Great art, and shrimp paste to boot

I made the drive to Denver last weekend and, motivated by a review written by Westword’s outstanding arts and culture writer Michael Paglia, I took in the Modern Masters exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.
Paglia strongly urged that we indulge the experience and he was not wrong: the exhibit, a traveling show from the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, included a number of extraordinary works I had not seen before in person.
I am of an age where western art, in particular painting from the turn of the last century to the 1960s, was the primary formative influence in my development as an artist and a lover of art. While I was a mediocre student, at best, one teacher had a profound effect on me, instilling a love of classical drawing and painting techniques as well as a deep appreciation of the New York School — Abstract Expressionism and color field painting. His name was James Parker and what he taught me remains vital for me to this day. He went on to become the director of the Paris campus of the Parsons School of Design before his death and, no doubt, was similarly important to many other young artists as they labored to find their ways.
I moved to Manhattan in 1966, a chemically altered drummer doomed to failure in the music business due to poor choices and a lack of talent but, while there, I was able to sneak in on Cooper Union classes and to indulge what was then a relatively small art scene in the city. I hit galleries, went to openings and, most important, went to museums — a wonder I savor to this day. Many were the times I took the train uptown to the Museum of Modern Art, the Met, the Guggenheim, the newly-opened Whitney, there to dive in and swim in powerful currents. Twice I walked to MoMA, more than forty blocks each way.
Seeing the Masters show at DAM revived memories of that period in my life, as well as of great museums and works I’ve enjoyed in the U.S. and Europe over the years. This was a strong experience, well worth the nearly six-hour drive from my home in Siberia With a View. Well worth the journey for you, regardless of the distance.
The central piece in the show, for me, was Gorky’s “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb” — a grand masterpiece I finally had a chance to see. What intrigued me were the obvious influences on Gorky of painters like Miro and, especially, Kandinsky — whose works in the exhibit make the relationship clear. Also obvious: the links between a painting like “Liver” and color field painting — represented at the DAM by a relatively strong Rothko, a decent Olitski and a substandard Frankenthaler. Having recently spent nearly a full day at the Fundacio Joan Miro in Barcelona, and having long believed Kandinsky’s importance in the Modern pantheon is often underplayed, I found my DAM perceptions gratifying.
Joan Mitchell? Yes. Always.
Lee Krasner — a worthy painting.
The Kline was weak and, huge fan that I am, I was not enamored of the Guston.
Giacometti? Yes, “Walking Man.” One of the few sculptors of the time who caught my attention.
A tremendous Balla and an engaging Chagall, its background presaging all manner of effects reflected by others in several decades’ time.
Pollock’s “convergence” is the handcrafted twin of a Hubbell shot of exploding stars and galactic clusters at the edge of the universe. Stunning.
What I came for, however, was the Soutine. The single Soutine in the show — “Carcass of Beef”  — was on loan for a major Soutine retrospective I saw at LACMA in 1998. It was a joy to see the painting again and to reflect on Soutine’s critical importance in my artistic life. The Carcass was hung adjacent to a superb Beckmann.
My joy in the reunion with Soutine was not echoed in my reaction to “Man with Dog,” the painting by Francis Bacon, another of the heroes of my youth. I have seen many of Bacon’s best, and I don’t consider any of his “Dog” works among them. If I had to choose one, however, I would prefer to see “Study of a Dog,” in the Tate.
Still? Still more, many more, next door.
Finally, for someone who remains impressed by Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic series, XXXIV provided a truly satisfying interaction.
I left the DAM thankful to Paglia for alerting me to the show, energized by my visits with work by several key painters, and ready for food.
A Vietnamese joint on south Federal: stuffed chicken wings, a shrimp paste noodle bowl, soft-shell crab — enjoyed in the company of my wife, Kathy, my brother, Kurt, Ivy King and my grandson, Bohdi Valhalla.
A fine day: great art, family and food.

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One Response to Great art, and shrimp paste to boot

  1. Karen says:

    Wish I could have joined you guys.

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