Tuesday, June 30, 2020

NGA extends Degas until OT 12

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), The Orchestra of the Opéra, 1870, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. This was Degas's "first public success following multiple setbacks at the Salon," according to the catalog. Désiré Dihau, the bassoonist, commissioned Degas to make his portrait, which Dihau's sister, Marie, later inherited and loaned to the first Degas retrospective in Paris in 1924.With her own Degas portrait (Mademoiselle at the Piano, 1870), the two works "caused a sensation." Members of the orchestra were painters and friends of the artist.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Dancer with a Bouquet Curtseying on Stage, 1878, pastel on wove paper mounted on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Bequest of Isaac de Camondo. NGA's audio of this work concentrates on Degas's components of the composition rather than the content and characters.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Dance Examination, 1880, pastel on paper, Lent by the Denver Art Museum. The audio explains that the young dancers are preparing for one of two dance examination held yearly, one test based on skills, and the other, self promotion. The second older woman upper right is hard to make out, but the two women are likely the mothers who help their daughters tighten laces, pull up tights, and make sure they don't have baggy knees!  "The bane of every dancer's existence!" exclaims a dancer on the audio.
 Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Portrait of Friends, on the Stage (also known as Portrait of Ludovic Halevy and Albert Boulanger-Cave), 1879, pastel on paper, Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Gift of Florence Nouffland. Halevy, on the left, was an author and playwright, chatting here with his friend, both wearing the red Legion of Honor ribbon and dressed in the manner of wealthy gentlemen of the day. Listen to the audio.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Pauline and Virginie Conversing with Admirers, 1876-77, black ink on India paper, Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA. Bequest of Meta and Paul J. Sachs. The audio 
notes the subscribers (Degas later became one) stand and leer, with the hands behind their backs, ready to pounce. Like rats, subscribers had their run of the place and preyed on the young, vulnerable dancers who usually came from poor families and needed the work...and money. This work was not made public until after Degas died. 

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), The Ballet Rehearsal on Stage, 1874, oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Bequest of Isaac de Camondo.  Right center is a watchful "subscriber."
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), The Ballet from "Robert le Diable," 1871-1872, oil on canvas, lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer.  Dancing nuns fill the top half of this, balanced by the orchestra on the bottom and a member of the audience who uses his opera glasses to search for someone in the audience

The audio for Robert le Diable is wonderful with quotes from NGA Director Kaywin Feldman, Kimberly Jones, the curator, and Julie Kent, artistic director of the Washington Ballet.  After hearing them, I yearn to see this again in person and if that is not possible, who will play the opera next? It's about Robert, the son of the devil, lured to the "dark side" by nuns who rise from the dead in a ghostly dance. Ms. Kent says dancers on stage experience the wonder and thrill of the orchestra coming into the body.  Dancers "definitely respond to the orchestra.  It's the most beautiful thing." Degas rarely painted scenes from operas.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Portrait of Eugénie Fiocre a propos of the Ballet “La Source,” 1867–1868, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum. Gift of James H. Post, A. Augustus Healy, and John T. Underwood. The audio reveals this scene is a rehearsal of the ballet which featured a live horse, a real waterfall, rocks, and plants! The two tiny pink ballet shoes between the horse's legs show the connection to dancing.  The famous dancer, Eugenie Fiocre, occupies the center piece in blue, and the audio claims the two other women are "handmaidens," but they look like Ms. Fiocre: three renditions of the same person, one on the right, as she rubs her feet, tired from dancing, and the other, at far left, whose mind escapes the stage for another world. Ms. Feldman calls this work "a very weird hybrid," an understatement. I'd say it's 100+years ahead of its time, an anomaly juxtaposed with nature, performance, and dreamlike imagery.  It was Degas's first work of dance.
 Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Blue Dancers, 1893-1896, oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alpert Charpentier. An art blog says this is the only time Degas used cool colors to depict a ballerina, one here in motion, shown in different poses.  Arthive says Degas made this as his eyesight was failing, and he gave up painting completely in 1904 and turned to sculpture by touch. (The catalog index is so hard to use, I cannot find references to this there, other than the color illustration.)
 Edgar Degas (1834-1917), The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (with admirer), 1878-1881, National Gallery of Art.  Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon /Photo by Patricia Leslie 

One of the most famous sculptures in the world modeled after "Marie" who was expelled from her dance school after missing too many classes, according to the audio. When The Little Dancer first made it to the art stage, she was called "depraved" "bestial," and the model, "most frightfully hideous" among other descriptions. (Also, "disturbing," "intimidating," "ugly," a sculpture which "Countess Louise" said "attracted a crowd of fools.") Degas was also criticized because he left the dancer in a "cage," or "jar," just like an animal. No doubt, she was unhappy!

