The Georges Seurat exhibition at the Kröller-Müller Museum (may 23 – sept 7) attempts to answer the following question: what makes Seurat’s work so important?
When visiting the exhibition last weekend I found 5 ideas that answer this question for me.
- Shades of grey
The Kröller-Müller exhibition includes many of Seurat’s sketches. As if to foreshadow the history of cinema, Seurat also works in black and white before moving to a world in colour. The sketches show his excellent eye for lighting but also a meticulousness in his material choice. The rough texture of the paper used seems to bring extra depth to the shading and composition of the sketches.
- Shape of things to come
The familiarity of the sketches showed that Seurat’s signature is more than his pointillist technique. Seurat’s work is also very recognizable in the subjects, shapes of the landscapes and the shape of the figures. Several sketches suggest the figures used in later paintings, and are thus independently recognizable as works by Seurat. And now, decades later, the poster for the French film Strangers by the Lake does not echo Seurat’s techniques or colour use, but none the less reminds of La Grande Jatte.
- Art meets science
It seems as if art is often used as a way to amplify scientific concepts – think Rembrandt’s anatomy lesson. What makes Seurat interesting is that he uses science to amplify art. Seurat uses colour theory to make his paintings more vibrant: by placing dots of contrasting colours next to each other both colours are visually amplified.
- The 19th century life
Specialising in consumer behaviour, I have followed multiple courses in which the history of the consumer society was chronicled. I really enjoy how Seurat’s subject matter narrates some of the major lifestyle changes taking place in the second half of the 19th century. His painting of circuses, parks and other entertainment reflect the major increase in leisure time for many people. Many other paintings are set on the outer edges of cities – like harbours. The trends of city growth and the shift of industry from the centre to the edge of cities are clearly visible.
- Layers of Labour
Finally, the Kröller-Müller exhibition shows how layered and time-consuming each of Seurat’s paintings are. Seurat started with sketches, then he filled the painting with broad strokes (of 1-2 cm) before covering the entire canvas in meticulous dots. This labour-intensive way of working sets him apart from many other impressionists, who used rough strokes to capture an emotion.
William Klein (1928 – ) is gracing the walls of Foam (photography museum Amsterdam) from December 20th untill March 12th. The exhibition focuses on his work in the 1950s and how he challenged the concept that only perfect photographs (perfect composition, perfect subject, perfectly in focus) could be beautiful.
What I really enjoyed was how Klein played with contrast. Here, three different types of contrast
Contrast in colour
Klein played with the contrast between black and white in his photography to create a graphic feel and to add interest. In the picture above the black and white crossing, repeated in the dresses, creates structure. However, the model glancing back at the other (as if to say ‘hey, is she wearing the same thing’) adds humour and imperfection.
Contrast in context
The contrast is also visible in the subject matter and set up of the photographs. Many photographs feature a main subject (who is often off-centred or perhaps even blurred) whose emotion or features contrast with things that are happening in the background. I love the photograph featured above – the contrast of the young woman, full of life in a small black bikini vs. the old man snoozing in the background in his white suit.
Contrast in creation
Finally, spanning Klein’s work is the contrast in his creation. Some photographs seem to be random snapshots. On the other hand, other photographs have clearly been altered and adjusted in the darkroom. Using lighting techniques in the dark room Klein has transformed the photograph from a standard fashion photo to a picture with movement.
Photographs by William Klein
When looking at the possibilities of the internet, it may seem as if sending and receiving mail through the post is no longer relevant. Yet, when entering any museum shop, one usually finds a wall filled with postcards. So what is it about postcards that enables them to survive the demise of the postman?
A post card for yourself…
Moncole reports that for museums, postcards remain big business. Perhaps because they are an easy, cheap souvenir? Or do they also have symbolic value? Alain de Botton said that when looking at a painting, we realize that it is important to us – but it also represents something we can’t quite reach [on seeing and noticing]. A postcard can serve as a small daily reminder of this emotion. If museums were to track which cards were most popular would we see subsequent bestsellers? Or would our postcard choice ebb and flow with the social trends that society is subject to?
…or a post card for a friend?
Receiving a postcard represents an effort made by the sender. The effort of choosing a postcard, writing it and, perhaps the biggest challenge, actually sending it. Sending and receiving postcards has become a part of our culture and rituals throughout the year – Christmas, Valentine’s day and a note to home when you’re away during the summer.
Do you still send postcards regularly? Or do you buy them for yourself as little memories?
Check a selection of my favourite stationary here.
image from here