The Fruit, 1932
Oil On Jute
22 1/16 x 28 1/8 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Partial, fractional and promised gift of Janice and Henri Lazarof
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Much like NYC, LA has an embarrassment of riches. On a west coast trip last week, focused on family fun and a little art, we went to LACMA after a visit to the La Brea Tar Pit Museum. The architecture of the campus of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a style I like to call Apple Product Box. Glass and stone and white surface abound fit the mood and criteria without leaving much of an impression. We ate, made art (a family event focused on kids working with ink) and watched Chris Burden’s Metropolis II whir and clink.
In a moment that I had to break off and view art by myself, I looked through John McLaughlin‘s beautiful exhibition which was expertly installed in the Broad Contemporary / Renzo Piano building. It was all cantilevered and muted light and great lines. Roy McMakin made 12 chairs for the exhibition that were placed just right and the table was set, so to speak. And though I loved the balance and tension in McLaughlin’s canvases, it was not what stuck in my brain. Something else took root. When I walk away from a museum something usually stays with me and nags at me and makes me wish I had spent more time with it and this time that thing was a Paul Klee.
The work was Klee’s 1932 “The Fruit”. The painting is oil on jute (a loose burlap-like fabric). The jute had long ago absorbed the oil paint and the dyed jute was less a painting and more a hand-painted textile. The material makes traditional canvas look trite; manufactured. The image is a horizontal ovoid shape that recalls a bottom heavy pear laying on its side with its stem to left and base to the right. The stem is a mere comma or eye lash. The color nearest to the stem is faded plum, and the lighter layers (red, blue, green, yellow and white) and coiled line that reveals them seems to have something to do with the peeling and unraveling of the skin to the many layers and colors of flesh below. The image consists of colors that are almost certainly not the colors they were 85 or even 50 years ago.
Klee’s muted palate and fine-tuned understanding of color theory makes the work both simple to view and complex to absorb. The light interior layers are patches of color that are landmasses in the Pangea of the fruit. The whole space becomes a tunnel as the dark becomes light at the core. The Fruit, if it ever was, is dying and in it’s place, like any still life, is the faint reminder of it’s soon to be spoiled bounty.
The simplicity of the work makes me ponder Klee’s intention; both if and how the work would have been viewed and exhibited. The Bauhaus was at being forced out of existence and Klee was working on paintings for shows in Europe as he was being forced to run to Switzerland. Could this have been a study for students or an effort after supplies had dwindled? The Fruit is still a masterwork. It moves beyond the movements and eras that historians used to catalog and codify art. LA is lucky to have it.
– Jeff Bergman