I bumped into this mini-installation by Rene Magritte at the surrealist exhibition at Centre Pompidou a few days ago.
I knew Magritte loved to play with meanings and visuals.
I’ve been using Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” for ages to harass friends (and an ocassional foe) with the question, “What is wrong here?” The answer, in the majority of cases, was “the text is wrong”.
This is a fast proof that the visual channel is the boss for most of us.
Thinking about letters and meanings kicks in later, after the brain has already registered and catalogued the image as a “pipe”. So when the rational brain finally catches up, it decides that there’s something wrong with the letters. The rational meaning of the inscription comes to the peace conference well after the perfect image of a pipe has climbed up the stage and set out its own agenda.
But in the Cheese installation, Magritte runs a different game.
This is “A la main du diable” (Devil’s Hand) by Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, a French artist who farms popular culture with the plough of surrealism. In simple kitchen terms, he is a blender of anything pop and everything surreal.
Given the density of crowds this work was drawing at a recent surrealist exhibition in Paris, it might be seen as the ultimate recipe for a successful show. I spent some time in front of it as well. It is impactful, at least when you see it for the first time. A huge red hand, hanging in the darkened air of a gallery can hardly leave anyone indifferent.
So, get your bowls and knives out on the kitchen table: we’ll be cooking some art now!
Four easy steps to fix a tasty successful show:
Step 1. Choose your foundation: find something (a myth, story, or film) that intellectuals believe is an important part of your country’s cultural heritage (doesn’t matter if it is good or bad heritage) to build your own story on
Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux seems to have taken the eponymous French movie of 1942, that featured the left hand of the devil as the talisman that was bringing luck to the main character (until its owner showed up, of course). The movie’s aesthetics was built around huge shadows, dramatised hand symbols, etc. I don’t know why it is the right hand both in the poster and the exhibit.
Step 2. Choose your main ingredients: three or more images from popular culture in such a way that…
one of them is provocatively sexy
one of them is about violence (sex-related, preferably)
Vincent Sellaer (c 1500 – 1589) Judith with the Head of Holofernes
one of them is about evil that lurks behind a cheerful mask (or good that is hidden behind grisly appearance)
Step 3. Throw to the pot a good measure of surrealism (eggs, tails, animal parts growing on human bodies, enlarged organs, etc.).
It is great to bake together something unashamedly pop, semi-intellectual pop, and a bit of really hardcore intellectualism. And do not forget the titties!
You may want to know how to recognise if something is “intellectual”. When it comes to people we instinctively know who is an intellectual and who’s not (intellectuals use multi-syllable words at least once per sentence, and know that Ed Ruscha is pronounced as “roo-shay”). The problem is that besides doing or loving intellectual stuff intellectual people also do a lot of down-to-earth things. How do you tell then if something is intellectual?!
Easy. It is usually something that intellectual people find more interesting doing than having sex.
Step 4. Once you’ve secured a prominent place for the titties, start moralizing!
Add a spoonful of something religious, pious, or considered 100% moral by the society. Piling up symbols together helps to create baffling complexity (highly valued by Dali admirers) that many spectators take for cleverness. This trick is also used by some Swiss watchmakers, who sell you a transparent watch with a zillion moving parts to make you feel an idiot in mechanics each time you look at your own wrist. The only thing these watches are not good at, is actually telling time. It is more efficient to check it on the phone, rather than searching for the minute and hour hands amidst the chaos of moving parts. Dali was often doing the same, by the way, for identical marketing purposes.
The work of art is almost complete. You might want to leave a few open-ends, like introducing the figure of a cowboy, or referencing de Chirico’s mannequins. This can help create some room for spectators’ individual interpretation. Art-house movie directors are called geniuses for doing it (they call it loose ends of the plot).
The last, but not least. Make it larger than life. The larger, the better.
Center Pompidou believes this is art worthy of being shown together with Picasso, Miro, Max Ernst, Duchamp, and Giacometti.
What do YOU think? I am seriously interested. If you have no time to write a comment, just VOTE!
*) on the toilet issue: it is a shame for the gallery, and a disaster for its visitors. I wrote about it here.
This is a paper-and-ink sketch by Anatoly Zverev, a Russian artist who led the life of a homeless drunk, producing genius art along the way. While he is definitely worth talking about at length, right now, I want to share this tiny drawing, a photograph of which I made two days ago at an exhibition in Moscow.
I counted 13 lines and 2 dots.
That’s all he needed to give you a beautiful nude, who’s got mass, shape, movement, and emotion.
“I never liked jogging, running, height jumping or parkour, but the neighbour’s Dobermann pinscher has helped to reveal my potential.”
This is a dog. It is muscled, as if chiseled from black granite, and alert, but not aggressive. It is a part of nature, same colour as the trees in the background, as ancient and strong as the forest. Trunks of trees rhyme with its legs, and it itself is shown as a trunk for the yellow bush behind it.
The cat is watching life streaming past. Life is represented by the pinkish shape on the left. There’s a conflict, clash of colours, and a turmoil of lines in the left part of the painting and a serene animal affixed to the right one. The cat is shown with its back to the viewer, as if it has just turned its head, reacting to a movement or sound coming from the viewer’s side.
The cat is neither flaccid nor strained. It is watchful and reflecting, both literally (you can spot the pink colour on the ears) and metaphorically. We don’t know what the cat thinks or feels: its eyes are not reflecting anything and are painted with a unique azure colour.
This is not a cute picture of a pussy. It is a psychological portrait of the cat’s character, and it is done without painting the fur, the purr, or the moustache.
This is a cat with an attitude. An attitude that doesn’t make me feel all warm and comfy inside.
Tomorrow, next in this cycle, following the proverbial “rains cats and dogs”: a dog’s portrait.
Thousands of images metaphorising women into flowers have been produced since the walking stick of St.Joseph sprouted lilies. That’s how Mary got to know whom to marry.
It is difficult to paint a woman and flowers in a way that would not be so overwhelmingly sweet that it would be bordering on vulgarity.
Few artists can pull off the trick.
In this seemingly simple work the model is almost merged with the red flowers of passion (and this merge occurs at the head level), while her body is paired against more tender flowers to the right. There is a dialogue going on between the shapes of the body and flowers, and the outlines of figures as well. This dialogue is meant to make the viewer think of natural passion, natural tenderness, and the natural brevity of beauty and youth, but without venturing into the eroticism of a naked female body. Immanuil Kant, who believed that real art should not arouse physical passions, would be proud.
A very clever cat comes later today, so please stand by.
A man fished out a bottle from the sea and found a letter inside.
“I have been marooned on an uninhabited tropical island. There is no inflation, no taxes, no city noise, no traffic or pollution. Take a moment to reflect and envy me”
The letter in a bottle is a powerful concept of despair, hope and salvation in an improbable twist of fate. Yet, is rarely used by artists as a theme, apart from the millions of images of old bottles half-buried in sand.
Yet, there’s an artist who decided to document his suburban world existing half-way between a large city and nature, in a series of bottled pictures.
Jim Dingilian makes pictures inside bottles with candle soot as his primary media. This allows him to create dreamlike images encapsulating the life of a small suburb,
It is not great art, but it is something that makes you stop, look inside, and reflect on your personal experiences (if any) with suburban life and/or moments frozen in time. I find it strangely captivating.
Thank you, the Daily Prompt for reminding me of this artist.