Giorgio Morandi: Uptight, But Into Butter Cream

THE DAILY PIC: At the Center for Italian Modern Art, Morandi revels in paint.

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life (1931). Courtesy of Artists Rights Society (2015), New York/SIAE, Rome.
Giorgio Morandi, Still Life (1931). Courtesy of Artists Rights Society (2015), New York/SIAE, Rome.


THE DAILY PIC (#1561): A few years ago, reviewing a survey show of Giorgio Morandi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I billed him as the patron saint of the stuffy, hidebound petite bourgeoisie of Bologna in the interwar years. That didn’t make him a less stupendous painter, I argued, but it did change the meaning of what he painted. His pictures seemed of a piece with his Fascism.

A new show of Morandi, in the elegant loft of the Center for Italian Modern Art in New York – open for tours Fridays and Saturdays – got me thinking differently about his work. A lot of the show’s pictures are not under glass, so you can really see how much paint Morandi could sometimes apply to his surfaces – something that’s invisible in the crisp photographic reproductions that most of us use to get at his work. His unique, Play-Doh impasto doesn’t capture light, as in Impressionist pictures. It tries to convey the material stuff the world is actually built from.

Although Morandi did live an uptight, dry-as-dust bourgeois life with his sisters, I was recently informed that he also escaped that life on regular trips to the local brothel – not praiseworthy behavior, of course, but also not totally hidebound. Paintings like today’s Daily Pic, a still life painted in 1931, have a subtly fleshy charge, as though the paint in them is fighting back against their subject matter and the place where they were made. Their bizarrely clotted surfaces – see the detail below – make me think of chocolate and butter-cream frosting, but also of shit and mud and clay. (Private Collection, ©2015 Arts Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome)

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