From van Gogh to Kandinsky in Germany and France

June 8-September 14, 2014

 Once again, my dear friend Lena Rivkin and I set off for one of our days at LACMA. I went on line and ordered two tickets for us to attend the expensive show on Expressionism and to my delight our total cost was only $25. Of course, all things that seem to be too good to be true are, but the mistake was LACMA’s. For some reason we were given general admission ticket prices to a special event. How do I know this? I copied LACMA’s confirmation as follows:

“Thank you for using our website. Your order has been processed and your order number is 632719.

If you have ordered tickets, they can be collected at any time from our Ticket Office. Please arrive no later than 15 minutes prior to the start time of your event and bring your order number with you.” 

I sent the confirmation to Lena in case I got delayed along the way and she arrived at the ticket office just minutes before I did and held up the line arguing with the lovely ticket taker, who wanted to charge us $25 each, stating that a mistake had been made. When I arrived, I agreed. Yes, there was a mistake and it was the museum’s mistake, and they were legally required to honor their commitment. As the message from the Museum noted, we had to show up early for the “event,” and this is not the instruction for general admission. Faced with two indignant and unmoving customers, thanks to Lena, who had stated that I was “press,” she found an out and gave me a press pass. It is not clear to me why Lena and I have such adventures at the museum but off we went to see the Expressionists. We were lucky enough to have tickets for ten in the morning and the crowd was light and we could see the paintings and take our time without an problem. I remembered the mobs that attended the Van Gogh’s van Goghs show years ago and this early morning experience was wonderful. Perfect for artists and art historians. So thank you ticket taker, for giving me a press pass. And thank you Art Scene for making me Press.

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First, the Expressionism show is excellent and well worth seeing (maybe not paying $25 a person). But second, I have no idea what the criteria for the selection might be or what the theme or organizing principle was. Nabis, Vuillard and Bonnard, were included as well as a few Cubist works and a hybrid Marc painted under the spell of Parisian orphism—all under the rubric of Expressionism. I cannot explain the presence of the Cézannes, although the examples were excellent. That said, there were excellent examples of Expressionists on view and the organizers did an excellent job of bringing together very good example of Expressionism from many sources. We were told at the show was very expensive to mount and I believe it–the insurance alone must have been quite high. Since we have only scattered remnants or survivors of Nazi bonfires, this show is all the more precious. Sometimes it is tempting to overlook the prints but the selection here is outstanding and to my mind the Die Brücke artists were better printmaker than painters.

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The Die Brücke painters were better represented than the Der Blaue Reiter. The Franz Marc was beautiful to see in all its bright colors and Kandinsky had a few good paintings and really shone with that marvelous Phalanx poster we all know. I wish that the Dresden/Berlin group had been shown as a unit, instead of being spread out, but it was interesting to note how much the artists improved as painters over the course of their short careers before the Great War. The highlights, for me, were the lovely van Goghs and the unexpected pleasure of seeing Matisse’s “The Open Window,” which was much smaller than I expected. And another unexpected work was Braque’s Violin and Palette. Why that work is Expressionist is unclear to me. Possibly the catalogue explains the odd inclusions but it was hardback only and cost plus or minus seventy dollars, depending upon whether or not one is a member. The low point was my perennial bête noir, the frames, which are all too often, Baroque and gold and ridiculously heavy and out of time with the very modern works that these elaborate monstrosities encase.

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Among the highlights were the examples of rarely seen women Expressionists, one really nice Marianne von Werefkin, and several works by Gabriel Münter and a beautiful Paula Modernsohn-Becker painting. Along the way, Lena and I paused to make a new friend named Aaron Bjork, who was sketching a beautiful Cézanne. We chatted for a while and took his picture, after which he promptly vanished into the growing crowds. We continued on our way and took pictures of the pictures as we always do and I learned a very important lesson: in this age of camera phones and selfies, always dress for the occasion. Match the art. Sadly, I was wrongly dressed for Expressionism. I was dressed for a Bauhaus show but not for the Matisses. Lena in contrast always seems to know how to dress for museum exhibitions. So learn from Lena, research the works of art before getting dressed for the occasion and make sure that you coordinate. As it turned out, I was better dressed for the Calder show, which I saw for the second time.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

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