Permanent Fads

The great wanderer Bruce Chatwin began his professional career in the Works of Art department of Sotheby’s. Though he came to loathe the place (“I suddenly had a horror of the so called ART WORLD”), Sotheby’s enabled him to travel widely to investigate/acquire objets d’art. Chatwin’s global interest in art was greatly inspired by Ludwig Goldscheider’s Art Without Epoch (1937).

Goldscheider’s subtitle for Art Without Epoch was “Works of Distant Times Which Still Appeal To Modern Tastes” (which found an echo in Chatwin’s awesomely titled project “One Million Years of Art”). For Art Without Epoch Goldscheider assembled 140 illustrated plates of ancient works that transcend their moment and appeal to the aesthetics of his age (1930s Europe). In diverse works from antiquity he sees the elemental currents of, say, Impressionism or Expressionism or Late Gothic architecture. Thus, Plate 22, a reproduction of an Egyptian wall-painting of wrestlers found in a tomb from 1900BCE has the bemused caption “(Henri Matisse!)”. Plate 23, a female nude etched on a 5th century BCE Greek oil-flask, has the excited caption “(Auguste Renoir!)”.

Like Joseph Campbell with myth, Goldscheider delights at locating uncanny parallels among visual artists, across epochs. Exploring artistic technique & impulse, he sketches amusing ahistorical lineages. Of Plate 139, above, Goldscheider writes: “Landscape, etching by Francisco de Goya, about 1815.—In this work Kubin is not only anticipated, but surpassed.”

I recently re-visited Art Without Epoch curious to see which of the works, IMHO, still appealed to modern tastes. Sympathetic to Goldscheider’s premise & taste, I presumed that the search would tell more about the distance between his age and ours, rather than of the objects themselves. And most of his selections still look banging! Yet, on the whole, I found that “primitivist” statues/masks don’t hold the same fascination as they did to early 20th century dudes. Perhaps we have passed over the excitements of peak colonialism (the artefacts returned from colonial adventure; the bon savage-ism of Gauguin), and that the leveling of folk and ‘high’ art is long complete—or at least mundane.

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The thinking behind Art Without Epoch—a reflection on the cycles of taste—is of a kind with a funny/insightful question Thom WestBaby likes to ask: Is Andy Warhol cool these days? Taking for granted that Warhol is an inescapable touchstone of post-war art, the question is akin to asking about the phase of the moon: is it waxing or waning these days? So it was with un-small amusement that I came across a reading on the current swing of things, expressed in the bombastic title of a New Republic review:

“The Wildly Overrated Andy Warhol”

LuLz. It doesn’t even matter if you think Warhol’s art “looks good”. As long as we struggle this way & that within the American fame/image/money nexus, his work speaks. So you better get used to him, because it seems that he’ll be around a while! [Current assessment: Forget the silkscreens, Warhol is a trip to read.]

The Andy Warhol Question is mutable into other helpful parlour-room barometers, such as:

“Is Marc Bolan cool again yet?” or

Which Miles Davis/Bob Dylan/Picasso period is cooking?” or

“Which Stevie Wonder album is best now?” [Answer: Music of My Mind]

 

 

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AFTERTHOUGHT

BTW: Of primitivism in Cubism, and of Picasso’s African Period, I think we can agree that this is an acceptable version of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, but this(!) is not. WTF kind of YOLO art prankster spent beaucoup hours assembling that bonkers trash?!?

AFTERTHOUGHT II

Lord Almighty! No sooner were we jiving about the bon savage than we came across This Video. You shan’t believe yr eye(s) when you see the spunky pocahontas dancing atop the gargantuan golden turkey. (I’m pretty sure this supports our argument…?)

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