Friday, September 30, 2005

Outside opinion - Jacquline Mabey on Right Under the Sun


Last week we were invited to the press preview for the Musée des Beaux Arts blockbuster fall spectacular called "Right Under the Sun: Landscape in Provence, from Classicism to Modernism (1750-1920)." Ms. Mabey graciously accecpted my suggestion to write something about the exhibit.

Here goes:

Pretty (and) Boring, or Forty Five Minutes of My Life That I Will Never Get Back

A caveat: what follows are the sour ramblings of an incorrigible city chick that smokes too much and had no sense of the beautiful. If you like landscape paintings, the current show at the Muse des Beaux Arts is, technically, very good. You should go see it. If you are on the fence about the genre, or if you just have nothing better to do, read on.

I suppose, for clarity's sake, I should declare immediately landscape paintings have never held a special place in my heart, do not - do anything for me currently, and probably will never arouse my passions. My apathy for the genre stems from my general disdain for nature, full, as it is, with things that bite and sting and a horrifying dearth of martini bars, and years of art historical study have done little to change the situation. Granted, now I can - if I must- adopt an air of critical inquiry and analyze a given work's origins, style, and possible meanings. That said, I would still prefer to rub my face up against a brick wall for an extended period of time rather than pay to go inside a big white cube to look at paintings of outside the big white cube.

So it was with a heavy heart that I passed through the doors of the Muse des Beaux Arts early Friday morning. After an awkward Franglais interaction with the ticket taker, I managed to navigate my way through the sea of tourists and old people. Almost immediately, I was confronted by Cezanne's "Montagne Sainte Victoire" (c. 1887-90).

Now, as a student of art history, Cezanne is one of the greatest hits that you learn about. Cezanne, the complex, misunderstood genius, working in isolation, the man who is the father of blah blah blah more Romantic nonsense the texts spew at you until you cannot see straight. Thus, confronted with the fetish object of much study, the experience was... underwhelming. My actual thought process went thusly:
Dude, Cezanne's "Montagne Sainte Victoire"!
Kinda cool to see it after all these years
So, yeah.
Looks like a mountain... um, should I be feeling something right now? Some, like, overwhelming experience of his talent?
I got nothing for this thing... hey, that security guard is hot.
And so on. Same goes for much of my stroll through the exhibit- which just keeps going and going and going, by the by. Paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, all left me cold. To my modern eyes, the Fauves look more like les Chatons (ouch, bad art history joke, my apologies). And the general color palette of the works post late 19th century is near unviewable. I'm talking to you, "Entry to the Port of Marseille" and all the other work by Paul Signac.

The show, like this review, is all build up and little delivery. I was more compelled by the old ads of Provence and the lavender linen water for sale in the gift shop than by the show. Personally, I would prefer to spend the $12 on a latte, brioche, and magazine, and relax on some cafe terrace on St. Denis. Watching that landscape go by - crack heads, fashionistas, delivery boys, families, etc. - inspires me more than the ones found at the Musée. - Jacquline Mabey

Right under the Sun: Landscape in Provence, from Classicism to Modernism (1750-1920)
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
September 22, 2005 to January 8, 2006
Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion
1380 Sherbrooke Street West
Monday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays until 9 p.m.
Adults - $12, Students - $6, 65 and over - $6, 12 and under - Free, Family - $24

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