 3/8 inches (277.5 × 177.8 × 8.6 cm)

Last week, some of my students and I were discussing Duchamp’s readymades. One student mentioned something to the effect of, “Well, I wouldn’t be able to just march up to a museum and hand them a broken window and expect them to accept it as a work of art.” I chuckled a bit at that comment, since Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (also called The Large Glass) is made of large panes of cracked glass. The glass wasn’t broken initially, but it cracked in transit accidentally after an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1926-27.

Luckily, for Duchamp, he found that the broken glass helped to complete the work of art. Previously, he had declared that the art was “definitively unfinished,” but then later determined the work of art to be complete after he pieced the glass panes back together. The cracks remind me of the delicacy of a bride’s veil. You can read more about the different forms in this object both here and here.

It is interesting to me how this accidental damage was used to help complete the work of art, and even become a feature that is celebrated as part of the aesthetic. This is different than the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana, since those slashes were intentionally made by the artist as part of the original conception of the object.

In contrast to this accidental damage, I have blogged previously about art that is damaged intentionally, often as a result of attack. In addition, there are countless examples of works of art that have been damaged by accident, too, such as the boy who tripped in a museum in 2015, the Cairo Museum workers who accidentally knocked off King Tut’s beard (and then infarmously tried to glue it back on), and the $40 million painting by Picasso that Steve Wynn accidentally punctured with his elbow. In these instances, however, the works of art are restored to give a semblance of their original appearance; the damage isn’t celebrated from an aesthetic standpoint.

Duchamp’s cracked The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even reminds me of “biography” of a work of art – the concept that objects have lives of their own. The broken glass is a reminder of the fateful trip that the object took after the exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum – and it was the only time this work of art was displayed in a temporary exhibition! Interestingly, though, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which permanently houses The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, is interested in keeping the work of art in a more timeless and historicized space. The museum website proudly declares that the object is exhibited in the same space that Duchamp chose for it over half a century ago, when The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even was acquired by the museum in 1953. In a way, perhaps this static display counteracts the sense of a living “biography” that is suggested by the object itself.

Do you know of other works of art that were accidentally damaged, and then this damage was incorporated into the finished work of art? Of course, I’m thinking of situations that are more extreme than the “happy little accidents” that Bob Ross talks about in his painting show. If you know of anything, please share!

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Frank Sinatra’s Paintings

I read recently that the Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini reminded Tony Bennett so much of Frank Sinatra that Tony once gave Frank a copy of The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini as a birthday gift. I scoffed and chuckled a little bit when learning this, since Cellini had a flair for extreme drama. However, Tony said that he admired how “Benvenuto would draw his sword and battle every hypocrite and phony who stood in the way of truth,” and it is this aspect of Cellini that reminded him of Sinatra.And although Tony Bennett wrote that he was thinking of Frank Sinatra’s character when he made this gift, this anecdote made me wonder if Frank had more direct connections to the world of visual art. And he does!

The title of this post actually has dual meaning, since Frank Sinatra had a collection of paintings and also was a painter himself! I haven’t been able to find information on his personal art collection (or identify the painters/paintings shown in the Getty photograph linked above), so unfortunately I can’t explore his connection to art as a collector. If anyone knows information about Sinatra’s collection or his collecting habits, please share!

Frank Sinatra in his studio, n.d.

Frank Sinatra in his studio with granddaughter Amanda (left, n.d.), display of Frank Sinatra’s art at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles (right)

What I have been able to learn, however, is more about Frank Sinatra’s personal interest in oil painting; this was a hobby that he maintained for more than forty years! Some of Frank Sinatra’s paintings and memorabilia are available for sale on a website that is maintained by a collector, and other paintings are on public display at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles (shown in the image above). I also came across a Telegraph article from 2009 which explains how one of Frank’s paintings is believed to have been painted in 1957, during the artist’s difficult divorce from the actress Ava Gardner. The painting is a self-portrait of the artist as a melancholic clown (see below), and it was a subject that he painted again and again and again (and these links are just a few examples!).

Clown painting by Frank Sinatra, c. 1957. Oil on canvas

Clown painting by Frank Sinatra, c. 1957. Oil on canvas

No doubt when Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 song “Send In the Clowns” was covered by Frank that same year, this song must have had very special meaning for Frank due to his relationship with Ava and also his clown paintings from the previous decade and a half. In fact, Frank once prefaced his performance of this song with an explanation that this is a breakup song between two adults, and I can’t help but think that Frank pulled from his own experiences with breakups to convey the sentiment of the song. I have a feeling that he thought about his self-portraits as a clown while he sang.

