Tuesday, July 29, 2014

MWA XXVI: Leonardo's Supper

Despite everything that has been happening in my life these days, I didn't want to forgo the Monthly Work of Art, in part because it seemed rather appropriate to share as this month's subject an Italian Renaissance masterpiece that was arguably my father's favorite work of art: Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (Il Cenacolo). Because Leonardo experimented with different media in the fresh plaster when he painted this work from about 1494 to 1498, it has suffered and degraded over time. Continuous restorations have attempted to preserve it as much as possible, so it hasn't always been available for public viewing. I saw it once with my father and Zia Marisa, and I remember more the experience of how the spotlight shines briefly then dims, so as not to expose the work to light for too long. It is beautiful in a subdued, peaceful way. It is a testament to Renaissance geometric and spatial practices in art, to create a more humanistic approach to the human form and to fool the eye into thinking a flat wall is a three-dimensional space. (So much has been written about this painting, I won't even bother commenting further. Readers are invited to post comments about their favorite texts that discuss this work though.)

When I think about why my father loved this work of art, I suspect it had less to do with all of that, however, and more to do with the fact that it is located in Milan, his hometown, at Santa Maria delle Grazie. With so many famous Renaissance and Baroque masterworks found in cities like Florence, Venice, and Rome, the placement of one of the greatest of these in Milan is rather unique. For my father I'm sure his love of this work of art was about civic pride, a constant reminder of the beauty of life, particularly during the dark days of World War II when his family struggled to find food and avoid bombings throughout the city. I choose Leonardo's Last Supper for this MWA, as a tribute to my father and to his Milanese cultural heritage.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Passing of Alfredo Ferrari

Although my father has been ill for quite some time, I have to confess I was unprepared for the news that he had had such a sharp decline about two weeks ago. He passed away on Friday, July 18. Fortunately, I was able to get to Florida and spend his last two days with him. Although it was a great challenge to watch him slowly fade, it was, in truth, an honor and privilege to hold his hand as he passed away. After suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease for more than five years, and following up on the long suffering my mother endured as well from early onset Alzheimer's disease, my father is now at rest and no longer in pain. Although my mother's death took place eight years ago, it seems strangely poetic that her death occurred on July 13, five days before my father's did. His memorial service will be held on Sunday, August 10, at Memorial Park Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, FL. I've written his obituary and you can leave comments with the online guestbook by clicking here. But at some point that will come down, so I'm reproducing what I've written here as well.

Alfredo Ferrari, 82, passed away on Friday, July 18, 2014. He was born in Milan, Italy on September 6, 1931, the third son of Giuseppe Ferrari and Adelaide Cogliati, and grew up in Fascist Italy under Mussolini during World War II. He worked for the film and photography company Agfa-Gevaert in Italy, and later emigrated to the United States, living in the Bronx, New York, and continuing to work for Agfa as a warehouse manager in New Jersey. He also was a drummer in the New York-based band Bits-n-Pieces, and later in life played with other musical groups as well. He moved to St. Petersburg, Florida upon retiring in 1989, and became very active in the Italian-American Society of St. Petersburg, performing with the Tarantella Dancers and teaching Italian language and culture. He is predeceased by his wife Kathleen Pape Ferrari, who died in 2006. He is survived by his daughters AnnaMaria Ferrari Polo and Anita Ferrari and their mother, all of Italy, his son Roberto C. Ferrari of New York City, his foster son Christopher Carattini of New Jersey, his sister Rosanna Ferrari Clementi and nieces, also of Italy, as well as grandchildren and a great-grandchild. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Alzheimer's Association, Florida Gulf Coast Chapter,http://www.alz.org/flgulfcoast/.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gibson, Northumberland, Cupid, and Psyche

On July 9th, Sotheby's London held an auction of 57 works of fine and decorative arts collected by the Dukes of Northumberland, put up for sale by the current 12th Duke. Among the works that sold were two bas reliefs in marble made by the sculptor John Gibson (about whom I have of course written rather extensively!). The reliefs were The Marriage of Psyche and Celestial Love and Cupid Pursuing Psyche, and sold for a rather surprising £122,500 each ($209,953; hammer price including buyer's premium). This is nowhere as high as the millions spent on contemporary art, of course, but in a day and age when many people believe Classicism is dead, it is noteworthy that for some people these works still hold great merit and are considered worthy acquisitions and beautiful works of art. Indeed, after having looked at many of Gibson's works in Europe and America, I can say with certainty that his relief sculptures in marble are among his finest works. Gibson was a draftsman at heart, and relief sculpture often allows the sculptor to "draw" in marble, if you will, in a way that is very different from how sculpture in the round is conceived and made. The image above showing Cupid Pursuing Psyche is actually from the collection at the Royal Academy, as Sotheby's does not allow you to download images, but the two works are seemingly identical based on a visual comparison of the two, which you can see here and here.

