Tag Archives: Sculpture

Sean Scully, Extraterrestrial

This summer, in the Regent’s park in London, the annual Frieze sculpture show has a piece by Sean Scully. It is titled “Shadow Stack, 2018” and made of Corten steel.

Shadow Stack

Shadow Stack, 2018 by Sean Scully

The short curatorial note describes it as follows: “Shadow Stack continues Scully’s preoccupation with the horizon. A three-dimensional extension of his Landline paintings, the oxidation of the steel echoes their stripe motif, giving the surfaces a textual painterly quality”.

I believe it was written by someone from Blain|Southern gallery that represents Scully.

I don’t think I could never be employed by a respected gallery of the Blain|Southern caliber. First, I tend to say “rust resembling paint” when I see rust resembling paint. Second, I don’t believe that a “preoccupation” with something by any one person is of interest to anybody.

The end result of any artist’s phobias, preoccupations, and insecurities can be interesting if it goes beyond addressing people with the same “diagnoses”. Otherwise, it is simply a clinical illustration of a patient’s “condition”.

Take Yayoi Kusama who fears penises and vents out this fear in her art. Her fear of male genitalia is her idiosyncratic psychological problem that is of interest to her therapist, but her chair made of the objects of her terror has a much broader appeal, because it reminds people of rape, abuse and sexual violence – all the more relevant today in the context of the #MeToo movement.


When creative motivation is reduced by a critic to “preoccupation” I get an acute pang of “myötähäpeä” (personal embarrassment one feels on account of and for another who is making a fool of him or herself). I don’t think Scully is preoccupied solely with the horizon. His thinking is broader.

There is one point though on which I agree with the critic from Blain|Southern. I agree that Scully’s sculpture is a three-dimensional extension. The question is, an extension of what?

If you read my previous text about Scully’s paintings, you will see the point I make is that Scully is painting a world of a different set of dimensions. His paintings are flat projections of a different, multi-dimensional universe onto ours.

His sculpture does the same, except that this time it is a 3D protrusion of Scully’s multi-dimensional universe into our world.

Here is my logic.

This piece is not made organically in this world, that is, not created by nature. It can be seen as either an edifice that was man-made and placed on the grass above ground OR it can be perceived as something that came up from below hence originating in a different, supernatural, world.

While the first notion is, in fact, the ‘reality’, it doesn’t offer any significant meaning to the viewer, while the second supposition transforms the viewer into an observer of something phenomenal and unique: a universe where natural shapes and forms are very foreign to our daily references yet remain aesthetically pleasant at the same time.

The absence of a pedestal, with the bottom slab half-submerged/half-emerged from the ground (depending on how you wish to read it) offers another argument in favour of theory #2.


The slabs tick away a vertical rhythm that makes the mind believe there is an upward push. There is also a sense of ‘unevenness’, of ‘disorder’ that enhances the artist’s search for rhythm. As the slabs shift against each other, they manifest the internal energy and a bit of chaos inside the structure. We welcome chaos because without it there is no life, and we celebrate order because it is essential to life preservation. This sculpture has them both.

I can’t think of a better place for this sculpture than a park. This otherworldly projection is foreign but somehow quite fitting to the earthly landscape.


The magic Scully creates is in the absence of weight. When we look at a tree, we don’t think of the pressure that the trunk is experiencing at its lower part. No compassion outpours towards the wood cells at eye level that are locked up in the heavy trunk. Yet, we feel the weight and pressure in, say, a building such as the one in the following image:


If we reflect on it, we can imagine the subliminal effect this has on the ground floor employees working there and we can even feel sorry for them.

We feel the changing weight in the sculpture of Chung Hung in the photograph below:  it is much heavier at the bottom than at the top:


Chung Hung metal sculpture made with Corten, at Vanier Park. Source

Even a simple concrete tower radiates weight that lands on earth from above:

But weight is not the first association that comes to mind when we look at Scully’s tower:

As the mind tucks away the weight aspect, we pay more attention to the play of shadows, the shifts of slabs, the growth of this otherworldly edifice and, ironically, we feel a sense of lightness – a contradiction I believe the artist wanted us to experience .

