Thursday, March 21, 2013

NYC Notebook: 'Impressionism, Fashion, + Modernity'

Do you ever play that game “ If you could live during any other time in history, what would it be”?
After seeing the current show at The Met, I think this period from 1862 - 1887 deserves serious consideration. 

Monet, Camille, 1866
Kunsthalle Bremen

Such a heady time; Paris was the style capital of the world, mass production was under way, and the emergence of department stores and illustrated fashion magazines were starting to democratize fashion; it was the virtual birth of the fashion industry.

The Impressionist artists were the avant-garde, breaking free of the strict discipline of the Academy and acceptable conventions. They “were intrigued by this new industry; its dynamic, ephemeral, and constantly innovative qualities embodied the very essence of modernity that they sought to express in their work" and so they embraced the fashions of the times as a symbol of modernity.

Beyond the thrill of seeing these paintings (80 major figure paintings in all, many of which have not been seen in North America before), it is the inspired installation by Met curator, Susan Alyson Stein and Michael Lapthorne, exhibition designer, which had my head spinning. The juxtaposition of the clothing and accessories that inspired the art is stunning and requires one to take in all the rich details slowly.

Monet, Luncheon on the Grass, left and central panels, 1865-66
Musée d'Orsay

The galleries are organized simply, devoted to a singular idea, with a visual impact that it is almost overwhelming, including rooms dedicated to The White Dress, The Black Dress, En Plein Air and The Urban Gentleman to name a few. And then there are the inspiring quotes from the writers and artists of the day on the walls. My favorite gallery, of course, was The White Dress:

"There was nothing but white, yet it was never the same white, but all the different tones of white, competing together, contrasting with and complementing each other, achieving the brilliance of light itself." - Emile Zola, Au Bonheur des Dames, 1883

Renoir, Lise-The Woman With the Umbrella, 1867
Museum Folkwang, Essen
Stevens, Eva Gonzalès at the Piano, 1879
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Manet, Repose, c.1871
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design

An exhibition of many layers and ideas, it was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago, together with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Musée d'Orsay. It's Parisian debut was a huge hit this past fall and while the traveling paintings are a constant, the Met's particular choice of clothing and artifacts are unique to New York. 

And so the question continues..."Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?" Perhaps this show tips the scales and shows life inspiring these modern artists.

For more:
check out Richard Haines' sketches here of the show
a short and entertaining video about Mary Cassatt's In the Loge, 1878 for further insight into the era.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
82nd @ Fifth Ave  

photos at The Met by Suzanne de Chillo / NY Times

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