My annual Art Advent is a review of inspiring, cheerful or comforting artworks I have seen this year, in anticipation of great art waiting around the corner in the year to come. Advent is a time of anticipation, and of light in dark times. For me, this is what art brings in gloomy December days – and in life in general.
This was Week 1.
1 Dec. ART ADVENT #1. In his new installation in the Oude Kerk, Adrian Villar Rojas evokes war time threats of monumental heritage. With sandbags stacked meters high, matrasses placed before the church windows, and the chandeliers placed on wooden holders. The candle light is quite mesmerizing in this surreal, darkened environment, transporting you into another realm. Paradoxically, this installation about the protection of heritage has incited a heated debate about the place of contemporary art in the very protection of the Oude Kerk itself. || Adrian Villar Rojas, Poems for Earthlings, 2019. Seen at Oude Kerk, Amsterdam.
2 Dec. ART ADVENT #2 Since working in the new job, I’ve been doing lots of research on Mary Magdalene. This painting is said to be the first depiction of a reading Mary Magdalene. Considered a fragment of a larger panel, this piece is one of three remaining today. Its colors are extremely vivid, its details are amazingly sharp. The reading Magdalene symbolizes the value of living a reflective, introspective life. || Rogier van der Weyden, The Reading Magdalene, before 1438. Seen at the National Gallery, London.
3 Dec. ART ADVENT #3 This view on the Waterloo Bridge documents the urban landscape of London in the early twentieth century. With an important place for the river Thames, boats on the water, horse carriages and trams on the streets. It is painted by one of the primary Impressionists of Belgium, Emile Claus. He got interested in this painting style after seeing the work of Claude Monet in the1890s. During World War I, Claus painted several London bridges while he was on exile in the city. These paintings capture how changing weather (light!) conditions changed the face of the city. || Emile Claus, Waterloo Bridge, Sun and Rain. March. ca.1916. Seen at Fin de Siecle Museum, Brussels.
4 Dec. ART ADVENT #4 Artists make self portraits for a variety of reasons: for instance, to capture a state of mind, as an exercise in life model drawing, or to communicate a professional ambition. Lee Krasner painted this self-portrait around 1928, when she attended the National Academy of Design in New York. She portrayed herself as a confident artist, wearing an painter’s shirt, firmly holding the brushes in her hand. To capture her likeness on the canvas, she installed her easel outside and pinned a mirror on the tree next to it. The painting reveals her traditional training, while radiating the ambition with which she would later create magnificent abstract paintings. || Lee Krasner, Self Portrait, ca.1928. The Jewish Museum, New York. Seen at Barbican Centre, London.
5 Dec. ART ADVENT #5 Whenever I’m in London, I try to visit Tate Britain to see one of my favorite paintings: this one, by William Dyce. Seemingly a frivolous sea side picture, this painting actually tells us of natural discoveries and their impact on theology and daily life. Up in the sky, Donati’s Comet is visible. This was the first comet ever to be photgraphed. The cliffs stand silently, as ancient witnesses of time. In the front, several women and a boy are looking for fossils. This became a fashionable middle class leisure activity, after great fossils were discovered on the coasts of England. These discoveries greatly altered the general geological understanding and its relation to the notion of God’s creation. In the years that Dyce worked on this painting, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. On the right, the painter portrayed himself, gazing at the sky. Being deeply religious, he undoubtedly saw the comet as part of divine creation. || William Dyce, Pegwell Bay, Kent – a recollection of October 5th, 1858. (1858-1860) Seen at Tate Britain, London.
6 Dec. ART ADVENT #6 Seeing this painting for the first time last September was an intense experience. Standing in front of it with Erik and Yasemin, we tried to ‘crack the code’ to the composition. But -oh our hubris- we utterly failed. Everytime one of us thought to see a system, the eye wandered on and discovered that system didn’t hold up. The painting is titled ‘Nataraja’, a term from Hindu mythology meaning ‘Lord of the Dance’, refering to Shiva in his form as the cosmic dancer with the many arms. Bridget Riley translated this Hindu God’s dynamism into an abstract language, which made us look, discover, look again and discover more. || Bridget Riley, Nataraja, 1993. Seen at Tate Modern, London.
7 Dec. ART ADVENT #7 While some of the churches Pieter Saenredam depicted no longer exist, the Buurkerk is still located in the heart of Utrecht and today houses a museum on musical instruments. The mural drawing on the right refers to the popular 13th-century story about four boys on the run after one of them killed Charlemagne’s nephew over a game of chess. They escape on a magic horse, called Bayard. This story inspired Toneelgroep Maastricht for a wonderful play (including Gregorian chant!), which I greatly enjoyed at Festival Musica Sacra Maastricht last year. Seeing this painting brought back fond memories of the festival that has become an important feature in my life. || Pieter Saenredam, Interior of the Buurkerk, Utrecht, 1644. Seen at The National Gallery, London.