“…bada bing, bada boom…”

So. The Caravaggio story gets better yet: according to the  scholar Vincenzo Pacelli, the artist did not die of malaria or of anything as dull as that; he was taken out by hitmen from the Knights of Malta in a Vatican “state-sponsored assassination”.

Crikey.

I know what you’re thinking: why isn’t someone, anyone, making a movie? (You are, aren’t you? Well, you should be.)
Relax, already. I’m on it.
All I need is my favourite director, my favourite art critic as consulting ‘expert’, and someone who isn’t sodding Julian Fellowes to turn the most thrilling, rambunctious, bloody tale in the entire history of art into a screenplay.
Here are two of the above, Martin Scorcese and Andrew Graham-Dixon, expressing their Caravaggio-love:


A perfect match, no?
And their film would be a huge improvement on Jarman’s 1986 Caravaggio, surely? A worthy enough take but mired in an effete British ‘arty-ness’ which was, for me, somewhat undermined by an 80s-coiffed Sean Bean playing ex-Spandau Ballet member Ranuccio while emoting in a Sheffield accent thick enough to spread jam on.

No, Caravaggio doesn’t need ‘arty’ or effete, he needs foul-mouthed, brooding, trigger-happy grit.
He needs The Sopranos, where, just as in the shady back-streets of Baroque Rome, everything is a point of ‘honour’ and a ‘funny look’ will get you your face sliced.

So there’s our writer: Sops creator and and script-man-in-chief, the estimable Mr David Chase. Imagine if you will a scene exactly like this, in italianate ‘Noo Joisey’ accents, but with tights and a horse:


Works for me.
I’m also tempted to audition Christopher Moltisanti (can’t think of his real name. Who cares?) for the role of the man himself, but if I’m honest he’s second choice. Top of the list (it’s my film, remember) is Aidan Turner, most well-beloved for his Byronic turns in Desperate Romantics and Being Human:

Like Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, he looks fabulous in black.

Finally, of course, I need a capo dei capi, an alpha male whose authority is unquestionable, a wiseguy with a finger in every pie who’d have you topped as soon as look at you: I need a ‘Pope’.
Yup, in the absence of Brando, and with sincere apologies to Gandolfini, there can be only one: Big (not literally) Al:

Seems to me I’ve done all the hard work.
So c’mon, Martin. What’re you waiting for?
A little ‘persuasion’?

(Still working on a title: all suggestions gratefully received. Try to include the word ‘badass’.)

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Nick Squires’ Telegraph article on Pacelli’s theory:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/9181383/Caravaggio–was-killed-by-the-Knights-of-Malta.html

Yet another plug for AGD’s totally marvellous life of Caravaggio:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Caravaggio-A-Life-Sacred-Profane/dp/0241954649/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334139698&sr=8-1

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Kinkade and Corrie: the Ugly Truth

The demise of Thomas Kinkade at the stupidly young age of 54 has forced me, screaming, to grit my teeth, brace myself, and have another look at his stuff. (I say ‘stuff’ ‘cos I can’t quite manage to make my digits type the ‘a’-word in this context.)

Ghastly, isn’t it, this Disneyfication of nostalgia, this cynical selling of a dream that never was, of ‘home’ and ‘family’ (complete with faithful spotty dog), to, especially, evangelical, conservative ‘God-bothering’ folk who we (I) feel should really know better and get a grip. And all the more contemptible to an art snob (me) because, as my pal reminded me, Kinkade actually could paint:

Yes, they’re both by that same, now sadly stilled, fair hand.
SELL-OUT!! TRAITOR!! PHILISTINE!!

But then, as we say Up North, I caught myself on.
The painting at the top of the post is called Home Is Where the Heart Is. Coincidentally (not really), that is also the title, pretty much, of a recent(ish) Sunday evening schlock-fest on UK telly – you know the type: vets, doctors, posh folk, midwives, village policemen, all set in a lazy-hazy version of long-gone ‘good old days’ and designed to make us forget for an hour the fact that in 12 hours we’ll be grumpily going off to a job we loathe.  Both painting and TV series are operating from exactly the same basis (note the central church tower in each) : as a palliative against present, here-and-now dissatisfaction and discontent. (This is very much a political issue, but if I go down that route now I’ll bore myself to death, so I won’t.)

