stubborn affiliations

The nude’s stubborn affiliation with tradition can create embarrassing situations at a time when art is stubbornly anti-traditional. Of course, some of it depends on what you mean by tradition. Until modern art kicked tradition in the jewels, you could pretty well depend on the nude as artist choice to turn a profit on an aesthetically pleasing object.

—Painting of Marie-Louise O’Murphy by François Boucher c. 1751
… It is one of the first works one encounters when studying the history of eroticism in art. It celebrates the trope of the big and beautiful woman, an art later perfected by Rubens.
Casanova remarked on this painting and its model O’Murphy which he claims to have known:
The position in which he painted it was delightful. She was lying on her stomach, her arms and her bosom leaning on a pillow, and holding her head sideways as if she were partly on the back. The clever and tasteful artist had painted her legs and calves with so much skill and truth that the eye could not but wish to see more; I was delighted with that portrait; it was a speaking likeness, and I wrote under it, “O-Morphi,” not a Homeric word, but a Greek one after all, and meaning beautiful.”–Casanova, Histoire de ma vie
Marie-Louise O’Murphy de Boisfaily (21 October, 1737 – 11 December, 1814) was a child-courtesan, one of the several mistresses of King Louis XV of France.—Read More:

Tom Wesselman’s Great American Nude Series, GAN, rode high on the wave of the vogue that was pop art. However, even when she was found in these new contexts, she seemed merely a twentieth century variation on an old theme, for good or ill, who owed a large debt to Boucher’s eighteenth-century Miss O’ Murphy. The latter work is still a fleshy image, but in both works, our Venus seems brooding and a little sad.

—In the Great American Nude, something similar has happened although not in the same way. Certainly the pink body rivets the eye across the center of the painting but the rest of the composition is cluttered with all the elements and signs of ownership. The female nude is just one more of these elements. I wonder if the question to ask is whether Wesselmann is trying to say that this is the role of women and we should transcribe it into paintings or if he is forcing us to question the conventional treatment of the female in high art and in society. Remember that the early 60s was the beginning of the feminist movement in this country. —Read More:

( see link at end) …On another level, with particular reference to Wesselmann’s nudes, it is perhaps the opposite of Boris Lurie’s adept transformations of female figures into graffiti. The sexuality of Wesselmann’s nudes is a remarkably abstract, pristine phenomenon despite, or possibly because of, the meticulously generalized renderings of carnal attributes and trappings. We see the reclining nudes with flamboyant silk stockings and garters; ordinarily, all that these would need would be a whip and a pair of boots to become the Spider-Women of a Jersey torture house. But instead the soft colors and blank faces make us think of “creatures met on Malibu Beach.” It is as if the Great American Nude series represents the results of a fractional distillation of all the femininity in the world, with an end product, tightly stoppered, of pure essence of Woman. A clinical specimen.Read More:

—Shortly after seeing the Bin Laden image on television I started looking for artist depictions of the man, something beyond the merry-go-round of familiar media images being replayed on television. I looked first at the Sudanese artist Hassan Musa’s satirical painting of Bin Laden posing butt naked on an American flag. I saw the work, which riffs on Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nude series from the Sixties, at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2007. It’s not a pretty painting. Bin Laden has feminine curves. He is neither thin nor tall, as his FBI wanted poster told. The bloody washes of red around his divan possess an eerie quality now, especially if you’ve been watching recent news reports showing where Bin Laden was shot.
Osama bin Laden Portrait—Read More:


Ultimately, it seems the nude in whatever weird context it may appear, can be debauched, degraded, and rejected without losing its potency for renewal, despite the esoteric maunderings that seem unrestricted in discussions of post-art. Botticelli, Titian, Manet; they all set an impossibly demanding pace, and it is difficult to escape that charge plugged into the source. Maybe its the same vast and intimate; but certainly, trying to represent the dramatic incident and the big narrative moment today is destined to fail: these very elements are absent in our own confused, unstable and sloppy, messy lives. The stories we tell ourselves or are told to us, as we try to fill the tank with coherence, logic and significance are flawed. Botticelli never had to deal with the “shock of the new.”

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