Art & Porn
Ken Johnson’s review of Mel Ramos show in the New York Times is the jumping off point for a riff on the recent history of the intersection of pornography and art. After leading us from Ramos, the Wesselmann to Mapplethorpe and Salle to Koons to Yuskavage and Currin, Johnson get’s his porn on:
So-called pornographic imagery is ubiquitous in art today. Hilary Harkness’s lesbian S&M narratives, drawn and painted with old-masterly refinement; the photographer Thomas Ruff’s pixelated pornographic imagery, downloaded from the Internet; Mr. Currin’s own recent X-rated paintings. A recent exhibition of montages by Richard Prince featured much-enlarged images of naked women from trashy vintage pornography and fragments of de Kooning paintings and drawings of women.
The fault line running through all this involves the question of the “proper” use of sexual imagery in art. Do we ever allow it as an end in itself, or must it always be redeemed by some aesthetic, social, moral or ironic purpose? Can pornography be high art? Indian and Japanese artists raised it to that level in pre-modern times; literature is loaded with great erotica, from the Marquis de Sade to “The Story of O.”
In the midst of all of this, Johnson seems not to have noticed that Ramos’s ladies are changing shape, reflecting perhaps a more age-appropriate eroticism for the artist.
The Image is Erotic. But Is It Art? (The New York Times)
The Jewish Question
Jackie Wullschlager looks at the idea of Jewish art in the Financial Times:
Yet there are now Jewish museums in every western capital – London’s Ben Uri is campaigning this year for central premises to house its extensive, distinguished but never-shown collection of Jewish art – and the question nags on. The art historian Ernst Gombrich’s lofty reply, that the loudest claimant for a uniquely Jewish art was Hitler, and that separatist thinking leads at best to marginalisation, carries less conviction in today’s culture of minorities and migrations than it did in the assimilationist postwar era. Exile, diaspora, transit, divided identity – if these themes define the Jewish experience, we are all Jews now in the mercantile, transient, global, self-inventing 21st century. That makes Jewish art doubly relevant: distinctive and universal.
Is There Such a Thing as Jewish Art? (Financial Times)
The Bad Germans Were Good
Jori Finkel looks at the opening of LACMA’s “The Art of Two Germanys” opening today:
It’s easy to assume that art produced in East Germany between World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall was all safe, predictable, state-sanctioned propaganda depicting heroic workers in Socialist Realist scenarios. But this exhibition introduces East German artists who explored some of the same fraught political, social and aesthetic issues as their better-known counterparts in West Germany, like Joseph Beuys, Dieter Roth and Jörg Immendorff.
Don’t miss the interactive graphic giving a close reading to Lutz Dammbeck’s “Nibelungen.”
When Worlds Collide in a Single Face (The New York Times)
The Wall Street Journal’s travel section finds the “lost” city of Bagan in Myanmar:
In the late 13th century, the mighty Mongol emperor Kublai Khan rode onto this sprawling plain dotted with thousands of brick pagodas. Soon after, the Mongol hordes came crashing down, and more than 200 years of artistic flowering, akin to Europe’s Renaissance, was snuffed out almost overnight.
Time has stood still since then — or so it can seem to modern-day visitors to the ancient city of Bagan, the center of a Buddhist empire that once stretched across a large swath of modern Southeast Asia. What remains of ancient Bagan are a few humble villages interspersed among some 2,500 Buddhist pagodas and temples, making the Bagan Archaeological Park one of the richest, and surely one of the least-visited, artistic treasure troves on earth.
Asia’s Lost Treasure Trove (Wall Street Journal)
The Street Speaks
The New York Times looks at the changing status of museums to street artists like Shepard Fairey now that his work has been included in the National Portrait Gallery:
The Tate Modern in London devoted a big show to street art last year, letting artists plaster its facade with the kind of work usually plastered illicitly all around its Southwark neighborhood. Other big street names are also starting to pop up in museum collections, like Swoon, whose ghostly, papery work has been bought by the Museum of Modern Art.
But the Shepard Fairey moment may be less significant for what it says about how museums view street artists than for how those artists have come to view museums — how for many younger artists, street and otherwise, museum enshrinement no longer represents the kind of end zone it did for many who came before, even those like Keith Haring who began with street art and deep misgivings about the establishment.
Outlaws in the Art Museum (and Not for a Heist) (The New York Times)
No Autocrat for the Arts
David A. Smith critiques the assumption that a cabinet-level bureaucrat for the arts will improve the situation for the Arts in America:
The primary false assumption at play here is that more centralization is the best way for the government to address a problem and signify its importance. Accompanying this is the belief, stretching back to the Progressive Era early in the 20th century, that efficiency and better advocacy flow from such centralization.
Many will say (often in a testy voice) that the arts deserve a cabinet-level presence because they are just as important to the country as the Defense Department. While that’s something of an apples and oranges comparison, the deeper problem is that it assumes that the country’s defense and its arts can be furthered via the same sort of bureaucratic means. But while our nation’s defense would collapse in the absence of the centralized power of our Defense Department, having a Department of Culture — or even a “Cultural Czar,” to use that awful label we’ve apparently become so fond of — would be neither an effective nor necessary way to guarantee the health of cultural expression in America.
An Old, Bad Idea for the Arts (Wall Street Journal)