Groundbreaking masters of the 20th century and a similarly groundbreaking still-life photographer who’s also the Academy Art Museum’s 2023 artist-in-residence shared the spotlight in the opening reception for three new exhibits at Easton’s Academy Art Museum Thursday evening, Aug. 3.
“Spatial Reckoning: Morandi, Picasso and Villon” in the museum’s Healy Gallery focuses on how three famed European painters changed how representational art of the 19th century evolved into Modernism, Cubism, and, later, Post-Expressionism. Upon entering, the first image you’ll see what looks to be a 1931 unfinished drypoint etching, Le Peintre Decorateur (The Painter Decorator), a near-faceless ghostly image by French artist Jacques Villon (1875-1963). Next is a second etching of the same title with facial features filled in. Next are the Two Renees which depicts a girl on her bicycle (1906) and another, five years later – presumably of the same girl, this time with a pouting scowl on her face.
Moving on, you can’t miss the true masterpiece, Le Repas Frugal, by Pablo Picasso of Spain (1881-1973), a 1913 print of the famous etching from a private collection picturing a despondent couple who’ve just shared a meal that did not satisfy either their physical or spiritual hunger. Another Picasso, a circa 1900 watercolor, depicts a painter named Carlos who, in profile, projects a clownishly prominent nose and ruby red lips. In between, we get a glimpse of Picasso’s Cubist future, a quite geometric 1912 pen-and-ink on paper of a man holding a cigar. The evolution toward Cubism advances with Villon’s 1941-42 engraving of a girl’s distorted, cross-hatched face, looking as if startled by a frightful event.
The show’s last third belongs to Italian painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), who devoted much of his career to painting or drawing ordinary kitchen objects – pitchers, cups, and vases. I can’t say that I get the appeal or what they have to do with the progression to modern art movements, other than his 1927 Still Life with Cloth on the Left, executed with far more textured detail than his other works on display here.
All three artists are said to have been inspired by Paul Cezanne, and a print of his oil portrait of his wife in a red dress is mounted next to text describing the influence he had on artists from his time.
Across the hall in the Lederer Gallery, Canadian-born/Chicago-based artist-in-residence Laura Letinsky changes the visual subject to the 21st century with her large, lens-based color still lifes and arranged domestic scenes of mostly residual disorder. Who Loves the Sun (Weather Report), a 2022 archival pigment print, looks like a messy forecast with something spilled all over it. A 2013 untitled series of chromogenic images printed on silver-based paper under the designation of Albeit features one of the sushi-roll slices beside an empty plate as if someone forgot to serve them properly. An untitled #9 diptych from a 2006 To Say It Isn’t So series places an unused Target shopping bag next to a depleted serving box of McDonald’s fries. This image is paired with an opened gift box and a broken fork stabbing a black ribbon. Go figure. I can only guess what it says about life in the new millennium, though it appears to suggest dysfunction.
In the two smaller downstairs museum galleries, Baltimore-based artist Amy Boone-McCreesh’s Visual Currency presents wry commentary on what passes for high fashion and decorative arts in a setting of luxury and showy bad taste. Her 2019 Vanity Wall Hanging, a digital printed mixed-media on silk, depicts a charmingly vintage interpretation of a frilly but chintzy imitation of the rich life – possibly, we imagine, purchased with collapsed crypto-currency. Similarly, in Access to Beauty I and II, the 2021 mixed-media collages suggest that access to the scenic environs beyond are blocked by forbidding fencing. Don’t fence me in, country singers used to sing. How about don’t fence me out?======
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts critic and editor now living in Easton.
Three New Academy Art Shows
“Laura Letinsky, 2023 Artist-in-Residence: No More Than It Should Be,” “Spatial Reckoning: Morandi, Picasso and Villon,” both through Oct. 22, and “Amy Boone-McCreesh: Visual Currency,” through Nov. 5, Academy Museum of Art, 106 South St., Easton; academyartmuseum.org