Author Archives: Madeline Kessler

Pablo Picasso: Lives and Loves

Erotic Scene (1902-3)

There may be some things you won’t say, or do, or even contemplate, in front of genteel strangers, but peculiar things can happen at an art gallery. You can find yourself in this type of polite huddle when you are in front of Picasso’s Erotic Scene (1902-3).

The picture contains a self-portrait, the artist was 21 when he painted it, but he seems to imagine himself as a younger boy, reclined on a bed with arms casually behind his head, while a naked woman leans more than a trifle suggestively over his lower regions.

The subject of Erotic Scene was risqué enough for Picasso to deny for many years that he painted it, yet scholars maintain that he did, and it’s not such a surprising painting from one who, at a young age, was so sexually experienced, and whose life would have so many loves. No matter which period of Picasso’s oeuvre one studies, from the Blue Period that shaped the Erotic Scene, through the Cubist years and on into the Neo-Classicism of the 1920s, one might be just as tempted with tales of the great master’s love life as much as with the works that he has created. Viewing his paintings through his personal life would still offer us a rich picture of his work, since it has often been noted how a new woman in Picasso’s life signaled an observable departure in his work.

Man with a Lollipop (1938)

Consider touring Picasso’s love life through a sequence of his fabulous portraits – a few declared as such, most hidden – that reveal his changing moods and amours. While he was in Rome, making sets for the Ballets Russes, he met former dancer Olga Khokhlova; they married in 1918, and his relationship with her coincided with a turn to Neoclassicism in his work, and imaginings of a lost Golden Age on the Mediterranean. Together they had a son, Paulo, and Picasso’s joy in fatherhood was manifest in compositions celebrating women and maternity such as Woman in White (1924). But the artist soon wearied of fatherhood, and of his wife, and as his feelings soured his contact with the Surrealists led him to produce Head of a Woman (1927), a biting satire of Olga. That same year, at the age of 45, Picasso’s attentions were drawn to a 17-year-old girl he met on a Paris street, Marie-Thérèse Walter. His previously cold and dispassionate Surrealist style warmed, to produce sunny, joyfully erotic images of his new love, such as The Dreamer (1932). But again, as his ardency waned, his palette cooled, as in later portraits like Woman Asleep at a Table (1936). And, finally, as was his pattern, Marie-Thérèse was replaced, this time by the fiery and cerebral Surrealist photographer Dora Maar.

Even when Picasso wasn’t painting his women, his thoughts of them were shaping his work: one apocryphal tale has it that in Lent of 1930, the young and pious Marie-Thérèse swore off sex, and Picasso became so enraged he painted a Crucifixion. While this tale is subject to scrutiny, there is little mystery behind Man with a Lollipop (1938), the comic figure who appears with his many depictions of women of the 1920s and 1930s. The composition mocks those who, late in life, return to childhood in order to find replacements for lost erotic love: here it is as if Picasso claims such a fate will not be his.

La Fornarina by Raphael (1518-20)

But which liaison brought the most to his art? The popularity of his portraits of Marie-Thérèse would suggest that it was this unlikely match that brought out the best in him – especially as evidenced in the latest auction price paid for her painting. Or maybe it was the variety of those different experiences which sharpened his art: his works have different erotic images sprinkled throughout: depictions of Venus, of nudes, even a series of prints imagining Raphael in embraces with the young woman who appears in his famous La Fornarina (1518-20). But the sorry tale of the Picasso dynasty – stories of suicide, instability, and unhappiness – suggests that brief encounters with the master weren’t so healthy for his women, nor were they so beneficial for the children to have such as legend as their father. Picasso’s art may have flourished, but other lives weren’t so lucky.

 

The Loves:

Fernande Olivier photograph
Head of a Woman (1909-10)

Fernande Olivier (1904-1912)

An artist and model who posed for over sixty portraits by Picasso over the course of their passionate and tempestuous relationship, Olivier and Picasso met at the Bateau-Lavoir in 1904 and were living together the year after. Olivier was the model for some of Picasso’s most famous forays into Cubism, including  being one of the demoiselles in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Once Picasso became a successful artist he left Olivier as she reminded him of more difficult times.

Eva Gouel (1912-1915)

Gouel and Picasso’s relationship had a scandalous start, they met in 1911 while both involved with other people, and began their affair before they left their respective partners. During this time Picasso left secret love notes in his paintings for Gouel, who was the model for many of his works, notably the cubist work Ma Jolie (Ma Jolie was Picasso’s nickname for Gouel). Sadly their love affair was short lived. Gouel died of tuberculosis, or cancer, in 1915. Picasso described her last weeks in the hospital as “hell” in letters to his good friend, Gertrude Stein.

Olga Khokhlova photograph (1918)
The Woman in White (1924)

Olga Khokhlova (1917 – 1927)
A dancer with the famed Ballet Russes company, Khokhlova and Picasso met when he designed the costumes and sets for the Ballet Russes’ production of Parade (1917). She was 26 years-old and he 36. Picasso married Olga in 1918, but the relationship waned in the late 1920s. They had a son, Paulo in 1921, but formally separated in 1935. Here, in Woman in White, he depicts her at one of the heights of his love for her. Through amorous eyes, she is illustrated softly in a glow of femininity and maternity.

 

Marie-Thérèse Walter photograph (1929)
The Dreamer (1932)

Marie-Thérèse Walter (1927-1936)
Picasso’s affair with Marie-Thérèse began in 1927 and lasted for nearly a decade, making it one of his longest relationships. However, his wife Olga did not discover the affair until much later when a friend told her that Picasso was expecting a child with his long-time lover. Walter and Picasso’s daughter, Maïa, was born in 1935. In The Dreamer Picasso is caught up in the throws of his passion for Walter, using warm colors to depict her sensuous body in repose.

