Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In the Spanish Manner

The Spanish Manner: Drawings From Ribera to Goya at the Frick is like precognition. If one had been alive to see these works in the 16th or 17th Century, one would have been able to travel through a wormhole to the future. The prescient character of art and the way it reflects both the strivings and turbulence of the mind never ceases to amaze. Here we see the seeds of the Spanish temperament that produced Dalì’s “The Persistence of Memory” and Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. All the ingredients of the surrealist nightmare are represented: sex, extreme aggression (the auto da fé), and the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. “Studies of  Two Ears and a Bat”  by Jusepe de Ribera, with its inscription, “FULGET SEMPER VIRTUS” (Virtue Shines Forever), is hung next to a depiction of an enormous head covered with Lilliputian figurines. In Goya’s albums, which the curators describe as “a form of talking to himself,” there are drawings of women fighting, of a defrocked nun. “Beggar Holding a Stick” is a picture of poverty that foreshadows social satirists like Daumier. Like a graphic artist, Goya uses captions like “you are having a bad time” and “don’t fill the basket so full.” There is the torture of a man by Strappado, in which the shoulders are dislocated, and even the memory of horrible torture and mutilation in a drawing subtitled, “He Appeared Like This, Mutilated, in Zaragoza, Early in 1700.” “Tuti li Mundi” (Peepshow) is a garish drawing of a woman leering at the ass of a man looking into what is obviously a peep device. The Frick show is small in scale, but haunted by the future it augurs.

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