R. Crumb (FINALLY) Makes The Big Time

Robert Crumb, better known as “R.” Crumb, the legendary creator of what is now called ‘Underground Comics” in 1968, the precursor of todays’ “graphic novels,” is an Artist who’s drawings I’ve long admired. His content, on the other hand, is, and will be likely to remain, “controversial.” While some of Degass’s work shocked when it was first seen, Crumb’s work is still shocking and controversial 50 years later for not being “P.C.,” especially his ideas on women, sexuality, and his own sexual preferences. While cartoon & comic artists have been unjustly looked down upon virtually since the advent of the medium, given it’s origins in throwaway newspapers, magazines and comic books, there are, and have been, some who have risen above the genre to the extent that their work has approached the level of being “Fine Art.”

But, crossing that line and entering the hallowed halls of our greatest Museums has not been readily forthcoming. Since the early 2000’s that has slowly begun to change.

Back in 2004 the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany mounted a retrospective of the works of Crumb entitled, “Yeah, but is it Art?” They also issued this 280 page catalog for it, bearing the same the title, with a cover drawn by Crumb featuring one of his iconic self portraits, this one showing him somewhat incongruously sitting uneasily in an easy chair by himself (though there are 2 cups of coffee present. The second must be ours!), with a large & pretentious gothic font for the title (which I read as the Artist not being able to mask his feelings on the subject), in a huge yellow bubble, with his answer to his own question in a tiny, hard to read, bubble saying, “You tell me. I don’t know.”

Cover of the show's catalog, 2004.

Museum Ludwig, Germany, show’s catalog, 2004.

Apparently, neither the Museum Ludwig, or Crumb, seemed sure about going out on a limb to an answer to the question, though displaying his work in a show is, of course, a sizable step along that road.

“Strange to see you waiting for me
You try to block my road, yeah yeah
Try to block my road”*

This is a question I’ve wondered about for a long time, at least the last 14 years- When will the major Museums open their doors to Crumb? After all, is it really that far from Philip Guston’s work of the same period to Crumb?

"Stationary Figure" by Philip Guston, 1973, at The Met, 2016

“Stationary Figure” by Philip Guston, 1973, at The Met, 2016

It makes me wonder if Guston knew Crumb’s work and if it was an influence. Guston’s late work, like “Stationary Figure,” has been in Museums, (including these examples at Moma, The Met, and The Whitney), for years. A nod from one of them regarding R. Crumb would more than likely set a worldwide precedent.

Fast forward to this week. While wandering through Moma’s 4th floor galleries of work from their permanent collection, I found the answer-

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Someone at Moma sure thinks the time has come. Enough to display this Crumb drawing in their “From the Collection: 1960-69” Show, featuring highlights from their collection during the tumultuous decade on the 4th Floor, right around the corner from a display containing a Giacometti, the Sculptor who holds the record for the most expensive piece of sculpture ever sold (but that “means” nothing at all in discussing Art.) Though not one of his better known works (I wonder if it is a page from a sketchbook), it’s an R. Crumb alright. (An interview, along with examples of his finished drawings may be seen here. Those are the works the Museums should buy, in my opinion.) It’s actually the third MoMA show to include a work by R. Crumb.

While Crumb has been included in other shows at Museums after the Museum Ludwig show, including the “Masters of American Comics” Show at the Jewish Museum, NYC in 2007, along with numerous gallery shows at David Zwirner and elsewhere, I’ve been waiting for Moma, especially (and more likely), or, The Met, to display him, since they are “the gatekeepers” here in the USA.

Now that this long awaited moment has come, I only see this continuing. It’s overdue, in my opinion, and a bit surprising it has taken so long given that in today’s overheated world of Contemporary Art, seemingly every nook and cranny of Art World Wide is being mined. If the Museums do have an interest in acquiring and displaying Crumb, they might want to act fast. Among other things, Crumb in Moma is likely going to have an effect on his prices in the Art Market. For years, as the work of these Artists was unrecognized by major Museums, it has gone unrecognized by the majority of Art collectors and investors who buy expensive Art. Those days are ending. The Museums may actually help price themselves out of acquiring more of these works by displaying them. Talk about a vicious cycle!

The best Comic Art was one of the last bastions of underpriced Art in the market. Now? I’d be hard pressed to find another. Besides, of course, the eternally undervalued and critically under-appreciated, American Realists of the last half of the 20th Century.

Will their day ever come?

