The first thing I'll say about the Naturalia exhibit at the Paul Kasmin / Sotheby's Gallery is that it's brilliant. The pairing of Albrecht Dürer’s The Rhinoceros with a contemporary Loss of the Lisbon Rhinoceros by Walton Ford is a must see. If the exhibit had only these two works it would be satisfying although a bit too succinct. The Dürer is a small woodcut from the 16th century and the Ford is a contemporary life-sized watercolor. Both works on paper reward the viewer with a variety of marks that are used to depict the textured armor of the Rhinoceros. These two works function as the alpha and omega of the exhibit: they encapsulate the aims and scope of the show: contemporary art meets the Old Masters.
Naturalia brings together a wide range of works of art to great effect. The exhibit fills two separate spaces that are across the street from each other. This break between the two halves functions as an intermission; the fresh air is welcome and the break serves to rest the eyes after so much close looking.
Naturalia is like no gallery show in recent memory. Most of the works are depicted in a tight realistic style, almost trompe l'oeil. Admittedly this is an approach that may be out of style in contemporary Chelsea. There's something for everyone here: still life, animals, insects, and sculpture. Two surreal portraits in the manner of Arcinboldo where we see a pair of portraits done in profile where each of the faces are actually made up of fruits and vegetables. Interesting that the surrealists hailed Arcimboldo as one of their own.
Naturalia contains works of art spanning six centuries and in a wide range of styles, media, presentation, and size. “Close Looking” is a unifying theme that you could apply to almost every work in the exhibit. Each artist was forced to do extreme close looking in order to first make the visual observation and secondly to render his impressions in as precise and detailed manner that she could achieve. Similarly, the viewer gains the most reward by this extremely close looking, you may want to bring a pair of glasses because the delight in the show is the extreme detail and minutia and the exact rendering of a variety of fauna and flora. These affinities are illustrated once again by comparing Dürer’s Rhinoceros with Walton Ford’s Lost Rhinoceros of Lisbon.
This collaboration between an Auction House and a commercial gallery is unprecedented; I’m not sure what, if anything, it portends. Is this a one off? Will we see Christie’s collaborating with Gagosian? These are heady days in the art world and anything can happen.
This collaboration between Sotheby’s Old Master department and Paul Kasmin's Contemporary Art provides the public with an especially satisfying treat to a museum quality exhibit that rewards several visits.
Albrecht Dürer, The Rhinoceros Woodcut, (1515) 8 3/8 by 11 3/4 in.
Follower of Arcimboldo, Allegories of Spring and Summer:a Pair,oil on canvas, each: 38 1/2 by 31 1/2 in.
Willem van den Berg, The Chamelon, (1927) oil on panel, 14 1/6 by 19 7/16 in.
Walton Ford, Loss of the Lisbon Rhinoceros, (2008) watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink on paper
left and right panel, framed: 98 1/4 x 42 3/4 in. center panel, framed: 98 1/4 x 62 3/4 in.
Adam Fuss, Home and the World, (2010), daguerreotype, 27 3/4 x 42 x 1 5/8 in.
Sean Landers, Painted Desert (Markhor), (2015) oil on linen 86 x 64 in.