Because It Is the Weekend and This is Funny

I really hope you can enjoy the lighter side of art. The scandals and serious histories can make art sometimes seem pretentious and depressing. I hope this can make your weekend just a little bit funnier. See you Monday.

Mona Lisa Leonardo Da Vinci The 3D Truth in Old Mas - Click here for more home videos


Art in Quotations

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.

~ Leonardo da Vinci


Winged Victory of Samothrace (early 2nd century BC)

Hellenistic (Greek), Winged Victory of Samothrace (early 2nd century BC). 3.28 meters tall, Gray Lartos marble for the ship, Parian marble for the statue. The Louvre, Paris.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of the most famous works of art and is definitely up there in the category of ancient art. The statue stands at the top of the main staircase in the Louvre and anyone who visits, whether to see the phenomenal Caravaggio's and Davids or to see that silly portrait that everyone talks about*, has to walk by it. A hugely popular artwork the Victory is not usually appreciated for its context but rather its intimidating appearance and location within the Louvre. However, Victory figures decorate some of the most beautiful ancient sites in the world and the Winged Victory takes its place among them with the incredible drapery and movement the art was able to create.

The work was uncovered in 1863 on the island of Samothrace by Charles Champoiseau, the French politician. The religious sanctuary at Samothrace was dedicated to the gods who protected seafaring men and naval officers of war. The statue of Nike, the goddess of Victory, was an offering to honor of these gods. Because of the placement of Nike at the prow of a ship it has been suggested that the statue was commissioned as a commemoration of a naval victory of the Rhodians over an enemy. The ship the sculpture perches on is a Rhodian creation. From the dating of the work to around 190 BC, if it was created for a specific event it would have celebrated the Rhodian's victory over might have been created to celebrate the battle of Myonnisos, or the battle of Side.

The sculpture itself is beautifully described by Marie-Bénédicte Astier in her catalogue entry of the Louvre's collection. I quote her here in writing, "With her right hand cupped around her mouth, she announced the event she was dedicated to commemorate. The colossal work was placed in a rock niche that had been dug into a hill; it overlooked the theater of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. This niche may also have contained a pool filled with water in which the ship appeared to float. Given its placement, the work was meant to be viewed from the front left-hand side; this explains the disparity in sculpting technique, the right side of the body being much less detailed. The highly theatrical presentation-combined with the goddess's monumentality, wide wingspan, and the vigor of her forward-thrusting body-reinforces the reality of the scene. The Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of the masterpieces of Hellenistic sculpture. The figure creates a spiraling effect in a composition that opens out in various directions. This is achieved by the oblique angles of the wings and the placement of the left leg, and emphasized by the clothing blowing between the goddess's legs. The nude female body is revealed by the transparency of the wet drapery, much in the manner of classical works from the fifth century BC, while the cord worn just beneath the breasts recalls a clothing style that was popular beginning in the fourth century. In the treatment of the tunic-sometimes brushing against the body, sometimes billowing in the wind-the sculptor has been remarkably skillful in creating visual effects. The decorative richness, sense of volume, and intensity of movement are characteristic of a Rhodian style that prefigures the baroque creations of the Pergamene school (180-160 BC)."

The Winged Victory is more than just a welcome sign to visitors of the Louvre. It stately appearance shows Nike's close relationship with the goddess of war, Pallas Athena, and her important role in the day-to-day lives of Hellenistic peoples. This magnificent work presides over one of the most incredible museum collections in the world but after I see her, every time I am left with the feeling that I wish I could have seen her presiding over the Sanctuary of the Great Gods in Rhodes and over blue Aegean beyond in her winged glory.

*The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci if you live under a rock :)


Barnett Newman, Broken Obelisk (1963-69)

In front of the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas

In the MoMA, New York

The work in the square of the University of Washington, Seattle

Barnett Newman, Broken Obelisk (1963-69). Cor-Ten steel, 749.9 x 318.8 x 318.8 cm.

Situated outside the Rothko Chapel discussed in yesterday's post is a beautiful and moving sculpture by Barnett Newman. The Broken Obelisk in Houston is dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. The sculpture's path to its current location was long and the de Menils who founded the Rothko Chapel were responsible for its move there. Because I have not seen the work and the history of this sculpture is very involved I have attached here the Rothko Chapel's account of the work and its importance to the overall structure of the Rothko Chapel. The two other casts of the work are in Seattle and in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"The “Broken Obelisk” came to Houston as part of a 1967 government program that gave funds for monumental works of contemporary art in public places. Four cities, Philadelphia, Grand Rapids (MI), Seattle and Houston, were chosen to receive funds. The sculpture that eventually arrived in Houston was first exhibited in front of the Seagram Building in New York City, and then the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The de Menils then arranged for the transfer of the sculpture to Houston as a part of the cultural enhancement program.

Providing both funds and interminable conviction, the de Menils worked endlessly to overcome objections to their proposed dedication of the sculpture to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the question of where the Broken Obelisk would be exhibited. The masterpiece finally found its home in front of the Rothko Chapel.

