An unexpected collision (and rare treat) is happening right now at the center of the contemporary art world: Medieval Art. In a surprising pairing between London dealer Sam Fogg, the “world’s leading dealer in art of the Middle Ages” and the always contemporary New York gallery Luhring Augustine, art lovers of every sort now have a unique opportunity to LITERALLY see centuries-old paintings, sculptures, and architecture in a different light.
The “big deal” here is that Medieval art, in my experience, has always been displayed in an environment that mimics it’s original setting to a certain degree: low light, dark walls, and relatively crowded. This exhibition however, aptly titled “Of Earth and Heaven“, exists not only in a contemporary gallery, but also in a “contemporary exhibition style” with pure white walls, bright lights, and no chanting monk music. If you’re unfamiliar, galleries will often built/paint their walls for every exhibition (like the Louise Nevelson show next door) – so this space COULD have done so, but chose not to. It’s almost offensive, until you realize that it allows for a completely new perspective and appreciation of work that I often devote undeservedly little time to in major museums.
The absence of “wall text” and significant space between objects (a trademark of contemporary galleries) is also noticeable, and further encourages a intense viewing of these objects directly – less as historical artifacts, and more of timeless objects of craft, design, and beauty.
In this setting, colors feel far brighter, as if someone turned up the saturation in real life. It’s a result, I suppose, from the artists never experiencing or foreseeing their art under electric light or pure white walls.
For example, the time-worn paint on the face of “A reliquary bust of one of the 11,000 Virgins” (above) stands out in stark contrast to the smooth clean walls. Paint chips suddenly resemble pixels. When one’s point of view exists in both the 14th and 21st Century simultaneously, the mind sees and wanders in unexpected ways.
The show-stopper for me is the 11-foot-tall pen and ink drawing for the crossing tower of Rouen Cathedral. Monet would obsess over the same Cathedral almost 400 years later. And in another stunning coincidence, massive photographs of cathedral facades (nearly identical in scale) by contemporary photographer Markus Brunetti are 1/2 block away at Yossi Milo Gallery. It’s 100% worth a combined trip to both!
It’s worth noting that all the objects in this gallery are in “private hands” – a reminder that museums don’t necessarily have the best art in the world, and that you simply can not view these particular works anywhere else, maybe for the rest of your life. If you’re in New York, use this opportunity to really see these beautiful objects… while experiencing the collision of time.