In essence, Scully opens up a hole in the fabric of our reality, and something interesting comes out, which he leaves up to each viewer to imagine, for his or her self.

What do you experience when you look it it?

Nude or Naked? Art or Kitsch?

Pigeonholing female nude and naked in a practical way that may revitilise your next gallery visit. 

The debate about nude and naked has been raging on since Kenneth Clark said 60 years ago that “no nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling, even though it be only the faintest shadow—and if it does not do so it is bad art and false morals.”

Try to feed this line to a feminist today.

Fifteen years after Clark, John Berger summarised the distinction between nude and naked: being naked is just being yourself, but being nude in the artistic context is being without cloths for the purpose of being looked at.

John Berger believed that Western art had been predominantly about female [self] objectification, in the sense that while women had always been presented as goods for male consumption, they were taking an active part in this process themselves. It’s difficult to argue with this: popularity of Instagram selfies like the ones below is a living proof that not much has changed since the Ways of Seeing was first shown on BBC.


It is perfectly ok. Girls are doing their best to look attractive to boys. Boys appreciate it by following their accounts, writing sleazy comments, and fantasizing in ways I don’t want to talk about. Instagram owners whistle all the way to the bank.

All I am saying is that consumer preferences still centre on the flirtingly erotic presentation of the female body, but a modern-day classic reclining nude painting would be deemed a horrible kitsch fit for the likes of Donald Trump or seedy strip clubs.

So, the question is: what kind of paintings of nude or naked bodies are not kitsch or a mindless repetitions of past masterpieces? Which of them have value?

As a collector and art history enthusiast, I needed a simple classification system for nude paintings that would show me their “ideological” value whenever I come across one. I say “ideological” because my decision to buy something is based first on whether a painting says something new about portraying a nude or naked body and then on whether it is, in my subjective view, a good painting in its own right, in terms of composition, colour, et cetera. If you read this blog, you know I often go so analytical about deconstructing paintings that it raises suspicions if I wanted to be a autopsist as a kid and my parents wouldn’t let me.

My system is simple. It is a matrix made by two questions:

  • Is the model aware of a male observer?
  • Does the model care about the male observer?



The definition of “nude” and “naked” becomes pretty much simple:


And art history of the female nude can be briefly summarised:


To give you a few examples (yes, now you have to click on it):


You can see that some paintings like Picasso’s D’Avignon ladies or Rembrandt’s bathing nude can’t be easily pigeonholed to a single box, but represent a transition from one box to the next. These “transitional works”  represent valueable moments  when artists were searching for new ideas in portraying the unclothed human body.

Today, “progressive” thinkers view most of nude art of the past as chauvinistic garbage (with Renoir being one of the most hated artists). the art world gravitates towards the right side of my table. Indeed, the three “naked” boxes represent the contemporary territory.

What’s disturbing is that all the attempts to fill in these boxes with art have produced very few masterpieces, with loads of ideologically “right” but ugly artworks. Of course, when I say “ugly” I mean something disgusting for me personally. There are people who find Carroll Durham or Sara Lucas beautiful, but I find comfort in knowing many smart men and women who side up with me.

Sara Lucas, for instance, is mostly working in the “is aware – doesn’t care” box with her cigarette butts:


Well, it is definitely more provocative than Matisse’s Dance, but is it more inspiring? Not for me, but the art world seems to have appreciated her effort.

She also tries to work in the bottom box (“model knows she’s not watched and doesn’t care”) by doing toilet selfies, but as her intention to appear uncaring reveals her pathetic desire to be seen and liked, I can’t say the attempt is a success.


As an art history guy, I love the nude left side of my chart.

The top left box, the most “basic” one, is, in fact, a vast territory in its own right. There are segments of “authentic shyness”, “fake modesty”, “shameful resolve”, “indignant sale”, and a host of others.

