The dogged awkwardness of Cubist pioneer Georges Braque is chronicled with an affectionate and (literally) microscopic lens in this collection of World War II-era still lifes. Tracking the artist — almost best known for perpetually falling under Picasso's shadow in the annals of history — with such a singular focus illustrates a subtle story of intense, contemplative fastidiousness. Braque's dedication to the life and form of overlooked objects feels like a biographical surrogate for the artist himself. Plates, knives, bowls of fruit — the stuff of quotidian decoration and use — are treated to nearly three decades of inspection with almost unvarying change, and while Braque's palette may have expanded to a few more vibrant hues and the scale of his canvases modestly enlarged over the years, very little altered his persistent and fussily dignified vision. The exhibit attempts to problematize this rather insular focus in light of its war-torn historical context, suggesting that Braque was politically apathetic or, worse, irresponsible. This seems misguided, considering that Cubism itself was a style directly responsive to the violent fragmentation of "Modern" culture — and a celebration of everyday humanism is hardly apolitical. What most saliently surfaces in this show is Braque's weird lack of painterly mastery — after so many trials, he never quite gets anything fluidly or exquisitely right. And that's the beauty of this work: Like so few entries in the grand canon, this one feels real and endearingly sympathetic as it wonderfully and compulsively celebrates failure. Through April 21 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).
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