The sculptor eschewed marble for actual hair held with a ribbon, real ballet slippers, and a tutu, possibly "intended for ignorant or gullible people" another critic moans in the catalog. 

Read more about her there which also calls this "Degas's crowning achievement in sculpture" which was "the only[Degas] sculpture exhibited in his lifetime" and "a work of art that was simply too real for most of his contemporaries." The "great scandal" The Little Dancer caused "deterred Degas from ever exhibiting his sculptures again," Julia Fiore wrote for Artsy in 2018. (Is there a "Friends of The Little Dancer"? ) 
At the National Gallery of Art with The Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas/Photo by Patricia Leslie

It is with sincere regret that I come to reveal all the news I have been able to find about Degas at the Opéra at the National Gallery of Art, an exhibition which is set to close July 5 (Update!  Now, October 12!), before the Gallery opens again, which means most who want to see it will not. (But now you can!)

I come before you to share some of the paintings I liked the most at this huge show, and you may see more at the website, or by listening to the audio presentations for 21 of the works, and/or see them in the catalog* (or now! This just in: At the National Gallery of Art!)

Alas!  The exhibition was only open a few days after March 1 before coronavirus closed Gallery doors.

Waltzing (sorry, I could not resist) through the galleries of many (about 100!) paintings, prints, monographs and more, I was practically lifted backstage to join the dancers while they rehearsed, tightened up, chatted and were the objects of desire of nearby men in black.

Those creatures Degas often portrayed in half figures lurking, lurking, lurking, omnipresent in side scenes with the ballerinas poised to dance and move. (See the explanation in Ms. Fiore's article, one of several which claimed that wealthy men turned the Paris Opera into a brothel.)

Degas's works of dancers in paintings, monotypes, and drawings number more than 1,500, and at times, they seemed to all be present, so large is the show spread over eight galleries. 

Dancer after dancer appear in costume bending, swirling, adjusting a costume, but if any face the viewer, I could not find her. Maybe she avoided eye contact to escape invitations from the male figures in formal wear, black, top hats, voyeurs. What was Degas trying to tell the viewer? That he was an historian of the art of ballet, painting what he saw behind the scenes.

The Washington Post quotes Director Feldman  that the West Building will open in mid-July for timed entry for only 500.  (Update:  NGA will open July 20 for half-hour timed passes. See update below and how to obtain entryThe East Building will remain closed for renovation, and the Sculpture Garden is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.) 

Please, National Gallery of Art:  Extend this show!  (Update:  Prayers answered!  Show extended!  Thank you, NGA, sponsors, lenders, and all who made this happen. Please read below on *timed-entry passes.)

Gallery friends and fans are indebted to BP America, Adrienne Arsht, Jacqueline B. Mars, the Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art, and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities for making the exhibition possible.

What:  Degas at the Opéra

When:  Now through October 12, 2020; open daily with timed-entry passes* 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. 

Where:  National Gallery of Art, West Building, Washington, D.C.

*To request a timed entry pass (face covering and SD required): Call (202) 842-6997 between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. or email tickets@nga.gov.

Admission charge:  None

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information:  202-737-4215

*Catalog:  Degas at the Opéra, 320 pages, 300 color illustrations, $49.95 


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Graciela Iturbide and "art chat" at the Women's Museum

The photographer, Graciela Iturbide, at the opening of her exhibition, Mexico, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Feb. 25, 2020/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The photographer, Graciela Iturbide, at the opening of her exhibition, Mexico, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Feb. 25, 2020/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Please keep this a secret so all the Friday afternoon classes  don't fill up before I can make my reservations, but the National Museum of Women in the Arts has free participatory art history sessions every week! 

And they're all sold out for the rest of June, but wait!  July comes, and the museum plans to keep up the chats 'til fall which are more popular than anticipated, wrote Adrienne Gayoso, the museum's senior educator and one of the "Art Chat" presenters.

