“Within Genres” at the Perez Art Museum Miami relates works from the museum's permanent collection to the categorizes (genres) into which European art was divided from the Renaissance into the 19th century. Inasmuch as the museum's permanent collection focuses on modern and contemporary art, it relates recent art to these traditional categories.
In their heyday, the traditional genres were used not just to group and categorize works of art but as a hierarchy. For example, history painting was considered a higher form of artistic endeavor than still life painting or landscapes. The museum asserts that this hierarchy “was challenged in the 19th century with the development of modernism and the avant garde.” Actually, the genre hierarchy was challenged earlier in the 19th century by the Impressionists and by artists such as JMW Turner but in any case, the old academic hierarchy is no longer recognized today.
While the hierarchy no longer exists, art is still influenced by the traditional genres. In six exhibit rooms, the museum uses works from its permanent collection to illustrate that recent art can still be related to the traditional categories: Still Life; Landscapes; Scenes of Everyday Life; Portraiture and History Painting.
We see that 20th and 21st century artists are still producing works that can be categorized as still lifes, landscapes, scenes of everyday life, portraits and works relating to history. In addition, we see that their approach of these different categories covers a wide range from the traditional to abstraction to concept pieces. The materials used range from traditional oil on canvas to video and installations.
While the concept of the exhibit is clearly valid, the exhibit is let down by the small number of works used to illustrate each genre. Contemporary art's roots into the past are more numerous and diverse than the examples show.
For example, with the exception of Domingo Ramos' masterful “Landscape with Palm Trees.” (1936) realism during the 20th century is essentially unrepresented. Moreover, the recent move toward realism in contemporary art is all but ignored despite its relation to the art of the past.
Still, there are a number of gems in the exhibit. As the museum's signs note, Diego Rivera's “Naturaleza muerta” is a beautiful still life in the tradition of Cezanne. Along the same lines, the signs point out that Roy Lichenstein's abstract silk screen “Water lilies with willows” has roots extending to Monet. Of course, neither Cezanne nor Monet was a traditional academic painter but that just shows that earlier artistic rebels were also influenced by the traditional genres. Like more recent artists, they took their own approach to these genres.
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Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.