Newman constructed three Broken Obelisks – one is here in Houston, one is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the third on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. All are made of Cor-Ten steel, a material that is designed to rust. Houston’s, however, has suffered more than the other two, partly because of the Houston humidity and also because this Obelisk is in a reflecting pool. In 1987, foam was blown into the sculpture to stop the seams from popping apart due to air pressure. However, the foam only spurred new problems. The constant condensation inside the Obelisk kept the foam from drying properly and corrosion not only ensued from the outside in, but began occurring from the inside out as well.

The Obelisk’s wellbeing remained unstable until August, 2004, when experts from the Menil were brought in to conserve it. First, it had to be dismantled – much easier said than done! A harness was placed around the pyramid and a huge crane pulled on the harness. No movement at all! A different harness was designed to utilize a central force at the point at which the obelisk and pyramid meet to pry it apart. Still no movement.

The inside of the obelisk contains a “bladder” -- a huge balloon filled with water to offset the weight of the structure and keep it standing upright. On the third attempt, a steel rod was attached perpendicular to the rod that runs through part of the structure in an attempt to break the bladder. To try to break the rust, the steel rod was hammered – hard. STILL no movement.

For the fourth try, specially-made harnesses were attached to the Obelisk and ropes were pulled, applying force from varying directions. In effect, the Obelisk was being wiggled. And it worked! The rust broke and the renovation project could begin.

The "Broken Obelisk" underwent a meticulous restoration process, overseen by Menil sculpture conservator Laramie Hickey-Friedman. Hickey-Friedman’s conservation treatment was designed to be minimally invasive to the sculpture while still stabilizing and strengthening it. Houston’s W.S. Bellows Construction Corporation donated the use of a mill for housing the off-site project, and also the services of an employee to operate the heavy equipment needed to lift and move the nearly 5-ton work of art. The repair of the sculpture was also made possible by a grant from the Annalee and Barnett Newman Foundation.

The "Broken Obelisk" was reinstalled at its original site in time for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, in 2006. Marking the conclusion of Black History Month, on Sunday, February 26, 2006, The Rothko Chapel re-dedicated “Broken Obelisk” in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Rothko Chapel and The Menil Collection co-hosted a ceremony at the reflecting pool outside the chapel. The Reverend William A. Lawson, founding pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church officiated the ceremony, and Jill Jewett, the city’s Assistant for Cultural Affairs, read a proclamation from Mayor Bill White.

Barnett Newman once said, “The Obelisk is concerned with life and I hope that I have transformed its tragic content into a glimpse of the sublime.” This living dedication to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has indeed transformed the city, adding beauty and magnificence that has been enjoyed for over thirty years. “Broken Obelisk” rises anew at the Rothko Chapel reflecting pool, a landmark work of art and a powerful memorial to Dr. King."
- http://www.rothkochapel.org/BrokenObelisk.htm


Mark Rothko, Rothko Chapel (1971)

Mark Rothko, Rothko Chapel (1971). Houston, Texas.

Dedicated on 1971, the Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational chapel that was conceived and created by Mark Rothko (September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970), the Russian-born painter who worked in America and is famous for his abstract paintings of large blocks of color. The work was commissioned by the great collectors John and Dominique de Menil of Houston, Texas. Their de Menil Museum is nearby and has one of the greatest collections of Surrealist art in the country, if not the world. The Rothko Chapel is open to all faiths and followers, many great leaders have spoken here including Nelson Mandela.

The de Menil's idea for the chapel came from their visits to Fernand Léger's stained-glass windows at the Sacré Coeur in Audincourt, the Chapelle de Saint-Marie du Rosaire, designed by Henri Matisse with windows and murals by the artist, and Le Corbusier’s design for Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. They were interested in the idea of church and art and how it had evolved. The original idea was a Catholic chapel but the other organization involved, University of St. Thomas, wanted too stringent of a policy for visitors and the set-up so the de Menil's moved the site and created the non-denominational space that is there now.

The Chapel was commissioned in 1964 and went through many different phases of design and revision. The Chapel building itself was designed first by Phillip Johnson, and then subsequently by Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry. Johnson left the project because of creative differences with Rothko. The final building standing was an amalgamation of the three architects that became the perfect display space for the eight site-specific paintings Rothko created to hang on the walls.

The eight paintings, including three triptychs (paintings of more than one panel) are all painted mostly in black with a variation in color and hue. They are by no means fourteen black panels. The colors deepen and fade as one moves in front of the work and no two panels are the same. Large canvases, they take up almost the entirety of the walls and imbue the space with a serenity not seen in most religious spaces. The tone of the room is meditative and tranquil and the paintings seem to at once pulse with life and be at perfect stillness.

The Chapel was finished and dedicated in 1971, but Mark Rothko did not live to see his final product. He committed suicide in his studio on February 20, 1970. This space is a testament to his ability to communicate through deceptively simple paintings. His work is characterized as abstract expressionism but he often spoke of rejecting that title or any. He saw himself, and art, as outside of the labels that seem to be necessary to categorize what we feel and see.

I strongly urge anyone who happens to be in Houston to visit this amazing space. It is truly a wonder. It is open every day to anyone, all year long.

The Rothko Chapel
1409 Sul Ross Street
Houston, TX 77006-4829
(713) 524-9839

Dominique de Ménil sitting in the Chapel, 1987.