Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

What a strange body of work! Most modernist art has a somewhat obsessive quality to it, but this is something quite extreme. The content of the works varies little across the fifty odd years of his career - always bottles, pots, cartons and containers of some sort. But where the typical modernist takes different subject matter and applies his or her stylistic concerns - often in a repetitive fashion - Morandi uses the same content and explores every possible style and technique of representation. Despite his isolation, the early works are clearly exploring similar stylistic and representational concerns as those in his midst - cubists, surrealists, and realists. Then, the more he develops his own oeuvre, the further he shifts from the outside world. In the end, there is little to no connection between the exquisite water colors of the final years of his life and the abstract expressionism in his midst. Morandi's shapes may verge on abstraction, but the delicate studies remain secluded within the isolated artistic world he cultivates across his career.

The still lives are reminiscent of Chardin, but not really. As I say, they are in a world unto themselves. It would be accurate to say that these oils and watercolors are more like studies of light, shape, color, paint, and how all of these come together on a canvas. He is interested in verticality, horizontality, how different shapes effect the space around them and the space of the canvas. And as far as I could tell, the phenomenological dimension is pretty much absent. One of the major differences between Chardin, or other well known still life painters, and Morandi, is the sense the former have of spilling into the space occuppied by the viewer. Again, my overwhelming sense of Morandi's works is one of self-containment. They don't seem too fussed about us.

Very curious indeed.

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