Les Demoiselles turn 100
January 11, 2007 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Happy anniversary, modern art. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon are 100 years old and look as fresh and exciting as ever.
posted by bru (41 comments total)
Happy anniversary, modern abstract art.
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 7:31 PM on January 11, 2007

Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson writes "Happy anniversary, modern abstract art."

Wha? Les Demoiselles is clearly figurative, if highly stylized.

But, yeah, I think most people would put the start of Modernism in painting in the 1880s or even 1870s, with the Impressionists.

Arguments can be made for both views, I suppose.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:42 PM on January 11, 2007

Excellent post bru. More about Les Demoiselles from the Museum of Modern Art site. Audio about the painting from MoMA. Some of the African art that influenced Picasso, as depicted in Primitivism in 20th Century Art.
posted by nickyskye at 7:43 PM on January 11, 2007

(If I had to give a year for "the start of the Modern era", I'd give 1889).
posted by mr_roboto at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2007


( wheeeeeee!)
posted by R. Mutt at 8:43 PM on January 11, 2007

Manet 1863. Exhibit A and Exhibit B. (imho)
posted by R. Mutt at 8:57 PM on January 11, 2007

How about 1867?
Or, more art historically, 1863?
(On preview, half what that copyist of Duchamp said.)
posted by johngumbo at 8:59 PM on January 11, 2007

Perhaps, a piss-artiste?
posted by johngumbo at 8:59 PM on January 11, 2007

Oh, and thanks, bru, for a timely post. It's nice to look at it in the perspective of its anniversary but still think of its freshness.
posted by johngumbo at 9:00 PM on January 11, 2007

I'd hit it.. but seriously, nice post.
posted by vronsky at 10:26 PM on January 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I feel like such a dick! I came in here all ready to blaze about Dejeuner, and, like, five people have already nailed it. (One of the fun moments from my art history class was hearing the prof talk about how Dejeuner is the beginning of modern art and post-modern art, due to its referential appropriation, intentional mixing of indoor and outdoor, etc...)
posted by klangklangston at 10:45 PM on January 11, 2007

Did anyone notice Olympia's shoes? You could buy the same style today.
posted by Cranberry at 11:21 PM on January 11, 2007

My girlfriend is doing a lesson with her fifth grade class tomorrow about Picasso and cubism. I jumped on the computer to read her presentation and after got on meta and saw this. Very weird synchronicity.

Picasso has always been one of my favorites. I have been reading a lot of my old art books this week and daydreaming about the wild life that he lead.

Did you know his full name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispín Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso?
posted by crawfishpopsicle at 11:38 PM on January 11, 2007

The post is not so much about "the beginning of modern art" as about the excellent linked article by Jonathan Jones.

I understand what has been said and written about Le Déjeuner or Olympia, but it's still far from what Jones calls "this explosion of sex, anarchy and violence" that I personally find so contemporary and fresh.

The more I know about art history, the more I feel the pivotal power of Les Demoiselles. It's bold, daring, courageous and mainly, it opens wide the doors of perception: it affirms that there are new ways of seeing , as much in the mechanical future as in our dark past. It's fundamentally a very optimistic stance: it breaks the mold, but shows new forms with the pieces.

And this act resonates in so many dimensions. For example, what Jones calls "this victory of form over content" is not very far from "The medium is the message".

Thanks nickyskye for the excellent links. Since I see in your profile that you are a neighbour of Les Demoiselles, maybe you could tell us which of the linked images is nearest the original's colors.
posted by bru at 5:19 AM on January 12, 2007

The post is not so much about "the beginning of modern art" as about the excellent linked article by Jonathan Jones.

Yeah, it's a sad, oft-repeated cycle: writer feels impelled to hype some meaningless claim to sell a piece to an editor (who would never dream of publishing a good analysis of something simply because it was good, no, it's got to be relevant [exactly 100 years! woocha!) and exciting [this is where modernity started!!]); then it gets posted to MeFi, where everybody ignores what the writer was trying to do (celebrate the freshness of Picasso's work) and happily focuses on the extra added bullshit ("no, no, modernity began in 1863! or 1867!"). For chrissakes, does anybody think it makes any sense to say modernism "started" in a particular year? Bah.