But more disturbing for me, a rabid fan, is the gruesome admission that Coronation Street, that very finest of soaps, operates from, gulp, this basis too. (Eastenders sucks: not enough jokes, and where else, other than in Corrie, would you get actors like Ian McKellen and Nigel Havers ripping the piss out of themselves?) Corrie offers us a vision of a tight-knit northern community (it’s always about ‘community’), centred around a ‘real’ pub, where everyone knows everyone else’s business and where, eventually, everything comes right in the end. It’s a place which I, born amongst the cobbles, think I know, but it’s no more ‘true’ than Kinkade’s ‘cottage fantasies’.
I love it.

So where does that leave me? Admittedly I’m not one of those who conflate the actor with the character and shout abuse in Asda at ‘Richard Evil Twat Hillman’ and ‘Sally Daft Cow Webster’, but I do buy wholeheartedly into Corrie (ask my husband) and its premise; like Kinkade’s paintings are for some, for me Corrie is comfort food, a place to escape to, somewhere (unless Ken’s having one of his perennial, kimono-akimbo, stomach-turning affairs) better.

So there you have it. If I diss Kinkade I’m not only an art snob, I’m a hypocrite. And that, my friends, would never do.
My Dalmatians would hate me.

Bad art is good for you…

My God, this cheered me up!

Sad Baby

Introduced yesterday to the Museum of Bad Art (how did I not know about this? It’s a trove of hideous delights), I pissed away most of the afternoon looking at stuff that makes the teeth curl.

But is Sad Baby ‘bad’? Can something that affords me so much pleasure (I can’t stop looking at it) really be classed as worthless? We are, after all, very much accustomed to work presented as ‘bad’, in order to subvert notions of artistic ‘standards’, by ‘good’ artists – Dubuffet’s ‘low art’, Hockney’s early faux-naïveté, Combas’ figuration libre, and so on and so forth – and also to the surprising joys of work we are very happy to class as ‘Naive’, ‘Folk’, ‘Outsider’, i.e. academically untrained, but not ‘bad‘.

I can only think that ‘badness’ (let’s cut the crap: Sad Baby sucks, big-time) arises from a yawning mile-wide chasm between intent and execution. (Admittedly, having no details of its provenance and having only the title to go on, I have to take the painting at face value, unironically; if irony is at play here, the work’s a masterpiece.) Firstly, that is no ‘sad baby’: it’s a 40 year-old bloke having a quiet half down his local inexplicably decked out as Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. The proportions are utterly wrong: babies and toddlers have relatively big heads; the legs and the torso bear no anatomical relation to each other; the background is what?? Either she’s monstrously, chimerically, tall for a ‘baby’ or the mantlepiece/shelf is about a foot off the ground. And what’s that brown splodge? The contents of her nappy? A ‘dirty protest’? Any expectations of the charm that we usually associate with ‘baby’ portraits are totally confounded.

But what really kills me, and makes me believe that this was an honest, unironic attempt to capture a beloved child is the care taken: look at the impasto used to render the smocking on the dress, the painstaking shading and highlighting of the face and figure. This is the work of someone who earnestly draws what she/he (I’m unjustifiably convinced it’s by a man) thinks she/he sees, not what’s there: of someone who has not learned to look. Someone like me.

And that, in the end, is what makes Sad Baby hilariously, gloriously, ‘bad’ yet appealing in my eyes: my laughter is mixed with empathy. Someone really tried, then failed, epically. Bad? Hell, yes. Worthless? I’d hang it on my wall tomorrow.

(Thanks to Chris at Galerie Pierre who brought MoBA to my attention, and to M.K. Hajdin who confirmed me in my ‘taste’.)

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Museum of Bad Art: http://museumofbadart.org/

Women Know Your Place

“A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman’s presence . . . defines what can and cannot be done to her.” ~ John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972.

1963…

Hey! Little Girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore

For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you…

Day after day
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again….

2011…

Just sayin’…

________________________

(With thanks to Jade.)

By the people, for the people: we’re all art critics now

In yesterday’s Guardian Jonathan Jones wrote percipiently about how the status/role of the art critic has changed with the advent of and access to social media: the critic can no longer dispense judgement pope-like from ‘on high’; she/he must be prepared, like the rest of us, to engage in debate and defend her/his position. Just as, with the digital age, the question as to what constitutes ‘art’ continues to become more open, so, inevitably, must the discussion.

Hausmann’s The Art Critic

This is an entirely good thing.

