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50 works of art you should see before you die
December 7, 2006 11:40 AM   Subscribe

50 works of art you should see before you die, according to Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones and his readers--"probably the most learned cyber-community on the web." (Jones' personal top 20) [via; more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (67 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Guardian has a gallery of 10 of the works; here are links to all of them:
posted by kirkaracha at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2006 [4 favorites]


Interesting, and many thanks for the links to the magnificent art. But I guess my feeling with lists like this is always, why stop at 50?
posted by blucevalo at 12:00 PM on December 7, 2006


Why stop indeed, but what a great list! Thanks for the post, kirkaracha.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2006


Hmm, then why did I even bother to go here?
posted by wfc123 at 12:03 PM on December 7, 2006


Great post kirkaracha. Thanks.
posted by alteredcarbon at 12:04 PM on December 7, 2006


Yes, why stop at 50... but to see this many images of great art during work is wonderful. Thanks kirkaracha. And to add some spice: "To name the worst artist is easy; his name is Turner" -Dali.
posted by sarcasman at 12:06 PM on December 7, 2006


"...probably the most learned cyber-community on the web."

Ha. Do they have pancakes?
posted by koeselitz at 12:14 PM on December 7, 2006


Turner gets maligned way too often. I used to slag him off too until I saw some of his work at the National Gallery in London and was converted (but tempered somewhat because I had not the fever of the convert).

This is a fun list. I wish something by El Greco would have been included, there is something about the elongated bodies of his saints that I find endlessly intriguing.
posted by Falconetti at 12:14 PM on December 7, 2006


Looking at the paintings and sculptures in the links is all well and good, but there's no way it actually compares to standing in front of some of these works.

I never fully appreciated a Jackson Pollock until I stood in front of one. Starry Night is so much smaller than I originally would have guessed, and though I've never actually seen it, I'm pretty sure I could stare at The Adoration of the Magi for the better part of a day.
posted by splatta at 12:15 PM on December 7, 2006


By the way: this is awesome. Thanks.
posted by koeselitz at 12:16 PM on December 7, 2006


Whoops, hit post too early. What I was getting at is GO SEE ART IN PERSON!

It's so worth it.
posted by splatta at 12:16 PM on December 7, 2006


the whole "50 things to see before you die" ultimatum really isn't that big a gauntlet to run what with the interweb and all. We should probably mitigate such expressions...."50 things to see before you leave work today."
posted by jeremy b at 12:21 PM on December 7, 2006


Most bad art experienced in person is more impressive than most good art seen in a book or on a screen. There is nothing wrong with that.
posted by hermitosis at 12:23 PM on December 7, 2006


And to add some spice: "To name the worst artist is easy; his name is Turner" -Dali.

That's hilarious, coming from a glorified craftsperson who needed to be kicked out of the Surrealists for being a fake-ass piece of shit.
posted by interrobang at 12:31 PM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


The list makes me miss MOMA. But Chicago's Art Institute is worth mentioning for its excellent works by Turner and El Greco (what a master!) as well as many many others. Included therein is Picasso's old guitarist, which in the right light reveals the dried, painted over remnants of a woman's portrait rising from the crook of the guitarist's neck. There's just nothing like seeing it face to facies.
posted by sarcasman at 12:31 PM on December 7, 2006


Oh, and great post, by the way.
posted by interrobang at 12:32 PM on December 7, 2006


With regard to Smithson's Spiral Jetty, be warned that it is often under water. When I went out there - three hours west of Salt Lake City - it was just discernable below the surface of the lake. Well worth the trip, though.

For those like me who enjoy the whole effort entailed in getting to see the art, Walter De Maria's Lightning Field in New Mexico is a good time, too.
posted by liam at 12:33 PM on December 7, 2006


I cried when I saw Starry Night - it was the only thing I wanted to see at MoMA and every time I thought about it I got Don McLean's Vincent playing in my head.

