Published: January 7, 2003
By A.L. Dunnington
PITTSBURGH, PENN. — When the curators at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMA) learned that the 27-year-old Scaife Galleries, housing much of the museum’s permanent collection, would have to be closed to accommodate a projected year-long renovation, they found themselves faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge: Where to put all that art? Their solution: Recast the past and put it all in one space.
And so “Panopticon: ” was born, relocating more than 500 paintings, sculptures, chairs and works on paper from their regular residence in about 70,000 square feet of space to a concentrated 13,500-square-foot, three-gallery installation and ultimately recreating a Nineteenth Century “salon-style” art show. “Panopticon” will be on view through August 17; the collection will be reinstalled in the renovated Scaife Galleries in fall 2003.
“Panopticon” means “a space where everything is visible.” Here, paintings are hung floor to ceiling; chairs are clustered together and spiral off columns; sculpture is arrayed in a loose English garden format; and the museum’s extensive collection of works on paper is displayed in a space redesigned to suggest a library.
Originating in Seventeenth Century palaces, this method of viewing art was adopted in the Nineteenth Century by the great international and national exhibits.
“The best art of the time was put all in one room, so we decided to look backward for our solution,” said Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts, adding, “This is not an exhibit that can be taken in all at once.”
In fact, this particular approach allows not only the public but professionals to view familiar works in unfamiliar ways, said Lippincott. That furthers CMA’s educational goal of harnessing the power of art to encourage a deeper understanding of the human experience, while strengthening visual, critical and analytical skills.
For the duration of the renovation, much of the contemporary collection has been dispatched to the Andy Warhol Museum, and the rest to a traveling exhibit.
The remaining works have been distributed among three galleries CMA redesigned to evoke a Victorian feel, wrapping archways in lush draperies, painting walls in muted plums and olive tones, and punctuating spaces with iron girder-style columns reminiscent of that era’s great exhibition halls.
“Panopticon” begins in Gallery 1, which contains more than 62 chairs and 200 American paintings. One wall is devoted to Pittsburgh artists, including native son Andy Warhol, whose vibrant portrait of museum founder Andrew Carnegie was commissioned by CMA in 1981. Gallery 2 contains European paintings and figurative sculptures and Gallery 3 houses works on paper and multiples (small art objects made in editions) in a room designed to simulate the feel of a large Victorian library.
Hundreds of Paintings, Inches Apart
Only about two inches of space separate each painting, encouraging the viewer to compare and contrast diverse works, hung chronologically, in new and intriguing ways.
“What pleased us was instead of finding it intimidating, people love it — they look at pictures differently in this context than in a conventional gallery,” Lippincott said.
In the early American section, for instance, “The Peaceable Kingdom,” circa 1837, oil, by Edward Hicks is hung near Benjamin West’s “Venus Lamenting the Death of Adonis,” 1768, retouched 1819, oil.
The Hicks painting, inspired by a Biblical passage from Isaiah, represents the artist’s pacifist Quaker views, while West took his subject from Ovid’s story of the love of Venus for the mortal Adonis.
Both Hicks and West hailed from the Philadelphia area. West was one of the more sophisticated American artists to emerge in Eighteenth Century American art, Lippincott said, while Hicks, a “na-ve” artist trained by a carriage painter, was famed for his somewhat primitive style.
“As a painter, Hicks is mechanical but with a wonderful sense of design and a vision of the world based on Quaker teaching, the idea of universal peace,” Lippincott said.
In contrast to beatific images of animals and humans peacefully coexisting, West’s depiction of Venus and Adonis is a study in grief and mourning: a sophisticated rendering, described in the CMA’s Collection Highlights as “perfectly in keeping with the noble ideals and elevated sentiments of history painting, for which West became a key representative.”
Yet despite great differences, both are great artists, exhibiting dramatically different motivations and levels of training, Lippincott pointed out.
Then there is Mary Cassatt’s “Young Women Picking Fruit,” circa 1891, oil, painted for the women’s pavilion at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
With something of a feminist twist, Lippincott said, Cassatt revisits the Biblical story of Genesis: Here, a woman plucking fruit from the tree of knowledge is a good thing, Cassatt suggests.
The dominant and robust female personalities in “Young Women” contrast with neighboring paintings by male contemporaries presenting women as far less substantial beings. Nearby, in Childe Hassam’s “Spring Morning,” 1909, oil, a contemplative, ethereal female functions essentially as a decorative object. Hassam later spoke of “using…figures…with flowers in an arrangement to make a beautiful combination of color and line.”
Equally intriguing are contrasts in the Twentieth Century American paintings section.
Edward Hopper’s powerfully moody “Cape Cod Afternoon,” 1936, oil, was painted only a year after Leon Kroll’s “Morning on the Cape,” 1935, oil.
