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 3.
15 Dec. ART ADVENT #15. Today, I sat not one (as advertised) but two hours alone in front of this painting. The distorted experience of time, sitting in front of one painting without a watch or phone, was a truly phenomenal experience. Rothko’s work is known for triggering emotions. For me it mostly triggered thoughts. And the time spent in front of the painting allowed me to order and (re)value these thoughts. About where I am at in life, what (and who) is important to me, and for whom I’d hope to be important in the future. Such a rewarding experience, for which I am grateful to the museum for making this happen. || Mark Rothko, Grey, Orange on Maroon, No 8., 1960. Seen at Stedelijk Museum Schiedam.
16 Dec. ART ADVENT #16. This delicately carved ivory peace tablet was passed around in medieval masses to wish one another peace. First kissed by priests, the congregation would follow. Before, people kissed each other directly on mouth or cheek. From the thirteenth century this was replaced by the passing around of tablets to be kissed. This tablet features one of the most important scenes in Christianity, in which the crucified Christ is surrounded by followers – among others Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. || Germany or Flanders, Peace tablet with the crucifixion, ca. 1500-1510. Seen at Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht.
17 Dec. ART ADVENT #17. A young woman is seated on a prayer rug, reading a book, perhaps a Qu’ran. I saw this bright and colorful painting at an exhibition about Orientalism, about how 19th-century western eyes portrayed the eastern world. This painting offered a remarkable sense of serenity and dignity, amongst many exoticized portrayals. It was painted by Osman Hamdi Bey, who was born in Constantinople and trained as a painter in Paris. A quintessential example of living between two cultures, he was called ‘the most Parisian of Ottomans, the most Ottoman of Parisians.’ || Osman Hamdi Bey, A Young Woman Reading, 1880. Seen at British Museum, London.
18 Dec. ART ADVENT #18. Exhibited in Moscow in 1911, they were removed by a censor. A year later, these were the first paintings by Natalia Goncharova to be displayed in London. Not necessarily appreciated for their spiritual potential, the works were described as ‘beautiful decorations’. Goncharova wanted to pay respect to the Icon tradition, while modernizing it at the same time. Their stylized visual language, powerful colors, and monumental measurements turn these paintings into true modern icons. || Natalia Goncharova, The Evangelists, 1911. Seen at Tate Modern, London.
19 Dec. ART ADVENT #19. This painting evokes a feeling in me that very few paintings do: a sense of homecoming. The first time I saw the painting, was during a visit to Hamburg with my mum, over five years ago. Since, I’ve seen it several times and it always warms my heart. The nonchalance of the overall scene, the warmth of the tapestries, and paintings turned to the wall. This is where a painter works, and his model puts on a sock. As simple as that. To me, the most intriguing feature is how her left foot wrinkles the carpet. Subtle, simple, but oh so effective. To me, this is home. || Felix Vallotton, Model sitting on a divan in the studio, 1904. Seen at Royal Academy of Arts, London.
20 Dec. ART ADVENT #20. After converting to Catholicism in 1905, Jan Toorop designed a number of stained-glass windows. But one, none of them were ever executed. This design shows the adoration of the kings. When it was presented to the Dom Church in Utrecht, the Protestant congregation heavily objected. Framed as a Marian window, the congregation feared it would make the Dom too Catholic. Some even argued for a new iconoclasm if the window would be installed. Although the church authorities ignored the protests, Toorop passed away before he could finish it. This design is now part of the first exhibition I’ve curated at the Catharijneconvent, which opens tomorrow. Aimed at children age 2-8 and their families, I think there are many gems to be discovered by everyone: beginning with this brilliant Toorop design. And, coincidence or not, today in 1858, Jan Toorop was born in Purworejo, Indonesia. || Jan Toorop, Adoration of the Kings (detail), 1924. Seen at Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht.
21 Dec. ART ADVENT #21. Josef Albers was fascinated by color and its mechanisms. He developed a theory about how the vicinity between different colors impacts how the eye perceives the individual colors. He painted over a 1000 works like these to explore the dynamics between color and vision. And, perspective at that. Completely recognizable as Albers, each of these works has its own character. Albers taught at Bauhaus, before it was closed under Nazi pressure in 1933 and he moved to the US. || Josef Albers, Repetition against blue, 1943. Seen at Tate Modern, London.
22 Dec. ART ADVENT #22. Guido Reni was commissioned to paint this work by the local government of Bologna. The painting was carried along in a procession between the Palazzo Pubblico and Basilica San Domenico. The procession took place annually since 1630, to invoke blessings for the end of the plague. It had struck in all of Italy, and in Bologna killed 20.000 out of 70.000 citizens. The painting has a traditional composition, with the light radiating from the madonna and child, upon the grey tones of a hurt city with its patron saints and protectors that express gratitude on behalf of all inhabitants. || Guido Reni, Pala della Peste, 1630 (detail). Seen at Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna.
23 Dec. ART ADVENT #23. Mary Magdalene is brought to the temple, by her sister Martha, to hear Jesus preach. Mary is completely overwhelmed, and then and there abandons her life of sin. This is symbolized by Mary pulling off her gold necklace. With its sharp colors and bustling composition, this is one of my favorite Magdalene paintings. || Paolo Veronese, The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, ca. 1548. Seen at the National Gallery, London.
24 Dec. ART ADVENT #24. This Art Advent began with Adrian Villar Rojas’ display in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. I’m also ending it in this church – with an intriguing photograph by Güler Ates. She has portrayed her signature veiled figure in a variety of historic settings (from Eton boarding school to Museum van Loon and the Keizersgrachtkerk). By placing the veiled figure back into European contexts, Ates wants to challenge western perceptions of the veil. Here the veiled figure stands in the Oude Kerk – a place I’ve come to cherish a lot over the past years. Ates was struck by the grand architecture and the magnificent light fall into the church. In this photo, she only makes use of natural light in the church. As Christmas, a feast of light, is upon us, I feel this photo is a suitable finale of this Art Advent. A very merry Christmas to you all ❤️ || Güler Ates, Ocean of Light, 2016. Seen at Marian Cramer Projects, Amsterdam.