Linda Herrick

Linda Herrick is the Arts and Books Editor at the NZ Herald.

A dash from Degas to Dali

'In the Car' (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein. Photo / Supplied
'In the Car' (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein. Photo / Supplied

A collection from the National Galleries of Scotland opening at Auckland Art Gallery next week is a snapshot of a century of Modernist art. Linda Herrick takes a peek.

Andy Warhol's eye for a subject went beyond screenprints of soup cans and multi-hued portraits of Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Mr Cool loved drawing animals, exhibiting two Cats and Dogs shows in 1976. The same year, British collector Gabrielle Keiller - known as the Marmalade Queen; her husband came from a Dundee marmalade dynasty - was so taken by Warhol's affectionate portraits she commissioned a silkscreen print of her dachshund, Maurice.

Warhol himself owned two dogs of the same breed, the much-photographed Archie and Amos.

Keiller, a British golf champion who worked as a volunteer in the British Museum and Tate Gallery, had become a serious collector of art after inheriting money in the 1930s. Her tastes were traditional, until she visited Peggy Guggenheim in Venice and discovered a love of Dada and Surrealist art.

Upon her death in 1995, she bequeathed 136 works - including Portrait of Maurice - to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

More than three decades after being immortalised by Warhol, Maurice comes to Auckland next week, with 78 other pieces from the National Galleries of Scotland, for the opening at the Auckland Art Gallery of Degas to Dali, a broad selection of works dating from Gustave Courbet's The Wave (1869) to Lucian Freud's Two Men (1987-88).

AAG international curator Mary Kisler says the collection - put together by the Scottish galleries, with some amendments by AAG director Chris Saines - is like looking at seams of a geological stratum of Modernism. The show introduces works by artists rarely seen in this part of the world: Percy Lewis, Anne Redpath, William Roberts, William Nicholson. Then there are the big names: Francis Bacon, Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Max Ernst, Roy Lichtenstein, Rene Magritte, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley.

It also includes sculptural works by Degas, Alberto Giacometti, Jacques Lipchitz, Aristide Maillol, Henri Matisse, Eduardo Paolozzi and Auguste Rodin.

Degas to Dali has no cohesive "theme" beyond its point of origin and its time frame, but it introduces its audience to new artists and a diversity of range.

Warhol's style is instantly familiar; so too is Roy Lichtenstein's 1960s Pop Art, which appropriated and deviated American consumer culture. Lichtenstein's take on "romance" is exemplified by In the Car (1963), his contribution to the Degas to Dali pantheon. At 1720mm x 2035mm, it's an amplification of emotional gameplaying ironically rendered in a bland comic-book style.

Lichtenstein took the original image from a 1961 copy of Girls' Romances magazine in which the girl has a thought-bubble: "I vowed to myself I would not miss my appointment ... that I would not go riding with him ... yet before I knew it ..." This girl is passive; the man focused and predatory.

Also in the show: Picasso's Mother and Child (1902), from his 1901-04 Blue Period, when he was staying in Paris and regularly visiting a women's prison hospital in the St-Lazare district.

Using the women and their babies as models, the painting, which initially seems so tender and innocent, has a back story of misery. Mother and Child is thought to have been painted in Barcelona, which Picasso visited in 1902.

Salvador Dali's Exploding Raphaelesque Head (1951) reflects the artist's fascination with nuclear physics, that "matter", in his words, "instead of being something continuous, is discontinuous ... if one wanted to give an accurate representation of a table ... the table should resemble something like a swarm of flies".

And so the woman's head, based on Raphael's paintings of the Virgin Mary, is transformed into a "swarm", while the top of her skull becomes the open cupola of the Pantheon in Rome, where Raphael is buried.

Francis Bacon's Figure Study I (1945-6) came a year after his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, a violent triptych that caused an uproar. Figure Study I may not even feature a figure, unless it is slumped completely under the coat. Bacon followed this work with Figure Study II, showing a screaming figure under the coat, a scream being the symbol of his lifelong concern with the torments and travails of being human.

EXHIBITION

What: Degas to Dali: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland
Where and when: Auckland Art Gallery, March 3-June 10
Talks: 15-minute talks daily, Wed-Sun, at 12pm, 1pm, 2pm; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art director Simon Groom, March 3 at 1pm & March 4 at 11am; Don Bell on late-19th century French painting, March 11 at 1pm; Len Bell on German Expressionism, March 18 at 3pm
On screen: The Desert of Forbidden Art, a documentary on a secret museum in Uzbekistan which houses works by artists imprisoned or executed under Soviet rule, March 4 at 1pm

- NZ Herald

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