Art News and Opinion: September 4, 2010

Collaborating with the Hayward Gallery in London, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden is currently showcasing a massive exhibition of Ed Ruscha’s work—70 paintings in all, shown in chronological order starting with a series from 1958 and culminating in paintings recently finished. J. Lindblad of AO Observed comments on the show’s overarching theme: to explore words and their constantly shifting relationship with context and message, as the line is muddied between how words look and what they actually mean. On view only for a short time, “Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting” accurately illustrates Ruscha’s love affair with typography and obsession with viewing words as abstract shapes instead of a cohesive group of letters. In addition, Lindblad writes of Ruscha’s consistent use of a mountain motif especially in his most recent work—peaks and ranges as the artist imagines them. Over the course of his career, Ruscha has enjoyed several private exhibitions at established museums and galleries, and most recently was brought back into the limelight when the Obama family chose his work for the White House.

The Whitney Museum of American Art announces the opening of “America By Car” this weekend, an exhibition highlighting Lee Friedlander’s newest work, as reviewed by Claire O’Neill of NPR. Considered to be one of America’s greatest living photographers, Friedlander’s work was included amongst revolutionary fine art exhibitions of the 1960s and ‘70s. This show reveals that the photographer hasn’t lost his touch, even at the age of 76. Playing true to the age-old theme that the road is more about the journey than the destination, Friedlander snaps seemingly uninteresting shots of whizzing America and turns them into dynamic and controlled compositions. O’Neill observes with reverence the ease in which Friedlander can transform cows and neon signs into alluring and captivating images, and remarks that if Jack Kerouac was right in saying “the road is life,” then Lee Friedlander is thriving.

New York Times reporter Roberta Smith observes the new Salvador Dalí exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as bold, at times unabashedly highlighting Dalí the man instead of Dalí the artist—but altogether magnificent. “Dalí: The Late Work” points to an artist still executing stirring pieces well into his later years, unusual for someone of such high stature, as many greats produce their most memorable pieces earlier in life. Much of Dalí’s work in this exhibition pays homage to his Roman Catholic faith, oftentimes borrowing his wife Gala as subject fodder, never straying far from Renaissance themes and the hyper-realistic, soft touch of his paintbrush for which he became so renowned. Smith perceives the exhibit to be like Dalí himself was in life: over-the-top, with a desperate zeal to be current and better than the competition. Mixed amongst the photographs of Dalí with his goofy mustache and Andy Warhol quotes oozing with praise for the surrealist, the artist’s truest and deepest intention is inscribed: his belief in the power of “strictly visual communication.”

Richard Dorment of the Telegraph reviews the new Impressionism exhibit at the National Gallery of Scotland as lovely and crowd-pleasing, as well as an unprecedented education in Impressionist artists’ fascination with flowers. Appropriately titled “Impressionist Gardens,” Dorment notices that almost all of the paintings in the exhibition—Post Impressionists and Symbolists are represented along with the expected Renoirs and Monets—bear true to the garden theme. The exceptions are a few rebels that simply portray bouquets of flowers instead of real gardens in their frames. It seems this was deliberately done, as exhibit curators have gone to lofty lengths to showcase the numerous variations of flowers that were favorites of the artists. Dorment learns that flowers were often chosen due to their specific meaning in conjunction with the overall feeling of the composition. Garden-obsessed Monet, for example, is known for having planted specific kinds of flowers in his garden in pre-planned locations in order to include them in his flurried landscapes.

The drawing by Leonardo da Vinci called Studies for the Heads of Two Soldiers in the Battle of Anghiari will arrive at the Royal Academy this fall. Although it was sketched by the master artist over 500 years ago, Jonathan Jones of the Guardian remarks that the soldiers’ tired eyes and war-beaten faces are reminiscent of similar wars in modern times. When da Vinci had finished this drawing, he was in his early fifties and had spent a good portion of his life working with soldiers and men in war—one of these jobs was as a military engineer to the warrior Cesare Borgia. Jones remarks that this particular portrait of military psychology is astonishingly modern. The impact that war has on people is not any different today than it was in da Vinci’s time, and upon viewing the drawing, the horror of war is brought to mind similarly to photojournalists’ work today. War destroyed minds then, and it destroys them now, but da Vinci looks into its bleak depths and maintains a solid drawing hand.

Laura Lawson paints when writer’s block strikes and writes when painter’s block strikes. She has studied fine art at LCAD and is pursuing a degree in journalism. Recently diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, she strives to bring hope to those without vision through her blog. She is currently working on her first book about coping with vision loss.

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