Shelley’s Art Musing – “Cover up that bosom, which I can’t endure to look on”. (Tartuffe, Molière)

The Egon Schiele. The anniversary show is due to start in February 2018 with exhibits in Vienna, London, Hamburg and Cologne. It will display the main aspects of his work and his shunning of traditional art practices of his time, break taboos and exploring spirituality through his expressionist form.

If you are unaware of Schiele’s work, he was an Austrian artist working in the early part of the 1900’s.  His work is recognised for its raw intensity and sexuality.  He produced many self portraits, some of which were nudes.  The subjects of his work drawn with twisted body shapes and a unique line which made his work an early contender for the expressionist art movement.

With this in mind and 100 years after the death of Schiele, we are still seeing censorship of his work, and I am led to the question, why?

The advertising campaign for this exhibit first opened this question up for me, with Schiele’s artwork being heavily censored.

I could just see this as a very clever marketing ploy and move on, but I don’t believe that it is.  Schiele’s work is provocative and unashamed in its presentation, so why is it when it is displayed outside of the confines of a museum or art gallery is it subject to such censorship?

Sexuality within art is a fine line to tread.  If it is deemed “conformist” in that the subject is demur in nature and in an “acceptable” pose the art work on display is almost unseen and not out of place, we are quite used to seeing sculptures like Michelangelo’s David, or Botticelli’s Birth of Aphrodite on postcards or greeting cards, so why not Schiele?  It is after all just the human form, and we are all human, so why is there a need for such censorship?

The art world very often butts heads with the marks of decency or good taste in its hunt for freedom of expression and exploration of taboo subjects.  This means that art will always come up against the confines of what censorship boards will allow, but can censorship go too far?

Artists throughout history have been subjected to this same confine which sees their work either covered, as Schiele work has been, mutilated to be more audience friendly, or renamed to give a different take for what is on the canvas.

For example, if we look at the work of Picasso, specifically The Young Ladies of Avignon.

Pablo Picasso , The Young Ladies of Avignon, 1907. Cubism. Oil on canvas, 243.9 x 233.7 cm. Museum of Modern Art , New York.

This piece was originally called The brothel of Avignon, but was renamed by Andre Salmon in an attempt to lessen the scandalous impact that this painting would cause.

Picasso, never liked this name, and always referred to the painting as the “brothel painting”.  But “would a rose by any other name smell as sweet…”

The name and content of the picture would always be controversial and while this painting is now considered the seminal piece in cubism and modern art, its original reception was not as highly regarded.

This does lead to the question of trending censorship, while it is accepted that nudity and sexuality will always push the boundaries of the censorship boards, will there come a time when it is considered to be immoral to show drinking or smoking within art work.  Could we see small black boxes over the works of Degas, Picasso, Balthus, Magritte and Hamilton be censored because they depict habits which are now being frowned upon within society?

Of course, this is taking censorship to the absolute extreme, but this type of act isn’t unheard of.  Merriam-Webster defines censorship as “the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and removing things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.” We have seen extreme censorship in the past, most notably the Nazi book burning of may 1933.  This act saw books which were subversive to the Nazi regime burnt.  Seeing any texts which were  Jewishpacifistreligiousclassical liberalanarchistsocialist, and communist, among others burned in the street. The first books burned were those of Karl Marx and Karl Kautsky.

I say that this is the extreme, and it really is, and some artists, have tried mock the censorship panels through their work.

If we look at the painting The Treachery of image by Rene Magritte we see a painting of a pipe with the words “this is not a pipe” written underneath it.

Rene Magritte , The Treachery of Images, 1929. Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 93.98 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

At first glance, this is confusing to say the least.  We can see it is a pipe, so why would the artist profess otherwise?

Magritte was quoted to have said: “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”. Taking a direct stance against the critics and the censorship boards by pointing out once again that art is merely subjective and each person will have their own opinion of what they see and deem acceptable.

Richard Hamilton was also heavily subjected to censorship of his images, with his work cropped to make it appear more acceptable.

The piece Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?  was produced in 1956 for the exhibition This is Tomorrow in London.  The piece is a collage which shows a male body builder and a burlesque model around the house in no clothing, but one holding a sign and the other wearing a lampshade.

