Jonathan Bober is Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Bober was trained at Harvard University and began his professional career as assistant curator of prints at the Fogg Art Museum. From 1987 until 2011 he was curator of prints and drawings as well as European paintings at the art museum of the University of Texas at Austin. His studies have ranged widely but principally concerned the art of north Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A Splendid Baroque: Art in Genoa, 1600 – 1750, is his most recent exhibition project and publication (for the National Gallery, in partnership with the Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome). A collector since graduate school, Bober takes special pleasure in Italian etching of all periods.
"Every curator has his own tastes and preferences, but a professional responsibility to reconcile those with the character and strengths, not to mention directions, of his institution’s collection and, more broadly, the nature and history of a particular medium or culture. Although one obviously can’t escape years of art historical and professional conditioning, it is a pleasure to share less circumscribed and conditioned responses. My “choices” are not necessarily important works, and even less representative ones. Rather, they are what initially struck, affected, or provoked, did again and often differently on second and third viewing, and—the basic sense of the LOPF––appealed most as potentially personal acquisitions.
– I have long admired Norman Ackroyd’s evocations of place and command of intaglio. The Fair’s viewing rooms boast numerous examples. Flood Tide and Blakeney (2004), is especially pure in its imagery, subtle in its atmosphere, ambiguous in its poetry.
– An enthusiastic listener, I am as a rule put off by works that reference jazz. Fred Becker’s Jam Session II is a rare, adequate metaphor for the complex harmony, intense rhythm, and sheer exuberance that—1951––had recently transformed that music.
– Bill Hall’s geometry is forthright, resolute, at the same time relieved by delicate textures, stray marks, and slight blushes of color. Interval, Warm Yellow (2014) is distinguished by a subtle inflection of basic structure and a profound space.
– Gillray’s Monstrous Craws (1787) renders the royals of the day gorging at public expense. It serves just as well in the United States of 2020. With the composition so distilled, the knowing deformation and power of Gillray’s drawing are privileged. And by contrast, the coloring of this impression, choice and extraordinarily fresh, underscores the grotesqueness of the subject and the types.
– Bring on the Dancing Horses (after Rembrandt) (2019) extends, loosens, and further personalizes Glenn Brown’s dialogue with the master. The figure and its intent stare imply a more specific presence and emotion than in his prior series, while the extravagant stroke dramatizes the artist’s own graphic personality. More than a homage, it aligns with the legacy of Rembrandt’s etchings, from Castiglione’s imaginary heads through habits of the Etching Revival.
– A River Landscape (1648) by the mysterious Nardois appeals in its intelligence, naiveté, and apparent improvisation. There’s Claude in the classical armature and pastoral foreground, the Italianate Dutch in the principal masses, echoes of northern Mannerists in the whimsy of the background. But there’s also the faint sketch of a head in profile and, more striking, descending clouds from a previous composition. It’s all imperfectly resolved, as insouciant as the signature, and predictive of etching to come.
– Marianne Ferm’s work is a discovery for me. O’er Lakes and Hills: Colwith II (2019) is a wonderful work of romantic abstraction––satisfying as both intimate natural subject and pure form. It is also an instance of virtuoso technique perfectly suited to representational ends. The variation of grain and the control of bite in the aquatint capture the rush and splash of a cascade, at the same time generate nebulous textures and translucence.
– Monnoyer’s Bouquet of Flowers (1680) is stunning in its formal rigor and expression of the classical proposition in the improbable context of still life.
– Munch’s late Girls on the Bridge (1918). The collapsing perspective of the pier, the void then barrier across the exact middle of the composition, and of course their backward glance all convey distance from the shore—from what is familiar in their lives, from what was established in Munch’s previous interpretations of the subject. I find it a viscerally affecting image of the alienation of time and the longing of memory, made less schematic and more appropriately vague by the blue ink.
– A less canonical work by Nevinson, The Great White Way (1920) conveys his wonder at the energies of Manhattan on the eve of its first vibrant era, as well as a satisfaction at the natural coincidence his geometry with the city’s grid and canyons."