Friday, April 02, 2010

When It Comes to Contemporary Artists, I Know Jack (Vettriano)

I love art. Not Art, although I can certainly appreciate Messrs. Garfunkel, Tatum and Carney, and hope that Artie Lange is doing much better these days. But my love of "art," which really encompasses a wide variety of media but in this piece primary refers to paintings, has taken me to art museums large and small, all around the world--a listing of some favorites can be found here--and has filled many a bookshelf.

Except for an art history class in college and some youthful dabbling in painting, I haven't ever explored art in any scholarly way in terms of technique, theory, etc., so I certainly don't claim to be an expert. And obviously, what makes for art is subjective, let alone what makes for good or great art. But my appreciation of art runs very deep and along the way I've become aware of many a great artist across various ages, lands and schools, from Bosch to Murillo to van Dongen to de Kooning (examples at left and below, respectively).

So although I have never talked to a curator nor professor as to what dictates "museum quality art," I think I've developed a pretty good idea from the thousands of works I've seen in art museums of various sizes and specialties. And while I've come to like and appreciate the merits of certain artists, genres and specific works more than others, I think I'm pretty liberal about what constitutes art that is worthy of me spending time and money to see it in a museum.

While I know and love the exquisiteness of Renaissance masters like Raphael--one of whose greatest masterpieces, La Donna Velata, is on loan from Florence to the Milwaukee Art Museum through June 6--I also have no problem counting 1960's "Pop Stars" like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns and kitschy sculptors such as Oldenburg and Segal, as museum worthy.

But in terms of Contemporary Art, speaking initially about works that hang in museums, I have by and large not found anything enjoyable to look at. I don't mean to disparage any of the artists themselves, but despite having been to acclaimed contemporary museums such as the Guggenheim Bilbao, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, I believe contemporary art to be a bunch of crap.

The picture below is likely neither the best nor worst example, but it is one--by On Kawara--that hangs prominently in the Art Institute's Modern Wing.

I realize that art is subjective, but even in terms of a "statement painting" which I assume it may be (although the date is supposedly random and simply one in a series the Kawara has done), it is certainly no Guenica, Picasso's anti-war masterpiece, which despite its depravity, is still aesthetically alluring.
Having given it considerable thought, I can say that there are almost no post-1970 paintings by any artists who weren't actively working before then (such as Warhol & Lichtenstein) that I have seen and remember liking, at least in museums. The only two artist exceptions I can readily cite are Jean-Michel Basquiat, who sadly died at age 27 in 1988, and Chuck Close, who will be appearing at an Art Institute lecture on May 6 (it is listed as Sold Out).

Certainly, many painters are still making excellent art, even if not on a level deemed "museum worthy" or finding their way into high-end galleries. I truly like much of what personal acquaintances Ray Cuevas, Mark Vallen and Terry Firkins have created. I own and love a lithograph of the painting at left by Rafal Olbinski, have both an autographed book and tie by popular "restaurant artist" Guy Buffet and get a real kick out of George Rodrigue and his Blue Dog. And while art fairs these days tend to be a hit or miss proposition, with a high percentage of miss at some I've attended, there are always a few works I would eagerly buy and display if I had the money and/or available wall space.

Which finally brings me to my intended subject for this blog post. My favorite living artist--other than friends such as those mentioned above--at least for today, is a guy named Jack Vettriano. His most famous painting, The Singing Butler, is at the top of this post and you've likely seen it and similar works of his on calendars, posters or prints. But while his paintings seem to sell for 6 and even 7 figures, and his reproductions are fairly popular, his work really isn't displayed in museums (as this 2004 article conveys, and the gist still seems to be true today).

Vettriano has quite an impressive website, which displays many of his works shown at numerous exhibitions, including the current Days of Wine and Roses, taking place at the tiny Kirkcaldy Museum in Fife, Scotland, the region in which he grew up. While yes, his stuff is technically is in a museum, we're not exactly talking about the Pompidou, Reina Sofia, MOMA or Chicago's MCA.

Perhaps his art is considered too populist to be considered museum worthy, but I really enjoy much of what I've seen and find many of his works to be reminiscent of the very much museum-accepted art of Edward Hopper, albeit without the depth of melancholy and not quite as good.

Again, I don't pretend to be an expert and especially without knowing who the arbiters are nor their criteria, I wouldn't denigrate anyone in particular. But I know I'm not the only one who's voiced displeasure with what's largely on display in the Modern Wing and the MCA, and I imagine that I wouldn't be the only one who would find an exhibit of Vettrianos to be quite enjoyable. This isn't to say he ranks with Goya, Van Gogh, Picasso and other legends, but he's certainly far more aesthetically pleasing than much of the junk that passes for museum-worthy contemporary art.

So below I'll give you a good selection of Jack Vettriano's art, the first few from his current exhibition, accompanied by past works that I like.

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