Tag Archives: Van Gogh

Marginalia: The Art History Blog

Welcome back, one and all. We hope your Thanksgiving brought a bountiful harvest of food and family, and your Black Friday a crazy boatload of steals ‘n’ savings! We’re still too tryptophan-addled to churn out a long post, but we did want to take a moment to point you in the direction of The Art History Blog, the labor of love of a couple of “art-obsessed undergraduates” named Chelsea and Alexander. First of all, let us just say how impressed we are to see undergrads taking on a project of this scope. We give them a non-grade-inflated A for effort. Second of all, for those ungenerous older readers expecting a college art history blog to read something like: “Have you ever seen The Starry Night stoned? ‘Cause that’s totally how Van G must have painted it!”—well, you have sorely underestimated America’s youth, because Chelsea and Alexander get high marks for content as well. They successfully aim for the tone of “a really spunky docent,” because really spunky docents is precisely what they are.

We’ve especially enjoyed their “Art in Real Life” series, in which they show readers the actual size and scale of famous works of art by taking photos of people standing next to them. This, to us, constitutes a more useful art history lesson than can be found in many a textbook. It also reminds us of the time we found out that Raphael’s famous 1506 self-portrait was not only smaller in real life than you’d expect, but also reverently installed by the Uffizi in an awkward corner above a dehumidifier. Anyway, have fun over at The Art History Blog, and be sure to leave Chelsea and Alexander a nice comment, a good grade, or as they wistfully suggest, a job offer.


Filed under Art, Marginalia

The Art of Poverty

In the surest sign that the worldwide economy is in the Slough of Despond right now, a Damien Hirst sculpture has just sold for less than 1 million pounds sterling. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the contemporary art market as a whole is suffering, “with many collectors wary of making seven-figure bids for new artworks amid the global financial crisis.” Really—people are no longer staking millions of dollars on elaborately packaged investments that might turn out, at the end of the day, to be totally worthless? But why, why…?

We don’t mean to be flip, but we do see a parallel between the smoke-and-mirrors game surrounding much contemporary art evaluation and the games Wall Street was playing with “credit default swaps” and the like. A collector shelling out for a Van Gogh (if anything at all) instead of a Hirst is simply the art-world equivalent of a Wall Street investor moving his money, for the time being, into safer and more old-fashioned securities. (And of course, in many cases these collectors and investors are the same people.) The element of risk is what drives both markets during good times—and we certainly don’t hope things stay this way forever—but for the time being caution may be a necessary, if brutal, corrective.

Anyway, the collectors and the big names like Hirst will muddle through just fine; it’s the unknown, up-and-coming contemporary artists that are getting the short end of this stick. For those poor souls, it’s time to hunker down in the old mansard, drink absinthe to keep warm, and starve a little more for the sake of their art—which will have plenty of justified gloom and vitriol to fuel it until the day it becomes valuable again.

UPDATE: Of course, if you’re an intrepid art collector like Lisa Hunter, now may be just the time to throw caution to the wind. Thanks to Ms. Hunter and her estimable blog, which we just stumbled across today, for the second opinion.

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Van Gogh Fête: The Recap

Last night’s event at the MoMA was a memorable one, with the outdoor sculpture garden providing an intimate, if not quite warm, setting for the reading. As Neil Folberg, our Van Gogh photographer and the night’s first reader, wistfully pointed out, New York City light pollution prevented us from seeing an actual “starry night”—and yet the glowing yellow points of thousands of midtown windows, combined with a purple-orange evening sky, might have pleased the artist anyway. Because as the letters Folberg read made clear, Van Gogh’s world was color; he saw everything, passionately and obsessively, through that filter, in the same way that some mathematicians can’t watch the sun rise above the horizon without thinking of radians and angles and curves.

The letters also reminded us why the event was part of MoMA’s “Modern Poets” reading series. Van Gogh has long been a poet’s painter—not just because, like Shelley, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath (whose “The Moon and the Yew Tree” was among the night-themed poems read aloud), and so many other poets, he was suicidally mad, but because he was himself an exceptional writer. His insights into the theory and turbulent practice of art were as eloquently phrased as any ars poetica ever written. Nor did he ever overplay or romanticize his madness; he cut such a poignant figure precisely because he was always struggling to achieve sanity and clarity of the most luminous kind. At his best he succeeded brilliantly, as in our favorite passage in the letters, this grand outburst to his brother Theo:

Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don’t know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, You can’t do a thing. The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerizes some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of “you can’t” once and for all.

