Hamazkayin ArtLinks 2021 fosters discussions on art, culture and identity – Armenian Weekly
The 2021 Hamazkayin ArtLinks program brought together (virtually) dozens of participants from nine countries for conversations on art, culture and identity.
Held on July 31 and Aug. 1 via Zoom, the discussion sessions featured Oscar-winning screenwriter and producer Alexander Dinelaris, professors Dr. Lori Khatchadourian, Dr. Tamar Kabakian-Khasholian, Dr. Kim Hekimian and scholar Dr. Vazken Khatchig Davidian. Program director Dr. Khatchig Mouradian served as moderator.
The program kicked off with Dr. Mouradian’s welcoming remarks. Mouradian noted that ArtLinks, held in the format of a four-day retreat featuring workshops and discussions since 2015, has been held virtually over the past two years because of the pandemic, offering the possibility of remote participation. Participants hailed from Armenia, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Greece, Hungary, Russia and the United States. Mouradian expressed hope that the program will be able to convene in-person next year, possibly with a virtual component. The ArtLinks 2022 retreat is slated to be held in California.
‘Visualising the Hayasdantsi Bantoukhd’
The first speaker of the day was Dr. Vazken Khatchig Davidian, who discussed “Visualising the Hayasdantsi Bantoukhd: The Constantinople Realists and the Representation of the Migrant Worker from Ottoman Armenia as Agent for Social Reform.”
The figure of the Hayasdantsi bantoukhd (Հայաստանցի պանդուխտ, migrant worker from Armenia) was the main preoccupation of Constantinople Armenian intellectual elites throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Most visible among these rural implants in the imperial capital were the thousands of men, mainly from the regions to the south and west of Lake Van, who worked as hamals (porters) on the streets of the imperial capital and dwelled in slum-like conditions in the city’s hans (inns). For these intellectuals, the conditions of the bantoukhd in the city and the dire economic and political situation in Ottoman Armenia (Տաճկահայաստան) were interconnected.
In his presentation, Dr. Davidian considered late nineteenth-century visual representations of these migrant laborers from the Ottoman East, by focusing in particular on a body of paintings of provincial Armenians executed by three of the most notable Ottoman Armenian artists of the late nineteenth century intellectually aligned with the Constantinople Realist movement (Պոլսահայ Իրապաշտ Սերունդ) during the 1880s and 1890s: Bedros Srabian (1833-1898), Simon Hagopian (1857-1921) and Garabed Charles Nichanian (1861-1950). By situating these works in their appropriate cultural, socio-economic and political historical setting in which they were conceived, executed, displayed and received, Davidian’s presentation contended that these remarkable academically trained artists had utilized an entire panoply of tools at their disposal in order to realize through these works a sympathetic image of the often-maligned bantoukhd with a view to influencing public opinion and promoting social reform to improve the lives of the Hayasdantsis.
Vazken Khatchig Davidian is Calouste Gulbenkian Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford. He defended his doctoral thesis in art history – entitled “The Figure of the Bantoukhd Hamal of Constantinople: Late Nineteenth Century Representations of Migrant Workers from Ottoman Armenia” – at Birkbeck College, University of London in 2019. He is currently working on several projects, including two monographs.
A dynamic discussion followed with questions about the reasons behind the fact that many of these artists are virtually unknown to the Armenian community, and, unlike the work of Armenian realist writers, Armenian realist painters are generally not taught in diasporan schools.
COVID-19 in Armenia and beyond
The second discussion of the day focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Armenia, Artsakh and Armenian communities worldwide. Speakers Dr. Hekimian and Dr. Khasholian first presented an overview of and statistics on the pandemic globally and in a number of countries they used as case studies. They also discussed vaccine hesitancy, its challenges, causes and implications, outlining how public health professionals and governments have tried to tackle the issue.
Kim Hekimian, PhD, is assistant professor of nutrition in pediatrics and the Institute of Human Nutrition (IHN) at Columbia University. She teaches public health nutrition, survey research, qualitative methods and research methods. She is also the Associate Director of Education for the Program for Global and Population Health at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and was recently the associate director of the Medical Nutrition Program for Health Professionals at IHN.
Tamar Kabakian-Khasholian, MPH, PhD, is an associate professor at the Department of Health Promotion and Community Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. She holds a master’s degree in public health in epidemiology and biostatistics from the American University of Beirut and a PhD in maternal health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her research focuses on maternal and reproductive health.
A conversation with Alexander Dinelaris
Day two of ArtLinks began with a discussion with Oscar-winning screenwriter Alex Dinelaris. In a dynamic conversation with participants that lasted an hour and a half, Dinelaris tackled his own trajectory in film and theatre, discussed several of his works, including Birdman, Still Life and Red Dog Howls, which tackles the Armenian Genocide. He engaged the participants in a conversation about theatre, self-doubt and honing one’s craft. He also reflected on the representation of the Armenian experience and the Genocide in Hollywood and beyond.
Dinelaris, a screenwriter and producer, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film Birdman in 2015. Dinelaris also wrote the book for the Broadway musical “On Your Feet” about the life and career of Gloria Estefan. For this, he was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical. In 2019, he formed his New York-based production company Lexicon and announced that its first feature film will be an adaptation of the Broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde, which Dinelaris will adapt into a screenplay and produce. That same year, he wrote and directed the short film In This, Our Time.
Satellite Technology and Armenian Cultural Heritage
Dr. Lori Khatchadourian spoke next, discussing “Satellite Technology and Armenian Cultural Heritage: The Caucasus Heritage Watch Project.” She presented the Caucasus Heritage Watch Project’s efforts to monitor heritage sites in the Caucasus, particularly in Artsakh and Azerbaijan. Dr. Khatchadourian discussed the initiative and its goals and explored the role of satellite technology in documenting damage or destruction of cultural heritage, as well as deterrence and accountability for such actions.
During the ensuing discussion, Dr. Khatchadourian answered questions about the conditions of specific Armenian monasteries and cemeteries, addressed the potential for innovative techniques in the field of satellite technology and cultural heritage monitoring, and talked about the project’s preliminary findings.
Dr. Khatchadourian is associate professor of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University. With a PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan (2008) and an MSc in Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics from the London School of Economics (1998), Khatchadourian’s research traverses the ancient and modern periods to grapple with the relationship between imperialism and materiality. The focus of her archaeological and anthropological research is the ancient and post-Soviet Caucasus, building on an earlier career in international political development in post-socialist Eurasia. She is author of Imperial Matter: Ancient Persia and the Archaeology of Empires (2016), co-editor of Fitful Histories and Unruly Publics: Rethinking Temporality and Community in Eurasian Archaeology (2017), and author of numerous articles on the archaeology of Armenia, the Caucasus, Anatolia and Persia. Khatchadourian’s current book project is a multidisciplinary study of the ruins of modernity in Armenia. She is also a co-founder of Caucasus Heritage Watch and interested in the use of earth observation technologies to monitor and document endangered and damaged cultural heritage.
Since its inaugural retreat in 2015, Hamazkayin ArtLinks has brought together some 150 artists and young professionals. Workshop leaders and speakers have included Liana Aghajanian, George Aghjayan, Vaneh Assadourian, Talin Avakian, Nanore Barsoumian, Vahe Berberian, Eric Bogosian, Chris Bohjalian, Dr. Talar Chahinian, Ara Dabanjian, Dr. Asya Darbinyan, Dr. Vazken Davidian, Alex Dinelaris, Dr. Lisa Gulesserian, Dr. Kim Hekimian, Mher Karakashian, Nayiri Karapetian, Lori Khatchadourian, Raffi Khatchadourian, Dr. Tamar Kabakian-Khasholian, Dr. Khatchig Mouradian, Taleen Mardirossian, Eric Nazarian, Aline Ohanesian, Dr. Kristi Rendahl, Vehanoush Tekian, Scout Tufankjian, Dr. Viken Tufenkjian, among others.
Reflections from ArtLinks 2021 Participants
I’m so glad ArtLinks was online this year. It allowed me to join in as far as from Lebanon, which wasn’t possible previously when it was in person.
The selection of topics and speakers was great! We got to hear from a wide array of expertise on the most pressing topics of the day – Artsakh and COVID. We got front row seats to hear everything from using satellite technology to monitor heritage crime from Dr. Lori Khatchadourian, the founder of the initiative herself, to COVID’s rollercoaster impact on Armenia and the world.
And what is ArtLinks without some art? I was fascinated to learn about a different reality of Armenians – that of the kavars (Anatolian provinces) – in Istanbul, in their capacity as hamals, not as bankers or photographers or the things we usually learned about. All these through realist art and paintings of the time (re)discovered and analyzed by Dr. Vazken Davidian.
It’s not every day that we get to speak with an Academy Award winning screenplay writer. But we did! I had no idea Alex Dinelaris was Armenian. It makes me so happy and proud. We need more representation in Hollywood and Broadway.
Hrag Avedanian, Weekly contributor
I use Artlinks to escape to a world that is different from my own. I am a prosecutor in one of the busiest counties in the country. I have now participated in two sessions of Artlinks to spend a weekend listening to experts in their fields of screenwriting, journalism, poetry, dance, etc. You would think my world has nothing to do with the beautiful world of the arts, but what I found listening to Alex Dinelaris speaking to the group—having a conversation with the group—was that the messages are universal. His advice was advice I could give to the young attorneys in my office, but also utilize myself. “Make the road as difficult for yourself as you humanly can, and learn from it” is advice anyone wishing to excel can use—advice that, if taken, will ensure growth, maturity and excellence, and hopefully success. He was then asked if he ever feels self-doubt, and his answer was simply “every single day.” I have been a practicing attorney for 16 years, and even though I know I have excelled, I feel the same every single time I step in the courtroom. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone, and the emotions we feel as we try to accomplish our goals in life are universal, regardless of what field we are in.
ArtLinks once again provided us with an exceptional environment for like-minded Armenian youth to come together. We are continuously presented with opportunities to explore our culture and history while joining new and old friends. There is always something for all participants, whether it feeds a professional hunger or a personal yearning – giving us that collective connection to our roots, the longing we so desire living away from the homeland.
I have been involved with ArtLinks for the past seven years in various capacities, and every year I take away from it indelible memories, whether we meet in person or online. This year’s four online sessions were no exception. Participants engaged with the speakers enthusiastically, providing to us all insights into the wondrous aspects of Armenian culture and its significance in the current realities of both our homeland and the diaspora.
Dr. Viken Tufenkjian
Perchance the organizers and participants of this year’s ArtLinks are channeling Varoujan’s drive. Moving and edifying realisms would abound throughout the weekend, with diverse presentations integral to the whole, and to my own ancestral reclamations through language and the arts. Dr. Vazken Khatchig Davidian’s illuminating talk on late Ottoman artists and writers as agents of social change opened up new realms to explore, while screenwriter Alex Dinelaris’ personal and often hilarious stories offered priceless insights for the journey. Even the comprehensive presentation on COVID-19 in Armenia and beyond by Dr. Tamar Kabakian-Khasholian and Dr. Kim Hekimian was weirdly relevant to my little world as I had just gotten my second vaccine shot in Yerevan and had seen first-hand several of the concerns they raised.
Building community and bearing witness is as vital today as I imagine it was to the Armenian creatives and intellectuals striving to address worsening hardships amongst our people prior to 1915, while facing mounting pressures from the Ottoman state to be silent. Though many of our bright lights were ultimately and brutally extinguished 106 years ago, it is clear their fire lives on worldwide.
This year’s ArtLinks unfolded like a fever dream, and not just because of the vaccine’s side effects that weekend. The final presentation by Dr. Lori Khatchadourian covered past and ongoing destruction of cultural heritage in the Caucasus, and cutting-edge initiatives to document and monitor remaining sites at risk. There was also a generous opportunity to discuss the impact of engaging in such work in the wake of the 2020 Artsakh War, aiding my struggles with an arts project responding to the systematic erasure of Armenian cultures and communities. On the road to healing and justice, the thoughtful curation and conversations of ArtLinks 2021 are reigniting the call to see «կեանքը ինչպէս որ է» (“life as it is”)—as the Constantinople Realists would say—through Varoujan’s eyes and our own.
Elise Youssoufian, Weekly columnist
Hannah Gadsby’s Disastrous ‘Pablo-matic’ Show at the Brooklyn Museum Has Some ‘Pablo-ms’ of Its Own – ARTnews
Over the past half century, Pablo Picasso’s reputation has taken quite a beating. Once termed a “genius” by fellow Cubist Georges Braque and later a “prodigy” by his biographer John Richardson, Picasso was called a “walking scrotum” in Robert Hughes’s 1991 history of modern art. In 2019 he was even labeled an “egoist” by artist Françoise Gilot, who ended their tumultuous decade-long relationship and then chronicled it in a 1964 memoir that was recently reprinted.
