Bad Boys – Fountain

Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

It’s a urinal. And frankly that’s the point. Marcel Duchamp, as with all of the other artists in this collection, fails to abide by society’s standards. All the 1917 piece consists of is a standard urinal on its back and signed “R. Mutt 1917.” So, why the fuss? Why place this in an art museum rather than in a men’s bathroom? The original may actually be in a men’s bathroom considering they cannot find it, and the one on display in the Tate Gallery is merely a replica.

However, Fountain is what Duchamp considered a “readymade,” a run of the mill object that the artist has chosen to call a work of art. A part of me wants to call BS, and question what makes an artist capable of calling such a thing art. Yet, I think that’s a discussion for another day. The point is Fountain is the antithesis of acceptable art and encompasses the meaning of the Dada movement. It personifies the meaning of change.

Duchamp got the idea when taking to his American colleagues Joseph Stella and Walter Arensburg. After the conversation, Duchamp went out to a plumbing manufacturer and purchased the urinal with the idea of making it a piece of art. He would later submit it to the Society of Independent Artists, which both he and Arensburg sat on the board for. Uncharacteristically, however, the board denied the piece a place in the show. Duchamp and Arensburg quickly relinquished their roles in protest.

A piece would come out later in the Blind Man, an art journal for the Dada movement, in which an anonymous author wrote that the point of Fountain was that Duchamp himself picked it and called it art. It no longer was a urinal because its daily use disappeared and therefore transcended its everyday meaning to become something much more in the artist’s eyes – the whole point of art and Dada movement. Now of course the writer, who presumably was Duchamp, was biased towards the piece, but that does not discount his argument. Duchamp defined his own art and did not allow society to tell him what was acceptable to present.

While part of me still is not sold on the idea, I can’t help but tip my hat to the brave artist. I consider it a low blow to your self-esteem when your piece gets rejected by a society that does not reject people. Opposed to ignoring the so called burn, he chose to confront it and stand behind – or perhaps in front of – his work.

  • 7:00 AM

Bad Boys – Le déjeuner sur l'herbe

Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curatedby Gabrielle Fenaroli

Manet, Le Dejeuner Sur l'Herbe, 1863\
 
Waltzing through the Musée d'Orsay as an ignorant child unaware of the art that surrounded me, my eyes fell upon a rather peculiar painting Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe. As I began to study the painting, I felt my mother’s cold, sweaty palms cover my eyes as she quickly ushered me away from the painting. Little girls don’t need to be staring at naughty lunches, she said in a hushed tone. It was then I realized what was transpiring in the scene, it was indeed as my mother pointed out:  a naked lady eating lunch. It was just as shocking to me as it was to the French public in 1863 when it was presented in the Salon des Refuses. Édouard Manet painted the large (7 by 8 ½ feet) canvas and blatantly ignored social norms at the time. However unnerving it was to the viewers, Manet’s work sets the tone for modern art as it defies previous subjects and paves the way for new artistic freedoms.

What strikes me about the painting is the casualness of the whole scene; at no point does it strike me as a “naughty lunch.” There are no neon signs or glaring declarations that there are indeed two naked women in this scene. The two men sit around leisurely discussing politics or the gorgeous scenery that surrounds them. The woman in the background appears too large and slightly out of proportion when compared to her three companions. The combination of the crudely painted background and her large body give her the appearance that she is merely floating off in the distance. Even if the background and some of the foreground are inconsistent with lighting and shading, one cannot discount the painting for it made way for a new art form to emerge.

Although before we going giving Manet all the created he would like to believe he deserves, he does draw upon past paintings to aid in breaking the art barrier. The similarities between Le déjeuner sur l'herbe and Titian’s Pastoral Concert, painted in 1509, are undeniable. However where Manet veers off is where he gets his claim to fame. The woman at Manet's picnic stares directly at the viewer, which at the time was taboo. Manet makes his leading lady’s stare down his go to move as seen in his other risqué 1863 painting Olympia. So while I understand my mother’s intentions on attempting to shield me from the human form at the young age of four, I have grown to truly love this painting. Manet’s ability to create a scene so nonchalant but also gripping amazes me, and he does indeed make a way for future artists to continue to make mothers shield their child's eyes.

  • 7:00 AM

Bad Boys – Bust of Constanza

Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli
Bernini, Bust of Constanza, 1636

There is the child inside of me that sees the unbuttoned shirt, tousled hair and lustful eyes and suddenly I want to turn away. Not because I can not appreciate Bernini's talent and skill, but simply because it feels as though I have walked in on a private moment. A lover getting dressed, or undressed for that matter. A part of me wants to say," Oh.. sorry I didn't know you were in here," But, the art historian part of me can not look away because I am drawn to Constanza Bonarelli just as much as Bernini is in 1636. She is the epitome of womanly power through sex appeal. Constanza makes Bernini's blood boil, she makes him abandon all he knows in order to be with her.