Great news!
Graciela Iturbide, Pajaros, Nayarit, 1984. Collection of Joan and Robert Stein
Graciela Iturbide, Peregrinacion, Chalma, 1984. Masked figures surround a man dressed as a skeleton and there is a baby dressed possibly as an angel, these disguises worn as part of a funerary procession to represent life and hope. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The "chats" are all about women artists and their works which the curator presents over 30 minutes, soliciting opinions from the 20-or-so attendees who Zoom in from all over the world to attend, ask questions, and comment.

For art lovers, it's super-fantastic!

One week Ms. Gayoso led us in discussion of Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822-1899) and Niki de Saint Phalle (French-American, 1930-2002). Another week, Ashley Harris directed discussion of photographer Esther Bubley (American, 1921-1998), and Alma Woodsey Thomas (American, 1891-1978). 

Graciela Iturbide, Novia Muerte Chalma, 1990; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide. This is a man whose extended arm possibly represents his missing partner.

Then, the featured artist of an exhibition currently on display at the museum, Graciela Iturbide's Mexico, was the solo subject one Friday in a presentation by NMWA's Deborah Gaston.

(That show of 140 photographs is extended through August 30, after the museum's hoped-for-reopening date of July 7, according to museum director, Susan Fisher Sterling, quoted in the Washington Post: "We felt that setting the date helps us move toward our goal of serving the public.")
Graciela Iturbide, El Baño de Frida, (Frida’s Bathroom), Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, 2005
Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide. In 2005 Ms. Iturbide was granted a one-week permit to photograph the life Frida Kahlo left behind at her "Blue House" in Mexico City where Ms. Kahlo was born and died (1907- 1954).

Graciela Iturbide, El Baño de Frida, (Frida’s Bathroom), Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, 2005
Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide. Behind Ms. Kahlo's crutches is a photograph of Stalin. Reflected in the protective glass over the picture are more photographs of her bathroom in the Frida gallery at the museum.

 Graciela Iturbide, El Baño de Frida, (Frida’s Bathroom), Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, 2005
Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide

The NMWA gallery of Graciela Iturbide, El Baño de Frida, (Frida’s Bathroom), Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, 2005 

Ms. Iturbide (Mexican, born 1942) is a cultural historian-photographer who for decades has pictured indigenous Mexican men and women in natural settings, amidst festival, funerals, everyday life, and their conflicts with modernityShe is "widely regarded as Latin America's greatest living photographer," according to the NMWA quarterly publication, Women in the Arts.

Born in Mexico City, Ms. Iturbide was the oldest of 13 children who received her first camera when she was 11.  After she married an architect at age 20, she had three children in rapid succession and at age 27 began her art studies. 

When her daughter, Claudia, died at age six, Ms. Iturbide's life reset. Photography helped to bring her some measure of comfort and peace. 
Graciela Iturbide, INRI, Juchitan, 1984. The museum label copy contrasts the standing woman with the man a viewer may not notice at first, lying drunk on the stones, roles evident in this society (and many others!). "INRI" is an abbreviation for Latin and means "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."
The photographer, Graciela Iturbide, at the opening of her exhibition, Mexico, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Feb. 25, 2020/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The photographer, Graciela Iturbide, at the opening of her exhibition, Mexico, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Feb. 25, 2020/Photo by Patricia Leslie

You may recall Ms. Iturbide's enduring photograph of the lady with the iguanas on top of her head.  Five (?) of them at last count which we learned at the discussion were alive!  Mercy! (They are not shown here, but at the show you can see them to believe them.)
This is another show not to miss at the National Museum of Women in the Arts! You see how happy this makes me!  Whatever will be the effects upon you? I am going to Mexico City in February to visit Frida's house!

*To register for "Art Chat," go to the website>What's On>Calendar>Signature Programs.  I found the next open date is July 17, 2020.

Just remember, when it comes to "art chats," mum's the word! The sessions do zoom by! Thank you, National Museum of Women in the Arts!

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston organized the show.

Who: Various female artists including Graciela Iturbide

What: "Art Chats" and Graciela Iturbide's Mexico

When: Fridays at 5 p.m. for "Art Chats." (The museum's usual open hours are 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 - 5 p.m., Sunday.)

Where: Online and soon, in person! The museum is located at 1250 New York Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20005

How much:  No charge for online sessions. Customary admission: Adults, $10; seniors over 65 and students over 18, $8; no charge for anyone under 18 or for members. The first Sunday of the month is a free-for-all!

