Wednesday, September 2, 2015

St. Louis Art Museum (Beckmann mania)

The trip from Buffalo to St. Louis was generally unremarkable, aside from the rain.  There had been a sudden rain burst in Buffalo, though fortunately we were still inside the customs building at the border being processed.  I think there may have been a 10-15 minute delay in getting to Atlanta (there was no direct flight from Buffalo to St. Louis, or at least not in my price range).  Atlanta, however, had been hammered by rain, to the point they had actually closed the runways for over an hour, and they were struggling to restore service.  I could understand that, but I have no idea why they switched our gate three times, making everyone move from one end of the terminal to the other.  That was quite frustrating.  The flight left about 90 minutes late, but at least I got to St. Louis.  Fortunately, I had known I would be pretty late getting in and booked a hotel out by the airport.  It actually was raining there as well, though not as heavily, and fortunately it cleared off by the next day.

I spent the morning at our St. Louis office, meeting a few folks and talking about a project that was coming back to life.  Then one of the folks in the office took me to lunch and actually dropped me off at the St. Louis Art Museum, which was awfully kind of him.  It's a very nice museum (and free!) but it is in the middle of a large park, and it is quite a hike to the nearest Metrolink station.  (The trolley from the museum to the station is just not frequent enough, and I ended up making the walk at the end of the visit, but, at that point, time was not such a pressing issue.)

This was my third visit to the museum, and the first since they completed a renovation/expansion.  I was favorably impressed.  They moved the European collection to the ground floor, and the modern/contemporary to the new gallery space, also on the main floor.  I think this is the strongest part of their collection, and it was good to have it easily accessible.  There were some interesting American paintings left upstairs (an early Philip Guston and Ben Shahn's The Red Stairway and an O'Keeffe and a Stuart Davis and a quite nice Norman Lewis piece) but in general the highlights are all on the main floor.

Ben Shahn, The Red Stairway, 1944

Norman Lewis, Twilight Sounds, 1947

Stuart Davis, Feasible #2, 1949-51

Unlike in years past, they have spread the Max Beckmann paintings out a bit.  There was still a solid core in the central room, but there were a few other ones in different rooms.  I believe there were 13 Beckmanns on display in various parts of the museum, including the triptych The Acrobats.  Astonishingly, they have 39 paintings and a number of prints/etchings, making this truly the greatest Beckmann collection in the world.

I agree that seeing all 39 would probably be a bit exhausting, but it must be quite difficult to decide which to show and which to put in storage.  The only ones that I am aware of that I do feel should have been on display are The Dream and Masquerade.  I probably saw them on a previous visit, but simply cannot be certain.  (However, I just checked and both were on view in the 2003 Beckmann exhibition at MoMA Queens, so I have seen them in person.  Notably, The Acrobats was not part of that exhibit, nor was Hotel Lobby (from the Albright-Knox collection.))  This means that I have now definitely seen 7 of the 9 triptychs and most likely I did see Blindman's Bluff while in Minneapolis to make it 8 of 9, but I'll just have to make sure I see it next time I am in the Twin Cities.

Max Beckmann, The Dream, 1921
Max Beckmann, Masqerade, 1948

In terms of the Beckmann on display, it is a total embarrassment of riches.  I'll just put up 4 that really caught my attention.

Max Beckmann, The Harbor of Genoa, 1927

Max Beckmann, Studio (Nude and Sculpture), 1946

The Harbor of Genoa is a relatively early painting, whereas Studio was painted while Beckmann was still in exile in Holland.  Due to postwar shortages, it is painted on bed linen, incredibly enough.  Beckmann and his wife were able to leave Europe and move to the U.S. in 1947 (first Saint Louis where he taught art (filling in as Philip Guston's replacement!) and then New York).

Fisherwomen has all the hallmarks of late Beckmann style.  It reminds one of a crazy dream that you can't quite remember.  In addition to the 3 harlots who have collected the fish (souls?) of recent clients, there is an aged crone just outside the doorway holding a long green fish (apparently an eel).

Max Beckmann, Fisherwomen, 1948

And of course, there is the triptych Acrobats, which is even more dream-like.

Max Beckmann, Acrobats, 1939

There are many other treasures of 19th and 20th Century European paintings on display, even if one is not so fanatical about Beckmann.  Here are my very idiosyncratic selections (a few slightly outside those parameters).

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Judgement of Paris, 1530

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, c 1915-26

Giorgio de Chirico, The Transformed Dream, 1913

Juan Gris, Still Life with Guitar, 1920

Otto Muller, Three Girls in a Wood, 1920

Emilio Vedova, Factory, 1949

Ben Nicholson, Half Moon, 1959

I thought the modern paintings were interesting (Guston, Hofmann, Kline, Motherwell, and even George Segal), but not quite blog-worthy, as they weren't the best I've seen of these artists.  However, I do offer up this minor homage to Thomas Struth of some visitors taking a photo of one of the modern pieces (Robert Colescott's Christina's Day Off), which itself is quite amusing.

All in all, this is quite an incredible museum; in my view, it ranks just slightly below the Art Institute of Chicago for title of best art museum in the Midwest.

No comments:

Post a Comment