Unreal Nature

August 25, 2015

The Humble and Difficult Significance of his Tools

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… fantasy liquefies the world, tinting and bending it to its own desires.

… earthy observation joined with fertile abstract invention and lust for materials.

This is from Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004). This book uses extracts from other books to comment on the artworks it shows (I’m extracting from those extracts (!)). If that text does not refer specifically to the MoMA art that is shown in the parent book, I may choose to use some other work by the artist to illustrate my post. Today’s first is from Rodin by Albert E. Elson (1963):

The memorable sentences of the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who served for a time as Rodin’s secretary and remained one of his most loyal friends and admirers, stand apart with lithic durability from the glutinous sentimentality and inflated chauvinism that characterize much of the literature on the sculptor and his art. … He saw Rodin as the seeker after “the grace of the great things,” although “his art was not built upon a great idea, but … upon a craft,” in which “the fundamental element was the surface … which was the subject matter of his art.” “He was a worker whose only desire was to penetrate with all his forces into the humble and difficult significance of his tools. … ”

Rodin_Monument_to_Balzac
August Rodin, Monument to Balzac, 1898

… when he found it necessary to rethink sculpture down to “the hollow and the mound,” he forced artists, critics and the public to take stock of their own definitions and beliefs about art. … Every sculptor who came to maturity before 1914 was affected by him and had to take a stand for or against his sculpture.

… Not his death, however, but his steadfast adherence to naturalism and certain of its traditions prevented Rodin from entering into the new territories that were being surveyed and colonized by younger sculptors of the twentieth century.

The next is the parent book’s extract from Vienna 1900: Art, Architecture & Design by Kirk Varnedoe (1986):

… This kind of confusion and ornamental richness does not embellish the content of Klimt’s art, it is the content. For Klimt the maintaining of irresolution — between figure and ground, flatness and depth, object and image — was a key way to heighten the experience of art. It evoked the privileged state of a dreamlike floating in which fantasy liquefies the world, tinting and bending it to its own desires.

Gustav_Klimt_Hope_II
Gustav Klimt, Hope II, 1907-08

… These are the same combined goals — an anti-illusionist play directly on the viewer’s sensorium, and an abstract formal language attuned to universal expression — that led other European artists in these same years to decisive certainties of sharp reduction and synthesis. In Klimt they gave rise to elaboration and ambiguity. While others looked to sources in archaic and exotic art for a new economy of volume and line, Klimt saw in the same sources the heightened splendor of complexity — not only the blunt empiricism of a head by Giotto, but that head and its flat golden halo together; not only the woodcut simplicity of Hokusai’s form, but that simplification overprinted with multi-patterned kimono forms; not the white purity of Greek art at Segesta, but the rich ornament of the recent Mycenaean finds.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] For him, the exotic, archaic, and primitive arts bore evidence of a primal human love of proteiform brilliance — the doubled intensity of earthy observation joined with fertile abstract invention and lust for materials. This was the common ground that, from nomadic metalwork to Byzantine mosaics, shaped a tradition of spiritually charged art he sought to recover.

-Julie

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