MADRID, SPAIN.- The Thyssen Museum presents Studiolo, the series comprises small selections from the Museums collections, chosen by an invited artist. The Israeli painter Avigdor Arikha has been asked to launch the series and has chosen a group of 20 works whose connecting theme is that of observation. They include some of the most famous works in the Collection as well as various examples of his own paintings.
Studiolo, a small museum within the Museum
The Italian word studiolo that provides the title of this series is the diminutive of studio. According to Guillermo Solana, the Museums Chief Curator who conceived the idea for this project: In Renaissance palaces the word referred to a small room in which the prince could retire to read, reflect and look at a selection of carefully chosen works of art [...] these were small, private spaces, exquisitely decorated and conceived as a display case specially made for the most precious works in a collection. His explanation casts lights on the main aim of this series: to highlight and promote the permanent collection from new points of view. Each exhibition will offer a re-display of some of the works from the Museums own holdings, carefully selected by a living artist and presented together in a separate room within the permanent collection. The public will thus have the opportunity to enter the interior world proposed to us by each invited artist/curator.
The series, which will consist of one exhibition a year, is aimed at the individual viewer rather than large groups of the public en masse. These exhibitions will encourage the contemplation and enjoyment of art and are conceived of as a small museum within the Museum itself, allowing for a rediscovery of some of its most celebrated works. At the same time the project will give concrete form to one of Guillermo Solanas priorities as Chief Curator: to bring the Museum closer to the world of contemporary art.
Avigdor Arikha: My eye sees and my hand paints
Avigdor Arikha is a Paris-based Israeli painter and draughtsman. He could be described as a cult artist, admired by collectors, critics and artists. In addition, he is a brilliant writer and lecturer who for many decades has passionately defended the practice of painting from life based on first-hand observation. It is this interest which provides the focus of the selection that he has made for the present exhibition.
Born in Rumania on 28 April 1929, Arikha and his family were deported in 1941 to a concentration camp where he spent two years before an International Red Cross programme enabled him to reach Palestine in 1944. Arikhas artistic activities began in the concentration camp where he produced highly realistic drawings. In Palestine he trained at the Bezalel Bauhaus in Jerusalem. After a brief period at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Arikha travelled to Italy in 1949. Between 1953 and 1954 he became known as an illustrator for the drawings he produced for texts by Gogol and Beckett, works that reveal the influence of the Second École de Paris.
Between around 1957 and 1965 Arikha produced dark, tormented abstract paintings of a style that can be related to Informalism but which led him to abandon painting. From then on he focused on monumental projects such as stained-glass for synagogues and mosaics, in which drawing was again fundamental. He also began to draw from life. For eight years Arikhas activities focused around drawing and printmaking until he returned to painting in 1973.
Avigdor Arikha is known for his portraits, nudes, still lifes and landscapes, all created in a realistic and spontaneous manner. His method of painting is to work directly from life without the use of preliminary drawings and to complete the painting in one session. Arikha is also a renowned art historian and has curated exhibitions in institutions of the status of the Musée du Louvre and the Frick Collection in New York. He is the author of Peinture et Regard (1991) and On Depiction (1994), as well as numerous essays.
Painting from life based on first-hand observation is the common thread in the selection of works that Avigdor Arikha has made for this exhibition.
Art based on observation is created, without a priori and without support, by the eye and the hand, from nature, that is sur le motif, as Cézanne used to say. Its aim is not to decorate, as if it were an ornament, nor to document, as does an image, but rather it comes from a profound need, that of retaining what has been experienced.
(Avigdor Arikha in his essay in the exhibitions catalogue)
As in his own art, the selected works present us with models captured through observation, unconcerned with subjective memory of the type found in art based on the imagination. This selection of masterpieces of painting from life from the Museums collections features some of its most celebrated paintings. They include Portrait of a young Man by Memling, Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Caravaggio, Portrait of a Peasant by Cézanne, At the Milliners by Degas, Last Portrait by Lucian Freud, and one work that acts as a counterbalance to observed painting, Piet Mondrians Composition of Colours I.
In the essay that Avigdor Arikha has written for the catalogue, which also includes two introductory texts by Guillermo Solana and Francisco Calvo Serraller, the artist offers individual commentaries on each of the works in the exhibition.
With the same almost obsessive attention with which he looks at each painting, Arikha reveals to us the secrets of the painters craft that so often escape the art historian. His words convey all the emotion of hand and eye and allow us to relive the creative process behind each work of art just as the artist experienced it from within. (Guillermo Solana, Perspectives magazine, no. 27).