“Oh, ain’t no problem
Carry no heavy load
Oh no, no
Why can’t I love you, baby ?
You try to block my road”*

For now, the next time you look at a comic in a newspaper or a comic book, or read a graphic novel, it might not be the “throw away” thing it has long been.

—————————————

UPDATE- August 8,2016

I went back to Moma over the weekend and saw the Crumb, above, again. What I didn’t realize the first time, because I was so surprised to see it and was busy making notes, was that RIGHT NEXT to the Crumb the very next piece on the same wall is this-

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Wow. Someone is reading my mind.

It also should be noted that Mr. Guston was very into comics when he was a child, so much so that his mother presented him with a gift of attending comic school. He quickly left, not taking to the teaching. I still wonder if the advent of Underground Comics had any effect on him, and his late work.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Road Block” from “Cheap Thrills” by Janis Joplin & Big Brother & The Holding Company (with a classic Cover by R. Crumb, 1968). Written by Randy Meisner and Eric Kaz and published by Glasco Music.

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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

Words To Live By From Man Ray #2

“Originality is not sought after but imposed on a clear thinking mind by the exigencies  of the message to be conveyed. When that message is startling and different, the means to convey it become original and daring for others, although he who conceived, is not necessarily conscious of any kind of iconoclasm, but feels as if he is performing quite a normal act.”

Man Ray, “No. 72. Class (In Time) from “Writings On Art”, P.177. Published by Getty Research Institute

 

Man Ray, “Obstruction,” 1920/1961, Metropolitan Museum of Art-

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Close up on the top hangar.

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One of the most unique Artists in history, Man Ray is one of those people who seems to continually appear…as one of the most revolutionary photographers ever, a painter (his first love), a sculptor, a graphic artist, and on and on…and also as a writer. He’s in all the major museums, but rarely gets a show of his own. I’ve always admired his work, and continually been surprised by it, and his accomplishment (as in “That’s a Man Ray, too?”) Having published a fascinating autobiography, perfectly titled “Self Portrait,” which drips with both insight and intrigue, now comes a collection of his writings about art. It’s a book that even rewards random reading- almost every page has a fascinating example of his one of a kind mind.

I think they make wonderful meditations…The first entry in this series appears here.

Soundtrack for this post is, what else? “Man Ray,” by the Futureheads from their 2004 self-titled album.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

“Patti Smith For President”

I’ve had the honor of meeting Ms. Smith, and wrote about it earlier this year, but I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing her perform live. (How is this possible??) The free concert she gave at Lincoln Center tonite, July 20th, presented a chance to rectify that at long last. It almost didn’t happen tonite either. I got there way early and got in fine. Then I went back out.

Don’t ask.

All of NYC had shown up in the meantime, so I had to wait on two ridiculously long lines to try and get back in. Luckily, I barely did but wound up about 350-400 feet away from the stage, as you can see below. Luckily, the sound system was excellent all the way to the back, so I could hear fine. Well, this is Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, so that’s to be expected, right? Being that far away, though, if there is one tall person between you and the stage, you’re not getting a picture. There were 2- one on each side of me. So, I had to wait and wait and wait, finger on the shutter release, until I was finally able to get a few.

My view, without my zoom lens. Guess who I spent 90 mins dodging?

Ok. Now! Before one of them moves back.

Patti, blissfully oblivious to my travails, and her band, augmented by her daughter, Jesse, on piano early on, tore the roof off roof-less Damrosch Park, under one of the biggest full moons I’ve ever seen, in the shadow of the Metropolitan Opera’s south fascade, as much with their music as with Patti’s “state-of-the-union” rebuttle comments as the generous 90+ plus minute set progressed.

She opened with reading poignant passages from “Just Kids,” her instant classic memoir that is chock full of them. Yes, she opened by reading from a book to a sold-out house of a few thousand folks, who had just heard some mariachi band(?) futiley try to get them to dance or clap for 45 minutes. While she read, it was so quiet you could hear a safety pin fall out of an earlobe.

How many Authors read before thousands of fans?

How many Authors read before thousands of fans?

As she slowly, and beautifully, built the set from there, about half way through, she did a wonderful rendition of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” adding her own lyrics(!) towards the end. Shortly after starting it, she stopped, to let an intrusive photographer have it, and when she resumed things promptly took off to another level, and stayed there the rest of the night. Setlist, here. (Per Kitty, my go to source for all things Patti, she compiled her own and confirms it’s correct. Thanks, Kitty!).

