“The nineteen hollow cylindrical elements…sit on the floor in aimless but congenial disorder…. Each unit is a different distortion of the regular shape they suggest when together…. One is very nearly perfect, while another seems about to crumple. Like schoolchildren in uniforms, or prisoners, or young trees in a nursery, they carry inside them their exuberant individuality…. The units are receptacles, and as such, they receive light and contain the shadows at their bases. Through a lucky fabrication accident, there were many little bubbles which gave them an inner glow. The light passes through the nubbly walls to alter shadows on its own.” --Lucy Lippard, Eva Hesse
“The spectator arrives at Fini’s Ceremony as if coming into the middle of an event which, despite the clarity of its outward presentation, remains shrouded as to inner meaning. The main protagonist is woman, her image at the center of a mysterious ritual enacted before a stone altar and under the sign of nature, present in the leafy branches laid over the altar. The figures, one kneeling, one standing, one viewed from the back and naked to the waist, the other seen from the front and protected by a curved breastplate, reinforce the tension between interior and exterior, the protected and the vulnerable, the visible and the veiled…. Fini’s meticulous draftsmanship serves to heighten the sense of mystery and unapproachability that pervades the work.” --Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement Léonor Fini, Ceremony, 1939
“In 1865, young Lewis Payne tried to assassinate Secretary of State W. H. Seward. Alexander Gardner photographed him in his cell, where he was waiting to be hanged. The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: This will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence. In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die… Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.” --Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
“Some photographers set up as scientists, others as moralists. The scientists make an inventory of the world; the moralists concentrate on hard cases. An example of photography-as-science is the project August Sander began in 1911: a photographic catalogue of the German people. In contrast to George Grosz’s drawings, which summed up the spirit and variety of social types in Weimar Germany through caricature, Sander’s “archetype pictures” (as he called them) imply a pseudo-scientific neutrality... It was not so much that Sander chose individuals for their representative character as that he assumed, correctly, that the camera cannot help but reveal faces as social masks. Each person photographed was a sign of a certain trade, class, or profession…. Sander’s look is not unkind; it is permissive, unjudging…. Sander was not looking for secrets; he was observing the typical.” --Susan Sontag, On Photography
“In contrast to George Grosz’s drawings, which summed up the spirit and variety of social types in Weimar Germany through caricature, Sander’s “archetype pictures” (as he called them) imply a pseudo-scientific neutrality.”
“Publicity is the culture of the consumer society. It propagates through images that society’s belief in itself. There are several reasons why these images use the language of oil painting. Oil painting, before it was anything else, was a celebration of private property. As an art-form it derived from the principle that you are what you have. It is a mistake to think of publicity supplanting the visual art of post-Renaissance Europe; it is the last moribund form of that art. Publicity is, in essence, nostalgic. It has to sell the past to the future. It cannot itself supply the standards of its own claims. And so all its references to quality are bound to be retrospective and traditional. It would lack both confidence and credibility if it used a strictly contemporary language.” --John Berger, Ways of Seeing Anonymous 19th century painting Advertisement ca. 1970
“One sees in [Rodin’s] Burghers of Calais how each is contemplating in his own way the death to which he is walking. And one sees this as one might if one were watching a very great theatrical performance.” --John Berger, Art and Revolution
“[I was] asking myself what sort of meaning could be attached to owning a Duchamp and having one of his works in your house on a table in a hallway or sitting on a shelf. I mean, how could you go out and buy one of the copies he made of the Bicycle Wheel?… I find this object tremendously intriguing and I am quite unusually fond of it, but it’s not the sort of thing I’d ever think it possible or sensible to own…. Possessing Duchamp is something you have to go about in ways that have nothing to do with the possession of any of the objects that he made, it’s an entirely different thing.” --Gianfranco Baruchello, Why Duchamp?
“In Duchamp, in his works, you find yourself dealing with an ego that’s more or less provisional. It’s an ‘I’ that’s not presented or respected as a structural part of the person; it’s an ‘I’ that the person uses when and if and however he wants, and it’s not at all the ‘I’ that defines the person; what defines the person is his ability to take his distances from the ‘I’. What makes his works seem mad is that you can’t see the ‘I’ that’s involved with them or responsible for them. And that’s clear from as early as things like…the Nude Descending a Staircase, which isn’t at all a painting about speed, the way it would have been for a Futurist, and it’s not about the simultaneity of various points of view, as it would have been for a Cubist: it’s a vision of what a person is in a sequence of any number of different moments in time. What we see is a whole series of parallel states of existence, and the ‘I’ simply isn’t there.” --Gianfranco Baruchello, Why Duchamp?