Frank didn’t just create representational art, however. In fact, most of his paintings were heavily, heavily influenced by painters of the mid-20th century, especially the Abstract Expressionists. I recently came across the book A Man and His Art: Frank Sinatra with a forward written by his daughter Tina Sinatra. The book mostly includes color plates of Frank’s paintings, and it’s fun to play a guessing game and figure out what artist and/or painting might have served as inspiration for Frank’s art. For example, easy to see how this painting below is reminiscent of Ellsworth Kelly’s art, for example. The different gradients of opacity and transparency of the pigment remind me a little bit of Mark Rothko.

Frank Sinatra, "Summer Wind," c. 1980s.

Frank Sinatra, “Summer Wind,” c. 1980s.

And this bold painting of a geometric shape, which I quite like, reminds me of Frank Stella:

Frank SInatra, Untitled, 1989. 57" x 47", the Desert Hospital, Palm Springs, California

Frank SInatra, Untitled, 1989. 57″ x 47″, the Desert Hospital, Palm Springs, California

When flipping through A Man and His Art, I also notice paintings that reminded me of Josef Albers, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Klein. I also read a short online article that Robert Mangold’s art also served as an inspiration for Sinatra. And while, like Sinatra, I admire all of these 20th-century artists, I don’t think that Sinatra’s art rivaled these other painters. I think some of his paintings are quite terrible, actually, not because it is derivative of another source but that the colors seem muddied and the brushwork is sloppy.

Some of Frank’s art seems more unique to me (although it could just be that I am not familiar with the original source!). Even though I don’t think that Frank was a fabulous painter, but I do really like this one, especially because of the dynamic shapes and lines used to create the stems and leaves of the flowers:

Frank Sinatra, Untitled, 1989. 38" x 42", collection of Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra, Untitled, 1989. 38″ x 42″, collection of Frank Sinatra

So looking at these paintings by Frank Sinatra, many of which are clearly derivative of other painters’ styles, makes me reflect back on Tony Bennett’s quote about how he thinks of Frank Sinatra as someone who “would…battle every hypocrite and phony who stood in the way of truth.” I don’t think that Frank saw himself as a “phony” when he heavily took inspiration from other artists, both in painting and also in singing. Tina Sinatra makes an interesting point that her dad “was the first to admit that he mimics what he’s seen, but, just as with music, it becomes Frank Sinatra’s because he stylizes it.”

I like this idea, because I like to think about how Frank Sinatra learned about the potential of crooning and singing softly into a microphone from his slightly-older predecessor Bing Crosby. And Frank took those basic aspects of family-man Crosby’s singing approach and then turned crooning into something sultry. Similarly, since Frank picked up Abstract Expressionism later on in life (especially in the 1980s, after the height of Abstract Expressionism ), he looked to visual art “predecessors” to explore the potential of visual expression. Although I still prefer the Abstract Expressionists over the paintings made by Frank Sinatra (I’m glad you didn’t quit your day job, Frank!), I can see how his work (like by combining the aesthetic of Ellsworth Kelly and Mark Rothko in a single painting) creates something new.

What do you think of Frank Sinatra’s art? Does his art remind you of his music?

1 Tony Bennett, “Sinatra” in Sinatra at 100 in LIFE special edition by Robert Sullivan and editors of LIFE, vol. 15, no. 18, November 27, 2015, p. 9. 

2 Tina Sinatra, A Man and His Art: Frank Sinatra (New York: Random House, Inc., 1991), ix.

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Jackson Pollock’s “Sea Change”

Jackson Pollock, "Sea Change," 1947. Artist and commercial oil paint, with gravel, on canvas, 57 7/8 x 44 1/8 in. (147 x 112.1 cm), Gift of Signora Peggy Guggenheim to the Seattle Art Museum

Jackson Pollock, “Sea Change,” 1947. Artist and commercial oil paint, with gravel, on canvas, 57 7/8 x 44 1/8 in. (147 x 112.1 cm), Gift of Signora Peggy Guggenheim to the Seattle Art Museum

Lately I’ve had some opportunities to study and think about Jackson Pollock’s painting Sea Change (1947, above) at the Seattle Art Museum. This painting is fascinating to me for several reasons, including its interesting history regarding how it was gifted to the Seattle Art Museum by Peggy Guggenheim. I also like the painting from a visual perspective: I like to try and trace which layers of paint were placed first, although it is difficult to tell (which isn’t surprising in some ways, since Pollock would work for uninterrupted sessions of 20-30 minutes or more, but later would revisit paintings that he didn’t feel like were finished).