Life itself, too, is forever turning an infinitely vacant, dispiriting blank side towards man on which nothing appears, any more than it does on a blank canvas. But no matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily. He wades in and does something and stays with it, in short, he violates, “defiles”—they say. Let them talk, those cold theologians.

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Van Gogh Fête at the MoMA

Van Gogh                                                                Folberg

As art patrons and stylish readers, you’ve probably heard about “Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night,” the Museum of Modern Art special exhibition that recently earned a rave review in the Times. What you may not have heard about is “A Night Reading: An Evening Dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh,” the event that MoMA is hosting tonight in honor of the show. It’s taking place in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden and will feature a poetry reading by “artists and poets whose own work elicits the spirit of the night.” Plus (and here’s the kicker), Neil Folberg, the photographer of Abbeville’s volumes Celestial Nights and Travels with Van Gogh and the Impressionists: Discovering the Connections, will be among a talented group reading selections from Van Gogh’s letters and favorite works.

Are we Van Goghing? We are indeed. The event starts at 6:30 p.m; tickets cost $10 (members $8, students and seniors $5) and can be purchased from the “Adult Programs” section of MoMA’s website. Several of the Arbiters of Style will be in attendance, letting the starry night flow over us as we drink in the dark passions of poetry and art. Truly, an Abbeville evening.

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Abbeville in the Times

If you were reading the Art & Design section of the New York Times this weekend—and of course you were, stylish reader—then you may have noticed the feature on Lin Arison, patron of the arts and author of our recent book Travels with Van Gogh and the Impressionists: Discovering the Connections. Besides discussing Arison’s philanthropic work through the YoungArts program she developed with her late husband, Ted—work in which she’s now joined by her granddaughter Sarah, recently appointed head of the Arison Arts Foundation—the article also provided plentiful mention of the book, as well as coverage of the recent swanky dinner at the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue in honor of its success:

“The meal—of dishes van Gogh ate at the Auberge Ravoux outside Paris, prepared by Daniel Boulud, Yosuke Suga and Jacques Torres—was displayed on blue glass plates set beneath sky-high shoots of yellow sunflowers in homage to the artist.”

That’s how Abbeville, as they say, rolls. You can check out the rest of the article here and the book itself here. Enjoy!

Bonus Link: We’ve never visited the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, but this article just put it at the top of our list.

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Parties with Van Gogh


In recent weeks, Abbeville Press has attended two release parties in honor of one of our most stylish fall titles: Travels With Van Gogh and the Impressionists: Discovering the Connections, by Lin Arison and Neil Folberg. The first fête took place at Rizzoli Bookstore and featured short talks by author Arison and photographer Folberg about their unique collaborative effort: a combination memoir, travelogue, biography, art history study, photo essay, and cookbook (OK, not the last one). Guests enjoyed fine wine and conversation under the smoldering gaze of Lucie Rouart, the Van Gogh cover girl and descendant of Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot. (Rumor has it that one Abbevillian has a slight crush on Lucie, based solely on her photo, but even if that were true, which it isn’t, it would only be because she is a woman of consummate style.)

The second event took place at Christie’s auction house amidst a stunning collection of Impressionist and Modernist paintings, as well as a panoply of goat cheese canapés served on trays that Abbevillians tried hard not to tag along after like housepets. Arison and Folberg gave a more in-depth presentation about their book, and the art they discussed was as sumptuous as the lobster-and-bacon puffs, which provided the taste equivalent of a melting Monet sunrise.

Style Points


1.1. Impressionism is radical again. Arison and Folberg’s book has brought the movement bursting back to life, recapturing the freshness and daring of the work of Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, and Morisot, not to mention their early Modernist contemporary, Van Gogh. Arison’s text is carefully researched yet personal, illuminating the artists, their paintings, and their effect on her own life, while Folberg’s photographs, juxtaposed with Impressionist originals, ingeniously reinterpret the masters’ paintings in a contemporary spirit. Together, they remind us that if Van Gogh and company were in today’s New York, they’d be lurking around the Williamsburg fringe, bumming cigarettes and turning the art world on its (severed) ear.


1.2. When taking your fifth goat cheese canapé from a server’s tray, it is not necessary to laugh nervously and explain to the server how much you love goat cheese. She already knows.

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