Monday, May 6, 2019

Sculptor Philip Haas' Ode to Arcimboldo

Deb surveying Philip Haas' 
"Summer (After Arcimboldo)" (2011) 
I distinctly remember being introduced to Arcimboldo's The Four Seasons. I was visiting my friends Pete and Althea in D.C., and Althea and I took in the "Arcimboldo, 1526-1593: Nature and Fantasy" exhibit at the National Gallery. The paintings made an impression. After all, how often do you see portraits in which the subjects' faces are made of fruits, vegetables, and flowers?

Fast forward to my outing this weekend to the Baker Museum at Artis-Naples. Sculptor Philip Haas' fiberglass sculptures reimagining Arcimboldo's The Four Seasons greet visitors as they drive into the parking lot. Oh. My. God.

With Haas' "Spring (After Arcimboldo)" (2011)

My friend Deb and I couldn't wipe the grins off our faces as we walked 'round and 'round the 15 ' tall sculptures. The more we looked, the more cool discoveries we made. We noticed, for instance, that the back of Summer is stuffed full of green peas and that Autumn's ears are mushrooms. So creative.

The three dimensionality of Haas' sculptures obviously makes them different from Arcimboldo's paintings. But there's more to the variation.  Arcimboldo's homage to the seasons shows heads in profile. Now we see the full face of each representation. The different perspective definitely changes the feel of the works. The eyes of Spring are so blue that they're creepy. And am I alone in thinking that Winter bears a resemblance to the Night King? (Admittedly, I might have been watching too much "Game of Thrones" recently.)

Haas' Winter (After Arcimboldo) (2011)
I had to dig a bit to find out how Haas came to create his version of The Four Seasons. He is a man of many talents. In addition to being an artist, he is a screenwriter and director. (You may have seen his 1996 movie "Angels and Insects" starring Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas.)

Some years back, Haas taught a screenwriting class at Princeton. One of the assignments was to write a short film responding to a work of art. The concept caught Haas' own imagination, and he later created five short films for the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth that were inspired by works in the Kimbell's permanent collection.

The exhibit -- called Butchers, Dragons, Gods & Skeletons -- garnered national attention and led to a commission by the National Gallery of his reimagining of Arcimboldo's Winter. In time, Winter was joined by the other seasons. To see images of Arcimboldo's The Four Seasons side by side with Haas' work, click here.  (The article is great as well.)

Haas' "Air (After Arcimboldo)" (2018)
We found more of Haas' work inside Artis-Naples. We were quite taken by his bronze sculptures styled after Arcimboldo's The Four Elements. We seemed to be alone in our fascination. These sculptures, located on the upstairs landing, were passed by by dozens of museumgoers without even a cursory glance. When we mentioned the sculptures to a docent, even she was unfamiliar with them. What???!!!

Not having seen Arcimboldo's interpretations of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, we didn't have a basis for comparison between Haas' work and the originals. But that didn't diminish our enjoyment of the works in the least.

They were full of discoveries that are difficult to see in this photograph. For instance, the "hair" on Air is made of the beaks of little birds that have nested on his head. Peacocks make up his shoulders, and a chicken creates definition between his mouth and nose. Seriously fun.

The drive to Naples would have been well worth it just to see the Haas sculptures, which are on view through June 21. But we still had to see the exhibit we had come for -- Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper.  Stay tuned for my post about that show.

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