Saltz and Gardner: Too Good to Ignore
We’ve covered the wonderful Morandi show at the Met before. But this essay in the Wall Street Journal and Jerry Saltz’s review in New York are both just too good not cover this ground again. Let’s start with Gardner:
To understand Morandi in his sullen greatness, to appreciate the full flowering of his art that took place in the 1950s, you need to understand his evolution as it is set forth at the Met. Half a dozen still lifes of bottles on a table from the mid-1950s can be seen as the logical summation, if not the manifest destiny, of Morandi’s entire career. They are the goal to which, patiently and methodically, he advanced over half a century, though not without the occasional detour or misstep. In getting to that point, much of Morandi’s earlier career proceeds along two parallel tracks. On the one hand, he is fishing around in the sundry styles of his day and producing works of widely differing appearance. On the other hand, at any moment he can return to the placid quasi-realism of those bottles on a table that he produced, with remarkably little fundamental variation, throughout his career. [ . . . ]
(More after the jump.)
His best and most typical still lifes represent fragile vessels, rendered mostly in half-tones, that sit, as though waiting for something to happen that never does, upon a dull gray surface. But for all their humility, they have a quiet stature, rising as they do from the matrix of their table top like the clustered towers of San Gimignano. And in his late paintings, from the ’50s, he achieves a serene mastery that is almost classical. As in a reverie, we seem to view these final works from the ’50s, with all their wobbly geometry, through a film or fog. But it is essential to Morandi’s artistic personality that the indestructible realness of these bottles is never lost or betrayed. Let it also be said that there is a muffled happiness to them.
Morandi’s work seems to slow down time and show you things you’ve never seen before. The objects in his paintings dissolve and reconstitute themselves before your eyes. Edges go wobbly, space pulsates. His art makes you sense Goethe’s “mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain.” He painted things one sees all the time, yet portrayed things never before seen. [ . . . ]
Wallace Stevens wrote of wanting “to feel the same way over and over,” the desire for “the river to go on flowing the same way.” That’s Morandi. Seemingly in violation of natural law, he stepped into the same river thousands of times. His paintings are optical odes on metaphysical urns. [ . . . ]
Morandi can seem like a conservative who sat out modernism. But like Bacon or Giacometti, he recast reality without going wholly abstract. Physically, the paintings are slow accretions of pigment and color.
Taking Stock of a Reticent and Reclusive Master (Wall Street Journal)
World in a Bottle (New York Magazine)