The shift owes something to feminists like Linda Nochlin, who, in a well-known 1971 ARTnews essay, asked if Picasso would have been called a genius if he were born a girl. But most people don’t know Nochlin. They know Hannah Gadsby, a comedian who took up Picasso in their 2018 Netflix special Nanette, going so far as to say he “just put a kaleidoscope filter” on his penis when he helped think up Cubism, a movement that prized a multiplicity of perspectives.
Gadsby is even more unsparing than that in the audio guide for their new Brooklyn Museum show, “It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby,” which opens to the public on Friday.
Gadsby notes that Picasso was a “monumentally misogynistic and abusive domestic authoritarian dictator,” and that he “takes up too much space.” To further underscore the point, perhaps in homage to Hughes, Gadsby lends Picasso the nickname “PP.” You can do the work figuring out that very unsubtle pun.
“Picasso is not my muse of choice,” Gadsby later says of organizing the show. “I regret this.” They should.
Organized with Brooklyn Museum curators Catherine Morris and Lisa Small, “It’s Pablo-matic” aspires toward a new kind of Picasso scholarship that better accounts for his misogyny, his bad behavior, and his colonialist impulses. Gadsby and the curators intend to accomplish this by weaving in more recent works by pillars of feminist art, a noble gesture meant to “unearth and champion voices and perspectives that are missing from our collective understanding of ourselves,” per Gadsby.
The show’s problem—Pablo-m, if you will—is not its revisionary mindset, which justly sets it apart from all the other celebratory Picasso shows being staged this year to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. That is the appropriate lens for discussing much of Picasso’s oeuvre in 2023. It is, instead, the show’s disregard for art history, the discipline that Gadsby studied, practiced, and abandoned after becoming frustrated with its patriarchal roots.
The Pablo-ms begin before you even enter the first gallery. Above the show’s loud red signage on the museum’s ground floor, there’s a 26-foot-long painting by Cecily Brown, Triumph of the Vanities II (2018), featuring an orgy of brushy forms set against a fiery background. The painting looks back to the bacchanalia of Rococo painting and the intensity of Eugène Delacroix’s hues. It has little to say about Picasso, an artist whom Brown has spoken of admiringly.
Inside the show, there’s Jo Baker’s Birthday (1995), a Faith Ringgold print featuring a reclining Josephine Baker beside a bowl of ripe peaches. This is a direct allusion to paintings by Henri Matisse like Odalisque couchée aux magnolias (1923), not to Picasso. (A better Ringgold selection would’ve been her 1991 quilt Picasso’s Studio, which takes on the artist more directly.) Likewise, there’s Nina Chanel Abney’s Forbidden Fruit (2009), in which a group of picnickers are seated around and atop watermelons. It’s a composition that specifically recalls Édouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1862–63), not any particular Picasso painting.
There’s no question that Ringgold and Abney are highlighting the limits of modernism—they replace white figures with Black ones, whom they suture into European images. But this exhibition is not about the modernist canon as a whole, which is itself an extension of a male-dominated Western art history that spans centuries. It’s specifically about one man, per the show’s title: Picasso, whom “It’s Pablo-matic” flatly offers as the only modernist worth critiquing. He isn’t.
Ironically, one of the few Picasso-focused works comes courtesy of Gadsby themselves. It’s a ca. 1995 copy of Picasso’s Large Bather with a Book (1937), depicting a blocky, boulder-like figure crumpled over an open volume. Gadsby painted their reproduction on the wall of their parents’ basement. Looking back on it, they now call it “shitty.”
“Picasso once said it took him four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child,” Gadsby writes in the wall text. “Well, I don’t want to call myself a genius … But it did only take me four years to be as funny as Raphael.”
“Funny” is debatable, but comedy is used as a curatorial device throughout the show. Gadsby’s quotes, which are printed above more serious art historical musings, are larded with the language of Twitter. “Weird flex,” reads one appended to a Picasso print of a nude woman caressing a sculpture of a naked, chiseled man. “Don’t you hate it when you look like you belong in a Dickens novel but end up in a mosh pit at Burning Man? #MeToo,” reads another that goes with a print showing a minotaur barging into a crowded, darkened space.
