During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I took my very first art history class. As the semester was coming to a close, we began discussing modern and contemporary art. One day of class was entirely devoted to what appeared to be the professor’s favorite artists – Mark Rothko. Viewing for the first time on a smart board, Rothko’s work appeared to be a haphazard painting of rectangles in a similar color palette. The professor, however, felt much different about this work. He gave us a short anecdote about how the first time he saw a Rothko in person. He was apparently so moved that he couldn’t help but tear up in the museum. Unbeknownst to me at the time, moving viewers to tears was sometimes the goal of Rothko’s artistic vision.
Rothko moved through a variety of different styles that were influenced by abstract expressionism and specifically color field painting. Color field painting, coined by Clement Greenberg, was a trend within abstract expressionism which disregarded the need for figures. Instead, the movement, pioneered by Rothko, took advantages of large swatches of color which was used to envelop the viewer in a world of color.
The St. Louis Art Museum is one of the most prominent art museums in my area. They’re known for their Asian pieces (my favorites are their pottery collection), as well as their classic and modern collection (they have a really great Van Gogh collection). However, the museum is huge and there is no way to cover the entire museum in a single blog post. Instead, I’ll be discussing a small part of SLAM’s collection. This exhibition is known as A Century of Japanese Prints.
The collection consists of works from SLAM’s modern and contemporary collection, many of which have never been displayed before. In 2016, SLAM exhibited a collection called Conflicts of Interest. This exhibition was able to be displayed due to a generous donation of 1,400 prints to SLAM. Conflicts of Interest focused on Meiji-era military art. The A Century of Japanese Prints exhibit, however, focused on civil works and creative printmaking.
The exhibit tracks the influence of the West on traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking, and how the creativity of the artists developed overtime. This mimics the shift in the modernization of the ideology after the Meiji period, which wanted to rejuvenated the culture and industry of Japan. Below, you can check out one of my favorite prints that were on display. This exhibit closes on January 28, 2018, so go and check it out while you still can!
I think that it’s so cool that SLAM has the centerpiece of one of Monet’s triptychs from his famous water lilies series (the other two pieces can be found at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art). Known as the Agapanthus Triptych, these three paintings were united briefly in 2011 at the Nelson-Atkins, in 2012 at SLAM, and then in 2015 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see the triptych together, but I have spent some time admiring the central piece located at SLAM.
Visually, we see clumps of water lilies floating atop a blue and violet toned waterscape. Towards the bottom of the canvas the blues and purples begin to transform into greens and yellows. The painting itself is massive, and meant to be displayed with the other portions of the triptych so that the viewer could be fully enveloped into the watery landscape.
This is a familiar scene to us as Monet has painted over 250 different works of his backyard in Giverny, France. Each painting is different, and focuses on a distinct portion of his massive garden in each work. He also experimented with painting during different time of day, which is why much of his works from the series look vastly different. Monet focused on painting his outdoor garden for nearly the last 30 years of his life as cataracts were interfering with his vision. The garden itself was grown by Monet, himself, as well as several hired gardeners. Together they worked for years to control the garden in order to mimic a Japanese scene.
Today, these works in Monet’s Water Lilies series can be sold for more than $50 million and greatly contributed to not only the impressionism movement at the time, but also modern art.