Friday, January 11, 2013

George Bellows at the Metropolitan Museum

The show so nice I went to see it twice.

While spending the holidays in the greater NY area, I learned that the Met has been hosting a special exhibition dedicated to the works of George Bellows, one of my favorite painters. I was especially excited to see this since Bellows isn't your typical museum headliner, certainly not the kind of name they're going to hang on a banner out front to attract the casual visitor. As you can see those honors went to Matisse, who I'm a big fan of, and Warhol (meh...) Pop art - once you've seen it once you've seen all you need to see. But let's get back to Bellows...

The first time I really noticed a Bellows painting was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a few years ago...a painting called "Cliff Dwellers" that immediately drew me in with it's amorphous, gestural figures, dynamic composition, engaging color palette, and narrative quality amongst many other factors. I had seen plenty of old paintings before that showed old, gritty urban life but something about this one seemed different. In person I admired the super textural quality of the surface and seemingly brisk swiftness of every single stroke. Didn't know much about the artist...assumed he was probably American based on the name and figured he worked in the early 1900s based on the subject matter.

Of course our Telfair Museum in Savannah has this great Bellows snow landscape in their permanent collection, but I never made the connection for a while for some reason that they were painted by the same person. I just remember always going by it and thinking, "Wow, this is a really cool painting" but there was so much sophistication to it that I just wasn't ready to see yet as a budding art student.
Last December I was in Cleveland visiting my ol' American Greetings friends and went to the Cleveland Museum of Art. While browsing around the gallery of American paintings I saw Stag at Sharkey's from a distance and exclaimed to my wife, "Hey! It's THAT painting!" I must've missed it somehow in my one and only previous visit to the museum while living in Cleveland. It's always exciting to see a well known painting for the first time in person, it's like spotting a celebrity.

Back to the present day...the Bellows show at the Met was great to finally see. As I mentioned before, he's one of those artists you really have to see in person to appreciate as you get up close and try to decipher the types of artistic decisions he was making in the span of a painting. I found myself most drawn to many of the landscapes on display, especially the ones of NY Penn Station under construction and some cityscapes...very engaging. His energetic brushwork really lends itself to bringing these environments to living, breathing, life. Also on display were some really powerful war paintings which I had never seen before.

And in a sort of "full circle" kind of moment all three of the paintings I had seen of his before and admired were collected together and on display as part of this show too. It's always enlightening when you can see an artist's body of work together, it gives you a better sense of what their overall vision of the world was.

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