Categories
Art

From the Collection–Agnes Martin’s “Untitled #10”

Agnes Martin. Untitled #10, 1977. Gesso, India ink, and graphite on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Friends of Art. Photo credit Dedra Walls. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Agnes Martin. Untitled #10, 1977. Gesso, India ink, and graphite on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Friends of Art. Photo credit Dedra Walls. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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.

But then I got a job as a docent at my college’s art museum, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. I gave tours, but I also spent a lot of time in the galleries at the docent’s table, where we waited for visitors to ask us questions (and maybe did some homework when things were slow). The table was situated right across from their Martin, The Harvest (1965). Being forced to look at this painting nearly every day, at least for a few minutes before a visitor approached me, completely changed the way I viewed Agnes Martin’s work. The Harvest, with its imperfect grid and odd “T” in the corner, became a quirky friend I saw each week–a comforting presence away from papers and tests.

But I’d never spent any long, uninterrupted time with an Agnes Martin. Seeking some quiet time away from my email inbox this past week, I wandered past Milwaukee’s Agnes Martin painting and then stopped and turned around.

It was time for a 45-minute slow look at Untitled #10.

Categories
Art

Slow Art–Howard Finster’s Youth of Abraham

Howard Finster, Youth of Abraham (detail), 1988. Acrylic on wood. Milwaukee Art Museum. Gift from the collection of Isabelle and Herbert Polacheck. Photo credit John R. Glembin
Howard Finster, Youth of Abraham (detail), 1988. Acrylic on wood. Milwaukee Art Museum. Gift from the collection of Isabelle and Herbert Polacheck. Photo credit John R. Glembin

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.”

When I first decided to teach with Youth of Abraham, I was nervous because it is so driven by spirituality, which can lead to difficult conversations (on top of that, I am not a particularly spiritual person myself). Nevertheless, I decided to challenge myself with it, leading an inquiry-based session with the education department. The session was surprisingly successful, so I later used Youth of Abraham with college education students and found myself in one of the best conversations I’ve ever had about a work of art.

There is just something about this painting.

Categories
Art Education

Slow Art–Bouguereau’s Homer and His Guide

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), Homer and His Guide, 1874. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of Frederick Layton. Photo credit Larry Sanders
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), Homer and His Guide, 1874. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of Frederick Layton. Photo credit Larry Sanders

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.

Categories
Art Education

Slow Art–Kirchner’s Street at Schöneberg City Park

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street at Schöneberg City Park, 1912-13. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley. Photo credit Larry Sanders
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street at Schöneberg City Park, 1912-13. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley. Photo by Larry Sanders.

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.