Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Arts

Review: 'The Figure Examined' at the Tampa Museum of Art a remarkable exhibition

TAMPA

Even though "The Figure Examined" at the Tampa Museum of Art has a specific focus, different tastes will be satisfied by this exhibition. With about 120 paintings, prints and sculptures by 70 artists, it's a big show, perhaps too big if you want to see all of it in a thoughtful way. But that's where its diversity is an advantage: Love realism? Prefer abstraction? You won't be disappointed either way.

It comes from the Kasser Mochary Art Foundation, but the art really comes from the late Alexander and Elizabeth Kasser. They were prodigious collectors and bear some resemblance to Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, founders of the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg. Both men were successful innovators who became wealthy; their wives were cultivated and they shared a love of the arts. The Morses, of course, turned their sights on a single artist, Dalí. The Kassers, too, liked art of the same period but they collected the work of many artists. Another difference: The Kassers' collection is in the Kasser Mochary Art Foundation (Mary Mochary is their daughter) and is a lending institution; the Morses founded a museum to house theirs. Perhaps that's why the Morses are better known.

This show represents about one-tenth of the number of works in the foundation and it has many marquee names from the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly European — Picasso, Degas, Renoir, Cassatt, Matisse, Warhol and, yes, Dalí, among them. They aren't always represented by their best work. Two Renoir nudes, for example, look like quickly worked studies and one of them is awkwardly posed.

But I like the variety of artists who may not be as famous as Picasso but are highly regarded, and their varied interpretations. I especially appreciated the juxtapositions presented by the show's installation.

A landscape by Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) hangs near one by Kees van Dongen (1877-1968). The main element in each is a building, and both are angled in a similar way. Utrillo's work is busier, with trees and grounds surrounding it in expected colors. Van Dongen, a fauvist, uses explosive colors in a minimalist landscape. Here is a really interesting commonality: Neither artist was known for landscapes. Utrillo gained renown for scenes of Paris; van Dongen for portraits. And, pertinent to the theme of this show, the people in them are small and secondary. That's what's so great about private collections: No matter how focused, they always detour at times when the buyers just like something even if it doesn't fit into the plan.

So, too, do a woodcut print by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953) and a painting by Diego Rivera (1886-1957) share similarities in subject matter and, further, in composition. Rivera's Hay Harvest (1920) was created near the end of a 14-year stay in Europe. In it we see the influence of the post-Impressionists he met while in Paris and those of the Italian Renaissance artists he studied while in Italy. The farm laborers, happy in their bucolic setting, hint at the edgier depictions of the working man he will portray in his later murals. Dufy's print, Fishing (1910), also celebrating the working man, is more stylized and has a flat perspective, but the poles of the men provide the same strong diagonals as the rakes of the farmers.

Adam, a massive Auguste Rodin sculpture, greets visitors to the show. Rodin created it in 1881. It was cast in 1970 and, obviously, the artist wasn't alive. A wall label explains the protocols of posthumous casting, which, when this one was done, were stringent.

After Rodin died in 1917, he bequeathed all of his work to his country and gave it the right to cast his works posthumously. Some had never been cast during his lifetime. The Musée Rodin was established in the building he used as his studio and has done so, using his plaster molds, in limited editions. Since 1980, when Rodin's work fell into public domain, anyone can cast one of his sculptures, and their quality and number in an edition determine whether they are considered originals, multiples or reproductions. Like many artists, Rodin, when he was alive, had little oversight over the casting process. There are other posthumously cast Rodin sculptures in this show, all done before 1980, and one by Degas. You'll also find a marble sculpture by Rodin dated c. 1885.

Adam is one among the most celebratory examples of the guiding principle of "The Figure Examined" with its rippling muscles and expressive facial features. We humans like to laud the importance of our inner selves but we can never get around the physical nature of who we are. This show gives us multiplicities to ponder.

Contact Lennie Bennett at (727) 893-8293 or [email protected]

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