David Lynch: The Unified Field Opens in Philadelphia

David Lynch is internationally renowned for his films and music, but he began his creative life as a visual artist and has maintained a devoted studio practice, developing an extensive body of painting, prints, photography, and drawing. The first major U.S. museum exhibition of his work, David Lynch: The Unified Field, opened at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) this weekend. The show is creating buzz in the New York Times, SlateArt in AmericaPhilly.com, and elsewhere.

Featuring work from all periods of Lynch’s career, David Lynch: The Unified Field, forthcoming from UC Press, documents the exhibition, which brings together works held in American and European collections and from the artist’s studio, many of which have rarely been seen in public.

Preorder David Lynch: The Unified Field now and save 30% with discount code 15W3183!

View a selection from the 95 paintings and drawings showcased in the exhibition:

Watch a preview of the exhibition:


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On the Andrew Wyeth renaissance and some favorite paintings

Guest post by David Cateforis

Even though he was one of the most famous and successful American artists of the twentieth century, Andrew Wyeth, whose haunting images of rural people, places, and things have for decades captivated viewers, has long been denied the kind of sustained and detailed scholarly attention that would normally be afforded to an artist of his prominence. But, after several years of work, sadly marked by the passing of Andrew Wyeth in January 2009, Rethinking Andrew Wyeth arrives amidst what can truly be seen as a Wyeth renaissance. Over the past three years important books and exhibition catalogues containing new research into Andrew Wyeth’s art have been published by the Farnsworth Art Museum, Shelburne Museum, Wadsworth Atheneum, Brandywine River Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery of Art. Also, the first exhibition of Wyeth’s art has been held in China, and the first dissertation on Wyeth since Wanda Corn’s in the early 1970s has been completed by Edwin Rein Harvey at the University of California, Berkeley. Additionally, the art of Andrew Wyeth will be addressed in a conference at the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts this October. Clearly, the time for rethinking Andrew Wyeth is now—and it is hoped that this new book will both inform interested readers and stimulate additional scholarship on this truly important American artist.

I have long been drawn to Wyeth’s work of the 1940s, when he perfected his crisp and meticulously detailed style in the mediums of tempera and drybrush watercolor that came to be called magic realism because of its creation of a quality of dreamlike fantasy through the employment of sharply focused illusionism and unusual perspectives. Among my favorite early Wyeth works focusing on the landscape and fauna of his native rural Pennsylvania are the drybrush, Spring Beauty (1943, Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska – Lincoln) and the temperas, Winter Fields (1942, Whitney Museum of American Art), The Hunter (1943, Toledo Museum of Art), and Soaring (1942-1950, Shelburne Museum). While the first offers an image of new life in the form a flower pushing up through dead leaves, all three of the temperas include references to death (a dead crow, a rifle-toting hunter, circling turkey vultures), likely alluding to World War II, which was raging overseas at the time.

Contrasting Wyeth’s tightly controlled works in drybrush and tempera are his loose and freely brushed watercolors, demonstrating his complete mastery of this difficult medium. Wyeth’s earliest watercolors, such as The Lobsterman (1937, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga), are fresh and invigorating depictions of coastal Maine, which have been rightly compared to the work of Winslow Homer. Among his later watercolors, I favor those that offer intimate views of nature or humble objects in outdoor or indoor settings, such as Half Bushel (1959, Joslyn Art Museum) and Cranberries (1966, Greenville County Museum of Art).

I also admire many of Wyeth’s paintings and watercolors of isolated old farm buildings and empty domestic interiors, which are both rigorously composed and filled with poetic qualities of loneliness and a poignant sense of time’s passage. Among my favorites are the temperas Northern Point (1950, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art), Toll Rope (1951, Delaware Art Museum), Cooling Shed (1953, Philadelphia Museum of Art), and Hay Ledge (1957, Greenville County Museum of Art), and the watercolors Cranberries (1966, Greenville County Museum of Art) and Alvaro and Christina (1968, Farnsworth Art Museum).

Finally, I consider some of Wyeth’s tempera portraits, depicting isolated sitters against simple or undefined backgrounds, to be masterpieces of the genre. With few exceptions, Wyeth’s sitters are shown at bust length and with their eyes averted from the viewer, lost in introspection as the artist delineates their features, hair, and clothing with astonishing precision while at the same time communicating a profound sense of their humanity. Atop my list of Wyeth’s best portraits are Karl (1948, private collection), Grape Wine (1966, Metropolitan Museum of Art), Siri (1970, Brandywine River Museum), Sea Dog (1971, North Carolina Museum of Art), and Braids (1979, Pacific Sun Trading Company).


