“Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” the new show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (March 26-July 24, 2016) spotlights the methods of his artistry as well as the results. On this occasion we get a glimpse into Degas’ experimentation, most notably with monotypes.
The exhibition includes some 120 monotypes, as well as another 60 related works, including paintings, drawings, pastels, sketchbooks and prints. They represent what Degas was trying out from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s. Monatypes are produced by drawing in black ink on a metal plate that is then run through a press, with a print made in the process.
It is quite fascinating to see the fruits of Degas’ labor, works that reflected the subject matter in which he was interested. We are all accustomed to his ballet scenes, and there are some of those in the exhibit, but it is educational to examine his monotypes to see what he did with that special method.
The artist (1834-1917) addressed working class abuse by showing women doing harsh work in laundries. Like many artists, he was intrigued by prostitutes in brothels, as seen in the show. He also found nude women compelling subjects, such as his portraits of women bathing.
What makes the display especially appealing and useful is getting a sense of how Degas was seeking to find new ways of artistic expression and the extent to which his work with monotypes enhanced his art.
Getting this formidable display together was a huge task, and credit is due the organizers, Jodi Hauptman, Senior Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints; with Karl Buchberg, Senior Conservator, and Heidi Hirschl, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.
The exhibition is special for those interested in the mechanics of Degas’ experimentation, but it also should appeal to the general art lover who wants a fuller understanding of Degas’ achievements. At MoMA, 11 West 53rd Street. Posted March 25, 2016.