Unreal Nature

September 29, 2015

To Caress Rather than Belabor

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… How can we possibly recapture the total experience?

Continuing through Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004). This book uses extracts from other books to comment on the featured artists (I’m extracting from those extracts… ) If that text does not refer specifically to the MoMA art that is shown in the parent book, I may choose to use some other work by the artist to illustrate my post. Today’s first is from Jenny Holzer, writing in Contemporary Art in Context (1990):

Meret Oppenheim, Object, 1936

… The piece is sinister. It seems like a cup that could fight back. I suppose fur implies teeth, and so the cup could bite you. I also like that it’s repulsive. That’s always a good quality in art. I won’t even say one reason for its repulsiveness, but I was thinking that when you’re eating, there is nothing more disgusting than when you get a hair in your mouth. This is really an in-depth study in repulsion. … I like that the fur would be a way to muffle sound. It’s like she killed off the chit-chat part of the tea ceremony. I like also that it would be insulated by the fur — the thermos effect.

The next is from The Meanings of Modern Art by John Russell (1981):

Alberto Giacometti, Man Pointing, 1947

… Nobody was more inventive than he when it came to finding a metaphor for imminent doom; we remember here, the Woman with Her Throat Cut of 1932. But when that doom became a fact of political history with the coming to power of Hitler in Germany in 1933, Giacometti began to turn to quite another aspect of art.

“I knew that one day,” he said later, “I’d have to sit down on a stool in front of a model and copy what I saw.” His colleagues among the Surrealists were appalled — “As if everyone didn’t know what a head is!” was AndrĂ© Breton’s reaction — but to Giacometti it seemed that the most adventurous thing which remained for art to do was to reinvent the idea of likeness. On this one card, as Simone de Beauvoir said in her memoirs, he staked everything.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] He sat down and tried to say exactly what it was like to be in the presence of another human being.And he tried to do it as if no one had ever done it before: to start from zero. He did it, as he said himself, “with no hope of succeeding.” What do we really see? What do we mean by likeness? What are we to do with the formless, blubberlike space which separates us from the person we are looking at? How can we possibly recapture the total experience?

Last, this is from James Thrall Soby writing about Francis Bacon in MoMA: The Magazine of the Museum of Modern Art (1990):

Francis Bacon, Painting, 1946

… “I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them like a snail, leaving a trail of human presence and memory traces of past events, as the snail leaves its slime.” But what gives his art its extraordinary force is that it is expressed in seductive rather than satirical terms. His technical handling is so deft and magic that he seems to caress rather than belabor his monstrous subject matter.

My most recent previous post from Elderfield’s book is here.




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