David Cateforis is Professor of Art History at the University of Kansas, where he teaches American, modern, and contemporary art. He has lectured and published widely on 20th-century American art and has contributed essays to numerous museum exhibition and collection catalogues; publishers include the Des Moines Art Center, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Spencer Museum of Art, and Wichita Art Museum. He is the author of Willem de Kooning.


James Cahill Announces New Online Lecture Series on Chinese Art

James Cahill, Professor Emeritus of Chinese Art at UC Berkeley and author of Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Vernacular Painting in High Qing China, has spent the last two years working on a comprehensive historical account of early Chinese landscape painting, a topic that has been somewhat neglected in the field of Art History. The series, titled A Pure and Remote View: Visualizing Early Chinese Landscape Painting, was sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS) and produced by Chatterbox Films.

Hosted online by IEAS and available on Youtube, the seven-part series is composed of short introductions by Cahill and over 2,200 detailed high-resolution images of selected Chinese paintings and works of pictorial art from the early period up to the end of the Song dynasty in the late thirteenth century. You can also find the series, as well as a repository of mostly unpublished, or hard-to-find writings on James Cahill’s website.

Watch Cahill’s first lecture below, in which he introduces his three major teachers and outlines the background of the series.

The video files and lecture notes are to be viewed, downloaded, and used freely by anyone—so, enjoy!

Cezanne’s Other Wins Robert Motherwell Book Award

University of California Press title Cezanne’s Other: The Portraits of Hortense, by Susan Sidlauskas, has received the Robert Motherwell Book Award from the Dedalus Foundation, which promotes understanding of modern art and Modernism.

The award, which includes a prize of $20,000 for the winning author, goes to publications that demonstrate superb scholarship in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts.

In Cezanne’s Other, Sidlauskas explores Cezanne’s twenty-four oil portraits of his wife Hortense—a portion of Cezanne’s work often ignored. Sidlauskas focuses on these paintings as a group, looking particularly at the differences that render many of them unrecognizable as the same person.

“Sidlauskas firmly sets her reading of these portraits within the aesthetic, intellectual and psychological contexts of the period in which they were created, and in doing so provides a new frame of reference for understanding the radical nature of Cezanne’s attention to pictorial structure and painterly surface,” foundation representatives wrote in a press release.

The award’s namesake, the abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell, founded the Dedalus Foundation. Motherwell’s contemporaries included Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston and he christened his peer group of artists the “New York School.”

Sidlauskas is Associate Professor and Graduate Director of the Department of Art History at Rutgers University. She is the author of “Body, Place, and Self in Nineteenth-Century Painting” and coauthor of “Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture”.

Remembering Mayer Kirshenblatt, 1916-2009

Mayer Kirshenblatt, the artist whose paintings opened a window onto Jewish life in Poland before the Holocaust, died November 20, 2009 at age 93. Kirshenblatt started painting at age 73 at the urging of his family, who asked him to “paint what you remember”. Over the years he created almost 300 paintings, each an illustrated memory of his hometown of Apt, Poland, before World War II. “The paintings burst from his brush,” his daughter Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett wrote in a Toronto Globe and Mail column in memory of her father.

With his paintbrush, Kirshenblatt immortalized his home and family, and all the goings-on in Apt: the “human fly” who would climb the house of the wealthiest man in town, the boy whose parents dressed him in white all his life, the interior of the synagogue, weddings and funerals, holiday meals and celebrations, and the stories that were handed down to him from past generations.

His paintings also capture vivid fragments of everyday life: the way his mother’s scrubbing burnished the floorboards, sailing paper boats in the rain-filled gutter, the tools used by leathermakers and the way a horse’s harness was fastened, the foods bought and sold in the market, the fish in the millpond and the attire of the water-carriers—all the details that can only be expressed by someone who was there. Each painting is its own story, and together they are a visual memoir and a priceless gift.

Mayer Kirshenblatt moved to Canada in 1934, and had a long career before starting to paint. His work is collected in They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland before the Holocaust, published in 2007. The narrative is gathered from 40 years of interviews and conversations between Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and her father.

The Museum of Family History has an online exhibit of 40 of Kirshenblatt’s paintings, with accompanying narratives, audio and video. In this feature from The Jewish Museum, where he had a solo exhibition last year, Kirshenblatt leads a virtual tour through his hometown. A documentary about Mayer Kirshenblatt, called Paint What You Remember, was completed in 2009.

Read Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s “Lives Lived” column about her father in the Toronto Globe and Mail, and visit the blog They Called Me Mayer July.