Poussin & Dance at the Getty
|Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Bacchus, 1635-1636. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City|
The Getty Center's "Poussin and the Dance" explores the wild side of Nicolas Poussin, otherwise pegged as a cool, calm classicist. In the 1630s Poussin found a ready market for sensual, alcohol-soaked interpretations of ancient festivities. The show brings together about a dozen paintings and related drawings and is capped by a trio of commissioned dance performances by contemporary L.A. choreographers.
Poussin's antique dance pictures, a sensation in 17th-century Rome, were popular with later British collectors. The UK National Gallery, which co-organized the show with the Getty, has lent four. When the exhibition debuted in London last fall, it included the best-known Poussin dance picture of all, Dance to the Music of Time, owned by the Wallace Collection. That didn't make it to the Getty, but several of the best works here rival it. One is from Kansas City's great, though perpetually underrated, Nelson-Atkins Museum. Another off-the-cultural-tourism track rarity is a 12-foot-wide painting (Poussin's largest, by far, of this kind) from Sao Paulo, Brazil. It bears the title Hymenaeus Disguised as a Woman during an Offering to Priapus.
|Poussin, Satyrs Dancing on a Wineskin, about 1636. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II|
|Relief of Five Dancers Before a Portico (Borghese Dancers), 2nd century AD. Louvre (c) RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY|
"Poussin and the Dance" follows on the heels of the recently closed "Rubens: Picturing Antiquity" in Malibu. It too brings together a 17th-century painter's works with antiquities that inspired them. In this case, the antiquities loans are just two, the 1st-century BC Borghese Vase and the 2nd-century AD Roman Borghese Dancers, both lent by the Louvre. Poussin sketched them when they were in Roman collections and adapted specific poses for his dance paintings.
|Poussin's Abduction of the Sabine Women, about 1633-1634, Metropolitan Museum, with re-creation of wax models|
Some of Poussin's drawings show faceless, Mark Kostabi-esque figures. This was part of an unusual process in which the artist set out clothed wax dolls in a toy "theater" to visualize his multi-figure compositions. The show recreates a wax-figure model for The Abduction of the Sabine Women, shown alongside the version at the Metropolitan Museum. The Louvre version, not lent, is represented by young Edgar Degas' copy (lent by the Norton Simon Museum).
|Video room with Chris Emile's hbny (pronounced eh-boh-nee), 2022, at left|
The exercise of making the Old Masters relevant with contemporary performance comes with cringe potential. This show's presentation of commissioned dance pieces hits several right notes that other museums would do well to follow. The dance videos (choreographed by Ana María Alvarez, Chris Emile, and Micaela Taylor) are in a separate room, and the audio does not bleed through (much) to the paintings and drawings rooms. This lets the videos augment rather than compete with Poussin for attention.
Speaking of that, it's a cruel fact of museology that visitor attention spans are short (~15 seconds per displayed object). Yet museums often show half a dozen videos in serial rotation on a single screen in a dark room. The result is that visitors duck in to see part of one video, and then leave. Here each dance video is a trim one minute long, encouraging visitors to watch all three clips. Each video occupies a separate screen, and two freeze on a still as the third plays.
Video of the full dance performances, about 15 minutes each, can be accessed in the galleries via QR codes or anytime on the Getty website or YouTube.
"Poussin and the Dance" runs through May 8, 2022.
|Poussin, The Realm of Flora, 1630-1631. Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden|