Very interesting take on a comparison between Modigliani and Picasso by Donald Kuspit. The point of departure could be Nietzsche’s oft-cited quote that “god is dead” and with him the head of morality also fell from the guillotine into the basket. From this sprang a new wave of consciousness: the human being as legal concept, different from the individual, and thereby capable of mistreating their fellows without the slightest need for repentance or remorse.
God had abandoned humanity, a betrayal and man could abandon god in response. What remained in the world was only the profane; the Picasso vision of the human being as profane and art dealing with the profane as a response to the traumatism of the modern condition. Art is forced to get low and dirty since the world is perceived to be so. Mankind’s destructive forces are seen as disconnected from rational decision making and into a world of madness and the irrational; the Michel Foucault dynamic.
Kuspit rarely ceases to amaze by going against the grain in a contrarian manner backed up by a coherence and comprehensiveness that makes sense on an intuitive level and expressed with an articulateness that is likely without equal since he always conveys a wide awareness of the human condition that encompasses multiple contexts. Yes, Modigliani fit the Byronesque romanticism of mad and very bad; a life on the edge sewn from similar material as Van Gogh, another fallen from “the heroic period.” But, Modigliani never followed Picasso into the extremes of cubist fragmentation, and it was not from an absence of courage….
Kuspit:Modigliani had too much respect for the feelings of human beings to turn them into grotesque, hostile monsters, as Picasso did. It is also the reason Modiglianis figures are never menacing and confrontational, but seem to recede into the private space of their inner selves — this is true I think even of the odalisques — where they become aware of and at one with their complex feelings. In contrast, Picassos demoiselles have only one mindless feeling — rage. I think they enact the rage hidden in the melancholy figures of Picassos Blue and Pink period paintings. This rage finally consumes the Analytic Cubist figures, confirming their inherent negativity. Thus the outrageousness of Picassos death-informed figures has as much to do with their symbolization of life-negating rage as with their outrageous forms. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit7-27-04.asp
The point that Kuspit drew is that negation, with its implicit wish to exterminate entirely, its nihilistic pretensions, have nowhere to really go; This erasure has been “aesthetically” basic to avant-gardism since Picasso’s negation, that is complete violation of the female figure in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. This is not a negation, a messianic nihilism of violence a la Walter Benjamin. No, women menace Picasso, he reaffirms all the taboos ingeniously embedded into a narrative of male patriarchy. Hey, its a business. And, he takes his revenge on them by disfiguring them. A denaturalizing and dehumanizing of their bodies into a commodity while implying they are soulless antagonists, not to say primitive automatons. A kind of “Real Doll”, transhuman.
This negative identity is permanently at odds with the world and negates it every chance it gets but paradoxically it is the “mainstream”, the classic societal critique that induced
tus, and ordinal rank that is tied to consumption. Picasso is textbook Veblen, the Rebel Sell of Joseph Heath. Art becomes a mode of the catastrophic. It is an identity made all the more negative. A trauma involves a break in the continuity of existence, and there was a break in existence, a societal snap that Picasso seized on egged on by his addiction to overstimulation an emotional and perceptual overwhelming that melded with the traumatic in Guernica.
Compared to the sensitively rendered vitality of Modiglianis figures — even his schematization of their faces makes them seem more exquisitely alive than their natural features would — Picassos demoiselles are puppets in a Grand Guignol theater. Their bodies are flattened like stage props and they wear African masks as though to frighten us. In contrast, the mask-like faces of Modiglianis figures gives them a meditative cast, and their bodies never lose their organic verisimilitude however stylized. Modigliani cherishes the human figure, while Picasso seems contemptuous of it, brutally distorting it to fit into a formal Procrustean bed, as though to deny its inherent appeal and our natural curiosity and spontaneous empathy for it, even our unconscious identification with it. Thus, compared to the black humor and harsh form of Picassos Cubist figure, Modiglianis figure looks traditional and sentimental, even when it has a certain dynamic, like the caryatids. But then their arabesque bodies look tame — facilely harmonious and suave — next to Picassos wild demoiselles. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit7-27-04.asp
Picasso took out his rage on women, injuring them as he was injured somehow, somewhere; damaging them as he was emotionally damaged, dismembering them as he felt emotionally damaged, fragmenting them as he felt fragmented. There is nothing in Modigliani that has that perverse affinity with Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Modigliani is at odds with them, conflicted about them, with his own irrepressible desire for them, his own form of raw passion—but there is no prostitution of their bodies nor his own. There is a wall where he cannot identify with the used and abused as Picasso can. An absence of the prostitution of self-hood?
Dehumanized into sex objects by men, and with that de-subjectifying sexuality by over-objectifying it—“publicizing” it so that it no longer had any private, inner meaning—for Picasso they use their sexuality to reduce men to animals, hence dehumanizing them in turn. They got their revenge: they were no longer subhuman victims of men, but men were subhuman victims of them. It was a perfectly symmetrical dystopia—a balance of nihilisms. They used their sexuality to survive in an alien world in which they were treated like objects with no inner life, and as such with no individuality let alone identity—they were in effect non-persons. Did Picasso use his sexual fantasies to confirm that he had an inner life?
Robert Hughes:Only in Paris could you find that exquisite and combustible mixture of the very new (cubism, and the sculpture of Constantin Brancusi), the old and sanctified (the Louvre) and the colonial exotic (the collections of African and Cambodian art in the Musée de l’Homme, sucked in from France’s colonies). In Modigliani’s work these influences would be layered on top of his inherited Italian culture, the graceful, sway-backed drawing of Botticelli and the Sienese trecento, the nudes of Titian and, especially, Giorgione. One sees the force of Giorgio di Chirico’s boutade: “There is no modern Italian painting. There is Modigliani and me, but we are really French.” The result, in Modigliani’s work, was a somewhat languid, tremendously attractive amalgam of old and new that hardly looks “radical” at all today, but did in its time. Despite the almost complete indifference shown him by French collectors at first, it is now modern art for people who don’t much like modernism. Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2004/jun/10/art