Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mandorla: Nutty treat, or angelic aura?

Hey!  What are you doing this Saturday?


Nah, how about you go to this week’s Shock of the New screening, “The Future that Was,” at 11a.m. at the Zinema 2!  We’ve got Fahti Benzer, professor at UMD, speaking after the show.  So come on down March 31st to have fun and get cultured, all for free.

Ready for the vocab word of the week? Me too! Let’s go!

man•dor•la noun
Also called: vesica  (in painting, sculpture, etc) an almond-shaped area of light, usually surrounding the resurrected Christ or the Virgin at the Assumption

Mandorla in Italian translates literally as “almond.”  You can’t make delicious nutty cookies with it, though.  When two circles overlap, an almond shape forms in the middle (think Venn diagram).  This overlapping symbolizes the meshing of Heaven and Earth.  The Mandorla was used mainly in early Christian art, and also Buddhist art to reference this unification of opposite forces.

The very first mandorla to be used in Christian art appears around figures of the Old Testament in the mosaics from Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.  The scene shows Abraham entertaining the Three Strangers who are, unbeknownst to Abraham, actually angels.

It looks a little archaic, but that mandorla sure is giving off some angelic vibes.

Another great example comes from the Monastery of Chora in Istanbul.  In the apse of the arekklesion (or funerary chapel will suffice, if you, like I, cannot pronounce that) is a fresco showing a scene of the traditional Byzantine Anastasis (the Resurrection of Christ).  It shows Jesus lookin’ pretty darn good, and not even a little bit dead.


He looks way more majestic with that white light emanating from him.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trompe l’oeil

This week's post is brought to you once again by intern Jennie!

Well, hey there!  Have you gone to the Shock of the New screenings at the Zinema 2 yet?  If yes, good for you!  Thanks!  If not, don’t worry; you have three more chances.  So go, go, go!

This Saturday, March 24th, we’ve got UMD art professor Jen Dietrich speaking.  Beforehand we’ll be watching the Shock of the New episode “Culture as Nature.”  So make your way over to the Zinema 2 at 11a.m. and enjoy our complimentary entertainment and education.

This week’s blog post is brought to you by the vocab word…

trompe l'oeil noun [trômp loi]
1. a style of painting in which objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail
2. a trompe l'oeil painting or effect
3. something that misleads or deceives the senses : illusion

Trompe l’oeil in French translates as “fools the eye.”  It’s all about tricking the viewer. Ex. “That’s a painting?! It looks like a photograph!”  Every detail must be totally perfecto.

Photorealism is a popular form of trompe l’oeil, and Chuck Close is an expert.  Painting from photographs, Close gets every hair and pore and freckle and flaw perfect in his huge portrait paintings.  No matter how closely you inspect his paintings, there is no evidence of any brushstroke.  For real, it’s amazing!

You can go check out his self-portrait at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis right now!  If you haven’t seen it, go now.  If you have seen it, go again.

Oh, and P.S. Chuck Close is one radical dude.  On December 7, 1988 he had a seizure which left him paralyzed from the neck down (diagnosed as spinal artery collapse) and has lived in a wheelchair ever since.

Now, if that were me, I’d get real sad and probably not paint anymore.  But not Chuck Close.  Nope.  He kept painting with a brush taped to his wrist.


His style changed, as he wasn’t able to paint quite as meticulously as before, but he adapted.  His canvases remain as immense as before, but instead of painting photorealistic images, he paints in a grid format, which, when viewed from afar, reads as pseudo-photorealism.


Some really, really fun examples of trompe l’oeil come from sidewalk chalk artist Kurt Wenner.  He creates unbelievable works of art that look so convincingly real; it looks like you could fall right in.

It’s ridiculous.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Take a look at that verso.

Our blog post this week is brought to you by intern Krista!  Boy, do we love our interns.

Aanii, bonjour, ciao. Hello! For all of you who can’t wait to see Shock of the New this Saturday, come prepared. Bill Payne, Dean of the School of Fine Arts at UMD, will be discussing the episode, “The View From the Edge.” If you like abstract expressionism or artist’s like de Kooning and Pollock, you won’t want to miss this one!

Now for the only reason you come to our lovely blog, the much anticipated vocab word of the week!

Noun: A left-hand page of an open book, or the back of a loose document; The reverse of something such as a coin or painting.

I wish I could tell you why scholars don’t just use the words “front” and “back” but I can’t give a great reason.

