The Europeans and Guston at the Haggerty
The Haggerty Museum of Art, located on the Marquette University campus, is in my estimation a preeminent gallery for intelligent and important art — second only to the Milwaukee Art Museum for the collections it can pull in and shows it quietly holds. This is again the case with four new displays running through May 20.
I’ll focus on two of them here: Tina Barney’s series of large-scale chromogenic prints, called The Europeans, and the final visual diary by late painter/printmaker Philip Guston, featuring a special lithographic process by Gemini G.E.L.
Tina Barney and “The Europeans”
Barney — who will speak at the Haggerty on Jan. 25 — comes from wealth and privilege. She has always acknowledged that she photographs what she knows. That background and artistic recognition opened unfettered access in the late 1990s to the elite European families featured in this body of work.
Utilizing a large format (8×10) camera, the artist created lush tableaux in which the environment becomes as important as (and perhaps dominates) the people staring back at the viewer. The prints are epic in size and hung to place the characters’ heads slightly above your own. The subjects who do not peer austerely forward are distracted by something in their lives. This is evident in The Butterfly, where generations of one family seem to be realizing their mortal irrelevance, as the future revolves around a young, modern young girl.
This tear between the old and new often manifests in the dress and tone of the images and in the physical features of the cultivated and well-bred. Portrait set-ups that appear to be simple and almost candid turn out, upon closer examination, to be cultured use of light and pinpoint focus. In The Orchids, the obvious delicate flowers surround the presumed father and son but are all outside the focus range. With so much to look at, the attention steers towards a narrative with dark undertones.
Philip Guston and “Inevitable Finality”
The images in Inevitable Finality, the Philip Guston show on view at the Haggerty, might shock those familiar with his Abstract Expressionist and later Expressionist phases. Guston made these drawings in the last months of his life, as he was catered to and cajoled into finishing his thoughts. Guston died just weeks before a major retrospective of his work in 1980.
The images at the Haggerty are from Guston’s line and ink drawings of everyday objects and symbols, in a rougher version of the cartoon-like manner he took up in the late 1960s. Some appear just to be stark studies of the corner of a bedroom or a shoe on the floor. Others look like political or philosophical discourses coiling in on themselves. Most appear brooding, even though Guston was very excited to try this untested process of printmaking. But the man had a massive heart attack just prior to the collaboration and was disobeying doctor’s orders regarding smoking and coffee, according to an interview between Wally Mason and Gemini Studios co-founder Sidney B. Felsen.
Guston knew he was near the end, but could not stop expressing himself.
On Feb. 15, Marquette University welcomes Master Printer James Reid of Gemini G.E.L. as lecturer to the Haggerty. That Friday, the party and a demonstration continues at Redline Milwaukee. To take part in these Art Associates-sponsored events, or for more information on the Jan. 25 Tina Barney Survey lecture — contact Haggerty Museum of Art at (414) 288-1669 or visit the museum’s website.