PRINT December 1997

Linda Nochlin

1 Ellsworth Kelly (Guggenheim Museum, New York): Without a doubt the season’s most exciting show—pleasurable, demanding, and full of surprises. Lots of gorgeous color, tantalizing shapes, delicacy and dazzle. Then the surprising elegance of the small-scale drawings, the wit of the altered postcards. And the upward-and-onward setting of the Guggenheim seemed just right for this ascent toward the absolute.

2 Georges Seurat (National Gallery, London): A really interesting show, especially if you are involved in the late nineteenth century, interested in the representation of the bather, and an admirer of Seurat, all of which I am. The antithesis of the blockbuster, this show stuck admirably to the Baignade itself, supplementing Seurat’s youthful masterpiece with related works and the artist’s myriad studies and Conté-crayon drawings, each a different sort of miracle in black, white, and gray. The study in profile for a young boy’s head, called Echo, close up, cropped, the thread of the paper showing through the crayon, is as beautiful and mysterious as music. I can play it over in my head at night.

3 Joyce Kozloff (DC Moore Gallery, New York): “Other Peoples’ Fantasies (maps, movies and menus)” was the kind of show I love because it takes lots of looking, filled with variety yet linked by theme and sensibility. The maps include one of the Amazon and its tributaries, with a tape of readings from Calvino’s Invisible Cities; as well as maps of New York and Paris, the street names of the former replaced with those of Jewish women, the latter renamed for French women. The menus include eight food pieces on the wall in cast plaster moldings along with paintings of food on silk and recipes culled from friends and relatives. I browsed for a long time, consulted the recipes, and laughed a bit, too.

4 Le Corbusier, Maison Jaoul (Neuilly, 1951–56): In the beginning, the visit was something of a shock: first of all, more color than one expects (a bright, aggressive green, to be explicit). Also, the present owners seem to have tarted up the interior a bit. But then you become aware of the signature details: the elegant relationship between the brick, wood, and concrete; the perfection of the proportions; the Mediterranean allusions, a whiff of the Greek Islands, a sensation of Catalonia; the way each element works unassumingly to support the whole idea (or ideal).

5 Dinner with Régis Michel (Paris, July): Régis is a curator of drawings at the Louvre, so his dinners certainly count as an art experience. He is also one of the most interesting, opinionated, and argumentative art persons I know. He states his views with such assuredness and such gorgeous flights of French rhetoric I am swept off my feet—until I recover and come in, participles dangling, fists flying, for the riposte. It can be anything from the sins of the family (“all families are fascistic,” claims Régis over the fish) to Signac (“an awful picture,” he declares of one of my favorites). Lots of excellent food and wine, cooked by Régis and Catherine. And a good time was had by all.

6&7 Edgar Degas “Degas: Beyond Impressionism” (National Gallery, London, and the Art Institute of Chicago); “The Private Collection of Edgar Degas” (Metropolitan Museum, New York): In the late work seen at the National Gallery and the Art Institute, Degas continues the old motifs but generalizes and monumentalizes them; I suspect this is partly (but more than curator Richard Kendall will admit) due to the infirmities of age, especially of eyesight. “The Private Collection of Edgar Degas” is a revelation, moving as it does from the most exquisite Ingres drawings to major works by Cézanne. In between are the expected—lithographs by Daumier, some wonderful Delacroixs, scènes de moeurs by Gavarni—but also the unexpected, including Gauguin’s Sulking (very Degas–like, actually) and his great, zany paean to human evolution, Day of the God (Mahana no Atua). Degas was ever the experimenter, aware of the past, rejecting tradition, embracing the risky future.

8 “Paris-Bruxelles/Bruxelles-Paris” (Grand Palais, Paris): Setting out to examine the myriad relationships between the two capitals at the fin de siècle, this blockbuster also demonstrated what was specific to the Belgian achievement during the period. The Belgian avant-garde welcomed the greater adventurousness of their French contemporaries with open arms. Exhibitions like those of “Les XX,” amply represented on the walls of the Grand Palais, included major works by Manet, Signac, and Seurat, among others, and serious critics like the poet Emile Verhaeren analyzed the new art with verve and penetration (a separate show at the Orsay was dedicated to Verhaeren). Belgian and French decorative artists established a dominating presence in the show, especially the gorgeous work by Gallé, Wolfers, and Horta.

9 Rosa Bonheur (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux): It’s best to think of Bonheur less as a major nineteenth-century artist than as a sort of trousers-wearing wonder woman whose work was distributed worldwide in the form of prints. The occasional sketch or drawing was impressive—Bonheur certainly knew her craft—and who could resist animal paintings like Barbaro after the Hunt, pathos incarnate, engagingly big-eyed and furry, chained to the wall but still game? Those with a taste for symbolism might see a man’s soul chained to a woman’s body as the underlying theme here; others might simply opt for an endearing sentimentality.

10 Pierre-Auguste Renoir (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa): I shouldn’t mention this because I did write one of the catalogue essays, but since I didn’t do the work—i.e., curating—which was done by Colin Bailey, or the painting, I feel entitled to say that there are many winners here: the picture of a portly Vollard looking half proud, half chagrined in a dazzling toreador suit is itself worth the price of admission. Secret discovery: Renoir painted a lot of portraits of boys, men, and mature women. He was not just a painter of pretty young girls, although he certainly did more of them than seems strictly necessary.

Linda Nochlin is the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Modern Art at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. She is currently at work on Representing Women, an account of women and art in the nineteenth century, due from Thames and Hudson this spring.