Dora Maar photograph (1941)
Portrait of Dora Maar Seated (1937)

Dora Maar (1936-1944)
Picasso met the Surrealist photographer in 1936, at the famed Parisian cafe, Les Deux Magots, and their relationship lasted until some time after he met a young painter, Françoise Gilot, in 1943. Although primarily remembered for her relationship with Picasso, Maar was a talented artist in her own right, known for Surrealist photography and abstract painting. In this painting of Maar, Picasso depicts her on a throne, the Queen equal to the artist’s King.

Sylvette photograph (c. 1954)
David Sylvette (1954)

Sylvette David (1954)

Only nineteen years old when she met the decades older Picasso on the Cote d’Azur, Picasso was instantly attracted to David. Following in the footsteps of Picasso’s previous companions, David served as both muse and model to the artist. She inspired what is known as the “Sylvette Series” of over sixty paintings and portraits. Interestingly, David’s relationship with Picasso was never consummated as she was too shy to even pose in the nude for him. This lack of carnal passion spelled the end of their time together, especially after Picasso met Jacqueline Roque.

Jacqueline Roque photograph (1956)
Jacqueline with a Headband III (1964)

Jacqueline Roque (1953-1973)
Picasso met Jacqueline on the French Riviera in 1952 where she worked at a ceramics studio. Roque was 28 years-old to Picasso’s 72.  After Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova died in 1961, he and Roque married, remaining together until his death. He created over 400 portraits of her, the most of any of his loves. Roque is called the “muse” of Picasso’s old age.

 

The Life and Art of Picasso –

John Baldessari: The Conceptual Explorer

“I think when I’m doing art,” Baldessari once reflected, “I’m questioning how to do it.” That wasn’t the case when he started out. At the beginning, he was just plain perplexed. It was the early 1950s, and he was studying in California. He majored in art, minored in literature, but by the end of his college degree he felt he was no nearer understanding how to be an artist. How to do it? He decided he needed more training. He needed to follow the same path that artists had traversed before him – acquiring technique and professionalism. So he mastered more styles; he started to paint like those he admired, Matisse and Cézanne; he mastered yet more styles; he became confused. He decided to drive out daily to the cliffs of La Jolla and paint whatever inspired him. Surely, this would force inspiration. It didn’t.

You could say that success only finally came to Baldessari when he accepted failure. When he decided to stop training, stop straining to be an artist. It was around that time, while teaching night school, that he came across a sheet of advice on how to become an artist. Realizing, from his own experience, how absurd that very general advice was, he thought that he might put these cliché ideas to work in an even more absurd and direct way. With that in mind, he made text-paintings such as Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell (1966-8). He then began to wonder if, maybe, art could be about the everyday, about the radically simple.

Perhaps art could be – had to be – ordinary, if it was to continue to matter. So he began to take photographs from the window of his car – driving with one hand, shooting pictures with the other. He transferred the images to canvas and coupled them with simple texts. One picture, Econ-O-Wash (1967-8) shows a car wash glimpsed through passing traffic; below it reads “Econ–O-Wash. 14th and Highland. National City California.” Perhaps art could be made with the slightest of gestures: the video piece I Am Making Art (1971) shows the artist reciting the titular phrase as he makes nothing more than a series of simple arm movements. Perhaps art could be just, well, pointing at things: the painter Al Held had once remarked that that was all Conceptual Art amounted to, so Baldessari responded with a series of paintings in which fingers point, enigmatically, at objects. Perhaps art could be a matter of gathering up the images in the world and rearranging them – for aren’t there already enough images, without artists adding more? And that, in a sense, has been Baldessari’s belief since the late 1970s and 1980s, when he started to make the photo-works for which he is now best known.

Of course, Baldessari wasn’t unique in coming to these realizations when he did. An extraordinary number of artists were doing so – separately, and internationally – in the early 1960s, as Conceptual art began to emerge. Artists were coming to see that the modern art that had once been controversial and critical had now become mainstream, absorbed into museums and galleries, sapped of its force. There was a need to return to first principles – in fact, there was a need to work out what those principles were in the first place. It was time, as Baldessari puts it, to question “how to do it.”

A common, frustrated response to some Conceptual art like Baldessari’s is to ask a similar question: “Is that it?” Surely, art should offer more than arm gestures and Econ-O-Washes? It’s not a philistine response, it’s a fair one, because such simple artworks are precisely intended to provoke and frustrate. They are intended to do all those things that modern paintings and sculptures once did. The question is fair, also, because that sharp provocation has lost its edge over time, smoothed over as we’ve become accustomed to being needled in this way. Now we look back even on those early and revolutionary Conceptual artworks and feel that they are no better than some of the lazier offerings that lesser artists have brought to us since. So, although worrying over who came first rarely helps us to see what truly matters in the history of art, it does in the case of the powerful provocations made by early Conceptual artists such as Baldessari. He was among the first to carry out that generation’s gleeful house-clearing, the first to trash all those dusty store-room ideas about what art should be and what it should look like.