Some of the segments are filled to the brim with art and some still stand pretty empty.

And the transitions between boxes remain almost unexplored.

Which is one of the reasons why I bought this nude last weekend:


If – as I believe – she covers her face in shame, she falls in the traditional top right box with all the Titians, Manet, Ingres, and countless others.


She refuses to collaborate with the artist to model fake modesty of a girl who pretends to be ashamed being caught naked. She is ashamed, but she’s not putting on a show of it. She also doesn’t want to watch back the male observer of the painting. She doesn’t want to meet his eyes, she doesn’t want to be the object of his desire. She surrenders her rather voluminous breasts (take them if you please) but not herself, as a person.

This, in my view, is a very interesting turn in the old debate about women taking an active part in their own objectification.

The Biblical story of Susanna and the Elders in art can be seen as a curious reference here.

Almost all artists would represent Susanna as shyly trying to cover her body while facing up to the two men:


Susanne and the Elders by Ottavio Mario Leoni

In the vast majority of this type of paintings Susanna is presented in a seductive pose to make the male observer want her. Artists believed that an aroused observer would feel the same kind of feelings like the elders and, knowing the two ended up dead for their attempt to extort sexual consent from the woman, would learn a moral lesson. Maybe artists pretended to believe it, of course, as an excuse to paint a seductive nude woman (sex sells).

Artemisia Gentileschi was the only artist (perhaps because she was a woman, with a relevant personal background) who turned Susanna’s face away from the bastards with her body language signalling that she doesn’t want to listen to their sex extortion proposals, and she doesn’t want to see them, just like my face-covering girl.


You see, a true depiction of shame is very unique in this genre.

Now, the painterly qualities of my nude.

Look at the shadows and tones, because the work is done with almost the same colour. She is lit, as if by a flash that went off above her. The hand movement is blurred as if she barely had time to raise her arm. The frontal flash of light stands very well as a symbol of the rush of attention of the male observer whose eyes take in the body as a whole, not seeing, skipping the details (like the bellybutton or nipples) at first.

Oh, the artist behind my nude is Victor Dynnikov. Click on his tag at the bottom if you want to see more of his work.

Print out my nude/naked table and take it with you next time you go to a gallery. It can be fun putting paintings into boxes. If you are a couple, talking about art may never be the same again!

There is money in fandom

We all know there’s lots of money in fandom: all those tickets, scarves, t-shirts, badges, and hospital bills for cracked skulls, squashed faces, and broken teeth. When I think of fans, and especially fans of popular games, I imagine a legion of happy bartenders, dentists, and Chinese exporters of fake club paraphernalia.

Ever since men first united for a mammoth hunt, they’ve been happy to splash on tools and tokens that would help them reach their cause, even if it was another evolutionary dead-end.

Fans, and especially male fans, are a treasure trove for any trade, because men get irrational when it comes to being a club member, especially when this club encourages mad behaviours, idiotic hats, and girls’ getting topless.


Men frown at their wives when they want to change curtains bought ten years ago (“nothing’s wrong with the old ones!”), but are happy to buy club shirts that change design each season to make fans keep buying them, and then pay for tickets to stand-up shows to be informed by comedians of how stupid they all are.

Fandoms keep everyone happy. Except artists. 

Artists celebrate sports and sportsmen, but ignore fans and their fandoms.

My dear fellows, why do you turn your back on an opportunity that’s more generous than Donald Trump in his promises?

The global art market features precious few artworks that celebrate fans (if you take wedding cake toppers off the list).


Throughout art history fans only feature in supporting roles.

Alexandre Falguiere Lutteurs Борцы 1875

Alexandre Falguiere Lutteurs, Wrestlers, 1875

George Bellows Stag at Sharkey's (1909), oil on canvas

George Bellows Stag at Sharkey’s (1909), oil on canvas

And only occasionally, in preparatory drawings or sketches, fans take centre stage:

George Bellows, Preliminaries of the Big Bout (1916), lithograph

George Bellows, Preliminaries of the Big Bout (1916), lithograph

In the examples above, artists used the audience as a backdrop to enhance contrast in their work. The strained body of the fighter becomes all the more strained when contrasted with a relaxed pose of a spectator. The honestly of the fight becomes accentuated with a fat cat watching it with a betting interest in his eyes. Still, it’s never about fans themselves!

