Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cement in St. Louis

I went to see some art last weekend in St. Louis, visiting the Pulitzer Foundation (as well as re-visited the Contemporary Museum and stopped by Bruno David's gallery, smartly placed just across the street).

It was a gray, overcast, calm day.

Of course I don't have any pictures from the Pulitzer's show Ideal (Dis-) Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer, with paintings from Harvard and the St. Louis Art Museum--so I took pictures of the external environment to give you a sense of the light levels inside the galleries. One of the exercises of the show was clearly to show how these works owuld have been perceived when they were painted.

My favorite room was the one in the back, next to the Ellsworth Kelly, with the four proto-Renaissance works. That is the period I love for the dense emotional intensity packed into the small figures, the glittering surface of the Byzantine-influenced church that mirrors the radiant light of God. Compared to the bloodless, hyperbolic Renaissance works in the other rooms, these small works feel alive to me (many people love the Renaissance, more power to them, I find no emotional comfort in those works).

In the largest work in the room, Girolamo di Benvenuto di Giovanni del Guasta's Madonna and Child with Saints Nicholas of Tolentino, Monica, Augustine, and John the Evangalist, no date although the artist lived 1470-1524 (shouldn't they make an educated guess?), floating on St. Nicholas's torso was a disembodied head of a child. The child's disc of a head glowed in the dark, which to me was a meaningful expression of the mystery and faith embodied in religious ritual painting compared to the fleshy, Baroque-bordering-on-Rococo works in the other rooms.

It strikes me that the richness of this painting, and the story of Saint Nicholas, is a testament to the value of place in one's spiritual life. Each city, town, burg, village generates its own sense of mystery and life, and the del Guasta painting describes the joy of living in one's time, while knowing of one's history.

Floating back down to the courtyard I experienced the Richard Serra work "Joe" again, and again, felt a bit dizzy and disoriented not ten feet into the work. What imaginative glory and intellectual abuse this Serra provides.

What I loved about the Serra, against the grimy gray sky, was that it didn't provoke depression at the advent of fall, but rather, an inevitability of the abstractions we face in our daily lives--like spirituality, community, place. Balanced against my transport from the del Guasta, I felt refreshed on that fall day by experiencing art. Fabulous.

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