Thursday, March 14, 2013

Zorn at the ISG

There's a new exhibit at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  It brings together some of the museum's own Zorn paintings and etchings, as well as a few on loan.

Aannndddd -- it's pretty spectacular.

There are a number of strong pieces, some different handlings of paint from different periods in his career (and different whims of the moment).  His etchings are fantastic (and there are dozens more upstairs in the permanent collection.  The exhibit is modestly sized, but even a cheapskate like myself felt it well worth the $15 admission fee.

There are a lot of pieces worth seeing, and worth discussing, but the crowning piece is the one the museum is using in their promotions, and on the cover of the guidebook.

"The Omnibus" is partnered with another, slightly earlier painting of more or less the same composition also called "The Omnibus."  The first is an incisive, workmanlike piece that when partnered with its second generation looks like an overly large sketch.  Strong and striking, but un-nuanced.

The second, is genius.  The colors need to be seen in person, and its a shame (and the loss of at least one sale to the museum gift shop) that the colors reproduced in the guidebook are handled poorly.   There's an amazing pop between the first two figures faces that is completely lost in every reproduction of this painting I've found.  Are you interested in "glow" in a painting?  Here it is, in a stripe of light that is such an arresting form you've got deal with it first before being able to really see the other, brilliant parts of this painting.

There's an amazing amount of implied detail, hands deftly rendered in a beautifully economy.  Evocative eyes brushed in, with a low level of detail and a low level of contrast that are more real and more striking for their restraint.

The beauty of the exhibit is the ability to look back and forth between the two versions.  The incredibly soft edges in the second, when held up against the crisp incisive edges of the first, are starkly contrasted.  If you want to understand the impact of edges, I can't think of a better place to start.

My friends and I got in as the museum opened Monday -- I was the first person in line at the ticket counter.  We briefly had the gallery to ourselves, but it filled up fast.  I was impressed and pleased at the notice the community is paying to this masterful painter.