Modern Self Portraits

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A quickie this time. The Met’s Modern Art Mezzanine has an exhibition called The Lens and the Mirror showing self-portraits from the Museum’s own collection.

We loved the pair of William Roberts drawings, the first from 1911 (when he was sixteen!) and the second from around 1920. In both, the artist’s face is tilted down a bit, giving him a kind of menacing, Alex DeLarge look. There’s also an Egon Schiele watercolor, below, in which the artist appears eroticized and grotesquely emaciated. So, yeah, pretty much like any other portrait he ever did (ProTip: The Neue Galerie, just a few blocks north of the Met’s main entrance, has a fantastic Schiele collection in a weirdly intimate setting).

We enjoyed the Matisse intaglio, an expressive drawing by Umberto Boccioni (who was discussed previously on Suggested Donation) and the wonderfully rigid self-portrait by modernist photographer Edward Steichen (shown below as an unintentional self-portrait of a self-portrait—bad photographers and brightly lit objects behind glass do not mix. Metafictive! Kind of! . . . We’re like an accidental Charlie Kaufman).

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This group of work dates from the1880s through the 1940s; in August, curators will hit the reset button and put up another round  of self-portraits from the collection, this time from the 50s through today.

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We Will Destroy the Museums

On February 20, 1909, a manic Italian theorist named F. T. Marinetti published The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism in the French newspaper Le Figaro. It began:

We had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass, domes starred like our spirits, shining like them with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts.

Marinetti and his impish cohorts shrugged off the weight of history. They  embraced intertia in dynamic sculpture and tumbling, energetic prose, and in their affection for the automobile. The Futurists celebrated novelty, revolt, brashness, and above all, the machine, the Machine. It was Nietzsche gone wild, violent and nationalistic, fervidly misogynistic. It was an art movement whose adherents rejected museums, a mode of thought that presaged Buck Rogers and the atomic bomb and the The Factory and the transistor radio and the plastic century. Among the Futurist Manifesto’s calls to arms are this one:

We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.

For Marinetti & Co., technology was an intrinsic good. But their movement, which put such a premium on energy and youth, aged quickly and wilted by the beginning of the First World War. The prominent futurist artist Umberto Boccioni was killed in 1916; Marienetti formed a Futurist political party that later merged with Mussolini’s. Marinetti, who had written that war was “the world’s only heigyne” volunteered–and was summarily rejected for–active duty in the Fascist army when he was in his sixties.

In honor of this misguided movement’s centenary, we bring a you a photograph of Umberto Boccioni’s sculpture that typifies Futurism’s visual aesthetic.

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Boccioni’s “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space,” 1913.

The Lila Acheson Wallace Wing: Room One

Highlights: Picasso and Braque squaring off with Cubist still lifes; Boccioni being a maniac.

Memorable quote:

Museum-goer lectures his Girlfriend on the importance of Picasso’s bronze 1909 sculpture, Woman’s Head:

“I love the muscularity of it. It’s like a woman’s trapped in there. Like there’s stuff just slathered on her head.”

Museum-goer motions slathering stuff on the sculpture; A Guard watches nervously; Girlfriend is nonplussed.

“Know what I mean?”

Girlfriend walks off.

Next Week: Neolithic China

Boccioni's "Self Portrait," 1905
Boccioni's "Self Portrait," 1905

Just slathered on there.
Just slathered on there.