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Review Monochrome Painting in Black & White

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Review Monochrome Painting in Black & White
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  DUTCH AND FLEMISHART Patrons and painters: Hans Memling and Hieronymus BoschThe lif e and tragic death of Margaret Lemon, mistress of Van Dyck |Crowd-funding Piet MondrianMichelangelo in New York | Bernini in Rome | Bol and Flinck in Amsterdam |Cézanne in London Twentieth-century American artists and conservators FEBRUARY  2018  Monochrome London by KATHARINE STAHLBUHK  THE    EXHIBITION   Monochrome: Painting in Black and White   organised by the National Gallery, London  (to 18th February), and the Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, where it will be shown from 22nd March to 15th July, ad-dresses fundamental questions of colour per-ception and aesthetics. More than forty years after the first exhibition on monochrome art, at the Rice Museum, Houston, in 1974, 1  it offers a historical panorama of reduced-colour  painting from the Middle Ages to our time. Such a broad undertaking could have risked  becoming a mere illustration of monochrome  paintings from different periods and diverging contexts. Instead, the curators have succeed-ed in offering visitors a unique opportunity to enhance their awareness of visual perception. The display is successful in establishing that monochrome has been consistently used to convey meaning beyond narrative. Even if the purposes of colour reduction may have shifted over time, certain concerns regard-ing the nature of visual apprehension and the guidance of the beholder’s gaze seem to have persisted. Whatever the epoch, context or technique, a reduced-colour work of art consciously or unconsciously sets the view-er in a position of bewilderment due to the estrangement from reality created by chrom- atic abstraction. Like the catalogue, 2  the exhibition is divid-ed into seven thematic sections. Following a more or less chronological progression, it be-gins with ‘Painting the sacred’ and ‘Studies enigmatic works in this section, clearly seeks to do much more than simply pretend to  be a sculpture, but it is not easy to explain the complexities of emulation, imitation or evocation to visitors in the context of an exhibition. Significant absences – aside from the ques-tionable decision to exclude non-Western art  – include fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italian murals or drawings on carta tinta  (coloured paper), which could have served as early examples of stand-alone monochromes,  long before the astonishing Odalisque in gris-aille   by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1824–34; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; no.28), one of the masterpieces on show. The beauty of Ingres’s painting, free from the distraction of colour, is in the end not so far from Gerhard Richter’s ‘de-sire for chromatic quietness’. 3  His eulogy of grey, ‘able to convey both objectivity and ambiguity’, 4  establishes the poetic quality of his works that use photography as source material, such as Helga Matura with her fiancé   (no.56; Fig.9). Here, however, the abstrac-tion, or better the estrangement, lies not so much in chromatic reduction (since he cop-ies black-and-white photographs) as in the monumental enlargement and resulting blur imposed on the portrayed object.Richter’s Grey mirror – 765  (1992; Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen; no.70), which puts the reflected image of the view-er in greyscale, prepares the beholder for the final work on display, Olafur Eliasson’s Room  for one colour   (1997; no.71). Here the visitor is in light and shadow’, continues with sections on independent grisaille paintings, mono-chromes and sculpture, printmaking, pho-tography and film, and ends with ‘Abstrac-tion in black and    white’. This is a coherent arrangement, which presents the ‘evolution’ of monochrome painting in a clear didactic manner. Yet the largely chronological display discourages direct, concrete comparisons be-tween such seemingly unrelated artists as, for example, Albrecht Dürer and Joseph Albers or Hans Memling and Kasimir Malevich.In the first room, which contains the exhibition’s first two sections, the visitor is confronted with – and may be overwhelmed  by – a series of works from different periods and diverse contexts executed in a variety of media and techniques. But the common thread soon becomes evident: paintings in ‘tones of grey’. Unfortunately, a subtler, more precise consideration of the colours ac-tually used – which, despite the exhibition title, are more than black and white – is not  pursued. Noteworthy in the first room is the installation of Hans Memling’s Donne triptych  with its grisaille shutters (cat. no.9; Fig.8) slightly open, offering a glimpse into the ful- ly polychrome face of the Virgin inside, and thus demonstrating the performative aspect of such altarpieces. The relationship between monochrome  painting and sculpture is ancient, harking  back to Pliny’s use of the term ‘ color lapidum ’ and persisting in Dürer’s discussion of Stein- farben  (literally stone colour). Dürer’s Head of a woman  (no.33; Fig.7), among the most 8. St Christopher carrying the Infant Christ   and St Anthony Abbot  , from the Donne triptych , by Hans Memling. c.1478. Panel, each 71 by 30.5 cm. (National Gallery, London).7. Head of a woman , by Albrecht Dürer. 