On Monday, I was supposed to leave for Spain on a three-week vacation, but (supposedly) thanks to people eating things which they should not, I’m stuck at the Fortress.
Not being able to visit the Motherland is a severe disappointment, not only because I just need a break, and because being over there at this time of year – when everything smells of jasmine and the weather is glorious – helps hit the reset button so I can return to regular life, but also because I’m prevented from seeing all of the exhibitions, museums, and cultural events that I had lined up for my travel itinerary. We’re all doing what we can of course, given our current restrictions, to make the best of our respective situations. And to that end, tomorrow afternoon I’ve got a Happy Hour to look forward to which, while not quite as good as having a goldfish bowl-sized gin and tonic on the roof of my favorite hotel in Barcelona, will at least give me some pleasure.
I’ve mentioned previously that during the current quarantine The Frick Collection in New York has been hosting a virtual event called Cocktails with a Curator, and this week’s installation features one of my favorite pieces in the museum. “King Philip IV of Spain” (1644) by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) is one of the best of the very few Velázquez paintings not currently *in* Spain. It depicts the king shortly after the Spanish defeated the French at the Battle of Fraga, and the artist painted it in a makeshift studio he set up near the battlefield, as he had traveled with Philip on his campaign. While the image is deceptively simple from a distance, upon closer inspection one realizes what a genius the artist was, far ahead of his time.
Take a look at The Frick’s high-res image of the painting on their website, and zoom in on any of the silver embroidery that covers the salmon-colored outer tunic: you’ll see that it’s really an abstraction, not a literal rendering. The same goes for the king’s silver under-tunic, as well as the lace collar and cuffs. A lesser artist would have painstakingly drawn in the outlines and then carefully copied what he saw, but Velázquez had so much talent and self-confidence that he could just flick or drag his brush once, and the human eye does the rest. No wonder the Impressionists and early Modernists took so strongly to his work.
The Velázquez edition of “Cocktails with a Curator” at The Frick will take place online tomorrow, Friday, May 22nd, at 5:00 pm. Conveniently enough, for those of you needing some drink inspiration, the museum provides a cocktail recipe recommendation to accompany the art. For my part, I’ll most likely be having a big snifter full of Anís del Mono on the rocks.
Now we can move on to some of the interesting art news articles that have cropped up over the past week, but taking a cue from the greatest of all Spanish painters, I’ll stick with showing accompanying portraits of the subjects themselves.
Munch Moisture Mystery
Scientists who have been monitoring the deterioration of the 1910 Munch Museum version – there are several – of Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch (1863-1944)’s most famous image, “The Scream”, have finally concluded what the problem is. It appears that not only did the artist inadvertently use a cheaply-made paint, but the chemical impurities in that paint cause the colors to fade when exposed to moisture. As we’ve all learned during the present pandemic, when we exhale we spew droplets of moisture into the air, so over time the exposure to the breath of thousands of visitors to the Munch Museum has accelerated the painting’s deterioration. Presumably, in the future the piece will have to be displayed not only behind glass – and under better security given its previous theft – but also at some distance from visitors.
Buon Giorno, Giorgio
The artist who is often considered one of the founding fathers of Surrealism – although he himself didn’t accept that claim – was the Italian Metaphysical painter Giorgio di Chirico (1888-1978). By the time the Surrealists became aware of him, he had already moved on artistically to other methods and styles, but you can clearly see how haunting works like his “Tour Rouge” (1913) influenced artists such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí and others. Di Chirico is one of those artists whom I’ve always been interested in, but have never found time to really take a good look at. Having a surfeit of time at the moment, this recent overview of his career published over on ArtNews was the reminder that I needed to go do some more reading. I’m intrigued by another parallel with Dalí, with respect to his later work not being as valued as the pieces that made him famous in the first half of his career, and also their similar willingness to use some aspect of what we’ll call “unusual” practices when it came to the sale of later pieces.
Dalí Daddy Issues
And speaking of Dalí, those of you who have been reading me for awhile may recall my reporting three years ago on the bizarre – even for him – case involving Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) and his alleged illegitimate daughter. The woman, who works as a psychic, claimed that she was the product of a summer tryst between the artist and a housemaid. Somehow, Mystic Maria managed to convince some rather colossally stupid members of the Spanish judiciary that she had evidence compelling enough to warrant an exhumation and DNA testing of Dalí’s remains, which are buried in his museum in the city of Figueres next to those of his wife, Gala. It turned out that the fortuneteller is not the daughter of the Catalan Surrealist, and as a way of making up for its earlier utter stupidity in even hearing this case, the court rightly ordered her to pay for the costs of the fiasco. She then appealed that decision, but has now lost. Guess her psychic powers don’t always work.