I loved other works at MoMA - Monet's massive 'Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond' and seeing Dali's 'Persistence of Memory'. I was surprised at how small his paintings were, but then amazed at how much detail he managed to put in.
posted by bruzie at 12:45 PM on December 7, 2006


GO SEE ART IN PERSON!

Absolutely, reproduction or photographs of art works just don't even come close to seeing them in person. You lose the scale, the colors, the textures, the details, it's just not the same. I saw Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Crows at the National Gallery a few years ago and the reproductions of that painting just look pathetically flat and washed out in comparison.
posted by octothorpe at 12:47 PM on December 7, 2006


Men, men, men, men....
posted by R. Mutt at 12:47 PM on December 7, 2006


I saw 21 of those in the flesh. I feel so well traveled now.
posted by kika at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2006


Men, men, men, men....

It is a function of who had the wherewithal and the social ability to pursue art in the past that results in this, not some sort of modern cabal trying to erase women from the past. In as much as this list looks to the whole body of Western art (for the most part) that women are excluded. If this was the best art of the past 50 years, the list would likely have more women.
posted by Falconetti at 1:15 PM on December 7, 2006


go see in person is oh so especially true of the terracotta warriors.
thanks FCHS
posted by MNDZ at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2006


Baby, they left yo' ass off tha list.
posted by klangklangston at 1:20 PM on December 7, 2006


Man, there's an endless list of the 50 "enter appropriate art/architecture/holy places/books/etc" I should experience before I die. Stupid mortality, work and limited bank account!

That being said, its a beautiful list. I wish I've seen more. I should work on that.
posted by elendil71 at 1:40 PM on December 7, 2006


Unless I am mistaken there are
No Photography
No Films
No Ceramics
No Glass, stained or otherwise
No Architecture for its own sake
No Music. Yes hard to see, but I'm on a roll here...
Nothing mechanical
posted by Gungho at 1:42 PM on December 7, 2006


Well, no architecture except for that there mosque...sweet
posted by Gungho at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2006


I used to live a block from the Rothlo Chapel, but other than that, I'm coming up a big, fat zero. I would have ranked a Kieth Haring in there somewhere, but then I'm such a philistine.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:52 PM on December 7, 2006


Great Post, nice job on the links.
posted by lobstah at 2:05 PM on December 7, 2006


One of you more enlightened folk please educate me. I took an art history class in college, from which I carried away virtually nothing. I do remember, however, looking at Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed. The prof claimed that among the other indiscernible items in the painting was a white rabbit crossing the tracks. (This was, IIRC, Turner's expression of how the train age was undermining/endangering Nature, though I could be making that up).

It's of course possible she was pulling our legs, but this particular prof wasn't very mirthful so I doubt it. Will someone pretty please point out the rabbit? I'll Fed-Ex some pancakes if you do (unless you are outside the U.S. because--like wine, cheese and beer--only fresh pancakes are worth it).
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 2:12 PM on December 7, 2006


Fresh wine?
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:19 PM on December 7, 2006


Well, no architecture except for that there mosque...sweet

Plus the Mayan city of Tikal, Guatemala, and you could probably throw in Stonehenge, as well (all of which I have visited, btw).

An incredibly western-centric list, though. The fact that there is absolutely nothing from the Subcontinent, for example, is laughable.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:24 PM on December 7, 2006


InfidelZombie: see here.
posted by purplemonkie at 2:26 PM on December 7, 2006


Good post (both here and there).


"probably the most learned cyber-community on the web."