Most of the works in this show are by Picasso, strangely enough. This in itself constitutes an issue—you can’t re-center art history if you’re still centering Picasso.
But if the curators must, they have at least brought some impressive works to the US for the exhibition. There are several paintings on loan from the Musée National Picasso in Paris, some of which are enlisted in savvy ways.
One of them, Corrida: la mort de la femme torero (Bullfighting: Death of the Female Bullfighter), from 1933, shows a woman tumbling across two colliding bulls. Upon impact, her breasts spill out, lending the scene an unseemly erotic quality that courses through so many of the Picasso works in this show. It’s all the more disturbing to learn that this female toreador was based on Marie-Thérèse Walter, who was romantically involved with Picasso at the time. I agree with the curators’ assessment that this painting emblematizes Picasso’s brutal tendencies. I only wish it wasn’t paired with this quote from Gadsby: “If PETA can’t cancel Picasso … no one can.”
It’s key that the show repeatedly references Gilot and Walter, as well as other women from Picasso’s love life, like the artist Dora Maar and the dancer Olga Khokhlova. These women were previously written off as Picasso’s “muses,” and “It’s Pablo-matic” suggests that historians still have trouble talking about them. While the show is frank about the negative aspects of these women’s relationships with the artist, they are always discussed within the context of Picasso, who continues to exert a strong gravitational pull.
I detected a disingenuous sentiment amid it all. Gilot and Maar both produced art of note. Where was that in this show? It would’ve been instructive to see their work placed on equal footing with Picasso’s. Or, for that matter, pretty much any female modernists. The only ones who make the cut are Kathe Köllwitz and Maria Martins, both of whom are represented by unremarkable examples of their remarkable oeuvres.
These women didn’t make it into history books for a long time, and that’s the subtext of Kaleta Doolin’s Improved Janson: A Woman on Every Page #2 (2017), a piece included in this show. The work takes the form of a famed art history textbook that has, in every one of its pages, a vaginal oval cut out of it. An image of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) was sliced by Doolin during the work’s making, its lower left-hand corner now lopped off.
Doolin’s work is about removal: she leaves parts of Janson’s book absent to make clear that women artists, for so many centuries, were kept out of the picture. This was a painful, violent elision, and Doolin makes steps toward rectifying the carnage by acknowledging all that contributed to it. If only Gadsby had done the same.
Why does this show contort art history so? There are numerous Picasso works here that portray threesomes, rapes, and bestiality. The wall text doesn’t hide the sources of these images: Ovid’s poetry, Greek mythology. When Picasso represented a minotaur kneeling over a nude, sleeping woman who can’t consent, he was glorifying sexual assault, using classical art as a limp justification. He was hardly the first male artist to do that, however: Bernini, Titian, Correggio, Poussin, and many more did it too. Yet this exhibition directs its aim only at Picasso.
Many of the women in this exhibition are responding to centuries of misogyny, not just Picasso’s. Betty Tompkins has a grand, grisaille painting showing an erect penis entering a vagina in close-up—an image that recalls a certain Gustave Courbet work—while Joan Semmel takes a lighter approach, with a painting of a post-coital couple shown from the woman’s point of view. Ghada Amer is showing a terrific embroidered work in which pools of red thread reveal pairs of splayed-open women’s legs, and Rachel Kneebone has a porcelain piece that looks like a fountain of limbs. There’s no specific reference point in these works, because the male gaze is omnipotent. It wasn’t found only in Picasso’s studio.
The final gallery, the sole one without any Picasso works in it, brings “It’s Pablo-matic” into even squishier territory. There are some great works here—Dara Birnbaum’s classic video skewering Wonder Woman, an Ana Mendieta photograph of an abstracted female form sculpted into the ground, Dindga McCannon’s painting of a multihued revolutionary with real bullets fixed to the canvas—but they have almost nothing in common, beside the fact that they are all owned by the Brooklyn Museum.
The supplement to this exhibition, available on the Bloomberg Connects app, includes an interview with one artist in this gallery, Harmony Hammond. Asked about her feelings on Picasso, she says, “Truth be told, I don’t think about Picasso and his work.”