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“When Doves Cry”

Between songs, she then spoke about the Republican Convention, the lack of media coverage about the remarks made therein calling for the execution of the other party’s nominee(!), “enemies” in politics, and where things are really at for “the people.” While she stayed away from saying who she was backing or voting for, she made it very clear how she felt about the state of the rhetoric that seems to get a pass in the media these days. She said that she doesn’t get scared easily, but she is scared now. Form then on, she spoke about what is at stake for us and our children, “the future, and the future is now,” she said.

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I found it stirring, and her call to “use your voice,” struck me, since, well? I have a voice. Though my focus is Art & Music, my cards also list “Life” as the third realm of NighthawkNYC. Along with some other things I’ve Posted under “Life” thus far, is this, during Pope Francis’ visit to NYC, questioning the prison-like installations along 5th Avenue, around the corner from Moma.

I think Patti is right. Things seem to be going to hell in a hand basket. It’s getting harder and harder to find sanctuary in the worlds of Art & Music when every single new day seems to bring some new horror to light, be it mass shootings,  or verbal violence, espousal of racism, and an increase in the “us versus them” vitriol to never before seen heights. How long will this go one before it spills over into actual physical political violence? Haven’t we been through all of this before?

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I don’t care what side of the political coin you’re on, or if you’re like me, you’re on a totally different coin, i.e.- my own. I think we can all agree that this is going too far, it’s dangerous, and, as Ms. Smith said tonite, it’s un-American.

While I wasn’t around for World War 2, it seems to me that we fought that war to fight fascism, anti-semitism and racism. Talking about barring this or that group of people sure doesn’t sound like anything I was taught this country was about. As we also see daily, there are too many guns in the wrong hands, and too many guns only the police or the military should have, for anyone to feel safe, and no matter the horror unleashed NOTHING changes. And, along with this there are, also, too many questionable deaths happening at the hands of the law (Morrissey seemed to “warn” us about this in his last NYC show).

Too many things are amiss in our society, our systems and our government. I don’t know where this is going to end, but I fear it’s going to get even worse before it gets any better.

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I’ve said that the reason to live in NYC is for the Art. One of the other great things about living here is the diversity. People from all over the world live here. I, for one, am proud of this. They enrich the City and all of our lives in countless ways, including culturally. And? People from 115 different countries died here on 9/11. Take a ride on the Subway and you see what America is supposed to be, right there in front of you- the “great melting pot.” I believe it when people here say- “Hatred is not one of our values.”

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I like to believe that most people in this country feel that way, and they will be heard. We live in a very difficult world in a very challenging time. Yet? We have a say in where this goes. One of Patti’s closing songs was “People Have The Power.”

“And the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools”*

For me, and perhaps many others, Patti Smith IS New York City. She represents the best of what New York is. She came from nothing and became a star here, while remaining true to her self, and retaining and exuding cool. She’s both street smart & wise. She’s creative, multi-talented and constantly evolving, like NYC is. She takes no shit from anyone, while remembering the best of everyone. She warns us of the difficult road life is, while exalting all of us to the beauty and joy possible in life- big and small. She lives in the moment but never forgets the past. That she is also a touchstone in the guise of a Poet for so much of this City’s recent & glorious past is no small part of her mythology, and a blessing for those of us now living, and yet unborn. And? She’s Rock and Roll! She will kick your ass on stage with her band, or off it if you intrude on it. As New Yorkers like to say, she is “the real deal.” My respect for her continues to grow. As I learned tonite, she is one of those rare people that when you are in their presence, be it one on one in a room together, or 400 feet away among thousands of others, you FEEL you are in the presence of someone special, someone who has the “sacred knowledge” she’s gained  from both revered mentors, and on her own. And, someone who has the power to relate it, to transmit it to you, naturally, effortlessly, and poetically, like a zen master. As she travels the world (so I don’t have to), and meets countless people in countless other Cities, I know my City is in the best of hands. It’s like saying, “Here’s New York for you. Show me what YOU got.” I know, I know…good thing I stay home.

"When Doves Cry"

At one point, between songs, someone actually yelled out that Patti run for President! She replied “I’d rather be the janitor in any public school,” than be President.

This fall, if you’re still at a loss for a candidate? I feel your pain. It could still finally be time to make a woman President.

In spite of what she said? Write “Patti Smith” in, anyway.

There are far worse people you could vote for. What scares me most is- They are actually running.

