The highlight of my 2011, for sure the moment to beat, was making my pilgrimage to see Manet's Olympia at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris last month. I don't care to make much of a scholarly deep read of this painting since 10,000 deep reads by 10,000 different scholars and artists already exist. Also if you're reading this, you're probably an old pal of mine from art school (who else still reads this crap?) and have already sat through a handful of meaningful lectures illuminating the many ways by which this picture of a whore wrecked art indefinitely and then saved it by making art more rebellious, just in time for the 20th century when everybody tried to outdo Manet's attempt to wreck art by fucking it all even further (read Transgressions: The Offenses of Art by Anthony Julius for a real play-by-play account of why this is true).
Anyway, seeing this hooker in person is worth the entire expense of getting to Paris. Her flesh is so pristine yet also so compromised, so dirty. Her room is 100% tacky. The lighting is crass and horribly modern, the linens, the drapes, her shoes so cheap and her jewelry too. Barely perceptible tufts of red hair grow from her underarms which is how you know she's French and into sex. Her maid or ladyservant, whoever she is, matronly and too available. Way too into having a white bitch tell her what to do. I like her dress though, especially the color and the drape of it cascading down stage left. Presenting Olympia with a Valentines Day bouquet, I'm imagining for today, undoubtedly from a John, maybe even the painter himself. Why not?
The flowers really do a lot for me in this painting, and so does that wretched stinking cat at the foot of the bed. I hate that cat! But I love it also, which is how I feel about all cats. Their principle appeal for me has always been the way they avail themselves to being equal parts detestable and adorable at different parts of the day. Illustrated here is one of the times that I would hate it, for ruining my otherwise chintzglorious self-styling, imagining myself in Olympia's position. She's like "Here I am, having my goddamn portrait painted and at such great expense I might add, and this stinking cat is fucking up my whole high-class persona, my whole business platform if we're gonna be honest, that stupid bitch pussy." The only guy who did cats better was Balthus, obviously, if we're not counting the ancient Egyptians. But nevermind Balthus, let's count the Egyptians, very topical. The Egyptians did cats best in art, hands down.
But what I'm really into, what I am trying to get across right now, is how wonderful I think it is to try and imagine an artist like Manet, basically God in my personal Western Art History Canon, painting a picture of a whore with clear intent to shake things up just a bit and add just a touch of naked fuckability to the centuries-long project of men painting women nude, and he still takes the time to consider floral still-life. SURE, its a gift from a client, and sure its being presented by this hooker's Negress-in-waiting, but Manet still thought it an important enough subject to include here, and I think that's thoughtful of him.
Something I really liked about the Musee D'Orsay was in the next room, where Luncheon on the Grass is hanging. Installed right next to that total "fuck-you" to decent civil society is a modest picture of another floral still life. Its a tough call from my perspective to decide whats a more exciting prospect: the complete banality of a floral still life suddenly electrocuted with erotic potential via its proximity to some nude free-spirit lunching with her clothed male companions (CMNF), or if painted flowers are just inherently interesting, possessing their own alien sexuality. Naturalistic beauty sure, and an opportunity for aesthetic contemplation, granted, but not necessary for my life in the contemporary world if I want to get romantic, not by a long shot. It's a puzzle to mull around upstairs while I'm daydreaming about how intensely I love Manet's art.
Also at the Musee D'Orsay this Manet picture, Still Life with Carnations and Clematis.
Paul P. already got to it, such an enterprising young fella. Goddam MoMA now owns it. Anyhow, here we have example B, visual testimony from the artist Paul P. to support my argument: that there is an erotic ember smoldering away in floral arrangement, especially in Manet's canvases, waiting for its moment when a hot breath causes the whole thing to erupt into a devastating holocaust of desire.
xo happy valentines day from my home to yours.