Tuesday, June 28, 2005

On View at AIC

Georg Baselitz • Woodman • 1969 • Oil on canvas • The Art Institute of Chicago

This painting is by one of my favorite artists, Georg Baselitz. It is currently on view at the Art Institute. It used to be on rotation in the Contemporary Galleries and that is where I first saw years ago. It has recently appeared in a new location, presumably as part of the crazy re-arranging going on. The American Art Galleries have been expanded to include the upper and lower levels of the Rice building in order to accommodate the new works on extended loan from the Terra Foundation (still very much in existence, unlike the Terra Museum.) Also bringing change is the beginning of construction of the New North Wing. The windows Marc Chagall created for the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have been de-installed for safety and conservation. It is rumored they were never intended for that location in the first place, rather the large lobby in front of the Contemporary Galleries by the winding stair case (Gallery 135). The America Windows were created in 1976 to commemorate the USA’s bicentennial. That kind of makes them suck. Also removed are works from the adjacent Indian and Southeast Asian galleries. Selections are being relocated to Gallery 135.

Georg Baselitz’s Woodman (1969) is on view at the top of the stairs at the end of Gunsaulus Hall, facing the expansive Sky Above Clouds by Georgia O'keefe. Baselitz's Woodman is such a good piece because it is difficult. Being an uninitiated kid first seeing it, and then growing up with it, I didn't know what to think. My first impression, seeing it alongside an Alex Katz, an Ad Reinhardt and Richard Serra, was confusion. I thought it was a "nonpainting" or a "false" or "fake" painting. It was nothing like the medieval battle scenes or Picasso's I favored more in my youth. It is such an odd thing, this figure, split in half and nailed to a tree. It is violent, but not physically. It is violently painted, but the severed figure seems almost to belong that way, like a mannequin to be assembled. And how odd it is on a tree like that! I am certain that it is a little girl, a Gretl, Bavarian mountain maiden, or at least a man dressed as one. And isn't that a gigantic wiener (penis AND sausage) rammed through his head, from ear to ear? It is not explicit or gross, though. Like Jake and Dinos Chapman sculptures. It is sort of straight forwardly suggested, or stated. This, I think, makes it more disarming. The colors are off and displeasing. Strangely, over time, they have come to be right on. Those footprints remind me of Philip Guston. Like the missing element: The prints left behind by his trademark shoes. The exposed canvas, all beige and regal, is exquisite. So are those charcoal lines, as fresh and gestural as the moment in which they were being drawn.