Just this week I was delighted by the discovery of a ‘new’ van Gogh, Still Life with Roses and Field Flowers; I was equally appalled that, on the strength of some numpty’s opinion that it was “uncharacteristically exuberant” (had she/he not read Vincent’s letters? His reactions to the Impressionists on his first trip to Paris in 1886?) it was consigned to the art world equivalent of a broom-cupboard for forty years. Admittedly, it is recent technology that has made it’s attribution possible, but this does not detract from the fact that it never pays to be totally in thrall to so-called ‘experts’.

Still Life with Roses and Field Flowers

Again last week, another ‘expert’, the writer and occasional art critic Mark Hudson, decried the ongoing attempt to uncover Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari, reasoning that it would “destroy one of the great legends of Renaissance art history”, and the ‘idea’ of the lost work would prove “more potent and inspiring than the actuality”. This is arrant, reactionary nonsense: ‘art history’, like art itself, is no longer ‘arcane’ knowledge possessed by the few and disseminated by them as and when they feel like it to a grateful audience; mysteries, in an age of freedom of information, are there to be solved, and one should not be bowing the knee to some retrograde notion of the Renaissance as somehow sacred. If that is the Battle beneath Vasari’s depressingly mediocre work, then I want to know about it; if it ‘disappoints’, so what? No-one’s perfect, not even Leonardo.

Rubens’ copy.

It has been ‘experts’, after all, who have been so sniffy about Hockney’s show at the Royal Academy, while falling over themselves to eulogise the conveniently dead Freud; it has been the public, people like you and me, who have marvelled at Hockney’s achievement, come away over-joyed, exhilarated, and kept the queues going round the block by reporting their sense of sheer pleasure (a response much under-rated by professional arty types) via Twitter, Facebook and blogs. I think Brian Sewell, who wrote a particularly arsey review of Hockney for the Evening Standard, was nevertheless on to something when he talked about  art critics “writing anxiously for each other”: the game became neither about the art, nor the artist, nor about communicating with the general public; it was about proving to one’s peers that one ‘understood’ the blatantly incomprehensible and had a fine line in the lastest abstruse jargon.

In other words, one great big circle-jerk.

Hockney iPad drawings

That’s not to say, of course, that critics are redundant; it is always worth listening to a well-informed, well considered opinion (especially from one’s doctor); the good critic will, even if we disagree with her/him, at most teach us something, at worst make us think. But the time where any view from someone in ‘authority’ can be taken as gospel is long since gone. The critic may frame the debate but, thanks to the access provided by the internet and people’s readiness to engage with it, she/he no longer has the final word.

Everything has the potential to be regarded as art, everyone can have an opinion and state it. Let’s enjoy the debate on our terms for once.

(None of the above applies to the divine Sister Wendy, who shall forever remain blameless, if only for not bowing to societal pressure and getting those teeth fixed.)

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Jones’ Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/mar/21/jonathan-jones-internet-art-criticism

Hudson’s Telegraph article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/leonardo-da-vinci/9140336/Leonardo-Da-Vinci-nothing-to-find-but-disappointment.html

Sewell’s Standard review: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/arts/david-hockney-ra-a-bigger-picture-royal-academy–review-7439570.html

Talking Balls: on a response to ‘Mapplethorpe’

The other day I posted an excellent article from Fluster Magazine about Robert Mapplethorpe. Needless to say, it featured a big cock or two.

Someone surprised me by suggesting that his use of the human body as a subject was somehow exploitative, demeaning the owners of said cocks and thus, by implication, us the viewers.

I beg to differ. Strongly.

“I search perfection in form. I do it with portraits, with penises, with flowers. A subject is not different from another. I try to catch what seems sculptural to me.” ~ Robert Mapplethorpe.

“A subject is not different from another.”

There should be no taboos in art, no ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’: it’s about art, about why and how you make it. It is not to condone the gratuitously offensive; it is merely to state that everything in nature, ie everything,  is open to the (female or male) gaze of the artist, and all has an equally valid claim on her/his attention. Compare this, from Rodin:

“To any artist worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.”

Go down the ‘exploitation’ route and you may as well say that Mapplethorpe exploits calla lilies.

The fact is, all art objectifies.
It takes a thing, an idea, a scene, an emotion, and turns it into something else: the art object. This holds as much for solipsistic, expressionistic abstract art as it does for traditional representation. Good art is transfigurative; it contemplates the subject and then, crucially, says something about it, presents it to the viewer afresh. Mapplethorpe’s classical, clean, sculptural photography does exactly this: never have a cock and balls, or simple flowers, been raised so high. Far from demeaning his subjects, he puts them, often literally, on a pedestal.

