Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Pablo Picasso Was Never Called an Asshole

May 27th, 2010

Recently, the Picasso painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (seen behind the man himself in the photo above) sold for a record auction price of $106.5 million. The public outcry over this hefty transaction has been raucous. This is not an unpredictable public response to an anonymous rich dude dropping 100 mill on a picture of a naked lady, but the sale – and the mystery buyer – have been getting crap from every direction. That the painting may be a bit thin in canonical importance or artistic influence has critics balking. The questionably violent depiction of a nude, supine young mistress – being either caressed or decapitated by ominous shadows — has opinionistas up in arms. The worldwide economic downturn nevertheless bearing witness to such a public show of disposable wealth has “normal folk” aghast with either disgust or envy (perhaps a little bit of both?).

In light of this outpouring of negativity, let’s take a look at some of the other Picasso works that have made their way onto the list of the top one hundred most expensive paintings of all time. Is the painting really that atypical? Does it hold the same mystical allure?

One of the most striking things about this list of price busting paintings is how many Picassos there are on it. The man represents with 10 paintings — the most of any artist (second and third place, respectively, go to Van Gogh with 7 and Warhol with 3). Another striking thing is that almost all of these paintings were made in the last 150 years, with the bulk being from the 20th century. This type of collector confidence in Modern art – and particularly in Picasso himself – is the prime reason people are willing to pay so much money to have a good Picasso in their collection. Owning a work by the artist has become practically a requirement in keeping up with the Geffens.

The list below depicts the top five of these paintings starting from the most expensive (in 2010 dollars, to make their relative purchase cost more apparent).

Garçon à la Pipe – $119.9M

This painting, which sold for $104.2M in 2004, is an early Picasso. It was painted over the course of a couple months in 1905 when he was in his rose period. The model is some kid from the neighborhood that used to hang around the studio. The work is another that is considered pleasant but of minor importance. This painting, too, was bought at auction by a mysterious bidder (rumored to be Russian).

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust – $106.5M

This painting, which sold for $106.5M just a few weeks ago, depicts a 23-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, the mistress of a then 51-year-old Picasso. When this painting was made in 1932, the two were already six years into their illicit relationship. In another few years, Marie would give birth to Picasso’s daughter (boldly named María de la Concepción). The pregnancy would shine light on Picasso’s infidelities, causing his wife Olga (a ballerina) to leave him. To say that there is some drama behind the scenes in this painting is an understatement.

This sizable (64″ x 51″) painting was made in a single day, and Picasso really went for it on this one. He threw some Cezanne in there, some Classical bust action, some Matisse-ish plants, a lurking Picasso behind the curtain. All this in service to a the pink blobby Marie laying naked in the foreground, cradled ominously by shadows.

Dora Maar au Chat – $102.3M

This painting, which sold for $95.2M in 2006 to an anonymous Russian bidder, is another that depicts one of Picasso’s lovers – in this case, the 34-year-old photographer/poet Dora Maar. Picasso was 60 by the time he made this in 1941, but that didn’t stop him from seeing both Maar and the above-mentioned Marie-Thérèse Walter after divorcing his wife (you got that?). Maar sounds like kind of an intense woman. She suffered from sterility, cut herself, and was really into art, politics and intellectualism. This painting reflects a lot of that intensity and complexity with its multiple fractured planes, bold colors and patterns, and, of course, a little black kitty.

Les Noces de Pierrette – $85.3M

This painting, which sold for $49.3M in 1989 was created in 1905 during Picasso’s blue period (so named because of the blue colors often used in paintings from this time, and also because Picasso was depressed following the suicide of one of his friends). Paintings from this period, such as the famously torn work The Actor, are generally considered the most valuable, beautiful, and recognizable of all Picasso’s works.

After changing hands many times – from Picasso’s friend to Picasso’s son, from a Swiss banker to the French government – it was finally purchased for the aforementioned huge pile of cash by a Japanese real-estate developer. After his company went south, he was forced to give the painting as debt collateral to a construction company who then had to give it to a loan company. Currently, it rests unseen and unenjoyed – crated up in a bank vault somewhere in Japan. Unfortunately, a bunch of paintings have disappeared this way when Japan’s economy tanked in the 90′s. Mwah mwah….