In my search of artworks dedicated to sport fans, I couldn’t walk past Toronto.

There, Michael Snow, a renowned polymath artist, mounted sculpted fans high up on the wall of a stadium. This is a rare case when sculptural caricature is paid for by the caricatured (indirectly via taxes, of course).

6732492143_b84b2b6617 The Audience (1)

I find it strange. Is there nothing to glorify about fans?

Fandom can be a good thing, you know. There are decent values in there, hidden beneath all the violence and stupid acts we get in the news.

First, fandom is about equality. It is about people being equal in the ecstasy of victory, in the drunken gloom of defeat, or in their meaningless fist-fights with men from other fandoms. Second, fandom is about togetherness, being a part of the pack. Give me a third or even fourth if you are a fan of anything, but even equality and togetherness alone are enough to cheer up the fandom concept.

Where is art that would celebrate this?

So far, I could find only a single artwork that would not be a mockery or social critique of fans. It is a work by a Latvian sculptor, Olita Abolinya.

Olita Abolinya, 1971 Latvia Болельшики.preview

Olita Abolinya, Fans, 1971

I assume this is a group of Soviet soccer fans. Soccer championships in the USSR were taking place in winter because sports were meant to build character rather than entertain.

It’s a good piece. It shows fans in cold weather but the pink clay somehow radiates warmth that the group generates by being connected to each other.

And this is it.

Just. One. Piece.

So, if you are an artist and want to sell to the profitable fan community or get over a creative block, look into the fandom good sides.

Show fans resolved to support their team when it lost.

Show a family, in which husband and wife support opposing teams, and do not fight over which club their kids will support when they grow up.

Show fans united not through a goal or win, but through deep understanding of tactics and strategy in football, soccer, hockey, golf, or sack jumping.

It’s all out there, waiting for your talent to crack it.

PS If you are not an artist, but have artist-friends, forward it to them. Make them rich!

Ass to luv iz da baby

This is how a rapper would understand “astalavista baby”, I assume, and you’ll get my drift in a minute, for I have a bum-related art question for rappers. As I don’t know any personally, I hope you can propel it to someone who knows one, so that they could answer it.

Who the hell is buying the stuff?!

Under “stuff”, I don’t mean art or contemporary art, in general. Of course, you can hear this question when a Gainsborough admirer stumbles upon Turner Prize exhibits at Tate Britain in London; a lover of Raphael takes a wrong turn and ends up in Centre Pompidou instead of Louvre, or you yourself see a yellow Hummer H2 squeezing through a side street. In the latter case, we know the answer, of course: it must be a rap performer, a Top Gear show making fun of rap performers, or Arnie on a mission.

Yet, there’s one kind of art that makes me whisper this question. It is a realistically sculpted nude female body in an erotic posture. There are a few sculptors, quite successful commercially, who make this stuff.

Something tells me that the buyers come mainly from thriving mob and rapper communities. Unlike art historians who present their evidence and then shoot their arguments, these gangsta art-lovers shoot first and try to hide all the evidence later: that’s why I have to lower my voice asking this question in public.

There are sculptors who do it in wood, which makes me think of a moment when Mr Gepetto, Pinocchio father, was feeling especially lonely.


This is work of Richard Senoner, who claims he is “converting expressiveness, aesthetics and harmony into sculpture”

Potential customers! Remember, this art is unsafe. The wood will crack in unpredictable places just about the time the running of your hand over it becomes an integral part of your daily routine. Instead of thrills, you may start getting daily splinters.

PS. If you don’t run your hand over it, what was the point of buying it in the first place?

