Joseph Beuy’s 1970 ‘Felt Suit’ – a piece of art that is, literally, a suit made of felt, mounted on a wall by a coat hanger – is by now a cultural artifact of such prominence that in “An Object of Beauty,” comedian Steve Martin’s recent novel about the New York art world, a wealthy collector is portrayed as frivolous largely through his ownership of one of them.
Beuys created one hundred of the suits, one of which was acquired by the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach and is included in its traveling show, Objects of Wonder and Delight, now installed at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls until April 21.
At first glance, the decision to include Felt Suit in the exhibition, surrounded, as it is, by paintings by Chagall, Courbet, Matisse, Picasso, O’Keeffe and Warhol, among others, may seem like an eccentric one
“Beuys, a German air force gunner during World War II, claimed that he was shot down over central Asia, where he was rescued by Tartars who wrapped his body in felt. Like every artist who works in the still life genre, he takes an object and imbues it with spirituality, with an awareness that in life there’s death, and in death, life,” Setford said during a recent tour of the show.
That baroque sensibility is obviously more apparent in works like the 17th century painter Daniel Segher’s decaying flowers, in Matisse’s dead fish and even in the joyous 1916 still life of a Portuguese breakfast by Robert Delaunay. That’s one of Setford’s favorite pieces in the show, not only because it reminds him of the Mediterranean, but because its depictions of fruit are harbingers of abstraction.
Objects of Wonder has been promoted as something of a historical survey of the still life genre, including, as it does, four centuries of still life from the Ming dynasty of China to the present.
But that description doesn’t do justice to the exhibition, which is organized thematically rather than chronologically, or to the astonishing, dizzying quality of every single piece that’s gathered here.
Take, for example, the cubist guitar of Picasso. “Whenever I look at this, I don’t just see planes and boards; the colors are like guitar chords. I can hear the jangly sounds, and not just those sounds, but a deep mellifluousness,” said Setford.
For those interested in American modernism, highlights of the show will include works by Demuth, Sheeler, O’Keeffe and Milton Avery.
This show has been described as candy for the eye, and rightly so. Far from being an exercise in art history, Objects of Wonder is an opportunity to spend time with masterpieces we’re unlikely to ever see again in upstate New York.
“Objects of Wonder and Delight: Four Centuries of Still Life from the Norton Museum of Art,” fifty-one works of art from the collection of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, will remain on view at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls through April 21. The Hyde Collection is open Tuesday through Friday, from 11am to 4pm
and on weekends from 12 to 5pm. Call 792-1761 for more information.
Images: Joseph Beuys, Felt Suit, 1970; Marsden Hartley, Flounders and Blue Fish, 1942; Daniel Seghers A Garland of Pink Roses, circa 1645.