Monday, February 10, 2014

Venice - A VISION OF THE CONTEMPORARY CITY - Fernand Léger at the Correr


Fernand Léger, Paesaggio Animato, 1924 
Philadelphia Museum of Art © Fernand Léger by SIAE 2014
(Venice, Italy) The exhibition Léger- A vision of the contemporary city 1910-1930 starts with Animated Landscape, which the artist painted in 1924 after visiting Venice with the art dealer Leon Rosenberg. Seen through Léger's eyes, eternally ancient Venice has transformed into a "contemporary" city, perhaps for the first time in centuries. Léger was one of the pioneer Cubists, embracing the new artistic language that began to brew at the beginning of the 20th century.

What is Cubism? In 1912, the artists Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger wrote a book called Du Cubisme, the first major text on Cubism, illustrated with photographs of works by Gleizes, Metzinger, Paul Cézanne -- considered the father of Cubism --  Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, André Derain, and Marie Laurencin.

Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 1), 1911
Marcel Duchamp
Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp
 From Wikipedia:

"The concept developed in Du "Cubisme" of observing a subject from different points in space and time simultaneously, i.e., the act of moving around an object to seize it from several successive angles fused into a single image ('multiple viewpoints' or 'mobile perspective'), is now a generally recognized phenomenon of the Cubist style."

 E = mc2
What fascinates me is that around the same time that the artists were looking at life from a new perspective, so were the scientists. In 1905, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was developing his own thoughts about the nature of reality and the relationship between energy and mass, and Max Planck (1858-1947) was originating quantum theory, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.


Fernand Léger 
Elemento meccanico, 192
Parigi, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne
© Fernand Léger by SIAE 2014 
© Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée National d’art moderne/Centre de Création industrielle
Léger - A vision of the contemporary city - 1910-1930 is curated by Anna Vallye, and comes to the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and the Correr Museum by way of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The star of the show is Le Ville, or The City that Léger painted in 1919 when he came back to Paris after serving in the French army during World War I. The war had a profound effect on Léger and his painting. He nearly died after a mustard gas attack by German troops in September 1916 and went three years without touching a brush. He declared, "I will gobble Paris up if I am ever fortunate enough to go back there."


Fernand Léger 
La bandiera, 1919
New York, Collection
Mr. e Mrs. Howard e Nancy Marks
© Fernand Léger by SIAE 2014
Léger and his peers witnessed some of the most rapid changes in the history of the world. New inventions created during the second Industrial Revolution radically transformed the lives of humans and shortened the distance needed to travel in space and in time. Trains, cars, the telegraph, the telephone and film caused life to accelerate. Electricity zapped out candles and gas lighting, and assembly lines turned human beings into part of the machinery. Léger and his fellow artists captured the modern world in which they found themselves immersed.


Juan Gris 
Natura morta davanti alla finestra aperta (Place Ravignan), 1915 
Philadelphia Museum of Art
 In 1914, Léger said:

"If pictorial expression has changed, it is because modern life has required it... The view from the window of a railway carriage and car travelling at speed has altered the customary appearance of things. A modern man registers a hundred times more sensorial impressions than an artist of the 18th century... The compression of a modern painting, its variety, its decomposition of forms, are the result of all this."

Léger was born 133 years ago on February 4, 1881 in the rural town of Argentan, in the north of France, 120 miles outside of Paris; his father raised cattle. Léger initially trained as an architect, and moved to the big city -- Paris -- in 1901 where he worked as an architectural draftsman. Léger applied to the prestigious École des Beux-Arts , but was rejected. In 1903, he began attending the Paris School of Decorative Arts, while also being unofficially mentored by two École des Beux-Arts professors. His early work showed a strong Impressionistic influence; after turning to Cubism, he later destroyed most of those paintings. An exception was My Mother's Garden, a painting that is not in the current show; I am including it here for illustrative purposes.

