Tuesday, November 12, 2013

MFA/John Singer Sargent Watercolors

Bridge of Sighs, 1903-04, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
Link to the Exhibition Website: http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/john-singer-sargent-watercolors

Co-Curators: Teresa Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art from the Brooklyn Museum and Erica Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Painting from the MFA

The PR Buzz: "A triumphant show combines the two best collections of John Singer Sargent's dazzling watercolors."

John Singer Sargent Watercolors, a collaboration between the MFA and the Brooklyn Museum, opened in Brooklyn in April of this year and was on view there until July.  It was greeted with rapturous reviews by the NY media such as the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

Recommended For: an adult excursion to take advantage of a rare opportunity to see an assemblage of exceptional works by a true master of the medium and giant of American art.

The Experience: 
On a chilly November morning, I hurried to the MFA to try and get in before the crowds built up. Watercolors are most rewarding when viewed intimately and a crowded gallery can really impact the gallery experience. Did it work? Not as well as I might have hoped. A crowd of others waited at the Huntington St entrance for the doors to open and most of them, it seemed, had the same destination as I.

As I descended the steps from the Shapiro Courtyard, I was greeted with a really stunning video wall installation of blending detail views of works in the show.  The effect was vibrant and welcoming and brought more than a few people to a stop to enjoy the display.

Turning the corner through the glass doors brought me into a moody blue room hung with exquisite Venetian views.  I had arrived.

The works themselves, it's fair to say, should get top billing in any review: they are exceptional. Sargent's hand is free, immediate, effortless, liquid, his composition stunning.  The works are, at their best, works of genius. The opportunity to see this number of fragile Sargent watercolors together is extremely rare and this show gives what is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to really appreciate this period of Sargent's life as an artist.

The works are hung grouped by subject matter, an organization that allows the visitor to easily relate adjacent works to each other.  I was surprised sometimes, when I checked the dates of the works, to see the wide span of years over which Sargent would paint works of similar subject matter or composition. The themes are presented in the following order as one moves through the show- In Venice, Arab Encounter, Lying Down, Mountain Heights, Portraits at Hand, Watercraft, At Work, Villa Gardens, the Knoedler Exhibitions and finishing with Sunlight on Stone. Each gallery contained a rich and rewarding selection of paintings.

In short, I loved the works. I did not love the installation. Other than the video wall outside the galleries, there was no big opening visual statement heralding the show. Even as one entered In Venice, the title label for the show was crammed awkwardly in a corner to your left. Too often, the sectional theme signage ended up behind your shoulder as you entered a gallery. The Knoedler Exhibitions section, with its fascinating insight into Sargent's relationship to the art world of his day and the genesis of the remarkable Brooklyn Museum and MFA holdings of his watercolor work, was shunted off in a dead-end appendix gallery. The visually-rich and captivating video demonstrating Sargent's technique in action was far too easily passed by. The loudest visual statement in the closing gallery Sunlight on Stone was the glass door into the lobster trap-like boutique shop dedicated to the exhibition.

My quibbles over the installation aside, John Singer Sargent Watercolors is a not-to-be-missed treasure for American art and painting lovers alike.

While You’re There: See Michelle Finamore's Think Pink, a delightful boutique show with a great installation! See the website here.

Some of My Favorites:
Early, but not early enough!

Bedouin Women, 1905-06
Poperinghe: Two Soldiers, 1918
Simplon Pass: The Green Parasol, about 1911
Spanish Soldiers, about 1903
Unloading Plaster, about 1908
La Biancheria, 1910

1 comment:

Jase said...

Sargent was an amazing artist .
John Singer Sargent had an edge over other artists of his time. What was it? In a new video the composition and design techniques of Sargent are explored putting a new and modern light on this great. For a better understanding of this great artist's work please check out "John Singer Sargent : Secrets of Composition and Design"

Synopsis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unb7MrdeP5Q