What strikes me the most about the bust is nothing stylistic or aesthetic about it, rather the subject as a whole. I was under the impression that a prerequisite for having a bust made was that you had to be a famous, powerful, fat old man. Bernini shakes his head and waves a finger and says,"Oh no, no, no." He creates beauty that he gets to experience first-hand between the sheets of his lover's bed. He gives the viewer the opportunity to see Constanza in a light that no one except those most involved with her would get to see.

However, as most stories go involving love and painting there is no happy ending. Bernini does not put a ring on it, because well there is already one there. Constanza is married to Bernini's assistant, who he is working with in 1636. Of course, that does not stop a lustful artist The problem occurs when his younger brother Luigi takes notice of Constanza as well. Bernini feels utterly betrayed and becomes enraged as he proceeds to nearly beat his brother to death... Oh did I forget to mention all of this takes place in St. Peter's? And as for Constanza, Bernini feels as though if he can not have her then no one can. He orders one of his servants to slash her face. The real kicker comes when the punishment when the punishments are given out: Bernini gets ordered to marry another woman. His brother, Luigi, gets banished to Bologna and ordered never to return to Rome again. Lastly, Constanza get sentenced to prison for "fornication."  Ah, justice at its finest.

Although part of me now thinks Bernini is a bit of sleaze, I can't discount his work on the bust. He opened the flood gates to artistic lust and sexual tension. He created a space for the artist to create work that truly should be for private eyes only. He makes busts an outlet for capturing the true identity of a person, not just the facade they show to the outside world.

  • 7:00 AM

Bad Boys – The Bearing of the Cross

Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli

Pieter Bruegel, The Bearing of the Cross, 1564
Usually when I’ve encountered painting involving Jesus it has never been a round of Where’s Waldo trying to find him. However, Pieter Bruegel the Elder likes to make his viewer work for the prize in his 1564 piece The Bearing of the Cross. Our eyes scan the image as we gaze over each part as not to linger on one place too long. So many different scenes transpire before our eyes, and if we are not careful, it becomes easy to lose ourselves with the endless possibilities. We could be drawn to the right hand corner to four figures that appear still and larger than the rest. The draping of the oversize blue veil makes it clear the woman is the Holy Virgin Mary. She appears with a sickly complexion and in a position of utter defeat and loss. Many scenes depict Mary weeping with her companions, but this is not a depiction of the Deposition of Pieta. Christ is nowhere near them, and their sorrow intensifies with the sense of isolation and separation. So where is Christ?

Maybe you eventually see him because of white stag standing almost dead center of the painting. If not you eventually come to realize that the tiny outline of Christ covered in blue, is crushed beneath the weight of the cross. He staggers to find his footing after he has fallen. It seems odd that Bruegel has chosen to paint Chris so small, and it almost makes viewers ashamed that they did not recognize him earlier. Instead of giving us the image right away, Bruegel allows the viewer some freedom in tracing the journey and creating the narrative. The viewer can continue to search around the painting but cannot forget what they’ve seen in the middle.

What makes the canvas a landmark is the ability Bruegel gives to the viewer to make mistakes. He refuses to give the public an image they will automatically know and recognize. In creating a piece with so much chaos and action he allows for moments of reflection and thought. He does manage to make a point in portraying the Spanish army as those dressed in scarlet that are clearly oppressing Christ. At the time there was a great repression of Protestants and terror was widespread throughout the Netherlands. Bruegel does a phenomenal job of mixing the past with the present and once again creating a bridge for the public to connect with divine.

  • 7:00 AM

Bad Boys – Brunelleschi's Dome


Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli

Brunelleschi, Florence Cathedral, 1418

Florence decided it needed a large cathedral, not to rival Rome, of course, who would do such a thing? Merely, to have a place in which its citizens could worship. It just so happened that the cathedral they were building required a dome with a 143 feet diameter and if it happened to be larger than the Pantheon, well, whose coming to Florence anyway? The only problem was no man was brave enough to complete the task without fear of his plan collapsing. So in 1418 a competition was held to decide who would put their name on the line to create one of the most monumental features in all of Florence. The winner was a cocky, irritable clock maker named Filippo Brunelleschi, whose arrogance was matched only by his skill.

Brunelleschi’s idea was to create a dome with an octagonal lantern with eight flying buttresses and eight arched windows. Brunelleschi invented numerous devices to even begin the construction, which involved hoisting over 70 million pounds of material hundreds of feet in the air. The most common way of building a dome in the 1400s was to support is with scaffolding called “centing,” but because of the large, open area inside the cathedral, the citizens wanted something large and noticeable. There was not enough wood in all of Northern Italy to build scaffolding large enough to support the dome the Florentines wanted. So, Brunelleschi decided to create a dome that supported itself as it was built. The dome would occupy most of Brunelleschi’s life, but also serve as his proudest achievement.

