Archive for the 'Sculpture' Category

The Carters at the Louvre

Flanööri asked me to write about the new video by the Carters. I am not a fan of their music. I’m completely the wrong person to write about the topic, but that might make this interesting. The song sounds like it follows the common theme of bragging about how much money and stuff the artists have, which I don’t find interesting at all. Of course, all this has very little to do with music and everything to do with the video shot at the Louvre. So, I’ll put the new Death Grips album on and have a closer look at the visuals.

carters 1It begins with a very nice panning shot of the ceiling paintings in the Galerie d’Apollon. They look great in fancy lighting. We get a few close-ups of paintings I do not recognize, and then move to the Mona Lisa room with the Carters. They are dressed wonderfully throughout the video and play their part as celebrity royalty very well.

They change into white costumes and there is a wonderful shot of the Nike staircase with dancers lying on the stairs. Then, there is dancing, tilted shots of a few paintings and a bit more ceiling art. And many shots of the Carters who look very defiant in most of them.carters 2

There is more dancing and singing in front of Napoleon’s coronation, Nike and the Sphinx. There is a quick shot of David’s Sabine Women, after which the Carters take another meaningful look at the camera. I don’t know what they are trying to convey, but they look like they mean business.

carters 4Overall, there are not that many instances where our stars interact with the paintings and sculptures in a meaningful way, but I do get some of the points Sarah Huny Young writes about in her piece in Elle: that blackness is an art form in the video. There are a few shots where we see people mimicking the actions of statues, and a strange image of a man standing on a horse that somehow reproduces a Géricault painting. The latter looks interesting, because it obviously carnivalizes the original image of a Napoleonic officer. The man’s clothing mimics the stars and stripes, he’s wearing a cowboy hat, and he is standing on his horse. It would probably be my favorite image in the video were it not for another one that occurs a bit earlier.

carters 3It’s another David, his Portrait of Madame Récamier. Reclining on the floor under the painting, dressed in headgear that echoes the madame’s dress, are two women who also seem to recreate the symmetry of the strange sofa of the painting. There is a morbid parody of the painting by Magritte where the madame has been replaced by a coffin. I would have loved to have seen it in the background instead of the original. In any case, the Neoclassical dress and general setting of the image point to an idealized version of Ancient Greece, the socialite madame to contemporary ideals of beauty. The two ladies point to something else.

The Carters’s strange poses, defiance, intentional vulgarity (the song is called “Apeshit”) and all the rest of it seem to be aimed at creating a new standard of beauty through a commentary on European aesthetics. The plan still rests on the tradition it criticizes, but the critique does remind us of everything that has contributed to it, and of the fact that it’s still an ongoing tradition. The pieces in the Louvre are not preserved in the past. They are here with us in the present.

I guess that’s what I take home from this: aesthetics is never a theoretical exercise and always entangled with history. To quote Death Grips: “It’s a shitshow.”

Art in London

A while back, I took a trip to London in order to look at paintings and sculptures. As I did on my trip to Paris, I made notes of my tours of the British Museum, Victoria and Albert, National Gallery, and the Tates and these posts are based on those notes. I’m pretty much uneducated in art matters, so the result is a sort of reconstructed memory of my effort to educate myself. Here’s a list of the posts minus the romances, little scenes which I attached to certain Modernist paintings:

(1) Meeting Old Friends in the British Museum
(2) The Arrogant Spectator
(3) The Elgin Marbles
(4) The Mona Lisa of the British Museum
(5) Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
(6) Gods Are Dead and I Feel Fine
(7) Sunshine Horrorshow
(8) Shape and Texture
(9) How Good Can You Get?
(10) Whaam!
(11) Just Express Your Feelings
(12) Explosive Decompression
(13) Who Owns Andy Warhol?
(14) A Flange of Venuses
(15) It Was Ever Thus
(16) It Was Ever Tush
(17) Allez, vivants, luttez, pauvres futurs squelettes
(18) The Hapsburg Jaw
(19) J’en ai assez de ces putains de serpents!
(20) Paint Orgasm
(21) Cartoon Saints
(22) Off with His Head Already!
(23) Virgins and Their Children
(24) Past the Wit of Man
(25) And After the World Exploded
(26) Paint / Glass / Rage
(27) Messianic Complexes
(28) A Sight I Didn’t See
(29) Hodge-Podge
(30) Bernini Clinical
(31) Truth and/or Reality

There’s a tendency for these to get more bizarre as the paintings become more abstract and hence have less to say. That could also be taken as an issue with editing and quality control, but this is an internet blog and both of those terms are, after all, the very opposites of quality control. Therefore, don’t expect carefully constructed essays with each post. You might call them “impressions” if you have to call them something.

