Nicolò Paganini—The Marilyn Manson of Violin?

Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix. Paganini, 1831. Oil on cardboard on wood panel; 17 5/8 x 11 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection

Paganini (who died on this day 171 years ago) was a macabre man with supernatural abilities, or at least that’s what he’d like you to think! Apparently, he played the violin so well, people thought he had made a deal with the devil. His dark reputation and astonishing skills left people flocking to his concerts, among them the painter Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix who attended Paganini’s Paris debut at the Opéra in 1831. Shortly thereafter, Delacroix created the portrait of Paganini in The Phillips Collection. I love talking about this painting on tours, and I love comparing it to another portrait of Paganini by Delacroix’s contemporary Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres. I think the two different takes are staggering!

Philip Guston: Slipping through My Fingers

Philip Guston. Residue, 1971. Oil on paper. Private Collection. © Estate of Philip Guston; image courtesy McKee Gallery, New York, NY

After giving 3 hour-long tours of Philip Guston, Roma, I’ll be honest; I have trouble with his artwork. Guston’s paintings are profoundly personal statements with objects that I recognize. Almost as soon as I see them I can say: I see a shoe; I see a fountain; I see a hood. Yet as soon as I think I understand what he wants to communicate, it slips through my fingers. His meanings are multi-veiled and intangible. I get that looking at art is not just about “getting it.”  But I keep coming back to Guston’s enigmas, and I’m puzzled; I’m asking new questions; I’m talking about it; I’m confused. One thing is for sure—I’m engaged.

David Smith: Brawn and Balladry

Bouquet of Concaves as photographed by David Smith at Bolton Landing, 1959. Color transparency. © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

I was getting ready to give tours in David Smith Invents, and discovered this quote, which I love, from a 1983 Time magazine article by Smith’s friend and painter Robert Motherwell, “Oh David, you were as delicate as Vivaldi and as strong as a Mack truck.”

Smith certainly had the credentials to be the Paul Bunyan of steel. His grandfather was a blacksmith. As a young man, he worked in an automobile factory and later a locomotive factory. He drove a pick-up truck, lived in the country, and he pushed heavy pieces of metal around to make sculpture.

Incredibly (to me), this strapping figure was an artist. Not that many other artists didn’t descend from the same macho vein (Jackson Pollock leaps to mind). Smith welded farm equipment, industrial components and discarded metal objects, and he created steel poems. He was also quite eloquent, in the catalogue for the exhibition at the Phillips, he describes his artistic process: “Sometimes when I start a sculpture I begin with only a realized part; the rest is travel to be unfolded, much in the order of a dream.”

Check out the full TIME article ”Art: Iron Was In His Name” by Robert Hughes here.