  • 7:00 AM

Bad Boys – Tribute Money


Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli

Massacio, Tribute Money, 1420

Art changes. This statement we know as fact. Changes what though? When does it change? How does it change? And who is brave enough to change it? I want to explore the idea behind a movement in art, the propelling force that makes people want to change the status quo. So here we are with an opportunity to no longer be a bystander, but to no delve into certain facets of art and explore the men who changed the face of art forever.

A picture holds a thousand words. Cliché? Yes. True? You betcha. When does this phenomenon of narrative in painting begin, though? Much of the early painting did not tell a story, rather captured a moment in time. Massacio doesn’t want to leave it up to the viewer to create his or her own idea of what is going on, he has decided to let the whole scene unfold in front of them.

Massacio knows the people he wants this painting to touch can’t read a Bible. He's opposed to having written word dictated to them and wants to give them a chance to interpret the story through sight. Massacio’s Tribute Money, painted in 1420, depicts a scene from the book of Matthew. In the story Jesus tells Peter to go to the sea to catch a fish, and inside that fish’s mouth will be coins. Even though Jesus is exempt from paying a Temple Tax because it is his father’s temple, he still choses to show the disciples that material goods on Earth mean nothing to those in Heaven.

Aside from the new form of narrative that the piece takes on, it also employs a change stylistically. Masaccio toys with the idea of single-point perspective. The head of Christ becomes the vanishing point, which immediately draws the viewer to his face. It widely believed to be the first painting, since Rome fell in 476 A.D, to use single point linear perspective. He takes the viewer on a journey and delivers them to Christ, something never done in art before.

  • 7:00 AM

Rebellious Soul: "Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes so Different, so Appealing?"

Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan

Richard Hamilton, "Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes so Different, so Appealing?", 1956

"Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious.
         Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me."
                                                                                                              ---America, Allen Ginsberg.

Though Time Magazine doesn't appear in this 1956 collage by Richard Hamilton, the work did find its sources all from contemporary magazines. The template of the room was from the Ladies Home Journal; the body-builder was Mr. L.A. in 1954; the image of the planet on the celling came from Life Magazine etc. Indeed, the collage was a collection of popular culture icons, and soon enough, became a symbolic work of British Pop Art movement of the 50s. It revealed a we-don't-know fascination or satire about American trivial culture, one that empowered Pop culture, but nevertheless, seemed a bit ludicrous in this very representation of Pop Art. And the middle-class life depicted in this collage, with pin-up girl, television set, movies, recorder, canned ham, vacuum cleaner, and Ford emblem, was so "appealing," that we find ourselves laughing at that huge all-day sucker, and the ad on the stair that reads: "ordinary cleaners reach only this far." The obvious American affluence of new machines and goods truly worked as a bad advertisement here. But, you see, it's the 50s.

The American 1950s saw the growing population of the middle-class, and the booming of suburbs, automobiles, mass-produced culture, and everything that associated with it. At the same time, the 50s also witnessed the strong opposition of such bourgeois influences: communism, the Beat generation, and the subversive culture of the 60s that inspired by it. I remember in the film Revolutionary Road, (another example of anti-bourgeois), April, played by Kate Winslet, always talked about moving to Paris, in which another cultural revolution was taking place. (The following sentence contains a spoiler, sorry). The film ends in tragedy, and they never made to Paris. The suburb life of the 50s suffocated them.

Although it is hard to tell from Richard Hamilton's collage that such a life could be so toxic, the revolt against it was inevitable. Like the rock & roll music, rebels always find a way to alter minds and change the status quo. And every time we read the Beat generation, listen to Bob Dylan, or sing along to  rock&roll songs, we are showing our rebellious soul. And we need to remember that.

  • 7:00 AM

Rebellious Soul: Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany

Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan


Hannah Hoch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919
Nihilistic. Destructive. Bolshevism. Even today, people often use these kind of words to describe Dadaism. (Coincidently, these were also the words people usually used to malign anything new and unexpected, anything that reflected the slightest defiance of the status quo). Emerging after the First Word War, Dada was one of many artistic, literal, and philosophical movements in response to this European cataclysm. Artists felt necessary to, or at least try to, account for this annihilation of civilization.

Despite some parallel branches in Eastern Europe after October Revolution, Dadaism had nothing to do with Bolshevism. It was merely an radical reaction in the form of somewhat Western bourgeois ideas. It almost sounds like a horseplay when you hear stories like, "Dada came from a meeting where a knife stuck into a French-German dictionary, pointing at dada, a French word for hobbyhorse," and "Duchamp embellished Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa with a moustache." And it was indeed the original purpose of this movement – to mock and laugh at the world where "everything works fine, but people don't anymore" (Hugo Ball).