"Because the night" is over, the crowd spills out from the left. L-R CIty Opera & Ballet, Damrosch Pk (Blue Dome), Met Opera, Lincoln Ctr Library, Geffen (Philharmonic) Hall

Because the night is over. The crowd spills out. Lincoln Center- Left to Right- City Ballet, Damrosch Pk (Blue Dome), Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Ctr Library, Geffen (Philharmonic) Hall.

*Soundtrack for this Post is “People Have The Power” by Patti Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith, published by Druse Music, Inc.

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Happy Anniversary To Me- Looking Back On Year One of NighthawkNYC.com

Today, July 15, is the first Anniversary of my first Post! It remains a good introduction to me, this site, and what has come after. Approximately 80 Posts have followed so far- about one and a half per week. One year is a good time to take a breath, look back and celebrate getting this far. So? Join me and raise a glass!

East River, NYC. July 4, 2016

CHEERS! Fourth of July Fireworks, 2016, East River, NYC

First, and last, THANK YOU! one and all for taking the time to stop in and read what I’ve written this past year! Thank you, especially, to Lana, who pushed me and pushed me until I started this Blog. I hope you’re happy now! I appreciate all the comments, corrections, suggestions and emails I’ve received very much as well. After all? Without you? I’m talking to myself. And, frankly, I get tired of doing that.

Looking back, this Blog has been quite a bit more work than I anticipated (though Magda tried to warn me), which surprises me because I’ve done this before- This is my 4th Blog (the other 3 are past tense).

"That shape is my shade, there where I used to stand." Steely Dan, from "Deacon Blues" quoted in my first post. The Nighthawk- hard at work.

“That shape is my shade, there where I used to stand.” Steely Dan, from “Deacon Blues” quoted in my first post. Hard at Work at “Nasreen Mohamedi,” The Met Breuer.

One post required 100 versions before I was happy enough with it to put it up, and a few others have been revised over 80 times prior. Believe it or not, NighthawkNYC has become close to a full time pursuit at this point. That wasn’t part of my initial plan for it, so how did this happen?

“Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream”*

While I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at Art these past 15 years especially, I spent triple that time this past year. I should reiterate that while I usually do quite a bit of research on whatever topic or show I’m writing about,

This shot was not staged.

This shot was not staged. Don’t try this at home, lest your house looks like mine.

I don’t read what anyone else has said about the show, sometimes even after I’ve finished writing about it. I’m aware that many writers see a show once, maybe twice and write about it. Most of them have deadlines to meet. I’m lucky. I don’t. I can spend as long as I need until I feel happy with a piece (My Post on the New Whitney Museum has been over a year in the works. I just hope I finish it before they go and build a newer one!) As I’ve hinted, I have a habit of basically moving in at a show I’m taken with. I’ve hit a dozen visits a number of times and this is for a show that may run 8-12 weeks. My thanks to all the security guards and employees who were at first like, “Him? Again??”, of these shows I’ve haunted. I like to “live” with the work so to speak and this is the only way I’ll ever be able to do that. Also, most good sized shows contain 100 to 200 works. They take time to study on any than a more than cursory level. Let’s face it, Good Art doesn’t yield all of it’s secrets in one viewing. And I, for one, especially value Art that says something different to me, or that I see something else (or new) in it with each viewing. IMHO, THAT is the Art you want to hang on your wall! Be it an original, for which we should all be so lucky, especially at today’s record prices, or a reproduction.

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As far as your mail goes, my Music Posts consistently generate more of it than my Art Posts, something that caught me by surprise, especially given the record numbers of people going to see Art. My Post on Patti Smith’s show “18 Stations” garnered the most interest. (Meeting Patti Smith, The Met’s Sheena Wagstaff, Artist Richard Estes, and others, were unexpected personal highlights of this past year. Another reason to ALWAYS have a camera on you.) I also got suggestions of shows or topics. While I always appreciate suggestions, it’s harder to answer if I will or won’t write about them. A certain amount of what I write about is dependent on the reaction I have to it. Most of the shows I see, frankly, leave me cold, and so you will never see them here. So, a show, musician, etc. that hits me and really speaks to me is where I begin. Yes, there have been other things besides Art & Music, here, too. What I call “Life.” They will continue. Along with “Life,” unfortunately, there have been WAY too many R.I.P. Posts this year, something I hope we are finished with for a long time. Beyond all of this, yes, there is a lot of freedom in being able to address people and/or things that I’d like to be able to talk about that I feel strongly need to be heard or seen. Ahhhh…such are the joys of paying all the bills, and having total freedom, even down to, finally, being your own editor. Also, it seems there is ALWAYS something unexpected going on that pulls me in it’s direction. Well? This is why I live in NYC, after all, right? Still, I am going to make a conscious effort to address Artists & Musicians I’ve been lucky enough to know, as well as more overlooked Artists (when I say Artists, I mean The “Arts,” not only the visual Arts, that are within my interest and experience). We shall see if the world of NYC Culture allows me to do that, or not. (I say this knowing that Moma is planning a B I G 2017.)