Bernini Clinical

Bernini‘s Neptune and Triton was originally situated outside a Roman villa where you could see and hear water, birds singing, insects, people, the lot. Now it stands in a rather dull hall in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s not a bad room, really, and there are more than enough masterful sculptures to make it a great place to visit, but the fact that it is so bare just makes it clear how incredible it would be to see the swirl of that fabric made in marble glisten in the sunlight as fountains around it shoot water through the air. It is bare and makes it possible to examine every statue in detail, but one can only think that this is not the way Bernini’s incredible work was meant to be seen.

Source: Wikipedia

Because it wasn’t. It needs the trees, the birds, the fountains, the people around it talking inanely and flaneurs trying to look cool, lovers lying to each other, children crying, dogs barking, the sun setting and rising, etc. You get the picture. It needs life around it. Otherwise, it’s just a lonely block of stone.

The Elgin Marbles

About half of the marbles from the Parthenon were transported to Britain by the 7th Earl of Elgin and ended up in the British Museum. The rest of them are scattered around the world in museums and galleries, but the Elgin Marbles are the biggest single collection of these incredible public works. They have been controversial from day one, from Elgin’s time to the present when their return has been demanded by a number of people. The British Museum has not been cooperative and it is unlikely it will ever be.

Source: Wikipedia

As you can hopefully see from the detail of the frieze above, everything was perfect. The stolen friezes go around the rooms, and they are no small rooms, and every single fold of canvas has been done with a meticulousness that seems miraculous even after the paint has been stripped away, after time and the winds have done their damage and they have been shipped to the other side of Europe. They have even been blown up and yet their former glory is more than apparent.

Clothing on the pediment sculptures is even more fantastic. However, they have obviously suffered horribly and seem more like handsome corpses than decayed masterpieces.

Source: Wikipedia

At first, it seems ridiculous to think that the dresses of these figures are made of rock, but they are and they also have been blown up and, furthermore, lounged through the horrible damage done to the pieces by Elgin’s expedition as they sawed one of the greatest buildings ever erected into little bits.

Source: Wikipedia

Sometimes the work reminded me of the Louvre’s Nike and the decay of that piece and many of the Elgin marbles do make their ragged yellow dresses and severed body parts act as a terrible reminder of what has been lost forever. There was an interesting video in one of these rooms in which a virtual restoration of one of the scenes was done, one of the metope sculptures if I remember correctly, but even this made it clear that it is impossible to know what exactly these scenes were like.

Source: Wikipedia

For instance, what was the background color of this battle? What were the centaur’s colors and had these two perhaps even clothes or jewelry? They probably had weapons made of some metal, perhaps even golden ones. There are many things beyond our knowledge, so it is no surprise that often the most we can do is sit in the ruins of past glory in silence.

Meeting Old Friends in the British Museum

Friends of mine who have spent time in Greece always remember to mention “the Islands.” They say that it’s a wonderful idea to use a few days to go island hopping. This just sounds like an excuse to hang out at the boat, and that’s what vacations are all about. But there is something else besides cheap lager and stomach problems the islands have to offer, and this is of course the old Cycladic culture that left us, among other things, these weird figurines.

Source: Wikipedia

I’m told that the ones I saw in the British Museum follow something called the Keros-Syros schema and so does the one I saw in the Louvre not long ago. However, it’s difficult to see the similarities in the Louvre’s Cycladic head, and not only because dating these things has a lot to do with the way the arms and the feet are positioned. In any case, there is a rather complicated path of development for dating, illustrated below in a picture I borrowed from Current Archeology.

Source: Wikipedia

The shape of the heads seems to indicate that the Louvre head is a bit older than the one above and this other one from ca. 2700-2500 BC.