There are artists who do it in bronze. Galleries in seaside French towns are filled to the roof with bronze seductresses sporting polished thighs and bums. It is as if Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Miro, Signac or Marquet have never existed, let alone lived in this part of the world. But I will rest the issue of why French Rivera visitors are prone to indulge in bronze figurines with fake-looking breasts. It is probably the sun. My question is not about this artless and anatomically bizarre bronze merde that costs marginally more than the metal that went into making it in a Chinese melting shop.

My question is about this:


This is a French sculptor. Great carving. Unparalleled polishing. His stone bums sell for 5 to 7 thousand euros. To whom?! Who is stoned enough to buy himself a stone bum?

Wood is warm to the touch at least. But what do you do with stone?

This sculptor also does ice.


Ice I can try to understand. Get yourself an ice bum, lick it to nothingness, die from pneumonia, don’t forget to croak you die as a performance artist before your last wheeze.

But, I am sorry to repeat myself, what do you with a stone bum?


You can treat yourself to his website if you choose to. There are a few items there that could make this blog banned in some conservative countries. Remember, it can’t be unseen.

No rapper friends? Then give me your vote, please!



For a few, this word is the simplest psychological test to see if you are a dedicated fan of Jim Morrison. This is not a post about the Doors, guys.

For most, doors are about keeping pets inside and thieves outside.

In arts, doors function differently.

In fiction, doors are a conventional plot device.

A simple door can trigger an engaging plot by transferring the protagonist to a miraculous new world. A door creaks at the height of a passionate moment, and – bang! – Prince Charming now needs to make a formal proposal to the blushing daughter of Evil Queen who just stepped in. Andy McNab, an ex-SAS commando, has made a career in crime fiction by explaining that not only you don’t smash doors when infiltrating a building with terrorists inside (you open ’em doors very carefully), you have to close the door just as carefully after you entered the room, because you don’t want anyone to spring up on you from behind. I am sorry that you won’t enjoy reading Andy McNab now that I’ve revealed his plot structure.

In literature, doors offer endless possibilities with plot development, much more so than windows.

In visual arts windows dominate over doors. Windows create stories by establishing a conflict between the inside and the outside of a room. Painting a window is an easy way to make the painting interesting. Doors, and especially closed doors, are more complicated and less obvious devices to weave a plot, because the observers can’t see what’s behind them, and have to imagine it.

Woman of Cairo at her Door (Girl in Oriental Costume) 1897 - Jean-Leon Gerome

Woman of Cairo at her Door (Girl in Oriental Costume) 1897 – Jean-Leon Gerome

In this painting of a hopelessly classic French painter the door makes you imagine the world this Woman of Cairo represents. Your imagination is, of course, carefully guided by the artist. The caged bird, the contrast between live flowers and the design of the carpet that hangs over the entrance, the seductive pose and look of the girl: everything makes you think of the magic Oriental world into which you get teleported if you step through this door. Again, you don’t know for certain what you are going to find there. Perhaps, you’d get tea and a relaxing massage? Or you’d get caged as the bird above the door?

Doors raise questions, and instead of giving answers they make promises. That’s why, unlike windows, doors are ambiguous (you don’t always know what’s behind).

This is also why doors are employed by modern and contemporary painters, sculptors, and critics, who love to compensate their lack of ideas by complexity and ambiguity.

Paintings by Barnett Newman, one of the biggest names in American abstract expressionism are often described as “portals to the sublime”. A portal rolls in the mouth better than a door if you decide to go metaphysical, and “the sublime” (or its sister, “transcendence”) is a wildcard kind of word that critics use whenever they don’t really know what the heck they are talking about.


I am sure if Newman’s work is watched for an hour, some of the lines start pulsating, and their lights suddenly flicker, giving you the feeling of a door creaking open for you. That is, if your legs don’t kill you first. I, like most people, prefer other ways to achieve the same kind of nirvana,

I am sure many of my readers have remembered Rothko by now. A lot of people believe that Rothko’s doors are the best in class in terms of teleporting the viewer in a sour or cheerful mood (depending on the colour scheme, of course), but Rothko would probably strangle anyone who would compare his colour fields to a door with his bare hands, so I skip Rothko and go directly to Matisse.