But Dada was something more than occasional horseplay. It reflected the anxiety and absurdity of the beginning of a mass-produced culture and adopted a skeptical view towards all big, political words and promising phrases. It was a revolt, as Ruhrberg puts, "a revolt of vitality against ossification, of liberty against doctrine, of the irrational against the 'reason' of political and war speculators, a despairing attempt to survive destructiveness by destroying." In Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, the chaotic composition, and the use of photomontage, bring together different pieces of life and society, but not in a logical way, instead, like an exploding grenade.

And what we do to a exploding grenade? Dadas had an answer for us: just kick it away.

  • 7:00 AM

Rebellious Soul: Liberty Leading the People

Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

From July 27 to 29, 1830, Parisians rose against Charles X, the last Bourbon king of France, and  replaced him with Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans. In October, Eugene Delacroix, who witnessed the uprising, created this painting as an expression of his patriotism. He wrote to his brother: "I have undertaken a modern subject, a barricade, and although I may not have fought for my country, at least I shall have painted for her. It has restored my good spirits."

Needless to say, the theme is a rebellious one. Dead soliders of the Second Restoration pile up on the ground, forming a pyramidal composition. The goddess of liberty strides over the corpses, leading her people to overthrow the tyranny. Delacroix spotlights her; her skin shining, her figure pure, her face looking back, beckoning the people to follow her. The sky echoes with the tricolor flag, making the whole scene one of dignity, bravery, and patriotism.

Critics then found the painting provocative; unlike those classic representation of liberty, the moment is grimy and chaotic, and the people, the common men, control too much power in the scene, making themselves fearful and indomitable to those high-up critics and their powerful friends. The work was hidden from public view during the king's reign, and only found itself in the Louvre in 1874. Today, it has become the universal representation of romantic and rebellious passion of those who strive for liberty and a change in the status quo.

  • 7:00 AM

Rebellious Soul: The Peasant Dance

Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan

Pieter Bruegel, The Peasant Dance, 1567

Flemish painter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted The Peasant Dance, as a part of his series about peasant life. It embraces a down-to-earth tone about peasants' life that's full of lurid desire, seemingly foolish behavior, and no delicateness whatsoever. We see all sorts of provincial doings here – anger, lust gluttony, and vanity, as symbolized by the peacock feather – fully occupying their minds. Strangely, this vivid scene doesn't grab me with feelings of happiness. Instead, the more I look at this painting, and the series, the more creeped-out I feel. I feel like they are being watched. Their lust, their love, their unspeakable business and sins are all revealed blatantly. By God? Probably. Or simply by an onlooker, like the painter, or us, viewers of the painting.

The cause of this revelry is a saint's day. Yet we see no saint. Peasants turn their back on Mary's image on the tree, and are gravitated to the tavern, completely ignoring the church in the back. They have a noble cause to celebrate, but at this moment, their minds have no room for spiritual matters. And when will there be one? I assume that would be times of hunger, poverty, death, and misfortune. I picture them staring at a handful of potatoes on the table, praying for a light winter; mothers at their ill son's beds, praying for health. But in the end, the poor starve, and the son dies. So they come back to church, begging for God's mercy. However, deep down, they have no regrets. A couple of good cups of wine will bring them right back to dancing. They are unteachable rebels, maybe we all are. They eat, drink, and produce children, for they know life goes on with or without them. And that is the hard truth, the hard truth of nature. They have no respect for the rest.

  • 7:00 AM

Rebellious Soul: Dying Slave

Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan

Michelangelo, Dying Slave, 1515

Rather than as the title calls "dying," the piece to me more likely depicts a young man who is troubled by his uneasy dream. One could see the physical captivity from the cloth bands, but unlike the Rebellious Slave, where bands serve to indicate actual constraint, they only convey a symbol here, a hint that he is not free - not free from a inner prison.

In a seemingly unconscious state, the young man dreams. But what is he dreaming? Without any further proof, I always think as if the Rebellious Slave is the perfect manifestation of this young man's dream. As his body gesture expresses, an uneasy feeling, a little tormented perhaps, I can see a inner-self confined in some bondage, struggling to be free, and the body just unconsciously follows the action. But we still have to ask, what is this confinement? Fleming precisely puts it, "Here is the tragedy of the human race, limited by time but troubled by the knowledge of eternity; mortal but with a vision of immortality; bound by the weight of the body yet dreaming of a boundless freedom." We seem to see a Platonic idea embedded in this piece, one that says soul is confined in the bond of flesh; and for the sculptor, the only way to bring forth the soul of the work, is to carve off the stones--"the less of stone remains, the more that grows."

A non-sequitur: Never as brilliant a craftsman as Bernini, Michelangelo has his way to deliver his idea, one that has always grabbed me. If Bernini is often seen with astonishment, Michelangelo is read with profoundness. Skills are sometimes triumphed by emotions, passions and thoughts take over elaborated craftsmanship. Like his Creation of Adam, it only takes a divine touch for the artist to bring about the soul in a lifeless marble. And he surely did it.



