Mas­ters at the movies The Im­pres­sion­ists

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Michael Abatemarco The New Mex­i­can

Oof the plea­sures of work­ing in an art mu­seum is the op­por­tu­nity to see an ex­hi­bi­tion come to­gether, from its in­cep­tion to its pub­lic open­ing. Most visi­tors to mu­se­ums never get to see be­hind the scenes, tour the col­lec­tions ar­eas, or watch an ex­hibit be­ing mounted. Films such as doc­u­men­tar­ian Phil Grab­sky’s The Im­pres­sion­ists, part of Sev­enth Art Pro­duc­tions’ Ex­hi­bi­tion on Screen se­ries, rem­edy this, bring­ing art to the masses by way of the big screen and giv­ing peo­ple a chance to see mas­ter­works of art in venues they may never get to see in per­son. “Most peo­ple can’t get to th­ese huge ex­hi­bi­tions, which are in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive to put on, and that might not hap­pen again ever,” Grab­sky told Pasatiempo. “Th­ese are ex­tra­or­di­nary events. We try to film them in such a way that we take you there as best we can.”

The idea be­hind the se­ries is to ap­prox­i­mate the ex­pe­ri­ence of a live mu­seum visit, and if The Im­pres­sion­ists is any in­di­ca­tion, in some ways a film can be just as en­rich­ing. In­ter­views with art his­to­ri­ans, cu­ra­tors, and other mu­seum pro­fes­sion­als pro­vide scope and depth to the im­ages: paint­ings by Claude Monet, Pierre-Au­guste Renoir, Édouard Manet, Vin­cent van Gogh, and other artists. And the cam­era lingers over the art­works, cap­tur­ing de­tails the naked eye — view­ing the art from a dis­tance and per­haps from be­hind a bar­rier — might miss.

The film fo­cuses on the ex­hibit Dis­cov­er­ing the Im­pres­sion­ists: Paul Du­rand-Ruel and the New Paint­ing which pre­miered in Jan­uary 2015 at the Musée du Lux­em­bourg in Paris, then trav­eled to Lon­don’s Na­tional Gallery, and then to the Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art, its only U.S. venue. Du­rand-Ruel (1831-1922) was a French dealer and pro­moter who cham­pi­oned the Im­pres­sion­ists, es­tab­lish­ing mar­kets for them in Lon­don and New York.

The Im­pres­sion­ists is the first film from the Ex­hi­bi­tion on Screen se­ries’ sec­ond sea­son and opens at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts on Satur­day, Nov. 14. Grab­sky’s ground­break­ing Leonardo Live, from the se­ries’ pre­miere sea­son, screened in Santa Fe in 2012. “That was the first one that we did,” Grab­sky said. “The only way that we could per­suade cine­mas, at that time, with that first one was to do it live. Ev­ery­one thought th­ese things needed to be live and I said, ‘It doesn’t need to be live.’ You know, peo­ple don’t seek the same com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ence, as far as the ac­tual

Th­ese artists have the most fan­tas­tic sto­ries: both the in­di­vid­ual sto­ries of the pe­riod, and the sto­ries of the art­works. — doc­u­men­tar­ian Phil Grab­sky

art is con­cerned, in the same way as they do for theater or opera. The rest of the films have not been live.”

Other films in the se­ries fol­low The Im­pres­sion­ists, be­gin­ning with Grab­sky’s Girl With a Pearl Ear­ring on Satur­day, Nov. 21, and Sun­day, Nov. 22. There are nine films in all, and eight of them are screen­ing at the Cen­ter For Con­tem­po­rary Arts be­tween now and early next year. The last doc­u­men­tary, Matisse, opens on New Year’s Day.

Grab­sky has spent the past two decades fo­cus­ing on doc­u­men­taries about artists and great com­posers in­clud­ing up­com­ing re­leases on com­poser Frédéric Chopin and pi­anist Leif Ove And­snes for the BBC. In his films he weaves to­gether bi­og­ra­phy and his­tor­i­cal con­text to tell a story. “In the cin­ema, it’s all about sto­ry­telling, whether it’s the mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar Spec­tre or a much more mod­est doc­u­men­tary. Th­ese artists have the most fan­tas­tic sto­ries: both the in­di­vid­ual sto­ries of the pe­riod, and the sto­ries of the art­works. I’m fas­ci­nated by the con­text, by the bi­og­ra­phy. It’s not enough to show the paint­ings of Matisse or van Gogh. If you don’t know, for ex­am­ple, the fi­nan­cial con­text in which they’re work­ing, you can’t pos­si­bly understand why they’re paint­ing and who they’re paint­ing for.”

In The Im­pres­sion­ists, Grab­sky ex­plores the ques­tion of why so much Im­pres­sion­ist art came to Amer­ica, ev­i­denced by ex­ten­sive col­lec­tions in mu­se­ums across the coun­try. “There’s a mix of his­tor­i­cal mo­ments all com­ing to­gether,” he said. “It was sig­nif­i­cant that you sud­denly had first-class ac­com­mo­da­tions on lin­ers cross­ing the At­lantic. It was sig­nif­i­cant that the Amer­i­can cus­toms waived tax on im­ports of paint­ings. It was sig­nif­i­cant that no­body in Paris wanted to buy this stuff so you had deal­ers like Du­rand-Ruel with hun­dreds and hun­dreds of paint­ings that no­body wanted. Post-Amer­i­can Civil War, th­ese in­dus­tri­al­ists — and this gets in­ter­est­ing — ac­tu­ally de­cide to spend their money on art. Un­like Europe, wealthy Amer­i­cans were much more open to the Im­pres­sion­ists and bought a lot of them. But van Gogh, be­cause he was too rad­i­cal even for the deal­ers, most of his paint­ings ended up stay­ing in his fam­ily upon his death. That’s why a huge amount are in the Van Gogh Mu­seum, be­cause they were given as a be­quest. They’re not scat­tered around the globe like the Im­pres­sion­ists.”

Sev­enth Art Pro­duc­tions just com­pleted a film on Renoir. In early Oc­to­ber, a group of cit­i­zens who dis­like the painter’s work pick­eted an ex­hibit out­side Bos­ton’s Mu­seum of Fine Arts, spark­ing de­bate. “There have been times when he’s been Amer­ica’s fa­vorite artist, and he was, with Cézanne, the most in­flu­en­tial artist on Matisse and Pi­casso, those two gi­ants of the 20th cen­tury. So you can’t just dis­miss him,” said Grab­sky, who is an au­thor as well as film­maker. He has pub­lished four history books in­clud­ing The Great Artists: From Giotto to Turner (Faber & Faber) in 2001, co-au­thored with art his­to­rian Tim Mar­low.

Ex­hi­bi­tion on Screen ti­tles have screened in 42 coun­tries, de­signed to ap­peal to broad au­di­ences. “We make th­ese films for peo­ple who know noth­ing and for peo­ple who know a lot. Each film in sea­son two has a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, a dif­fer­ent style to it,” he said. “One of them has some reen­act­ment. One of them has some an­i­ma­tion. But they do all have this same key el­e­ment: show­ing you the institution from be­hind the scenes. If I can walk around the ex­hi­bi­tion, just me and the cu­ra­tor or me and the di­rec­tor, that’s a very priv­i­leged mo­ment. That’s what we share in the film.”

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