Moshe Ladanga

RA Cezannes and Sol Le Witt

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I’ve been wanting to see this; some of the paintings in the show were cherished favorites held until then only in books. The portraits and landscapes of Cezanne were simply astonishing. Instead of receding into realistic perspective, the planes of arms, of face, chest, rock, tree, mountain and shadow pushed forward, sculpted out of layers of pigment. Each one was different, each one belied a particular mood, a state of mind. One landscape in particular (the jpeg here is pretty bad, photographed under low light- better see the original) was complicated, the planes of autumnal foliage and mountain all in varied angles- it took a while to see the whole picture. But if you stay long enough, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Landscape at Aix (Mount Sainte-Victoire). 1905. Oil on canvas. 1879-82.

http://www.abcgallery.com/C/cezanne/cezanne87.html

Carrière Bibemus. c. 1895. Oil on canvas. Museum Folkwang, Essen.
http://www.expo-cezanne.com/1_3.cfm?id=-297343045

Bibemus: Le Rocher Rouge. c. 1897. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris.
http://www.expo-cezanne.com/1_3.cfm?id=-1000817656

These ones I found at expo-cezanne.com, a generic site, but with a pretty good selection. The ones are paintings of a particular quarry (Bibemus). If you look at the pictures, it becomes very evident how Cezanne used the medium of paint to bring out a material quality to the act of perception; he made the act of looking active, the picture fragments into forms and brought together by the eye. Yet, as you continue looking, it becomes clear that it is not merely a technique applied to a picture; the picture is immersive, the planes, the tonal cues, all start to come together and bring you to a particular state of mind, a feeling, which becomes more real than the hum and chatter of people around you, and you actually forget you are merely looking.

There is also a portrait there of a woman sitting, in blue (again, the jpeg doesn’t do it justice), and the strokes that make up her body, especially how her posture and weight are depicted, are angled towards the bottom left of the frame. It’s not that evident here, but standing in front of it makes you aware of the weight of her body, the weight of her thoughts.

Paul Cézanne. Lady in Blue. c. 1899. Oil on canvas.

http://www.abcgallery.com/C/cezanne/cezanne79.html

Seeing these made me realize how much other artists have discovered and experimented with how we perceive, and how they have fundamentally turned it on its head; In Cezanne, the way we see becomes tangible as a cognitive act, as a malleable form of making sense of the world. There is an exquisite subtlety and a the profound moment that you experience when you get to that point where the painting holds you still in its language.

Which bring me to So Le Witt.

I’ve seen this last year, room no.5, at the Tate Modern. I once saw an epilogue of him (he died last year) in the web, NY Times. Never really thought much of him, and at that time I lumped all the conceptualists and the minimalists together, didn’t really care about installations that only awakened the mind. But when I first experienced this room with Katrin, I was floored. It was beautiful. The recreation of space, the tension between the lines and their fragility (done with chalk I think), made me feel awake, cleansed, pure. And the simple attenuation, the clarity of it, just brings you into another state of awareness.

There is this thing that some artists share, and it is a push towards an engagement that releases the viewer from preconception. With Cezanne, the picture brings the act of perception into relief, and offers an alternative way of seeing things, of conceiving things. With Sol le Witt, the lines create and at the same time re-invent how we think of things, subverting logic to express the intimations of the invisible, of the divine.

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