For more information: 202-783-5000 or 1-800-222-7270


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Book review: 'Justice in Moscow' by George Feifer

If Russian scholar and cultural historian George Feifer (1934-2019) had not died, it's unlikely I would have ever known about his book, Justice in Moscow (1964), which I found listed in Harrison Smith's engaging obituary of Mr. Feifer in the Washington Post last November. 

The book is all about the lower court system in Russia in the 1960s, and if the subject sounds dull, believe me, the way Mr. Feifer writes, it's anything but.

Written from an American perspective (Mr. Feifer was born in Paterson, N.J. and educated in the U.S.), Justice was one of several books Mr. Feifer wrote about Russia, including two semi-autobiographical novels. 

He first went to Russia in 1959 as a guide for an American automotive show and then later as an exchange 
student. That led to his affinity for and writing about Russian everyday life and the characters he discovered and befriended (one of whom he married and later divorced).
The book's dialogue can run for pages, but Mr. Feifer's excellent writing never leaves a reader wondering who is speaking. He brings the courtroom to life with his personal descriptions of domestic conflicts, minor crimes, and harsh penalties. (Shouts from the audience were [are?] permissible.)

Disagreements about childcare, living arrangements, alcohol's effects, and financial responsibilities filled the courts. Grandmothers often were handed parental roles while parents continued their flings. Marriage then (and now? Russia's divorce rate in 2016 was 60%, meaning there were more divorces than marriages) seemed like a sometime-thing which few took seriously.
It's a rare day in Russia when there are no weddings/Photo by Patricia Leslie, Tsarskoye Selo, 2018

Courts were open to anyone who wanted to come and see. On the occasions when the courtrooms were crowded and no seats were available, Mr. Feifer's dress (coat and tie) got him in. (Pages 200-201) 

Before trial, a two-to-four months' wait in jail for lesser crimes was not unusual. Many charged remained free, but Russia had no patience with those who failed to contribute to society. (88-89)

There was "the Soviet tendency to set an example by punishing the more affluent wrongdoers more severely. In the People's Court it is poor work in the factory, rather than a poor purse, that puts a defendant at a disadvantage." (79)

"Hooliganism" (being lazy without contributing to society) was a crime frequently mentioned. Russian citizens then could not understand the "American way," i.e., that many Americans live at societal expense. Mr. Feifer quotes a cleaning woman: "I just don't see how you can justify people living off capital instead of sweat." (198)  (A label commonly applied was known as "the Parasite Law.")

It was assumed that most of the accused were to be found guilty (216-17), and not every accused (save juveniles and mentally ill persons) were represented by lawyers. 

Mr. Feifer often observed "palsy-walsy" relationships between prosecutors and judges in courtrooms where the accused had no legal representation!

In some cases, the defendant's attorney was so harsh on the client, the attorney came across as a prosecutor, and in one courtroom, the attorney stated he didn't believe his own client! 

Many defendants relied on "the investigator" who supposedly acted as a researcher of the crime. Individuals had little protection in the courts which Mr. Feifer blamed on Peter the Great, Nicholas I, "and even the Moguls," rather than Stalin. (102)
Stalin's tomb at the Kremlin Wall, Red Square, Moscow/Photo by Patricia Leslie, 2018
At Red Square, Moscow/Photo by Patricia Leslie, 2018
Catherine the Great's gift of Peter the Great's statue welcomes visitors to St. Petersburg/Photo by Patricia Leslie, 2018

Unlike American legal hierarchy, Russian judges often abandoned the judiciary to become lawyers since the pay was about the same and attorneys' hours were shorter with opportunities to earn more "on the side." (234)

Mr. Feifer found lawyers to be better dressed than judges, friendlier to strangers (like himself), and full of questions about American legal practice. 

He observed many scars and amputations among Russian lawyers whose World War II experiences were evident.  "When these Russians talked about disarmament, there was a ring of honesty to their appeals." (237-38)

In the early 60s punishment for "economic crimes" was treated in the extreme. Despite earlier codes which defined sentencing for "currency speculation" to several years in prison, upper courts could change punishments to executions which they did. (247-248)

But rather than punishment and in "spirit of dedication to the Fatherland and to Communism," the book cites the primary purpose of Soviet courts was to educate the people about laws, discipline, and the respect of others related to "the rules of socialist living and behavior." (107)

Sixty years later and one wonders how this 1960s version compares to present-day Russia. With a thriving bureaucracy, it is doubtful much has changed.
A great book which I obtained through Fairfax County's interlibrary loan program.

Another wedding in Russia/Photo by Patricia Leslie, 2018