Four Women and a Kosuth
A pop-up exhibition of works by
Michelangelo, Campi, Salviati, and Vasari + A Woman by Maira Loh
Interivew: Ross Bleckner
215 Bowery, NYC
13 / 22 September 2013
Michelangelo, Campi, Salviati, and Vasari +
London, August 2013
She was only in her twenties at the time—straight-laced, hazel-eyed, elegantly coiffed in that signature braid of hers, well-educated, and immensely talented—but Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) was already a sensation. The precocious daughter of a provincial Italian aristocrat, she counted amongst her admirers famous artists like Michelangelo. trained by Bernardino Campi, Anguissola quickly surpassed her master and distinguished herself as the pre-eminent portraitist of her age. Her art was so sought-after that she was invited by the formidable Habsburgs in Spain to reside as the official court painter to Philip II and Elizabeth of Valois.
Fame and success, however, were not easy. Fellow artists like, Francesco Salviati, snickered that Sofonisba was Campi’s “bestwork.” Envious critics like Giorgio Vasari quipped that “if women know so well how to produce living men, what marvel is it that those who wish are also so well able to create them in painting?” But sometimes it was better to retaliate, as a young aristocratic female Wunderkind trying to make it in the common man’s world, in the very language of her assailants: art.
Anguissola responded—quietly, modestly, but sharply and with the creative audacity no male portraitist could have envisioned—in perhaps the singular most astounding self-portrait of the entire Renaissance. In the upper floor of the Pinacoteca in Siena, there she stands today, a portrait on an easel, which in the painting is being painted by Campi, her master, her friend, but also her social and artistic inferior. However, Anguissola painted her own image in Campi’s flat, dull style while rendering Campi’s portrait in her exquisite, vivid manner. In one efficient gesture, not only was she able to defend her own virtue, but she redeemed Campi’s reputation too.
The passata-sotto is a strategic move in which the fencer unexpectedly drops on one knee in order to strike the opponent from beneath when and where he is least expect- ing it. Swift and silent. Calculated and unforgiving. When executed properly, it could also be breathtaking and beautiful. and Anguissola’s brush was just like that.
Michelangelo, Campi, Salviati, Vasari. the boys never saw it coming.
Interview: Ross Bleckner
James D. Barron
Rome, August 2013
James Barron: What was Moira Dryer like?
Ross Bleckner: She was a combination of restraint and wild thing. She was the Katherine Hepburn of abstract painting. She was beautiful and wind-swept and fierce and intelligent and she made things look very easy. There was a youthful mastery. Is that an oxymoron?
JB: I don’t think so.
RB: You can’t get your head around the emotion in her work. It’s rare that the brush, mind, hand and object are so intertwined that they seem inevitable.
JB: Do you see a connection with Morris Louis?
RB: She liked the process of layering on and having things run together. But they are always well constructed, like Morris Louis. Chance -- up to a point. Very controlled chance.
JB: And yet she was of her moment.
RB: She was really a Conceptual painter at a time when Conceptual abstraction wasn’t really being considered. She was ahead of her time. Using the tropes of Minimalism and Conceptual art, she created work with a kind of presence. Her work had what I call a “vernacular soul”. Her paintings were about the construction and re-construction of seeing. Of playing. It was soulful. It had energy, light, sensuality, wispy strokes, an ephemeral touch. She liked washed-away color. Color between color.
JB: She went to Italy and was moved by Giotto, Fra Angelico, and Piero.
RB: You look at Piero and see the delicacy of surface, openness and light. Simplicity of the formal construction.
JB: Take away Piero’s figures and you have an altarpiece. A structure. An object. Moira’s paintings are always objects.
RB: She played off the illusion and the object. The reality of the thing and the illusion of the thing. Her work was about the perception of where things are, how we look and remember. It related to theater; It all felt so natural, yet staged.
JB: Did she ever talk about what it was like to be a woman painter in the man’s world of the 80s?
RB: She saw herself in opposition to many of the male artists of the 80s. She was doing well and she was happy. She had no anger. She had persistence.
JB: Do you think of her often?
RB: I did a painting a few weeks ago and I thought, You know, I think I’m finally Moira Dryer here.
JB: Maybe that’s part of what you do: extend some of the ideas that Moira had begun but wasn’t able to do because her life was cut short.
RB: That would be nice. I would take that as a compliment. She was the real thing. Obviously.