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"Painting come to life"

Anne Dalke's picture

One of the many events Mark and I thought about sending y’all to this semester (and passed over, in favor of other attractions…) was the current exhibit @ the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis. I went to see it this afternoon, really enjoyed it, and thought you might as well (@ least obliquely, and electronically, if not in person).

There’s lots of Duchamp and other Dadaists (which should make us feel right @ home!); Léger was inspired by the “shock of the surprise effect” in their raucous staged events. Léger said that the “task of modern art” was not to simply represent modern life, but to "equal" it; he imagined “color liberated from representation.” There’s lots of motion in these paintings (and Mark, you’ll be interested in particular in a “cine-poem” Léger co-created, “The end of the world filmed by the angel of Notre Dame”--it sounds as though it anticipated Wim Wenders’ work, which you like so much).

There’s a wonderful evolution of Léger’s work from “easel painting” (“isolated and self- contained”) to “mural painting” (“rigorously relative to its architectural surround”). There’s a movement, overall, from painting to film (Charlie Chaplan is very present), and then to theater. Léger increasingly incorporated advertising along the way—“shop window displays comparable to modern painting”—and also came to critique classical theater as obsolete, for privileging “the playwright' s words and the actor's performance." He dreamed instead of a public stage combining “circus, fairground, variety show, dance, and the cinema,” a “painting come to life.”  All in motion, and all marvelously abstract.
And so, when I left the museum, the whole city started to looked like a modernist painting to me.
The colors were very vivid:

Even the buses...

...and the trash trucks had become canvases:

…which, in the setting, made for even larger canvases:

I began to notice that all the buildings were abstract geometrical forms:

As were the shirts of the people around me… well as the streets and sidewalks I was walking  along…

There were some curves among the geometrics ...

It wasn't all right angles...

Good night!


mlord's picture


This is awesome, BTW. 

jccohen's picture

i love

the movement through these photos - the colors, roundnesses, swaying and still, weights and dizzying sense of movement, stone patterns - and the progression of light - !

Anne Dalke's picture

“color liberated from representation"

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has also been working for 30 years to create murals that are “rigorously relative to their architectural surround." Philly Painting applied swatches of color to 2500-2800 Germantown
Avenue in North Philly:


And Katharina Grosse is planning to similarly "animate" the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor
rail line from 30th Street to the North Philadelphia station: watch out soon for this linear gallery.