Maestro @ Galeri Petronas

Corporate and private galleries join hands to promote one’s collected prints, while the other aims to draw in the crowds under its new Art for Everyone tagline, hashtags included. Significant Spanish artists are featured together with Western canon greats, while printmaking objects display insincere attempts at a museum-grade showing. Édouard Manet’s etched portrait of Edgar Allan Poe poses a wonderful greeting; Odilon Redon keeps the visitor refreshed midway through one’s visit, with a Symbolist depiction of the goddess Cybele as inspired by Gustave Flaubert. Flat graphics and optical art decorate the walls in between, with occasional showstoppers like Édouard Vuillard’s brilliant composition of an interior fireplace, and Sol Lewitt’s methodically random lines in a circle. 

Odilon Redon - Temptation of Saint Anthony (1896)

Despite the heavy name-dropping, viewing prints by renowned artists do not help anyone in appreciating Western art movements. Impressionistic illustrations by Camille Pissarro fail to come to life without colour. Sketches from the Blue period and a dubious 1950 etching, do not represent Pablo Picasso at his best. Middling mid-career drawings by Eugène Delacroix and Henri Matisse reveal little, while late works by Giorgio de Chirico and Andy Warhol contain signature traits but a lesser creativity relative to their significant output. Jackson Pollock’s pens and Jasper John’s limited edition book are curious collectibles, as banal an artefact as Damien Hirst’s ‘Pharmacy’. 

Édouard Vuillard - L'Atre (1899) [from Paysages et intérieurs]

With works by 76 artists on display, simplistic associations make up what one finds attractive. Corrugated cardboard creations by Andrés Nagel and Aramis Ney impress with its manipulation of medium. Hans Hartung and Antoni Tàpies offer powerful abstractions – the former via scratched lines, the latter through footprint traces. Edvard Munch’s overhyped expressionism springs to mind while appreciating Bengt Lindström’s striking paintings. Eduardo Arroyo’s incisive cartoon mocks dictatorship, while vicious designs by Oswaldo Guayasamín also present political opposition. Dense pictures by Asger Jorn (pre-COBRA) and Roberto Matta (post-Pinochet) are a delight to take in upon establishing context, by linking the year these works were made within a historical timeline.

Oswaldo Guayasamín - Máscara 2 (1973)

Jaume Plensa contributes my favourite works in this exhibition, whose two eccentric pieces hang faraway from each other. The first is a hand-less clock embedded into an enlarged description of the “yellow race (Chinese)”, the second a horoscopic map where “Art” is the centre of the universe... Under its seemingly democratic new ethos, the gallery retains is authoritarian sheen by admitting paternalistic and capitalist values. In an interview with The Edge, curator Badrolhisham Mohamad Tahir says, “(c)ensorship of the arts is a sad reality, and we have to make sure nothing explicit is displayed” (…) “Art isn’t a project or a secondary subject, however; it is a recognized economic sector and should really be approached without prejudice.” Tell that to the bored policemen standing about.  

Jaume Plensa - [l] Interiors III (1992); [r] Untitled (1996)