Self Portrait: Yo Picas-so – $84.1M

This painting, which sold for $47.85M in 1989, is a blue-period self portrait made in 1901. It was purchased by the president of a hospital management company – someone who probably wouldn’t want to be flaunting his millions these days. It doesn’t seem like a particularly revealing portrait, but I like that it looks like he fell against his palette, staining his cravat orange. Not a bad look for a passionate artist. For a guy that painted so many self portraits, and included himself in so many paintings, it makes sense that one of them would have made this list. In my opinion, though, I like the ones where he appears as a minotaur better.


So the myth of Picasso endures, seemingly growing larger and larger as time passes – making his work all the more coveted. Even if a particular work isn’t his best or his most interesting – everyone wants a piece of the man. I think Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers put it best…

Art, Music, Painting , , ,

Joseph Szabo TEENAGE

December 24th, 2009

I was in a used book store the other day here in Seattle and chanced upon a book locked up in the rare/collectible book case that looked too interesting to pass by. After fetching someone to unlock the case, I was treated to Joseph Szabo’s TEENAGE.

Szabo taught at Malverne High School on Long Island for more than twenty five years (from the early 70′s to the late 90′s) where he was able to take a number of remarkably candid photographs of teenage life (and hair). I’m so into these photographs that I’ve been wondering how I would be able to undertake a photo project like this without seeming like a total creep. Maybe I’ve missed my chance, and I’m now stuck documenting the lives of the over-30s.

Nevertheless, looking through these photographs has got me humming Sound Of Silver over and over while looking through my old yearbooks trying to remember what I’ve tried to forget. Clearly I’m not alone. The forward to TEENAGE was written by Cameron Crowe, and other auteurs — from Sofia Coppola to Terry Richardson — have drawn direct inspiration from the posturing, sexual yearning, and social exploration of the world that the collection depicts.

Check out the book (if you can find it) and be sure to take a moment to look through more great photos of this ilk on Szabo’s gallery’s site.

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Graffiti and Vermeer

December 2nd, 2009

I love the pictoral vibrancy of some these contest entries on the Photoshop project site The assignment was to ”improve” Classical art with spraypaint. Sometimes this type of synthesis can totally seem like the doorway to a valid new aesthetic language. Now that I think about it, the mashup of Classical era drafting proficiency and editorialism with the contemporary graffiti culture might be what has propelled Banksy to such popular heights (well, that and his wit).

This update of Eugene de Blaas’ Flirtation at the Well is one of my favorites from the contest. The spraypaint compliments the swagger, and vice versa:

graffiti painting

Art, Ideas, Painting , , , ,

Nicholas Kamuda Seascapes Essay

November 29th, 2009

Some months ago, I wrote an essay for the catalog accompanying my good friend Nicholas Kamuda’s exhibition of large scale seascape drawings at Cairo Gallery here in Seattle. Here is a reprinting of the text of that essay along with one of the pictures from that show, Seascape (1), courtesy Mr. Kamuda. Enjoy.


Special Guest: On Relating to the Sea

The answer to the question of how to orient paintings of landscape — particularly the ocean — has historically been rather consistent: “Go horizontal, man”. The reason for this is simple: you can cram a lot more subject in there, pictorally speaking. However, we can see that Nicholas Kamuda’s Seascapes series are all quite vertical. In fact, these works are unmistakably human in their ratio and scale. This relationship enables the viewer to pull psychological and emotional content out of the works in a decidedly empathetic way; These pictures are portraits.