All of which is quite a different thing to pornography, which is unquestionably exploitative of both subject and viewer. Porn never has anything new to say; indeed, it relies on repetitive sameness, the pressing of the same buttons, in order to find its market. And it does so by by-passing the intellect entirely and homing straight into one’s pants. This is real commodification.

Mapplethorpe’s art is not only beautiful, it is also, like anything worthwhile, deeply considered, deeply intelligent.
It pays to engage with it on something like the same level.

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Fluster Magazine article :   http://flustermagazine.com/2012/01/31/photography-special-robert-mapplethorpe-flowers-penises-and-portraits/

I’ll shut up if you will: ‘Damien Hirst’

Damien Hirst has played a blinder. Make no mistake: he will take his place in the annals of Art History, despite having no discernible artistic talent whatsoever; his show at the Wallace Collection, variously described as ‘risible’ (by me) and ‘juvenile’ (by Adrian Searle), was proof enough of that.

Riding on the coat-tails of Conceptual Art, Hirst has become its apotheosis, and therefore, all being well, the final nail in its coffin. After the banality, the unashamed and ubridled ‘appropriation’ (see below) – what the great Anselm Kiefer termed ‘Anti-art’,- there is surely nowhere left for it to go.

You see, his greatest work, his masterpiece, is Damien Hirst: he has taken the ‘idea’ of himself as an artist, an ex-enfant terrible, and run with it, creating a global brand made spectacularly manifest in the fatuous ego-fest that is the Gagosian exhibitions. This, self-promotion, is his genius.

Where does that leave the work itself?
It leaves it to a large degree irrelevant, a mere prop in the pantomime. It is contingent, tangential; it cannot stand alone, it needs it ‘author’ (ha!) and critics who should know better to speak for it, to give it context, because without Hirst it has neither meaning nor value. This is just about the worst thing I can say about ‘art’ – call me old-fashioned but I believe in autonomy: good art needs no apologetics, it is entire unto itself; it has integrity.

So when I see Hirst banging on that “art is more powerful than money” I wonder why he doesn’t just pull his finger out and make some (art, that is; we all know he’s as rich as Croesus)? Or is it just another disingenuous ‘line’ in the ‘Damien Hirst Show’ that has about as much real heft as “It’s behind you!”?

Go to the Hockney and be ‘exhilarated’; be ‘seduced’ by the Freud. Go to the Hirst(s) and think ‘What the fuck?’

It’s not enough, and never was.

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The Art Damien Hirst Stole: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fq4CerVEgQ

Not all ‘blood, guts and pussy’: more thoughts on female artists.

A couple of days ago my esteemed pal at Exiled Stardust wrote about how female artists tend to be ‘overlooked’ and ‘misconstrued’, with special reference to Georgia O’Keeffe and ‘ladybits’. Another problem with our attitude to female artists, it seems to me, is that we rarely allow their work to speak for itself.

Judith Slaying Holofernes, Naples version, Artemesia Gentileschi

What I mean is, we always have to have the ‘baggage’, the ‘story’, something we do not demand of male artists in the same way. With them, personal histories tend to be interesting and informative adjuncts to the work, tangential, if you like; with women the two are inextricably entwined. Think of Artemesia Gentileschi and you’ll think of her ‘defining’ rape at the hands of Agostino Tassi; of reductive critiques that describe her work as ‘revenge’ pieces. They may well be, but I’d rather talk first about the form, the technique, the skill: about the art object; pay her the courtesy of viewing her first as an artist, yes, an Old Master, and then as a woman.

Self-portrait, Mary Beale

All of which is probably why you’ve probably never heard of Mary Beale (1632-1699), the ‘first professional female English painter’ (Wiki), and friend of court painter Peter Lely (whom you surely will have heard of.) You see, there is no ‘story‘; Mary was the daughter of a rector, got married, had children, had a successful career as a portraitist, and died. That’s it. No ‘blood, guts and pussy’, just a woman going about her business.  And a very fine painter who is now largely forgotten.
Call me ‘radical’, but that sucks.

Exiled Stardust: http://exiledstardust.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/old-masters-overlooked-women-artists-and-georgia-okeeffe-misconstrued/