visiting the ladies

What seems real is in fact an illusion created by one’s own desire. It was a perceptive insight, one that would go onto helping define the modern age, the mediation of our lives by images, our relationship with consumerism and a connection between alienation, identity and the varieties of communal lives that we attempt to find meaning within…

A loveless and hate filled art? Formal construction without human presence, yet filled with death-informed rage. It permeates almost all of Picasso’s art subsequent to Demoiselles D’Avignon; all variations on the same masterpiece that push the endless permutations of the fear of women into new corners of the psyche, his own redemption hanging by the hair of a brushstroke. A misogynist representation and re-representation remains the default interpretation with his own near pathological qualities engaged in a desperate effort at sublimation but can still arrive at a ghetto in Eden filled with grotesque, threatening monsters, culled from the archives of human degradation, as if rejects from the human laboratory, realizations of Yahweh’s first rough, crude and vulgar drafts, a theme which recurs repeatedly in Picasso’s art.

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When Picasso represents the female in his own rather narrow context of mature love instead of an objectified and disposable form, he is still to haunted by fear, traumatized, resulting in distortion and the de-naturalized as seen in Les Demoiselles, the title itself charged with bitter cynicism in enobling a prostitute; the male viewer, the voyeur is rating the merchandise in arriving at a selection criteria and choice of which one to have sex with. Its a similar theme to Manet’s Olympia and its surprising it took so long for the sequels and re-makes to begin appearing. The structural arrangement, or the architecture of the work permits immediate engagement with the figures,which, and this is the ingenuity of the form, are kept at an arms-length reltionship by their own abstractness, as their primitive character,part of the defining “other” is a projective expression of Picasso’s own primitive lust which is used to marginalize and alienate them while stripping them of individualism and legitimacy. For Picasso, its attraction-repulsion at its most high=strung near psychotic. A passive-aggresive nut . If he is such a highly revered stick man, a hard-on of mythical proportions what’s his hang-up.Something weird about paint oozing off the end of a brush. With Picasso, the gender gap is unfathomable, a bridge to far.Kuspit has given the best understanding yet of this pivotal work:

Stripping the veneer of taste from art, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles plunged into the depths of existence, showing that art could be an exploratory expression of the most inescapable, urgent issues of human life: sexuality, sickness and health, and the nature of reality, all interconnected, however subterraneanly. It is the content of Les Demoiselles that counts — Picasso’s effort to make a certain emotional content manifest — and that is responsible for its form, which has been adulated and analyzed as though the content was simply an occasion for its novelty. But it is the other way around: it was Picasso’s attempt to render an all too human content that generated his formal innovations, which do not exist in and for themselves but serve an expressive and dramatic purpose. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles is innovative because it is one of the first 20th-century paintings to give modern form to human pain — to find means to convey suffering that seemed true to the modern sense of the problematic character of existence….

Manet. Olympia

…It is anguish — rage and hysterical fear, one writer has said — that is responsible for the primitivized, grotesque female figures in Les Demoiselles, not Picasso’s eagerness to be different, to be formally contrarian. It is Picasso’s discovery and use of what were then alien, bizarre forms, derived from African sources, to express and suggest his personal sense of alienation, and the experience of the bizarreness of reality — female reality — that follows from and accompanies it, that makes Les Demoiselles the expressive and conceptual model for all subsequent 20th-century art that dares call itself avant-garde. Paradoxically, the qualities of depersonalization and derealization that inform Les Demoiselles, and that are responsible for its aura of abstractness, make it one of the most personal, emotionally realistic paintings of the 20th century. The trauma it caused Matisse and Braque reflected its own traumatic character. When Picasso’s dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler remarked that Les Demoiselles seemed “mad or monstrous” to those who saw it, they were unwittingly registering its traumatic content, which was in bad taste. Thus the collector Sergei Shchukin mourned the work as a “loss to French art,” which had always been tasteful. But then Picasso was Spanish, and there was a longstanding fascination with the mad and monstrous — the grotesque — in Spanish art, as Diego Velazquez’s portraits of dwarfs and Francisco de Goya’s “Quinta del Sordo” paintings indicate, not to mention many Spanish paintings of religious martyrdom. Read More:

…Les Demoiselles is an unhappy picture, for it is about the possibility of sickness and death, and conveys an age-old identification of woman and death, derived from the depletion and dejection (as Aristotle thought) that follows sexual excitement and pleasure. Unlike Matisse’s painting, Les Demoiselles is not about sexual fulfillment — sexual letting go in orgiastic intimacy — but an individual’s deliberate sexual inhibition, the worried restraint of an anxious man who has suddenly realized that sex, which is life-affirming, might lead to death. Picasso’s picture struggles with the complexities of this paradox — the peculiar relationship between sex, as the deepest expression of life, and death, which ends it — even as it suggests Picasso’s conflict about women and sexuality…. giving them an oddly predatory look, like vampires — epitomizes this conflict. Les Demoiselles is a cautionary parable, and, in a sense, Picasso’s first truly mature as well as truly original work: it is not all gloom and doom, like the fatalistic pictures of his Blue Period, nor subliminally tender, like the subtly erotic Pink or Circus Period works, but rather a synthesis of the two, conveying ambivalence: Les Demoiselles is fatalistically erotic. It is about the terror of raw, unempathic sexuality, life-threatening sickness and elusive health, and the realization that what looks seductively real is in fact an illusion created by one’s own desire. It seems no accident that it was painted in the same decade in which Sigmund Freud wrote Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). ( ibid.)

It was the human figure as the sum of destruction. Dissection with the uncouth abandon of nihilistic rage. Certainly, an aggressive idea of art and one devoid of intimacy and reciprocity. An effort to annihilate the figure, but who got cold feet with his finger on the trigger resulting in something black and comical, unreal, slightly absurd, distilled into a caricature, a form of modern animation, albeit a sophisticated story-board indeed. His perverse transformations of the female body, into a joke on the ideal, and his perverse transformation of traditional representation in Cubism, which entails an extolling of fetish within abstract forms as both ends and means, does disconcertingly raise the possibility that Picasso was dabbling in kitsch, high status kitsch, but all conscious efforts at infantilism, in his case avante-garde sentimental pretense, still predictable, is still kitsch, turning the spectator into a voyeur, as Manet did, which devalues looking and it is perhaps this devaluation process that makes all kitsch art reek of evil.


First, perversion is the result of an essential interplay between hostility and sexual desire…. Second, people with perversions feel (are made to feel) an unending sense of being di

sinful, secretive, abnormal and a threat to those finer, unperverse citizens who are supposed to make up the majority of society. Third, the word itself reflects the need of individuals in society to keep from recognizing their own perverse tendencies by providing scapegoats who liberate the rest of us in that they serve as the objects of our own unacceptable and projected perverse tendencies.
Robert Stoller, Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred, 1975

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