Modigliani, BEYOND THE MYTH at the Art Gallery of Ontario ( 317 Dundas West), to January 23. $18, stu/srs $15. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Amedeo Modigliani lived a life that begs to be romanticized. The fantastically handsome son of an Italian business mogul, he rebelled through his art. Throwing himself into bohemian Paris, he painted, sculpted, boozed, drugged, womanized and hung out with the greatest artists of the 20th century.
He was prone to depression, but things began to look up when he found a wealthy patron. Then he died of tubercular meningitis at the age of 35. His lover, pregnant with their second child, threw herself from a fifth-storey window two days later.
No wonder the AGO calls this exhibit Beyond The Myth. It attempts to prove that this wild and tragic figure was exploring higher things, like art history, philosophy and especially religious thought linked to his Sephardic Jewish heritage.
Why it's perceived as a contradiction for debauched bohemians to read up on philosophy or art is beyond me, but the show goes to great lengths to present the artist's serious side, his deep roots and erudition. Drinking Pernod and smoking hash alone don't get you there, this exhibit seems to say. There's work involved.
Although Modigliani's best known for his portraits and nudes, of which there are many here, surprisingly, his main ambition was sculpture. Poverty forced painting upon him, but he often scavenged stones from construction sites. He was influenced by his friend Brancusi and the by simplicity of early Cycladic sculpture, the obvious source of his uniquely stylized painted faces .
His later works reveal a growing maturity. Faces and figures become less pretty, and a raw presence shines through. The nudes retain their pleasing symmetry and sloe eyes but appear more tangibly human. The women appear gloriously unashamed, painted with a burnished warmth that expresses a true reverence for the human form.
These glowing women have nothing to do with debauchery and everything to do with art.