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Joseph Lawless

A Critique on the Arts - The World of the Guggenheim
The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection - Michelangelo
By: Joseph Lawless
College Now Course - HUM 1

The power of words often pales in comparison to that of a picture; a man can express his innermost feelings with but a few fluid motions of his hand across a canvas, recreating the blurry image that haunts his mind. To those who create art, it is a medium of most wonderful expression, allowing its patrons to dabble in a lucrative craft that yields unique results that still have a universal meaning. The presence of art in the lives of man is ubiquitous - art can be seen everywhere, whether it be the spiral design of a staircase or the splashes of brilliant color on a canvas. To the unobservant man, art is nothing more than colors mixing together in unbridled histrionics; where, if no shape or form exists, the art is rendered incapable of having any tangible meaning. Art, much like the vivid notes of a song composed to stir emotions deep within the soul, is a fountain of hope and inspiration for those who allow it to have real significance. A piece of artwork can never be truly understood if analyzed on a superficial level. To those who choose to look deep within the canvas and see the heart of its creator, the meaning of art as a medium for human expression is revolutionary.

Our trip to the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum gave each student a moment to bask in the work of some of the greatest artists of the twentieth-century. Prominent men and women, such as the famed Zaha Hadid, had their pieces on display for commentary and analysis. The contemporary feel of the museum coupled by its distinctive interior layout fit the mood of the day. Art would be the focus; its hidden meaning the objective of our trip.

This painting immediately caught my attention. It seemed simple enough - color arranged in semi-rigid rectangular shapes accented by dark and light borders. A basic painting made with oils on canvas, its large size (81.5 inches by 66 inches) made it noticeable from afar. Closer inspection showed that it had never been named. Mark Rothko, its creator, had never chosen a suitable name for it, leading collectors to title it by the colors that are displayed in the work. The top of the painting is a deep red, abruptly cut off by a black line and leading to an orange and then lighter yellow. Its border, painted onto the work itself, is a mix of white and red streaks. It seems as though there is a singular base color beneath the three main colors. A peach skin-tone color, it compliments the painting and causes the dominant colors to blend together while still retaining their distinctive aspects. This was the zenith of Rothko's work; he began to explore the expressive potential of stacked rectangular fields of luminous colors. Rothko depended on abstract means to express universal human emotions, striving to create an awe-inspiring intensity in such an innately secular world.

Untitled can be analyzed in a multitude of manners - the metaphorical importance of colors, their shape and juxtaposition within the piece, and the borders and colors that surround them. This is a canvas in which bright colors are prominent and can be understood as paragons of the human spirit. The red on the top of the painting reveals the passion that we, as humans, always feel, where it can overpower and supersede all other kinds of emotion. The black line quickly cuts through the red, ending that line of passion and creating softer colors. The yellow and orange are a fusion of this passion with a need for serenity, representing the tranquility of the human mind after it has struggled with a bout of poignant passion. Rothko has also been noted for dabbling in religious themes throughout his pieces. Certain critics believe that this picture is actually an abstract depiction of the Virgin Mary, mother of the prophet Jesus Christ, at the end of his crucifixion. The concepts of frontality and iconic imagery are present within this work, accented by dimensions that mirror popular altarpieces. Rothko's dependency on diaphanous, pure color has awarded him the titles of sensualist and colorist. It was his purpose to stage, within his paintings, grandeur contradictions: the power of life and death, the passing of time, and the power of the spirit.

Untitled is far more than a geometric placement of colors on a canvas to aesthetically please its viewers. It is a subtle symbol of passion and lust, the dissipation of that lust under calming circumstances, and the great juxtaposition of human emotions within the mind. In its simplicity one can find truths that often remain aloof in the more complex and colored pieces found within the Guggenheim. It is symbolic in every way, and the true meaning of this work can be debated for decades, making it an intriguing piece of art.

Place Vintimille, a piece worked on from 1908 until 1910 by artist Edouard Vulliard, is quite different in terms of design in that it is actually two pieces. Further, it appears as though one piece is almost missing; the sequence cannot be completed and the pictures cannot be moved together because they are uneven. The panel on the right appears far more drab and lifeless in nature, as if some enigmatic force had enervated the once lively scene depicted in the left panel. The two panels appear to be mirrors of one another, as if the left panel had been reflected onto the right but at a later time during the day. Vuillard and his mother, living in a fifth-story apartment, were able to capture the very essence of the park: its tourists bustling from point to point, the changing of the seasons, and the effervescence of the playful clouds of the sky. The panels themselves are two different sizes, with the left slightly larger than the other but both approximately 79 inches by 27 inches. Distemper on cardboard that was mounted on canvas, the size of the pictures allows for a greater view into the detail of the piece.

