Friday, June 30, 2017

The Guggenheim's journey into the mystic

Armand Point: The Annunciation or Ancilla Domini (L’Annonciation), 1895
Tempera on panel, 99 x 51 cm
Private collection, courtesy Sotheby’s
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum


Open now through October 4

Ferdinand Hodler: The Disappointed Souls (Les âmes déçues), 1892
Oil on canvas, 120 x 299 cm
Kuntsmuseum Bern, Staat Bern
Photo: Courtesy Kuntsmuseum Bern, Staat Bern

"The world is too much with us," wrote William Wordsworth, critiquing new realities wrought in Britain's first Industrial Age. Nearly a century later, French Rosicrucian writer Joséphin Péladan (1858–1918) struck a similar note, creating space for artists seeking refuge from a swiftly-changing Europe through the embrace of classical myth, Biblical narratives, nature's elevating beauty and the more ethereal, spiritual climes of imagination. The Guggenheim's new show, Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix, curated by Vivien Greene, samples Symbolist works that appeared in Péladan's annual salon of international works in Paris over its six years, 1892-1897.

Installation view
Photo: David Heald
©Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017

Greene's installation spaces these works in a way that would encourage the sort of concentration and contemplation Péladan surely intended to inspire. But with its wan religious iconography intertwined with pagan flourishes, inert androgyny and women relegated to either virginal or monstrous roles, most of this visual art will likely merit attention mainly for its historical, influential connections to other artistic mediums of the period. I glanced at and breezed by much of it--the familiar (Khnopff, Delville) and the unexpected, such as Charles Maurin's remarkably political painting, The Dawn of Labor--but did find myself lingering with one pencil-and-chalk work on paper.

Armand Point's April or Saint Cecilia (1896) depicts the martyred patron of musicians strumming her harp before a lush cascade of ivy. Point's chiseled modeling of the bones of Cecilia's articulated hands held my eyes once and again. We are meant to notice those bones. Although willowy and idealized in her femininity, Cecilia is neither flattened nor vague and evanescent, unlike so many of the good girls and femmes mystérieuses rendered in Symbolist allegory. She fully inhabits a defined, structured body. And like legendary Orpheus, a subject popular with the Symbolists, she expresses a transcendent power through music.

Audio introduction to the exhibit and related poetry readings: click

Related programming: click

Visitor information: click

Ticketing: click

Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue (between 88th and 89th Streets), Manhattan

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