Text

Happy New Year!  If you were wondering, you have a little under two weeks left to catch Balthus: Cats and Girls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.    Balthus is far from a block buster show, and hardly a household name to the non-art historian. Yet, his peculiar show is a great conversation starter and absolutely worth a trip with a friend and certainly a hot debate over a glass of wine afterwards. 

The Academic Read:  Balthus (1908-2001) was a French painter, who painted in a style that he called “Timeless Realism”… a more familiar painter of this same style was the surrealist Georgio  De Chirico.  When the rest of the art world was obsessing over abstraction and cubism and then collage and modernism, Batlhus was fixating on the Old Masters and the craft of painting.  He was obsessed (and it becomes obvious) with the Renaissance Italian fresco painter Piero della Francesca… an obsession that grows increasingly influential in his work as he himself gets older and eventually moves to Rome to become the Director of the French Academy there.  

SO, What’s the Big Deal:  So, what makes Balthus so unique/provocative if he was painting in an “old fashioned” way at a time of relentless pursuit of modernism?  Well, it was his subject matter.  For years, Balthus focused his artistic (and, sexual) gaze on young women.  Mainly, pre-pubescent girls of his neighbors who he would pose in girlishly uninhibited repose.  Less sexualized were the girls that he painted than overtly, intensely sexual is his voyeuristic gaze towards them.  (Below, Therese Dreaming from 1938- a part of the show… which in digital form looks like a Sunday Evening Post Cover by Rockwell gone terribly awry)

Does Therese seem like a Lolita? A temptress?  No, far from it. But are we creeped out by this strange and slight man not only painstakingly painting this scene, but also… unlike the average adult who might say “Therese, sit UP!”, instead taking advantage of it? Enjoying it.   So, it’s the enjoyment of these girls.. the awkward interiors and unusual positions that he places them in that has made Balthus a hard artist to handle.   Judith Thurman (who met the artist as a younger woman when he was living in Paris) wrote in the New Yorker that “ake the high ground if you prefer, though none of the models, or their parents, ever accused Balthus of impropriety. The impropriety—timeless and realistic—was in his imagination.”  Hmm. Perhaps. Or perhaps it was simply a different time where children were less protected… or kept more quiet or made to keep quiet. No one knows.  What we do know is that it’s difficult to look at these paintings with a modern lens, before Megan’s Law, the devastation of the Catholic chruch scandals and two decades of Oprah classes on child predators.    And so, there is the room for your friendly debate. 

Sound Smart at the Museum with Some Biography:  My discomfort with Balthus is largely buttressed by his rather unusual biography.. and I can’t help but see his work largely via that lens.  He was born Balthasar Klossowski de Rola to a father who was a very well known Art Historian and a mother who was a fixture on the artistic social scene of Paris at the time.  The cultural elite paraded in and out of the de Rola house, including the likes of Jean Cocteau who modeled the rather vindictive and odd children of Les Enfants Terribles on Balthus and his sister.  For many years his mother had Rainer Maria Rilke as a lover, and it was Rilke (a published author) who discovered Balthus love of drawing and commissioned a book of Balthus cat drawings called Mitsou when Balthus was only eleven years old.  As he turned to serious painting he kept his gaze on cats, but also, of course on the young girls.   His first show was a critical disaster and he attempted suicide when his paintings were so poorly received.  A slow worker, he would sometimes take up to two years to complete any one painting… something fascinating to note since so often his subjects feet and hands feel…unfinished.  I couldn’t help leaving the show feeling that Balthus was an over-indulged child, and a petulant one at that.  He evoked for me less a great master, than one of the Royal Tennenbaum children as an adult.  Of course that’s for you to decide. 

What You Won’t See: Is my favorite Balthus. It’s not in the show and it’s disgusting.  Why do I like it?  Jerry Saltz says it better than me- but he stops essentially f-ing around and taunting us with pushing our buttons and finally pushes them.  It’s called The Guitar Lesson, 1934. 

Text

The Elephan and the Dove It was a happy coincidence that nearly brought tears to my eyes that we while in Paris recently we were able to see the epic show at L’orangerie that showcased the work and lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera side by side.  I’d often spoken with Mayra about how they were opposite sides of the same coin, these two:  He the ultimate MAN who had to make everything Big, Loud… important.  The art quite literally had to make a statement about him, about Mexico and about the world at large. The canvas size could almost never big big enough as the figures of his massive murals were almost life size.  Frida, on the other hand, had different stories of importance… those related to home and the turbulent emotions and feelings living inside of her mind… a place that her many injuries and surgeries often restricted her to.  If Diego needed to constantly get bigger, Frida almost seemed to work smaller and smaller as time went on- and the show does a wonderful job of creating a small room to showcase her small wood paneled paintings depicting her miscarriage and even her miniature religious-icon like self portraits.  If Diego worried about the external, Frida’s concerns were strictly of the heart… and yet, that did not make her work any less boldly Mexican.  The genius of L’art en Fusion is that it sets up their lives and love story against another their greatest joint passion: Mexico.  Their joint commitment to shaping the future of post-revolutionary Mexico is the heart and drive of both of their work… though Diego learned and mastered how to speak in the charming language of canonical European Art, while Frida used the visual language of indigenous, rural Mexico (it’s symbolism, it’s plants, it’s animals).   What the exhibition does though, is explain despite his massive fame, grand scale work and showboating persona, without the heartbeat of Frida’s work, Diego was incomplete.  Most telling:  the majority of the exhibition comes from the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico, a museum founded by a contemporary collector of Rivera’s work.  When she was amassing his works to start the museum of 145 paintings, Rivera insisted she take 25 of Kahlo’s… his work was incomprehensible in his own point of view, without seeing hers side by side. 