While “Cape” and “Morning” might initially appear to take landscapes as their subject, Kroll’s representational rendering of three large-scale figures set against rolling farmland is not about the abstract qualities of the landscape, but about complicated human relationships.
In Hopper, the landscape becomes a character, forging its own relationship with the viewer. Mixing an almost journalistic detachment with psychological subtlety and depth, Hopper creates an ambiguously withdrawn atmosphere. His subject is at once recognizable and abstract, and his treatment is significantly more modern than that of Kroll.
In Gallery 2, which includes European and Japanese paintings, works by French Impressionists such as Claude Monet (1840-1926) are mixed in with academic painters such as Britain’s Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Though the artists in this section are contemporaries, ranging from the 1870s through the early 1900s, often the styles are radically different, and their proximity makes clear why the Impressionists were considered shocking in their own time.
The subjects taken by academic artists tended to be realistic, and often historical or religious; their painting style was carefully finished, detailed, smooth, refined.
The Impressionists, on the other hand, were not highly finished — even the brush strokes became part of the work — and their subject matter tended to capture scenes of everyday life. Up close, Impressionist images dissolve into patches of color; in academic realism, the image remains.
The colors, too, were different: the strong, bright tones of the Impressionists are especially striking in contrast to darker palette of the academics.
With Monet, “I was very naughty,” Lippincott said. “I hung his three smallest works about 12 feet off the floor, which is heresy. These paintings are among the most popular works in the collection.”
This she did to make a point: Impressionism was not popular when Monet began showing his work. Early Impressionist paintings were placed at the top of the room, near the ceiling, a hanging technique called “skying.”
“To be ‘skyed’ meant your work was in the show but not in good viewing circumstances,” Lippincott said. In “Panopticon,” Lippincott skyed all three of Monet’s earlier landscapes: “Waterloo Bridge, London,” 1903, “Cliffs near Dieppe,” 1882, and “The Sea at Le Havre,” 1868.
Conversely, Lippincott gave the two works by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones — “The King and the Shepherd,” 1888, oil, and “The Nativity,” 1888, oil — prime viewing space in the center of the wall. While Burne-Jones may not have the same recognition Monet enjoys today, in his time he was one of the reigning big shots, Lippincott said, and his position on the wall makes the point that what is acclaimed in one era may not transcend its own time.
Burne-Jones was a leader of the Aesthetic movement in England, which grew out of pre-Raphaelite Realism. With Burne-Jones, the works became increasingly idealistic, with subjects drawn more and more from religion, legend and mythology, Lippincott said. In “King” and “Nativity,” the figures are idealized, and skies are gilded rather than painted, to resemble Renaissance altar pieces.
Monet, however, went for the real.
By the time he painted his large “Nympheas (Water Lilies),” 1920-21, oil, Monet’s work was not only accepted but his stature dictated that the painting be hung where he desired: “Water Lilies,” whose subject was the very real world of Monet’s backyard, was painted to be seen at a low angle, so the viewer had the sense of being in the painting. True to its time, that is how it is represented in “Panopticon.”
Recent CMA acquisitions in the European section also include the Norwegian painter Johan Christian Dahl’s symbolic “Coast of Capri,” 1822, oil, acquired by the Heinz Family Fund in 2000. Dahl’s moonlit harbor scene offers a metaphor for a good Christian death, Lippincott said: a boat coming into a rocky harbor, navigating life’s dangers — an appropriate ending for a good life.
Contrast that with another romantic seascape CMA purchased this year: Eugene Louis Gabriel Isabey’s “The Shipwreck,” late 1830s, oil. As opposed to Dahl’s depiction, however, the rocky scene here signifies total disaster: the sea roils and boils as a small figure shakes its fists at the hellish chaos.
“Isabey is revealed at his most dramatically experimental and advanced,” Lippincott wrote of the acquisition. “Here an intensely Romantic theme is expressed in a vigorous, broken technique that reinforces the crisis and essence of his subject, and represents a vital link between the art of the early Nineteenth Century and the beginnings of Impressionism.”
Hung one above the other, the paintings dramatize how differently the same subject can be treated, even by relative contemporaries.
Scores of Chairs, Hanging off Pillars, Convening in Clusters
“A chair is such wonderful thing to tell you about style, technology, social history,” said Sarah Nichols, chief curator and curator of decorative arts, of the 62 chairs in Gallery 1, ranging from the Nineteenth Century to the present. “Chairs have never gone out of style; people can relate to them; and a lot of architects have designed chairs because it is an incredibly complex thing to get right.”
Rather than present them in a typically chronological format, Nichols divided the chairs into eight thematic groups, highlighting different approaches to chair design.
