meninas: sweeping out our house

Same shit. Different day.The tragic waltz of nihilism to achieve a kind of purification, a kind of radical immanence. Kitschified and recyclable. It sells. The grotesque arranged for esthetic profit. Artistically, it reflects the love hate relationship with the modern world. Fragmentation. Dismemberment. It is art, but like Gericault’s raft of the Medusa, it is the figure of the shipwrecked, the spiritual content trying to defend itself against cannibalism. There are too many wolves to feed, so usually the one with the blood dripping gets to lick the bowl clean. Negativity has a heavy toll, and the seduction of nihilism is always like the Coca Cola, “within an arm’s reach of desire,” that is “this is it”, this time, part of the  long sequence of lies based on the idea of destruction to create, a piece of art being the sum of its destructions. The tip of this canon, the capitalist, white patriarchal creed is seen in the devaluing of the female figure into the macabre and grotesque, the disconnected and the somehow never acceptible….

Kuspit: Beginning with Manet’s Olympia, 1863 (for many the seminal modern picture) and jumping to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 (another “breakthough”), and then to the dolls that Hans Bellmer made in the 1930s and the somewhat different looking but equally perverse dolls that appear in Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, 1979 — her later grotesquely dismembered dolls are explicitly Bellmeresque, especially when they are composites of fragments that don’t add up to a complete body — and throwing in Egon Schiele’s nudes, Balthus’s adolescent girls, Piero Manzoni’s canned shit, and Gilbert and George’s shit cookies (many other works can be mentioned), one realizes that many of the masterpieces of modern art depend on perversion to make their dramatic point….

Read More: ---The nude woman is relevant as the starting point, even catalyst, of the picture, but irrelevant to its final effect. She has been consumed by the process of painting, or rather destroyed by it. What we have is not an image, but the dismantling of an image, the absurd dregs of an image, and finally the discrediting of the idea of imaging, and more broadly a demonstration of the naiveté of the idea of representation, indeed, of the impossibility of adequate representation. The search for artistic "equivalence" -- the iconic in any form --is in effect abandoned. We also have an irreparably ruined body, suggesting that it too must be abandoned, both as form and symbol, for human presence is beside the point of artistic presence, that is, it distracts from the presence of the work of art itself. The body is no longer the profane means to sacred art it often was in the past, but has become a stumbling block on the way to the self-sufficiency of art.---

…Picasso’s perverse transformations of the female body, so that it looks somewhat less than ideal, and his perverse transformation of traditional representation in Cubism, which involves the fetishization of abstract forms as ends in themselves, and also his perverse transformations of such masterpieces as Velazquez’s Las Meninas, making them look less perfect and masterful than art history declares them to be — his transformations of Las Meninas also devalue the family as well as a fellow Spanish master to whom history has awarded the crown of art that Picasso wants exclusively for himself — are perhaps the most consummate examples of devaluating perversion in action in modern art. Read More:

Velasquez. Read More:


This ultimately has to do with its nihilism: the modern world, to maintain its modernity, must repeatedly shed its old skin, apparently becoming new — or at least looking new. As the philosopher Karl Löwith writes, “Nihilism, as such, can have two meanings: it can be a symptom of final and complete downfall and aversion to existence; but it can also be a first symptom of recovery and a new will for existence — a nihilism of weakness or of strength. This ambiguity of nihilism [is] the origin of modernity.” That is, nihilism can be the climax of decadence or it can be the beginning of rebirth. Modernity is always nihilistic in this double sense — always in decline, always in renewal, which is read as always changing — so-called “permanent revolution.” Avant-garde art reenacts the nihilism of modernity — the tension between decline and advance in the modern world — in its own condition of permanent revolution. It is constantly changing, with one movement rapidly replacing the other, and no movement enduring. Indeed, some theorists have argued that avant-gardism, which they understand as the artistic correlate of entrepreneurial capitalism, is simply a matter of change for the sake of change, difference for the sake of difference, novelty for the sake of novelty (novelty not being exactly purposeful innovation), as though that was what drove capitalist enterprise. Each movement is by necessity short-lived — inherently short-lived, making its limited contribution then dying into academicism and mannerism, and quickly trampled by the movement that develops in its wake — that tries to outdo it in nihilistic modernity, indeed, nihilistic intensity. Thus the avant-garde perpetual motion machine seems to exist to mirror and confirm the momentum of the modern world, which becomes greater and greater — more and more pointlessly hectic. Presumably that is supposed to fill the existential void left by its lack of religion — its abandonment is built into the idea of being-modern — or what Bell calls the spiritual crisis caused by the inability to find convincing “modern” answers to the inescapable questions raised by life, indeed, haunting and stalking it.

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…In fact, avant-garde art and modernity do not believe in permanence, stability, eternity — in the “essential,” durable nature of anything — but rather only in the exciting passing moment. Read More:

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Hans Bellmer. Read More:

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Scholes:For the male artists who dominated modernism, however, the brothel constituted a theatrical space in which to reenact those moments when they were clients for fleshly commodities themselves and to envision their own positions as caterers to public whims and victims of market forces. In the figures of prostitutes these artitst could embody a primordial natural energy they admired–and a bestiality which, to varying degrees they were forced to acknowledge in themselves. They could also represent the situation of human beings forced to be commodities in their own flesh, alienated from themselves in the most intimate way. Thus, in the magical power of these figures and in the gazes of their terrible eyes, Joyce and Picasso could see both what they feared and what they were. They looked both at and through these eyes themselves, were both seers and seen.

What we, as the ultimate clients of these texts should also see, is how those gazes are meant for us, to remind us that we too, maintain our subjectivity only by turning others into objects. The Medusa eyes of Picasso’s demoiselles and the Circean power of Bella Cohen are reminding us how in our world the most elemental drives take the structure of commodities and art itself is neither safe nor pure. We cannot touch it and pretend that we are undefiled. The mythical Medusa’s eyes turned their objects to stone. Circe changed men into beasts. Stone or beast, these works are telling us. Take your choice. You must be one or the other. There is no escape. Read More:


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