Dark Metropolis

So, we went and checked out the Dark Metropolis exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum Thurs night. I was not familiar with the artist, and given the museum’s well-deserved reputation for California-themed art (it boasts an expansive California-based art work collection), I wasn’t sure what to expect. This uncertainty was compounded by the fact that advertising for this exhibit was in the form of dark and spooky banners, with the name “Dark Metropolis” presented in eerie font. In October, even. Ooooooh.

While chewing on my slice of delicious humble pie, I’m happy to report that this exhibit is not at all about gold mining. It’s about industrialism, war, greed, and everything else that the artist thought was sick and wrong with society. And folks, it was awesome.

The artist, Irving Norman, was a communist Jew (anyone, anyone?) who fought in the Spanish Civil War before devoting the rest of his life painting (his art spans 1940 to 1980). Literally disgusted by the death he witnessed during the civil war, and the toxic influence of money and power that he saw everywhere, he sought to portray his disdain through art. He lived in Mexico for a while (the influence is apparent) and studied at art institutes to perfect the craft in a way that would allow him to really portray his feelings on canvas, in a hope to make change. Sounds kinda . . . obssessive, I guess . . . but it worked. The man could send a message, and a powerful one at that.

Some of the paintings are literally more than 20 feet high, and have to be presented at an angle just to fit the thing from floor to ceiling. I can’t say it’s easy to appreciate a painting of that size in this particular venue, but Crocker Art gets an A for effort. Most of Norman’s paintings are large but viewable flat on a wall. I found that taking the whole thing in for five, ten minutes at a time was straight-necessary to really appreciate all that he was doing and saying.

I took away several feelings, the most pronounced being that this man hated most of what he saw in life. At the same time, the very act of speaking out does reveal some level of optimism; if he truly thought we were all beyond education, why would he have bothered? But, hands down, the most intriguing aspect of the experience for me was realizing that many of his paintings were completed in the early to late 40’s, yet their message is just as relevant today. The questions his paintings evoke should still be asked in 2006, and are still without easy answers. That’s both sad and cool — because, yeah, we’re still fucked up. But, man – was this guy some kind of prophet?

1 Comment so far

  1. Central City (unregistered) on October 17th, 2006 @ 12:22 pm

    Thats good to hear , I live close to the Crocker and I like to take advantage of the free Sundays . I havent been in since the MC Escher exhibit , but ive been curious about this one .

    Maybe this Sunday ?!Hmmmmm

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