Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Writing on the (Art Gallery) Wall: rappel a la ordre: "Picasso and Rivera" @ LACMA

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's (LACMA) newly-opened exhibition Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time has provided me with some insight into the very distressing current socio-politico-economic climate in the USA and in westernized nations world-wide.

One of the galleries in this provocative, sophisticated exhibition presents the curator’s premise that the works reflect “rappel a l’ordre”, return to order, in Europe after the unprecedented devastation of WWI.

The writing is really on the wall, folks, and, like all great art, the works provoke viewers to consider life today.

From the didactic (exhibition narrative on the wall): 

“A renewed interest in classicism emerged in the visual arts as a reaction against Cubism and other prewar avant-garde movements.” In France, there was a “widespread desire to return to stable, universal values and traditional aesthetics”.

Of course, these “universal” values -- especially the notion of "tradition" are in the eyes of the beholders, and were amplified and solidified through the echoes via media across space and exhibitions across time.

“In a number of Latin American countries with multiple indigenous populations, particularly in Mexico, the return to traditional values in the arts took the form of indigenismo. This was a complex political and social phenomenon that sought to address disparities between the indigenous population and the educated elites of European descent. Anthropologists and politicians looked to solve these problems by creating an ideal of the mestizo, being of mixed race, that helped to unify the country while erasing multiculturalism."

Westerners do not easily understand how to engage in a “game” with more than two teams. It’s usually “us” vs “them. Good guys (white hats) and bad guys (black hats).
The assumed prominent -- and thus, entitled -- "class" creates an "us" by stereotyping an otherwise diverse "them". What poses as news on the consumer-focused media looks more and more like the back (sports) page of the news paper or broadcast. Is this a natural outcome of our binary-based computer-dependent life?

Another key question that is provoked is ...

Who is “traditional”?

  • The Native Americans at Standing Rock who hold treaties with the US government as sovereign nations and who are vocally, peacefully but forcefully advocating #NODAPL? 
  • The immigrants to this country -- some risking life itself -- to willfully work to abide by the Constitution in hopes of earning a coveted place in civil society and do so through expressions of their cultures of origin. 
  • Post-colonial red-white-blue (but mostly red) patriots who are claiming rights to "traditional" value shave no recollection beyond 3 generations as to why they live where they do and why their assumptions of protecting traditions of “universal values” may not hold up.
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s Finding Your Roots genetics-based TV programs has greater resonance than ever before. But these programs assumes that the viewer is a member of an informed, educated public.
Wrong. and it's getting wrong-er.

I venture to say that being satisfied being ill-informed, suspicious, under-educated is the basis of the new American tradition. It is racial (white is right). It is entitled (cause I say so and so does He). And it is empowered (2nd Amendment says I can have my gun to protect me and my family.). It is a collection of disparate elements who will gladly follow blindly someone who, as they are drilled weekly, will make them free if they will only give away their freedom to Him.


Photo credits - a l’ordre
Seated Standard Bearer, 15th–early 16th century, Aztec, sandstone, laminated, 31 3/4 x 13 3/8 x 13 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1962, photo courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Diego Rivera, Frida’s Friend (El Amigo de Frida), 1931, oil on canvas, canvas: 26 × 31 3/4 in., Nader Latin American Art Museum, Gary Nader Bequest, © 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo © Nader Latin American Art Museum
Unknown, Male Torso, Roman; 100 AD; marble; 40 9/16 x 24 x 11 7/16 in.; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California (73.AA.93), photo courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California
Pablo Picasso, Self-Portrait (Autoportrait), 1906, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 21 1/4 in., Musée Picasso, Paris, © 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY, by René-Gabriel Ojéda