Anywho, I bet most of you are probably wondering what is so interesting about the back of painting. It’s so much more than a stretcher and a canvas; each painting has a personality because of the artist and that goes for the back as well.

Wildly famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh have used the back of a painting as another canvas. His Garden with Sunflowers, 1887, is one example, although, it was rare for van Gogh to do this.

Here is an example of a painting by Walt Kuhn that was found to have another painting on the back:
You can read about this painting here.

Apples in a Wooden Bowl

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Craquelure: Animal glue, or shabby chic?

This week's post is brought to you again by intern Jennie!

Greetings and salutations, fellow art lovers! This week’s installment of Shock of the New will be The Threshold of Liberty. Artist and critic Ann Klefstad will be speaking after the show. Join us at the lovely Zinema 2 at 11am this Saturday, March 10th for a rollicking good time.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for:  This week’s word of the week is…

cra•que•lure noun [krak-loor, krak-loor; Fr. krakuh-lyr] :
a network of fine cracks or crackles on the surface of a painting, caused chiefly by shrinkage of paint film or varnish.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes painted by Michelangelo (full name: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, yeowza!) are a famous and controversial example of this. Michelangelo used the buon fresco technique to paint the ceiling, which is the technique of painting on wet plaster (hence the label of “fresco” instead of “painting”). Because of the ceiling’s surface craquelure, as well as dirt and flaking, a decision was made to clean it.

A before and after of the prophet David on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

The entire surface was at one point covered with animal glue (which is a glue made by boiling animal skins, bones, tendons, and other tissues; ew). This was not original to Michelangelo’s work, but was added later. The glue is what caused the gross flaking, along with trapping in a layer of dirt and rainwater over time, which was quite damaging. Before further damage, the glue needed to come off.

Between June 1980 and December 1999, a restoration took place. 

Here comes the controversy!

Although the restoration did make the colors cleaner and brighter, what came along with the cleaning, unfortunately, were some pretty radical changes to the original frescoes.  During the cleaning process, it is said that some of Michelangelo’s original details were erased.  Highlights, shadows, and alterations made by Michelangelo (called pentimenti) all suffered from the restoration.  This made many people sad.

So, what do you think!  A cleaner, brighter, less damaged ceiling vs. a loss of original intent.  Was the cleaning worth it? 

Some people who aren’t art restorers love craquelure!

To fool guests into believing you are tremendously cultured and own beautiful, antique pieces of art or furniture, you can purposefully create a craquelure effect on modern day items in a matter of minutes rather than decades.

I believe it’s called “shabby-chic.”

Here’s a how-to video to help you get fancy!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

He eats dilettantes for breakfast.

This week's blog post is brought to you by intern Jennie!  

By now, we’re all aware of how awesome Robert Hughes is.  With a name like Robert Studley Forrest Hughes (for real, that's his full name), it’s no wonder why we find him so alluring and, dare I say, captivating.

And, judging by the great turnout we’ve been having, you all must find him equally captivating.

Thank you, thank you, everyone, for your continued support in our fun little project!  The topic of our fourth installment is Trouble in Utopia, and Ken Bloom, Director at the Tweed Museum of Art, will be speaking after the show.  Meet us at 11am at the Zinema 2 this Saturday, March 3rd for some fun and free (FREE!) entertainment!

Can’t make it this week? No worries! We have four more Saturdays to go.

And now, without further ado, our vocabulary word of the week:

dil•et•tante noun \ˈdi-lə-ˌtänt, -ˌtant; ˌdi-lə-ˈ\
1. an admirer or lover of the arts
2. a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge : dabbler

When using this word in public to impress your friends, just keep in mind that the last ‘e’ is silent.

To get a better idea what a dilettante is, here are some hopefully helpful examples of something one might say:

-“I think Van Gogh cut off his ear or something.”
-“Did you know the Mona Lisa is actually really small?”
-“Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, not the Sixteen Chapel.”

In contrast, an expert like Hughes might sound something more like this:

-“Duchamp is a hugely overrated artist. Duchamp was the first artist who really became a great master at the art of curating his own reputation.”
-“On the whole, money does artists much more good than harm. The idea that one benefits from cold water, crusts and debt collectors is now almost extinct, like belief in the reformatory power of flogging.”
-“A Gustave Courbet portrait of a trout has more death in it than Rubens could get in a whole Crucifixion.”

Thank you, Robert Hughes, for your insight.

While a dilettante just has a casual interest in art, an expert like Robert Hughes lives for it.