  • 7:00 AM

Rebellious Soul: The Rebellious Slave

Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan

Michelangelo, The Rebellious Slave, 1513

Appearing in a distorting position, with his shoulder pushing down against the chest and legs half kneeling, the figure expresses a determined resolution of breaking free. He demonstrates the very definition of power and physical strength, yet still unable to free himself from bondage. One can't help but wonder what he is struggling against, this prisoner of mysterious constraint. 

Of course there is the physical constraint, for he is called a slave. But there is something more to it. Michelangelo placed the slave's body in a manner of an ascending spiral, which creates a sense of dynamic movement. The figure's head remains upward, for there is the direction of heaven. Adding this to the equation, his cause becomes a spiritual one. Perhaps it's the hope of reunion with God and liberating from the earthly troubles. Or, it's possibly Michelangelo's own wish, that he could attain an aesthetic, as well as a political freedom, manifested in his art. In either way, the Rebellious Slave communicates a strong feeling of discontent, and suggests that one should fight against such grievance, and search for solutions from the external world at all cost. It means revolt, perhaps death, but as long as something changes. In a sense, "Give me liberty, or give me death."

When I was lucky enough to see this piece in Louvre, I discovered that only couple steps away, stands another Michelangelo's work from his series of slave; one that's more smooth, handsome, and tranquil, but nevertheless, intrigues viewers with deep philosophical intentions.

Curator's note: Michelangelo took on the project of the tomb for Pope Julius II in 1505, and carved a series of sculptures on the theme of slave. Because of the change of the plan after Pope's death, these sculptures were no longer included. Michelangelo donated them to Roberto Strozzi, who later brought them to France. Two pieces are present in the collection, serving to demonstrate two different, yet equally symbolic aspects of Michelangelo's philosophy.


  • 7:00 AM

Rebellious Soul: Expulsion from the Garden

Masaccio, Expulsion from the Garden, 1427
Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan

"The Lord God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken." (Genesis 3:23)

With shame, regret, agony, and perhaps most unbearably, sin, mankind are banished from the land of paradise. Look at Adam. He is so ashamed that he tries to cover his face but in turn exposes himself more. While God's condemnation is still emanating out of the arch, and the armed angel is ruthlessly pointing out to them their seemingly doomed future, all that Adam and Eve see is the hardship of life and privation of everything that lies beyond that gate they just walked out. And we seem to catch a glimpse of a 15th-century view towards common people's lives, one that is filled with unstable livelihood, misfortune, insecurity, and a constant fear of uncertainty of the future -plagues and wars, a life just too fragile with too much misery. Hence the idea of there exists an after-life, a much better one of course, is crucial for one to endure the hardship of this life. And often one's only goal becomes to work his way back to that gate, beyond where, life is always easy and assuring.

It is always interesting to me to see men justify everything from a cause-and-effect perspective. Known to all, Eve is induced by a serpent into eating an apple from the tree of knowledge, who then gives it to Adam. The apple opens their eyes and they realize their nakedness and become ashamed. Discovered by God, they are expelled from the garden. Therefore essentially, the apple, interpreted as the original sin, is what drives man out of the paradise. But is it? Don't humans take active roles in this story? Isn't it ironic that we're always tempted to do that one thing they are told not to? And what lies between that transient moment of sweet defiance and the long regret that follows? I wouldn't know if men are born good or evil, but Adam and Eve seem to tell me that men are born rebellious. It takes efforts for authorities to tame them, and by all necessary means, to suppress them to a state of obedience. And yet, when they are told not to think of a pink elephant, all that they think is a pink elephant.

Curator's note: In this first piece of the collection, I try to explore the primordial act of rebellion by tracing back to the Scripture. And the rest of the collection will continue on what happens after man walks into the wilderness with his rebellious soul.

  • 7:00 AM

The Sickness Unto Death Pt. VII: Bust of Costanza Bonarelli

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Bust of Costanza Bonarelli, 1636-37

"And when I have my childhood back
I'll tear every page out of my bookPlace them in an urn
And strike a match and watch them burn
And then i'll hold the front cover
Against the back cover and look
You see
Eternity will smile on me"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon


Leave it to Gian Lorenzo Bernini to stand out from the crowd. While the other artists in my gallery accepted death as the inevitable fact of life - the only sure thing about existing - Bernini rejects the notion. Perhaps, it was not his intention. Perhaps, I am giving the piece more meaning than the sculptor intended. However, this is largely what art history is about: applying meaning where they may be none. Indeed, that is what the reception of any art form is about. And so I posit that by creating the Bust of Costanza Bonarelli, Bernini not only paid homage to his mistress, but conquered death itself in the name of love.

