Wednesday, July 15, 2009

James Ensor (1860 - 1949)

The New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has an exhibition of paintings by James Ensor now through the middle of September. James Ensor was a Belgium artist whose work has been described as avant garde, and "weird." His parents had curio shops, and they sold masks at religious fairs. Many of his paintings show masks, people dead or dying, and a profoundly disturbed world view at odds with the parks, flowers, picnics and holidays of the Impressionism of many of his contemporaries.

"Many critics and viewers, including his artist friends, enamored of Seurat’s ideas and methods, found Ensor’s religious subject matter and murky drawings “fatally retrograde.” (The criticism set him off; he referred to “bizarre Pointillists operating behind the scenes,” of being “surrounded by hostility” and “mean vile attacks.” He condemned Impressionists as “superficial daubers suffused with traditional recipes.”)" "Teeing Up the Twentieth Century - In Belgium 120 years ago, James Ensor let his freak flag fly" (Jerry Saltz, 7/2/09)

"A visual hysteric and geographer of fin de siècle pathologies, Ensor gives us kings defecating on citizens, himself urinating on a wall that reads ensor est un fou (“Ensor is a nut”), skeletons fighting over a pickled herring, waiters serving human heads on platters, flesh-eating ghouls, vomiting comics, and cavorting demons. Even if you find his visions flaky, he’s the advance man for practically everything twentieth-century, including Expressionism and Surrealism. He presages artists as diverse as Miró, Florine Stettheimer, Henry Darger, Cy Twombly, and Verne Dawson."

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