Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Renoir in the 20th Century" - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art is exhibiting "Renoir in the 20th Century" from February 14 through May 9, 2010.

According to its official website, "Renoir in the 20th Century focuses on the last three decades of Renoir’s career, when, following his rupture with impressionism, he turned to an art that was decorative, classical, and informed by a highly personal interpretation of the Great Tradition. Renoir’s paintings from this period, which have never been studied and shown as such, are often misunderstood as they do not fit comfortably into the history of high modernism. This exhibition is the first monographic study dedicated to Renoir since the comprehensive retrospective of 1985 at the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, and the first one ever mounted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Offering an unprecedented look at Renoir through the lens of modernism, the exhibition bridges the divide that exists in many people’s minds between art of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries."

There are nine teaser images on the website. They are fascinating and disquieting.

It is very interesting to see the scope of Renoir's opus. However, it also demonstrated that the popularity of Renoir is not something art world should celebrate heartily. Amongst the nine paintings, Self-Portrait with White Hat, 1910 was a truly interesting piece. It has a deep emotion and a true master piece. Gabrielle with a Rose, 1911 was a study of real beauty, so was The White Pierrot, c. 1901-2 and Woman Playing the Guitar, 1896-97, which though resemble those by Antoine Watteau, lacked the magical sense of the older artist's finer works. Gabrielle and Jean, 1895 falls in this category.

Self-Portrait with White Hat, 1910

Gabrielle with a Rose, 1911

The White Pierrot, c. 1901-2

Woman Playing the Guitar, 1896-97

Gabrielle and Jean, 1895

I'm indifferent to Jean as a Huntsman, 1910 and Dancer with Tambourine, 1909. They are virtuoso pieces but devoid of real meaning. They commends attention with their beauty but not much more.

Jean as a Huntsman, 1910

Dancer with Tambourine, 1909

While the remaining two are impressionist works at their most offensive, particularly Terrace at Cagnes, 1905, which was the harbinger of the mind-numbing, saccharine depictions of superficial delight popular at touristic "art galleries".

The Concert, 1918-19

Terrace at Cagnes, 1905

All said, I would still love to see these works, and hopefully more. Renoir was a great painter and the works assembled here, at least on the banner teaser, do not represent his best efforts.

I always approach blockbuster impressionism exhibitions with trepidation but they often turned out to be great experiences.

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