Richard Hamilton, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, 1956. Collage, 260 x 248 mm. Kunsthalle Tubingen

The image was used as the poster campaign for the exhibit, but it was cut down so only the male body builder was shown, deeming the topless women too risqué to use within the campaign.

From what we have looked at, we can see why art and censorship will always be in conflict.  The moral high ground of societies best interests, usually winning which means that public displays of controversial artworks will always be confined to the safety of a designated space, so as not to offend those who could be, and to protect the innocent eyes of children.

If you want to see Schiele’s work in all its glory, you will need to attend one of the exhibits mentioned above, and you can get more information about the exhibits here:-

Vienna – https://www.wien.info/en/sightseeing/vienna-2018/vienna-2018-exhibitions

London – https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/klimt-schiele

For now I will leave you with the image of The Radical Nude, and a quote by Schiele, which reminds us that art is one of the oldest forms of communication – “Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal.”

Egon Schiele, The Radical Nude
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Shelley’s Art Musings – The Follies of the ‘Sand’ Louvre, which acquired the Leonardo da Vinci painting at $450 million

Leonardo+de+Vinci+Salvator+Mundi
Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Salvator Mundi” was acquired by UAE at $450 million

It has been just under a month since we have seen the doors of the Louvre Abu Dhabi open with its fantastic structure, but the reception has been not quite so impressive.

Visitors have remarked that there doesn’t seem to be enough content within the corridors of the venture to fulfil its monumental name.  I am sure that this comes as quite a blow as the mammoth project has been fraught with controversy and delays.  Throughout the build, concerns of the welfare of the migrant workers plagued its progress. They have left a bitter taste in the mouth of the museum, which is supposedly encompassing a “universal” approach to all cultures, with activists still reviewing the conditions under which employees worked.

Inside Lourve Abu Dhabi

This leads us to the question: Is the Louvre Abu Dhabi still finding its feet or is it merely a folly to the sky line which will act as window dressing?

We know that huge deals have been made to loan some of the most expensive and impressive art works, with France to bring the museum in line with its name sake. But we all know that money doesn’t go a long way when looking at art of this level of expertise.

The most recent acquisition really brings this home to someone like me.  As you will have hopefully seen the reports of the latest authenticated da Vinci painting being brought for $450 million to a mysterious buyer, later to be announced as the Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud. This purchase, along with the museum, comes at a controversial time when crack downs are put in place on the exuberant spending and corruption by the crown prince, seeing many influential business men and royal cousins arrested without legitimate charges.

In itself, the painting is quite a debateable purchase for the country.  While in Christianity, Jesus was the saviour, within Muslim culture, Jesus was a prophet, and the depiction of prophets is a sacrilegious act.  While this purchase does support the ‘universal’ neutrality that the museum is said to offer, this could simply add fuel to the fire of the recent political activities.

The painting shows Jesus performing a benediction (an invocation of divine help, blessing and guidance, usually performed at the end of worship) with his right hand raised, in the left hand a crystal orb, representing his role as saviour of the world and mastery of the cosmos as well as the heavenly sphere.  Jesus is shown in renaissance attire and is dated as painted around 1500.

Salvator Mundi, c.1500. Oil on Walnut, 45.4 x 65.6 cm. Louvre Abu Dhabi

The painting echoes other portraits in the Da Vinci repertoire, such as John the Baptist, with the curly blonde locks and classic facial features, and while authenticated, there are still discussions over the true artist of this painting.  Sketches and preparatory chalk outlines are held in the Royal collection, but some specialists’ style believe that this could have been a student of da Vinci’s work rather than the man himself.  Regardless of this, it is still now listed as one of the 20 known works by da Vinci.

Sold at Christie’s auction house and now listed as the most expensive art work to be sold, could this be a turn in changing the Louvre Abu Dhabi from the ornate and ornamental building to a player in the field of held exhibits.

Personally I would like to see this museum move forward with its push for acceptance of other cultures, although not to the detriment of the people around it.

Let’s hope that that the feeling of ‘interconnectedness’ penetrates through the recent controversies and makes way for a peaceful and beautiful place to view some of the world’s masterpieces.

