Art Eyewitness Tenth Anniversary
By Ed Voves
Photos by Anne Lloyd
Ten years, by most standards of reckoning, is not a long time. In terms of recorded history, a decade represents less than a blink of the eye. Much less.
Yet, for most people, as they plant their footsteps on the path of life, ten years is a significant stretch of time. For art movements or literary journals, which often have remarkably brief life spans, to celebrate a tenth anniversary is a big deal.
All of this rumination is by way of announcing that Art Eyewitness is now ten years old.
To find an appropriate "signature" picture to introduce our anniversary presented a bit of a quandary. How do you represent the progression of time by means of a single image?
Classic Hollywood movies used to denote the passing years on film by showing short sequences of ocean waves washing ashore, autumn leaves whirling in the wind or grains of sand in an hour glass. A single still photo or illustration of this sort would not work at all in an anniversary "think" piece for Art Eyewitness.
Fortunately, my wife Anne provided a pair of pictures that suits the occasion perfectly. With her trusty "point and shoot" camera, Anne brilliantly evokes art's ability to freely traverse the corridors of time.
The journey of Art Eyewitness over the past ten years has endeavored to explore the visual arts in a similar "moving" fashion. Art Eyewitness is a venture into a creative realm which is both ageless and ever-changing. The images and insights which fill our eyes and minds, Anne and I share with like-minded souls.
The images which we share are not entirely derived from visits to art museums and reviewing special exhibitions. Occasionally, we have included some exceptional examples of Anne's street photography and we plan to investigate this fascinating genre in the future.
Originally, Art Eyewitness aimed to include classic films in its repertoire. Copyright fees, even for still photos from vintage movies, are way beyond the means of a "mom and pop" non-profit blog like ours. The same is true for pictures of works of modern and contemporary art.
Two factors have saved Art Eyewitness from being "stuck" in the past.
The greatly appreciated support of publishers, especially Thames and Hudson, has provided a stream of books for review and selected images on topics which, otherwise, we could never have addressed.
The second factor involves the person closest to my heart. It was my wife, Anne, who encouraged me to start Art Eyewitness. The wonderful internet journal I was writing for, the California Literary Review, ceased publication in the spring of 2013. Anne was immediate and inspiring in her response to the sad tidings.
"Start your own art blog!"
Rather hesitantly, I agreed. But what really got "the ball rolling" were the sensational gallery photos that Anne began to take in the summer of 2015. It is Anne's photos which put the "eyewitness" in Art Eyewitness!
Anne has certainly not rested on her photographic laurels since 2017. Almost every Art Eyewitness review includes "you are there" photos, placing you, the reader, in the exhibition gallery with us.
It is vital to note that the Art Eyewitness "journey" has been facilitated by the incredible generosity of curators and public relations staff at the museums which Anne and I visit.
The list is long - the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum, the Morgan Library & Museum, the Neue Gallerie, MOMA, the Jewish Museum of NY, the Phillips Collection, the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and many more.
To all of the wonderful people on the museum staffs who make Art Eyewitness possible, our gratitude is lasting and profound.
I wish that I could include a survey of the photos which Anne has taken, over the years, of art curators and conservators at work. As that is impossible, I have chosen the above photo to illustrate this theme. The charm, intelligence and dedication of the curators of the 2018 Berthe Morisot exhibition at the Barnes Foundation stands for all.
Art Eyewitness launched its journey in July 2013. Our first essay was a review of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929, at the National Gallery. Before orchestrating the great dance series which exerted such a profound influence on modern art, Sergei Diaghilev had edited a journal dedicated to art history, Mir iskusstva, meaning "World of Art."
The title was well-chosen. Diaghilev sincerely believed that art could affect society-at-large in new and inspiring ways. Working like a man possessed, Diaghilev devoted himself to translating vision into reality.
After several years of sensational success with the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev's hopes for a "world of art" were dashed by the outbreak of World War I. The Bolshevik Revolution and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 followed in a chain of disaster which eventually led to even more, unspeakable, horrors.
Today, as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic and the outbreak of a major war in Europe, we seem to be reliving the experience of Diaghilev and his generation. Hopefully my fears are exaggerated, but there are many well-informed commentators writing in this vein, too.
Art and adversity are certainly no strangers. One needs to remember that - constantly.
