Sunday, May 01, 2016

Looking over the responses to the show at MoMA,  people miss the most obvious points. Degas and Turner were trained and successful academic painters who later moved into near abstraction, but Degas was a painter for the age of mechanization. Turner may have ridden trains and painted pictures of them, but his process was anti-mechanical.

 "Heads of a Man and a Woman (Homme et femme, en buste)". c. 1877–80. Monotype on paper, plate: 2 13/16 x 3 3/16” (7.2 x 8.1 cm) . British Museum, London.

Degas was a painter after photography. His blurring is the blurring of motion in a photographic image. His technics is touched by the mechanization of Seurat.

Three Studies of Ludovic Halévy Standing, c. 1876-1877, Charcoal on paper, 12 5/8 x 18 7/8" (32 x 48 cm),
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 
Three Studies of Ludovic Halévy Standing, c. 1876-1877, Charcoal on paper, counterproof,
14 1/8 x 19 1/4" (35.9 x 48.9 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 
He escapes the overdetermined by means of the underdetermined. He undercuts staid academicism not with relaxation but randomness. His work is never casual; it's observational and formalist. He's a conservative, and idealism can't be read into the work after the fact. He's not a painter against 19th century narrative tradition; he's not a Modernist; he's modern, with a connection to the present even greater than Manet, to the age of mechanical representation by way of Renoir (father and son), Jean Vigo, and Mizoguchi, to contemporary academic figuration, Jeff Wall and Thomas Struth, and Richter, and to abstraction by way of Seurat, to Gursky and to Richter again. Needless to say the big contemporary names stand in for the wide number of people with similar preoccupations, for whatever reason.

As I've said, Modernism is dead, modernity isn't.
"Forest in the Mountains (Forêt dans la montagne)” (c. 1890),monotype
in oil on paper, plate: 11 13/16 x 15 3/4 inches, MoMA, New York.
New and overdue tag for Degas

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