Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Monet to Picasso and right on through to the break room.

The Utah Museum of Fine Art’s (UMFA) current exhibit Monet to Picasso is crowded with so much art, I decided it was worth a second visit. So recently I made trip two to spend more time with some of the works I liked best.

Let me start with a few general comments about the exhibit. First, the show is crowded. A little too crowded for my taste. The early galleries offer some breathing room but by the time you get past Picasso, things are cramped. The Expressionists and the Surrealists are crammed into what feels like a break room. Seriously, I’m talking industrial gray carpeting and a tile ceiling that begs you to throw pencils at it.

This show is also a reminder that just because a painting is by a great artist, it isn’t necessarily great. The show could have easily lost a dozen works and been better for the editing.

Then there’s the audio tour. I used the audio device my first visit. I enjoyed the exhibit more without the audio tour. And don’t even think about listening to the “family” audio segments.

But enough complaining. Let’s talk about the good stuff. The show features some dang good art. And it’s a dandy little art history lesson, going from pre-Impressionism all the way through to Surrealism. In fact, there’s enough to see, that I’m going to split my post. This post will talk about the exhibit from a general perspective. A later post will offer my picks for three must-see works.

Here are some highlights:

July: Specimen of a Portrait (1882) by Jacques-Joseph Tissot is a lovely transitional work early in the show. The beautiful portrait of a woman in a lace dress is intoxicating.

Just around the corner, past the Manets, you run into the Monets. (Yes I just skipped Manet. As I said, there’s a lot in this show so I can’t talk about everything.) Three works by Monet offer excellent examples of how beautifully the Impressionists used color and light.

The post Impressionists offered some nice surprises. I expected to enjoy The Poplars at Saint-Remy (1889) by Van Gogh. It’s thick, shiny paint made you want to touch it. (But in general, museums don’t like it when you do that.) I was surprised by a different arboreal work, Pine Tree (1897) by Giovanni Segantini. The thick paint and dark colors made for an extravagant picture.

I think the show features more works by Picasso than by any other single artist. There were at least eight. I’m not the world’s biggest Picasso fan. Cubism tends to leave me cold. But I was surprised at how much I liked the earlier works like 1903’s La Vie.

Past the Picasso gallery, the art work is crammed in as tightly as possible, with little or no room to stand back and admire. There’s Matisse, Modigliani, a surprising self portrait by William Orpen, Gauguin, and a whole bunch of other stuff. And that’s all before you get to the break room.

The break room is home to the Expressionists, like Karl Schmidt-Ruttluff. His Self Portrait with Hat from 1919 uses blues and greens in a style that made me want to like Cubism. Not to be outdone, Louis Corinth offered a 1915 painting called Self Portrait with Hat and Coat. Apparently self portraits with hats were all the rage among the Expressionists.

The Surrealists made a strong showing with works by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte (although the Magritte was a little on the boring side), and Salvador Dali.

Alright, I’ve bored you long enough with paintings, and sculptures, and art works. But if you haven’t seen the show, go. For two reasons. First, there really is stuff worth seeing. And second, it will encourage UMFA to bring in more shows like this. But hurry, because it all goes away September 21.


  1. It was an experience for those who have not had the opportunity to see work from such artists as Van Gogh, Picasso, Rodin, Mondrian, Monet, etc. I was mostly struck by the Giovanni Segantini painting, The Pine Tree. It was breathtaking. I was saddened that the only Seaurat painting was not a "pointalist" painting, but nonetheless, I would still recommend this exhibit.