Review: Sigmar Polke at the MOMA
art | review | Sabin Howard | Sabin Howard sculpture | sculpting | talent

Review: Sigmar Polke at the MOMA

I saw a lot of art in Italy. The Accademia in Venice, the Uffizi in Florence, the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, the Canova Gipsoteca in Possagno, and a thousand Tintoretto/Tiepolo/Giovanni Bellini-graced churches in Venice. Then I came home to NYC and went to the MOMA with my museum buddy Ying.

The Exhibition Guide for the Sigmar Polke show was filled with the kind of pretentious art-speak that gives art historians a bad name because it distances viewers from art. For example, it describes Polke, a German artist who lived from 1941-2010, as having a “promiscuous intelligence.”

Ying and I had a conversation about that diction, “promiscuous intelligence.” Why couldn’t the writer just say Polke was interested in many subjects? Or something equally direct and to the point. It would be nice if artspeak didn’t try to call attention to itself, but rather served the art it references.

I should note that Ying is even more educated than I am, and has a few advanced degrees. She’s also one of the most dauntingly engaged readers I know. If she’s taking exception to word choice, her opinion matters.

My husband Sabin Howard the master sculptor has a lot to say about the vanity, self-importance, and general silliness of most art historians. He believes that great art should stand on its own, without need for the conceits and airs of PhD’s who are trying to justify their scholarly degrees.

Indeed, no one needs to explain the immensity and gorgeousness of Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel–they deliver themselves directly to your heart.

Sabin would have been skeptical of Polke, who worked in many mediums: painting, photography, film, sculpture, drawing, print-making, television, performance, and stained glass.

Sabin Howard is about mastery, uplift, perfection. Polke was about experimentation, curiosity, irreverence. Sabin operates from an admirable, even enviable, inner certainty. Polke was questing.

I enjoyed the show, though I did roll my eyes at Potato House, a wooden lattice with potatoes nailed into it that was supposed to evoke pedestrian objects in German life: the garden shed and the potato.

But I do like the wit and boundless curiosity with which the prolific Polke approached his art, and what do you call it if not art? In this I disagree with my husband, who would call it entertainment.

Maybe it isn’t the eternal high art of Michelangelo or Botticelli, but it’s valuable and important, partly as a cultural document–Polke grew up in post-war Germany, and that carries its own weight, a particular gravity. But Polke’s works offer more than cultural and historical reverence. His works attempt to change the viewer’s consciousness, to provoke questions and a kind of delicious uncertainty akin to Buddhist beginner’s mind. In that, it often succeeds.

Though I must agree with Ying who commented, “I like it, it’s very intellectual. But will I be thinking about it in two weeks? Will I be thinking about it in two hours?”

An insightful question, perhaps the salient question. I’m still thinking about Giotto’s frescoes and Botticelli’s Primavera.

Worth seeing, and do go to the Painting and Sculpture I floor, where are housed some stunning Kandinskys.

Sigmar Polke at the MOMA

art | Sabin Howard | Sabin Howard sculpture | talent

FLIGHT Mobile by Sabin Howard

My husband Sabin Howard is insanely talented and versatile. Check out his Flight Mobile, which was a private commission.

What may not be readily apparent in this video is that the mobile is quite large–9 feet long. It’s breath-taking in person, full of uplift and resonance, spirals and organic forms and the expansion of wind and sea and birds taking wing.

For a while, there was a standing, small-scale model in the foyer of our home, next to my office. Every time I walked by it, my heart soared. This piece is dynamic and enchanting.

Sabin says abstract art isn’t as artistically satisfying or challenging as figurative art, and I kind of get it. I love bodies. One of the great pleasures of being a hands-on healer, back when I had a practice, was the palpable experience of putting my hands on a warm, pulsing human body with love and the intent to heal. But this mobile called Flight is every bit as jubilant as anything in the flesh.

No matter what Sabin says about challenge, it took him thirty years of education, experience, practice, and living as an artist to create this piece. It is beautiful.

Award for Excellence in the Arts: Martha Mayer Erlebacher
art | excellence | friends | gratitude | hard work | Sabin Howard | talent

Award for Excellence in the Arts: Martha Mayer Erlebacher

Award for Excellence in the Arts: Martha Mayer Erlebacher

Last night my husband Sabin Howard & I attended the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center event honoring Martha Erlebacher. Martha is a realist painter and teacher. She taught Sabin twenty-seven years ago at the Philadelphia College of Art, and Sabin credits Martha and her deceased husband Walter Erlebacher for giving him the tools with which to create beautiful classical art with a powerful modern sensibility.

It was a wonderful, heart-warming evening. Sabin and I picked Martha up at her hotel to take her to the Lotos Club. In the taxi, I asked about Sabin as a young art student. He had, at one point, sported a gigantic thatch of a beard that would have made ZZ Top proud. Martha laughed, told me that in all her decades of teaching, there were maybe 5 students who had serious, big talent as artists. Sabin was one of them.

She and Sabin fell into a conversation about the draughtsmanship of drapery. I shut up and listened. When two artists of the caliber of Martha Erlebacher and Sabin Howard are discussing drawing, Leonardo, and the play of light, I want to hear every word that comes out of their mouths.

Martha and Walter had to re-invent the Renaissance system of proportions and of how to structure the figure. Walter Erlebacher had been a darling of the art world when he was an abstract expressionist showing at the Whitney Biennial; when he turned to the figure, to the human body, they dropped him. Sad commentary on the lack of taste and vision in the art haute-monde.

No one was doing realism and the figure back in the 60’s, when Walter and Martha understood that the human body is the greatest expression of truth, beauty, and narrative that human beings have. Against a condescending environment in the art world and a disembodied academia that had forgotten the perceptual power of art in favor of heady conceptual babble, they reinvented the proportional system. Martha was the painter and Walter was the sculptor.

“The sculpture of human form is the metaphor for the human desire to live forever,” Martha told me, as we spoke later in the evening. She was telling me how her husband was a genius.

“Don’t underestimate yourself and your contributions,” I said, gently. She shrugged. But this evening was about her. Sabin introduced her, and it was an intense moment for him, because he got to publicly express his gratitude to someone who had, literally, changed his life. Who had set him on the path he lives. “Martha gave us the manual on how to make awesome, powerful, visceral classical art!” he said, with tears in his eyes.

Noah Buchanan, a painter with a big following in California, also spoke. Noah related some funny anecdotes about Martha’s classes, how her words had stayed in the heads of her students who went on to be teachers themselves.

It was a joy to behold the praise being given to a woman who has made such a quiet, fierce contribution to the world, to both the joy and the discipline of art. She’s also a beautiful painter. The painting shown above is her “Dream of Eden.”