Museum Monday // Museum of Contemporary Art

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During my spring break, I journeyed to Chicago to see a few museums and eat some delicious food. My favorite museum that I went to was the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was so glad to be in the warmth of the museum on a cold, blustery, afternoon!

On to the actual material in the museum. The MCA has several rotating exhibitions at all times, and I was lucky enough to be able to see their exhibit entitled Endless Summer. The exhibit featured 10 or so different works by artists such as Edward Ruscha, Robert Irwin, and Craig Kauffman. As a whole, Endless Summer was an exhibit that offered a glimpse into the minimalist style of Los Angeles in the 1960’s. Noticeably different from East Coast minimalism, Endless Summer was influenced by surf culture and SoCal’s famous weather. These artists used some of the most cutting-edge materials such as plastic and fiberglass in their works.

I never thought that I would be the kind of person to enjoy minimalism, but I was entranced by the smooth textures, and light patterning of the works on display at the MCA. As minimalist artists strove to break the long line of traditional academic art and eliminate the differences between painting and sculpture, I assumed that minimalism was not the style for my painterly heart. However, I was surprised by how artistic and articulate these works could be.

Famous Friday // The Garden of Earthly Delights

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Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, oil on panel, 1503-1515, 7′ 3″ x 12′ 9″. Location: Museo del Prado.

Oh, how I love Spain, and Madrid especially. Between the food and the museums alone, I would gladly live in Madrid for the rest of my life. One of the greatest museums of European art, Museo del Prado, is found in Madrid. The Prado is home to a wide variety of art dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, including the work that’s featured in today’s Famous Friday – The Garden of Earthly Delights. 

The triptych is meant to be read like a book, from right to left. The meaning of each panel is directly tied to the panel proceeding and following it, creating a cohesive narrative within the triptych. The leftmost panel depicts God, who is introducing Adam to Eve. They are standing in a lush green landscape and are surrounded by animals of all types.In the central panel, Adam and Eve are portrayed in the garden of which the work was named after. A myriad of different things is happening in the central panel. We see various nude figures participating in romantic activities, while some figures are displayed inside of eggs or shells. The scene depicts a greedy consumption of all of the delights of the garden. The rightmost panel is enshrouded in black. Humans are huddled together anticipating the torture that is yet to come.

The exact meaning of The Garden of Earthly Delights is not known. The work was perhaps a personal altarpiece that was used as a devotion to then-contemporary conservative Christian views on lust and sin. The work could potentially warn against the perils of what would happen to men if they were to go against the word of God and lead a life full of sin.

Here is an awesome project that goes really in depth into the work.

Famous Friday // The Death of Sardanapalus

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Eugène Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, oil on canvas, 1827, 12′ 10″ x 16′ 3″. Location: Musée du Louvre.

Oh, how I love gigantic paintings! At more than 12 by 16 feet, The Death of Sardanapalus does not disappoint. The work itself is based on the historical tale of the last Assyrian king, Sardanapalus. According to legend, upon hearing the news of invaders in his capital city, the King decided that he would destroy his Earthly possessions instead of facing a humiliating defeat. Not only were his possessions burned, but so were his slaves and concubines as well. Sardanapalus knew that he would place himself upon the funerary pyre upon its completion.

Delacroix depicted this tale in its final moments. He captured as much destruction and chaos as possible, which is characteristic of the Romanticism style that this work was painted in. Beyond the pandemonium pictured, we see the main action of the painting taking place atop a large red bed. Figures are depicted in various disarray. One man wrangles one of the horses, while another lies at the foot of who we assume to be Sardanapalus. Trinkets surround the figures, indicating the wealth of Sardanapalus.

When Delacroix first exhibited The Death of Sardanapalus in 1828, the reviews were not stellar. This was primarily due to the fact that it wasn’t a traditional neoclassical painting with a clear hero. In fact, this work was quite literally the opposite with Sardanapalus playing the role of the anti-hero.

Famous Friday // Sunflowers

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Vincent Van Gogh, Sunflowers, oil on canvas, 1889. Location: Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam.

Several summers ago when I was in Amsterdam I found myself dashing into the nearest museum in order to escape an approaching thunderstorm. Luckily for me, the closest museum was the Van Gogh Museum! We spent what seemed like hours touring the floors of the museum, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to this sunflower painting in particular. Of course, the museum was filled with so many other masterpieces by Van Gogh, but I felt as if this one was most characteristic of Van Gogh’s work.

Van Gogh created several similar works in his Sunflowers series, and had intended to give them as gifts to Paul Gauguin. In total, 12 paintings were created for this series which were painted from 1887-1889. Due to the discovery of new yellow pigments during the 19th century, Van Gogh was able to create vivacious yellow hued flowers, like the ones we see here.

These sunflowers, along with his self portraits, helped define his characteristic style of bold and dramatic brushstrokes. It is quite uncommon for exhibitions featuring Van Gogh to not include at least one of his works from his Sunflower series.

Famous Friday // A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

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Georges Surat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-86, oil on canvas, 3079.75in x h2076.45in. Location: Art Institute of Chicago.

Over this past summer I took a writing intensive course for my degree about chess. The class culminated in a long research paper comparing and contrasting chess to something else. For my essay, I chose to write about chess and art. Long story short, I used Surat’s oil painting to help convey the similarities between art and chess – perks of going to a liberal arts school!

Anyways, on to the art we go! This work is Surat’s largest and most famous work of art, and one of the best examples of pointillism technique. The work itself depicts a relaxing afternoon on an island on the outskirts of Paris.

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See where the island is located outside of Paris!

Seurat spent many afternoons sitting and drawing in the park to perfect the form of his figures. At first glance we see a variety of individuals relaxing. To the right, a couple is on a leisurely stroll. To the left, we see a woman fishing, as well as people sailing along the Seine River. With further inspection, however, the viewer is able to see that not everything is as it seems in the painting. The woman who appeared at first glance to be on a leisurely walk with her husband is actually walking a monkey. It was uncommon for women of this time to go fishing, so the woman depicted fishing was possibly an euphemism for prositution. A young girl in a white dress stands in the center of the work. She is asking possibly the viewers what will become of the individuals, and the class of people who are represented in this image.

Seurat was highly influenced by scientific studies of color theory and in particular by the work of Michel-Eugène Chevreul. Together with several other artists, Seurat developed the technique of pointillism. Pointillism breaks down colors into their respective hues in order to simulate natural light in the eye of the viewer. This is the technique that Seurat used in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Pointillism makes Seurat’s work particularly interesting because of how he was able to manipulate color and light.

In most paintings shadows are depicted by using black, however this is not the case with Seurat’s work. Seurat was instead able to trick the viewers eye into thinking that it was viewing shadows by defining these darker areas with the colors that they come into contact with instead of a solid black.