Get Visual: Renoir: The Body, The Senses and Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow at The Clark
Each summer’s must-see show is usually at The Clark (aka the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute) in Williamstown, Mass., and this year is no exception. But Renoir: The Body, The Senses isn’t a typical blockbuster – rather than just mount a massive display of the great artist’s work on the centenary of his death, this show’s creators have delved into a central theme of the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s oeuvre, and have built on that thread using striking examples from a stellar supporting cast.
So, if you’re going in order to relish the Renoir nudes (that’s the theme), you won’t be disappointed. But expect much more: There are so many other artists’ paintings in this show that it really isn’t a solo at all. And, frankly, a few of them could easily overshadow Renoir, if given the chance.
Still, after viewing many telling juxtapositions at the Clark, I found that Renoir, at his best, could stand up to Cezanne, Degas, Corot, Delacroix, Matisse, and Picasso (among others), though at times I had my doubts. Credit the show’s organizers for having the courage to allow viewers this unique opportunity to compare and contrast (they are Esther Bell at the Clark, and George T. M. Shackelford, at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, where the show will be installed in the fall).
In addition to the Renoir exhibition, the Clark is presenting Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow, which features several strong paintings and prints by a sister of the iconic feminist painter (Renoir ends on Sept. 22, while O’Keeffe continues through Oct. 14).
Relatively unknown, Ida O’Keeffe had a minor fine art career while working mostly as a teacher, but her work is worthy of the attention this show brings to it, and the show provides a unique opportunity to see the work as a body, with all of its elements having been brought together from diverse private collections. The show also includes a fun array of snapshots of Ida and other family members, taken by her brother-in-law Alfred Stieglitz (and of him by Ida).
It’s clear that Ida had a promising start, as the centerpiece of the show is a series of six variations on a lighthouse, each a stunning experiment in Modernism that she executed while still a student. Other paintings in the show exude the same lushness we’ve come to know from her sister’s studies of flowers, as well as total abstraction, and curious night paintings in grisaille.