Detail of Jackson Pollock's  "Sea Change," 1947. Artist and commercial oil paint, with gravel, on canvas, 57 7/8 x 44 1/8 in. (147 x 112.1 cm), Gift of Signora Peggy Guggenheim to the Seattle Art Museum

Detail of Jackson Pollock’s “Sea Change,” 1947. Artist and commercial oil paint, with gravel, on canvas, 57 7/8 x 44 1/8 in. (147 x 112.1 cm), Gift of Signora Peggy Guggenheim to the Seattle Art Museum

Some of the layers in Sea Change painting are also especially unusual, because Sea Change was completed (as a drip painting) on top of an earlier Pollock painting. Pollock’s earlier style involved more gestural strokes of paint that were directly applied with the paintbrush touching the canvas (as seen, for example, in his Mural from 1943). The Seattle Art Museum recently conserved Sea Change, and a video points out some of the areas which reveal Pollock’s original painting underneath the dripped paint. In the detail image above, you can see some bits of blue and reddish-orange paint (now serving as an underlayer to the dripped paint) that were smoothly applied with a brush.

The multiple layers of the painting are compelling to me visually, because they play with perceptions of illusionism and space. On one hand, the multiple layers appear complex, but the thickness and viscous nature of the paint simultaneously also reminds me that the layers rest (almost hover) on the flat surface of the canvas. As a result, the painting “suggests a visual space that appears infinitely deep yet shallow at the same time.”2

The thing that I also like about Sea Change is that is isn’t comprised merely of paint, but also of gravel that Jackson Pollock found at a gravel pit near his home in Long  Beach (see detail image above). Pollock often would add other materials to his paintings, “such as sand, small pieces of hardware, pebbles and string, to emphasize the ‘thingness’ of the work and to point out that the work was no mystical icon removed from the world; rather, the painting was of the world.” In other words, the gravel helps to assert that this painting, despite its lack of representational subject matter, is grounded in reality.

Namuth_jackson_Pollock_1956_1957

Hans Namuth, photograph of Jackson Pollock working in his studio, 1950

Pollock’s gestural movements also help to ground the painting in reality too, because the viewer can get a sense of Pollock’s physical exertion and real experience in creating the work of art. When creating his drip paintings, Pollock would place his canvases on the floor while he worked. This placement was intentional for Pollock, not only so that gravity could aid the paint to drip downward, but also so Pollock could sense his own physical relationship with the painting. He said, “My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. . . Having the canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, a part of the painting . . . similar to the Indian {Navaho] sand painters of the West.”3

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, c. 1950 Museum of Modern Art

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, c. 1950 Museum of Modern Art

Lee Krasner, an Abstract Expressionist painter who was married to Pollock, explained that Pollock painted with different tools, “using sticks and hardened or work-out brushes (which were in effect like sticks) and basting syringes . . . His control was amazing. Using a stick was difficult enough, but the basting syringe was like a giant fountain pen. With it he had to control the flow of paint as well as his gesture.” Sea Change is a very early example of a drip painting by Pollock, so it seems most likely that he was using a sticks or hardened brushes. In contrast, the basting syringes were used later by Pollock, as seen in his Untitled painting c. 1950 at the Museum of Modern Art (shown above).

What are your favorite paintings by Jackson Pollock? Do you prefer his earlier style with the smooth gestural strokes, the classic drip paintings like Sea Change, or the later “fountain pen” drip paintings that were made with the basting syringe? I like how different types of energy are conveyed through Pollock’s diverse experimentations with painting. It is unsurprising to me that he once said, “My concern is with the rhythms of nature.” After all, various forms of energy and rhythm are manifest in the world; some of them are subtle and lyrical, and others are quite explosive.

1 Michael Corris, “From Abstract Expressionism to Conceptual Art: A Survey of New York Art c. 1940-1970″ in Art and Visual Culture 1850-2010: Modernity to Globalization by Steve Edwards and Paul Woods, eds. (London: Tate Publishing, 2011), 233.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

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Bing Crosby’s “Old West” and Countryside Art

I wrote in my previous post about how I was trying to learn more about Bing Crosby’s taste in art. I finally have figured out a few things about Bing and his personal art collection, namely that he liked works of art with Old West scenes and also scenes of the English countryside.

Bing Crosby also liked works of art by Alfred Munnings. A few years after his death in 1977, his wife auctioned off items from the Crosby estate, and even tried to sell the painting “On the Moor” by Munnings. However, the painting was withdrawn from the sale because it didn’t meet the minimum bid. Bing Crosby even showcased one of his paintings by Alfred Munnings in a 1954 interview with Edward R. Murrow on Person to Person. As the interview was about to conclude, Bing interrupts of the interviewer by asking saying that he wants to show something that “is really my pride and joy.” Bing continues:

Everyone has something in their home that they really like to go into rhapsodies about. This is a canvas by Sir Alfred Munnings, who was the head of the British Royal Academy for years. He’s considered the finest painter of the English country life and country scene. It represents the hunting scene and it recalls a very amusing story to me. Barney Dean, the late Barney Dean, the beloved gag writer who worked for us for so many years. We were having a party here. It was getting late-ish, four-ish or so. Just a few stragglers in the hall, two or three people, you know how they like to dawdle at a party, hate to say good night. Well, Barney was looking up at the picture for of ruminatively and I said, ‘Barney, what’s on your mind?’ Barney was from New York, Brooklyn, never left the pavement, never been off the bricks in his life, and he looked at the picture and said, ‘How come we never do this no more?’ (See 15:14-16:03 in clip below)

I can’t determine whether this painting is the “On the Moor” scene that went up for auction in 1982. The composition, however, is unusual for Munnings; he typically depicted his horses in profile view. This “head on” version is only seen in a few other paintings by Munnings, such as A Huntsman and Hounds (1906, shown below). This isn’t a work of art that was owned by Crosby, but the composition is a little similar (although Bing’s painting has more figures and is larger in scale):

Alfred Munnings, "A Huntsman and Hounds," 1906

Alfred Munnings, “A Huntsman and Hounds,” 1906

Bing’s televised interview with Murrow was filmed from Bing Crosby’s home in Holmby Hills (Los Angeles). Although it is hard to see, at 15:16 Bing walks past another painting of a man riding a horse. I think that this might be a painting by Munnings, but it could also be a painting by Charles Russell (especially since library in Bing’s San Fransisco home was decorated with Charles Russell’s art). Either way, the subject matter isn’t surprising, due to Bing’s famous interest in horses and horse races.

In a rather roundabout and ironic way, Bing Crosby and Alfred Munnings are also connected together through another artist: Richard Hamilton! In the mid-twentieth century, Hamilton was expelled from the Royal Academy by Alfred Munnings, who was an anti-modernist. Hamilton went on to become a successful pop artist, and even made a reverse-image screen print of Bing Crosby. The 1967 print capitalizes on Bing’s status as a pop culture icon through its title: I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. It’s ironic that the artist who was expelled by Alfred Munnings ends up creating a modern work of art depicting a pop icon, and this pop icon is one who collects conservative paintings by Alfred Munnings! Whatever modernity Crosby may have represented as a pop culture icon, his personal taste in art appears to be much more traditional and conservative.

Richard Hamilton, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," 1967. Screen print. Tate Museum

Richard Hamilton, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” 1967. Screen print. Tate Museum

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Mr. Rockwell Goes to Hollywood

Norman Rockwell, "Portrait of Bing Crosby," 1966

Norman Rockwell, “Portrait of Bing Crosby,” 1966

I’m starting to wrap up the celebrities project that I’ve been working on for the past year – which means that my posts will likely not revolve around Hollywood quite so much! In trying to learn more about Bing Crosby’s interest in art, I stumbled across a portrait of Bing Crosby by Norman Rockwell. This was made in 1966, when Norman Rockwell painted a series of character portraits for the Twentieth Century Fox production of Stagecoach. The Norman Rockwell Museum explains that Bing Crosby’s character in the film, Doc Boone, is a drunken doctor. When sitting for the portrait, Bing Crosby picked up a bottle and caressed it, which gave Rockwell the “hook” needed to create a convincing sense of the character.

My other favorite portrait from this series is of Ann-Margret as the character “Dallas.” The color combination of the green costume with her red hair is very striking.

Norman Rockwell, "Portrait of Ann-Margaret," 1966

Norman Rockwell, “Portrait of Ann-Margaret,” 1966

The portraits were used for the end credits of the film, as well as on promotional material for the film like posters. Rockwell also painted a large, eight-foot mural of the set, which was used for promotional material as well.

Poster for "Stagecoach," 1966

Poster for “Stagecoach,” 1966

Interestingly, though, Norman Rockwell’s participation with Stagecoach didn’t end there. He also ended up participating on the set of the film too! At seventy-two years old, Rockwell was placed in the role of “Busted Flush” Rockwell. The Norman Rockwell Museum website explains that a Look magazine article discussed Rockwell’s character as “a mangy old gambler in cowboy costume, with a bad-guy black hat and high-heeled boots that hurt his feet.” Norman Rockwell is shown in the opening sequence of the show, seated at the gambling table (see 6:11 of this video of the film).

I like some of the photographs of Rockwell that were taken in his costume, including this one and this one (the expression of the latter image reminds me very much of his similarly-raised eyebrows in Triple Self-Portrait, 1959). Below is another photograph of Rockwell as “Busted Flush”:

Norman Rockwell as "Busted Flush" from Stagecoach (1966)

Norman Rockwell as “Busted Flush” from Stagecoach (1966)

Do you know of any other artists that had a role in both creating promotional material for a Hollywood film and also participating within the film too?

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.