His door of 1914 was one of the biggest door-related surprises this year (besides the time when I didn’t have keys to my own home and no one was there). In 1914, he stepped aside from his Fauvist cheerfulness into pessimistic dark blends, and I am sure you can feel it even in this photograph. The reflection in the glass is me. It gives a scale to the painting, and also jabs an accusing finger at Centre Pompidou who can’t be bothered to frame a modern masterpiece in museum-quality non-reflective glass.

IMG_2172 - копия

Imagine yourself standing in front of it. Imagine you need to decide on whether you step through or walk past. Imagine what is waiting for you inside.

Once you’ve done the imaginings, you’d understand that Abstract Expressionism was not a revolutionary American invention but a concept that a Frenchman had once played with for a couple of years before dumping it as a waste of time and effort, and going back to his optimistically pure colours.

Life’s too short to make art that makes it gloomier than it already is.

Perhaps, contemporary artists have come up with new approaches to doors and the related metaphysics? (I am asking it with my tongue so deep in my cheek I appear to have a serious dental problem to an outside observer) 

Let’s take the work of Steven Claydon, a contemporary British artist who is famous for both his sculptural work and playing pipes as a member of the Weird Sisters band in a Harry Potter movie:

DSC_0310 DSC_0311

He puts different doors on uniform metal fences hoping, as I understand, to create different meaning about the physically empty spaces that exist behind. Well, yes, it works, but I am not sure I am excited about this. Magritte said it all about closed doors opening up into different spaces, leaving us with so many doors one can spend a lifetime opening them all.

Magritte, 1935

Magritite, 1935

Are you aware of a contemporary artist who has produced a new plot using the door device? I mean, really new, and not a repetition of a century-old idea.  Please let me know!

Also, please share with me anything recent and interesting you know about doors in paintings or sculpture! Or just the doors you love for some reason. 

It renders men helpless

Yes, you guessed right.

It’s love.

But ask men about being helpless and their romantic tales would turn out to be remarkably different.

Being helpless in the face of something you didn’t purposefully cause, like unrequited love, is one thing. Being a helpless idiot and facing the consequences of your own romantic deeds, like texting a very wrong person about your feelings, is quite another.

We feel sorry for the former (“Poor guy”), and sneer at the latter (“Friggin’ idiot”) in dramas and comedies, respectively.

The icon of the poor-guy type of helplessness and the resulting out-and-out gloom (what today is often diagnosed as depression) was created by Mikhail Vrubel in 1890 and is called the Seated Demon.


Originally, it was an illustration to the eponymous Lermontov’s poem, in which the Demon falls in love with a mortal girl. This, as you and I understand, is a hopeless affair: everyone knows angels do not have sexual organs, and a fallen angel doesn’t grow a penis after his fall: unlike socially responsible employers gods don’t award bonuses when they kick you out.

Anyway, this is a great painting that came to symbolise a lot of things Vrubel had never intended. He explicitly wanted to paint a powerful spiritual being that wasn’t so much evil as suffering. Today, it is seen as an icon of helplessness in the face of fate, consumerism, and selfie sticks. Yes, for some reason girls love taking their pictures in front of it. Is it because they enjoy it when strong and attractive men are helpless?


Some experts believe an alternative explanation for the selfie epidemic is trite but true: girls don’t care about the meaning of the painting. They see it as a nice backdrop to their own splendid image.

The Demon is the Poor Guy we all feel sorry for, and as time goes by, the image remains quite contemporary: an office clerk. honest and capable, but laid off due to an economic downturn, can very much sympathise with this painting, even though his situation is, perhaps, the last thing Vrubel could have imagined.

The Helpless Idiot icon can also be found in Russia, though originally it was created by a foreigner.