Reflecting on my visits to the 2022 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Tudors: Art and Majesty, I am reminded of the contrast between courtly splendor and actual living conditions. The final years of the reign of Elizabeth I, ca.1600, were a positively wretched time for many in England and throughout Europe. Yet Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and Hamlet, Caravaggio's greatest paintings including The Calling of St. Matthew (1599-1600) and Supper at Emmaus (1601) and Cervantes' Don Quixote, Part I (published in 1605) all date to this tormented period.
The spring and summer months of 2020 brought a comparable time of suffering to our doorsteps. It is too early to dispassionately judge works of art or books created during the three years of the Covid-19 crisis and contrast them with those mentioned above from the turn of the seventeenth century. Spring Cannot be Cancelled by David Hockney and Martin Gayford is certainly a worthy response to the Covid crisis which deserves to be so considered.
Time, the stern and capricious arbitrator of merit, will tell. But I believe that one judgment can be made - without hesitation. The art museum community rendered invaluable service as Covid-19 threatened the norms of cultural life and emotional well-being.
As art institutions closed in mid-March 2020, a widespread network of museum staff members - museum directors, curators, IT and public relations specialists - responded to the crisis by providing "virtual" access to great works of art, historical archives, digital tours of museum galleries and much more.
An Art Eyewitness essay I wrote at the time, focusing on the efforts of the Metropolitan Museum, gives a brief survey of the initiatives which shared a wide array of art resources with the public. This devotion to art lovers, everywhere, was undertaken when museum staff members had to deal with anxiety, sickness and privation in their own lives, too.
The human toll of Covid-19 was "brought home" to me at the press preview of New York: 1962-1964. On a scorching day in July 2022, Anne and I traveled to the Jewish Museum of New York for the opening of this major exhibit. I was primed for a superb display of mid-century American art, but the unforgettable moment of the press event came during remarks by the director of the Jewish Museum, Claudia Gould.
Ms. Gould seemed "out-or-sorts" as she came to the podium. During her remarks, her voice bespoke of sorrow and emotional distress. Ms. Gould described how the New York: 1962-1964 exhibition had been planned and organized by one of the great art scholars and curators of our contemporary era, Germano Celant.
Germano Celant, born in Italy in 1940, was a significant figure in the art world since the late 1960's. He was a major proponent of the Arte Povera movement and had been a curator for several years at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. His abundant talents and experience made Celant the perfect choice to lead the design of an exhibition devoted to the Manhattan art scene in the "Sixties."
As he worked on the New York: 1962-1964 exhibit, Celant contracted the Corona virus and died, aged 79. Celant's shocking death could well have derailed the entire project, but Gould and the curators at the Jewish Museum rose to the challenge. New York: 1962-1964 was truly an outstanding exhibition, an example of triumph arising from tragedy.
As the Covid crisis abated and museums reopened, exhibitions which devoted curators had worked on during the "lockdown" began to go on display. One of the earliest and most significant was Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents. This exhibit appeared at the Met during the spring and summer of 2022, later travelling to the National Gallery in London.
The key painting of Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents was The Gulf Stream. This stunning work shows an African-American sailor in a battered schooner, menaced by sharks and an approaching storm. Will the crew of a ship in the distance see him and come to his rescue? However the viewer answers that question, there is no doubt that The Gulf Stream is a relevant painting for the travail of our time, as it was for Homer's.
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) first gained renown as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly. His experience recording the American Civil War led Homer to take unexpected paths in his art. Many of his post-war paintings record the lives of melancholy young women who may have lost husbands or lovers in the Civil War, courageous seamen and their families, menaced by deadly storms, and African-Americans grappling with racial oppression.
Homer's empathy for people confronting adversity is being carried on by the efforts of curators and art historians. A concerted effort is underway to present exhibitions of the work of artists - African-Americans, women, immigrants, "working-class" people - previously denied opportunity and fair treatment.
Art Eyewitness has been pleased to review a number of these, including the much-needed reappraisal of Augusta Savage, whose brilliant sculptures are among the greatest works of art created during the Harlem Renaissance. This exhibition appeared at the New York Historical Society (NYHS) during 2019.
The NYHS later mounted an exhibit devoted the German immigrant, Winold Reiss, an amazingly versatile artist whose sensitive portraits of the leaders and community figures of the Harlem Renaissance complemented Savage's sculptures to perfection. Both were superbly designed shows, worthy additions to the long list of outstanding exhibitions at the NYHS.
The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia deserves special recognition for its exhibitions devoted to self-taught artists - and a happy 100th birthday salute from Art Eyewitness.
