ART ADVENT: Week 1

This virtual Advent Calendar consists of works of art I have seen during the past year and which made a great impression on me. The Calendar is featured with daily posts on my social media, and weekly overview posts on this blog.

This was Week 1.

Odilon Redon, The Visit, ca.1896. Pastel on Paper, Musee d’Orsay. Seen at the Kröller-Müller Museum.

2 Dec. Art Advent #1. One of the most famous scenes in Christian art is that of the Annunciation, whenArchangel Gabriel appears to Mary with the news that she will be pregnant with Jesus. However, during this apparition Gabriel also shares the news that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth is pregnant as well. After receiving this news, Mary decides to visit Elizabeth and stays with her for several months. This visit is thought to have provided Elizabeth’s child with divine blessing, who would later be known as John The Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. French artist Odilon Redon captured Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in delicate pastel colors. He often painted dream-like scenes, with strange figures in imaginary realms, without a clear message or story. While the story that inspired The Visit is known, Redon primarily conveys the tenderness between the two women, as they each carry a heavy-weighing responsibility for the future of mankind. 

Giorgio Andreotta Calo,Anastasis, 2018. Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

3 Dec. Art Advent #2. Yesterday was not only the start of Advent, but also the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. My absolute favorite – and this year’s most mindblowing – work of art involving light was “Anastasis” by Giorgio Caló. This site-specific work in the Oude Kerk, the oldest building inAmsterdam, consisted of red foil covering all the church’s windows. The effect on the light fall inside and how the eyes adjust over time was truly fascinating. The red turned the church into a photographic darkroom, where images linger in limbo, between presence and non-presence. As such, the work isa poetic homage to the building’s Catholic history, which was largely erased during 16th-century iconoclast attacks.

Vincent van Gogh, Lane with Poplars near Nuenen, 1884-1886. Oil on Canvas, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

4 Dec. Art Advent #3. Every time I see this painting, I wish it were me strolling along this wonderful lane near the Brabant town of Nuenen, inhabited by numerous poplars. Early on, its painter, Vincent van Gogh,cherished ambitions to become a Protestant minister. However unsuccessful at that, Van Gogh never let go of his religious aspirations. He found those in nature instead. Although he depicted this poplar lane in 1884 while in Brabant,he added lighter shades of yellow and blue to the canvas after familiarizing himself with Impressionism in Paris in 1886. In later years, Van Gogh increasingly found more colorful means to express nature’s spiritual depths.

Jeffrey Rubinoff, Series4-10 Tofino #3 (1985). Cor-Ten Steel. Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park, Hornby Island.

5 Dec. Art Advent #4. While during the 70s and80s sculptor Jeffrey Rubinoff successfully exhibited his work in American and Canadian galleries, in the early 2000s he secluded himself to Hornby Island. On this island off the Vancouver coast, he created the small paradise that became the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park (JRSP). Large steel sculptures adorn the terrain he landscaped, neighbored by the impressive Mount Geoffrey. Curious deer on the grounds and bald eagles in the sky complete this ultimate symbiosis between art and nature. This summer I had the tremendous honor of visiting the island after the JRSP awarded my Mondrian research with a postdoc prize. This included a presentation on site. Like Mondrian, in addition to being a visual artist Rubinoff was an avid thinker and writer, wholly concerned with the spiritual state of the world and art’s place in it. I finished my presentation there with a Rubinoff quotation: “Art provides a means to experience the sacred beyond prescriptive narrative.” It is a sentence Mondrian could have written himself.

Hayv Kahraman, The Translator. From the series: How Iraqi are you? (2015) Defares Collection. Seen at theVictoria & Albert Museum, London.

6 Dec. Art Advent #5. Hayv Kahraman’s website features a list with 13 points that define Iraqi identity, including: “Every Iraqi you meet abroad was a neighbor or is a neighbor back home.” This painting, titled The Translator, is part of a series called How Iraqi are You?.For this series, Kahraman found visual inspiration in illustrations of the 13th-century Baghdad manuscript Maqamat. She combined this now lost style of Japanese woodblock prints and her personal memories. As such, the paintings aesthetically and humorously allude to women’s lives in exile and diaspora. Fleeing Iraq at the age of 10, Kahraman’s family lived in Sweden,before moving to the US. Of the Arabic inscribed in the painting, she said, “I can now see these Arabic letters from the perspective of an American or a Swede, and that terrifies me. It makes me want to reiterate them, paint them, write them, re-learn them and re-memorize them.”

Paul Gauguin, Winter Landscape, 1888. Oil on Canvas. Konstmuseum Gothenburg, Sweden.

7 Dec. Art Advent #6. Best known for his paintings of sensational French-Polynesian landscapes and group portraits addressing existential questions, I was surprised to see this winter landscape by French painter Paul Gauguin. In addition to being an amateur painter, Gauguin began his professional career as a stockbroker. After the market crashed in 1882, he moved with his Danish wife Mette and children to Copenhagen. A couple of years later, he began to paint full time. After a failed exhibition in Denmark, he went back to Paris in 1885. Leaving his family behind. In 1888, the year he made this painting, Gauguin spent some months with Vincent van Gogh in Arles. Their envisioned collaboration failed miserably. One of the reasons was that Van Gogh painted from real life, while Gauguin saw himself as a symbolist – painting from imagination. Nothing of that in this painting yet, just wonderfully captured snowy roofs and fields.

Lee Bontecou, Untitled (1961). Steel, canvas, velours, leather, copper wire, soot, paint. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

8 Dec. Art Advent #7. Strongly drawn in by the pitch-black holes, my mind was not quite able to make sense of this sculptural work by American artist Lee Bontecou, the first time I stood in front of it. Her work is remarkably consistent and recognizable as hers, since she first made name in the 1960s. Her sculptures are a mix between organic and constructed forms,without any visual references, but never wholly abstract. Bontecou creates independent entities, which makes them so thoroughly fascinating: to me these works fundamentally question existence, theirs and yours.

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