Costanza Bonarelli was the wife of one of Bernini's assistants, and a participant in a heated affair behind said assistant's back. Bernini and Bonarelli's affair never came to the attention of her husband, but it did come to the attention of his younger brother, Luigi, who quickly made the love triangle a square. In response, Bernini beat his little brother near to death, and had Costanza's face cut up by an assassin. Yes, these events are horrific. Yes, they are based deeply in obsession. Yes, this is a story of love gone wrong. But it makes the Bust of Costanza Bonarelli all the more beautiful.

Bernini must have known that his affair must eventually come to and end. Either the husband would find out, or Costanza would lose interest. These things never worked. More over, beauty is fleeting. Costanza's looks would wilt with the passage of time, and the youthful face that Bernini so loved would be no more. And so, he sculpted her a love song, freezing her in time, forever young, forever beautiful. Age could not take her beauty away. Her mutilation could not either. Not even death could rob her of her looks now.


  • 7:00 AM

The Sickness Unto Death Pt. VI: Isenheim Altarpiece

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis


Matthias Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512

"Every bitter night into an empty room I plead my caseEvery night I pray that in the morning when I wake
I'll be in a familiar place and find that I'm recovered and I'm sane
and I'll remember everything
I'll remember what I was like before that bug bit me"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon 

Of all of the paintings of the crucifixion, this one hits me the hardest. Critics can talk all they want about the strides that Caravaggio made in making Christ accessible to the public at large. I won't disagree with them. However, this is the only work I have ever seen that fully reduces Christ to a human form. There is no grace. There is no dignity. There is no beauty. Instead Grünewald gives us a hanging corpse, skinny and ragged. He gives us ugliness. The true ugliness of death.

Though this particular panel depicts no sense of holiness - not even the faint halo of Mantegna's Lamentation over the Dead Christ - the other panels hidden from view in the above photo depict a scene of glorious resurrection and ascension into the blinding lights of heaven. By portraying Christ's as a deformed corpse and later as a risen angel, Grünewald conquers the fear of death, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the wretched masses who would have seen the altarpiece in the Monastery of St. Anthony. The Monastery, you see, served primarily as a hospital, and served the lepers and cripples of Isenheim, helping to alleviate their suffering and make their final days on earth as comfortable as possible.

And so the Isenheim Altarpiece's ugliness is only surface level. Beneath the grime and gore lies the beauty of compassion and human empathy. And there too lies the belief that our time on earth is what we should dread most. Death is nothing at all.

  • 7:00 AM

The Sickness Unto Death Pt. V: Head of a Man on a Rod

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis



Alberto Giacometti, Head of a Man on a Rod, 1947


"I read somewhere that when you face eternity
 You face it alone
No matter what you thought
Or what you had or you had not
Unless you put yourself in God
But tell me God oh where did you go?"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon 

Alberto Giacometti's sculptures and portraits exhibit a twisted pride in the reduction of the human form to its most basic and fragile states. The Walking Man series, City Square, and Three Men Walking all feature thin, frail figures, lost in the void of empty space around them. The inclusion of several figures upon a single surface - City Square and Three Men Walking for instance - serves to increase the sense of loneliness rather than detract from it. These shades are lost and self-absorbed, worn down to skeletons by the slow steady passage of time. In the aftermath of WWII, Giacometti's works were a statement about the human condition, that is to say, that humans were broken, selfish, helpless things. Not one of these works, however, seems quite as lonely or hopeless or concerned with eternity as Head of a Man on a Rod. 

A man's cry to the cruel, unfeeling heavens captured in cold, rough bronze, Head of a Man uses negative space to its fullest extent. The man's body has blown away, gone like so much dust in so many gusts of wind, leaving only a rod to support the head. Empty space surrounds the silhouette, engulfing the figure in nothingness. The man is crying into a vacuum, the vacuum. He hopes for a reply. A sign. For purpose. For hope. But he receives nothing in return. Instead his head hovers there for eternity, gazing into the abyss, praying at the top of his lungs that something stares back.

  • 7:00 AM

The Sickness Unto Death Pt. IV: The Dog

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis

Francisco Goya, The Dog, 1819-23

"Now I've only got one organ left in this old bag of bones
It is failing me
And I try to tell people that I'm dying 
Only they don't believe me
They say we're all dying
That we're all dying
But if you are dying, why aren't you scared?
Why aren't you scared, like I'm scared?"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon


In 1819 Francisco Goya holed himself up in the the "Quinta del Sordo" - "The Villa of the Deaf Man" - near Madrid, Spain. In the preceding years he had been racked by illness and mental decline, just as his country had been racked by war. During his stay at the Villa, Goya completed a series of fourteen paintings commonly referred to as The Black Paintings. These dark and brooding pieces were painted directly onto the walls of his home, like hieroglyphics in an Egyptian tomb. But while the Egyptians used their art to capture the promise of a happy afterlife, the murals of Goya's mausoleum speak of the inescapable horror of the void beyond life.

