PJ and I visited the Columbus Museum of Art this past Friday. I was in Columbus for a meeting, and PJ come along to do a little site seeing and shopping. We both wanted to see the new Caravaggio exhibit, so I met him at the museum as soon as my meeting was over.

We’ve visited the CMA before. It’s a little larger than I remember it being, and it has an excellent collection of modern art. The Sirak Collection, which contains “78 works by masters such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste-Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Chaim Soutine, and Henri Matisse among others,” is especially good.

I was also fascinated by a new work on display, Gregory Scott’s Structure, 2011. Here’s a video I found of it:

It’s especially interesting in person — even once I knew what was happening, I was constantly surprised by the changing images. It repeatedly tricks you into thinking you know what you’re seeing only to change it in surprising ways. I loved it.

But the main reason we went was to see the new exhibit: Caravaggio: Behold the Man! The Impact of a Revolutionary Realist. I had not read anything about the exhibit before seeing it, which was a bit of a mistake. I was expecting an exhibit of Caravaggio’s work, but that’s not what this exhibit is. Instead, it features one work by Caravaggio, his Ecce Homo (c. 1605):

This painting is on loan from Columbus’s sister city Genoa as part of the celebration of Columbus’s bicentennial. This exhibit uses this painting as a representative of Caravaggio’s work and then demonstrates his influence as a realist by surrounding it with contemporary works by other artists. You can hear more about how it came about here:

As the exhibition notes, Caravaggio was known for his revolutionary realism, as seen in his depiction of Christ in Ecce Homo in such elements as his musculature and slight chest hair around his nipples. (A side note: the old man in the foreground is a self-portrait of the artist.) The exhibit then presents contemporary artists, such as Bartolomeo Manfredi, Bernardo Strozzi, and Carlo Saraceni, and others, who followed in Caravaggio’s footsteps.

One of the most striking of these is Strozzi‘s Love Victorious, a rather explicit 1610 painting of Cupid that is rather mature in its nudity. This is the best scan I could get of it (my scanner is misbehaving):

This painting is privately owned, and I can’t help but wonder how controversial it was when it was painted — if it was controversial. It would be interesting to know more about this work, but I can’t find anything on the Internet about it. It certainly raises eyebrows today — mine, at least. Usually Cupids are more infantile or adult, but this one is clearly adolescent. It doesn’t necessarily seem sexual to me, but it does seem unusual to depict the god of love as between childhood and adulthood. It certainly exemplifies the exhibition’s theme of bodily realism.

As long as you know what you’re going to see in the exhibit — a group of Caravaggio-like painters rather than a collection of Caravaggios — this is a good exhibit and well worth the price of admission. The regular collection is also strong. I recommend both.

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