It goes without saying to anyone at all familiar with NYC that NO ONE could ever hope to see, hear or experience EVERYTHING that goes on here, even after so many irreplaceable cultural venues (especially live music clubs) have been lost over the past 20 years. Still? Even today, if I did nothing else but constantly go from one thing to the next, slept on the subway and buses and ate on the go 24/7, and wrote and shot this on my iPhone, It would still be impossible. It’s literally going on here from 9am until 4am seven days a week, at points in all 5 Boroughs, and beyond. Even if I were only to focus on The Met, which now also includes The Met Breuer, as well as the Cloisters way uptown (which I could get to via mass transit if I needed to, but it’s really a half-day trip all told), and focused on all their shows (about 25-30 at any given time), their concerts, lectures, special events, and on and on…it would be close to impossible for me. So? I have to be selective and choose things that speak to me and that I think more people should know about, or already have an interest in, and that I have some connection with, if possible. All of that being said, I have no immediate plans to leave Manhattan. Crazy, right? (Yes, I will probably hit Brooklyn, again at some point to be determined.) But leave the City? I’ll never say never- I almost went to Amsterdam for “Late Rembrandt,” and had a thought of going to Holland for the Jheronimus Bosch 500th Anniversary Show. But, after all the thinking about it, I realized that I am not a fan of travel. My life’s dream was to live in Manhattan and even though I know the world is full of great Art and Music, I’m content staying right here. Heck, It bugs me more that I still miss great things going on right here every single year!

On the other hand? We shall see how long this goes before I run out of things to say, or things to photograph. Hopefully, that won’t happen soon.

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July 4, 2016 Fireworks Photos taken at Kitty’s Party. Thanks, Kitty, for the Party & your support!

And now for some news for Year 2-

I have been photographing Musicians since the 1970’s, including quite a few all-time greats, and recently I have begun looking through those shots and finding out that some have survived, and some have not. I stored most of my early digital photos from 1998-2000 on removable media- remember Zip and Syquest Drives?- that have since became obsolete, and so the cartridges they were on wound up in recycling because I no longer had any way to read them! The lesson in that is that no computer file format is likely to last for long, so be careful how you store your files less this happens to you. Some of my photos taken on film have been found, so I’m hoping I can share some “vintage” photos as time goes on, in addition to digital shots taken recently. Beyond this, progress is being made towards the re-release of my music projects. I hope to have more news on this, too, soon.

In the meantime, please keep those comments, suggestions, feedback, and especically, those propositions coming! As those who have written to me know- you’ll hear back from me.

And, again, Thanks for reading this, or anything I’ve Posted here.

“I saw a film today oh boy
The English army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book
I’d love to turn you on”*

Have a great Night,
Kenn/NH.

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NighthawkNYC Version 2.0, with my alter ego, “Oof.”

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “A Day In The Life,” by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, from  The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s,” published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com
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Edgar Degas: Beauty & Anarchy

“I saw you standing there
I saw your long, saw your long hair
Opened up my eyes, baby
You made me realize all I want to do now
Is look at you”*

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) didn’t see the world as you or I do. Many of us can’t see beyond the phones in our face to really see most of what is right in front of us (watch out for that bike), and remember even less of it. Not Degas.

I see you.

I see you. Self Portrait, Etching and drypoint, 1857, aged 23.

Edgar Degas, seemingly, saw everything. Especially when it came to women. He even saw things that I’m not sure were intended to be seen let alone depicted. For that reason, I’ve considered him the “king of the hidden moment.” Some of those moments he chose to remember, and immortalize, were scandalous when he first exhibited them, 125 year later, they may still give us pause. He was a voyeur in the original sense of the word. meaning “one who looks,” but I am sometimes left to wonder if he was in the contemporary sense, as well- a “peeping tom.” Yet, he does it in ways that we can’t take our own eyes off of, “blinding us with science”- his talent and genius.

I see you, too.

