It may be impossible to speak of a worldwide style of art, and instead we must contend with diverse methods, processes and aesthetics of visual art. But within this wide range, it does seem that some places in the world have special relationships with their environments, developing their own kind of aesthetics. Wisconsin is one such place, with its harsh winters and broad farm fields, historic links with progressive and conservative politics, rich Native American histories, and glaciated landforms. Wisconsin art tends to be thoughtful, sometimes a bit wacky and surreal, and almost always meticulously crafted. There’s no better place to gain these sensibilities than at the Chazen Museum of Art (formerly the Elvejhem). For me it’s always a delight to visit this museum, indeed I grew up in Madison and often frequented the collection. What are some of the highlights in 2012?
Sponsored jointly by the Clark Art Institute and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, this small exhibition of prints and paintings by Rembrandt and Degas opens with Degas’ assertion that “What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters.”
One of the marvelous things Degas learned from them is that new art need not always look like old art, that the great masters often were consummate experimenters developing entirely new kinds of imagery. Indeed Degas is well-known for his pastels of dancers, which often involve mark-making and composing methods that veer far away from the academic traditions of his early training.
This new show reveals a young Degas at a time of transition between traditions (French Academic versus Dutch Realist), revealing much about how Degas navigated the two. It’s a lovely, outstanding small show.