Video

After I posted the Dina Goldstein work, a friend from Brown invited me to hunt down Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (uploaded to You Tube thankfully by Teddy Foyle).  She is one of few people to watch this film made in 1987 as Todd Haynes had donated an educational copy to Brown and she’d seen it in a  Modern Culture and Media class (a very Brown thing to do, btw!).  

Using Barbies, he tells the story of Karen Carpenter and her very perfect family and essentially how Karen’s life was never quite her own and so she, like many women who feel that they have no control over their actual lives, take control of something else: the food that they intake.  

Something interesting about Karen Carpenter: her worth was never going to be able to come to her from anything that we would think it would.  Critics may have dismissed her sound, but no one dismissed her voice.  By all accounts she was popular- albeit it, like anyone with a disease, distracted… But, to her, two things mattered- the love of her mother and the approval of her brother.  As long as she felt unfilled that way, she would leave herself unfilled it seems. 

43 Minutes is an eternity in today’s video consumptive culture… but so well worth it. 

Source: youtube.com
Photo

I saw this posted on Junot Diaz facebook page… though I’m realizing I had vaguely remembered it from a few months ago. Somehow this morning it was a bit more haunting. I’ve been married and the running joke is that people for some reason act like marriage is “a prize”… in no small part because of the many fairy tales we are force fed.  But counting on this external-ness, this sense that this ONE thing will make it all right.. well, I think that false belief might be the thing that’s caused us ladies so many of our own tortures.  I never felt more lonely than in the days after my wedding and remember sitting in different rooms while he worked on his grad school work and I did whatever distraction I had come up with for the evening and I would just drink glass and glass after wine. I’d never done that before I got married, but ironically I had never felt the need to until “Happily Ever After.”  Just made me think… what do these stories really tell our girls about the “PREMISE” of happiness?  What corrective roads will they have to explore to right the myth that is so innocently placed before us generation after generation.  Simple premise by artist Dina Goldstein, haunting result. (via Artist Shows What Disney Princesses’ Happily-Ever-Afters Really Look Like | DeMilked)

Source: demilked.com
Photo

I saw the Mickalene Thomas show at the Brooklyn Museum almost a whole year ago and I’m still a bit haunted by it.  The paitings and meticulously styled backdrops evoking the 70’s and her childhood home, where her mother ran a “high end drug den” and whore house, are evocative and beautiful… but the real stand out - and the thing that’s been on my mind since I saw the show- was the short film about her mother… her muse.  Art can heal the viewer, but I think it can do as much for the creator as well.  We spent the early part of the year working on a writing project about… well, how we ended up forming this business.  As my “day job” slows down for the winter, I find myself returning to that project and realizing how even scratching the surface of writing our story was a source of catharsis, clarity of vision and change in approach.  So, while I admire Thomas’ ability to blend commerically successful projects with her pure art… and admire the layers of work and patterns and embrace of art history in her oeuvre, I MOST admire her to take her challenges and turn them into something beautiful.  It takes a lot of courage to mine our own minds.

Text

I had a moving experience at the Met last weekend.  I say moving, because I cried in a museum… several times.  I cried because I still can’t believe that I am living a life where I can see the things that I saw in slides in person. I cried because I remembered the kindness of my legendary Art History Professor Kermit Champa- who tried to steward my career and loved Matisse so.  And I cried because I just never thought I was a good enough painter… or maybe anything else.. and I realized I was so not alone.

To see Matisse at The Met is to see the Artistic process in action and to witness the feeling every creative person knows: not feeling that you are enough.  it’s never enough and never worth writing home about.. except that often it is.  You witness- gallery after gallery- painting after painting, a man who wasn’t convinced he knew the answer and so worked harder and harder and harder trying to get it right. He tried different things, he tried new methods… he focused. 

A week later I had girlfriends over to watch Beyonce “Life Is But a Dream”… more ironically in intention, but oddly similar in result.  What I witnessed was the same process. The same thought that it isn’t enough to put “you” out there b/c you are so fabulous, but YOU must be a great and worthy product. You must be worth the eyes of people. You must earn it. 

Often we are loathed to consider ourselves artist- but we are! We are creators and we are embarrassed that our creations aren’t enough!  It’s so very normal.  If you are creative and have ever had doubts, the odd double header of Beyonce and Matisse is a fabulous one:  they show that no one is a harder critic than you AND that your creativity is a process of work, assessing, and more work. Must sees for the Creative Process.

Photo
Text

image

Today is the birthday of Claude Manet, considered by many to be the father of the impressionist movement. Impressionism, especially early impressionism was as much about provocation as it was about individualism of the brush stroke and Manet’s Olympia (which made it’s debut in 1865) was shocking.  Of course, nudes in art are as timeless as art itself, but this was anything but just a nude.  It was an in your face representation of life as Manet knew it: the Paris of prostitutes who lounged in bed, were perhaps a bit visibly dirty, and received flowers from suitors from their Black servants.   His reference point was thoroughly modern, yet rooted in history (below is Titian’s Venus of 1538)… imageit’s one thing to be looked directly in the eye by a Venus but fine art of a prostitute?  Well, it was too much for the public to bare.  And yet, it was just the beginning of a career that would force, in beautiful painted form, the public to look at the realities of modern life AND, the role of the woman in it: be she watching the world from behind a bar (Folies Bergere), or nakedly having lunch with wealthy, young Frenchmen.. his paintings tackled the roles (for better or worse) of modern life.  Image via

Photo
Photo

“I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down. The other Diego.” (via Messy Nessy Chic Frida Kahlo’s Wardrobe unlocked and on display after nearly 60 years)

Source: messynessychic.com