Sunday, January 8, 2017

Seeing Nature: Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Collection at New Orleans Museum of Art

Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection features 39 paintings by old and modern masters spanning five centuries. The Microsoft co-founder's collection features a stellar array of big names, and the New Orleans Museum of Art is its only Southern venue. Needless to say, there is a lot to see -- but be prepared for a few quirks. For instance, the Seeing Nature part of the title should be taken very literally because this show is less about landscapes than it is about how artists have been “seeing nature” over the ages. So Jan Brueghel the Younger's Sense paintings -- like Sense of Sight, top -- are really more about culture. In this painting, the 17th century Flemish master depicts a gilded gallery with dozens of dazzling artworks surrounding a pale pink muse chatting with an affable pink cherub in a scene that suggests a fantastical estate sale on Mt. Olympus. What it means is best left to the historians, but it really is amazing.

No less arresting is Georgia O'Keeffe's Black Iris VI, top left, a rhapsodically painted blossom with delicately suggestive petals. O'Keeffe's flowers used to look not quite so overtly anatomical in the pre-internet age, but now even a Google search for hot water heater parts can turn up views of fastidiously plucked female private parts amid the hardware. O'Keefe's paintings are as gorgeous as ever, but Google's anatomical indiscretions make them seem more graphic than she intended. Even a panoramic Grand Canyon painting by David Hockney, above, can be disorienting, perhaps because his color palette looks derived from Life Saver candies, so it seems more cute than awesome – a quality that may cause some to involuntarily flash on Walt Disney while viewing an adjacent Grand Canyon at Sunset canvas by 19th century American master Thomas Cole, above left. Like a party where the guest list looked stellar on paper but seemed slightly awkward in person, this can be a very rewarding viewing experience if you are prepared to encounter a few disorienting little surprises. ~Bookhardt / Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, Through Jan. 15, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.