Sunday, January 16, 2011

Degas and Richter

We elbowed our way through the post-impressionist exhibition at the de Young today. I did not bother trying to fight my way to the Starry Night, though it is a lovely painting to be sure. I guess I understand why Gauguin is famous, although his pictures leave me yawning. Cezanne is... well, Cezanne, but the selection was not better than you would find at many good museums around the country. The Pisarros, Bonnards, and Vuillards, very fine to see. But my favorite painting was hiding at the very beginning of the first gallery, for some reason not attracting much attention.

Yes, Degas dancers! For so many years these paintings were just cliches to me, material for posters in dorm rooms (mostly occupied by women, as I recall). But what a painting! Was there another painter who could create the same sense of motion within such a formalized composition, all the while playing with the light, color, and perspective?

Meanwhile... in the main lobby of the museum is an immense out-of-focus Gerhard Richter op-art piece that can give you all the symptoms of a bad hangover just by looking at it. A great one. But the Degas reminded me of another side of Richter, the fuzzy, dynamic beauty of his candles, familiar to lovers of modern art and/or Sonic Youth. The motion, the light, the colors... Richter and Degas can send a chill down your spine. Eat your heart out, Gauguin.

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