Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Cezanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, patron of the avant-garde

Patrick McCaughey, in his TLS review, inveighed against the Met for enshrining in an exhibition an art dealer who was, in McCaughey’s words, “the reverse of the patron: he was the exploiter of the avant-garde.” When I saw the exhibition yesterday, I read in at least two curator’s notes that Vollard sold the paintings for ten times the meager sum he had paid the artists. The notes made me wonder if the exhibition’s title was not intended as somewhat ironic. Such titles, emblazoned on a huge banner in front of the Met, are not usually ironic but this one might serve the dual purpose of promotion and criticism. I thought the exhibition highlighted the exchange of monies behind these familiar masterpieces.

Looking at Cezanne’s “A Basket of Apples,” I was struck by how all the apples had different shapes and colors. Each apple was also presented differently from the others: one showed more stalk; one more tilted; one half-wrapped by the cloth; one almost hidden by the basket. The effect is one of careful arrangement, not of a spontaneous event. The visible brushstrokes also pointed to the ‘paintedness’ of the apples. These luscious apples do not try to imitate real apples; instead, they seem to reveal that real apples look like painted ones in a certain light, that the perception of the lusciousness of real apples is a perception of form. We see beauty in things when we attend to their form, not when we are occupied with eating them.

Overheard while looking at Matisse’s “Still Life with a Blue Pot”: “I’ve been going for a pap smear every year for years. My doctor told me I can stop when I reach 70.” “70? My doctor says 65.”

Smelled when looking at Picasso’s blue-period “The Old Guitarist”: someone’s fart. Was the man who moved away the guilty one? Would I look guilty if I moved away? Would I be held responsible if I didn’t? Such agonies as I noted the guitarist’s left shoulder was pulled higher than his bent head, contributing to his pathos.

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