The missing third link of the canvases shows that Vuillard wishes to leave interpretation to his viewer. Each detail within one picture can be found within another. The clouds on the left panel are facing the opposite way of those on the right panel, with changes in color evident. There also seems to be a focus on time - Vuillard wishes to capture the exact moment in which he began his project. The lower corner of the left panel shows a horse and only a small portion of a carriage pulled by it. The time of day in which the picture is painted can be seen; the right panel shows children bustling through the square heading to the street while the left has a great focus on family, with adults flanked on all sides by young children. It is very possible that Vuillard, being a man who felt akin with those who loved family (as he was still living with his mother despite commissions made from his work), supports constant theme of togetherness and compliments the aspiring family unit. The era in which the canvases were created was but a few years before the outbreak of the World War I, in which many areas were starting to develop and industrialize and rapid rates. These canvases are a brief snippet into a world ever-changing.

Place Vintimille is a collection of canvases that accurately illustrate the changes under which a singular location may go over the course of time. However, beneath this exterior, these pictures help us realize that, even when we walk away from a place and it changes in our eyes, it will always retain the intrinsic values that give it character and sustenance. These canvases are as much about change as they are about the importance of a static environment and its significance for those who constantly interact within it.

Zaha Hadid, an Afghani woman, is widely known as one of today's most innovative architects, consistently testing the boundaries and parameters of architecture, urbanism, and design. She was the first woman in history to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, one of the most prestigious awards offered to designers and constructors. Her thirty-year retrospective endorsed by the Guggenheim presents a wide range of mediums through which she sculpted her vision: paintings, sketches, architectural drawings, urban plans, models, relief models, animations, furniture, and design objects. The exhibition was organized chronologically and filled the museum rotunda and the adjacent Annex Level 7 gallery. The themes of her work link projects together over different periods. The concepts of fields, folds, ribbons, and clusters have become an important basis in current discussions of contemporary architecture practice due to Hadid's constant use of them.

Hadid had originally believed that her work should follow the principles of Russian Constructivism, basing her sketches on simple geometries and lines and planes frozen in time and space. Despite successes, however, she felt that this type of method would begin to constrict her ability to develop new ideas, forcing her to turn to paints and research representations of three dimensions through multiple perspectives. Since that moment, she has moved from abstraction and fragmentation to fluidity and seamless complexity. Hadid depends heavily on distortion and her manipulation of spatial reasoning. It is through these abstract concepts that she is able to design such an extensive amount of work.

Trafalgar Square, a painting based on a location in London, analyzes the effects of urbanism and constant public movement. The painting encompasses multiple dimensions, having planes in sharp juxtaposition to one another as buildings pierce her multi-colored sky. Hadid employs multiple colors on her landscape to show buildings that already exist, buildings that she believes should be created, and the most effective mediums through which the public can pass to best remove daily congestion and shuffle. Hadid created the sketch as to analyze the square over a twenty-four hour period to determine how to best move the public. Her fluid designs and architecture are evident within this picture. She creates new buildings not to give the scene a sense of beauty but rather to make it as efficient as possible; her ideal city is one in which movement occurs like a river flowing gently through a stream. Made with acrylics on a canvas, it is over 90 inches long and over 50 inches wide.

Trafalgar Squareis an important piece in Hadid's collection because it is one of the many testaments to the efficiency of her architecture. Though many young teenagers will believe her simply to be a woman mad and bent on using every color known to humanity in paintings that are nothing more than interlocking lines, the watchful eye sees the effect that Hadid will have on modern architecture. Her belief in fluid movement and tortuous angles has earned her a place in books about the twentieth-century's greatest architects and designers.

The trip to the Guggenheim Museum awarded me a rare chance to see some of today's most contemporary artwork, drawing inspiration from current events and societal beliefs and morals. There is a great deal that can be learned through art; it is a form of human expression that can say things that words always fail to. Looking at a piece of art for its value can be a laborious task. However, before one simply discredits the work as meaningless and childish scribble, one should look deep within the lines and figures found within the piece and realize that art, no matter how simple, will always have meaning.