 

And to take that other, classic, frustrated response to Conceptual art, “But couldn’t anyone do that?” the answer is “Yes indeed.” That’s the point. When Baldessari came to realize that so many of the skills he had acquired in college were of little use in making art for today, he gave us all the wonderful possibility of believing that we too, untrained and untutored, could make something that deserves to be called art. So why don’t we? Firstly, there is the obvious point that art is harder than great artists make it seem: it takes effort to look effortless. Secondly, there is the sadder fact that, if Conceptual art was a kind of war against the institutional nature of the art world, the art world won the war because generally, one still needs to follow the same old paths to be taken seriously as a professional, exhibiting artist. But, thirdly, and finally, perhaps there is no reason why we don’t – perhaps we ought to try.

More on John Baldessari  and Conceptual Art – The Art Story Artist and Movement Pages

Display Thousands of Museum-Quality Artworks in Your Home or Office

Electronic frames have been around for a long time, and most of us have used them to display hundreds of pictures of family and friends in a single ‘picture frame’ in our living room or a dresser in our bedroom. But have you ever thought about using an electronic frame to display quality artwork on your wall?

The main problem with electronic frames that display artwork is quality. A typical frame is great for your family photos, but it is too small, and the displays are of insufficient quality to effectively display most works of art. This is particularly true for modern art, where small gradations of color and texture are not incidental, but express the essence of the piece.

Turn your wall into a museum

Potentially, an electronic frame can make your walls more interesting and stimulate your visual senses with rotating images featuring a single artist, school or genre, or juxtaposing different artists or genres in creative ways. In essence, you could enjoy the benefits of a museum visit every day, right in your home.

 

 

Welcome to the New Generation of Electronic Frames

We all know that display technology has advanced, and that today’s wide screen TV’s and computer monitors allow us to watch movies at home that rival the local cinema.

The same technology that drives movie quality displays makes it possible for a photo frame to be large, flat, and display high-resolution images that can do justice to the nuances of almost any piece of artwork.

The Art Story Partnership with Meural

Meural is a leading pioneer in developing electronic frames specifically designed to display high quality images of fine art on your wall. In fact, they developed TrueArtTM technology, a proprietary blend of hardware, firmware, and software designed to render each image as lifelike and textured as gallery art.

The display screen itself is only a small part of what is required to properly showcase artwork. The Meural Canvas also has features such as a built-in light sensor to adjust each image to match the room’s lighting, an anti-glare matte display that deflects light and amplifies the color of the artwork, and gesture controls that allow you to browse through your artwork and learn about each piece with a wave of your hand.

You can own the Meural Canvas at a discount of $50 by using the discount code “THEARTSTORY” on the order page of Meural’s website. Each purchase will also benefit The Art Story foundation, allowing us to continue to develop new content on TheArtStory.org

More about The Art Story Partnership with Meural:
www.theartstory.org/about_us_our_partners.htm

Become your Inner Superhuman via Art Exercises (and the Help of Marina Abramović)

Part I: The Background

Over the course of her performance art career, Marina Abramović developed a signature method of techniques that would allow her to reach a higher plane of consciousness required for grueling, endurance-based work. She researched various spiritual and cultural realms, oftentimes spending time with people such as the aboriginal tribes of Australia or Chinese Buddhists. Her learning lent Marina a superhuman sensibility that included the ability to sit for hours on end without moving, to conjure laser sharp focus while spending extended periods of time in repetitive action, or to withstand intense self-inflicted pain.

In The Artist is Present, 2013, she employed the culmination of a career’s worth of her method to be able to sit physically present over many days while still intimately connecting with each and every person who came to sit with her. Although she was physically exhausted and mentally depleted by the end of the performance, viewers had no visible hint of her suffering throughout the piece.

Marina coined her practices the Abramović Method, an exploration of being present in both time and space, incorporating exercises that center on breath, motion, stillness and concentration. She has since shared it via workshops with both aspiring artists and non-artists looking to reach a higher plane of existence.

Part II: The Logic of The Method

Photo (c) PanosKokkinias

Abramović has described the steps as follows: For each workshop, I would take between twelve and twenty-five students outdoors, always to a place that was neither too cold nor too hot, never uncomfortable, and, while we fasted for three to five days, drinking only water and herbal teas, and refraining from speaking, we would do various exercises.

Some examples:

  • BLINDFOLD: Leave home and go to the forest, where you are blindfolded, then try to find your way back home. Like a blind person, an artist needs to learn to see with his or her whole body.
  • LONG WALK IN LANDSCAPE: Start walking from a given point, proceeding in a straight line through the landscape for four hours. Rest, then return along the same route.
  • WALKING BACKWARD: Walk backwards for four hours, while holding a mirror in your hand. Observe reality as a reflection.
  • FEELING ENERGY: With your eyes closed, extend your hands in front of you toward another participant. Never touching the other person, move you hands around different areas of their body for one hour, feeling their energy.
  • SLOW-MOTION EXERCISE: For the entire day, do everything very slowly: walking, drinking water, showering. Peeing in slow motion is very difficult, but try.
    Toward Our Center:

Part III: Toward Our Center:
Abramović Discusses Presence and Purpose


Part IV: The Abramović Method in Action

Abramović has held workshops from Athens to Sydney, called Marina Abramović: In Residence where she mentors young artists in an intensive two-week program, which culminates in a group show where the artists use what they learned in the Abramović Method.

 

Here is Abramović describing her method at the Australian workshop:

The Abramović Method and Lady Gaga, (The Method helped Lady Gaga quit smoking):

A Sample Lesson For You:

By creating her signature method and sharing it with the public, Marina has evolved her work as a performance artist into one of a great teacher. She has spent a career using her body as a medium and now she asks others to consider using theirs to become fully present in their own lives and to embrace the empowerment that results both on an individual level and as part of a connected humanity at large.