For instance, since only relatively restrained curves can be carved out of solid wood for a structure to remain stable, the most inventive curves in furniture use plywoods and laminates. The “Curves” section explores these creations in works such as American architect and designer Frank O. Gehry’s Power Play armchair, 1994, maple, a plywood chair Gehry designed for production by furniture manufacturer Knoll, Inc.
“Geometry” includes examples from the early Twentieth Century Arts and Crafts movement, represented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s angular wooden chair, circa 1904, oak and leather; and Holland’s DeStijl school, exemplified by Gerrit Rietveld’s Child’s chair, circa 1920, wood, deal and leather. Rietveld, a well-known Dutch designer, was influenced by the movement’s best known figure, Piet Mondrian, known for his paintings of horizontals and verticals.
“Recycling” includes Gerrit Rietveld’s Crate chair, 1934, pine, which was particularly appropriate for its time: the Great Depression. Manufactured from recycled packing crates, it was sold in kits and intended for use as porch or outdoor furniture. CMA acquired the chair in 2001, making it the fourth Rietveld chair in the museum’s collection.
“Tubular Metal” focuses on chairs made of steel or aluminum. Introduced around 1925, tubular metal’s strong, lightweight and relatively inexpensive mass production appeal made it desirable to many of that era’s designers. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s armchair, designed 1927, chromed steel and cane, is a prime example: the tubular metal starts as the chair back, curves into a seat, then into leg and finally curves around as a base, forming a topless “S” shape.
“Art Nouveau,” typified by long, sinuously curving lines inspired by organic forms and natural flora, consists of chairs made from 1899 to 1904. Louis Marjorelle’s armchair, circa 1900, walnut and leather, for instance, is a curving structure whose leather seat and back is embossed with a thistle design, the symbol of Lorraine, France, where Marjorelle worked.
“Legs” explores innovative approaches to seat support: Carlo Bugatti’s Cobra chair, 1902, wood, vellum, copper, pencil and paint, has a back resembling the head of a cobra, with a circular seat and a single stem from seat to floor that curves back up from floor to create the chair’s back.
“X-Frame” refers to chairs created by a side or front frame cross, a style favored in the Gothic period, particularly for throne-style seating. The design resurfaced in Nineteenth Century Gothic revival design, and again, in Twentieth Century works such as van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair, designed in 1929, aluminum and leather.
“Materials” considers nonmetal, nonwood chairs, whose designs rely on materials such as rattan, glass, knotted rope and cardboard. Gehry’s Little Beaver, circa 1980, corrugated cardboard, was designed to resemble a big upholstered armchair: however, it was build of solid sections of corrugated cardboard.
The remaining chairs, from 1810 to 2001, are grouped together in the center of Gallery 1.
Australian designer Marc Newson’s Orgone chair was commissioned by CMA in 2000 for the museum’s aluminum exhibit. The chair’s pristine aluminum surface was hand beaten by experts in traditional luxury car paneling techniques.
Finally, British designer Ross Lovegrove’s Go chair, 2001, magnesium and polycarbonate, is a spare, futuristic piece, acquired by CMA last year; CMA also owns the aluminum prototype, which was in the museum’s “Aluminum by Design” exhibit.
The Human Experience, in All Its Figurative Glory
“Figurative sculpture is really about man trying to depict himself through the centuries, using many kinds of materials, cross-culturally and across time,” said Elisabeth Agro, assistant curator of decorative arts.
Developing five themes to show 53 figurative works from the museum’s permanent collection, Agro borrowed loosely from an English garden design, with different themes radiating out from a central core.
In “About Face,” a variety of busts and sculptural heads are displayed on shelves set up in a semicircular, two-tiered amphitheater format.
The semicircle’s center is anchored by “Head of Guanyin,” (Yuan dynasty, 1279-1368, wood and paint), an enormous Chinese head sculpture of a Buddhist deity. The piece is flanked by Willem de Kooning’s “Large Torso,” 1974, bronze, and an African mask from the Kingdom of Kom, Cameroon, circa early Twentieth Century, wood, with hair carved to look like abstract tarantulas, representing good fortune. Near de Kooning is Gianlorenzo Bernini’s, “Pope Gregory XV,” circa 1621-6122, bronze; and an impressive Egyptian Coptic “Head,” Second to Fifth Century, clay, glass and paint.
For fun, Agro included Robert Arneson’s “Trophies,” 1976, glazed ceramic, a series of small self-portraits poking fun at the idea of busts and self-portrayal.
“To see de Kooning next to the classical Bernini or idealized Buddha — along with the Coptic head and the small Arnesons — is a way to see both how we view ourselves and to explore the nature of sculpture,” Agro said.
Another section looks at how multiple figures are portrayed. “It’s hard enough to do just one sculpture,” Agro said. “When you include two or more, there has to be a story involved.”