Where's this quote from? I don't see it in the main link. I always get a kick out of these sorts of claims when they're made. There really isn't a better way to set people at odds with you before they even know what you're all about. I'm always reminded of this girl from university who, when writing an album review, could not understand that claiming the album was "the best ever" actually worked against her expressed purpose of extolling the album's virtues. When you tell people something is the best, or someone (or thing) is the smartest, their gut reaction, more times than not, is to think of their favorite [insert item under discussion] and immediately look for reasons to disagree with the assessment.

posted by The God Complex at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2006


kirkaracha, thank you for going to such effort. It really is greatly appreciated.
posted by peacay at 3:29 PM on December 7, 2006


And don;t bother with th Mona Lisa, it's overrated.
posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on December 7, 2006


4

*sigh*
posted by Danf at 4:03 PM on December 7, 2006


I never cared for paintings. Not in that wilfully obtuse class warfare way - "let them have their pink wine and their blue cheese and their snooty art" - nor for reasons of dismissive hipsterism or plain undereducated ignorance. They just never really got to me. This used to cause quite some cognitive dissonance, as I'm obsessively in love with art and cultural expression in many other forms: novels, stories, poems, films, songs - I know how it sounds, but hell, I live for art. But I grew to kind of accept it: so what, I don't 'get' paintings, no problem.

Then, on a Saturday afternoon in New York City, having spent the evening and night partying in the Village with my new single-serving hostel friends and making out with the Danish girl in Washington Square Park I, beflipflopped, hungover and alone, stumbled up the steps to the Metropolitan Museum.

First came a smaller epiphany: while I was apathetically indifferent about paintings, I outright hated conceptual art - a running joke of mine used to go "I poop on conceptual art... then I scoop it up and sell it to museums". But then there was this piece called "Every Episode, Every Shot" in which every episode ever made of "Starsky & Hutch" was broken down and categorised by shot containing a certain cliché or well-known concept - i.e., one disc had all the sequences of the show in which a doctor appeared, another disc would be labelled "Every Restaurant" - you get the idea. I actually though this was pretty clever, and it's the first work of conceptual art I actually liked.

But that was not by far the highlight of that day. Armed with a dry mouth and four hours of sleep I idly wandered into the Impressionist wing - what harm could it do - and from 30 yards away, through two doorways, I saw the wheat and the cypresses. I immediately recognised the style: everyone with a passing acquaintance with art would, and especially so as a Dutchman I would think, our everyday culture being saturated with Dutch Masters imagery. So, sure, I approached the painting, thinking why not, let's check out the Van Gogh.

I got so unbelievably close. Suddenly, the mere fact of being right next to the work made it, I know how it sounds, but really, made it come so alive - like the first live performance you attend of your favourite band having only heard them on CD before. Like your first punk rock show. Like the warm, dreamy flicker of 35mm film in a darkened room. Like the fishing out of the tub of the photograph you just developed. But then a hundred times. Most media are flawed and limited: no pixel, no data, no postcard or poster could ever convey this.

It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

So yeah, go see art in person, it *is* worth it.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:13 PM on December 7, 2006 [2 favorites]


I`m glad there`s only one african and one central american work of art, because only europeans make great art.
posted by octomato at 4:27 PM on December 7, 2006


One of you more enlightened folk please educate me. I took an art history class in college, from which I carried away virtually nothing. I do remember, however, looking at Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed. The prof claimed that among the other indiscernible items in the painting was a white rabbit crossing the tracks. (This was, IIRC, Turner's expression of how the train age was undermining/endangering Nature, though I could be making that up).

I wouldn't say I am enlightened, but a friend of a friend was an art museum curator and she was taking us around the National Gallery and said the same story and pointed out the rabbit, so I think your teacher was on the level.

Also, octomato is dead on. This guy should have just called this the best art in the Western tradition and eliminated the few token pieces from other cultures. Because he did include some, he opens up the list to all sorts of valid criticism about the stuff he left off.
posted by Falconetti at 4:34 PM on December 7, 2006


Thanks for the links, kirkaracha!

I agree with many of these if the emphasis is on "in person." That would really exclude a lot of photography and film where the "in person" doesnt make sense. Guernica and the Sistine Chapel, for example, will defy your expectations. There should be more architecture though.