Among its recent, stellar exhibitions, the Barnes has documented the achievements of Elijah Pierce and William Edmundson. These African-American sculptors, working during the early decades of the twentieth century, not only blazed a trail for later generations but powerfully demonstrated the importance of religious beliefs and community values in the creation of meaningful art.
Trying to strike a balance in an appraisal of ten years of art exhibitions - and nearly three hundred reviews and essays - is not the easiest of endeavors. There is always the temptation to try and comment on this or that exhibit to make sure that the early years or a favorite artist receive their due.
I am going to resist adding to the length of an already long anniversary essay. Instead, I will mention one more exhibit and call it a "wrap."
During the autumn of 2018, the Neue Gallerie in New York devoted a special exhibition to the German Expressionists, Franz Marc and August Macke. I had hoped for years that these artists, both killed in World War I, would be the subject of a thorough examination, especially one that enabled viewers to grasp the spiritual, almost mystical, elements of their art. The Neue Gallerie exhibition lived up to my hopes and then some.
Franz Marc is famous for valuing animals as spiritual beings. His inseparable companion was a Siberian Shepherd dog named "Russi" whom he painted several times, including a "metaphysical" portrait entitled Hund vor der Welte or How a Dog Sees the World.
Human beings see the world, partly through the prism of art. But animals and art museums are not a good fit. Or so I thought.
Recently, Anne and I were paying a return visit to Whistler's Mother now on special loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To our very great surprise, we watched as a fellow patron calmly walk down the grand staircase, with a Golden Retriever in hand.
We were incredulous, but nobody else seemed to mind, including the several guards in the vicinity. My guess is that the fellow with the dog trains service animals. It was all I could do to keep from asking, but I making it a rule never to intrude on someone else's art "moment."
Then the guy with the Golden Retriever ambled into the gallery to spend some quality time with Whistler's Mother.
It was all so natural, so unscripted. They came. They saw. And, after a few moments of art appreciation, they went.
Franz Marc would have loved this art moment. Russi would have loved it too. Anne and I certainly did.
I have the zany thought that Franz Marc would have painted a picture of the scene and called it Hund vor der Kunst!
So how would a dog see "art"?
If this gentle, well behaved Golden is any indication, art would be regarded as a part of life, a daily ritual that is both a necessity and something to be enjoyed. See it, embrace the moment and move on.
So, instead of a quote from Kenneth Clark or Andre Malroux to bring this essay to a close, I'm serving-up these images of art as an element of everyday life. Anne and I have been doing this for ten years and aim to keep on for as long as we can make it up the art museum steps.
From Art Eyewitness, thanks for ten great years.
Text copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved
Images copyright of Anne Lloyd, all rights reserved
Introductory image: Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) View of Leo Villereal's Multiverse, 2008, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of the Sargent and Spain at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., showing John Singer Sargent's La Carmencita Dancing, 1890.
Modern Art in Detail: 75 Masterpieces by Susie Hodge, 2017 (cover) Image credit: Thames & Hudson
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) Gallery view of Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, 2017, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) David Hockney at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 20, 2017.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Gallery view of the Of God and Country exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing S.L. Jones' Preacher and Wife, date unknown.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Nichole R. Myers, Dallas Museum of Art, Sylvie Patry, Musee d'Orsay, and Cindy Kang of the Barnes Foundation, curators of the Berthe Morisot exhibition at the Barnes Foundation.
Jean Cocteau (French, 1889-1963) Poster advertising Nijinsky with the Ballet Russes, Theatre des Champs Elysees, Paris 1913. Printed poster: 189 cm x 129 cm. Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) The Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Attributed to Marcus Gheerearts the Younger, Ca. 1602.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2020) Empty Gallery, Spring 2020, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., showing paintings by Edgar Degas.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Claudia Gould, Director of the Jewish Museum, New York, July 20, 2022.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of New York: 1962-1964, at the Jewish Museum, New York, showing Kenneth Noland's Tropical Zone, 1964.
Ed Voves, Photo (2022) Gallery view of Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, showing Homer's The Gulf Stream, 1899.
Ed Voves, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman at the New York Historical Society, showing Boy on a Stump, ca. 1930.
Ed Voves, Photo (2020) Elijah Pierce's Your Life is a Book, ca. 1940's, displayed at the Barnes Foundation's 2020 exhibition, Elijah Pierce's America.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Franz Marc's Deer in the Forest II, 1914, on view at the Neue Gallerie exhibition, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke, 1909-1914.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery views of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 26, 2023. Sequence of four photos.