Through her MAI Institute, Abramović continues to spread these principles through collaborations with artists and cultural organizations and to groups and individuals looking to benefit personally from her knowledge.

Further Info:
More on The Marina Abramović Institute
The life and art of Marina Abramović  (on The Art Story)

Yoko Ono and John Lennon: Creativity and Love – The Highlights

At its inception Ono and Lennon’s relationship was both romantic and artistic. In a meet cute worthy of a romantic comedy, Lennon and Ono met at a gallery where Ono’s work was being exhibited. Their first conversation centered on art; Lennon asked to participate in her piece, “Hammer in a Nail” and she said no. She didn’t know who the Beatles were, but the two eventually came to an agreement: Lennon would hammer in an invisible nail in exchange for an invisible five shillings.

Thus, one can easily say that artistic collaboration was at the core of Lennon and Ono’s connection, a companionship that materialized itself in art performances, album records, and a dedication to the promotion of global peace. Here are the highlights of their creativity:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” — Yoko Ono.

Smile: August 1968


Smiling is special to Ono; she believes that smiling “is the simplest thing to make yourself healthy and make others feel good.” Ono suggests smiling in the mirror everyday and actually has a goal of taking a picture of every single person in this world wearing a smile.

She began working towards this dream by shooting SMILE (also known as Number 5), a 52 minute film, which records Lennon’s facial expressions in the garden of his English home. Funnily enough, although this film focuses entirely on one of the most famous men ever, when it was originally shown half of the audience walked out after the first half hour.

A few decades later, Ono has waded into the millennial generation with #smilesfilm, a participatory art project where people around the world upload a picture of themselves smiling. Anyone can tweet or instagram a photo of themselves smiling, add the hashtag, and become part of the project.

Watch all 52 glorious minutes of SMILE here.

Bed-In: March 25-31, 1969

In Amsterdam’s Hilton hotel, surrounded by hand-drawn signs, flowers, and angelic white pajamas and sheets, the couple invited the press to come in to discuss peace, for 12 hours a day. Although having one of the most famous musicians in the world and his famous artist wife lounging in bed all day sounds scandalous, Lennon and Ono were fully covered, and “looked like angels” (in Lennon’s own words.) The lack of sensationalism is even more notable when one remembers that Ono and Lennon were on their honeymoon at this time: in fact using the publicity from their wedding to bring attention to the Bed-In. Lennon was legendary for his dedication to promoting global peace during the Vietnam War era.

Ono released a 70 minute video containing footage of their two bed-ins, which can be watched here.

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

Double Fantasy: 1980


Double Fantasy, an album released by Lennon and Ono, served as a sort of comeback album for the former Beatle who had taken a break from creative endeavors to take care of their son Sean. Even though it ended up winning a Grammy, Double Fantasy was attacked by critics. Charles Shaar of NME said “sounds like a great life but makes for a lousy record.” Interestingly enough, it was Ono who was lauded for taking the most musical risks and not Lennon, the career musician.

John Lennon Died Tragically in NYC in 1980

After Lennon’s death Ono shut herself off from the world, going into complete seclusion. One of the darkest periods in her life, it took Ono a long time to mourn and recover. She credits smiling with helping her move on from her grief, taking her own advice and smiling in the mirror every day. Ono also dedicated herself to preserving Lennon’s memory. From working with the city of New York to create the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon in Central Park (across the street from their apartment in the Dakota building on 72nd Street), to incorporating their shared passions into her artworks, she has never stopped remembering Lennon and promoting their shared message of peace.

Wish Tree: 1981-Present


Ono’s Wish Tree works are both an ode to Ono’s childhood in Japan and a renewal of the spirit of her and Lennon’s mission to promote peace and world unity through art. The participatory nature of this work is similar to that of “Hammer-in-a-nail,” the installation that brought Ono and Lennon together. Begun some time after 1981 this installation consists of the planting of a tree native to the region and an invitation to write down on paper and tie to the tree your wishes. Wish Trees have been planted all over the world and are still being planted today. After a tree has been filled with wishes Ono takes all the individual pieces of paper and buries them in the earth.

Arising: December 9th, 2013-Present

In Arising, Ono calls attention to the plight of women worldwide. Reminiscent of Bed-In, Ono uses the unusual, even shocking or scandalous, to bring the world’s attention to an important global issue; the reality of being a woman today. Advocating for peace towards women by exposing the harm done to them, Ono solicits contributions, asking women to send her photos of their eyes as “testaments of harm” that have been done to them solely for being female.

IMAGINE PEACE TOWER: October 9, 2007-Present


The Imagine Peace Tower is the culmination of Ono’s decades long work in spreading her and Lennon’s message of peace to the world. It is  an outdoor artwork situated in Viðey Island in Reykjavík, Iceland that “emanates wisdom, healing and joy. It communicates awareness to the whole world that peace & love is what connects all lives on Earth. Not only is the tower a literal beacon of peace, it is also another way in which Ono continues to remember Lennon. When the tower is lit from October 9th (Lennon’s birthday) until December 8th (the date of Lennon’s death) and on February 18th (Ono’s birthday), she and Lennon are joined in a striking beam, bursting from the tower like a Northern Light. Further, Ono uses the tower to synthesize her works into one harmonious creation: all of the wishes tied to her wish trees are buried in front of The Imagine Peace Tower and her newest 2016 installation, Arising, will be exhibited at the Reykjavik Art Museum, near the tower.

Learn more about Yoko Ono on The Art Story.