I disagree with Bosch. Its a tiny, dark thing. I think its actually better in reproduction.
posted by vacapinta at 4:40 PM on December 7, 2006


Really excellent post kirkaracha. Your shooting for the Wii aren't you? ;)
posted by quin at 4:54 PM on December 7, 2006


As much as I hate the "before you die" theme that's popped up everywhere over the last few years (I mean - as opposed to what? The art I should see after I die?) this is an excellent, excellent, excellent post. Thank you.
posted by bunglin jones at 5:10 PM on December 7, 2006


A rare occasion when a good link is made into a great series of links due to a mefite. This took some work. Thank you kirkaracha.
posted by bardic at 5:12 PM on December 7, 2006


No one is struck by how Eurocentric this list is? There are just five that are essentially token representatives from Africa, Asia and South America. I have no quibble with the list as it stands, but I'd like 50 more that are outside Europe /North America.
posted by beagle at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2006


Great link and list. I have seen about 6 or 7 of these works in person. What a great adventure it would be to see them all.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2006


You can't get close to Mona.
posted by wfc123 at 6:37 PM on December 7, 2006


Terminal Verbosity --

Here it is circled and here it is traced.
posted by Marit at 6:57 PM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


I’ll get on the choir, preach to the bandwagon – absolutely go to see art in person. But for that purpose, I’d put the “Nightwatch” ahead of Aristotle for Rembrandt. Yes, it gets put on every mug and postcard and eraser in Amsterdam, but for good reason. In person, it’s HUGE and is almost dizzying at first glance.

Also, Vermeer is wonderful to examine almost edge-wise. It’s incredible to suddenly be able to see the brushstrokes on a painting you thought you knew well all those years and find new layers (npi) to it.
posted by dreamsign at 8:37 PM on December 7, 2006


I definitely agree that art should be seen in person; I just thought the list was dumb without pictures. (I noticed the list was pretty Eurocentric, too.)

I think I've seen about 10 of these. I've been to the Louvre but it's been a long, long time, and I got kicked out of the British Museum for touching the Rosetta Stone before I could see much. I was just in Italy last month, and the Sistene Chapel and the Uffizi were incredible. I'm suprised they left out Botticelli 's Birth of Venus (odd 3D rendering) and Michaelangelo's David.

Oh, and I'm afraid I left out dogs playing poker and the naked woman on the side of a van.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:51 PM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


I disagree with Bosch. Its a tiny, dark thing. I think its actually better in reproduction.

Oh, it's not bad, but its colors are/ have gotten pretty dark and I also was disappointed when I saw it in person – it didn't help that it was completely overwhelmed by Brueghel's Triumph of Death, which was in the same room. Bosch is such a literary artist that he's more interesting, I think, when dissected in books.
posted by furiousthought at 8:58 PM on December 7, 2006


I stopped at 49 of these works because I don't want to die.
posted by horsewithnoname at 9:10 PM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


One day, somebody is going to link you to a seemingly innocuous youtube video, but contained within it will be a single-frame flash of Tutankhamun's death mask. You will clutch your chest and keel over dead.
posted by tehloki at 10:27 PM on December 7, 2006



Curious that this stream generated so many posts....would be glorious if there was the same level of interest in supporting the arts in general.

Or maybe galleries just need more top ten or 12 lists.
posted by heliopod at 11:43 PM on December 7, 2006


Great post.

The chorus of people correctly suggesting that art is best experienced in the flesh (obviously, does anyone not think that?) started me thinking - this list could be a wonderful guide for a modern equivalent of the Grand Tour. Assuming you live in Europe, it would cost next to nothing in day trips on Easyjet.
posted by jack_mo at 2:59 AM on December 8, 2006


The fact that there is absolutely nothing from the Subcontinent, for example, is laughable.

I don't disagree, but I would be grateful for some suggestions. Not my strongest area....