It would’ve been nice to have more artists who were thinking about Picasso, or whose work, at least, has something to do with him. But this seems like too much to ask from the curators, especially Gadsby, who greets that line of thinking with a big, fat raspberry. “Humans are not doing great,” they say on the audio guide. “We are unsettled. I blame Picasso. That’s a little joke. Or is it? I don’t know.”
Revealing show cleverly pairs two female Impressionists – The Globe and Mail
In a new Impressionism show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, there’s a moment parents will recognize. In an 1897 painting, by the American expat artist Mary Cassatt, a mother lies in bed with a baby. Front and centre, the plump toddler sits upright, rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed, while the mother gazes sleepily up from her pillow. There’s a tea cup nearby and the child seems to be holding some bread: The title, Breakfast in Bed, is saccharine enough to suggest a tender maternal scene of the kind prized by Victorian audiences. Look closer at the mother’s expression, however, and you’ll perceive her reality: a 6 a.m. wake-up when she would rather sleep.
This clever exhibition is stuffed with such telling moments, achieved by juxtaposing Cassatt’s work with that of the Canadian Impressionist Helen McNicoll. On the surface, the combo, entitled Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds, might seem opportunistic or merely convenient. Cassatt was an American living in France and part of the original circle dubbed Impressionist; McNicoll, 35 years younger, was a Canadian working in England under the general influence of the new styles. Throw together two female artists who belong to different generations and never met, and see if some of Cassatt’s wider fame can rub off on McNicoll’s work, not particularly well known even to Canadians. However, the execution, by AGO curator Caroline Shields, offers so many smart observations drawn from this pairing that the show swiftly banishes these doubts.
Shields argues that Cassatt and McNicoll, who both criss-crossed the Atlantic in the age of the steam liner, were figures who inhabited liminal spaces as they travelled between Europe and North America and negotiated professional restrictions placed on women. They could not venture unaccompanied into the city streets or cabarets so beloved by the French Impressionists, and convention encouraged them to concentrate on domestic subjects, although both were unmarried and childless.
Shields makes this point with two paintings near the start: Cassatt’s Young Girl at a Window shows a woman looking inwardly rather than out at a Parisian view; McNicoll’s The Open Door shows a country woman in an interior, perhaps seeking light to tie a knot in her sewing, but with her back turned to the great outdoors. So, both women are placed at the threshold of places where they do not venture.
Next, the exhibition matches Cassatt’s Woman Bathing of 1890-91, one of her familiar drypoint prints heavily influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e, with Interior (1910) by McNicoll, a view of an empty bedroom. By placing the familiar image of a woman at her toilette beside Interior, Fields makes the point that McNicoll has deliberately removed a nude from her scene.
The AGO has also provided a brief video in which the painting is animated as though we were watching the room through the day in time-lapse photography, revealing McNicoll’s use of a shaft of light to enliven her composition. Compared to the pointless animation in the so-called immersive shows devoted to such artists as Vincent Van Gogh or Claude Monet, this small educational intervention by AGO interpretive planner Gillian McIntryre is an astute way of asking viewers to stop and look closer.
Looking closer and thinking again is what this show is all about. Cassatt’s pictures of women and babies are often ambivalent – Maternal Caress and The Child’s Caress seem to show women suffering babies batting at their faces – while McNicoll painted children alone, without mothers supervising them.
One exception is In the Shadow of the Tree from 1910, which shows a young caregiver on a summer day reading a book with a pram beside her, one hand touching it as if to rock the baby. That painting, along with several showing women under parasols or tents at a beach, are testament to McNicoll’s masterful painting of light. Dappled or filtered light on a summer day is perhaps her most magnificent subject.
McNicoll was primarily known for outdoor scenes but around 1913, she began a series of ambitious canvases featuring women in interiors, including two of a figure wearing a massive white crinoline. As the drive to women’s suffrage reached its peak, these confining dresses were now seen as outmoded: McNicoll calls both paintings The Victorian Dress. What would have happened next? McNicoll died of diabetes at age 35 in 1915, so sadly we will never know.
It’s not a contest, but she often comes across as the stronger artist here, her brushwork more impressive in its impressionistic effects; her figures more graceful. In a section about labour, Cassatt is represented by Young Women Picking Fruit, an oddly emphatic painting from 1891 in which a well-dressed receiver looks adoringly up at the picker, as a symbol of women passing knowledge to each other. About 20 years later, McNicoll is painting working class women picking apples or carrying hay in more convincing depictions of empowerment.