The subjects of both works come from the mythical tales of Eros/Cupid, the winged god of love, and the young woman Psyche, with whom he unexpectedly fell in love. The full love story is beyond the scope of this blog post, but it was a love fraught with challenges, and in the end they were united in the heavens, with Psyche being turned into a goddess and granted butterfly wings to join her spouse. Their love story was a popular subject in art at the time, so Gibson was no different from many of his fellow painters and sculptors in trying to capture an interpretation of their story of young love. He worked the subject in marble, in fact, in three different bas reliefs--the two named above, and a third entitled simply Cupid and Psyche, showing the two in a more passionate embrace. The dates of the original designs for all three reliefs probably originate in the late 1830s, for we know that Queen Victoria commissioned one of the earliest marble versions of The Marriage of Psyche and Celestial Love (seen here: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014). It was intended as a wedding anniversary gift for Prince Albert, but she instead gave it to him for Christmas in 1845. Although this 1844-45 version and that commissioned by the Duke of Northumberland seem almost exactly the same, in fact Gibson changed where he put his signature. On the version in the Royal Collection, he signed his name on the bottom of the lyre; in the version for Northumberland, he signed it along the lower left.

Algernon Percy, the 4th Duke of Northumberland (1792-1865), and his wife, the Duchess Eleanor Grosvenor Percy, commissioned the two bas reliefs from Gibson in early 1854, when they were on holiday in Rome and visiting his studio. Gibson noted in letters that he was warmly received by them. In his memoirs, he even credited the Duke with giving him the idea of keeping his famous Tinted Venus statue on display in his studio longer than he intended to help market this masterpiece. The Duke said to him: "If you could keep the Venus in Rome for a considerable time, she would be visited by travellers [sic] of different nations, and they would spread her fame for you." (The Biography of John Gibson, R.A., Sculptor, Rome, ed. Thomas Matthews [London: Heinemann, 1911], p.184). He followed the Duke's suggestion and kept his polychrome Venus for another five years, until the owner, Mrs. Preston, demanded he send the sculpture to her in England as promised.

Gibson kept up good relations with the Duke and Duchess. Extant correspondence shows that he was invited by them to visit them in England in 1855, and he probably did on his visit there that Fall. Other correspondence and his journal at the Royal Academy show that he also visited them at their famous home of Syon House in the suburbs of London from August 1st through 3rd, 1863. These two bas reliefs may have been installed in any one of their homes, as they could be moved and presumably were not integral to the architecture of a particular room. The separation of them from the descendants of the Dukes of Northumberland today is but one of a number of important works in their collection that critics say are sad to see go, but real life often forces even the aristocracy to make sacrifices in order to pay debts and repairs so as to maintain the grand manor estates one wants to visit when abroad.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Off the Grid: Now Open!

I will be writing soon about my amazing trip to Chicago (and Milwaukee!), but for now I just wanted to share the news that my guest-curated exhibition "Off the Grid: Beyond the Noise" at the Atlantic Gallery (last blogged about here) has opened today. You see here two installation views I photographed today. The official opening reception is this Thursday, July 10th, from 5-8pm.

The art work in the show is in a variety of media: painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, and drawings. Most, but not all, of the 28 artists are based in the larger NYC area. They include Mayen Alcantara, Nick Arcidy, Niki Berg, Joseph Cavalieri, Andrea Costantini, Lilian Engel, Amanda Fehring, Meryl Salzinger, among others. In selecting the works for the exhibition, I based my decisions on how the artists' submissions responded and reacted to the themes of the grid and noise. Here is my curatorial statement, which will be available to visitors to read when they enter the gallery. The exhibition is on until July 26th at the Atlantic Gallery.

a series of measured perpendicular lines
a geometric arrangement for mapping and plotting points
a logical algorithm to enforce harmony, standardization, and authority
Grids are everywhere. They can be found in reams of paper made for penmanship and drafting. Electrical grids channel bolts of energy that power the insomnia that is New York City. There are monochromatic grids in the paintings of Agnes Martin, and Marilyn-head grids in the screen prints of Andy Warhol. Technological grids operate iPhones and Androids, keeping us wired, day and night. Grids imply perfection and control; but what is perfection and who is in control? Dare we move off the grid…go beyond the noise?

The group exhibition Off the Grid: Beyond the Noise brings together twenty-eight artists whose creative visions engage with or reject grids and noise. The art works on display include paintings, sculptures, collages, prints, photographs, and works in multiple media. Some artists use figurative art and nature to tell their story. Others let line and color convey their abstract thoughts. Still others experiment with new media and techniques. Together these artists share their unique interpretations of the exhibition’s theme, each of them searching for ways to move off the grid and go beyond the noise.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Last summer when I went on vacation to San Francisco, I had managed to cross of my list one of the two major U.S. cities that I had been wanting to visit in my lifetime. This week I get to cross of the second one: Chicago! AA & I will be traversing his former stomping grounds and favorite hot spots and meeting up with his friends. I told him the Art Institute of Chicago is on my list and everything else is up for grabs. He's planned dinner at Frontera Grill for one night, and we are going on the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise another day. And of course...fireworks for 4th of July over Lake Michigan! I'm really excited, in case you couldn't tell. I'm sure I'll have more to report sometime after I return... Happy Independence Day!