Re Mona Lisa- it's not that it's not good, it just suffers from overexposure.

Given the "must-be-seen-to-be-believed" quality, it could have done with a bit more populism (or what some might call cheese). I'm thinking this, or this, or even this . Or, lest I be thought hopelessly provincial, this.

Just a thought.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:58 AM on December 8, 2006


I'll echo again the seeing in person aspect of all this. I could kind of appreciate Van Gogh before seeing his works in person, but they always felt kind of boring. Then I saw some of his actual paintings. In some places (like this one) it seemed that he was just trying to put as much paint as possible on the canvas and still have a picture. It was breathtaking.

A hated Turner until I visited the National Gallery. Then I fell in love. Even Andy Warhol, who I didn't get, makes some sense when you see his works in person. I don't know why, but seeing 16 feet of camoflague at a 5x magnification makes a huge impression on you in person. On a computer screen it's dumb and boring.

So yes, see these in person. Hell, see as much art as you can in person. There is crap out there, but there is so many beautiful works to see.

(And if you get to the louve, go to the spot where the mona lisa is, and then go over a gallery. They have some amazing work by El Greco and other spanish artists that puts the Italian master's to shame.)
posted by Hactar at 6:21 AM on December 8, 2006


Thanks, Marit, but it's still like looking at a sonogram when everyone else can see the smiling, waving fetus and all I see is static.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:30 AM on December 8, 2006


your favorite painter sucks
posted by matteo at 6:51 AM on December 8, 2006


splatta, you shamed me into walking over to the Library of Congress and viewing the perspective study for the Adoration of the Magi, on display only until 5 pm today. It's about the size of a piece of notebook paper, but fascinating, just the same. I know it's totally last-minute, but if anyone wants to go see it, let me know, and I'll meet you over there!
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:47 AM on December 8, 2006


Wow. I didn't realize that Art was strictly a white European thing... Thanks for the tip.
posted by odasaku at 9:21 AM on December 8, 2006


MrMoonPie, if I could get down there today I would, please do some extra appreciating for me.
posted by splatta at 9:39 AM on December 8, 2006


The fact that there is absolutely nothing from the Subcontinent, for example, is laughable.

I don't disagree, but I would be grateful for some suggestions. Not my strongest area....


Well, they list the mosque in Esfahan, which has a slightly more famous cousin known as the Taj Mahal. It's hard to see why one is listed & the other isn't. You could also throw in the elaborate rock-hewn temples of Ajanta & Ellora, pretty much any Jain temple, the entire tradition of miniature painting, Gandharan Buddhist art & the Hoysala temples, to name a few.

The list seems to me to be largely skewed towards the western romantic notion of the individual artist as a gifted innovator making some sort of breakthrough of genius, which automatically excludes from the ratings most generic, yet skillful, traditions or collaborative works.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:22 PM on December 8, 2006


No women, huh?
posted by wfc123 at 6:39 PM on December 8, 2006


Thank you UbuRoivas. Quite right, of course, though architecture in general is underrepresented here. Right too on miniatures and Gandharan stuff (a relative has some of the latter and oh, do I covet), though I'm guessing that it's lack of a particular masterpiece that helped push them aside - which goes along with your comment on the name brand individual artist. No Greek vase painters either, I noticed.

So - best of/worst of lists - useful paidagogical tool, or just an easy way to fill blank magazine space when nothing new or different's coming to mind?
posted by IndigoJones at 6:45 PM on December 8, 2006


Everyone's list is different but I liked the idea of the author asking readers for theirs. How useful is it? Well it made me look at some new stuff and realise that I don't spend enough time looking at art.
posted by quarsan at 10:31 PM on December 8, 2006


The Elgin Marbles are amazing.

I'm surprised nothing from the Art Institute in Chicago made that list. My favorite painting there is Edward Hopper's Nighthawks - I could sit and look at that all day.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:56 AM on December 9, 2006


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