Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Manet and Zizi


Edouard Manet, Woman with a Cat  (Portrait of Mme. Manet), c. 1880, oil on canvas; Courtesy of Tate Images

Last week I took a road trip to Ohio to see the exhibition Manet: Portraying Life, currently on view at Toledo Museum of Art through January 1. While this enthralling exhibition focuses on Manet’s portraiture and figure paintings, a whimsical detail in a portrait of the artist’s wife Woman with a Cat (Portrait of Mme. Manet) especially caught my eye. Sitting prominently and contentedly on Madam Manet’s lap is the same black cat with white muzzle—Zizi—featured in Carnegie Museum of Art’s Still Life with Brioche (below), also from 1880.

Edouard Manet, Still Life with Brioche, 1880, oil on canvas; William R. Scott, Jr. Fund; Carnegie Museum of Art

Manet’s repeated depiction of this family pet got me thinking about the wider, general role of cats in his oeuvre. Cats were a surprisingly important feature of Manet’s art for decades. Sometimes they are important to the overall meaning of a scene and always they reveal a lighter side to the artist and his genuine interest in these animals.

In Woman with a Cat, Manet vigorously and loosely paints his wife (née Suzanne Leenhoff) ensconced in pink. Zizi’s black fur stands out in stark contrast to the pale colors of the surrounding scene and becomes a prominent, centrally located feature of the composition. In Still Live with Brioche, however, many viewers don’t notice the cat until it is pointed out to them. In the darkly colored still life, Zizi’s head subtly enters the scene at the right edge. In both paintings, Zizi’s markings and facial features are rendered distinctly. This is clearly a cat that Manet knew well. Zizi’s cozy sleeping posture in Woman with a Cat also reveals an artist who was a keen observer and was well familiar with the body language and habits of cats.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, oil on canvas; Via Musée d’Orsay

Perhaps the most important use of a cat in his painting career is found in his notorious Olympia, where the animal’s body language is also emotionally compelling, but in a different way. The angry black cat at the foot of the woman’s bed undoubtedly is a symbol of sexuality, but its presence—glaring defensively and arching its back—also helps make the viewer uncomfortably aware of their own role as an intruder into the scene. Cats and still life components are often important elements of Manet’s figurative paintings. This is true in Olympia and also in a painting such as The Luncheon (below).

Edouard Manet, The Luncheon, 1868, oil on canvas, 1911 Tschudi Contribution, Inv. no. 8638; Via Alte Pinakothek

In The Luncheon, a cat is seen curled over, one leg in the air in the act of bathing itself as a curious and light-hearted moment in the midst of an enigmatic trio of stoic figures and still life elements, including a partially peeled lemon. In yet another painting from the 1860s, Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume, a cat plays with an orange on the floor at lower right in the composition. The trend of depicting cats and fruit together in one composition is continued in the late still life in Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection.

Edouard Manet, Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume, 1862–63, oil on canvas, Bequest of Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903, 1961.18.33; Via Yale University Art Gallery

Manet was part of an artistic and literary community enthralled with cats. Occasionally his use of cat motifs were inside jokes or references meant to speak specifically to his writer and artist friends. In this early example of the inclusion of a cat in a major canvas, a dedication to the photographer Nadar appears near the cat; this detail could be part of an elaborate set of personal references between Manet, Nadar, and Charles Baudelaire. Other works in Manet’s career reference his friendship to the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Manet also produced a famous lithographic poster called Cats’ Rendevous in relation to a publication on the history and behaviors of cats by the writer Jules Champfleury called Les Chats, illustrated by many prominent artists.

Edouard Manet, The Cats’ Rendezvous, lithograph, 1868; S.P. Avery Collection; Courtesy of NYPL

Portrayed variously as symbolic, suggestive, humorous, and domestic, the deceptively minor motif of the cat had a surprisingly large place in Manet’s repertoire of imagery and became very much associated with Manet’s artistic persona.

So, when visiting Gallery 6 in the Scaife wing of Carnegie Museum of Art and you see the small black and white head peeking into the frame of Manet’s still-life, it’s interesting to remember that Zizi is part of a rich and long tradition in the artist’s career.

Dogs also played a prominent role in Manet’s art… but that’s a post for another time…

The Model That Smokes


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Hiroshi Sambuichi, Inujima Art Project Seirensho, 2008, wood and acrylic model, incense; 1:50; Courtesy of Hiroshi Sambuichi

A particularly fascinating model on view in White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes is by Sambuichi Architects of a transformed copper refinery, or seirensho, on the Japanese island of Inujima. The Inujima Art Project Seirensho is a museum dedicated to preserving and reusing the remains of the refinery, as part of the broader Benesse Art Site.

