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Friday 07.15.11

« friday happenings | Main | weekend roundup »

A Segal at the Met's revival

Arthur Segal's wonderful and still fresh Strasse auf Helgoland II (1924) at the Met.

I noted the painting 2 years ago but Arthur Segal's Strasse auf Helgoland II is enjoying a bit of a revival with a shout out from Roberta Smith. In sychonicity, others like Minus Space's Matthew Deleget have just conducted some private and social media conversations about this gem from 1924 as well. I was thinking about it last week myself as one of my favorite things in The Metropolitan Museum.

Besides the obvious (that we all have impeccable taste) why the revival? For me it is partly it's context within the Met. I love to get lost in that place, wandering aimlessly to see what new surprising room I'll find myself in next. It's a gigantic wunderkammer full of head spinning quality in quantity and somehow this modest sized work by a stylistically capricious painter fits the mood perfectly. It's well painted, discombobulating, seemingly infinite and yet claustrophobic and it conflates the 2d with the 3d. It literally jumps off the wall... the way a shorter than you imagined them, but charming beyond belief Hollywood actor might jump into your field of vision (like the time Nicole Kidman asked me about my hair being REAL at MOCA).

Architect Steven Holl's psychology building staircase at NYU

Then there is the historical prescience on display. This painting reminds me of Steven Holl's NYU staircase or any number of Rem Koolhaas buildings. It's as if Segal's generic cubism predicted Schwitters and the particular way deconstructionist architecture would often cut buildings into faceted prisms. Sure, Segal was inconsistent and opportunistic but that is the hallmark of a lot of today's best architecture. Somehow, this is the painting that ate Rem Koolhaas' lunch in a time when top contemporary architecture is blowing its installation art and sculpture colleagues out of the water.

Rem Koolhaas Condo showroom in Soho (photo Jeff Jahn 2009)

Segal's terrific painting shows how the brush, canvas and frame can beat or at least equal the box that holds it. It's a David and Goliath moment.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 15, 2011 at 13:48 | Comments (0)


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