 

Modigliani nude fetches second-highest price ever paid for art at auction

Amedeo Modigliani, the Italian painter and sculptor, died young and led a rather gloomy existence. His birth coincided with the collapse of his father’s once-thriving business enterprises, and health problems plagued him from a young age. At 35 years old, he passed away from tubercular meningitis.

It was in this state of financial and physical frailty, during the later stages of his illness, that Modigliani painted “Nu couché,” — in English, “Reclining Nude.” The work was one of a series of several dozen nudes that were shown during the only solo exhibition of the artist’s life, an occasion made notorious by the discussions it raised over obscenity in artwork. (So turbulent was the public reception that police officers had the paintings removed from a street-front window display.)

The bold, early 20th century piece was sold for $170.4 million at Christie’s Monday night, joining a roster of just nine other artworks that have garnered over $100 million in sales, according to the New York Times. Christie’s told reporters that it’s the second-highest price ever recorded for artwork sold at auction.

First place in that regard belongs to Pablo Picasso’s “Women of Algiers (Version O)”, which sold for $179.4 million at Christie’s in May of this year.

The “Reclining Nude” sale was reportedly made at the end of a “frantic nine-minute bidding war” between seven buyers, with a Chinese buyer on the phone ultimately securing the piece.

The 23 by 36 inch oil painting features a female nude model, identity unknown, reclining over a red couch with blue curtains. Her lipsticked mouth is sensually pursed, her dark lids shut.

Christie’s writes of the piece on its Web site: “It was, by all accounts, the product of several hours of intense, feverish work painting ‘orgasmically’, according to the painter Tsuguharu Foujita, in a small, poorly furnished room, alone with his model, two chairs, a couch and a bottle of brandy during what was probably the worst year of the Great War.”

“There’s something voyeuristic and yet wonderfully frank about it,” the Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan wrote of “Reclining Nude” in 2005.

A New York police officer stands beside a Christie’s window featuring Roy Lichtenstein’s “Nurse” before the commencement of a curated evening auction on November 9, 2015. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Also sold at the auction Monday, the Associated Press reports, was Roy Lichtenstein’s “Nurse,” which went for $95.3 million. This is the highest price a work by the pop artist has reaped at auction; previously, his auction record had been just over half that number at $56 million.

The comic-book style painting’s titular subject is a blonde woman with her mouth agape and light blue eyes looking off to the right. She wears a starched white hat and white collar, two markers of her profession.

Like Modigliani’s reclining model, Lichtenstein’s nurse strikes the balance between cutting poise and soft sensuality. The artwork’s accompanying notes remark that “Lichtenstein has managed to create an image of a nurse that uncomfortably straddles the domains of sexual fantasy and schlock-horror and in doing so has made it appear all the more raw, and more powerfully subversive than the harmless innocence of its original context.”

Source: Washington Post

Welcome To The Radical World Of Contemporary Collage

Maria Berrio, Nativity, 2014, Collage with Japanese papers, rhinestones, acrylic and watercolor on canvas, 48 x 60 in., Courtesy of Praxis Gallery and the artist
Maria Berrio, Nativity, 2014, Collage with Japanese papers, rhinestones, acrylic and watercolor on canvas, 48 x 60 in., Courtesy of Praxis Gallery and the artist

Think of an artist locked up in the studio, trembling before a blank canvas, paintbrush in hand, ideas and potential visions swirling in the imagination. Now, think of an artist amidst a heap of materials — magazine clippings and unfinished artworks, scraps of junk and found photos. There is no empty canvas, no distinct point of origin — only radical potential, endless inspiration, shifting possibilities.

The art of collage is not just about cutting and pasting. For collage artists, the reigning motif of the singular genius creating beauty from nothing has been replaced by an endless sea of images and influences, hungry to be snatched up, transformed, remixed and spit out. The current exhibition at New York’s El Museo del Barrio, titled “CUT N’ MIX: Contemporary Collage,” explores the present day status of collage in its many manifestations, investigating how the technique relates to craftsmanship, pop culture and art history.

