Agnes Martin’s work can be tricky, all lines and grids and pale neutrals. It used to make me wonder, what’s the big deal? Pencil marks and a wash of color—not so impressive. I chalked it up to those nutty Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists, divorcing themselves from the real world and delving into a world I didn’t know how to get into.
Howard Finster’s Youth of Abraham (1988) is one of my favorite works in the Museum Collection for use in teaching. I think it is also, slowly, becoming one of my favorite works in the Museum, period. People are often surprised when I tell them how much I am taken with this artwork, and I sometimes get the dreaded comment: “It looks like something a child could do”.
It was easier to begin my 45-minute looking experience at William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Homer and His Guide than it was at Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Street at Schöneberg City Park, the subject of my last “Slow Art” post. I have loved Bouguereau for about four years now, ever since I gave gallery talks on his work at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Like Jean-Honoré Fragonard, he is not the most respectable artist for an art historian or museum educator to love: his work is sentimental, it doesn’t really push boundaries, and it is on the whole pretty safe. But I have always been drawn to the way he paints—his style is luminously realistic, ridiculously meticulous. He is one of the few painters whose figures always seem to me about to jump off the canvas.
Have you ever looked at a work of art for a half-hour straight?
In college, one of my favorite art history professors required that we spend at least a half-hour sitting in front of the work of art we were researching and sketch it, getting intimate with the figures, setting, lines and brushstrokes within it, and immersing ourselves in the choices the artist made. While looking for forty-five minutes at Kirchner’s Street at Schöneberg City Park, that was exactly what I did.