Among these Black Paintings, The Dog stands out, not as the most macabre work, but rather, the most hopeless and tragic. The titular canine gazes up at the sky, into the heavens, as he is tossed about in a sea of darkness. For now his head pokes up above the surface, but soon the swelling wave on the right side will break over him, tossing him down, down, down, into its black empty depths. The helpless creature has no chance to live, only to survive. To paddle and paddle until its strength gives out, or the darkness consumes it once and for all.

Goya must have felt that he was the dog. Lost, alone, and afraid. The Black Paintings were never truly intended for public exhibition. Goya had chosen to paint on the walls of his home for his own sake, never mentioning the paintings in writing or in conversation with his contemporaries. The paintings acted as a sort of therapy in this, the final dark chapter of his life. The dog's plight is his own. But while it will forever be frozen in time, just on the cusp of drowning, Goya's story would have to end, and no series of paintings, no matter how moving was going to change that.

  • 8:40 PM

The Sickness Unto Death Pt. III: Foreshortened Christ

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of the Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis


Andrea Mantegna, The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1480

"Life is for the living
I've heard tell that it is while we are young
In the morning sun
You take every year as it comes,
But when your life is over
All those years fold up like an accordion
They collapse just like a broken lung"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon

Most paintings of Jesus' death focus on his resurrection, ascension, or divine heritage. They seem weightless, light, and joyous. After all, he alone succeeded in conquering death. Yet Andrea Mantegna's The Lamentation over the Dead Christ paints a strikingly different picture of the death of Christ.

His green and yellow skin drapes itself over his insides, much like the blanket that covers his body. The stigmata on his hands and feet are a deep, festering red. The flesh at the edges of the wounds hangs in hideous folds. His large torso - accentuated by the foreshortened perspective - seems heavier than the stone slab upon which he lays. Upon his face he wears an expression of pain and weariness. This is not the rest of the Messiah before his ascension. This is the body of a human being, unceremoniously taken down from his place of execution. The only indication of divine presence is the faint halo that crowns his head. However, even its inclusion cannot save the work from feeling like a struggle, not only with death, but with faith.

The two mourners that attend Christ's deathbed give the death a sense of finality. Until he rises again, if he rises again, all that the mourners know with a certainty is that the human form is a frail thing, even when inhabited by the Son of God. While this notion certainly makes the viewer more apt to relate to Christ, it also suggests that Mantegna may have been wrestling with his belief in Christ's divinity, and the promise of an afterlife. Neither the mourners nor Mantegna can comprehend what awaits their savior beyond the grave. Indeed, they cannot be sure that anything awaits them, nor that he is their savior at all. All this must be taken on faith, and in the face of death, faith can be a weak crutch to lean on.


  • 7:00 AM

The Sickness Unto Death Pt. II: David with the Head of Goliath

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1609

"You tried so hard to make people remember you for something
you were not,

And if they so remember you then something else will certainly
get forgotten" 
"The Sickness Unto Death" Typhoon 


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a man all too fond of going against the grain. Drunken brawls and late night prowls through the streets of Rome were his primary pasttimes before (and during) his rise to fame. It was this rebellious past that allowed him to tell the stories of the gospels as never before: through the eyes and experiences of sinners. It also led, however, to his ultimate downfall. In the summer of 1606 Caravaggio challenged Ranuccio Tomassoni to a duel in the streets of Rome, less than a year since an attempted homicide and a libel suit. Caravaggio, who had grown more and more violent since his rise to fame, won the duel and took Tomassoni's life, a decision which would change Caravaggio's forever.

For years Caravaggio had been creating works for the Catholic Church in order to reach the worst of the sinners of Rome. His down-to-earth depictions of the Saints, Disciples, and Christ promise that salvation was waiting for all people,  no matter how wretched the life, no matter how wicked the sin. "Gamblers, prostitutes, drunks, beggars: It matters not what you were," his works say, "Because now you are saved." And yet, with Tomassoni's blood on his hands and a price on his head, Caravaggio began to fear that he may not receive the same treatment. 

Wracked with guilt, but hopeful for a way out, Caravaggio fled to Naples and then Malta, painting more scenes from the gospel. Scenes of redemption. Scenes of forgiveness. It was in Malta that Caravaggio first sought to clear his name by joining the Order of St. John in return for the painting, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist. Shortly thereafter, he assaulted one of his fellow knights, and was thrown back in prison, his life once again in jeopardy. Somehow, he escaped from the jail and made his way back to Naples where he caught word that the pope's nephew, Scipione Borghese, was willing to pardon him. In order to save his life and repay Borghese, Caravaggio painted David with the Head of Goliath.

The work is a self-portrait unlike any other. Caravaggio paints himself as Goliath, the wicked giant that is struck down with a slingshot. Mouth agape, right eye filled with blood and lolling to the side, the stump of his neck dripping with blood and hanging gore, Caravaggio is truly monstrous. He has become a villain, not only in the context of his life, but in the context of Catholic belief. The man who promised sinners a sure way out is beyond redemption. Except, that he isn't. At least, not on earth. By killing himself metaphorically, Caravaggio hopes to save himself in the real world. The state had asked for his head in a basket, and he was giving it to them on canvas instead. 

