Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship

  • Los Angeles
  • United States
  • 2006-07-05

The Getty Center is a museum, a research institute, a conservation institute and a leadership and grant program. The Getty Center is a proud monument for Los Angeles; situated on top of a mountain, one can take an almost infinite view of local and distant surroundings. Conceptually, ‘The Getty’ is a strange archetypic vision of America finding itself pregnant with art.

Unfortunately, Richard Meier managed to design a conglomeration of buildings that look more like the post-modernistic gaze of late seventies architecture, rather than a version contemporised to the year it was completed — which was 1997. Apparently — for Meier — white is a valid prophecy for the colour of future structural design. In contrast, I think it’s a blunt representation of the monotone direction of historic architectral design. Buildings were usually devoted to a God or a pantheon, now their imagery should spark a premonition of the conceptual anarchy of future architecture. More importantly, The Getty Center doesn’t even contain a good quantity of contemporary art: inside there are to be found pieces that are more like a classic, than a contemporary satico. Meier’s ideology was more appropriate in his design of Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art, rather than for the slapdash curation of the Getty.

…Snyder’s contribution envoked a morbid realisation into the nature of the myth and the intention of the painting: man is punished for his defiance of God and his pursuit of advancement

Regardless, the potency of what’s usually being showed there is often virile — whether it’s misplaced or not. Currently, the Getty’s biggest event is the largest collection of the Peter Paul Rubens and Jans Brueghel the Elder partnership ever to be shown, and it’s there to be viewed until the conception of Autumn. Aside from the Rubens/Brueghel collaborative works on show, there are individual pieces and some collaborations with other Flemish artists of the time. Rubens and Brueghel are unarguably the most prominent team of the seventeenth century lowlands, yet some of their side projects were remarkable too. The most emminent of these was Rubens work with animal specialist Frans Synder on “Prometheus Bound”: a jaw dropping presentation of the Prometheus enduring torture phantasm. Synder’s flawless campaign resulted in an outrageously real looking Ethon — the eagle who was feeding on the liver of Prometheus. Snyder’s contribution envoked a morbid realisation into the nature of the myth and the intention of the painting: man is punished for his defiance of God and his pursuit of advancement.

What Brueghel did with Rubens was antipodal to the contribution of Snyder. Brueghel was a master of minute still life and landscape, and is most definitely a worthy predecessor to the magic of Constable — regardless of the fact he was just over two centuries younger. The clarity of the Baroque movement was immense, and Brueghel was one of the biggest sensations of this movement. Using unseen shades of green, he has wonderfully installed a recognition of the purity of all landscape, before the industrial revolution. Even better, his decorative floral frame in “Madonna in Floral Wreath” is an extraordinary product of the intricacies in non-landscape decorations. Here, Brueghel was still painting the flowers of a whole forest, but rather condensed into a wreath. In “The Garden Of Eden With The Fall Of Man”, Brueghel painted still life into Eden’s myriad of animals. Although some features of each animal lack the captivity of Synder’s perfect realism, they are valiant when considering Brueghel would never have seen exotic wildlife as vividly as we all do now.

…the time travelling awe of Rubens’ impressions are one of the best facets of his work

Rubens was seen as the dictator of these projects, yet it has recently been realised that Brueghel had more involvement in the leadership of the collaborations. Nonetheless, Rubens for me was still the pivotal part in the religious and mythical connotations of these works. He painted Prometheus, Adam, Eve and the Madonna. What captured the audience most at the Getty was his portrayal of the decapitated head of Medusa. Conveniently placed in a section of the exhibititon with low lighting, Medusa was no doubt the most attractive move in the exhibition’s set piece. “The Head of Medusa” is a despondent painting that Rubens desired to capture the end of Medusa’s nerfarious ways. With this, Rubens enchanted oncemore, and this is another critical piece in the Baroque impression of Greek mythology. There is something about this painting that almosts posits the story of Medusa into the seventeenth century, and the time travelling awe of Rubens’ impressions are one of the best facets of his work. Unfortunately, there is a lack of perfection in the visage painted, and I was left wondering as to whether Rubens was confident that he could not have done better.

In consideration of the haphazard nature of the Getty Center, it was refreshing to encounter a large collection of one of the most intriguing and skillful collaborations in art’s history. That’s why the rating of this review will be high, even though the calamity of its residency is ridiculous. The Getty is apparently modelled on the incongruous principles of Feng Shui, yet I was feeling sick from the lack of harmony between concept and conception. More appallingly is the inherent degeneration of the morals it has employed; according to the Getty Center, it is “guided by the belief that art has the power to enrich lives and strengthen humanistic values”, and it’s “committed to making art accessible to all”. Funny, it sure did miss out on animal rights being generally accepted as ‘human’ too, and to make that place really accessible they’d have a Vegetarian option in their restaurant, rather than veal.

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