Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dance at Bougival

The Frick Collection:
Dancing with Pierre-Auguste Renoir... 

Dance at Bougival

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art are special places. Millions of people come here from all over the world to explore their treasures. It is exhilarating to visit these museums anytime but especially when there is a major event, even if it means waiting on long lines.

I crawled with hundreds of people through the Iris & B. Gerald Canter Exhibition Hall at The MET in the summer of 2011. During a three month stretch almost 662,000 people visited the late Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty" exhibit. They came to see his “bumster” trouser, three-point origami frockcoat, S&M jewelry, spray-painted dresses, futuristic styles, a life size hologram of Kate Moss, and many more of his ultra creative costumes. They came not out of sympathy for the famed British fashion designer who committed suicide at 40, a year before his exhibit opened, but to be dazzled by his uninhibited sense of fashion, art, history, and workmanship.

In 2012 I saw CindySherman’s Retrospective at MOMA, also heavily attended. It featured more than 170 photographs, all self-portraits that traced her artistic career from the 1970’s to the present. A master of disguise Sherman dressed as a faded movie star, sex kitten, naïve ingénue, straight-laced secretary, housewife and more. She accomplished this by physically altering herself with wigs, costumes, makeup, and prosthetic-body parts. She meshed art, cultural influences, pornography, fairy tales and horror films. In one work she appeared as Grandma Moses in a banana leather jacket and a sky-blue taffeta, another as a Renaissance Lady in an elegant dress, jewel adorned hair with a fake nose.

No exhibit inspired me more than the Renoir, Impressionism and Full-Length Painting at The Frick Collection in 2012.

Small in size, it featured just nine large life-size paintings, several measuring almost six-foot in height displayed in the Frick’s East Gallery, a long classical styled room with an arched portal, elegant keystone, fluted Ionic pilasters. Colin B. Bailey, the Frick’s Associate Director brought these works together for the first time. Built around The Frick’s La Promenade (1875-76), a mother walking in the park with her two young daughters, the museum’s most important impressionist work, the exhibit studied Renoir’s portraits and subjects from the mid-1870’s to the mid 1880’s. 

The other eight paintings included La Parisienne (1874) from the National Museum of Art, Cardiff; The Umbrellas (1881-1885) from The National Gallery of London; Dance in the City and Dance in the Country (1882-83) from the Musee d’Orsay, Paris; The Dancer (1874) from the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Madame Henriot “en travesty(1875-76) from the Columbus Museum of Art; Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando (1879) from the Art Institute of Chicago; and my favorite, the reason I write this article, Dance at Bougival (1882-83) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

Born at Limoges, France in 1841, Pierre-Auguste Renoir is considered one of the great artists of the French Impressionists movement. The size of these paintings and their bright colors gives the illusion his characters, specifically the trio of paintings of dancing couples, are ready to lurch off the canvass. But Bougival is why I returned to the Frick three times with a different friend each visit.

Bougival drips with gusto, life, and lust. It is earthy and sexy. The outdoor setting – painted in a studio - is a Sunday country-dance near Paris. Art critics chat about the dirt floor littered with cigarette buts, chestnut trees and people drinking beer from plain mugs sitting at an oak table in the background, but the male dancer’s passion and assertiveness mesmerized me. Standing in this very large wing with maybe only fifteen other visitors I am free to savor Bougival from many vantage points, and I too, wanted to whisk my partner, all three, around this beautiful gallery.

The young woman in Bougival, is Suzanne Valadon, a trapeze artist turned model, Renoir’s one-time lover, and mother of artist Maurice Utrillo whose father was rumored to be one of several men including Renoir. The gent, a working-man, with clunky brown boots and straw hat, holds her firmly against his body and stares intently at her beautiful face and head wrapped in a long flowing red bonnet. She looks away, her eyes cast downward in a shy yet flirtatious way as if desire stirs within her as they dance oblivious to the festivities around them.

Standing in front of Dance at Bougival I think of Leonard Cohen’s song….

"Dance Me To The End Of Love"

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

The Renoir exhibit  completed its United States run September 3, 2013 at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.