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Iwan Baan, Aerial view of Seirensho and the island of Inujima, 2008, digital chromogenic print; Courtesy of Iwan Baan

The refinery features a large chimney that originally served as an industrial smokestack but it has since been repurposed into a chimney that connects to the building’s underground passageways, creating a natural ventilation system. Sambuichi Architects has included two small chambers on the front of the model that are designed to hold lit incense coils, sending smoke throughout the model’s passageways, over a scale figure, and eventually escaping out of the clear acrylic chimney stack.

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Lighting the incense coils, which burn for up to 8 hours. We’re using this kind.
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Placing the incense chambers into the front of the model.
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Incense smoke blows past the scale figure towards the chimney, illustrating the airflow in the repurposed refinery.

White Cube, Green Maze is open through January 13, 2013. Come see this model and over 20 others from six international art sites.

The exhibition presents works by:

Raimund Abraham (New York City); Tadao Ando (Osaka); Arquitetos Associados (Belo Horizonte); Tatiana Bilbao (Mexico City); Rodrigo Cerviño Lopez (São Paulo); Rudolf Finsterwalder (Stephanskirchen); Erwin Heerich (Düsseldorf); HHF architects (Basel); Oliver Kruse (Hombroich); Johnston Marklee (Los Angeles); Ryue Nishizawa (Tokyo); Rizoma Arquitetura (Belo Horizonte); Hiroshi Sambuichi (Hiroshima); Álvaro Siza Vieira (Porto); TOA (Taller de Operaciones Ambientales, Mexico City); Topotek 1 (Berlin); Weiss/Manfredi (New York City)

Restoring the Urn of Life


George Barnard Grey’s Urn of Life, now on view in the Scaife Galleries.

ORIGINS OF THE URN

The Urn of Life (c. 1898–1900)  is the unfinished repository for the ashes of Anton Seidl, the Hungarian composer and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Upon Seidl’s death, a group of the composer’s friends asked American sculptor George Grey Barnard to design his funerary urn. Barnard agreed to the commission and worked on the urn for two years. However, before Barnard could complete the sculpture, the original patrons decided the urn was too large, accepting instead a smaller model of one of the figures. The unfinished urn remained in Barnard’s studio until 1908 when he included it in an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The original urn as it appeared in 1908, with four large, chiseled feet. Also, the structural support behind the female figure’s head on the left no longer appears on the work. From the archives of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The urn was purchased by Carnegie Institute in 1919, and today it looks markedly different from when it arrived here in Pittsburgh. Still an unfinished work at the time, the smooth, conical section at the bottom was very roughly textured with point chisel marks and had four large, lobular feet that extended outward from the bottom edge. A letter from the Carnegie Institute archives from then director John Beatty to Barnard mentions: “Your man expects to finish the base on the Urn of Life tomorrow….” And thus the urn was given the form that is visible today.

Conservation technician Tasha Mowery begins the long restoration process.

THE RESTORATION

It had been quite a long time since the urn was on view here at the museum, and our curatorial staff decided it would be a nice addition to the newly renovated Scaife Galleries. At the time of the treatment, the white Carrara marble had become dark greenish-gray with embedded dust and soot; it had likely never been cleaned. Cleaning tests were conducted on the surface of the marble, starting with dry cleaning methods such as vacuuming and rubbing with powdered white vinyl eraser crumbs. Most conservators prefer to start with dry cleaning methods, as the use of cleaning liquids are a comparatively much more aggressive method. Vacuuming did remove a small amount of surface particulate and the eraser crumbs were found to reduce the ingrained dust and soot, but the eraser crumbs were difficult to apply and control on vertical surfaces and in tight recesses.


Restoring the marble to its original color.

Through systematic testing we were able to develop a cleaning solution which selectively lifted away the dust and soot and left the marble unharmed. The most effective way to loosen the deposits was by poulticing the marble surface with a cotton pad soaked with the solution for several minutes and then gently scrubbing the area with cotton swabs, cotton pads, and soft brushes. Residues of the cleaning solution and any remaining dust or soot particles were cleared from the surface with a pressurized industrial steam generator which directs a concentrated jet of steam from a nozzle. While much of the sculpture had a smooth surface which could be more easily cleaned, there still remained large areas where the tooth chisel and point chisel texture remained. The layer of dust and soot was extremely tenacious in these areas, and they needed to be poulticed numerous times for extended periods. But after many hours and thanks to the hard work of conservation technician Tasha Mowery, we were able to restore the urn to its original color.

Installing the nearly 1650-pound (!) urn in the newly renovated Scaife Galleries.