I see you, too. Perhaps, only Degas would think of immortalizing this awkward moment. But, why? (Pastels applied to a Monotype, the core medium of Moma’s show.)

He, thereby, makes us accessories after the fact in his voyeurism. Before the fact, the question is there to be asked- Why this moment? While I choose to respect the privacy he long sought and stay away from looking into the reasons he felt “the artist must live alone” (which he was his whole life) for insights to his work, I have come to blame it on that eye that never closes, and that sees all. While we admire his work, rightly among the greats, there are times when I wonder if having that switch in his brain that said, “Um? No.” might have been a good thing- once in a while.

It’s too late now. No one who owns one of those “questionable subjects” Degas depicted is relegating it to the trash bin. Most of them are in museums, or most likely will be one day. At the moment, 120 of Degas’s works are on view in “Degas: A Different Beauty,” the summer blockbuster at Moma though July 24, a show centered around his rarely seen Monotypes, which are usually tucked away because many are too light sensitive for permanent display. Still they are Degas, and the more Degas I see, regardless of the medium he’s using, the more I’m struck by the moments he chooses. Of course, beyond “why?” there’s the “what does the work mean” question.

But, let’s back up. First…what’s a Monotype?

It’s a medium that combines drawing and printmaking that results in a one-of-a-kind work, hence “mono.” It’s created either by adding ink to a copper plate with a brush, or almost anything else, which is called the “Light Field” kind of Monotype, or selectively removing ink from the plate covered with it, again using a brush, etc., which is called the “Dark Field” kind of Monotype. The plate is sandwiched with a sheet a paper and then run through a press resulting in a print. Degas, of course, did both kinds, but as the show wonderfully shows us, he didn’t stop there.

One of Degas' first Monotypes- Dark Field.

One of Degass’s first Monotypes- “The Ballet Master” Dark Field, 1876.

In addition to this  never closing eye, Degas had an incessantly exploratory nature and they combined in an eternally restless Artist, one who was, also, constantly searching for new outlets for his creativity. That led him to the Monotype, an infrequently seen medium in Art, at the suggestion of his friend, the Artist and Monotypist Ludovic Napoleon Lepic in the mid 1870’s. Later, it would lead him to photography (1895). Degas threw himself into the Monotype with typical intensity. He learned the basics, and then pushed them. Soon, he was doing things like making a second print from the plate, which would naturally be faded as the image degrades after most of the ink had been spent on that first impression, to which he’d add Pastels on top of the black and white image creating shockingly “different” works from the two tone original. Some of these colored images are beautifully displayed side by side with the black & white first image, the pair are called “Cognates.”

Cognates

Cognates. “Woman in a Bathtub Sponging Her Leg” 1880-85. Monotype, and with pastels (right).

But, be warned- this isn’t “Degas 101,” or “Degas’s Greatest Hits.” It’s not even “Degas’s B-Sides”. It’s borderline “The Unknown Degas” (for the casual Degas lover), but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s “bottom of the barrel” Degas (whatever that is. If it exists, I’ll take it!). It means there is so much great Degas that little known works like his Monotypes can hold their own front and center in a big show, even without support from the inclusion of some much more famous paintings 1 But let’s not let the medium be the message here. For me, at least, it’s “still” Degas. What one sees in his paintings, pastels, sculptures and etchings, is also to be seen in his monotypes. All his “big themes” are here, showing they never were far from his mind, regardless of medium, and giving the casual Degas fan plenty to enjoy, while they see something new. They include-

 

Beauty. In ANY sense of the word.

Beauty. In ANY sense of the word. Pastel over Monotype.

Ballet Dancers

Bathers

Portraits, and even a Self Portrait or two

Family life

Night Life and City Scenes

Yes. This is a Landscape by Degas, Pastel over Monotype in Oil, 1890

Yes. This is a Landscape by Degas. Pastel over Monotype in Oil, 1890

And? There are also landscapes, something that most Degasians may not be as familiar with2. A whole room of them that Degas called “imaginary landscapes,” inspired by a trip through Burgundy in 1890. They are shockingly different for Degas, who, much like me, preferred the City and found no end of inspiration therein, anticipating the edgy, quasi-abstract late work of Monet (i.e. the Waterlilies, etc) some 20 years later, and the Abstractionists over the rest of the 20th Century.

Oh.

