Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review by Crystal Alexander

The Getty Research Institute: Recent Print Acquisitions
Through September 2 | The Getty Center Crystal Alexander

This show was quite lovely, very intimate; the fact that it was in the Getty Research Institute allows the observer to separate themselves from the rest of the museum and escape to a separate small dark space.  Dark blue walls give the space a cold feeling, yet the prints that adorn the space give a warmth that fills the space and eases the viewer, allowing them comfort as they navigate the space, being drawn into pieces that seem to radiate consolation.

A huge variety exists in the works displayed, from Dürer to the Bauhaus movement, with particular emphasis on Albrecht Dürer. As one is drawn in by the work, a wall filled with woodcuts cannot be avoided. At first the viewer may be overwhelmed by its large presence in the space; this feeling is only compounded by the painstaking details that make up Albrecht Dürer’s “The Life of the Virgin” series, nineteen illustrations for a book. The pages fill the wall, yet the piece; The Adoration of the Magi, (1501-02) struck me in particular.

As a Christian in America, I am extremely familiar with manger scenes at churches and on street corners during the Christmas holiday season depicting the same scene that Dürer is visually describing in this piece; however his print is quite different from the scenes that I am used to seeing. The Adoration of the Magi doesn’t feel like an addition to this world…like a series of objects simply resting in our space, his work feels like its own world, something completely foreign, yet so familiar, and comforting.

The scale is very effective; the piece is quite small, drawing the viewer in to admire the details of the master’s hand.  The Christ is the first thing that one’s eye is drawn to, followed by the Virgin and Joseph; the eye is subsequently led, (through the use of an archway) to the first of the Magi. Along this visual path, one gets their first glance at the architecture rendered in the piece.  Rather than a manger, the viewer can see the Virgin presenting her child amongst stone buildings. Grass grows from the cracks in stone, and we are exposed to a variety of textures and details, allowing us to feel the scene with our eyes. A tipping point is thus reached, and the viewer finally falls into the scene.

The Magi are meant (as the title proclaims) to adore, however the viewer adores the standing Magus. We savor the details of the headpiece he wears, and are left in awe of the skill needed to depict him with such luxury, such detail.  His exquisite hand gestures, to lead our eyes to look at the third remaining King. I am amazed at the life the master, Albrecht Dürer, is able to give to this figure, through a small series of inked lines on a paper, he summons up the ability to control our eyes, to control us.

We are lead through to the remaining Magi, from top to bottom. The lower Magi uses a feather to lead our eye up the staircase created by the ruins, where our eye can further appreciate the stunning detail of the architecture Dürer has created.  We are brought up to the heavens, to the angels by the master. We are then drawn to a small window on a tower that has stretched up to meet us, and we wonder what could be inside the window? Who it is that occupies this room? Our curiosity is left behind, as we jump to a nearby star, its rays both drawing us in and lead us back down, to a thatched wooded structure that covers the Magi. Finally, we exit the composition on the lower left side, greeting a dog on our way out.

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