Such combinations often tackle universal themes, she said, such as mother and child, mythological struggles and religious narratives.
“Portable Altar,” French, Fourteenth Century, ivory, a private devotional piece with a central figure of Madonna and Child, is placed near Owo-eye’s “House Post,” an undated African work from Yorubaland completed sometime between 1930 and 1960. The wood and paint sculpture, used in high status dwellings, such as a king’s palace, is carved with mother and child motifs, indicative of the key role women played in that culture’s social structure.
“By juxtaposing a Fourteenth Century Madonna and Child with a Twentieth Century carved African house post, also depicting mother and child, you see how the role of mother can be potent and powerful in different cultures, in different ways,” Agro said.
The “Action Figures” section explores the challenge of capturing expression and movement in an inert material. This segment comprises the center of the sculptural garden.
American sculptor Paul Manship’s “Diana,” 1923, bronze, and “Actaeon,” 1923, bronze, are central to this section. The two stylized sculptures, which show both Archaic Greek and Beaux-Arts influences, tell a mythological story: Diana, goddess of the hunt, is spied bathing nude by the hunter Actaeon. She punishes him by transforming him into a stag, who is then killed by his fellow hunters. The two sculptures are placed in the room’s center so that Diana appears to have shot the fleeing Actaeon.
Nearby, Emile Antoine Bourdelle’s “Herakles, Archer,” 1908-09, bronze, appears to be shooting at paintings on the walls.
“In middle of room, you have men and women in pursuit, abductions, various other activities,” Agro said. “You can get dizzy with all the action.”
A fourth theme explores the concept of female form and beauty.
In Akio Takamori’s “Classic Goddess,” 1987, white stoneware, for instance, the artist creates a vessellike female figure, using stoneware as a canvas for his painting of the front and back of a beheaded goddess who holds a head, in both front and back views, as though being born anew. Inspired by a sculptural fragment the artist encountered at an archaeological site, Takamori wrote of his piece: “Through her rebirth, she suggests the possibility of becoming a more powerful contemporary female.”
Not far away, a fully cloaked, Bible-carrying Burgundian “Female Saint,” circa 1400, limestone, artist unknown, stands near Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse’s “Innocence Tormented by Love,” 1871, terracotta, a recent acquisition through the Heinz Family Fund.
“Innocence” epitomizes “the playful eroticism of later Nineteenth Century French art and culture,” wrote curator Louise Lippincott of the work, which was acquired in 2001 and considered rare for its size and excellent condition.
The two statues represent different kinds of love: “Innocence,” undressed by Cupid, represents carnal love, while the female saint embodies religious, Godly love. Finally, the section titled “Clothes Make the Man” takes on male figures, exploring the ways attire and adornment signal status, power and culture.
In the Roman copy of a Fifth Century Greek marble sculpture, “Polykleitan Youth,” beauty was idealized in the form of nude male youth.
Conversely, “Abraham Lincoln: The Man,” modeled 1884-87, cast 1912, bronze, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, conveys Lincoln’s stature through his formal, presidential dress and his stately stance.
Nearby, “Relief plaque,” late Sixteenth to early Seventeenth Century, brass and copper, by the Royal Brasscasters’ Guild, African, Edo Kingdom of Benin (present-day Nigeria), depicts a royally dressed king towering above two warriors, identifying him as a powerful political figure.
“I placed the African King and Lincoln looking at each other, across the group, to signify that power and men of importance come in different shapes, forms, colors, sizes,” Agro said. “Time and culture don’t matter.”
Works on Paper
“Panopticon” concludes with a changing exhibit of the more delicate “Works on Paper” in Gallery 3. The Carnegie Museum’s permanent collection includes about 18,000 prints, drawings and photographs, from Thirteenth Century Buddhist woodcuts and pre-Renaissance European woodcuts and engravings to works by contemporary artists like Joseph Albers, Robert Breer and Frank Stella. To protect the fragile works, the exhibit changes quarterly, with no one piece on display for an extended period.
A glimpse of “Panopticon” is also offered online: click on images for detailed views of the almost dizzying interior shots, and a colorful, virtual tour of chairs, paintings, sculpture and works on paper. The Collection link includes closeups of selected individual works while CMA Highlights include a history of the museum and descriptions of the Heinz Architectural Center, the Hall of Architecture and the Hall of Sculpture.
Taken altogether, “Panopticon” combines daring, whimsy, great art and breathtaking range to make new an old way of looking at art — and the world around us.
“Panopticon: ” runs through August 17 at the Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Avenue. A booklet-sized Gallery Guide and free audio tours complement the exhibit.
Those who visit may also wish to explore all four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which, in addition to CMA, include Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum.
For more information on “Panopticon” and related classes, programs and special events, call 412- 622-3131, or visit www.cmoa.org.
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