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Degas: A Strange New Beauty

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Degas: A Strange New Beauty
The MoMA exhibition catalogue regarding Edgar Degas's monotypes
Article added on June 5, 2016 at 22:48 CEST
  
The exhibition Degas: A Strange New Beauty at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City from March 26 until July 24, 2016 explores Edgar Degas' experimentation in monotypes and its effect on his art. On show are about 176 works of art by the Frenchman coming from nearly 100 lenders around the world.

In the mid-1870s, Edgar Degas was introduced to monotypes by his artist friend Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic. He immersed himself with enthusiasm in it and produces some 300 works over two periods, from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s and again in the early 1890s.

According to MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry, “Degas' foray into monotype reveals an artist who is always testing whether new possibilities from available techniques, imagining new subjects, or proposing a new kind of artwork is less about completion than about an inexorable search for variations in form.”

Lowry writes that Degas: A Strange New Beauty provides “an opportunity to experience rarely seen and lesser-known works, the exhibition also tackles the sweeping changes of Degas's time. The way he addressed transformations in modern life, the expansion of availability of images via mechanical reproduction, the representation of the body, and the possibilities of abstraction will resonate with twenty-first-century viewers who face a similar proliferation of images, providing the ongoing relevance of modernism's foundational figures for the art of today.”

The exhibition organizer, Jodi Hauptman, works as Senior Curator at the MoMA's Department of Drawings and Prints. She led further research into Degas's working methods and wrote a interesting introduction to the exhibition catalogue, on which this article is based.

Jodi Hauptman states that she is indebted to the groundbreaking, 1968-research on Degas's monotypes by Eugenia Parry Janis (this catalogue raisonné is available at Amazon.com) as well as on scholarly work by many others; check the catalogue's bibliography for details.

In the MoMA exhibition catalogue, Richard Kendall details the arc of the artist's practice in monotype. The title of his essay, “An Anarchist in Art: Degas and the Monotype”, refers to a letter by Camille Pissarro to his son: “He [Degas] who is such an anarchist! In art, of course, and without knowing it!”

Jodi Hauptman writes that Edgar Degas explored “the possibilities of printmaking without the benefit of either academic training or an apprenticeship in the craft, he experimented with a range of processes that included etching, drypoint, aquatint, and lithography. More than all of these, however, it was monotype that captured his restless imagination.”

Regarding Degas's printmaking outside of monotype, the 1984 Museum of Fine Arts Boston exhibition catalogue by Sue Welsh Reed and Barbara Stern Shapiro: The Painter as Printmaker, remains the indispensable source (Amazon.com).

Jodi Hauptmann adds in the catalogue: “Where most printmaking processes fix the image on the matrix ... monotype remains unfixed and manipulable up until the very instant of printing. Its promise of spontaneity and malleability, its reliance on tone and tactility, its productive inversions, its refusal of precision - this qualities captivated Degas.”

She underlines: “The monotype expanded Degas's capacity for representing a diversity of subject matter: ballerinas in motion, the radiance of electric light, meteorological effects in nature. The malleable ink also allowed him to twist and contort bodies into unusual and even impossible poses, to venture into caricature, and to create dramatic relationships between dark and light. The ability to move pigment freely on the slick plate up to last minute encouraged him to abandon the precise rendering of his youth, when he had worked under the influence of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and led him to invent wholly new modes of drawing.”

The 17th century monotype process was of renewed interest during Degas's time because photography and other new technologies of reproduction made etchers want to distinguish themselves from industrially made, mass-produced images. Edgar Degas explored the possibility of gestural hand-inking to new and radical ends. Jodi Hauptman cites the writer Arsène Alexandre who wrote, not long after the artist's death, “his monotypes represent the area of his work in which he was most free, most alive, and most reckless ... not hampered by any rule.” According to Jodi Hauptman, in the monotypes, “Degas is at his most modern - capturing the spirit of urban life, depicting the body in new and daring ways, debating the singular and the copy, liberating mark-making from tradition, and boldly engaging the possibilities of abstraction.”

Degas and his approach to monotype is characterized by the fact that “each work is an index of the act of making: the implements deployed, the gestures of the hand, the force of the press.” Jodi Hauptman quotes the French poet Paul Valéry with the words: “Nothing could be more modern [than] taking for an end what can only be a means.” Jodi Hauptman writes: “Wiping is a step in etching, a way to remove the pigment from the surface of the plate once the ink has been pushed into the crevices carved into it: Degas applied this technique to a new kind of gestural rendering. He also broadened his tool kit, using brushes with dry, hardened bristles instead of soft ones to create striated patterns .... Wiping, dabbing, fingerprinting, scratching, and incising, deployed in combinations of the additive and the subtractive, are the principal terms of his vocabulary.”

She later adds: “Degas's most significant challenge to the monotype was aimed at its singularity. Instead of accepting its production of unique works, he used to make variations...” She writes: “Degas conviction that an image can always be reworked, revised, and recrafted, is rooted in the logic of monotype and pervades his relentless approach to the study of form: an unceasing pursuit and modification of key motifs across mediums.”

The monotype experience led Edgar Degas to create “similarly liberated, improvisational, and tactile effects in pastel and oil, rendering bodies, fabrics, and wallpaper with his fingers.”

In “Degas in the Dark”, Carol Armstrong links Degas's monotypes to his photographic works; Stephanie O'Rourke who, together with Katie Hanson, mapped out the exhibition's key themes, contributed an essay outlining the roots of Degas's interest in repetition and variation; Kimberley Schenk links the monotypes to other kinds of printmaking; Hollis Clayson explores the convergence of Degas's printmaking with the visual qualities of artificial light introduced in Paris; Kathryn Brown shares her recent research on The Cardinal Family; Karl Buchberg and Laura Neufeld examine Degas's methods and materials; Jill de Vonyar studies the subject of ballet; Jonas Beyer focuses on time in the landscapes; last, but not least, some 176 works by Edgar Degas are reproduced in Degas: A Strange New Beauty.

Last, but not least, Jodi Hauptman states that “an exhibition about relentless experimentation has a broader message about persistence and invention -- a refusal to accept things as they are.”

Jodi Hauptman and others: Degas: A Strange New Beauty. The MoMA exhibition catalogue, 2016, hardcover 240 pages with over 176 illustrations. Order the MoMA exhibition catalogue from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de and Amazon.fr.

Further reading: Degas: Edgar Degas biography and exhibition Degas at Harvard 2005.

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Jodi Hauptman and others: Degas: A Strange New Beauty. The MoMA exhibition catalogue, 2016, hardcover 240 pages with over 120 illustrations. Order the MoMA exhibition catalogue from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de and Amazon.fr.

Further reading: Degas: Edgar Degas biography and exhibition Degas at Harvard 2005.

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.