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 2.
8 Dec. ART ADVENT #8. When I visited the Anthony Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy on its last day, it was busier than I have ever seen an exhibition. While the human body is the central topic in Gormley’s oeuvre, at times the artworks were surrounded by a few too many visitor bodies. Only one work benefitted from these circumstances, this sculpture. Placed in a small room, visitors were instructed to walk around it, remaining close to the sides of the room. It felt like we were performing a ritual -of initiation or appreciation- around this still, contemplative figure. With this sculpture, Gormley aimed to express the internal space of the body, the fundamental structures that make up the body below the skin. The perspective and make-up of the composition shifted, providing a multi-layered experience, as we walked around it. As such, the sculpture perfectly embodies the multiplicity of being human. || Anthony Gormley, Subject II, 2019. Seen at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
9 Dec. ART ADVENT #9. As author of The Lives of the Artists, Giorgio Vasari is known as one of the first art historians. In these texts, he discussed the lives and oeuvres of numerous Renaissance painters, sculptors, and architects. He was also trained as an artist himself. This painting was originally commissioned for the refectory of the San Michele in Bosco (St Michael in the Woods) complex in Bologna. Vasari painted the scene of Jesus visiting the house of Mary and Martha of Bethany, in which Martha is busy preparing lunch, while Mary sits at his feet and listens quietly. Mary of Bethany became conflated with Mary Magdalene in the sixth century, which is why Mary’s hair is visible while Martha is veiled. || Giorgio Vasari, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (detail), 1540. Seen at the Pinacoteca di Bologna.
10 Dec. ART ADVENT #10. The moon is peaking just around the corner of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, about ready to shine its light on the piazetta itself. Yet the painter tricks us. He first painted the scene during the day, and only then turned it into an evening scene. The view on the palace and the laguna made for very popular imagery in the nineteenth-century, and, I would argue, still does. || Friedrich Nerly, Piazetta in Venice by Moonlight, 1842. Seen at Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne.
11 Dec. ART ADVENT #11. Born in Hungary in 1937, the artistic career of Dóra Maurer began behind the iron curtain. Under communist rule, artworks were categorized as supported, tolerated or prohibited. Within this limiting context, Maurer tried to be as inventive (and at times subversive) as possible, with the modest artistic means at her disposal. After working in a variety of media (drawing, film, photography), in the 1980s Maurer began to make what she calls ‘space paintings’. These are again sober in material, but ever so inventive in their explorations of form and color. Deceptively simple-looking, these paintings are an abundant feast for the eye. || Dóra Maurer, Overlappings 47 (Double double), 2012. Seen at Tate Modern, London.
12 Dec. ART ADVENT #12. In the twentieth century, lots of painters began to paint that which the eye can’t see. Symbols were abandoned for the sake of new visual interpretations of feelings, emotions, experiences. Edvard Munch mastered the use of color to express melancholic and insecure states of mind. The girls on this bridge are not just gazing at the water. They seem to convey how the course of life is not manageable, but rather how humans can only await what their fate in life will be. || Edvard Munch, Four Girls on the Bridge, 1905. Seen at Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne.
13 Dec. ART ADVENT #13. My eyes could not get over the crowded group depicted in this painting. The secretive grins on the faces of Mary and Mary Magdalene, the odd colors of their skin, and the peculiar painting style, made me think this painting belonged in a modern art gallery. Yet, it was originally made for the oratory in a Ferrara monastery and, now in the museum, is displayed in the between the medieval and renaissance collections. Its location symbolizes the painting’s in-between status, and is, I think, why I could not stop looking at it. || Ferrarese painter, The Entombment of Christ with Fransiscan Saints, ca. 1455-1460. Seen at Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara.
14 Dec. ART ADVENT #14. James Cook claims the Australian east coast for the British Crown in 1770. Gordon Bennett reinterpreted a nineteenth-century print in dot painting style, and covered the Aboriginal servant with blocks in the colors of the Aboriginal flag. The work was painted in response to the bicentennial celebrations of Australia Day. For Australian Aboriginals this national holiday is not a feast, but a remembrance of the shattering consequences of colonialism for them. This painting contributes to the reframing of narratives of colonialism. || Gordon Bennett, Possession Island (Abstraction), 1991. Seen at Tate Modern, London.