November 24, 2022

Met's Cubism Trompe L'oeil

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Cubism and the Trompe l'Oeil Tradition

I recommend this exhibition with great, great enthusiasm.

Thoughts snipped from a recent letter to a friend:

What struck me about the show was the level of art historical literacy of Team Cubism / the artists of that era. [By this, I mean a comprehensive knowledge of a specific genre of art, Trompe L'Oeil. The exhibition examined several dimensions, all astonishing.] On my second visit, I attended a tour of the show and asked the guide about just how literate were this circle of artists. Her response focused on the intimacy and frequency of conversation between them, and that there were people like Apollinaire among them.

There was something that had happened since that caused the trompe l'oeil aspect to either drop out of the conversation about Cubism or... to not be included from the get-go.

The standard storyline about Cubism was something-something African masks, something-something C├ęzanne's faceted picture plane. With the Trompe L'oeil dimension in the mix, Cubism ultimately becomes the incubator for what would become Conceptual Art, seeding the minds of artists such as Duchamp with themes about intellectual play, optical riddles, paradox, shell games about the real vs artificial, language both visual and written. What had developed after Cubism in terms of formalism (cough-De Kooning-cough) seems trivial by comparison.

Another thought strike was the connection to the Russian Supremacists/Constructivists and the realization of Abstraction, born from seeing aerial photography for the first time. The horizon line disappeared from the picture plane, the line connected to the retina, the human presence, the viewer's presence. In the Met show, table-tops flipped vertically and tableaus flipped horizontally back onto table -tops. Was this a kind of parallel evolution, the same thought springing up in different locations independently? Or was there a chain of inter-communication somehow in a small art world?

Stray thoughts:

I asked the tour guide about the yellowing of the newsprint seen in the various paintings and collages. She also happened to be an expert on art conservation with a focus on paper, an excellent resource.

She wrung her hands about the issue, nothing could be done, she called it a material "Inherent Vice", a technical term of art which means that bad materials will be bad. Additionally, she pointed out how the colors that we are seeing are not the colors that the artists used, by and large.

Several times, we were asked to imagine how the paintings looked like when last they were on the easel. She recounted stories of artists like Picasso accepting with almost a kind of glee, the fugitive aspects of media. Note as well, that Picasso not only accepted the craquelure that developed in his works, he also simulated craquelure in his Cubist project.

Levels and levels abound.

One segment of the exhibition showcased samples of commercial wallpaper protected over the years from the corrosive exposure to light with paintings hung adjacent , again a request for the audience to imagine original intent.

Nota Bene: Tears don't always have to be solely about anguish. Happiness is also part of the mix. I used to cite Duchamp and his large glass broken in shipment. Now I can cite Picasso and the yellowed collages.

Posted by Dennis at November 24, 2022 11:55 AM

Leave a comment