The female nude has been a staple subject in art for millennia. From the Woman of Willendorf to Edouard Manet’s Olympia, and through the present day, the female nude has been used to portray beauty ideals, social and political ideologies, and has been an object on which the male gaze can rest. In art, however, the focus has historically been on white women, and, with the possible exception of work from the Harlem Renaissance, nude women of color are represented as sexual exotic others. This approach to the black nude reflects the image of black women perpetuated by art and the media throughout recent history, an image that still lingers today. Through the twentieth century, and today, artists, especially women artists like Renée Cox, are dismantling this perception through their work, challenging history and reinterpreting the black female nude.
The following is a review from 2012 of Pasadena to Santa Barbara: A Selected History of Art in Southern California, 1951 – 1969 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It has been unaltered since written in 2012, and may contain views no longer held by the author.
Pasadena to Santa Barbara presents a selected history of Southern Californian art from 1951-1969. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) set a precedent by exhibiting contemporary local artists alongside more influential and internationally-known Modern and contemporary artists. This exhibition brings together works shown in these institutions during the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in an array of swirling color and rigid geometry reminiscent of the landscape of mid-century Southern California. Continue reading “Pasadena to Santa Barbara” Review
Note: This essay was originally a collaboration between Desiree Quintero, Jessica Valdez, and myself. It has since been extensively edited and revised.
Dada was an anti-art movement that started at the close of the First World War and continued through the mid-1930s. Dada used nonsensical absurdity to comment and oppose the “rational” thinking that led to the Great War and the brutality of the Modern world. Dada visual artists utilized many unconventional methods to facilitate the absurd. The most well-known of these works are Marcel Duchamp’s “Readymades”. To create his Readymades, Duchamp pieced together and recontextualized mass-manufactured everyday objects. The method of Dadaism most relevant to composition is the use and facilitation of chance. The later Surrealist artists are known for utilizing chance through automatism to tap the unconscious. In contrast, Dada artists were more concerned with utilizing chance as fitting into their playful, iconoclastic spirit. The use of chance was also an anti-art stance, as it was considered to be a lesser form of composition.
One of the most common themes in Brücke woodcuts is that of Man in Nature. The group’s collective resentment and generally negative outlook industrialization and modernity resulted in the belief (popularized by the likes of Paul Gauguin) that to get back to nature and to a more “primitive” and “pure” way of living was to get to the heart of the meaning of life, and of art. (MOMA, Die Brücke: Retreat) To the young artists of Die Brücke, the wilderness and countryside of Europe was “unspoilt” by the evils of modern life. From 1909 through 1919 members of Die Brücke went on retreats to paint and carve blocks of the landscape of the Moritzburg Lakes near Dresden. They depicted the trees, mountains, the monumentality of nature, sometimes barely differentiating between the forms of nature and that of man. Man becomes another rock, cabins another mountain.
Connected to the movement in the early twentieth century to “return to nature” was the representation of nudes by the German Expressionists. At the turn of the century, Germany erupted with nudist colonies, emerging “from a desire to reunite the nude with nature”. Though the nude had long been a popular subject in art, Die Brücke treated the subject without any of the delicacy and softness previously applied. Without the Classical or biblical imagery traditionally associated with nudes in art, the painting and prints of Die Brücke took on sexual or erotic undertones.
Die Brücke artists spent their free time in the cabarets and music halls of Germany. Artists have gravitated toward these kinds of venues since the late nineteenth century. The new music, the movement, and the bright colors of the dancers became inspiration for some of the world’s most well-known works. The motion of performance creates dynamic compositions and elicits an authentic reaction and participation from the audience. Contemporary prints also have a strong connection to music, sometimes even being used as posters and advertisements for performances and bands.
The prints above epitomize the flamboyance and soul of a musical performance, showing also the cult following of many musicians (in this case of John Coltrane). The power of these images lies in the expression of forms and in the bursts of color emanating from and enveloping the ﬁgures like music itself. The religious aspects of these pieces hearken back to traditional medieval German prints and to Die Brücke’s interest in religious imagery. Yet they are completely of their time. The prints uphold the transgressive properties of music and the spiritual aspect of melody and performance outside of the realm of religion.
The graphic and reproductive natures of relief prints also lend themselves perfectly to posters for rock and roll performances, further linking the interdependence of these two art forms.
Countless different styles of art emerged in the revolutionary and high-energy early 20th-century Europe. Though many of the once radical ideas, credos, and art movements have lost their edge in the last century, the bold and in-your-face style and subject matter of the Die Brücke group remains nearly as fresh and confrontational as it did 110 years ago.