Art News Headlines: May 28, 2011

Blue Nude, Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 1907

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” reunites the unparalleled modern art collections of author Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael Stein, and Michael’s wife, Sarah Stein. Jointly organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux in Paris, this major touring exhibition gathers approximately 200 iconic paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and illustrated books not only by Matisse and Picasso, who are each represented by dozens of works, but also by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, among many others. The Steins were knee-deep in the turn-of-the century revolution in the visual arts through their adventurous patronage, strong ties to leading minds of the era, and legendary Paris salon gatherings—all happening around the same time the SFMOMA was founded in the 1930’s. Supplemented by a rich array of archival materials—including photographs, family albums, and film clips—the exhibition provides a new perspective on the artistic foresight of this innovative family, tracing their enduring impact on art-making and collecting practices, as well as their inestimable role in creating a new international standard of taste for modern art. “The Steins Collect” premiered at SFMOMA on May 21 and will be on view through September 6, 2011, before traveling to Paris and then New York.

John Paul II, Oliviero Rainaldi

On Friday, the Vatican did not hesitate to display their grim disapproval aimed at a giant new modernist sculpture that portrays John Paul II, saying the bronze work outside Rome’s main train station doesn’t even begin to resemble the late pontiff. Even commuters and tourists agreed that the statue looks more like the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini than the widely beloved pope. The artist, Oliviero Rainaldi, has depicted the pontiff as if he is opening his large cloak to embrace the faithful. But the Vatican says the effect is “of a mantle that almost looks like a sentry box, topped by a head of a pope which comes off too roundish.” The statue, paid for by a foundation at no cost to the city of Rome, was erected a few days ago, marking what would have been John Paul’s 91st birthday on May 18. Although the Vatican acknowledges that the work was intended to be modern, “the statue’s sin” is that it does not actually resemble the beloved pope. A Roman cleaning woman ventured some practical objections, as well as artistic, upon gazing at the sculpture for the first time. “With the shape of a cape, sooner or later the homeless people at the station will sleep inside it, and in no time, it will be full of bottles of beer,” observed Grazia Liberti, 46, returning home after her night job.

On Monday, Volkswagen, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and MoMA PS1 announced a two-year, multi-million dollar partnership. The German auto giant will provide sponsorship for the museum’s exhibitions and education programs, and will donate two pieces by Belgian artist Francis Alÿs to MoMA’s permanent collection. This unprecedented partnership supports MoMA and MoMA PS1’s leadership role in contemporary art and culture, as well as their goal of reaching a diverse and global audience. The Volkswagen Group has had an affinity for design and image making for decades—even aside from designs like the well-known Beetle, the company has recently overseen a particularly well-received TV ad campaign. Kim Mitchell, MoMA’s Chief Communication Officer, commented, “while Volkswagen’s generous support makes these programs possible, they will not be playing a curatorial or advisory role in the development of the content.”

The Whitney Museum of American Art has officially broken ground at the site of its future home in downtown Manhattan. On Tuesday, the groundbreaking ceremony for the $720 million museum in the Meatpacking District was attended by its architect, Renzo Piano, and other dignitaries. The asymmetrical building at the entrance to the High Line elevated park is projected to open in 2015. This new space will, for the first time, allow for a comprehensive view of the Whitney’s unsurpassed collection of modern and contemporary American art, a collection that boasts 18,000 works in total from the 20th and 21st centuries. It will devote equal space to the Museum’s widely influential special exhibitions and artist projects, as well as provide state-of-the-art facilities for enhanced education and performing arts programs, all within one of New York’s most vibrant neighborhoods. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it will strengthen the area’s ongoing revitalization. Founded by heiress Gertrude Vanderbild Whitney, the museum has occupied its current Madison Avenue building since 1966.

In other art news, the National Gallery of Victoria celebrated its 150th birthday on Tuesday. In honor of this remarkable milestone, the NGV unveiled a stunning gift of 173 important indigenous works of art including three by contemporary artists Vernon Ah Kee, Brook Andrew and Jonathan Jones, who were commissioned to create works that pay tribute to the highly celebrated Wurundjeri artist, William Barak. These pieces were gifted by the Felton Bequest, established in 1904 by the NGV’s greatest benefactor, Alfred Felton. The works are on display at the NGV through the end of the year. The Gallery’s indigenous art collection is composed of roughly 3000 items, yet only a miniscule 200 can be exhibited at any one time at the NGV galleries in Federation Square—the Felton donation currently taking up almost all the space. Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia last year opened a $107 million wing of 11 galleries devoted to indigenous art, proclaiming it as the biggest collection in the world.

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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