My mother's garden by Léger, 1905, ©Musée national
Then, in 1907, at the age of 26, he saw the Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d'Automn, and, like many artists of the time, changed his direction. From Wikipedia:

"In 1909 he moved to Montparnasse and met such leaders of the avant-garde as Archipenko, Lipchitz, Chagall, Joseph Csaky and Robert Delaunay. His major painting of this period is Nudes in the Forest (1909–10), in which Léger displays a personal form of Cubism that his critics termed "Tubism" for its emphasis on cylindrical forms.


Fernand Léger 
Fumo sui tetti, 1911 
Collezione privata
Courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan 
© Fernand Léger by SIAE 2014
In 1910 he exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in the same room with Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier. In 1911 the hanging committee of the Salon des Indépendants placed together the painters that would soon be identified as 'Cubists'. Metzinger, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay and Léger were responsible for revealing Cubism to the general public for the first time as an organized group.

Robert Delaunay
Windows in Three Parts, 1912

Philadelphia Museum of Art. A. E. Gallatin Collection
The following year he again exhibited at the Salon d'Automne and Indépendants with the Cubists, and joined with several artists, including Henri Le Fauconnier, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Francis Picabia and the Duchamp brothers, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Marcel Duchamp to form the Puteaux Group—also called the Section d'Or (The Golden Section)."

Léger's masterpiece, La Ville, arrived in the United States years before the man himself thanks to the wealthy and innovative collector, A.E. Gallatin, whose patrician roots stretched back to the beginnings of the USA. He is credited with creating the first contemporary art institution in the United States. His great-grandfather, Albert Gallatin, was one of the founders of NYU and served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison as well as US Minister to France. From NYU:

"Contrary to popular belief, New York's Museum of Modern Art was not the first institution in the United States exclusively devoted to contemporary art. Between 1927 and 1943, New York University was home to A.E. Gallatin's Gallery of Living Art—renamed the Museum of Living Art in 1936—which was restricted to "fresh and individual" works by living artists. 

Among the best-known works in the collection were Pablo Picasso's Three Musicians (1921), Fernand Léger's The City (1919), Joan Miró's Dog Barking at the Moon (1926), and Piet Mondrian's Composition in Blue and Yellow (1932)."

The new art movement was pioneered by big brains on both sides of the Atlantic who were on the same wavelength. Like Léger, Gallatin would radically change his direction around the time of the First World War. He sold all his Impressionistic and Ash Can paintings, and, by 1922, had acquired two watercolors by Picacsso and an oil by Cézanne.



Piet Mondrian
N. VI / Composizione n. 11, 1920
Tate, Liverpool © Tate, London 2013 
© 2013 o 2014 Mondrian / Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International Washington, D.C.
"Open to the public free of charge from 8 am to 10 pm every weekday and on Saturdays until 5 pm, and steeped in the informal, comfortable atmosphere of a college study hall, the Gallery of Living Art served contemporary American artists as—in Gallatin's own words—a "laboratory" for "exploration and experimentation" and a forum for intellectual exchange. 

Its greatest contribution lay in spurring the development of the New York School. Hans Hofmann often brought his classes to the Gallery for firsthand discussions in front of the pictures. Other frequent visitors included Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, David Smith, Robert Motherwell, Adolf Gottlieb, and Elaine and Willem de Kooning, all of whom have testified to the Gallery's vital role in introducing them to the vocabulary of Cubism and biomorphic abstraction."

During the curator Anna Vallye's presentation of Léger, Gabriella Belli, the director of the Museo Civici, reminded us that Futurism was taking place at the same time in Italy as Cubism was in France. To me, it would have enhanced the exhibition if a sample of Futuristic work had been included, especially since Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto was published in France only weeks after its initial publication in Milan on February 5, 1909, a day after Léger's twenty-eighth birthday. The second Industrial Revolution was a phenomenon throughout the Western world.
 
Giacomo Ballo - Abstract Speed + Sound (Velocità astratta + rumore), 1913–14. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice 76.2553.31 © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

"Futurism is an avant-garde movement founded in Milan in 1909 by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Marinetti launched the movement in his Futurist Manifesto, which he published for the first time on 5 February 1909 in La gazzetta dell'Emilia, an article then reproduced in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909. He was soon joined by the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini and the composer Luigi Russolo."