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

Agents Provocateurs: Ringleaders of the Surrealist Circus

“Without promotion, something terrible happens…. Nothing!” – P.T. Barnum

Tristan Tzara, André Breton, and Salvador Dalí catapulted artists to world fame by whipping up scandal, shock, and subversion. Masterminds of marketing, they fused old style showmanship with modern commercial savvy. Any publicity was good publicity, and their shows were public spectacles – an electrifying theatre of erotic and violent fantasies.

Nothing was taboo at these 10 stunt shows. Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, it was just as these masters of spin intended.

#1 THE NON EXISTENT DADA SHOWS, 1920 & 1926 Success for the Dada leader Tristan Tzara was nothing less than a crowd riot. He claimed that Charlie Chaplin (the world’s biggest star) was attending their show at the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées. Excited crowds raged when Chaplin failed to show, while the delighted Dadaists threw insults back. In 1926 Tzara advertised a Dada Sex Show at the Salle Gavreu. What the crowd got for their money was a large wooden phallus balanced on balloons. The result? More audience rage and more Dada delight. Hear Tzara in his own words here:

#2 THE BATTLE OF THE BEARDED HEART, 1923

A spat between Tzara’s Dada group and Breton’s Surrealists exploded at the famous evening event entitled: Soirée du Coeur à Barbe (The Evening of the Bearded Heart). While Tzara’s Dada play The Gas Heart was being performed people heckled. Breton leapt on stage waving his cane and shouting, allegedly breaking an actor’s arm. A riot broke out, Tzara called the police and the Dada/Surrealist split was settled. The Gas Heart was meant to confuse with a surreal dialogue between a mouth, ear, eye, nose, neck, and eyebrow. You can see one interpretation of it here:

#3 THE SURREALIST BUREAU OF PUBLIC CONFESSIONS, 1929

Breton published the Surrealist manifesto and wanted to promote the Surrealist way of seeing to the world. To this end he instigated a Paris-wide publicity blitz offering the public visits to the Surrealist headquarters. He invited people to record their dreams, nightmares, secret desires, and fears in a confession booth. This generated a lot of buzz, but would anyone heed his call? Watch more on the beginnings of Surrealism on this BBC program.

#4 THE FURRY TEA CUP, 1936

When advertising Surrealist exhibitions Breton promised the public that they would be of “a strictly pornographic nature, whose impact will be of particular scandalous significance.” He was always ready to up the ante. Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim had created the above work, titled Object but Breton rebranded it as Breakfast in Fur – linking it to Freud, fur-fetishism and Sacher-Masoch’s S&M book Venus in Fur – rocketing the scandal into the stratosphere. Hear some reactions to this work on MOMA’s website.

#5 DEEP-SEA PARANOIA, 1936

At the London Surrealist Show, Dalí lectured on “Paranoia” from inside a deep-sea diving-suit. The helmet was fixed with metal bolts, but he failed to attach an air supply. As his air ran out, he began to struggle, but the crowd merely applauded – thinking it was part of his act. When the helmet was smashed open with a hammer, he emerged, delighted by his “really deathly pallor.” The Daily Mirror reported attendees “came away shocked, amused, scared, or just bored.” Dalí discusses it in a documentary owned by the University of Texas.

#6 THE DEPARTMENT STORE TANTRUM, 1939

Dalí had created a department store display for Bonwit Teller & Co, New York. The theme was “Night and Day.” “Day” was a hideous mannequin in a fur bathtub, “Night” a mannequin and what Dalí called, “the decapitated head and the savage hoofs of a great somnambulist buffalo extenuated by a thousand years of sleep.” Public outrage meant the store modified it, but when he saw it, Dalí was so enraged that he jumped in the display case and sent the bathtub, buffalo and finally himself through the plate glass window. He was arrested but ultimately let off as the Judge accepted his “artistic temperament,” making worldwide headlines. See more about it here.

#7 DROPPING LEAFLETS FROM THE SKY, 1939

Dalí had proposed building a reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus, with her head replaced by a fish, for the World Fair. Unimpressed, the organizers called it “reckless nonsense” because “a woman with the head of a fish is impossible.” Enraged, Dalí created this Manifesto, and, according to his friend and Surrealist art promoter Julien Levy, allegedly dropped hundreds of copies of it over Manhattan from an airplane. Read more about Dali’s Declaration of Independence at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

#8 THE ‘EXPULSION’ OF DALÍ, 1941

By 1941 Dalí’s attention-seeking and mantra “I AM Surrealism” had angered Breton. But Dalí’s adverts for Alka-Seltzer and chocolate, and his practice of signing blank sheets of paper for $10 were the final straw. Breton expelled him from the Paris group and created the derogatory acronym “AVIDA DOLLARS” from Dalí’s name. Completely unruffled, Dalí retorted it was the only “truly brilliant” idea Breton had ever had. See more about their split here:

#9 SEX & CANNIBALISM, 1959

The front cover of Le Surréalisme, Même used this photograph of Unica Zürn by her lover Hans Bellmer – she was bound up with string, recalling meat trussed up for the oven. The same year, the Surrealist show EROS created public delight and critical outrage with a table on which a naked woman lay covered in fruits, nuts and shellfish. It had been Meret Oppenheim’s idea, and originally titled Fertility Feast, it was intended to celebrate the cycle of life. But once more, Breton gave it a shocking rebrand, renaming it Cannibal Feast, creating an unprecedented sensational art tableau that has been copied ever since. See the show for yourself here.