It is the statue of Orpheus by Antonio Canova, a neoclassical sculptor from Italy. The English must love him for the same reason the Greeks should hate him. His recommendation was the decisive last drop in acquiring the Parthenon marbles.

According to Greek myths, Orpheus was a great poet, singer and composer. One day, his beloved wife Eurydice died from a viper’s bite.  Given that “1000 Ways to Kill a Mortal: from Mildly Sadistic to Uber Cruel” had been the all-time bestselling manual on Mount Olympus ever since Zeus’ father took to eating his children (and until it was replaced by Fifty Shades of Grey), a viper’s bite was not the worst way to go.

Regardless, grief-stricken Orpheus began composing and performing tunes of such grandiose sadness that even rabbits were weeping instead of making more rabbits. Eventually, local gods, nymphs, and neighbouring people conspired on sending Orpheus on a tour of the underworld, the only 100% sound-proof place in the known universe, in search of his diseased wife. The sad singer travelled there,  and performed for the underworld’s ruling couple, Hades and Persephone.

The legend says Orpheus softened their hearts, and they allowed him to take his wife back to the surface. The true story was that the concepts of hell and tormenting the dead had not been invented yet, and Hades couldn’t imagine why his subjects should be suffering more than they were suffering already, what with already being dead, yeah? Also, he couldn’t revive the dead, despite all the rumours to the contrary. So, Hades made a deal with the singer, that he could take his wife to the upper world only if he came first, she followed him, and he never looked back until he came out of the underworld. Otherwise, the girl would be lost to Orpheus forever, which would be his own fault this time around.

The Bible then borrowed the story, with God turning Lot’s wife into a salt statue when she looked back at the destruction of Sodom. Curiosity, impatience, and peep-show addiction are sinful in most religions.

A special notice to police personnel working speed cameras:  you understand you are damned, don’t you?

Of course, Orpheus looked back, because romantic men always do, and just as certainly, his wife was pulled back into the underworld. This is the moment that Canova sculpted for the Russian Empress more than 200 years ago:


Hades’ brilliant idea was to shift responsibility to Orpheus because guilt would prevent him from both (a) coming back to the underworld and (b) depressive singing in the upper world. Since then, this guilt trick has become a popular tool in male-female relationship management.

Having made a helpless idiot of out himself, Orpheus vowed to never touch a woman. This dramatic story could end right there and then with a strong moral message to everyone’s satisfaction, but no, ancient Greeks were never happy with straightforward plots.

Orpheus began touching and seducing boys. Eventually, enraged local women murdered him for this “substitution” behaviour. Andrea Mantegna painted the moment and Durer copied the now lost painting in 1494:


The banner at the top leaves the observer in no doubt as to the reason for this outburst of female cruelty. It reads “Orpheus, the first pederast”.

Strangely, this part of the story seems to have been lost in the mists of time. Otherwise, the organisers of Golden Orpheus, a major East European pop music contest, could be held responsible for something even more horrible than promoting dreadful singing.

This summer, I ran into Orpheus in Carrara. The local museum staged a show of Canova’s works,  and I had a chance to get face to face with Orpheus. He does look like an Internet meme, ready for the taking, with his exaggerated facial despair on top of a beautiful neoclassical body.

This disbelief, I guess, eventually killed neo classicism. Beautiful suffering or the suffering of the beautiful is a difficult concept to have faith in. In today’s glamorous world it’s the non-beautiful who struggle in pain and vain.

This is also why contemporary attempts at revival of neo-classicism invariably end up in kitsch.

Guest blogger who never speaks: stoned since birth

I am delighted to introduce Signor Facepalmo from Siena, Italy. He agreed to share his observations about people and art, even though it is sitting and not speaking in front of large audiences that is his forte. Over to him!

Kids call me the Super FacepalMan.


I have not always been like this.

You know my cousin, The Thinker, don’t you?

rodin-thinkerI was more like him, with my fist supporting my head, deep in thought. That is, until some ten years ago. Oh, the happy days… Thinking in sync with the Thinker, not caring about humans watching us as long as they didn’t invade our personal space.

