I hope you're having a nice weekend. I was in Baltimore visiting friends and looking at art. Friday I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA); yesterday I dropped by The Walters Art Museum in the company of my lovely friend Hillary and her delightful hubby. (Check out Hillary's superb Makeup Museum website.) Today I popped into Washington, D.C. to brunch with an old friend, Tanvi, whom I met blogging a century ago.
A highlight of the trip was a historic special exhibition of work by Joan Mitchell at BMA. The show presents over seventy of her paintings, showing the full range of her oeuvre (1950-1992).
Joan was a member of the Second Generation of Abstract Expressionists who came to prominence in the 1950s. Joan, like contemporary Grace Hartigan, started her career being promoted by John Bernard Myers at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in NYC. I met John once at a party in his house that Grace brought us to.
I just finished re-reading John's 1983 memoir, "Tracking The Marvelous," which describes the heroic struggles of artists of that era to create new, innovative art -- and later how fame and money ruined everything. Today Joan Mitchell's paintings sell for $20 Million dollars, a price inconceivable to the artists living back then in cold-water flats on decrepit Tenth Avenue.
Almost from the start Joan found her home in abstract art; once there she never left it. Her paintings explore experiences, not appearances, and can initially be challenging. My goal this weekend was to travel and immerse myself in the work, like an ocean, and feel its impact. A month ago I visited MOMA in NYC and was startled at how powerful Jackson Pollack's painting is when approached in person. The same with Joan's work. Reproductions don't do these majestic pieces justice. They're large, potent objects brimming with life and meaning. They touch you in multiple ways beneath rationality.
Artists of this period were recoiling from chaos and carnage of the Second World War. They looked for alternatives to human rationalism which had shown its limits. In today's increasingly anarchic world we need to continue that search in all directions.