Monday, April 14, 2008

Why the Long Face? Modigliani Retrospective

The latest exhibition at the Nagoya City Art Museum is entitled Amedeo Modigliani Retrospective.It started April 5th and runs till June 1st.
There are some 60 works on show,mainly oil on canvas and pencil sketches.I dont recall seeing any of his sculpture works on display.
There were examples of his nude and portrait works selected from various art galleries and museums around the world including pieces from New York and Europe as well as offerings from Japan.
Born in Tuscany,Modigliani received his early formal training in Rome influenced by the Renaissance and nineteenth century Italian artists.
Moving to Paris in 1906 his work was further influenced by contemporary artists such as Lautrec and Cezanne as well as different genres of art such as sculpture and primitive art from Africa and Egypt.
From this melting pot of various art forms,movements and artists,Modigliani seems to have formed his own unique style that looks both back and forwards.Take for example his portraits.Most have distinctive almond shaped eyes akin to early Egyptian painting and sculpture.Sometimes the eyes have no details just a green daub of paint in the sockets.Vaguely unsettling.Like the character who paints the future in the Heroes series.
Many of those portrayed also seem to have excessively long thin faces and elongated necks.Again both features of early primitive art.Think Celine Dion.
Some of the faces also possess flattened,twisted and off centred noses which may have influenced later Cubist artists with their penchant for breaking down a still life or figure into a series of squares and rectangles.
The exhibition also has a small section dedicated to the painting of the reclining nude and Modiglianis works in this area. Unfortunately as there were no English language notes it was well nigh impossible for me to make much of it apart from noticing he seems to have been influenced by Renaissance and Romantic artists and in turn influenced other artists such as Gauguin.
My personal art bible The Big Book of Art states on page 370 that "Amedeo Modigliani's modern nude encapsulates the tradition of the reclining female in all its forms and is able to be openly sexual and provocative".
The portraits of reclining nudes on display all seemed to have been painted in front of dark coloured backgrounds.This added to and contrasted with the pink,reddish hues of the subjects.
There is a final section in the exhibition that lists some of Modiglianis friends and contemporaries such as Picasso and Riveria.It seems that Modigliani painted all their portraits at one time or other.
To sum up then, an interesting exhibition.Theres not an overwhelming amount of material on display as with the Hokusai show last month.Nor are there the oppressive crowds present,invading ones thoughts and personal space.The notes as one enters the gallery speak of a melancholy,depressing element in his works.I actually found his use of darker tones and sombre colours refreshing after the recent colourful woodblock print displays.Tickets are 1,300 yen.

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