Egon Schiele at the Neue Galerie

Egon Schiele_Portrait of Dr. Erwin von Graff_1910  schiele self-portrait with arm above head

Up through the holiday weekend, “Egon Schiele: Portraits” at the Neue Galerie was a surprising favorite show of mine last time I was in NYC: surprising because it’s not my era or area of interest. But Schiele’s portraits stand in graphic, psychological counter to the museum’s stunning portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer by Gustav Klimt. Klimt’s ornately decorative mode gives way to a bare, introspective style by Egon Schiele, who looked up to the older artist as both a father figure and a rival who he must supplant, as is appropriate given the theories Freud was elaborating on, also in Vienna, at this time. Room after room of portraits provides insight into Schiele’s interests (people, preferably lean and contorted) and working methods (a traditional command of draftsmanship and anatomy pointedly given over to more expressive lines). Well-worth a look if you have a chance this weekend.

Gustav_Klimt_Portrait of Adele Blauch Bauer




Early #selfie: William Orpen


This early self portrait by William Orpen dates from about 1910, and shows the young artist as the fashionable portrait painter in London that he was. Alternatively titled, “Leading the Life in the West,” a telltale camera in hand could bring this mirror shot of early self-fashioning into the present day.

Kusama at the Whitney (a belated post from Hungary)

Note: I meant to send this before I left for Hungary, and then have a fresh start about Hungarian art…but here this draft is, sitting and waiting to be published. So…

Self-Portrait, 1972. Collage with pastel, ballpoint pen, and ink on paper.

Yayoi Kusama courted and received a lot of attention in New York in the 1960s for her truly groundbreaking and unique work. It’s how the Whitney Museum of American Art can justify having the Japanese artist’s retrospective on view, despite her having lived most of her life in Japan, as she still does today. Kusama has her trademark polka dot works up, supported by some works from the beginning of her career, documentation about her activities in the 60s in New York, and a final roomful of her most recent paintings, all atop each other like the inside of a Kusamaesque Rubik’s cube.

The exhibition allows you to see how themes develop in her career–her initial white dot paintings become dots she paints on people to “obliterate” them, which becomes the undulating patterns of her paintings in the 2000s. She also returns to soft, abstract sculptural forms reminiscent of the body and of Louise Bourgeois, at multiple points.

Man Catching the Insect, 1972. Collage with oil on paper.

Her collage works, two examples of which are shown here, don’t fit as neatly into these patterns. They aren’t as clean and graphic design-y as her current works, but I found them as strong as anything else in the show. The more literally evoke Surrealism and the exploration of consciousness, but they do it in a very Kusama (note the polka dots) and very accomplished way. They are one of the rare times her obsessive attention to detail combines with recognizable imagery. Kusama is notoriously and publicly of a “fragile mental state,” to quote the artist herself, and these works show again how that mental instability plays into and feeds her artistic production.