I left out the Brothel Scenes. Well? That’s what the section card says they are. They sure don’t look like scenes from any brothel I’ve ever heard about. (Sorry. I cant’ say I’ve actually been in one, so I’m speaking third-hand.) Of all of these, the Brothel Scenes strike me as being the most intimate, especially because the Bathers are almost uniformly very dark works, where much is hidden in shadow or under water. The Bather rising from her tub, above, is in the Brothel section, and is typical of how well lit these scenes are. Which is good because it also serves to highlight some of the questionable scenes in this section, like the image of a woman either about to use a bidet or rising from one. ?

Then again, it also means there are those priceless moments of ballet dancers and ballet students caught unawares in beautiful, unique poses. Families doing the most mundane of things line one wall, while “everyday scenes” of a different nature abut them in an adjoining wall of brothel scenes. The bathers get the privacy of a room to themselves, as do the landscapes, and the dancers are pretty much everywhere else. Along the way, we see two Self Portraits (one, above), a series of Rembrandtian etching “states” and a somewhat odd scene of smoke stacks, looking somewhat lost, on a wall by itself, heightening it’s “out of place here” feeling.

The “Greatest Hits” collection of Degas themes notwithstanding, there is much to see here, and much that requires close scrutiny. The gorgeous strokes of pastels that seem to have been applied at once both spontaneously and effortlessly, all the while, sublimely, particularly struck me. It’s also fascinating to see how he’ll take a black and white monotype and colorize it. Having the very rare opportunity to see both, side by side is, for me, one of the highlights of this show- The effect is not like seeing a colorized black and white movie. Degas makes it something completely else. As a result, I was quite surprised to see him quoted on a sign to the effect that if it were up to him, he’d work only in black and white, but the public wants color. I, for one, are thankful we have both. While I would never dare to argue his preferences, I also have to say- What a loss to the world it would have been had he never worked in color! I came away with a new appreciation of Degas, the colorist, both in how he applies color to a given composition, (which can be quite bold, like a lightning bolt, as in the dancer, above, but also for his palette. If you get to see this show, or the very good catalog for it, be sure to look for these instances where you can see the Cognates, so you can make up your own mind. Here is one-

Bather. Monotype. First impression.

Bather. Monotype. First impression. A closer view of the Cognates, above.

Bather. Pastel over Monotype. (Second impression)

Bather. Pastel over Monotype. (Second impression)

Then there’s the question of meaning…

“…what is fermenting in that head is frightening.” Rene Degas (his brother), in a letter, April, 1864.3

Degas does not surrender his secrets easily. Anyone who has seen his early masterpiece, “Interior,” 1868-9, can attest to the mystery his works hold. Some see a rape in it, others see the depiction of a scene in Zola’s then recently published “Madeleine Ferat.” Personally? Having seen it in Philadelphia first hand, I see different things in it each time I see it, even now in photos. Beyond it’s “meaning,” more importantly, right now, I see it as a precursor of Edward Hopper. It’s a classic example of what Jean Sutherland Boggs, in the catalog for a much earlier show at The Met, succinctly says- “The longer one reflects on the work of Edgar Degas, the more elusive it seems.” She continues, however, throwing us a lifeline of insight “…some key to the work, if not necessarily to the man, may be found in his fascination with equilibrium[ 4. “Degas 1834-1917,” Metropolitan Museum, 1988,  p. 23].” And, yes, beyond the voyeurism, which may take some time to see past, we do see that in the bathing piece above. Though it’s not to be seen in the physical sense in all his work (though it may be on the psychologoclgical sense) it becomes fascinating to look for- The dancers on one foot or bent over, or at the barre, and on and on. Degas is fascinated by man’s relationship to the ground, the earth, and with equilibrium.

DSC_2564PNH

Equilibrium, X 4. “Frieze of Dancers,” Oil on Canvas. 4 views of the same dancer?

The Met's Degas Sculpture Room. Notice that every single work depicts balance & equilibrium.

To research this further, I went to The Met’s Degas Sculpture Room. Notice how every single work depicts balance & equilibrium.

“Degas is an anarchist. But, in Art.” Camille Pissarro (Artist/Anarchist/Friend of Degas), in a letter.

This show is risky. Degas was exploring in his monotypes. The “beauty” on hand is sometimes “different,” in the sense that it’s, at times, not the beauty Degas is most revered for and that the masses of Art lovers, myself included, associate him with.

One of the most puzzling and "different" Degas I've yet seen. Monotype.

One of the most haunting, and “different,” Degas I’ve yet seen. Monotype.

