It’s Advent time again, and so it is time for the fourth edition of Art Advent, my annual review of inspiring, cheerful and comforting artworks that I’ve seen over the year. Advent is a time of anticipation, and of light in the darkness. Although 2020 has given the notion of anticipation a whole new face, I believe there will always be art waiting around the corner to provide solace and new insights. Thus, also in this year of self-isolation and uncertainty, I hope you’ll join me on this Art Advent.
(Daily updates on my social media, weekly posts here on the blog).
13 Dec. ART ADVENT #15
This painting of The Fall of Man shows us the crucial elements in the Bible story all at once. In the back, God (in a wonderful wizzard-like guise) explains the rules of Paradise to Adam and Eve: there are no rules, except for one. Do not eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge good and evil. Centre stage, we see Adam and Eve breaking exactly that one rule. The snake, which convinced them to do so, is nicely curled up in the tree’s branches. In the left part of the painting, the consequence of this rule-breaking is depicted. Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise. And, to the right, you can glimpse a unicorn, which reinforces just how heavenly Paradise was.
Jan van Hemessen (circle of), The Fall of Man, ca.1550-1560. Seen at Bonnefanten, Maastricht.
14 Dec. ART ADVENT #16
On the day a new, five-week lockdown has been announced, this was the painting that first came to my mind for the Art Advent. I saw it for the first time earlier this year, and have seen it several times since – during periods when museum visits were possible. Every time this painting made me smile. For the scene it depicts, the funny title, the bright colors. But it also made me realize, that after the Covid pandemic, face masks will never be looked upon the same again. Before this year, I would have never thought to be wearing one in public (as I am not an avid spray painter ;)), by now they have become the new normal. Also, a phrase I never thought I would ever use, the new normal. I guess that is most needed in these times, a flexibility of mind and an openness to things you never thought you would. And, don’t forget to keep enjoying art, even if it’s only on a screen. For now.
René Daniels, Spray Armee, 1983. Seen at Centraal Museum, Utrecht.
15 Dec. ART ADVENT #17
One thing that fascinates me about art is how paintings, sculptures, architecture have the potential to stand the test of time. One generation after another can relate to the same artwork, for completely different reasons. It’s the notion of passing on, of heritage, of the idea that years ago people like me and you also looked at the same artworks. Artist Spencer Finch looked in this way at Troy, when he visited this famous place. He regards the light as the only thing unchanged by the passing of time, light that may have been observed by Achilles over 3000 years ago. Finch translated the light’s qualities during dawn, into fluorescent lamps with colored filters. Positioned in a radiant circle, the resulting artwork is resonates with rays of sunshine, as well as Achilles’ legendary shield.
Spencer Finch, The Shield of Achilles (Dawn, Troy, 10/27/02), 2019. Seen at British Museum, London.
16 Dec. ART ADVENT #18
To me, this painting radiates the importance of having loved ones in life. Even though they might be far away, because of social distancing or because they live in another country, having loved ones can mean a world of difference. Knowing that there are people out there who know you, who have travelled during life with you, and who will be there if ever you need someone to fall back on. That is what this painting by Henry Taylor means to me. And when I look at it, it gives me a reassuring feeling. With many loved ones currently at a distance, an image of this wonderful painting offers some solace.
Henry Taylor, The Love of Cousin Tip, 2017. Seen at Kunsthal Kade, Amersfoort.
17 Dec. ART ADVENT #19
This year has mostly been about Mary Magdalene for me. Together with colleagues at Museum Catharijneconvent, I have been preparing an exhibition about this enigmatic woman, which opens – fingers crossed – in February. Last month, during a visit to an exhibition about Utrecht’s defense works, I saw this painting titled Young Woman. She was part of a section about prostitution, which in the late middle ages, so I learned, was only allowed in cafes and inns in back alleys near the city wall. The portrayed young woman is often identified as Mary Magdalene, although her traditional symbols are missing. It’s her sad and remorseful look, in addition to the semi-nudity, that lead to this identification. In the second half of the twentieth-century, the image of Mary Magdalene as prostitute and sinner has been subject to revision.
Johan van Bronchorst, Young Woman, ca. 1654-56. Seen at Centraal Museum, Utrecht.
18 Dec. ART ADVENT #20
The man lying on the ground is Merlin, the magician from the tales of King Arthur. He is bewitched by Nimue, a Lady of the Lake. Lying helpless within the tangles of a hawthorn tree, Merlin sees how Nimue steals his book of spells, and thus takes away his power. I saw this painting in an exhibition about the women of the Pre-Raphaelite art movement. This painting was in the section on Maria Zambaco, who modelled as the enchanting Nimue. She had an affair with Edward Burne-Jones, the painter of this work. Zambaco was an artist herself, having studied under Auguste Rodin, she exhibited work at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon. Several of her sculpted medals are in the British Museum collection.
Edward Burne-Jones, The beguiling of Merlin, 1872-77. In collection of National Museums Liverpool, Lady Lever Art Gallery. Seen at National Portrait Gallery, London.
19 Dec. ART ADVENT #21
“When you find yourself, your culture and history is of having been subjugated, enslaved and colonised, you got to fix that.” In his art, painter Kerry James Marshall aims to visualize the long invisibility of black men and women. To reinforce this aim, the figures he paints are deep black. During the 2000s, Marshall painted a series called Vignette, in which he placed black figures in visual references to art historical icons. This Vignette references Massaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1425). Marshall’s Adam and Eve are physically strong persons, as they run away naked from Paradise. Note the clenched fist of Eve, particularly radiating this strength. With the Vignette series, Marshall wants to counter the art historical canon, which predominantly features white (and male) artists. Marshall’s interpretation of this expulsion from Eden is an icon in itself by now.
Kerry James Marshall, Vignette, 2003. In Defares Collection, Amsterdam. Seen at Kunsthal Kade, Amersfoort.