Artists portrayed as objects are among the views at Goya

CRITIC'S CORNER//Art

Art Column

August 16, 2006|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

A striped woolen scarf, a pair of oversized hush puppies and some beat-up trousers, each drawn in the deliberately crude style of an underground comic strip, are all stand-ins for the artist in Phillip Guston's confessional self-portrait Studio Corner, on view at Goya Contemporary gallery's summer group show, called Shine On.

During the 1950s, Guston (1913-1980) was a leading abstract-expressionist painter. But earlier in his career, he had aspired to be a cartoonist, and after he become disillusioned with abstraction in the late 1960s, he began to portray himself as the truncated, ineffectual stumblebums who wander aimlessly through his late works.

Guston's pictures from this period were mostly about his own feelings of physical and social awkwardness. He often represented himself as a pair of large, clumsy feet. The lithograph print at Goya is called Studio Corner, but what we see is no homage to genius but rather an utterly banal scene that implies the artist's presence only in so far as he is like anyone else - he puts on his pants one leg at a time.

Louise Bourgeois, who was the subject of three local solo exhibitions in Baltimore this year - at the Walters Art Museum, the Contemporary Museum and Goya - was also fond of picturing herself in terms of everyday objects. In this Goya show, she presents herself as a trio of wooden paddles and as a series of stark, black-and-white spirals that could be tiny metal springs or the rounded shells of snails.

The show also includes paintings, drawings and prints by John Baldessari, Timothy App, Lee Bontecou, Madeleine Keesing, Soledad Salame, Peter Doig, Jo Smail, Sally Egbert, Vija Celmins, Louisa Chase, Liliana Porter and Terry Winters.

Shine On runs through Sept. 9 at Goya Contemporary, 3000 Chestnut Ave., Suite 214. Call 410-366-2001.

A stronger tie to Tanner

Late last year, shortly before the Baltimore Museum of Art opened the exhibition Henry Ossawa Tanner and the Lure of Paris, a previously unknown drawing by the artist turned up in the estate of a Baltimore woman, Lucy Mason Jones, whose family had befriended Tanner in 19th-century Philadelphia.

The work, an opaque watercolor that the BMA tentatively titled The Good Shepherd, was probably painted sometime in the 1880s or '90s. It depicts a commanding male figure standing outside a building at night and was thought to refer to Jesus' Parable of the Good Shepherd in the Book of John.

Jones, who died in 2005 at the age of 94, inherited the drawing from her mother, Sarah Boling Mason. Sarah Mason, in turn, had inherited it from her mother, Margaret Boling, who was born about the time of the Civil War.

Family lore had it that Margaret Boling personally knew Tanner, but the exact nature of their connection was unclear.

Now Stacy Roberts, a grandniece of Lucy Mason Jones, has uncovered a letter among her late aunt's papers that sheds new light on the matter.

The undated letter is addressed to comedian-actor Bill Cosby, an avid collector of African-American art. It was probably written during the 1980s.

After explaining that she has heard Cosby is a fan of Tanner's, Lucy Jones writes: "Mr. Tanner lived at one time with my mother's family, and at one time she had a number of his paintings - The Douglas High School here used to have Augusta Savage (a sculptress from N.Y.) come down and hold an arts exhibit, and my mother always loaned her paintings to them for that."

Jones also mentions that "the one I have was at one time hung in the Chicago Museum of Art and it is done in India ink - I think that is what my mother told me. As best I can remember, she said it was a painting of Moses."

The suggestion that Tanner was a resident of the Boling household, rather than a casual acquaintance, as previously surmised, may lend credence to Jones' identification of Moses as the intended subject of the watercolor. But more research is probably needed to make a more definitive judgment.

There's no evidence Cosby ever received this information, and Jones lamented later in her letter that two previous attempts to reach him had failed.

The letter remained among Jones' papers until this month, when Roberts found it while researching her family's history.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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