As an already warm morning begins to turn into an unbearable afternoon, a man — cursing the shade’s uselessness in high humidity — dodges a cloud of Central Park mosquitos and dashes up the stairs into the conditioned reprieve of the Met. He buys his ticket and heads straight back and through the doorway under the stairs. Being naturally curious about beginnings, he finds himself unable to pass by a work without checking the date on its accompanying info card. He stops to size himself up next to a Medieval suit of armor. Boy, they really decorated things back in the day. Particularly impressed by the craftsmanship of a small desk — described on its card as a “17th century French bureau brisé” — the man tries mouthing its foreign title;  In doing so, he becomes distinctly aware, for the first time, of his allegiance to the hard ‘k’ sound at the end of the word ‘desk’. He moves on. Suddenly, and with only a few heroically scaled marble sculptures to forewarn it’s imminence, he can feel that a boundary has been crossed. The Modern Art wing, hidden not-quite-far-enough in the back corner of the museum, brings with it a sudden displacement of energy. In front of these paintings, the man feels empowered to arbitrarily deride or praise, and yet, paradoxically, is not entirely confident that his opinions hold any validity, even to himself, outside of this moment. This uncertainly compels him to continue up the stairs to the second floor where he spends fifteen stormy minutes in front of a big canvas that was painted the year before he was born.

Vellum seems to me to be a material that is distinctly contemporary. Though it was invented in the 19th century as a replacement for animal hide parchment, modern paper vellum seems to have moved on from its ancestral home beneath illuminated scripture to become the working surface of architects — of plan-makers. Ideas pass through without distraction. Hold a light up to it and it is almost transparent. Ink doesn’t bond with vellum, it sticks politely; You could brush on some water and push the whole thing around — make a whole new drawing.

I dreamed last night that I was in the middle of a voyage at sea on one of those mammoth cruise boats, the ones that boast the attraction of a never-ending summer afternoon on the boardwalk. On one of the lower decks, surrounded by the smell of fried dough and the tan buzz of teenage skin, I stood looking down into a large swimming pool. The pool had been converted into a miniature aquarium — complete with sharks, flashing schools of silver fish, a giant octopus, and numerous other gawk-eyed beasties. To keep this mash-up a friendly one, the pool had been sliced horizontally into separate lanes by thick sheets of clear plastic — each species in their own lane. The lanes rotated through the pool like records in a jukebox or sandwiches in one of those coin-op dispensers. The octopus would disappear into the far wall and a pair of dolphins would slide into view from under the edge by my feet.  I began trying to figure out how I might build this mechanism in the real world without the fish getting disoriented and nauseous. Anyway, I couldn’t come up with a solution and I eventually started dreaming about something else.

Ink is a waterborne pigment. When ink is pooled on a surface and left to dry, you can see the index of the evaporative process as a dark ring around the pool’s border — the last area to dry. Looking closely at Kamuda’s Seascapes reveals a wealth of these erratic evaporative patterns. I always assumed that the Modernist goal to reconcile philosophy and form within the same work ended with minimalism, but there’s something of this reconciliation present in the Seascapes series. Utilising water and its dynamics in the representation of the ocean is so economic as an idea, but the results are infinitely rich, detailed, and complex. I get a similar feeling watching the real ocean — that water can be so elemental and yet imbued with incomprehensible beauty is surely a key to its mystical allure.

“Out here on the water,” his father had said, “one should learn to expect unexpected weather and unseasonal temperatures”. To Dylan, this meant cold. Cold when you would rather be swimming. Cold when the last thing you want is to be indoors, sheathed in flannel and filled with soup. To Dylan, the ocean was maybe the only thing that made these family vacations fun, but this year it had been too cold to set toe in the surf, much less dive in. The yellow styrofoam body board that his grandmother had given him hadn’t even been removed from the trunk of the car; Dylan had, however, dragged inside the duffel filled with swimsuits and towels with a sense of optimism that his parents didn’t seem to want to acknowledge. With a glance at the weather forecast, they’d seemingly resigned themselves to ten days of cocoa and books and trips to the farmers market. Glacial boredom. After three days of staunch gloom, Dylan decided it was time to go ahead and put on his suit. He went to the duffel and pulled out his beach towel — a huge cotton affair that exceeded his home version in both size and number of colors. Making his way up the stairs toward the tub, Dylan grinned at the calls of the sea birds flying just outside. He lay his towel down next to the feet of the old tub and twisted the faucet handles. Drawing a little from ‘H’, but mostly from ‘C’ — for accuracy’s sake, Dylan waited for the water to fill the tub as he looked out the window at the foaming grey ocean hushing and pulsing just outside. hshhh…karuushhhh… Closing his eyes, he filled his chest with air, leaned over the edge of the tub and dunked his head under the rising water.

This feels good.

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