Anyway, thanks for the post, which brings vividly to mind the amazement I felt on first visiting MOMA and realizing—feeling in my eyes and in my bones—the greatness of Picasso. I'd always assumed he was great because I'd been told so endlessly, but I was a bit resentful about it, I couldn't really feel it for myself. Turns out (who'd have thought it?) you have to actually stand in front of a painting and see it, see the painting and not a picture of it, to experience it and have a chance of evaluating it. Go to the museum, stand in front of Demoiselles (or Three Musicians, or Girl Before a Mirror) and tell me it's not a masterpiece.
posted by languagehat at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

Robert Anton Wilson tells this story about Picasso in The New Inquisition:

Pablo Picasso was once present at a dinner where one guest loudly denounced modern art. Picasso ate quietly, saying nothing. Later, the same guest showed a wallet photo of his wife, and Picasso asked to look at it more closely. When it was handed over, Pablo stared at it intently and then asked innocently, "My God, is she really that small?"

I don't care if it never really happened.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:03 AM on January 12, 2007

languagehat, I know what you mean. Standing in front of the actual Guernica blew me away. Not all art is like that. Magritte comes across just as well on postcards and posters as in real life.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:12 AM on January 12, 2007

Agreed, R. Mutt.
posted by saladin at 6:34 AM on January 12, 2007

Its funny, when I was in art school (years ago), I would often hear older artist/professors speak of Jackson Pollock's work as if it had descended from heaven. But I couldn't see it. I mean, the paintings were visually interesting, and I understood the idea of why they were historically important, but that was about it. Then one day, several years after graduation, I happened across an exhibition of Pollock's drawings and works on paper. I had never seen them before. They stopped me in my tracks. They were incredible. They made me nervous. I spent the entire day looking at them, and went back twice. I saw Pollock's art that day.

I think that having seen his paintings reproduced so often, I had become unable to see what my teachers knew.... lesson learned.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:40 AM on January 12, 2007

Thanks for this post. Picasso is just out of this world and I've always loved Les Demoiselles d'Avignon! It's quite amazing that the artistic world which we currently inhabit is 100 years old...
posted by ob at 7:09 AM on January 12, 2007

R. Mutt: Exactly the same thing happened to me with Pollock, and again, it took an exhibition at MOMA to do the trick.
posted by languagehat at 7:23 AM on January 12, 2007

My Great Aunt spent an afternoon with Picasso in Paris (Edith Piaf introduced them) during the time he was painting Guernica. She says he came over as a very thoughtful and kind man. She asked him why all of the women in his paintings were so ugly, and he said it was simply a reflection of life. She is Welsh and they spent most of the time talking about all things Celtic and the Welsh language.
posted by jontyjago at 7:25 AM on January 12, 2007

But Languagehat, I don't wanna talk about Demoiselles, I wanna see it again. (And there are several Magrittes that I feel do come across a lot stronger in person, but then I think there are very, very few works that don't).
As far as the number one had to see it live: Rothko. I was kinda snotty to my roommate about his Rothko obsession until I ended up in a travelling exhibit in a room full of them and was blown away. Which bothered the hell out of my (philistine) brother, who wanted to get the hell out of the museum, not just sit around and stare at color fields.
posted by klangklangston at 7:32 AM on January 12, 2007

It's funny how much art appreciation hinges on actually being in the presence of the works.

Rodin's sculptures have a quality similar to that of the paintings of Pollock and Rothko. I was simply amazed at how wonderful they were.
posted by oddman at 7:47 AM on January 12, 2007

Yeah, Rodin's stuff is amazing up close. Something that seems sterile in a textbook is actually very venomous.

Also, I can't think of Picasso without thinking of his cameo in F For Fake.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:44 AM on January 12, 2007

klang: Exactly the same thing happened to me with Rothko, but this time, it took an exhibition at the Whitney to do the trick. I wasn't snotty to my brother about his Rothko obsession, because I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I didn't understand it until I saw those magnificent canvases in their full glory. I kept going back through the rooms, pausing for long minutes in front of one or another painting, finally emerging dazed and blinking into the New York afternoon, not having bothered to buy a "reproduction" because what would be the point?
posted by languagehat at 10:27 AM on January 12, 2007

It can be so hard to explain art. I had a near-religious experience walking around an Yves Klein exhibit. Awe, excitement, joy, the whole shebang. When I try to explain this to people who've never seen his works in the real I get funny looks.
posted by Kattullus at 11:00 AM on January 12, 2007

I had the same Rothko moment, too, that others are talking about -- the first time I saw one in person (years ago at the old MoMA), I literally staggered backward upon first entering the room. I felt a physical power -- a rush of color and light that hit me in my solar plexus. After catching my breath, I walked up to it slowly and stared at it for, god, I don't know how long, till I noticed tears running down my face. Then I went into another room and saw van Gogh's Starry Night, and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

Thanks for the post, bru!
posted by scody at 11:13 AM on January 12, 2007

Rothko rocks. But I feel that way about a lot of modern art.

