Sunday, April 29, 2012

How Lucian Freud Painted Himself by Painting Others

“Nobody is representing anything,” Lucian Freud once said of all art, including his own. “Everything is autobiographical and everything is a portrait, even if it’s a chair.” Elsewhere, the grandson of Sigmund Freud announced that “My work is purely autobiographical. It is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record.” When Lucian Freud died in July 2011, the current National Portrait Gallery, London, England, exhibition Lucian Freud Portraits was already in the works. Along with the exhibition catalog and a smaller companion book, art historians are now trying to discern what Freud recorded about his inner self as he recorded the outward appearance of friends and family over the course of seven decades. Some felt that the portraiture as a relevant modern genre died with Freud, but this exhibition and these books make the case that the true value of these paintings—for him then and us today—lives on. Please come over to Picture This at  Big Think to read more of "How Lucian Freud Painted Himself by PaintingOthers."

[Image: Lucian Freud. Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985 (detail). Copyright: Private Collection, Ireland, The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive.]
[Many thanks to the National Portrait Gallery, London, England, for the image above and other press materials from the exhibition Lucian Freud Portraits, which runs through May 27, 2012. Many thanks to Yale University Press for providing me with review copies of Lucian Freud Portraits by Sarah Howgate with Michael Auping and John Richardson and Lucian Freud Painting People, introduction by Martin Gayford, appreciation by David Hockney, and foreword by Sarah Howgate.]

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why the Renaissance and its Art Were More Controversial Than We Think

It’s commonplace to imagine the people of the period we know now as the High Renaissance, centered in Italy from the 1490s to the 1520s, looking at the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael and thinking, “What a lovely Renaissance we’re having…” But, as Alexander Nagel explains in The Controversy of Renaissance Art, not everyone bought into the ideals of the Renaissance at that moment. In fact, Nagel sees the High Renaissance as an art historical and cultural turning point so steeped in controversy that controversy becomes “a condition of the art.” Instead of a fossilized, static time of great figures admiring one another’s greatness, the Renaissance in Nagel’s argument reemerges as a tumultuous time of experimentation and searching that is fluid, unresolved, and intellectually and spiritually challenging. Although, as Nagel admits, the Renaissance no longer stands triumphantly at the center of art history as an academic discipline, The Controversy of Renaissance Art might just return it there, not in triumph, but in the timelessness of its human uncertainty. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Why the Renaissance and its Art Were More ControversialThan We Think."

[Image: Fra Bartolomeo. The Vision of St. Bernard (detail), circa 1504.]

[Many thanks to the University of Chicago Press for providing me with a review copy of Alexander Nagel’s The Controversy of Renaissance Art.]

Monday, April 23, 2012

Will the Failing Euro Bring Europe’s Art Heritage Down With It?

Americans too often forget just how young a country we still are in comparison to the countries of Europe. Like any other youth, we copied our elders growing up. Our government buildings and monuments mimic those of the Greeks and Romans. Before there was anything recognizable as American art, American art collectors cherished European works. If the Robber Barons at the turn of the 20th century did nothing else for the good of their country, buying and carting to our shores what seems like half the Renaissance is more than good enough. After that long cultural love affair, it seems especially tragic that the global economic crisis begun in America might not only bring down Europe with it, but also the great cultural institutions of Europe as well. With stories of cultural sites pimped out for commercial purposes, robberies from poorly secured museums, burnings of paintings in protest, and even calls to close every other museum for good, it’s natural to ask if the failing Euro will bring Europe’s art heritage down with it? Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Will the Failing Euro Bring Europe’s Art HeritageDown With It?"
[Image: Italian Euro coin designs. Top row, left to right: Dante Alighieri by Raphael, The Birth of Venus by painter Sandro Botticelli, and Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. Bottom row, left to right: Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni.]