Léger. A vision of the contemporary city 1910-1930 is divided into five sections: The Metropolis Before the Great War, The Painter of the City, Advertising, The Performing Arts, and Space. Léger not only produced paintings, he also explored almost every field of artistic endeavor, from advertising and cinema to graphic design and theater. He worked on paintings, murals, tapestries, mosaics, sculpture and ceramic; he collaborated on sets and costumes for theatrical shows. In 1924 he produced an avant-garde 16 minute film called "Ballet mécanique," which is presently looping inside the Correr.

L'Inhumaine 1924 poster by Georges Bourgeois - Parigi, Collection Cinémathèque Française
One of the coolest things Léger collaborated on was the set for the 1924 experimental silent film L'Inhumaine directed by Marcel L'Herbier, who wanted to use the film to synthesize all the creative arts into one medium. The plot line involves a scientist resurrecting his dead beloved; Léger designed the laboratory. A bit of trivia:

"One evening of location shooting became famous (4 October 1923). For the scene of Claire Lescot's concert L'Herbier hired the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and invited over 2000 people from the film world and fashionable society to attend in evening dress and to play the part of an unruly audience. 

Ten cameras were deployed around the theatre to record their reactions to the concert. This included the American pianist George Antheil performing some of his own dissonant compositions which created a suitably confrontational mood, and when Georgette Leblanc appeared on stage the audience responded with the required tumult of whistles, applause and protests, as well as some scuffles. 

The audience is said to have included Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Léon Blum, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and the Prince of Monaco."


Fernand Léger 
Progetto di sipario per Skating Rink, 1922
Dansmuseet Stockholm © Dansmuseet – Musée Rolf de Maré Stockholm 
© Fernand Léger by SIAE 2014
Ah, those were the days! After the Great War was over, before the stock market crash of 1929, followed by the Great Depression and the dark, dark days of World War II. The exhibition stops at the year 1930, but Léger would spend the Second World War teaching at Yale and producing a number of huge mural paintings. Léger died on August 7, 1955 in Gif-sur-Yvette, France.

In 2008, Study for the Woman in Blue, a four feet tall Cubist canvas was sold by Sotheby's for $39.2 million, beating the French painter's previous record of $22.4 million set five years before. Last year, pop star Madonna sold her Léger, Trois Femmes à la Table Rouge, for $7.2 million to benefit her charity, the Ray of Light Foundation.


Didier Barra 
Veduta di Napoli a volo d'uccello, 1647
Napoli, Certosa e Museo Nazionale di San Martino
Also at the Correr during the Léger exhibition, up on the second floor, is another show about cities entitled The image of the European city from Renaissance to Enlightenment, curated by Cesare de Seta.  Starting in Italy, "the visitor will go on a chronological virtual tour of towns that have been completely transformed or which largely no longer exist," but have been preserved on canvas.


After the press presentation, a seagull kindly posed in a window with view of the front of the Museo Correr. In the background, the scene is of several workers taking down the scaffolding for the obtrusive advertising billboard that has been hanging on the front of the Correr Museum for years.


I checked again today, and it's really gone. The stage is going up for Carnival...  Life goes on.

LEGER. 1910-1930 La visione della città contemporanea
Museo Correr
February 8 to June 2, 2014
Curated by Anna Vallye with the scientific direction of Gabriella Belli and Timothy Rub, director of the PMA in Philadelphia and exhibition project by Daniela Ferretti

L'immagine della città europea dal Rinascimento al Secolo dei Lumi
Museo Correr
February 8 to May 18, 2014 

Scientific coordination Gabriella Belli
Curated by Cesare De Seta
Layout by Daniela Ferretti

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog 

1 comment:

  1. The exhibition Léger- A vision of the contemporary city 1910-1930 starts with Animated Landscape, which the artist painted in 1924 after visiting Venice with the art dealer Leon Rosenberg. Seen through Léger's eyes, eternally ancient Venice has transformed into a "contemporary" city, perhaps for the first time in centuries. Léger was one of the pioneer Cubists, embracing the new artistic language that began to brew at the beginning of the 20th century.

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