A LITTLE HISTORY

Born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in 1863, Barnard attended the Art Institute of Chicago and from 1883 to 1887 worked in Paris while attending the École des Beaux-Arts. He lived in Paris for twelve years, exhibiting for the first time in the Salon of 1894. After returning to America in 1896, Barnard began to enjoy a successful career as a commissioned sculptor. Greatly influenced by Rodin, his major sculptures appear in cities throughout the eastern United States, including New York, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Among these are the monumental Carrara marble figural groups (completed in 1912) that flank the entrance to the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. Barnard once remarked that his work on the Urn of Life guided him in the creation of these much larger works—”I found the seed which, when I planted, grew into the two compositions known as ‘Labor’ and ‘Love’ on either side of the Capitol…” Barnard died in 1938 and was buried in Harrisburg.

Barnard working on The Hewer, one of his best known works, first exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. This photo appeared in World’s Work in 1902, not long after the Urn of Life was completed.

THE CYCLE OF BIRTH & DEATH

As you walk around the urn, the figures appear as one continuous group, flowing seamlessly into each other around the circumference of the sculpture. But Barnard conceived the figures as seven groupings of mystical beings representing distinct stages in the cycle of birth and death. (Inspired by Gothic sculpture and historiated capitals, Barnard originally intended to fill the surface of the urn by carving a second register of figures below the existing ones, but the work was never completed.)

Read Barnard’s own descriptions of the seven figural groups in the gallery below (the images move around the urn counterclockwise):

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Quotes from “The Urn of Life by George Grey Barnard,” undated handbill, George Grey Barnard Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

 

New Hire: Matt Hackler



What is your official title, and what are some of your general responsibilities?

My official title is director of development, and I’m responsible for the museum’s fundraising. I create and execute plans for getting the dollars in the door that the museum will need to hold exhibitions, launch programs, and even run normal, everyday operations. This means developing proposals and grant applications, conducting research, making lots of phone calls, and making sure that those people who support us know how much their gifts are appreciated. I work really closely with Rose Burk, CMOA’s development assistant, who has been already been a great help in my first few weeks.

CMOA is blessed with a dedicated community of supporters, and part of my job is to collaborate with these folks to find ways in which their investment in the museum will be most meaningful to them. At the same time, I’m responsible for reaching out to and developing relationships with people who have never previously been affiliated with us. I’m looking forward to sharing CMOA’s work with these corporations, foundations, and individuals and to getting them excited about what is happening here.

What were you doing before joining us at CMOA? 

I was director of development at REAL School Gardens in Dallas–Fort Worth, an educational non-profit that helps teachers in high-poverty schools improve students’ learning by engaging them outdoors as a regular part of their instruction. I really enjoyed launching the fundraising program there, and I’m happy that they are planning for their first national expansion site next year.

What’s your favorite exhibition that you saw this past year?

My favorite exhibition this past year was Lucian Freud: Portraits at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

If you could steal one artwork from our collection, what would it be?

That’s tough. I think it would have to be the Winslow Homer. But as a fundraiser, I am honor bound to say that I would only steal it if I could use the theft to leverage larger donations to the museum.

Winslow Homer, The Wreck, 1896, oil on canvas, Purchase

Describe Pittsburgh in five words or less.

Someplace special (and delightfully hilly)

Favorite hobbies? Or timewasters? 

I’m an old-school nerd (as opposed to a hip, new-school geek), so I spend a lot of time reading. When I’m looking for something online to make me smile, I can usually count on Betty Butterfield.

Think Like a Hacker


“Not-so-silent-awe” is how I might describe high school students’ collective reaction to Cory Arcangel: Masters on Saturday, November 3. Maybe they were surprised to find familiar imagery from Nintendo and YouTube in the museum’s Forum Gallery, or maybe they were overcome by inspiration… Or maybe it was the artist himself, who led a gallery talk about his work on view in Masters.

Arcangel also talked to the students about his creative process, inspiration (favorite video games and music), and why he decided to become an artist in the first place. During the workshop, students created low-tech responses to works on view in the exhibition, specifically responding to the concept of appropriation and Arcangel’s hacker sensibility.

Many of the participating high school students are in their fifth year of The Art Connection program, a Saturday art class for students in grades 5 through 9. Students in The Art Connection spend Saturdays during the school year working toward the annual student exhibition by studying works on view in the galleries and creating in the museum’s studios, guided by our teaching artists. While the students’ works for the spring exhibition are still in-progress, I predict that Arcangel’s influence will be observable in the their work. Arcangel’s advice to our group of emerging artists? Just make stuff. Don’t worry about it being good or bad. The more stuff you make, the more good stuff you’ll make.

Try your hand at the Arcangel-inspired video activity at this Thursday’s Culture Club from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m.

Know a high school student who might want to join us for a workshop? Check out our programs and classes.