ALEX NUNEZ, PINUP,2012, GOLD LEAF ON ALBUM COVER, 12 X 12 IN., COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
ALEX NUNEZ, PINUP,2012, GOLD LEAF ON ALBUM COVER, 12 X 12 IN., COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

The exhibition takes its name from a collection of essays written in 1987 by Dick Hebdige’s, titled Cut ‘N’ Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music. The stories connect the modes of Caribbean reggae and dancehall music to broader Caribbean understandings of culture and identity. For Hebdige, there is no blank canvas, no one point of origin for music history. “The roots [of music] themselves are in a state of constant flux and change. The roots don’t stay in one place. They change shape. They change color. And they grow. There is no such thing as a pure point of origin, least of all in something as slippery as music — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t history.”

Although El Museo translates the pastiches from sound to sight, the theoretical implications remain remain constant and fluid all the same. The exhibition contains, rather appropriately, a vibrant mix of traditional collages — paper on paper — to more experimental derivations involving cardboard, fabric, burnt linoleum and digital video.

MICHAEL PAUL BRITTO, WHITE AFRO, 2012, VINYL ON GESSO BOARD, 7 X 5 IN. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
MICHAEL PAUL BRITTO, WHITE AFRO, 2012, VINYL ON GESSO BOARD, 7 X 5 IN. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

I just draw with scissors,” Colombian artist Maria Berrio said of her practice. Her “Nativity” work above features Japanese paper and rhinestones along with watercolor and acrylic paint. “There is pleasure in the raw physicality of the art form — not simply applying a medium, but tearing it, forming it, cutting it, spreading glue with sticky fingers, feeling the various textures of the different papers … At times it seems I am more excavating a mystery hidden below the canvas than creating a work, ideally to convey that sense of awe and wonder at the majestic, enigmatic beauty of things.”

The works on view, made predominately by artists of color, range from examinations of racial injustice in America to abstract celebrations of color and light. Catalina Parra is a Chilean political artist who, for 50 years, has pushed the limits of collage to address pressing social and political issues. The show features one of Parra’s triptychs, made during the height of the AIDS crisis in 1986, conveying the unimaginable impact of the disease on women and mothers in society. The three portions of the triptych interact to represent “suffering, rejection, judgment and human pain,” according to the artist. The middle section is enclosed by human X-rays, beckoning the viewer to examine the piece closely.

CARLOS RIGAU, UNTITLED, 2014, DESK, CUSTOM FORMICA, 60 X 84 X 36 IN, COURTESY OF CARLOS RIGAU AND LMAK PROJECTS
CARLOS RIGAU, UNTITLED, 2014, DESK, CUSTOM FORMICA, 60 X 84 X 36 IN, COURTESY OF CARLOS RIGAU AND LMAK PROJECTS

Collage is more than just a technique. It carries with it a spirit of art-making that is inclusive, accessible, radical, hybridized and ever-evolving. In the words of Argentinian artist Matias Cuevas: “There is a playfulness, a sense of freedom to the process that I really enjoy and always look forward to.”

“Every other image, pattern, form, and color that I come across during the process sooner or later loses its visual identity and becomes generic and/or universal,” he continues. “So there is this feeling that everything is possible, that any form or shape regardless of its color or visual language can be re-contextualized and placed next to or merge with a — seemingly — historically different one. It is sort of looking at culture from every vantage point in time, and having this overwhelming feeling of omnipresence and ubiquitousness.”

CUT N MIX: Contemporary Collage” runs until Dec. 12 in New York.

Hector Madera, Salvador, 2013, Mixed media collage, 67 x 49 in., Courtesy of the artist
Hector Madera, Salvador, 2013, Mixed media collage, 67 x 49 in., Courtesy of the artist

by Priscilla Frank

Source: Huffington Post

I Beg Of You, Please Stop Saying ‘This Isn’t Art’

DANITA DELIMONT VIA GETTY IMAGES
Visitors looking at Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, (Lunch on Grass) by Edouard Manet in Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France

One person gazes into a tranquil painting of water lilies by Claude Monet and can’t help but well up with tears. Another, unmoved by Impressionism, stares at a bawdy self-portrait by Cindy Sherman and feels transfixed. Someone else is still bored with both, preoccupied with a bit of three-dimensional chalk art made to look like gummy bears.

You see, we humans are capable of having very, very different tastes in art. 

