Now that I'm trying my hand at serious art dealing, it made sense this past Friday to kick-start my weekend with a little lofty culture and get edified on the subject. Luckily the Philadelphia Art Museum runs a little program called Art After 5 on Fridays which brilliantly dovetails the taking in of culture with weekend-going activities like drinking until you can't feel your face.
This past Friday, it was Jeff Antoniuk (who does '80s-vintage Daryl Hall justice with his own, out-of-this-world mullet) and the Jazz Update turning everyone on with their mellow musical stylings while the 1st floor galleries were open for browsing.
At first the high-minded intent of the evening was carried-out faithfully. Ben and I took in the scene, listened to jazz, noshed on light Mediterranean tapas and drank European beer called 'Amstel Light.' We browsed one wing of galleries housing famous paintings by the important likes of Picasso, Monet, Manet and Van Gogh. It was dignified.
Moving on to the modern galleries, we encountered some of our familiar American geniuses: Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollack. I had never seen a Jackson Pollack painting in person and I have to say it's much more powerful up close when you can see the texture of his madness. Printed reproductions or full-color productions in text books just aren't the same. As for Jasper, if that American Flag painting we saw is the Jasper Johns American Flag painting, boy is it tiny. Sort of like the Mona Lisa or Mount Rushmore in its ability to disappoint with its actual, corporeal tininess.
The really modern (or is that post-modern?) stuff ranged from eye-opening (gunpowder on Japanese paper by Cai Guo-Ciang) to ear-popping (Bruce Nauman's sonic-installation Days and Giorni) and broadened my horizons considerably. I hadn't considered the artistic possibilities of flammables before, but that's a good one by the Chinese fellow, though he should be careful negotiating the fine line where his explosive art crosses over into terrorism.
It was in the sculpture exhibit where the wheels came off. Amid the earnest works of Rodin and Matisse was the flamboyant Princess X by Romanian-born, French sculptor Constantin Brancusi, sitting there, daring us to take it seriously as a sculpture. Despite our best efforts to stay in character (studious aficionados of art), the 3 foot bronze dildo broke down our facades and brought on a fit of Beavis and Butthead style chuckles, which in turn incurred scornful looks from the procrustean high-brows in the area who couldn't believe we'd indulge the baser interpretation of this art.
But as it turns out, this interpretation was randy-old Brancusi's intention all along. This from the Wikipedia page:
In 1920 he developed a notorious reputation with the entry of "Princess X" in the Salon. The phallic shape of the piece scandalized the Salon, and despite Brâncuşi's explanation that it was an anonymous portrait, removed it from the exhibition. "Princess X" was revealed to be Princess Marie Bonaparte, direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte. Brâncuşi represented or caricatured her life as a large gleaming bronze phallus. This phallus symbolizes the model's obsession with the penis and her lifelong quest to achieve vaginal orgasm, with the help of Sigmund Freud. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, condemned orgasm by clitoral stimulation and praised vaginal orgasm with a penis as the superior and only legitimate type. His condemnation echoed the social mores of his era which condemned masturbation as both morally harmful and as a cause of mental disorders. Her search for the elusive vaginal orgasm led her to have two unsuccessful surgeries and numerous affairs throughout her life with wealthy and famous men.
So there you have it. If it looks like a duck...