#10 ROCK & ROLL MEETS SURREALISM, 1973

At the St Moritz Hotel, Alice Cooper and Salvador Dalí, the two arch showmen and ringmasters of mayhem had their iconic meeting. Announcing, in typical egomaniacal style: “The Dalí is here” the older artist promptly decked the rocker Alice Cooper out in $4 million of diamonds and presented him with an artwork titled The Brain of Alice. It was covered in ants and had a chocolate éclair attached. Could it get any more Surreal? See the video here:

The last word, just as he would demand it, should of course go to “the Dalí.” Reflecting on a lifetime of epic attention-seeking, he concluded: “the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.” And, as long as there is an audience, there will be art impresarios ready to deliver it, by any means necessary.

Learn about Dada and Surrealism on the Art Story.

And visit the individual artists’ insight pages on Salvador Dali, Andre Breton, Hans Bellmer, and Meret Oppenheim.

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

Freud and Bacon: Lives Lived Under Scrutiny

For a quarter of a century, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon were the closest of friends. Their lives were characterized by an intense mutual scrutiny of each other and each other’s work, resulting in some extraordinary paintings and a deep but volatile relationship.

Although Francis Bacon was over a decade older than Lucian Freud, their meeting in the mid-1940s sparked an instant and lasting friendship between the two men. For the next 25 years, they would see each other almost every day. Freud’s second wife later recalled that she saw Bacon for dinner “nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian. We also had lunch.”

When they weren’t painting, they spent much of their time at the Gargoyle Club (and later the Colony Room) in London’s Soho, drinking, gambling and arguing. They would sometimes run into other members of bohemian circles, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Freud later recalled memorable instances such as waking up with his head in a toilet in one of their Soho haunts.

On one occasion, Freud lost everything he owned gambling, including his car, which he went home to fetch so that he could bet it. Bacon could be similarly profligate, sometimes literally throwing money at people who asked for it and buying extravagant rounds of drinks. He would say, “”Champagne for my real friends – real pain for my sham friends!”

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

In the studio, they constantly scrutinized each other’s work, offering comment and criticism but not always liking what they saw. As Bacon later put it, “Who can I tear to pieces, if not my friends? …If they were not my friends, I could not do such violence to them.” As two figurative artists working at a time when abstraction was the pervading fashion, their practices drew on these mutual processes of looking and criticizing to inform their painting.

However, although they were painting in the same tradition, their ways of working couldn’t have been more different. When Lucian Freud first sat for a portrait by Bacon in 1951, he was fascinated by the older artist’s hurried and spontaneous approach. Bacon’s paintings of Freud bear little physical resemblance to the sitter, but instead depict something closer to a psychological sketch or essence.

Conversely, when Bacon sat for Freud the following year he was amazed at how long Freud took with the painting. Bacon sat consistently for three months. For Freud, however, this was fast work; in 2007 he finished a portrait that had taken 16 solid months to complete. Sadly, Freud’s portrait of Bacon was stolen in 1988 when it traveled to an exhibition in Berlin. Freud later designed a “wanted” poster for his missing painting, and posted them around Berlin in the hope that it would be found, but it remains lost.

In 1969, Bacon painted a large triptych of Freud. It was sold in 2013 for $142 million, breaking the record for the most expensive artwork ever bought at auction. However, the painting which later made Freud and Bacon the darlings of the art market originally marked the end of the pair’s long friendship. Soon after it had been completed, Freud and Bacon fell out, reportedly over Bacon’s dislike of Freud’s wealth and snobbery. As two highly strung characters with a love of arguing, it is almost surprising that they didn’t fall out earlier. Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud 1969

Although they respected each others early work, neither had any love for the others’ later creations. Freud caustically labeled Bacon’s paintings from the 1980s “ghastly”, and the feeling was entirely mutual. Nevertheless, although they eventually rejected each other’s friendship, they remained tied in the eyes of the public and the art market. Furthermore, and rather touchingly, Freud had an early work by Bacon hanging on his bedroom wall for most of his life. He said, “I’ve been looking at it for a long time now, and it doesn’t get worse. It really is extraordinary.”

Learn more about Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud on the Art Story artists pages.

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

The Power of Public Sculpture

From the pyramids and temples of ancient Egypt to the streets and piazzas of Florence, sculpture in public places has been fundamental in informing the visual consciousness of a society for millennia. Today, there’s even more on show than ever and – the best part is – it’s all free!

Here are a few of the best sculptural works on public display from around the world, including some lesser-known gems:

  1. Jacob Epstein, Sculptures for the British Medical Association Building (1908)

Location: The Strand, London

[More information: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/gallery-lost-art-jacob-epstein]

Just around the corner from London’s Trafalgar Square are these fantastic figures by Epstein, which are placed in niches high atop a building. When they were first proposed, their nudity caused a controversy and public opinion was divided on their appropriateness for display on the street. Thirty years later, when acid rain had made them unstable, some traditionalists relished taking a chisel to these amazing works and reducing them to mere torsos. Even headless and limbless, however, these sculptures remain incredibly powerful.

  1. Dan Flavin, Untitled (1996)

Location: 548 West 22nd Street, New York

Official Site: http://www.diaart.org/sites/page/54/1369

This site-specific artwork by Dan Flavin is managed by the Dia Foundation and is always open to the public. Featuring Flavin’s signature fluorescent lights, the work was completed just before the artist’s death. Understated and slightly eerie, the piece demonstrates Flavin’s sensitivity to the specifics of the architectural space. Tip: it’s particularly atmospheric if you go at night.

