Sep 14

Baroque and Broken: The Two Worlds of the Glenbow Museum

by Lisa Murphy-Lamb · 0 comments

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It has been said that the best way to appreciate the work of Fernando Botero is to understand the life and history of Columbia.  No doubt this helps tremendously, as much of his art is steeped in historical, political and social insight.  But this show travels internationally, indeed it was in Tel Aviv, Israel where Glenbow staff first experienced his current show and subsequently brought it to Calgary.  So perhaps it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg debate.  Do you study Columbia before seeing Botero’s art, or will he inspire you to get to know this Central American country better?

It is a debate worth weighing in on with a visit to the Glenbow this fall.  The Baroque World of Fernando Botero contains 100 works of paintings, sculptures and drawings from his own private collection.  Botero is a Columbian artist who has studied in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Europe, New York and Paris.  His paintings are colourful, exotic and sometimes satirical in approach.

Immediately upon arrival you’re greeted by a 4,000 pound sculpture of a smoking woman.  Special rigging was brought in from B.C. to place her in the middle of the exhibition, although the room barely had the vertical height to fit her.  She’ll lay, prone and gloriously smoking, greeting art lovers until November 14, when the exhibit will close.  Sculptures of various sizes continue throughout the rooms.  Pay attention to how they are placed.  A cat looks at a bird who doesn’t take his eye off the cat; a women looks longingly over her shoulder at a male who returns her look.

These deliberate details continue on in the paintings as well.  Hanging series together that contain political figures or death are obvious, but also look for the less typical relationships among groups of paintings, like the ones that all contain twinkling lights or have a female figure with a red flower in her hair.

Regardless, what strikes you immediately is the corpulent aspect of Botero’s figures. Heavily influenced by Baroque artists, Botero paints with volume.  He fills up his canvases with individual and family portraits, nudes, equestrian figures, bullfighting scenes, and still lifes. And then later in his career, a more empathetic look at life in a time of violence as drug-fueled guerrilla warfare raged in Columbia, when his work became much darker (though unchanged in style) as he created paintings and drawings of the period’s kidnappings, massacres, torture, and death.

Fernando Botero’s paintings are mostly full of colour and magic realism.  They are not what they seem at first, insisting you stop inviting you into the painting to figure out exactly what is going on.  The stories he tells are haunting and empathetic, not preachy.

Do you need to understand life in Columbia to truly appreciate Botero’s work?  Go.  And decide for yourself.

The Baroque World of Fernando Botero runs until November 14, 2010

John Will, Lana and the Js, 1986, Collection of Glenbow Museum

Also featured at the Glenbow is the the considered named The Broken World of John Will which features prints from influential Canadian lithographer John Will, who among other boasts, taught for 27 years at the University of Calgary.

A satirical, subversive, even slanderous critique of society, anyone could be Will’s target, including himself.  Not in a malicious way, but with humour, intelligence and extraordinary craftsmanship.  Each of his prints are labour intensive. They read like a book witnessing sex, war, wit and racism.  Stand back and look close up, there is much to appreciate from both stances.

Also, as part of the exhibit is the catalogue from Will’s large Glenbow show in 1980 after which, he mostly gave up printmaking in favour of photography, video, performance and painting.  The exhibit includes a student-made documentary on the artist.  I hear it’s a candid, raw look, but the museum was crowded and noisy and I couldn’t catch the commentary, so I’ll have to return another night to listen.

The Broken World of John Willruns until November 14, 2010

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