Tag Archives: visual art

Sade exhibition in Paris

Sade, Attacking the Sun (2014-15, “Sade. Attaquer le soleil”) is an exhibition held at the Musée d’Orsay on the legacy of Marquis de Sade. The exhibition runs until January 25.

Above is the promotional video clip of the exhibition, showing a stylized orgy of writhing nudes who in the end form the letters S A D E.

Sade is in my canon.

And and then there is this: Ubisoft will release a video game based on Sade, a follow-up to the French Revolution-set “Assassin’s Creed” series.

I wonder why the exhibition is sub-titled “attacking the sun”.

Butades, or, the magic of shadows, or, the invention of art

The Invention of the Art of Drawing (1791) illustrates the Butades myth.

The myth is reported by Pliny.

This is the story: a certain Kora (also called Callirhoe), was in love with a boy at Corinth who had to leave the country. Whereupon she drew on the wall the outline of the shadow of his face. From this outline her father Butades modeled a face in clay, and baked the model, thus preserving for his daughter a face in relief of the boy she loved.

My thoughts? Amazing, but, couldn’t Butades  just as well have made a death mask of the face of the boy?

This post is inspired by Victor Stoichita‘s book Short History of the Shadow (1997).

PS Pliny’s shadows remind me of da Vinci’s stains.

 

Yves Klein, the void, obsession with fame and heart atttacks

Above: Yves Klein, la révolution bleue[1] (2006), a documentary film on Yves Klein by François Lévy-Kuentz.

This is another stumble story, by which I mean, me stumbling upon items in my encyclopedia.

I’ve been investigating the proto-avant-garde, and have identified its canon as Negroes Fighting in a Tunnel at Night (1882) Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1884) and Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe (1887).

Two of these works (Negroes and Funeral March) are about nothingness and the void. They are precursors — by decades — to Russian artist’s Kazimir Malevich monochromes and to American musician John Cage’s silent music.

Then I remembered French artist Yves Klein, another artist who worked with the void.

There is his Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility (1959) in which he sold empty space in exchange for gold (of which he threw away half in the Seine) and his photomontage Leap Into the Void (1960) in which he leaps from a wall seemingly on the pavement, but actually into the ‘void’.

Towards the end of the Yves Klein documentary above there is footage from the ‘living brushes’ paintings in the exploitation film Mondo cane, and the documentary mentions a tragic event:

“while leaving the screening he had a minor heart attack.”

Why did he have a heart attack? Was it a coincidence?

Maybe. Probably.

But some (among whom Derek Jarman) have speculated that the heart attack was due to his “misrepresentation” in Mondo cane. Well, misrepresentation, one could almost say ridiculing; his Monotone Symphony, for example, was exchanged for a cheesy “More, More, More“-type soundtrack song from Mondo cane (while the orchestra was still seen playing) and the voice-over was anything but respectful for Klein’s exploits.

The documentary then draws attention to “Klein’s obsession with fame,” which “finally betrayed him.”

Obsession with fame …

I am reminded of Boris Vian, who also suffered a heart attack while screening the premiere of an adaptation of one of his novels. See the death of Boris Vian.

One last digression.

Watching this documentary, I heard Klein reciting perennial favorite Gaston Bachelard:

“D’abord, il n’y a rien, ensuite un rien profond, puis une profondeur bleue.”
“First, there is nothing, then there is deep nothing, then a blue depth.”

It’s from Air and Dreams, which I’ve yet to read.

 

‘Libri idiotarum’ and the triumph of Christianity

It’s nice to find a Google query with more hits in Google Books than in Google itself.

Such is the case with “libri idiotarum,” 47 hits in Google [1] and 215 in Google Books[2] (see also the Google NGram view[3].)

Libri idiotarum” means “books of the ignorant” or “books for the illiterate” (idiot did not mean what it means today). The expression was first recorded in a letter by Pope Gregory I:

“For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books.”[4]

Gregory refers to paintings, illustrations, sculpture and other visual representations used in Christian art to spread the the gospel in an era when only the clergy and the nobility were able to read.

For these unfortunate illiterate souls, the biblia pauperum (an illustrated bible) was also made.

But apart from being literate or illiterate, a picture is worth a thousand words.

N’est-ce pas?

Illustration: Triumph of Christianity

Before the ocean and the earth appeared

Magnum Chaos (c. 1524 ) by Lorenzo Lotto

“Before the ocean and the earth appeared— before the skies had overspread them all— the face of Nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste. It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight; and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.” (trans.Brookes More)

490 years ago Italian artist Lorenzo Lotto produced the image above. The design is a representation of chaos and is entitled Magnum Chaos. It is an intarsia made for a church choir in Bergamo, North Italy. It feels very modern today.

It’s a nice example of the eye as independent body part, the eye carried forth by two legs and two feet and in control of both arms and hands.

It is also an example of a what we in Dutch call a ‘kopvoeter’ (lit. headfooter) or a ‘koppoter’ (lit. headlegger), a style of drawing made by children from about age three in which people are drawn without a body and with arms emerging directly from the head. (see Child_art#Pre-symbolismbelly face and body image.)

They are called bodyheads in English. See update.

Apparently, Rudolf Steiner says something about child art and ‘bodyheads’ in Allgemeine Menschenkunde als Grundlage der Pädagogik, 1919, but I have been unable to find out what.

The Magnum Chaos reminds me of the André Masson acéphale illustrations.

And other grotesques of course.

The image shown above is upside down from the original at Bergamo.

Update 20/2/14: A possible English translation of kopvoeter and koppoter is bodyhead, a neologism coined by English artist Paul Rumsey and given as the title to a number of prints.

A nude woman isn’t indecent

Via peeking into Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (mentioned in previous post[1]) come Diderot’s thoughts on the difference between decency and indecency, or, by extension, the difference between erotica and pornography. According to Diderot, “it is the difference between a woman who is seen and a woman who exhibits herself.”

Here are Diderot’s thoughts in full from an unidentified translation:

“A nude woman isn’t indecent. It’s the lavishly decked out woman who is. Imagine the Medici Venus is standing in front of you, and tell me if her nudity offends you. But shoe this Venus’ feet with two little embroidered slippers. Dress her in tight white stockings secured at the knee with rose-colored garters. Place a chic little hat on her head, and you’ll feel the difference between decent and indecent quite vividly. It’s the difference between a woman seen and a woman displaying herself. (translator unidentified[2], probably John Goodman)

French original:

“Une femme nue n’est point indécente. C’est une femme troussée qui l’est. Supposez devant vous la Vénus de Médicis, et dites-moi si sa nudité vous offensera. Mais chaussez les pieds de cette Vénus de deux petites mules brodées. Attachez sur son genou avec des jarretières couleur de rose un bas blanc bien tiré. Ajustez sur sa tête un bout de cornette, et vous sentirez fortement la différence du décent et de l’indécent. C’est la différence d’une femme qu’on voit et d’une femme qui se montre.”

Please do not take Diderot too seriously when it comes to eroticism, I’ve previously written on Diderot’s hypocrisy. In my view, if it isn’t indecent, it isn’t erotic. That is why I do not consider many pieces of erotic art, erotic at all since they do not provoke erotic arousal. Shame is the most powerful aphrodisiac.