Modern Masters; New Exhibit at the Cummer a Study in Contrasts of Two Important Styles

Article excerpt

Byline: Ivette M. Yee, Times-Union staff writer

The public rolled their eyes at artists Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and Claude Monet when they first came on the art scene at the end of the 19th century.

At the time, modern art lovers favored the works of academic painters such as Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean Leon Gerome, and never would these groups of artists share museum space.

What were they thinking?

In "Modern Masters: Looking Without Limits," a new exhibit at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, these two vastly different schools finally share space, allowing art novices and experts alike to make up their own minds about who's work is more significant.

The exhibit includes 60 paintings from a time when two important groups of artists vied for the art world's attention -- the academic luminaries and those who would later become household names in contemporary art.

"At the end of the 19th century, the academic painters were very popular, while the impressionists were vilified. They were the rebels," said Maarten van de Guchte, executive director for the Cummer Museum. "In a short period of time, there was a complete reversal of fortune. The question becomes, what happened during that time that caused tastes to change so drastically?"

On loan from the Juntos Actuandos Foundation in Mexico City, the artwork in this exhibit comes from a collection that also contains work from the 15th through 18th centuries. This exhibit, however, features only works from the 19th and 20th centuries. It traces the major art movements of the time, ranging from the celebrated Barbizon school's depictions of mid-19th century French peasants and countrysides to a 1974 watercolor by Marc Chagall. Picasso's cubism, Pierre-Auguste Renoir's and Camille Pissarro's impressionism, Paul Gauguin's post-impressionism, Salvador Dali's and Rene Magritte's surrealism and Kandinsky's abstractions are also represented.

"Modern Masters" serves as an art history timeline of sorts that traces the development of Western art.

"So much was happening in Europe in such a brief time span of 40 and 50 years," said van de Guchte. "Very often, art history is about styles; here it's about parallel contrasting movements. There are very different things going on here."

Van de Guchte said it is extremely rare to see this prolific group of artists in one exhibit. As such, it allows visitors to explore their own tastes in art. Some people will enjoy the Chagalls. Some may say, "Big deal." It also examines the circumstances that influenced the development of the artists and the creation of the works in this collection. …