How to approach art as galleries launch a wild and woolly season. Exhibition of drawings offers alternative to gallery scene
FROM the shows I've seen so far, and the exhibition announcements I have already received, it's obvious that the gallery world is about to launch as wild and woolly a season as any it's had. It may, in fact, be the most unruly ever, with more eye-catching buffoonery, pumped-up social and political ``relevancy,'' pseudo-primitivism, philosophical posturing, and just plain old gung-ho showmanship than any of us have seen before. But then, that's not surprising, considering how imperative it is that those with little talent retain the interest of their public and that those determined to succeed at any cost capture the attention of the important tastemakers. After all, what hope do these individuals have in a city of more than 500 galleries unless they top what they did last year, or produce something startling enough to stand out and ambiguous enough not to be easily dismissed? In the absence of genuine creativity, what can the y do but turn to gimmickry and salesmanship, and to a form of double talk that too often becomes an art form in itself?
That isn't the entire story, of course. The dedicated emerging and established creators who serve as the gallery world's backbone will also be in evidence -- although, almost certainly, they will not receive the hype that will accompany the exhibitions and activities of the latest media darlings. The fact that some of the former were in the spotlight themselves a few seasons back (and may actually be better now than they were then), and that a few of the latter may be producing excellent work, will unfo rtunately be obscured by the rhetoric from both sides.
That shouldn't surprise anyone, however. The old and the new in art always clash -- in theory and in print, at least, if not in fact. And we can expect more of this exaggerated conflict over the next eight or nine months. The only recourse we have is to look carefully and judiciously at the work we encounter -- and then decide for ourselves. This may sound like a radical suggestion at a time when it appears that only art professionals are entitled to valid opinions on art, but it's the only game plan th at will work. Major drawing exhibition
Anyone who loves drawings owes a special debt of gratitude to the Pierpont Morgan Library here. Not only does it own a great collection of works on paper -- including some of the world's finest examples of draftsmanship -- but it also sponsors and cosponsors major loan exhibitions of drawings from European museums Americans would otherwise have to cross the ocean to see. The recent Holbein, Albertina, and G'ericault shows were absolutely first rate, providing art lovers with rare opportunities to view large numbers of superlative sketches, studies, watercolors, and renderings by many of the greatest masters of all time.
Several of these same artists, together with other old masters and draftsmen of more recent date, are represented in ``Drawings From the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw,'' on view at the library. The 77 drawings and watercolors on display were chosen from those collected by the Thaws since 1975 -- the date of an earlier exhibition of their holdings at the Morgan -- and are promised as a gift to that institution. Also included are 10 excellent small paintings and 20 art objects from the Tha w Collection.
That so many works of quality could have been assembled within a decade is solid proof of the Thaws' commitment to both drawing and collecting. To have acquired Mantegna's ``Three Standing Apostles'' was an impressive accomplishment all by itself, but to have found superb examples by Beham, Claude, Goya, Blake, Turner, Constable, Ingres, Degas, C'ezanne, Redon, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse as well was little short of miraculous.
Several landscapes call particular attention to themselves. Two large Turner watercolors, both originally owned by John Ruskin, are especially fine. They beautifully complement Constable's wash sketch and more detailed pencil drawing of the English countryside. They, in turn, hold up very well in the company of Claude's ``Heroic Landscape'' and Palmer's appropriately titled ``The Haunted Stream.'' Other exceptional outdoor scenes are by Guardi, Van Gogh, and Mondrian, with a special prize going to C'eza nne's magnificent ``The Terrace of the Garden at Les Lauves.''
I was pleased to see an excellent architectural study by Friedrich, the German Romantic, and was delighted by Tiepolo's ``Caricature of a Sleeping Man'' and Max Ernst's ``Collage.'' Degas is represented by the exquisite ``Two Studies of Dancers'' and ``Aux Ambassadeurs: Mlle. B'ecat,'' as well as by a sketchbook that includes quickly executed but brilliant studies of dancers, circus performers, and ordinary men and women going about their business. A C'ezanne sketchbook, on the other hand, consists of m ore structurally analytical studies of such things as plants and suits of armor, while another by Pollock explores the mysteries of improvisation in typically Abstract Expressionist fashion.
My list of exceptional pieces could go on and on. Even the several renderings of interiors by Benois, Nachtmann, and others are remarkable in their own way. My only disappointment comes from the two Rembrandts. The spirit and the flair are there, but the bite is not.
After its closing at the Pierpont Morgan Library on Nov. 10, this truly outstanding exhibition will travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, where it will be on view from Feb. 17 through April 13, 1986.