In preparation for his Curator’s Perspective tonight, Seeing Nature Curator Klaus Ottmann shares some thoughts on the exhibition.
Installation view of Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection. Arthur Wesley Dow, “Cosmic Cities, Grand Canyon of Arizona” (1912). At right, Paul Cézanne, “Mont Sainte-Victoire” (1888–90)
But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination
Nature is Imagination itself.
As a man is so he sees.
— William Blake (1799)
What is the power of landscapes? What is it that makes the vision of artists applied to canvas able to connect our individual lives with the cosmos itself?
Innate to any landscape are the emotions we feel in its presence. These moods and feelings are not merely in our brains, our heart, and our senses; they are also inherent to the landscapes themselves. For the ancient Greeks, each landscape evoked particular divinities. For the 17th-century English travelers crossing the Alps to Italy, it was the feeling of the Sublime, a “delight that is consistent with reason yet mingled with Horrors, and sometimes almost with despair.”
As William Blake noted in 1799, there is a special connection between Nature and the Imagination. For this exhibition, the Allen Institute for Brain Science has been investigating this special link: “People talk about how our brains are wired to see landscapes, to look at landscapes and to see what’s going on in them—so there’s something about landscapes that seems almost universally attractive,” Paul Allen has said. “It’s a way of looking outward.”
(Left) Joyce Tsai, Photo: Joshua Navarro. (Right) László Moholy-Nagy, B-10 Space Modulator, 1942. Oil on incised and molded Plexiglas, mounted with chromium clamps on painted plywood, Plexiglas: 17 3/4 × 12 inches (45.1 × 30.5 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 47.1063 © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Joyce Tsai will be giving a talk, “Modulating Modernism“, tonight at 6:30 at our Center for the Study of Modern Art.
László Moholy-Nagy’s Space Modulators (a great example at the Guggenheim, right), executed late in his career, are beautiful, but slightly odd painting/sculpture hybrids made in clear plastic. I came across them while I was researching his oeuvre for my book, Painting after Photography, and was drawn to them because they look so radically different from the photography and rigorous, geometrical abstract painting he made at the Bauhaus. These late works on plastic are biomorphic, replete with undulating curves and are difficult to categorize for all sorts of reason. They’re materially fragile, prone to damage, and age unpredictably. The more I worked on these objects, the more I began to see how important they were to the artist, how much they sought to synthesize his life’s work.
Joyce Tsai, 2013-2014 Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Modern Art and the George Washington University
Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender
Last night, Klaus Ottmann, director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art and curator at large, gave his talk Rothko and Color: A Two-Part Meditation to a packed house of 275 attendees. The auditorium was filled to capacity, standing room filled. Even our overflow seating outside of the auditorium was brimming, with people sitting on the floor and lining the walls. With our permanently installed Rothko Room, the special hanging at the National Gallery of Art, and the impending opening of John Logan’s play Red at Arena Stage, D.C. is fully embracing Mark Rothko’s exploration of the experience of color.