A must-see three at the Carnegie Museum of Art
Few people manage to progress from art-centric-buzzword status to household name. Those that do become household names usually have to spend a few years six feet under the ground before they attract the big crowds and rake in the big dollars — Picasso will bring in a much larger crowd than Jonathan Borofsky, and Frank Lloyd Wright will bring in a much larger crowd than, say, six London architecture firms being classified as “Gritty Brits.”
More illustrious artists face yet another problem: once they have created a niche for themselves, people tend to forget their other talents — most know of Rembrandt as a painter, but few know of him as a prolific etcher.
The Carnegie Museum of Art (CMA) is tackling three lesser-knowns in three must-see exhibits that offer dramatically different experiences and shed new light on the artist or art in question.
**Rembrandt’s Great Subjects: Prints from the Collection* Through February 11*
Rembrandt is easy to visualize: a somewhat portly man with a bulbous nose, his dark velvety Renaissance clothing blending into the background of his equally easy-to-visualize self-portrait. In celebration of his 400th birthday, the Dutch painter (as he is most often classified) is being remembered by the CMA not through his rich brown-hued paintings, but rather through 60 of his etchings.
Etching is a laborious effort. It involves using needles to carve into a copper sheet, washing the sheet in acid to control the depth of the carvings, covering the sheet in ink, and pressing a dampened paper onto the ink-covered copper plate. Rembrandt mastered the process.
The pieces are separated into categories common to most of Rembrandt’s work, including self-portraits, portraits, religious scenes, myths, and landscapes. Separating the work into categories makes Rembrandt’s stylistic changes and growth as an artist more evident. The most easily discernible changes are in his portraiture styles, which became darker and more precise over time.
While the entirety of the collection is remarkable, the precision and detail in each etching is the most striking element of the exhibit and the most revealing of Rembrandt as an artist. In “The Three Trees” (1643), which is perhaps Rembrandt’s most famous landscape etching, there is a draughtsman hardly more than an eighth of an inch tall sitting on a hill. It’s an element easy to skip over if not for the description beside the piece, and once you catch that, you catch the miniscule skyline of Amsterdam in the background, the lovers in the brush by the water, and the workers in a field.
The fact that the exhibit provides magnifying glasses for viewing the art speaks volumes about the intricacies of the etchings, and the little surprises hidden in each work reveal a Rembrandt more clever than his popular and generally gloomy paintings let on.
**Jonathan Borofsky: Human Structures* Through March 11*
Modern art has seen few artists as inspired by the archetypal human form as Carnegie Mellon CFA alum Jonathan Borofsky. Borofsky, a name infamous on campus because of “Walking to the Sky,” uses the human forms and the concept of self-portraiture to both question and make statements about the struggle between internal and external forces.
Borofsky’s piece currently at the CMA, “Human Structures,” is a towering and weaving series of convex and concave human forms interlocking at the hands. The semi-transparent forms are a variety of bright colors, and their alternating forms make for a piece that is fun and interesting to view from any angle. Incidentally, every angle provides a completely new experience for the viewer. Look through the pieces to experience an oblong heart-shaped tunnel of colors. Focus on one cylindrical section to see a piece that condenses and opens over and over again up to the top of the structure. See past one cylindrical section to see two others overlapping and weaving in and out.
Ultimately, Borofsky’s “Human Structures” is a fun piece to experience, and may be even a great way to re-evaluate what you think about “Walking to the Sky.”
**Gritty Brits: New London Architecture* Through June 3*
Ask anyone to name an architect, and odds are that the response will be “Frank Lloyd Wright.” If not Wright, maybe a slightly more architecturally educated person will offer I. M. Pei, Frank Gehry, or Louis Khan. Architects have created every single building you enter, and yet few architects’ names are common knowledge. An even less recognized aspect of architecture is the scope of skill architects regularly engage to create their final pieces.
Gritty Brits, if nothing else, is a spectacular showing of the skill architects possess beyond straightforward building design. Six architecture firms in London show off their conceptualizations, sketching, model-building prowess, 3-D rendering skills, and finessed photography. Some of the most impressive elements of their work are shown in the modeling. Some models are comprised of intricate woodwork and matte board. Some capture just the building, while others incorporate the surrounding landscape as well.
In Gritty Brits, Adjaye/Associates, Caruso St John Architects, FAT, Níall McLaughlin Architects, muf, and Sergison Bates architects each present their latest building designs for a London that embraces the characteristics of British Modernism, post-industrialization, and growing immigration in a way that brings in the new without ignoring the old. The works include urban housing, churches, and getaways, among other projects.
Overall focus on light, accommodation of a variety of people, and the melding of opposing materials like light wood and poured concrete reveal a new wave of accessible architecture.