Monday, July 02, 2007

‘A New Key’ at BC

The best thing about “A New Key: Modern Belgian Art from the Simon Collection,” a mixed bag of an exhibition at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art, is that it offers a chance to see four paintings by James Ensor, the oddball Belgian master whose work is rarely seen around these parts. There are a pair of still-lives, one is particularly fine, and two of his acid, psychological, humorous scenes (including “From Laughter to Tears” of 1908, reproduced above), which are just okay. But any chance to see Ensor’s work in the flesh is welcome.

For this exhibit, which I review here, BC professor Jeffery Howe gathers 53 Belgian works made between 1889 and 1946 from the Simon collection, which is based in Britain and France. The show provides an overview of Belgian modernism and argues that the country was “an indispensable font of expressionism and surrealism.” There are artists familiar from the usual textbook histories – the surrealists Rene Magritte and Paul Delvaux, and the impressionist Theo van Rysselberghe. But Magritte is represented by a particularly mediocre work, “Dialogue Raveled by the Wind” from 1928 (reproduced above).

Frits van den Berghe charms with work that is by turns surreal (like his 1927 canvas “Corridors,” at left) and expressionist, and could fit in well with contemporaneous paintings by German expressionists. His seven paintings here remind me a bit of Otto Dix’s style right after World War I.

And check out Valerius de Saedeleer’s terrific 1925 painting “Old Orchard in Winter,” which has some resemblance to paintings by the 16th century Belgian master Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Under a deep blanket of snow, a village has fallen into a mesmerizing dreamy calm, save for black trees with creeping limbs that seem like monsters from a Grimm’s fairy tale.

“A New Key,” McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, Feb. 10 to July 22, 2007.

Reproduced from top to bottom: James Ensor, “From Laughter to Tears,” 1908; René Magritte, “Dialogue Raveled by the Wind,” 1928; Frits Van den Berghe, “Corridors,” 1927; Emile Claus, “Daisies,” 1897; and Paul Delvaux, “The Conversation,” 1944. All from the Simon Collection. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels.


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