Tuesday, February 6, 2018

In Defense of "L'Origine du monde"

Gustav Courbet's "L'Orgine du monde"
Why must any form of artistic expression be defended? Should one be grateful that The Philadelphia Museum is not going to take a Chuck Close show down electing instead to simply introduce it with another show dealing with gender and power issues. ("PAFA Declines to Remove Chuck Close Exhibit After Sexual Harrassment Allegations,Philly Magazine, 1/30/18.) Meanwhile  The National Gallery of Art has gone one step further ("National Gallery of Art Cancels a Chuck Close Show After Misconduct Allegations,"NYT, 1/26/18). Back in December, the Met was being challenged by two young women regarding the exhibition of work by Balthus. ("We Need to TalkAbout Balthus,"NYT, 12/8/17) The Met by the way did not comply. What is astonishing is that lack of protest about Courbet’s “L’Origine du monde,” depicting his subject, who had happened to be a famous Whistler model Joanna Hiffernan, in a famously wanton pose. Perhaps it’s better not to write about this, for fear of exciting some new protest, but isn’t making art into the equivalent of Samizdat a form of collaboration with the most reactionary forces in our culture? A.O. Scott in a recent essay on the Woody Allen controversy ("My Woody Allen Problem,NYT, 1/31/18) makes the point that the life of the artist can’t be separated from his work. Well what about Caravaggio? He was a murderer. Should his shows be taken down or introduced by admonitory co-exhibits which warn vulnerable viewers about the dangers of undertaking a life of crime?

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