The intention is sound, but the implications are horrific. It is, in effect, a suicide of the soul in exchange for the safety of the vessel, and suicide - like murder - is a mortal sin. And this must have been what Caravaggio feared, for if he so believed in the saving grace of Christ, why then his fear of death? Perhaps a deep-rooted dread that he might be swallowed whole by the jaws of non-existence, of the pitch darkness that surrounds the characters of his works, the utter blackness that finally closed over him as he struggled through the swamps of Italy, hoping to catch up with his ticket out. 

You see, things didn't quite go as planned. On his way home to Rome, he was arrested by a guard who hadn't been informed of his pardon. By the time he got out of jail, his ship had left without him, taking his works with it. Lost, alone, and hopeless he chased after the boat by way of land, and collapsed on a beach in a fever. He died before he could receive his pardon, having killed himself on canvas for naught. 


  • 7:00 AM

The Sickness Unto Death Pt. I: At Eternity's Gate

The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis

Vincent van Gogh, Worn Out: At Eternity's Gate, 1890

"Old man in your rocking chair
You wake up, you've been living alone

After all these years
Surrounded by these shards of mirrors
How'd it get so quiet here
You wonder where did everyone go?"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon


A couple weeks back, as I  was driving beneath the emerald canopy of Blue Ridge Boulevard and tossing project ideas about in my head, "The Sickness Unto Death" by the Portland0based indie group Typhoon began to spill from my speakers. It had been some time since I'd heard the song, but just as the cold makes the old cut on my finger ache, it brought back the ache of buried memories. Teenage heartbreaks. Long drives in the dead of night. Relatives that I'd lost. But most of all, as is always the case, it brought back the fear that lurks in the back of my head, of many heads around the world. The fear that reduced me to tears time and time again as a child. The fear of forever. Of experiencing forever, whether I continued to exist or not.

And it was from this well of fear - beautiful, terrible fear - that I drew the inspiration for my gallery. I present to you The Sickness Unto Death. Through a synthesis of contemporary lyrics, personal experience, and the paintings of the masters, I will explore the efforts of the Artist to reconcile himself with human mortality. In doing so, I hope to capture the beauty of life and expression, rather than the triumph of death. Though the lyrics themselves will not play a great part in the body of the text, I felt it necessary to include them, not only to give the gallery a proper narrative structure, but also to illustrate the timelessness of the Artist's struggle with death. That being said, I would encourage readers to give the song a listen. It's a favorite of mine.

And so it goes:

Van Gogh first took down the image of the old man in the chair in 1882, using an aged war veteran he encountered in an alehouse as his model. He wrote extensively about the drawing, which he called Worn Out, and its eventual transformation into a lithograph. The writings in question detailed his thoughts about the emotional power of the human form, and the greater implications that it seemed to hold. "It seems to me that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the existence of 'something on high' in which Millet believed, namely in the existence of a God and an eternity," he wrote, "is the unutterably moving quality that there can be in the expression of an old man like that, without his being aware of it." Fascinated and moved by his discovery, van Gogh began a long series of lithographs and drawings of the veteran, women, and hospital patients, all in the same pose.

Vincent van Gogh, Worn Out, 1882
For eight long years, van Gogh did not return to the drawings and lithographs he had made in that formative time of his career. And in those eight long years his life had drastically changed. He had found his artistic style, collaborated with artists like Gauguin, created what would be his most famous painting, Starry Night, begun frequenting brothels, cut off his left ear, and had started to lose touch with reality. By 1890, the hallucinations and periods of madness had grown so strong that van Gogh could no longer keep their effects from affecting his work. During this time there passed entire months of inactivity, months that took their toll on the artist's outlook and work. It was directly following a mental relapse that van Gogh finally revisited the old man in the chair. This time he forsook pencil and lithograph, and went straight for his paint.

Blues, greys, whites, orange. They play off one another, but they do not dance the way that the colors of van Gogh's landscapes do. Instead they seem to tremble. The man in the painting seems smaller, weaker, than his predecessor. And where the subject of Worn Out seems to be resting his eyes, the fists in Eternity's Gate look like weary guardians of tear-filled eyes. The men are not the same. At Eternity's Gate is more than a final play on an early artistic motif, it is a mirror of van Gogh's life. He has replaced the old war veteran. He is a veteran in his own right. A veteran of art. A veteran of life.

Two short months after painting At Eternity's Gate Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the chest while out on a walk in the wheat fields of Auvers. He lived a night and the better part of the next day, managing to make his way back to his room in the local inn, where his brother Theo comforted him and recorded his final words:

"The sadness will last forever."


  • 7:00 AM