  1. Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate  (2006)

Location: Millennium Park, Chicago

Official site: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/millennium_park_-artarchitecture.html#cloud

Cloud Gate is hard to miss. This huge sculpture by Anish Kapoor dominates the plaza at Chicago’s Millennium Park, where it has been affectionately nicknamed “the bean”. The highly polished surface reflects distorted images of the cityscape around it and of the crowds of people who can pass around and under it. It’s like a funhouse mirror on steroids. This mirroring visually dissolves the form of the enormous metal structure, simultaneously blending in with its surroundings and asking the viewer to look again.

  1. Joan Miro, Oiseau Lunaire  (1966)

Location: Square Blomet, Paris

This large work by Joan Miro (92 x 82 x 59 inches) stands in a public park in Paris’ Montparnasse area, once home to a plethora of artists living and working there in the 1910s and 20s. Miro’s sculpture, designed as a site-specific work, is intended to be a memorial to those artists who promoted avant-garde forms and theories, and influenced the work of generations of artists to come.

  1. Fernando Botero, The Hand  (1976)

Location: Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid

If you’re looking for public sculpture, Madrid should be high on your list of destinations. It even boasts a little-known (but enormous) Museum of Public Art, which contains sculptures by Miro and Julio Gonzalez. Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find this huge sculpture of a hand by Columbian artist Fernando Botero. The work is characteristic of Botero’s voluminous style and was produced soon after the artist suffered a hand injury in a car accident.

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

  1. Jacques Lipchitz, Prometheus Strangling the Vulture  (1943)

Location: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Official site: http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/54047.html

This late work by sculptor Jacques Lipchitz is positioned outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a city that boasts more than its fair share of incredible works of art on public display. One of his lesser-known pieces, Lipchitz’ sculpture depicts the myth of Prometheus breaking free of his bonds and strangling the vulture who has been pecking at his entrails for an eternity. Lipchitz saw this as symbolic of the human race fighting against the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

  1. Lynn Chadwick, Couple on Seat  (1986)

Location: Canary Wharf, London

Official site: http://canarywharf.com/artwork/lynn-chadwick-couple-on-seat/

Canary Wharf is home to London’s tallest, shiniest buildings and to crowds of harassed-looking people in suits. It might not sound like an obvious place to go looking for modern art, but Canary Wharf is also home to Lynn Chadwick’s Couple on Seat, positioned with its back to a large fountain. It’s a powerful work, taking inspiration from Henry Moore, and is well worth seeking out.

  1. Jeff Koons, Balloon Flower (Red)  (2006)

Location: 7 World Trade Center, New York

Official site: http://www.jeffkoons.com/exhibitions/solo/balloon-flower-red

Koons created his Balloon Flower (Red) as a memorial to those who survived 9/11. It exhibits the highly polished style that can be found in several of his sculptures. Its bright color and shiny surface make it feel distinctly upbeat, a celebration of moving forwards as well as looking back. Its resemblance to a giant balloon confuses the viewer’s eye; you almost expect it to start floating up into the air.

The Background Info:

Public sculpture in the United States saw a revival under the Federal Art Program in the 1930s, designed by the government to help the country out of the Depression and to promote a connection between art and the public. In the UK, public art was similarly encouraged by the post-War Labour government in the 1950s, who chose sculpture as a tool for promoting socialist values across the country.

This strong tradition continues today, and there is consequently a wealth of fantastic twentieth-century and contemporary sculpture on public view around the world. Unfortunately, these works can become sidelined, missed by pedestrians who don’t stop to think about the work of art that they are hurrying past. Nevertheless, seeking out public sculpture can be highly rewarding; you’ll be surprised what’s just around the corner.

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

Examining the Muse

Who are those people – repeated, disassembled, studied over and over again, taken apart and put back together, sometimes appearing in portraits, sometimes appearing only as a limb or a torso. Who are those muses that seem, in some artists’ career, to be more an obsession than just a subject?

Below is a glimpse into the relationships between six modern artists and their lovers, and the impact they had on their lives.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Diego on My Mind (Self Portrait as Tehuana), 1943 (oil on canvas)

The “Frida and Diego” relationship is notorious, and though Kahlo is remembered largely for her self-portraits, Diego’s face has cropped up often.

Frida’s fascination with her husband seemed not so much a fascination with Rivera himself, but with his effect on her, so much so that many of her portraits included her placing Diego’s face on her forehead, (in her mind) or on her breast, (in her heart).

 

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

Salvador Dali and Gala

Leda Atomica, 1949 (oil on canvas)

Salvador Dali’s wife, whose real name is Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, was nicknamed Gala by the artist for its endearing association to olives. After meeting Dali in 1929 her biography became permanently fused with her husband’s.

The artist, convinced Gala was the antidote for his mental turmoil, often used her as a subject in his work and typically depicted her with a sense of power, presiding over the canvas. After Gala’s death, Dali ceased to paint with women models, maintaining loyalty to his muse.

 

Rene Magritte & Georgette Berger

Georgette Magritte, 1934 (oil on canvas)

The early years of Rene Margritte’s and Georgette’s marriage were happy and she spent many hours posing (typically nude) for her new husband who previously had little interest in using live models.

Rene, generally a private and introverted person, was coaxed into social situations by his wife, which ultimately earned him great commercial success as a painter. But in the rocky stages of their marriage, Rene suffered both in social spheres and in his studio.

 

Amedeo Modigliani & Jeanne Hebuterne

Hebuterne, 1918 (oil on canvas)

Amadeo & Jeanne met in art school in 1916, during Jeanne’s first year there. After a brief courtship and hurried marriage, Jeanne modeled exclusively for her husband.

