Saturday, January 08, 2005

Hey! It's "Starry Night"!

Well, actually, no. It's not.

Today we overheard a lady mistake "Café Terrace at Night" for the most well-known of Van Gogh's contributions to the art world. The painting below is, however, the first of his works to include a sparkling night sky. And it is also one of my favorite impressionist paintings. A poster of the mostly blue and yellow simulacrum hung on my bedroom wall all throughout college.

This afternoon, Gaines took me to see the VanGogh to Mondrian Exhibit at the High Museum. It was part of his Christmas gift to me. Although we had to wait over an hour in line, the event made for some fantastic people-watching. Lots of odd, funny kids in strollers and cute little old ladies-- we even spotted a group of Red Hat Society women leaving the show with their scarlet plumage and regal apparel. I think the best moment in the crowd, though, was when we overheard the lady behind us exclaim to her husband: "I just flushed my cell phone down the toilet!"

The exhibit itself was an interesting foray into the development of European art philosophy at the eve of World War I. All of the pieces were from a collection by Helene Kröller-Müller, a wealthy Dutch wife who developed an eye for art under the influence of her mentor, H. P. Bremmer. She has the second-largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings in the world.

The tour began with the Neo-Impressionists, the pointillism of Seurat and Signac, and led through highlights of Van Gogh's work right up to Cubism and Pete Mondrian. We noticed how the influence of the war beginning to rage in Europe affected the increased abstraction by Mondrian and others. The horror of death and destruction indicated to the artists that any possible heigher deity was either uninvolved in the affairs of the world or did not exist, which was reflected in their mechanistic view of man and depiction of nature and persons as geometric figures. One interesting Cubist piece was Fernand Léger's "Soldiers Playing at Cards."

We both preferred the short strokes of color, whimsical patterns, natural subject matter, and detailed compositions of the earlier artists. It was also a treat to see Van Gogh's "Self-Portrait, 1887"-- I believe this is the first time it has toured in the States. I enjoyed seeing some of his sketches and still lifes as well.

There's something about seeing the actual paint applied to canvas or scrutinizing pencil drawings that brings art alive. To see where an artist added layers to make changes or erased a line here or there is to glimpse their process of sub-creation. I like imagining Van Gogh, alone in the fields near the asylum, taking in the vivid sun and rolling wheat and making it breathe fresh air on his paper. He infused the night and nature with a vivacity that is rarely expressed. In this, I think, God broke through his emotional darkness and offered the rest of us a glimpse of the new heavens and earth. I definitely think many of his paintings will have a place in eternity, declaring there forever the glory of the Creator God.

Vincent Van Gogh, Olive Grove, 1889.

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