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Art Voices: New York celebrates art show

By Sharon Cox, Art Voices

The Armory Show of 1913 set standards for art that both shocked and enlightened Americans. Artists from the United States were doing work considered “genteel” compared to the works being painted and sculpted by Europeans.

Marcel Duchamp’s 1912, “Nude Descending the Staircase” was a shocker. The French painter had taken Picasso’s lead in fragmenting space and played it as a motion picture, seen in a single frame. No painter in the States was painting motion that way … not as cubists … who break and reassemble parts in order to simplify and distort. The impact left the East Coast in awe. Artists at the turn of the 20th century were painting largely recognizable or realistic pieces from life and their works expressed the new “plein-aire” concept through their brushwork.

University of Jamestown President Bob Badal and his wife Donna attended the exhibit shortly after its opening last month and returned to University of Jamestown with great stories of what they saw in New York.

Bob Badal said he found the show to be outstanding.

“On our last day in New York, I walked through Central Park on a perfect fall day, past the old dairy and the skating pond to the New York Historical Society to see ‘The Armory Show at 100.’ I have always had an interest in the revolutionary aspects of the arts. Only 10 years before Gertrude Stein had moved to Paris where she brought together iconoclastic European and American artists and writers from Cezanne to Hemingway,” he said.

“Now it was New York’s turn,” Badal added, “to bring Europe’s ‘established’ avant garde to mix with a newer breed of American artists in a makeshift exhibition space at the old Regimental Armory.”

Badal said the show has a huge impact in different ways.

“It has been said that the show had the effect of a bomb exploding over the American art scene. One year later, World War I begins in Europe, and the artistic and political upheaval continues.”

He said it was “as good as any theatrical production in New York!”

That says a lot about the Armory Show because Bob Badal is a theater person … as in lives it, breathes it and knows it well. But he also knows great art. He and his lovely wife Donna own one of my favorite paintings. It speaks of gentle places yet desolate and mysterious. It is a soft, but magnetic winter or foggy surface that draws me in every time I’ve seen it. It is a Carl Oltvedt piece.

He carries on a Post Expressionistic tradition of “effets de neige,” or impressions of winter. Clearly the most inhospitable season for painting out of doors, or plein-air painting, winter themes have always been a challenge for artists, yet, and this is an important “yet,” they did paint in winter, and competed with each other for the coldest, most frigid venue for painting.

Like North Dakota in late winter, it’s too cold to work outside without a heat source and protection from the wind. But they managed and considered it a badge of honor to outdo each other in the elements.

The Badals’ painting is less detailed than those of Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley or Camille Pissarro, but carries a powerful emotion. Despite the season, it conveys warmth in a cool setting. It reminds me of a quote from Pissarro:

“There is nothing more cold than the sun at its height in the summer, contrary to what the colorists believe. Nature is colored in winter and cold in the summer.” (May 2, 1873)

Some of the pieces in the Armory Show express the extremes of the season. The New York State Historical Society did an amazing job of organizing the celebration. Post Expressionists generally painted in warmer seasons and their works conveyed a light and lyrical feeling. The winter settings have an impact that I favor because I love the serenity of a silent snow-filled world. …

The Armory Show runs through Feb. 23, and tickets are available online. If a holiday or early 2014 trip to New York is on the agenda, this is a show not to be missed.

If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.