It seems to me that when “looking for meaning” or trying to reconcile all of this, it pays to look back at Degas’s past. Degas didn’t start out a revolutionary. His early work showed “the classical beginnings, without any gesture of revolt4”  It was in the 1860’s that this would change. His anarchy lies in subverting the past/his past while he reinvents it, and seeks to add to or change his own working processes. Degas spent long hours copying in the Louvre and then in Italy for 3 years. Among the works he copied were an etching after a Michelangelo original of a man scrambling over a riverbank, i.e. climbing out of the water. Once you look for it, this image of a nude entering, or leaving, the water is one that reappears in his work- there’s a gorgeous pastel of one at The Met, here. Therefore, I think the image of the Bather Exiting the Bathtub, way up above, is, partially, another example of that interest, partially due to his interest in “equilibrium,” and partly sensual/erotic. It’s taking the classical idea of Michelangelo and turning it on it’s head, as an anarchist would be expected to do.

Anarchist Degas then shocked society in 1888 when he showed his nude drawings in an exhibition arranged by no less than Theo Van Gogh, Vincent Van Gogh’s brother. Vincent Van Gogh was quite taken with Degas and was one of the few Artists around capable of understanding, and admiring, his isolation and celibacy. His comments on Degas & women in his Art are fascinating. Up until Degas, the nude was something drawn from models, who were aware of what was taking place and were party to it, even if they were depicted at their “toilette”, which goes back to the 1500’s in Art. With Degas you often have the feeling that neither of these “norms” were true, leaving us with that sense of looking through a door that has been cracked open. I haven’t been able to find out what the subjects thought of these works. Voyeur? Rule breaking visual anarchist? Though he, apparently, lived a sexless life, Degas created his fantasies in his Art (for what purpose I know not), and a number of them are on view here. He created them for himself, only showing the 9 he allowed Theo to exhibit in 1888 during his lifetime, and he kept them until he died. Why? I don’t know and I don’t think it matters. They subsequently came into Museums and private collections when his estate was sold after his death in 1918.

It speaks volume that he was so willing to continue to explore when he had discovered things, like the paintings of dancers, he could have continued to do forever and receive endless acclaim for. It takes a little bit of that same faith to follow him on his exploratory path to get to the gems that are not often seen due to their fragility. They are here, though the show includes works that are not. Some may be characterized as experiments, while others are byproducts of Degas’s refining his process. They are all Degas, though, and as such are precious, edifying and definitely worth seeing. Moma is to be congratulated for taking the chance of going against the grain of what people know and expect from a Degas show, and for doing it without the “crutch” of including a number of their own very familiar paintings. Here we have Degas the artist who was restlessly exploring new mediums and new techniques, while adding his own steps to the processes he had been taught by others. In that sense, “Degas: A Different Beauty” is a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the greatest Artists of the past 150 years.

“When it happened
Something snapped inside
Made me want to hide
All alone on my own
All alone on my own”*

For me, this makes Degas a prototypical “Modern Artist” in every sense of the term, as much as anyone working today. Degas would be right at home in our time, with the expanded capabilities Artists have, pushing the possibilities of Photoshop, the iPad, video, or you name it, as he would have been at home, most likely, at ANY time in history. In that sense, like his great influence and forbearer, Rembrandt, and a great Artist he influenced, Picasso, Edgar Degas was an eternally “Modern Artist.”

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Looking At You” by the MC5, written by Tom Robinson from their Lp “Back In the USA.” Published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Warner Chappell Music Inc. Degas’s brother lived “back in the USA” and he actually spent fruitful time in New Orleans in 1872.

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  1. There are 7 oil on canvas paintings and 1 oil on paper mounted on canvas, mostly in the show’s final room, but none are among his famous works.
  2. The Met had a show of Degas’s Landscapes in 1993.
  3. “Degas 1834-1917,” Metropolitan Museum, 1988, p.41
  4. “Degas 1834-1917”, Metropolitan Museum, 1988, p. 34

I’m Not Alone! Other NightOwls Among Us

The first installment in an infrequently added to, but ongoing, series.

I love hearing what others do, or get done at Night, so I’ve decided to honor some of those most deserving of recognition.

Here’s to them, my fellow NightOwls! I award you an Honorary “Oof.”

“Oof.” The NighthawkNYC NightOwl

I’ll start this tribute with someone you may have heard of-

#1- A self described “Night Guy.”

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com
Click the box on the upper right if you’d care to subscribe. Thanks.
This Post was created by and originally Posted on www.nighthawknyc.com.