Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Cleveland Museum of Art Centennial Loans: Kahlo, Lichtenstein, Kandinsky, Sargent

In celebration of its 2016 centennial, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) is marking its anniversary with a series of exceptional loans from select collections around the world. Some are directly related to works in the museum’s permanent holdings; others highlight an artist or object not currently represented in the collection. This year-long program includes masterworks from such eminent museums as The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. More than a dozen works of art spanning five hundred years and representing cultures from four continents will be featured. 

This month, the museum announces the addition of seven generous loans to be installed in its galleries beginning now through September 3. Among these masterworks is Fulang-Chang and I, by
Frida Kahlo. The enigmatic self-portrait will be displayed side by side with a mirror in a matching frame that Kahlo intended would always be hung alongside the painting. These works invite dynamic juxtapositions and dialogues with objects from the CMA’s permanent collection, and will provide the opportunity for visitors to rediscover its renowned holdings, which constitute the core of the institution’s identity and global reputation.


Fulang-Chang and I, 1937 (assembled after 1939). Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). In two parts, oil on composition board (1937) with painted mirror frame (after 1939); framed painting: 56.5 x 44.1 x 4.4 cm; framed mirror: 64.1 x 48.3 x 4.4 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mary Sklar Bequest, 277.1987.a-b. Image courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo: David Brichford. © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York. © 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. 
Renowned for her self-portraits, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo produced more than 50 such works in an oeuvre of nearly 150 paintings, each offering intimate insights into her complex life. Museum visitors have a unique opportunity to commune with Kahlo as her enigmatic 1937 self-portrait Fulang-Chang and I is displayed together with the hand-decorated frame and mirror she created as its permanent companion. In this painting, Kahlo assumed her typical pose by turning her face roughly three-quarters to reveal one of her ears. Surrounded by lush, sage-colored jungle foliage, Kahlo’s pet spider monkey, widely interpreted as a surrogate for the children she was unable to bear with her husband, Diego Rivera, nuzzles near her chest, his glassy black eyes appearing to mimic the artist’s intent, searching gaze. This painting was featured in Kahlo’s first exhibition in the United States in 1938, held at Julien Levy Gallery, New York in 1938.

 Little Big Painting, 1965. Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997). Oil and acrylic on canvas; 172.7 × 203.2 cm. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 66.2. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Digital Image © Whitney Museum, New York. 
As a key member of Pop Art, the groundbreaking 1960s movement focused on popular culture and mass media, Roy Lichtenstein often emulated the Benday dots of printing processes used for newspapers and comic books, a signature style that is instantly recognizable. Lichtenstein’s work often repeats, mimics, takes apart and reinterprets well-known artworks by a wide range of artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Gilbert Stuart, Morris Louis, Piet Mondrian and Willem de Kooning. In 1965, Lichtenstein debuted a new series of paintings called Brushstroke. In Little Big Painting, the most iconic of the Brushstroke series, Lichtenstein cleverly challenges Abstract Expressionism, mimicking the wild and free-form gestures of the 1950s art movement in a hypermechanical way. Ironically, there isn’t a brushstroke in sight. An essential critique of American culture and a significant achievement in itself, Little Big Painting reflects the importance of innovation.

Portrait of Emy, 1919. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (German, 1884–1976). Oil on canvas; 71.9 x 65.4 cm. North Carolina Museum of Art, Bequest of W. R. Valentiner. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Portrait of Emy is one of two powerful companion portraits painted in 1919 by German Expressionist painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. One portrait depicts the artist’s new bride, Emy Frisch, while the other depicts himself. Nearly identical in size and format, Portrait of Emy and Self-Portrait with Hat, gifted to the Cleveland Museum of Art by the eminent art historian and key figure in the historical development of American museums W. R. Valentiner, feature explosive colors and radically abstracted forms. Schmidt-Rottluff’s intimate knowledge of Cubism, African sculpture and Fauvist color techniques surfaces powerfully in each portrait. Angular and geometric, each composition has saturated, unrestrained hues that attest to the artist’s direct and profoundly impassioned reaction to his subjects. In both portraits, Schmidt-Rottluff accentuated the asymmetrical treatment of the eyes, with emphasis on one enlarged pupil that stares hypnotically at the viewer, an exaggeration that references not only the direct transference of spiritual power between the figure and viewer, but also the importance of sight and visionary experience.


Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons), 1913. Vasily Kandinsky (French, born Russia, 1866–1944). Oil on canvas; 111 x 111.3 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection, 1931.511. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. 

One of thirty-six works titled Improvisation completed between 1911 and 1914, Cannons of 1913 remains one of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky’s most influential contributions to modern art. In a 1913 letter to Chicago lawyer Arthur Jerome Eddy, Kandinsky remarked that the presence of cannons in the painting “could probably be explained by the constant war talk that has been going on throughout the year.” He further noted that “the designation of ‘Cannons’ selected by me for my own use, is not to be conceived as indicating the ‘contents’ of the picture.” This contradiction signals the artist’s continuously evolving approach to removing recognizable imagery from his paintings. As part of his quest to create purely abstract or nonobjective works, Kandinsky proposed that harmonious colors and forms could express transcendent, otherworldly sentiments instead of mere surface appearances.


Portrait of Helen Sears, 1895. John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). Oil on canvas: 167.s x 91.4 cm. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Mrs. J. D. Cameron Bradley, 55.1116. Photograph © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Regarded as one of the most gifted portraitists in American art, Sargent is admired for his incisive characterizations and bravura technique. Both are pronounced in Portrait of Helen Sears, an image of the six-year-old daughter of a wealthy Boston couple. Here, the young girl is immersed in wistful reflection, lost in private thoughts and emotions seemingly inaccessible to those around her. Sears’s brightly lit hair, face and dress are rendered in vivacious brushwork, an exuberant application matched in accompanying hydrangea blossoms. Sargent’s flair for the theatrical is perhaps unmatched in this portrait, one of his most successful creations.