Thanks bru. Both of those links make Les Demoiselles look as if it were painted with Calamine lotion, which, lol, it wasn't. And this rendition makes the demoiselles look as if they'd all been to the tanning salon. This is the most true to life version I could find on the web.

In a way I owe 10 years of prosperity to Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. In 1984-85 MoMA had an exhibit called Primitivism' in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern. "Primitivism, for MOMA's purposes, means the use Western artists made of tribal works; it does not denote the art itself". May 1986 I started street vending West African masks, fabrics, small pieces of furniture and sculptures next to MoMA. The West African, sub-Saharan art was made within the previous 15 years or so of traditional images and many were of the kind that influenced Picasso's, Braque's, Matisse's, Modigliani's paintings. Took off like a rocket. I was a member then of MoMA and would go in daily, a number of times, for a break from the street. I made a game of it and would pick a color, go in to look at just that color, for a color rush, see the color in the context of the painting. Cobalt blue one afternoon and chrome yellow another. Picasso's art never ceased to astound me, and continues to do so in spite of learning what a bastard he was.

Picasso was stillborn.

The Guggenheim also has some wonderful paintings of his, including this beauty.
posted by nickyskye at 11:34 AM on January 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

"Awe, excitement, joy, the whole shebang. When I try to explain this to people who've never seen his works in the real I get funny looks."

The transcendent power of art is about the only real reason I believe in God. Everything else, I'm OK with materialism. But get me in a room with, say, Dali's murals or Malevich. I never thought that black on black could be that gorgeous, and the out-of-body feeling I've gotten from some art, I've never been able to duplicate without drugs.

Maybe once I'm out in LA over spring break, I can talk my girlfriend into an art museum crawl...
posted by klangklangston at 12:25 PM on January 12, 2007

Damn, nickyskye, I'll bet I've exchanged words with you—I used to hang out at and around MOMA a lot in the '80s and '90s (for a while I worked just down the block on Sixth)—and I'll bet I know people who bought masks from you. Small world.

Great thread!
posted by languagehat at 12:43 PM on January 12, 2007


Yup, small world. :)

I thought that many times languagehat, that we met and possibly have spoken before. I had yard long blond hair then (pre-chemo). Used to sell both on the MoMA side, outside the abandoned Museum of American Folk Art at 53 West 53rd and then later, right in front of the Donnell's front doors. Was there for almost 15 years, from May 1986 to December 2001.
posted by nickyskye at 12:51 PM on January 12, 2007

Wow it's really interesting to hear that others have had a similar Rothko moment to me. I'd heard of Rothko and seen prints in books and I knew about Morton Feldman's interest in him, but I didn't see what the big deal was until I saw a Rothko face-to-face so to speak. The moment I walked into the room I knew that I was in the presence of something very profound. I think I stayed in there for what seem like age just marveling at them.
posted by ob at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2007

I just showed that dvd to my Mom and Dad roll truck roll. My Mom especially loved it!

Cool Rothko comments. I hear a tone or vibration in my head when I look at Rothko. Even a Rothko Christmas card will have this effect. Think "music for airports" but a single tone amplified. Each color combination creates a corresponding tone. Some weird form of synethsesia?
posted by vronsky at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2007

And is it effect or affect languagehat? I always confuse the two.
posted by vronsky at 11:57 AM on January 13, 2007

I'm not languagehat, but in this case, "effect" is indeed correct.
posted by scody at 12:04 PM on January 13, 2007

Yup, the noun (in this sense) is effect; when you affect something, you produce an effect. Annoying, but that's English for you.
posted by languagehat at 12:08 PM on January 13, 2007

And languagehat, if you are still reading this, what is the word that describes someone who obtains sexual pleasure from being defecated on? Google et al are failing me and I am afraid to click many of the links.
posted by vronsky at 2:38 PM on January 13, 2007

Coprophilia. (The things I do for you people...)
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Milles de Gracias!
posted by vronsky at 3:35 PM on January 13, 2007

And also languagehat, the "tetra" post on your blog is priceless. The YHWH comment madee milk come out my nose.
posted by vronsky at 3:03 PM on January 14, 2007

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