If you took an intro philosophy course in college, you are probably familiar with Immanuel Kant’s friendly ol’ theory on aesthetics. In short, the 18th-century Prussian writer thought that beauty was not a property of artwork, but rather part of a viewer’s emotional response to a particular artwork. So, yeah, beauty is subjective.

But Kant also asserts that just as our idea of beauty — or, more specifically, our judgment of taste — is subjective, it’s also universal, in so far as anyone can appreciate beauty without needing to find a use for it. At the end of the day, we all have a capacity to be moved by art, of one kind or another. Something will pique our interest, satiate our artsy appetite. It’s just — the chances are that one man’s trashy art is another man’s masterpiece.

Take it from researchers Edward A. Vessel, G. Gabrielle Starr and Nava Rubin. In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the three explored this idea — that while individual people have strong reactions to very different sets of images and works, the ability and desire to be aesthetically moved by art, music, or literature appears to be universal across human beings.

Curious about this apparent paradox, Vessel et al. decided to take a look inside the brain.

To do so, the team had 16 subjects (11 male, 5 female) lie in an fMRI scanner and view a selection of 109 artworks from the Catalog of Art Museum Images Online database. Looking at each artwork, the subjects were asked to answer the question, “How strongly does this painting move you?” using a scale of one to four. The subjects were told to consider their answers in terms of a “gut-level responses” in order to indicate what works they found “powerful, pleasing, or profound.” After the scans, the same subjects were placed in front of a computer screen and told to complete a questionnaire that asked them address the “evaluative and emotional components of their aesthetic experience” for each of the 109 artworks.

Not so surprisingly, at the end of the study, Vessel and the research team found that participants’ formulated responses to the art that “moved” them varied greatly in intensity, characterized by everything from joy, awe and pleasure to sadness, disgust and confusion. “On average, each image highly recommended by one observer was given a low recommendation by another,” they wrote.

In other words, people had very different tastes.

But in the scans, the levels of brain activation in a person experiencing a “moving” piece of work (a four) were actually quite similar. “The neural systems supporting aesthetic reactions … are largely conserved from person to person,” the trio wrote, “with the most moving artworks leading to a selective activation of central nodes of the DMN (namely, the aMPFC, but also the PCC and HC) thought to support personally relevant mentation.”

Jessica Herrington digested this information in SciArt America: “The most moving artworks activated more brain regions known to play a role in computing personally relevant information, as well as evaluating aesthetic and emotional experiences. That is, people were more emotionally ‘moved’ by an artwork when they thought it was relevant to them.”

Here in lies the universalness — and the subjectivity! Our aesthetic experiences are universal, in that the brain areas activated by “moving art” are largely constant across individuals. But these areas are responsible for mediating our subjective and personal experiences. Kant was right, the two interpretations of beauty aren’t mutually exclusive!

But pushing aside Kant and the nitty-gritty details of one academic study — a study that certainly begs for more research to explain why exactly our brains can be moved by things grotesque and gorgeous — there’s one takeaway I’d hope you glean. And it appears bolded twice in this article already.

The likelihood of you and another person sharing the exact same opinions on a group of artworks is as probable as you both having the same stock of personally relevant information hidden inside your mind. More likely than not, you’re going to disagree, and that’s OK! Science, dear readers, says that’s OK. I say that’s OK.

So, the next time you stumble across a piece of art, be it a nude photograph or a splashy bit of graffiti or a confounding work of contemporary sculpture, please refrain from exclaiming, “This isn’t art!” Not only are you reducing the very subjective act of judging a piece of art to a yes-or-no question, you’re ignoring the incredibly complicated system of neurons and cache of personal experiences that inevitably influence your answer.

Try, before uttering the cursed phrase, to ask yourself: “Does this art move me?” And maybe that question alone will inspire you to think more deeply about your subjective and personal relationship to art.

Remember, while one piece of art is not moving you at all, it might be moving someone else, on a neurological level no less. And that’s pretty wild.

Text by Katherine Brooks.

Source: The Huffington Post

If you don’t care about art, you may still call yourself intelligent

The fine arts don’t matter any more to most educated people. This is not a statement of opinion; it is a statement of fact.