Source: Wikipedia

As you can see below, the Louvre head has a much narrower top than the other ones and given our little evolutionary scheme it should be no surprise that it could be from as far back as 3000 BC.

Source: Wikipedia

Of course, I know next to nothing about dating old marble statuettes and hence all this might be just empty drivel. For instance, the fact that the Louvre head is from a much larger statue (estimated about 140 cm) could make all the difference in its head shape. Maybe the shape has been made to accommodate the viewing angle, or maybe the sculptor had only a small piece of marble for the head.

Experts have probably figured this out and while they’ve been out doing that, I’ve been trying to get my head around the four or five thousand years that separate the sculptor and myself. These things were definitely painted and you can see that there’s room for great big eyes that must have been pretty impressive, but all other details seem to have faded over time. The heads were supposedly a great inspiration to Modernist sculptors and their simplicity was the thing that was most appealing to them. But who knows how these were tarted up with paints and other decorations. They might just be mere skeletal remains of something much more grand, goddesses in full regalia now stripped naked. There’s probably no way of knowing how the gods dressed so long ago, but it’s easy to guess why our modern times prefer simple ones.

Art in Paris

I took a trip to Paris in 2008 with the sole purpose of looking at paintings and sculptures. I made notes of my tours of the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay and these posts are based on those notes. I’m uneducated in matters of art, so the result is a sort of reconstructed memory of my efforts to educate myself. Here’s a list of posts:

(1) Some Large Paintings in the Louvre
(2) Sabine Women
(3) Two Poussins with Special Effects
(4) Caravaggio
(5) Louis’s Other House
(6) Chiaroscuro and La Tour
(7) Overnite Renaissance
(8) Not So Fresh
(9) The Greatest Leonardo
(10) What the Hell is Mannerist Art Anyway?
(11) Getting Serious About Pottery
(12) Angels With Human Faces
(13) Some Female Figures in Marble
(14) Head
(15) Impressionist Blurriness
(16) Realist Rudeness
(17) Painting Monet’s Eyes
(18) Degas and the Puberty of Modern Painting
(19) Vincent Van Gogh
(20) Gray, Bland, and Dull
(21) Some Dudes in Bronze
(22) Oncle Corot
(23) Pretty Ladies
(24) Camille Claudel
(25) Looking for Simberg at Musée d’Orsay

The posts were transferred here from my previous blog and unfortunately I cannot include the comments. Similar posts will appear on this blog from London and, a bit later, Amsterdam. The tone of the posts is very informal and be warned that there is a bit of profanity as well, but they do include pretty pictures and links to more information.

Camille Claudel

Source: Wikipedia

Camille Claudel was beautiful and a genius sculptor. Well-connected and recognized for her skills, her career would have been a great one had she not also been insane. It’s not clear how crazy she was, but she spent thirty of her final years in an asylum.

She and Rodin were lovers and he made many portraits of her, including this one:

Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately (a word that pops up over and over again in her story), his loyalty to his long-time partner was stronger and he dumped her, leaving her devastated. Top that with the loss of a child and a life lived unjustly held up in a nut house and you have one of the tearjerkingest tissue-consumingest stories ever told. Of course, there’s a movie about it, starring Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu.

It’s good to know this stuff, because her break-up with Rodin was the subject of her famous L’Âge Mûr, prominently displayed at Musée d’Orsay.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s supposedly symbolic, depicting maturity or maturation, but it’s also an autobiographical piece. That’s her on her knees, naked and imploring, and Rodin walking away with his other woman. The allegorical interpretation would posit the girl on her knees as youth and the man who’s tearing himself away from her with the older woman would be maturity.

Source: Wikipedia

There’s no mistaking the bad guy here: it’s that witch stealing her man, her folds engulfing him and turning him into a part of herself. Claudel was obsessed enough to work on this for years and who knows if it was therapy or a catalyst for her madness. Despite the exciting movement and technical mastery and innovation, it’s still painful to look at.

I don’t like melodrama that’s only been devised to make you cry. Stuff that surprises you to tears is more to my taste. For instance, I thought (and still do) Bambi was the most heinous fucking thing I’d ever seen when I first saw it at age six. I puzzled over it, asking: “Why in God’s name would they want to make little children cry?” I hate those stories, especially when they are based on true ones.