What stamped Andre Malraux’s work as extraordinary was his intensity. When he wrote about a statue, one has a vision of Malraux standing before it with a burning determination that this piece of stone must yield its secrets to him. He admitted that it is not the same statue for him as it was for a distant and long-dead spectator who saw the work in his own time.
But Malraux was determined- this is one aspect of the metamorphosis he saw in all works of art- to extract the meaning that is valid for his own day. And in this he succeeded, especially because he never treated any work of art in isolation. His exhibits, his Imaginary Museums, are not arranged along a museum-like corridor of mere chronology. They were displayed, as in a large tympanum, under the single arch of his vision. This meant that sometimes they were cramped, even confused looking; occasionally figures and theories are made to fit that simply did not fit. But the whole generally was said to produce a stunning effect, flaws and all. And this effect came chiefly from the immense tension of the covering arch, a tension almost physically felt in a work that insisted on spanning the distance from pyramid to cross, and then from cross to cubism. (to be continued)…
Derek Allan:What kind of ‘other world’ could painting and sculpture aspire to in a context in which the possibility of something beyond the world of mere appearance seems to have irretrievably vanished? For Malraux, the first visual artist to offer an unambiguous answer to this question was Manet. Manet’s Olympia, which caused such a scandal when first exhibited (and not simply for its subject matter), announces a change in the function of art no less dramatic than that
brought about by Giotto. A long chapter in the history of Western art, lasting several centuries, was suddenly brought to a close. Gone was any attempt to conjure up an exalted fictional world—an ‘other world’ of nobility and beauty such as that found in Titian’s Venus d’Urbino, or even as late as Delacroix. For Manet, as for the many artists who were soon to explore the new regions he opened up, such as Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and Chagall, the ‘other world’ of art would now be a world in which, Malraux argues, art is simply its own value.
Like Giotto, Manet had not simply discovered a new style, but revealed a new power of painting. No longer linked to any value outside itself, painting would now rely exclusively on its own power to create an autonomous, ‘rival’ world. For the first time, painting simply became ‘painting’, no longer subordinated to anything outside itself.