As recently as the late 20th century, well-educated people were expected to be able to bluff their way through a dinner party with at least some knowledge of “the fine arts” — defined, since the late 18th century, as painting, sculpture, orchestral or symphonic music, as distinct from popular music, and dance/ballet. (“Starchitects” notwithstanding, architecture has never really been one of the fine arts — it is too utilitarian, too collaborative and too public).

A few decades ago, in American gentry circles, it would have been a terrible faux pas not to have heard of Martha Graham. You were expected to know the difference between a French impressionist and an abstract expressionist. Being taken to the symphony and ballet as a child was a rite of initiation into what Germans call the Bildungsburgertum (the cultivated bourgeoisie).

The “back of the book” in widely-read journals like The New Republic andThe Nation regularly reviewed the latest developments in the New York “art scene.” If you skipped over those sections, you did so with a guilty conscience if you wanted to be a card-carrying member of the intelligentsia.

This is no longer the case. The latest issue of the venerable New York Review of Books, to be sure, has an essay on the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. But to judge from zines like Vox, the younger generation of literate and well-educated Americans have an intense interest in literate cable television shows like “Game of Thrones” and the issues of race and gender in Marvel Comics movies. Trends in American painting ever since the plate paintings of Julian Schnabel are not a big subject of debate among Millennials. As far as I can tell, very few college-educated people under the age of 50 pay any attention to the old fine arts at all. A search of the newer literary journal n+1 for traditional reviews of gallery shows revealed only this essay by Dushko Petrovich — from 2005:

Painting has been both dead and back for a little while now, and Greater New York is no exception. Painting hangs out with harsh videos, miniature amusement park rides, and big photos of failed politicians…Many of the paintings seem simply to wish not to keep going, which, if they were sentences or pop songs, would be expected of them. As it is, they can get away with a pose. Their audience, however, is less still and moves swiftly toward the café.

There is still an art world, to be sure, in New York and London and Paris and elsewhere. But it is as insular and marginal as the fashion world, with a similar constituency of rich buyers interacting with producers seeking to sell their wares and establish their brands. Members of the twenty-first century educated elite, even members of the professoriate, will not embarrass themselves if they have never heard of the Venice Biennale.

Many of the Arts Formerly Known as Fine seem to have lost even a small paying constituency among rich people, and live a grant-to-mouth existence. In the old days, bohemian painters lived in garrets and tried to interest gallery owners in their work. Their modern heirs — at least the ones fortunate to have university jobs — can teach classes and apply for grants from benevolent foundations, while creating works of art that nobody may want to buy. Born in bohemia, many aging arts have turned universities into their nursing homes.

What happened? How is it that, in only a generation or two, educated Americans went from at least pretending to know and care about the fine arts to paying no attention at all?

The late Hilton Kramer, editor of The New Criterion, blamed the downfall of the fine arts on purveyors of Pop Art like Andy Warhol. And Jeff Koons, who replaced Arnoldian “high seriousness” and the worship of capital-c Culture with iconoclasm, mockery, and irony. A Great Tradition of two millenia that could be felled by Andy Warhol must have been pretty feeble! But the whole idea of a Phidias-to-Pollock tradition of Great Western Art was unhistorical. The truth is that the evolution (or if you like the degeneration) from Cezanne to Warhol was inevitable from the moment that royal, aristocratic and ecclesiastical patronage was replaced by the market.

Having lost their royal and aristocratic patrons, and finding little in the way of public patronage in modern states, artists from the 19th century to the 21st have sought new patrons among the wealthy people and institutions who have formed the tiny art market. It was not the mockery of Pop artists but the capitalist art market itself which, in its ceaseless quest for novelty, trivialized and marginalized the arts.

The dynamic is clearest in the case of painting and allied visual arts. Markets tend to prize fashionable novelty over continuity. The shocking and sensational get more attention than subtle variations on traditional conventions and themes. Capitalism, applied to the fine arts, created the arms race that led to increasingly drastic departures from premodern artistic tradition, until finally, by the late 20th century, “art” could be everything and therefore nothing.

The textbooks in my college art history classes lied about this. The texts treated the sequence from Cezanne to Picasso to Pollock as purely formal developments within a tradition unaffected by vulgar commercial considerations, like fads and branding and bids for attention — unlike, say, the rise and fall of fins on cars.

