Museums in the U.S. and Europe are in blockbuster mode

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Museums in the U.S. and Europe are in blockbuster mode
by Jason Farago

NEW YORK, NY.- Nothing makes sense anymore! War rages everywhere, politicians prattle; new media come at you a mile a minute; the world your parents built is collapsing, and only chaos lies ahead. Do you cower? Do you take refuge in tradition? Or do you do what they did 100 years ago: plunge into the chaos and make something new?

For a while now I’ve believed that cubism — specifically the later synthetic cubism, which slashed and sutured printed matter and found objects into a whole new kind of image — offers an invaluable example to artists today, floundering in an unstoppable stream of image and information. I felt that especially in 2014, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s outing of the cubist gifts of Leonard A. Lauder, marveling at how Picasso, Braque and Gris used Paris’ tabloid press, blaring advertisements and telegraphed stock prices to rewrite the rules of Western pictorial representation. Now the bad boys of Montmartre are back at the Met, whose fall exhibition “Cubism and the Trompe l’Oeil Tradition” (Oct. 20-Jan. 22) will reassess how the cubists made use of earlier optical tricks to make cunning and scheming new pictures for a crazy age.

This show pairs cubism’s trickiest illusions — or should that be allusions? — with trompe l’oeil (“trick the eye”) paintings of the 17th to 19th centuries, by European artists and Americans, too. These predecessors’ ruses with perspective, and philosophical gameplay, should reframe Braque’s embedment of calling cards and signed documents, Picasso’s outlines of painters’ palettes and easels, or Gris’ collages of fake marble and faux-bois wallpaper. Prepare for a shake-up of cubism’s just-so story — born, allegedly, from Cézanne’s fractured perspectives and West African sculpture’s stylized forms — and unexpected neighbors: The Met has partnered with several decorative arts institutions, like the Wallpaper Museum in Rixheim, France, to place cubism’s revolution against new backdrops.

How are we supposed to be modern, anyway? In Paris at the start of the 20th century, “modern” meant accelerated and alienated; in Seoul at the same moment, it meant economic development and national pride. “The Space Between: The Modern in Korean Art,” a rare and important show opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Sept. 11- Feb. 19), will introduce American audiences to nearly 90 artists, many never exhibited outside Korea, who adopted new tools — Western oil paint first among them — to refashion their country’s identity amid Japanese occupation. The Picassoid figures of Kim Whanki, the discordantly colored landscapes of Lee In-sung, and the forthright self-portraiture of the feminist artist Rha Hye-sok: This is a modernism we need to learn, especially as South Korea continues its rise to global cultural supremacy.

Two major old master exhibitions complement this season’s modern eruption. At the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, “Murillo: From Heaven to Earth” (Sept. 18-Jan. 29) brings together 50 paintings of the Spanish baroque, looking past Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s stately religious pictures to concentrate on his secular scenes and genre pictures: a laughing girl and her veiled chaperone, a clutch of beggar boys in a village square. The National Gallery of Art in Washington offers Carpaccio, who also balanced sacred and secular. “Vittore Carpaccio: Master Storyteller of Renaissance Venice” (Nov. 20-Feb. 12) is the first retrospective outside Italy of his detailed, painstaking, sometimes lurid pictures of the lagoon.

But of course now Murillo’s Seville is boiling, and Carpaccio’s Venice is sinking; who can say what will outlast the age of fossil fuels? “On the Horizon: Art and Atmosphere in the Nineteenth Century,” at the bucolic Clark Art Institute in the Berkshires (Nov. 19-Feb. 21), contextualizes our Anthropocene anxieties by returning to the last time we felt this lost in nature: the Romantic era, when Turner, Constable and others turned landscape painting into an art of agitation. A more contemporary gaze on art and climate is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where “Julian Charrière: Erratic” shows the polar explorations of this Swiss video artist (Aug. 6-May 14).

If you can stomach the carbon emissions, European museums are getting back into blockbuster mode after the pandemic’s attendance hits and logistic nits. Top priority: a bicentennial retrospective of Rosa Bonheur, the realist painter who afforded new psychological acuity to horses, cattle, stags and lions — and a rare example of a lesbian proudly in the public eye before 1900. (“In the way of males,” she once said, “I only like the bulls I paint.”) Bonheur was among the most famous artists of the 19th century but fell into obscurity in the 20th; this show at Paris’s Musée d’Orsay (Oct. 18-Jan. 15) promises an ecofeminist rediscovery. (The opening coincides with Art Basel’s newest fair, christened Paris Plus (Oct. 20-23) and staged in the Grand Palais Éphémère, Jean-Michel Wilmotte’s pop-up tabernacle at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.)

In London, South African artist and theater director William Kentridge will take over the Royal Academy (Sept. 24-Dec. 11) with his stop-motion animations, wall-spanning tapestries, and operatic projections — a rather more ambitious version of the “immersive” experiences now in favor. (A second major Kentridge exhibition will take place at the Broad in Los Angeles, from Nov. 12 to April 9.) More multimedia can be found in Rome, where three museums are uniting for a centenary exhibition cycle of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Opening in sequence from late October through early November, they’ll showcase not only the cinematic innovations of “Mamma Roma” and “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” but also more than 200 of Pasolini’s lesser-known paintings and drawings of flowers, actors, and jagged Italian vistas.

Among this season’s major museum openings are two that have been in the works for more than a decade. In my beloved Antwerp, where the fashion is blunt but the paintings are baroque, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts at last reopens on Sept. 25 after an 11-year closure; gawp before its monumental works by Rubens and Van Dyck in new, pared-to-the-essential spaces, then go across the street to the Ann Demeulemeester boutique. And if all goes well, the tremendous, delay-plagued Grand Egyptian Museum outside Cairo might finally open its doors this winter, 20 whole years after the first cornerstone was laid. With over 50,000 objects — including the golden mask of King Tutankhamen in its new, permanent home — this secular temple by the Pyramids is going to be one of the largest museums on the planet. Some museums are palatial. This one is, quite literally, pharaonic.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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September 11, 2022

Museums in the U.S. and Europe are in blockbuster mode

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