Manet, Degas, Renoir, Monet, and Morisot. You’ve likely not heard of that last one, but Berthe Morisot was one of the founding members of painting’s Impressionist movement and because of a new retrospective exhibition, she’s finally getting her due. Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist is a collaboration among five museums from around the world and is currently on display at The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (though only until January 14). Peter Schjeldahl’s review for the New Yorker calls Morisot “the most interesting artist of her generation”.
About half of the sixty-eight paintings in the show remain in private collections. But, aside from a few partial failures that instructively exemplify risks Morisot took, they are all more than museum-worthy. Morisot is still emerging from the margins of the Impressionist club of certified alphas, betas, and minions, but the priority for valuing her work is not just the issuing of retroactive membership. It’s re-seeing and rethinking the whole history of modern art from the perspective of women who never stood a chance of major attainment. In a different world, Morisot would be the doyenne of an established tradition that built and expanded on her example.
Modern art museum patrons are often confounded by all-white paintings like those of Robert Ryman. Like, what the hell? It’s just a white painting? “I could do that.” In this video, Vox’s Dean Peterson talks with The Whitney’s assistant curator Elisabeth Sherman about how you might approach thinking about minimalist art.
Always, Ryman invites contemplation of the light that falls on his paintings (which when I saw them, on a recent cloudy day, was glumly tender as it filtered through the Dia skylights) and of their formal relation to the rooms that contain them. There’s no savoring of style, just stark presentation. His work’s economy and quietness may be pleasing, but its chief attraction is philosophical. What is a painting? Are there values inherent in the medium’s fundamental givens — paint skin, support surface, wall — when they are denied traditional decorative and illustrative functions? Such questions absorb Ryman. Do they excite you? Your answer might betray how old you are.
White has a tendency to make things visible. With white, you can see more of a nuance; you can see more. I’ve said before that, if you spill coffee on a white shirt, you can see the coffee very clearly. If you spill it on a dark shirt, you don’t see it as well. So, it wasn’t a matter of white, the color. I was not really interested in that. I started to cover up colors with white in the 1950s. It has only been recently, in 2004, that I did a series of white paintings in which I was actually painting the color white. Before that, I’d never really thought of white as being a color, in that sense.
A group of organizations, including Microsoft and the Rembrandthuis museum, have collaborated to produce a new painting by Rembrandt. Or rather, “by” Rembrandt. The team wrote software that analyzed the Dutch master’s entire catalog of paintings and used the data to create a 3D-printed Rembrandt-esque painting.
We now had a digital file true to Rembrandt’s style in content, shapes, and lighting. But paintings aren’t just 2D — they have a remarkable three-dimensionality that comes from brushstrokes and layers of paint. To recreate this texture, we had to study 3D scans of Rembrandt’s paintings and analyze the intricate layers on top of the canvas.
I’d say they did pretty well:
I wonder though, to what extent is this an averaged Rembrandt? According to the program, is there one canonical Rembrandt-esque eye and that’s it? Or can the program paint dozens of variations? After all, because he was (presumably) working with actual people, Rembrandt himself had hundreds or thousands of ways to paint, it wasn’t just the same sort of mouth over and over.
In truth, the portrait wobbles at a second glance and crashes at a third. The sitter has a sparkle of personality but utterly lacks the personhood — the being-ness — that never eluded Rembrandt. He is an actor, acting.
I have angled for reasons to snoot the webcam stunt. I can’t think of any. Along with more or less everybody else, I find it Warholian to the, well, life: watching the present habitation of a man who liked to watch. Warhol pioneered motion pictures of motionless subjects; and we have him to thank, or not, for prophesying reality television. His strictly beholding bent became, as it remains, a default setting of artistic and popular culture absolutely everywhere.
The live video feed includes sound, so I imagine it won’t be too long before some enterprising performance artists show up and do something entertaining.