1520. Black and grey bodycolour heightened with white on  paper, 32.4 by 22.8 cm. (British Museum, London; exh. National Gallery, London).  EXHIBITIONS 146  february 2018 •  clx •  the burlington magazine  Canova, Hayez and Cicognara  Venice by PHILIP RYLANDS   THE    EXHIBITION   Canova, Hayez, Cicognara. L’ultima gloria di Venezia  at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice  (to 2nd April), celebrates the founding of the Accadem-ia galleries two hundred years ago and the vitality of the Accademia di Belle Arti, of which they were an extension, under the  leadership of the Ferrarese Count Leopoldo Cicognara. 1  It covers the years from the Bat-tle of Waterloo to the death of Canova in 1822 but spills out chronologically at either end. The narrative is dense with sub-plots that focus on various aspects of the fate of  Venetian art at the end of the Napoleon-ic wars and the establishment of the Acca-demia as a teaching institution. At the cen-tre are the three protagonists of the title: the  painter Francesco Hayez, Antonio Canova, whose Wunderkind   and protégé he once was, and the tireless Cicognara, Canova’s close friend, whose hand is seen everywhere in this exhibition. 2  Cicognara was appointed president of the Accademia di Belle Arti in 1808, the  year it moved into the Scuola Grande di S. Maria della Carità, the former buildings of a lay fraternity order. He resigned in 1826, continuing however as its eminence grise   un-til his death in 1834. He secured profes-sors from all over Italy, nurtured the ca-reers of the faculty and students and set up two-year scholarships (  pensionati  ) to study with Canova in Rome, from which Hayez and Giovanni De Min were to benefit. He found work for Hayez and De Min wher- ever he could, including illustrating his immersed in yellow light, and thus – thanks to the suppression of the other colours in the visible spectrum – is transformed into a ‘black-and-white painting’. Commenting on this work, Eliasson remarked on the power of monochrome to ‘sharp[en our] ability to  perceive’, 5  a quotation that emphasises one of the fundamental themes of the show: pover-ty of colour does not mean poverty of mean-ing; by contrast, its result is often conceptu-al richness. Regrettably the catalogue does not bring together experts in the respective fields to flesh out the nature of such shifts or disruptions in more depth, or to ponder the continuities between the periods. Nev-ertheless, the exhibition inspires us to engage more with ‘monochrome painting’ as it has far from exhausted the subject. 1  D. de Menil, ed.: exh. cat.  Gray is the Color: An Exhibition of Grisaille Painting XIIIth–XXth centuries , Houston (Rice Museum) 1974. 2  Catalogue: Monochrome: Painting in Black and White.  Edited by Lelia Packer and Jennifer Sliwka. 240 pp. incl. 160 col. ills. (National Gallery Co., London, and Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2017), £19.95. ISBN 987–1–85709–614–9. 3   Ibid  ., p.23. 4   Ibid  . 5  Olafur Eliasson quoted in ibid  ., p.205. own magnificent books on sculpture and architecture. 3 The exhibition, beautifully installed in the ground-floor rooms, reveals Cicognara’s activism on behalf of Venetian art. It shows sensual Neo-classical canvases by Hayez (Fig.10) and his contemporaries and Canova’s odd but vivid ‘colossal’ busts, in particular that of Cicognara, with his fluffy white hair and sardonic mouth (1818–22; Musei Civici di Arte Antica, Ferrara;   no.II.7), as well as  Bertel Thorvaldsen’s bust of Byron, looking  like a dazed pugilist (1817–33; Pinacoteca  Ambrosiana, Milan;   no.VI.1), and an exqui-site small marble Bacchus (1819; Museo Cor-rer, Venice;   no.V.11) by the short-lived and underrated Angelo Pizzi (1775–1819). In 1816 seven major paintings from the restitution of Napoleon’s booty were as-signed to the Accademia galleries, including Tintoretto’s Miracle of the slave  , Pordenone’s S. Lorenzo Giustinian  and Veronese’s Feast in the house of Levi  . At the same time, the col- lections of paintings as teaching resources for the pupils at the Accademia di Belle Arti grew rapidly, with such works as Giovanni  Bellini’s S. Giobbe Madonna  and Titian’s Frari  Assumption (returned to the church in 1945), considered to be endangered in their src-inal locations. In 1816, 118 paintings were  bequeathed to the Accademia by Girola-mo Ascanio Molin. The same year, Cicog-nara decided to install the collections in the rooms of the Carità, with thirty-nine major  paintings crammed into the sala del capitolo  (the so-called Hall of Public Functions), in time for an awards ceremony on 10th Au-gust 1817, a date that effectively marked the founding of the Pinacoteca. In the central room Canova’s The muse Pol-yhymnia  (1812–17; Hofburg, Vienna; no.III.1) reigns over the impressive, partial reunifica-tion of eighteen now-dispersed works of art, 9. Helga Matura with her fiancé  , by Gerhard Richter. 1966. Canvas, 200 by 100 cm. (Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, © Gerhard Richter 2017; exh. National Gallery, London).10. Rinaldo and Armida , by Francesco Hayez. Canvas, 198 by 295   cm.   (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice).  EXHIBITIONS the burlington magazine •  clx •  february 2018 147
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