In fact Picasso, like Warhol and Koons after him, Picasso was rewarded by the market for pushing the boundaries a bit further for a progressively-jaded audience of rich individual and institutional collectors. The novelty-driven art they produced for private purchasers was and is different in kind from the traditional art commissioned for church and state.

The process of escalating sensationalism ultimately reaches its reductio ad absurdum in any fashion-based industry. In the case of painting and sculpture the point of exhaustion was reached by the 1970s with Pop Art and minimalist art and earth art and conceptual art. Can a row of cars be art? Sure. Can an empty canvas be art? Sure. Does anybody care? No.

That’s why I want my money back.

The share of my college tuition that went to a few art history classes wouldn’t amount to much, even with interest. But the time I that wasted on studying what, in hindsight, was nothing more than a series of ephemeral stylistic fashions among rich people in the Paris and New York art worlds, of no lasting significance whatsoever, is time that I could have been devoted to subjects of real cultural importance to members of educated people in our own day and age. Like Marvel comic book heroes and the movies they inspire.

Source: The Smart Set.

Picasso and women: fear and desire

Mutual friends? … Picasso and Lee Miller after the liberation of Paris in 1944. © Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.
Mutual friends? … Picasso and Lee Miller after the liberation of Paris in 1944. © Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.

It is the six million euro question – or much more, if you are Picasso’s granddaughter enjoying reverse retail therapy by selling inherited art and property. What were the great modern artist’s relationships with women really like?

Picasso has been characterised by many as a misogynist, a bully who put “his” women on a pedestal only to knock them off it, a man who feared, as well as desired, the female body and who was a selfish, demanding, narcissistic husband, lover and even grandparent. You get the picture, recognise the cliche. But is any of it really true?

There is another side to Picasso, and an exhibition opening at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery offers a glimpse of it. The photographer Lee Miller had a relationsip with Picasso that was neither abusive nor carnal. In a word, they were friends. Lee Miller and Picasso documents that friendship through their mutual portraits – she took more than 1,000 photographs of him; he painted her portrait six times – and adds up to a much more gentle, sociable image of Picasso than biographers tend to create. But was Lee Miller the only woman to tame this minotaur?

By no means. Picasso did not just see women as sex objects. One of the greatest friendships of his life was with the gay American writer Gertrude Stein. She tells the story of their encounters in The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, the memoir of Picasso’s Paris that she wrote in the voice of her lover Toklas, with “Gertrude Stein” appearing as a character in the third person.

It has always struck me as puzzling, if Picasso was such a misogynist, how he could have got on so well with this formidable intellectual and pioneer of gay culture. Stein used to give the young artist copies of American cartoon strips. Their friendship was warm and close, unlike her far more distant dealings with Matisse.

Gertrude Stein, 1905–6 Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) Oil on canvas
Gertrude Stein, 1905–6. Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973). Oil on canvas.

When Picasso painted Stein’s portrait in 1905-6 he made her face a stony mask to convey her extreme strength of character. It is a portrait that breaks the mould of western portraiture – and of images of women in art.

Think of it. At the time Picasso painted Stein, the Victorian age had barely ended. While late 19th-century French painting has some interesting images of women such as Manet’s portrait of his painter friend Eva Gonzalès, the rule is flouncy dresses and parasols. Ever since the Renaissance, the portrayal of women had been shaped by ideals of beauty and constrained social roles.

Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein turns all that upside down. Stein has escaped from the confining categories with which western art previously ensnared women. She is neither old nor young, sexual nor submissive – her stone face makes her something new on Earth. She is in command of her identity. She is modern and powerful, an Easter Island idol of enigmatic authority.

In Picasso’s much later portraits of Lee Miller, there is a comparable sense of mystery. Picasso sits her in a chair and tries to size her up as a person, painting with cartoonish cubist freedom. What are women? What are men? Picasso’s art suffers because we expect him to be much easier than he is. The greatest artist of the 20th century is, in reality, a painter of the mysteries of perception and being. His vision, properly understood, is the most liberating ever created in art. Oppressor? Look again.

Source: The Guardian.