Tuesday, May 3, 2016

You Know What Would Fix that Neckline? A Huge Napkin. I'll Just Tie it Around Your Neck.

No museum day tomorrow, but luckily I have more to think about from last week at the Toledo Museum of Art.
1.)                                Portrait of a Young Woman, Horace Vernet, 1831

For me, this painting called Bouguereau to mind, though the sitter is stiffer, more heavily rouged, less lithesome than his mythological figures. The longer I look at her, the more fond I become, though what if she wound up resembling one of Jane Austen's more aggravating characters? Potential character flaws: arrogance, smugness, rigidity. And on what visual basis do I theorize? That she is painted with a direct gaze? As she was most certainly directed. Bahh.

But here we are meant to focus on other aspects of "feminine character." How does she feel about being the embodiment of purity and innocence? Stuffed and bowed, be-ribboned and be-gloved! Even the foliage -- much too aggressive to be called background -- is in on it, being juniper (or chastity, in Victorian flower parlance). DO YOU GET HOW UNBLEMISHED SHE IS, SHE IS A VIRGIN TO THE POWER OF THREE. And they aim to keep her that way until marriage, if the wilty violets indicates her betrothed status, as TMA suggests (Victorian flower dictionary=faithfulness). They are so tiny and limp to indicate something that must be hardy to be of any use, though. Easily dropped and trod underfoot.

2.) But earlier in the day, the first thing I saw after the welcoming Matisse ceramic mural was Paul Manship's charming Dancer and Gazelles on the second floor. The sculptor's "Moods of Time: Evening" knocked my socks off at the DIA a few years ago, so it was refreshing to encounter his work at another museum. {--> see blog post for photos of piece, which was created for the 1939 World's Fair, more on Manship's career}

3.)                                                 BEST FOR LAST
The MOST EXCITING art moment came at the end of the day, in the museum store. I was leafing through a Kehinde Wiley coffee table book when a staff member sidled up to me. He leaned in with a conspiratorial air: "We're getting this exhibit!"

"WHAT, NO!" KEHINDE WILEY. I actually got head chills*.

"I know"

"REALLY??? Like this exact one~"


"It's locked in, solid~"

"February 2017." He nods, triumphantly before whisking himself away. I felt giddy in the moment, and giddy now, in the typing. I can't really explain the visceral quality to my reaction, but maybe that's unnecessary. I love that Wiley uses traditional European portraiture as a springboard, captures its essence and re-envisions them with African Americans at the center. I love that his painting is masterful, so its technique can not be dismissed. I love that he usually opts for massive scale, so the beauty and strength and dignity of his models are unavoidable. I love that when he reduces the background to a design element, those elements never remain solely in the background, but merge/interact with the subject. I love that he usually collaborates with his subjects and tells them (the guys, at least): "You're going to be in a painting, so wear something you're excited about"
Sleep, 2008, DIA in their "30 Americans" exhibit

Same exhibit

So the exhibit that will be coming to Toledo ("An Economy of Grace") was first shown in Brooklyn, and featured the series of portraits featuring female models. He tracked down models for photoshoots by stopping pedestrians near a shopping district. For this series, he determined he would have Givenchy couture pieces created specifically for them, which initially gave me pause in terms of representation -- so the guys wear their own clothes, and in so doing show more of their personality, i.e. personhood? And the women? Get dressed again, prepared for the artist and viewer's gaze?... But essential to his portraits for both genders is the lifting up, the giving/claiming of dignity that is often denied by the larger culture. And dressing the women in bespoke clothing most certainly speaks to that (Wiley relished the sense of "untouchably beautiful" as conveyed by haute couture). Flip your calendar to 2017, pencil in TMA in February! In the meantime check out the PBS documentary about Wiley's creation of this exhibit.

From the video:

"I always think about the exotic. Sometimes the exotic can be right in front of you, I think that when I watch television, participate in the media culture in America, sometimes the way that I see/have seen black people portrayed in this country feels very strange and exotic, because it has nothing to do with the life that i have lived or people that I've known..." -- Wiley

"[In classic European portraiture] The painting is there to reinforce that sense of belongingness --  for Kehinde's subjects it's the complete opposite. These people were not supposed to be there." -- An art critic within documentary, sorry! watch it and find out...


*This weirdness is usually reserved for something which scares the pants off me, or shocks me. I know I *want* to see a horror movie, but absolutely should not see that horror movie, if I watch a trailer and get headchills. Applied when I was 7, applies now. Don't look under the bed and get the hell out of the house. But for an art exhibit? Never.

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