I dragged everyone to the Met on Sunday afternoon to see Van Gogh: Irises and Roses. I’m pretty sure they would’ve preferred a trip to the beach instead but that’s too bad. Stuff like this is once-in-a-lifetime.
This exhibit gathers four works that Van Gogh painted shortly before taking his life. All four masterpieces were completed in just ONE WEEK—an incredible burst of creativity and energy, done at the height of his madness.
They were conceived as a set and intended to be hung as you see here, vertical orientations on either end and landscape in the middle. Each vase is slightly off-center. They’re set on a table whose horizontal line runs concurrent through all four works, anchoring them. This exhibit is the first time all four paintings have been seen together since they were executed in 1890.
He carefully selected colors that would compliment and play off of each other. He used paints that had unstable pigments and knew the colors would fade over time. In a letter to his brother Theo, he wrote that, “Paintings fade like flowers.”
These roses were originally pink. Now, they’re a pure white.
The irises, once a deep purple, are now blue.
There was an accompanying video that attempted to recreate the original colors. They used pigment analysis and detailed notes Van Gogh kept regarding his color and process, but they were just educated guesses. Nobody alive knows what these originally looked like.
The girls weren’t terribly impressed with this summer’s rooftop installation but I thought it had some artistic merit. The Roof Garden Commission: Pierre Huyghe starts off with a somewhat confusing displacement of paving stones. I thought it was a construction project but it’s part of the exhibit. It felt disengaged from anything having to do with art.
On the far corner of the roof is the primary piece. The meat of the exhibit.
Inside a giant fish tank floats (floats!) a bolder of Manhattan schist—the unique and powerful bedrock that allows skyscrapers and transit systems to be anchored to this small spit of land. The tip of the bolder peeks above the surface. A pile of sand rises to a few inches below the bolder.
The glass randomly toggles from clear to opaque. I’m not sure how this is accomplished but it’s a nice effect.
Inside the fish tank are creepy, alien-like tadpole shrimp. I don’t know if they’re there for aesthetic reasons or f they provide a cleaning service. At the end of each video, you can see the glass cloud over.
The exhibit brochure is full of some artistic babble regarding the dynamic gathering of different elements—plants, stones and animals. That stuff never sinks into my thick skull. I just enjoy the visceral thrill it provides (or doesn’t). I require nothing more from the artist, least of all an explanation.
Daughter + Frank Stella’s Die Fahne hoch!
When Stella first showed this painting in 1959 people were baffled and looked for a deep meaning. He responded by saying:
“What you see is what you see. Painting to me is a brush and a bucket and you put it on a surface. There’s no other reality for me other than that.”
That sounds kind of shallow but that’s how I feel about it, too.