Drawing Upon an Extraordinary Collection at More Than a Library
The Thaw collection exhibit "Drawn To Greatness" on view at the Morgan Library and Museum through January 7th is a typical exhibition. Typically great, wide in breadth and yet at the same time focused from more than just a Library at a lesser known hidden spot in plain view on Madison avenue and 36th street.The exhibition spans almost 600 years of drawing and yes, to be precise, includes some watercolors and other materials that seem to go beyond the scope of a drawing exhibit. With our 4K televisions and lust for color who could blame the Morgan for presenting more than just a black and white show. Eugene and Clare Thaw were prolific collectors of what had been considered the finest privately held collection of old master drawings outside the coffers of a major institution. What seems incredible is that they only started collecting in 1994 though indeed the Thaw name was recognized for many years as the premier dealer in classical drawings. The inspiring thought here is that it is never too late to start collecting or to do anything you want to in life. Is it too late to buy Amazon?
A surprise in the exhibition is finding a work by Victor Hugo. Hugo penned more than poetry and prose and his work not only deserves to be in the show but seems to stand out. Often when artists jump track and enter another art form they fail miserably. Just look at John Lennon's drawings or Bob Dylan's sculpture and you'll agree if you can block out the sounds in your head. All the stalwarts including Mantegna, Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya, Ingres, Turner, Daumier, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and Pollack are on view at the Morgan in this encyclopedia view of drawing's history. What do we see and learn from this? I left Degas name from the list on exhibition. His blatant hatred of jews and recent shows ignoring this side of the man seems to bar him from my writing. His dancers, so much the love of neophytes in aesthetic appreciation don't do much for me either. Such ethical cleansing in aesthetic tastes are challenging and may be uncalled for and though I may be wrong to do so I can never separate the art from the artist.
On ethics, Right-Knight Landesman,Photo: ©Patrick McMullan/Gonzalo Marroquin/PMC: Knight has been "Weinsteined" by recent revelations many seem to have known of for a long time.
Ingres is a name psynonemous with delicate and exceptional classical line drawings. On view is a brilliant work by Jean-August-Dominique. What strikes me is the overtly nude perky subject matter. I can't help but think in the days pre-playboy and pre-internet that this was soft or maybe even hard porn. I imagine a wealthy businessman or the clergy of yesteryear gawkin like a modern clad orange knight at the vulnerable exposed breasts of a young writer or artist. Ingres may be as appealing as high art as it is to lessor and lower chakras.
The Pollack drawings looks brilliant. I overheard some folks say they did not realize Jackson created art like what they saw before them. Most only know his drip work, but in his early days Pollack was a master who seems to evolve out of Picasso's revolutionary work. It is subtle work that at first might look like meaningless lines and shadowed areas. Upon closer inspection you see Pollack crafting and evolving a space both pushing and pulling our perception of depth in as sophisticated a way as any Picasso drawing's except possibly the great analytical cubist works.
The Seurat drawings are in a class of their own. Georges was more than a bright colorist and pointalist/divisionalist. His drawings convey a loneliness reflective of his unique isolated personality that is very modern, relatable and captures the frozen moments of time his oil painting's dashed strokes hint at. At once they are modern and yet recall Egyptian works from over 4000 years ago.
This Jacque de Gheyn II phantasmagorical drawing from about 1600 combines a surreal mix of intricately and meditatively drawn objects of interest that still fascinate us today and predate surrealism by over 300 years. Artist often blur the imposed vertical timeline of ideas historians falsely attach to eras.
Indeed most great art defies being pigeonholed by it's time or style. Great art speaks of the timeless nature of art and the unity of humankind. All artists work with similar drawing tools, the same human emotions and the same human experiences. If we looked at our neighbors across the pond, in the middle east and in Southeast Asia and elsewhere as just other brothers and sisters from another mother we would have better grounds for getting along and not blowing up all we have worked so hard to keep from entropy's reign.
Drawing has and has not come a long way. A few beautiful letters by Vincent are on view and a drawing of a tree by Fra Bartolommeo's unites these two though 400 years separate them. You are best to see these fragile works now as the Van Gogh's are headed for a 20 year stay in storage. Given the delicate nature of the paper and dulling purple ink Vincent used there is not much else for the Museum to do to preserve the work. light wrecks havoc on paper works yet without it we are back in the void.