SARGENT AND ITALY
I am not sure if Ansel Adams, the most celebrated American photographer of the 20th century, or the organizers of his travelling exhibition, now at LACMA, would be happy with my take on his art and this show. But let me proceed nevertheless.--
If you want to distract yourself from worrying about a looming war with Iraq, or, for that matter, from any calamity screaming off the front page of the newspapers, go to see "Ansel Adams at 100", the most comprehensive look at his lifetime artistic achievement since his death in 1984. As a passionate advocate of the preservation of nature, Adams, through his black and white photography, defines our sense of the American landscape at its most majestic, most spiritual and pristine. In our collective mind, his scenes of the wilderness in Canada, Alaska and especially in his beloved Yosemite, have approached near-iconic status.--
But interesting things happened to Adams on the way to the top of his profession during the last decades of his career. Instead of going out and making new images, he preferred to spend most of his time tinkering in a darkroom with his old negatives. The technical virtuosity he demonstrated through endless manipulations of the printing process is totally amazing. One early version of a landscape may read as melancholic, while a later print, made from the same negative but with increased contrast of black and white, comes across as a regal, heightened version of reality, not unlike the orchestrated publicity shots of the movie stars of yesteryear. Being a musician, Adams felt that his negatives were not more than a music score, which could be interpreted differently every time he went back to them.-
The first time I saw this show, I missed a lot of fine details that can be seen only if you slow your pace and almost meditate in front of the images. The background starts to move even further away, while the foreground comes even closer. All of a sudden, you start to notice tiny droplets of the morning dew on the blades of grass, and feel as if you can tell the level of humidity in the air.-
Though the installation of this exhibition can be criticized for a lack of imagination, and the meandering wall text could be less indulgent and more informative, for photography lovers, especially those who appreciate technical brilliance, this is the show to see. And I assure you that Adams' take on the natural beauty of the Northern American landscape will soothe, at least for a moment, the worries we currently face in the real world.--
As for the second travelling exhibition organized by LACMA, "Sargent And Italy", I can only say that those who adore the virtuoso brushwork of this American painter will probably find no fault with this show. I thought the ratio of the few masterpieces to the large number of merely good or simply banal works only emphasizes the unevenness of Sargent's art, especially toward the end of his career. I have to admit that I was more enchanted by the splendidly lavish and informative publication released in conjunction with the show than by the exhibition itself.
"Ansel Adams at 100" and "Sargent and Italy"
February 2 - May 11, 2003
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036