Their poverty stricken life was spent mostly in Amadeo’s tiny studio. In those two years, the bulk of Modigliani’s now renowned works were born. Modigliani died young, at thirty-five, a result of severe alcoholism and meningitis. Jeanne, unable to overcome her grief, committed suicide the very next day- she did not live to see her twenty second birthday.

 

Tamara de Limpicka & Suzy Solidor

Portrait of Suzy Solidor, 1933 (oil on canvas)

The Art Deco queen was one of the few successful women artists in the roaring twenties who openly declared herself a bisexual. Many of Tamara’s lovers, women working in Paris’s club and cabarets posed for her in the studio.

Among them was Suzy Solidor, whose success as a singer and actress rivaled the painter’s. Suzy was referred to by artist friends as, “the most painted woman in all of Paris”. At that time, she had already sat for Picasso, Braque, and Dufy, but it was Limpicka’s portraits of Salidor that stood out in her collection, and Salidor remains the only subject (short of Limpicka’s late husband), who had made it onto Tamara’s canvases several times.

Francis Bacon & George Dyer

Portrait of George Dyer Talking, 1966 (oil on canvas)

Bacon met Dyer in 1964 when the young man, twenty years Bacon’s junior, was burglarizing his apartment. Like the painter, Dyer was a long-time alcoholic and his brooding state soon turned unbearable for both the painter and his lover. By 1970, Dyer stayed away from Bacon and his social circle, making appearances only to pose and ask for drinking money.

In 1971, Dyer committed suicide, and the death brought on a grieving process that is remembered now as Bacon’s most celebrated series: The Black Triptychs. Though the artist typically denied conversations about his inspiration, the triptychs, he confirmed in an interview, were born of Dyer’s death.


If this article enticed you to do some personal research, check out: Lover: Portrait by 40 Great Painters by Juliet Heslewood here. The book covers many artists spanning several movements and offers rich, historical information about their lovers and muses.

Written By: Darina Sikmashvili

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

Modern Art Pilgramage to the South of France

It’s always a good time for art lovers to flock to the South of France. Museums retracing the footsteps of modern masters are plentiful and full of jewels waiting to be discovered.

Aix-en-Provence: Fondation Vasarley

  • The Vasarley Foundation will make you rethink the definition of techno after you see Victor Vasarley’s works of “social techno art.” Making plastic the new black, see how Vasarely integrated the material into art and architecture.

St-Paul-de-Vence: Fondation Maeght

  • Bonnards, Calders, and Legers oh my! The Maeght Foundation has works by the top modern and contemporary artists; with so much to see you may have to extend your trip.

Antibes: Musee Picasso

  • Think that the only Picasso Museums are in metropolitan capitals? Well you are wrong: step away from the busy streets and look at some Picassos in sunny Antibes. The artist stayed in the area and was so entranced that he created over sixty new works.
Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

Cannet: Musee Bonnard

  • The Musee Bonnard on the Cote d’Azure is the best place to go to learn more about this member of Les Nabis. Pierre Bonnard lived in le Cannet for over two decades, creating many works during his “cannettane” period. The museum is full of his mesmerizing impressions of the Mediterranean countryside.

Menton: Musee Jean Cocteau

  • A unique artist deserves a unique museum. The Jean Cocteau Museum in the south of France has a brand new building, and a collection, as distinctive as the artist to whom it’s dedicated.

Biot: Musee National Fernand Leger

  • If the works of Fernand Leger stir something inside you, then a pilgrimage must be made to Biot to see its museum dedicated to the artist who frequented this Cote d’Azur town. After Leger’s death, the artist’s wife and right-hand-man donated the building and much of the collection to the state to create the museum. Many great artists at the time, from master glassmakers to sculptors worked together to bring this dream structure to life.

Nice: Musee Matisse

  • Nice is so nice you have to visit it twice! The area’s fantastic museums are dedicated to modern art. The Matisse Museum offers a comprehensive look at Matisse’s artistic career. From the Fauvist paintings for which he is so beloved, to his sculptures and cut-outs, this is a major museum of the modern master. Didn’t get enough Matisse after visiting the museum? Then make sure to go to the Vence Chapel designed by the artist and filled with original works.

St. Tropez: L’Annonciade – Musee de Saint-Tropez

  • When you go to St. Tropez take a break from the beach at visit the Museum of the Annonciade. This sixteenth century chapel was transformed into a temple of modern art. The town has entranced artists from Paul Signac to Andre Derain and Henri Matisse – many have left their visual impressions of the unique St. Trop on the walls of this building.

Aix-en-Provence : Paul Cezanne’s Studio

The Atelier Cezanne in Aix-en-Provence offers a new way to experience the great artist’s works. This is Cezanne’s studio, the birthplace of many of his most famous paintings. See where Cezanne staged his still life’s, and then follow the trail to see the iconic view of the infamous Mont St. Victoire – that Cezanne painted dozens times.

Haut-de-Cagnes: Musee Renoir

  • Live like Renoir, or at least see where he lived, at the Renoir Museum in Haut-de-Cagnes, where the great artist’s former home is now open to the public. Fun fact about the museum: the Renoir original above can be recreated exactly in the room at right!

Nice: Musee National Marc Chagall

  • The Marc Chagall Museum is home to the largest collection of the artist’s works in the world. Visiting the museum truly gives you a peek inside Chagall’s visions, and he was actually involved in the building of the museum and created some works especially for it.

Interactive Map:

Like TheArtStory
on Facebook