Théodore Géricault, Scene of a Shipwreck (commonly called The Raft of the Medusa), 1818-19
“How do you turn catastrophe into art?….The expedition set off on 17th June 1816.The Medusa struck the reef in the afternoon of 2nd July 1816.The survivors were rescued from the raft on 17th July 1816.Savigny and Corréard published their account of the voyage in November 1817.…The painting was finished in July 1819.” --Julian Barnes, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
“Let’s start with what he did not paint. He did not paint:1) The Medusa striking the reef; 2) The moment when the tow-ropes were cast off and the raft abandoned;3) The mutinies in the night;4) The necessary cannibalism;5) The self-protective mass murder;6) The arrival of the butterfly;7) The survivors up to their waists, or calves, or ankles in water;8) The actual moment of rescue.In othe words, his first concern was not to be 1) political; 2) symbolic; 3) theatrical; 4) shocking; 5) thrilling; 6) sentimental; 7) documentational; or 8) unambiguous.”
“The Mutiny was the scene that Géricault most nearly painted. Several preliminary drawings survive. Night, tempest, heavy seas, riven sail, raised sabres, drowning, hand-to-hand combat, naked bodies. What’s wrong with all this? Mainly that it looks like one of those saloon-bar fights in B-Westerns where every single person is involved -- throwing a punch, smashing a chair, breaking a bottle over an enemy’s head…. Géricault made one sketch of cannibalism on the raft. The spotlit moment of anthropophagy shows a well-muscled survivor gnawing the elbow of a well-muscled cadaver. It is almost comic. Tone was always going to be a problem here.”
“What did he paint, then?… We see survivors on a raft hailing a tiny ship on the horizon… Our initial presumption is that this is the moment of sighting which leads to a rescue. This feeling comes partly from a tireless preference for happy endings, but….what backs up this presumption? The ship is on the horizon; the sun is also on the horizon (though unseen), lightening it with yellow. Sunrise, we deduce, and the ship arriving with the sun, bringing a new day, hope and rescue; the black clouds overhead (very black) will soon disappear. However, what it it were sunset? Dawn and dusk are easily confused. What if it were sunset, with the ship about to vanish like the sun, and the castaways facing hopeless night as black as that cloud overhead?… A third possibility occurs: it could be sunrise, yet even so the rescuing vessel is not coming towards the shipwrecked. This would be the plainest rebuff of all from fate: the sun is rising, but not for you.”
“As Géricault approaches his final image questions of form predominate. He pulls the focus, crops, adjusts. The horizon is raised and lowered… Géricault cuts down the surrounding areas of sea and sky, hurling us on to the raft whether we like it or not. He stretches the distance from the shipwrecked to the rescuing vessel. He readjusts the positions of his figures. How often in a picture do so many of the chief participants have their backs to the spectator?And what splendidly muscular backs they are. We feel embarrassed at this point, yet we shouldn’t be. The naïve question often proves to be the central one. So go on, let’s ask: Why do the survivors look so healthy?…. Where are the wounds, the scars, the haggardness, the disease? These are men who have drunk their own urine, gnawed the leather from their hats, consumed their own comrades.”
“And there we have it -- the moment of supreme agony on the raft, taken up, transformed, justified by art, turned into a sprung and weighted image, then varnished, framed, glazed, hung in a famous art gallery to illuminate our human condition, fixed, final, always there. Is that what we have? Well, no. People die; rafts rot; and works of art are not exempt…. To make the shadows as black as possible, Géricault used quantities of bitumen to give him the shimmeringly gloomy black he sought. Bitumen, however, is chemically unstable, and from the moment Louis XVIII examined the work a slow, irreparable decay of the paint surface was inevitable. ‘No sooner do we come into this world,’ said Flaubert, ‘than bits of us start to fall off.’ The masterpiece, once completed, does not stops: it continues in motion, downhill. ”