Yes, we also want to have a safety bubble around us.

More specifically:

The genitals!

It is the worst. I hate it when a good-for-nothing chic or yob wows how cold my marble pebbles are. I can say “cold dick” in 50 different languages, like a friggin’ 3PO* and I don’t even know which nations speak the damn languages!

Sorry, I don’t usually swear.

My cousin is better off: he’s perched on a high pedestal, outdoors. There’s the predicament of pigeons, rain, and even snow sometimes, but that’s an expected occupational hazard for someone who’s bronze.

We were made to inspire contemplation. We were the proverbial “look before you leap” and “haste makes waste”.

It was a fine concept! It had worked perfectly well before the Internet.

The Web made everything instantaneous, and anything that’s instantaneous became fashionable. Dash off, rush in, speed up, jump, dive! It does not matter anymore if the pool has been filled up with water. You get to be a bigger hero if it was not, provided there’s a friend who uploads your cry of surprise to YouTube the moment you hit the tiled floor.

Have people become faster and cleverer than their ancestors? If the growing number of visitors who attempt to familiarise themselves with my private parts is any indicator, the answer’s no.

Artists are especially depressing.

To sculpt me, my creator had to study for 5 years, and then practice for some 15 years more to get the commission. It still took him full three months to chisel me out, you know.

Artists today are instantaneous. Snap, swoosh, wow, twit. Next, please! Dab, slap, blot, twit. Next!

Modern artists behave as if they are going to live forever and die next minute – both at the same time. Crazy. Art is not about snapping out artworks, it is about working out a masterpiece. One is enough, ask Bobby McFerrin! It takes time to think up, to learn, and to reflect to create a masterpiece. No, they say, we live in the fast lane! We have uploaded ten thousand new photos on Instagram while you were grumbling. Like us! LIke us on Facebook too!

If Shakespeare lived today, he could come up with a modern version of “Loves Labours Lost”:

“Shall I command thy Like? I may: shall I enforce
thy Like? I could: shall I entreat thy Like? I will.”

Thank God he’d died before the Like Generation took over.

The Thinker once told me Modern art was no longer about skill, but about the ability to create a universe of possible meanings in the mind of the observer, and that it required mental skill on the side of the artist rather than the prosaic abilities to paint or sculpt. In short, a modern artist is not sending across a message to make the observer reflect upon it. A modern, truly modern artist provides observers with a stimulus that helps them create their own idiosyncratic ideas.

I blame the doves. With so much shit flying around no one could keep thinking straight, even the Thinker.

In all professions, one has to study for years to make something that has a molecule of value. How come art is different? Isn’t it why there are so many young people today who want to “study art”? They just hate studying, that’s why. They hope to find a critic who would discover that “universe of meanings” in their “snap-dab-splash-twit” work.

And when they don’t find one, they come to me and point fingers, and touch the private parts.

There’s one kind of people I hate more than artists, and that’s executives.

You know an executive when you see one: boardroom haircut, face of a smiling shark, commanding his kids to keep moving on, because they have 30 minutes for Palazzo Publico (that’s where I happen to reside). They are focused, fit for anything that may come their way, and they always know how many tourist attractions in which order they are going to see in how much time.

Guys, if you’ve got a body of steel, a precise action plan, and a clear objective, chances are you are an intercontinental ballistic missile. And the best thing to do is to push the self-destruct button.

There may be no salvation for executives, but artists can still find their way to it. Except that it won’t be the fast lane they say they live in.

Don’t disappoint me.

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*) 3PO is a robot that can translate a million different languages into the Standard Galactic. If you don’t know him, sing hallelujah: it means you are immune to the Star Wars mania (or have been stranded on an uninhabited island for the last 40 years).

Editor’s note:

I don’t agree with everything Signor Facepalmo said in his guest appearance, but I have to admit much of what he rumbles about resonates with my views. What about you?