I’m feeling sad and a bit anxious that the Giorgio Morandi show at the Met is closing on Dec 14th, and it’s looking increasingly like I’m not going to make it. Morandi has been a major influence for me since I was in grad school at Bard, and it’s always been a challenge to place myself directly in front of good examples of his work.
Oh sure, there was a small minor work at the MFA in Columbus in OH (no, that’s not an oxymoron)…but it was a constant source of frustration that they presented it horizontally, on a table, under thick glass. Seriously, I’m talking about a painting here. Can you imagine?
Then there are the handful of works viewed out of context at various museums across the country, including a small work at the Art Institute here in Chicago, memorably titled “Still Life” (Yes, they’re all titled “Still Life”). But to see multiple works in one place and dig into the nuance and subtlety of the work? THAT is a hard thing to come by. It got me poking around the web looking for comments about the show and how it was being received.
The one article that caught my eye was an October 28th posting of Bones Beat in the Village Voice. Bones starts off by admitting that he/she had met Morandi and forgotten him. Bones then notices that Morandi was an anagram for Mondrian (which I found pretty cool…Ill repeat that one and take credit for it). Bones goes on to say that Morandi is forgettable because he painted basically the same works over and over again, with tentative brush strokes, in a repetitious fervor that makes it impossible for people to recall a single, specific work. He goes on to say: “By the electrified, hungry standards of the last hundred years in art and society, this makes for boring, bland art that will struggle for footing.”
See, that one hurts because part of me thinks he’s right, and it makes me wonder if I want to be a part of the art world that would take such a position . I mean, compared to Jeff and Damien, Morandi is an awkward schlep…Koons married a porn star (who he provocatively presented in his work), cast Michael Jackson and his chimp bubbles in porcelain, and is basking in the glow of a recent retrospective. That’s nothing compared to Damien Hirst, who sold a stuffed shark this past September at Sothebys in London for $17.2 million dollars. He also has presented rotting cows to simulate copulation, and displayed sheep preserved in formaldehyde and maggots attacking a cow’s head.
Now consider Morandi, who spend his entire life in the same Bologna apartment with his mom and three sisters; teaching in the morning and painting in the afternoons. Every afternoon. Without fail. He walked through day after day, trying to do what he loved, overcoming the monotony and repetition by clinging to the things that gave him hope. I think Morandi’s repitition is a point of commonality for most people…they all scramble to work, watch their days blend together, and try to remember points of significance along the way. And yet Giorgio doesn’t quit, and he remains heartfelt and genuine.
So yeah, to a world that likes to show up on the free admission day at the local art museum, visually skim across the walls, extract the controversy, and quickly categorize the experience, Morandi is sadly forgettable. And yet, when you connect with his work within the moment, and you feel him optimistically working it out fresh and new each day- his work can be as irresistible as a whisper and as satisfying as an erotic touch.
It’s easy to miss genuine heartfelt emotion in this world we live in..most of us probably brush right past it 10 times a day.
I’ll come back to Morandi in future posts and explain what I mean…for now, just get to the show if you can- don’t brush past it.