Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Over-The-Top Art

Over the July Forth weekend we went to the Portland Art Museum and saw the "Gods and Heroes" display of (mostly) paintings from the French Academy.

I liked them because they are over-the-top ("see the drama unfold").  Think of all the hysteria over the Death of Socrates, and add stray arrows, and dancing over severed heads.  And fabulous necklaces or scraps of loincloth.  Mark thinks the over-the-top parts are stupid, but he likes the technique.  I like allegory in general and convoluted allegory especially, and I liked some of the sullen expressions in the paintings.  And tableaux:  it's true, if I could live my life going from one fabulous tableaux to the next, I'd be... well, maybe not happy all the time, but certainly it would be fun.

The body language of the nymph turning away from Paris was great, and all the outstretched hands in every piece were fun.  

I wasn't especially wild about the painting from just before the French Revolution, as these tended to feature children being shot with arrows or stabbed with swords.

I think the most effective part of the display was walking around a corner and being confronted by the anatomy paintings.  Mark had warned me about these, and still I was surprised.  The most impressive painting was a warrior in a fighter's stance, and the artist had painted the musculature and bones underneath the skin on half of the figure.  

A painting of Icarus and Daedalus reminded me of the funny captions recently given to a slew of Icarus paintings.  The one in this exhibit wasn't particularly buff, but it was easy to imagine him suggesting, "But Dad, put these feathers will make me stand out more when I'm up in the sky."

Early on in the exhibit there was a statement about how the students of the academy spent much of their time painting or sculpting the male nude.  The idea was that the male nude was something God made and therefore a something that was divine and worthy depicting the heroic.  Mark thinks this is propaganda, but what I think is interesting is how we went culturally from the nude male body being divine and heroic to it being a subversive statement of (homo) erotic desire.  

I missed the cartoon at the end making fun of all the figures holding their arms out, up, or imperiously.  So we'll have to go back.

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