This weighting probably has more to do with available loans than the reality of the two careers. The AGO has assembled 27 of McNicoll’s paintings from its own collection (which also includes all her sketchbooks, many on display) and from museums in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, as well as private collections. Cassatt is represented by only 13 paintings and her best known pieces, works such as The Child’s Bath at the Art Institute of Chicago, are not included. Instead, Chicago has lent the more fussy female figure On a Balcony. The biggest hits are a pair of deliciously sophisticated female portraits, Portrait of Madame J from the Maryland State Archives and The Cup of Tea from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
There are no Cassatt paintings in Canadian collections, but luckily the National Gallery of Canada does hold an edition of the 10 drypoint prints devoted to women at their toilette, riding a bus or bathing children. It’s impressive to see the full series at the AGO, to recognize Cassatt’s meticulous printmaking and her commitment to making women seen in art rather than merely objectified.
More than a century separates us from Cassatt and McNicoll and it’s easy to assume that all is sweetness and light in their paintings of elegant ladies, chubby babies and vigorous farm girls. By pairing the two, Cassatt – McNicoll slyly reveals the many subtleties in the work of two female artists carving out careers in what was, in their day, a man’s profession.
Cassatt/McNicoll continues to Sept. 2023 at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
Hannah Gadsby's Picasso exhibit roasted by art critics – The A.V. Club
“It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby” has been Pablo-matic from the start. The comedian was criticized for launching an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, where Elizabeth A. Sackler (of Purdue Pharma infamy) apparently sits on the board of trustees. “Doesn’t matter what cultural institution you work with in America, you’re going to be working with billionaires and there’s not a billionaire on this planet that is not fucked up. It is just morally reprehensible,” Gadsby lamented to Variety, nevertheless moving forward with the exhibit.
After having criticized Picasso in their lauded Netflix special Nanette, Gadsby was tapped to co-curate an exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. The show examines Picasso’s “complicated legacy through a critical, contemporary, and feminist lens, even as it acknowledges his work’s transformative power and lasting influence.” The exhibit consists of Picasso’s work with the work of female artists, with the addition of Gadsby’s commentary.
Reviews of the show (which opens on Friday) are, shall we say, not kind. Gadsby’s quips tacked to Picasso’s art “function a bit like bathroom graffiti, or maybe Instagram captions,” writes New York Times reviewer Jason Farago, who dismisses Gadsby’s commentary as “juvenile.” ARTnews’ Alex Greenberger observes that Gadsby’s quotes are “larded with the language of Twitter,” highlighting the label above a minotaur print: “Don’t you hate it when you look like you belong in a Dickens novel but end up in a mosh pit at Burning Man? #MeToo.”
There is no debate about Picasso’s misogyny or any of the more unsavory (and well-documented) aspects of his character. Instead, it’s the apparently facile way Gadsby (with co-curators Catherine Morris and Lisa Small) has chosen to frame the show. The female artists featured do not include female Cubists, women inspired by Picasso, or the female artists Picasso was actually involved with in his life. Instead, their work “[seems] to have been selected more or less at random” writes Farago, while Greenberger notes that many of these pieces from female artists “have almost nothing in common, beside the fact that they are all owned by the Brooklyn Museum.”
The scathing criticism of the exhibit has been met with some schadenfreude online, particularly with the subset of folks for whom Nanette didn’t land. “Still thinking about that perfect @jsf piece on Hannah Gadsby’s Picasso show. Such a sharp evisceration of the corrosive effect a certain strain of meme-y social justice has had on culture and criticism. If people’s receptiveness means we can finally move past that, I’m thrilled,” The New Republic’s Natalie Shure wrote on Twitter. And of course, some people just like a good, well-written take down: “So so so happy that Hannah Gadsby made the Pablo-matic (lmfao) exhibit because the reviews of it have been the best most fun culture writing in a while imo!!!!!,” tweeted writer Sophia Benoit.
Agree or disagree (and perhaps you’ll have to visit the Brooklyn Museum to decide), the criticism of Gadsby’s criticism is lethally sharp. “Not long ago, it would have been embarrassing for adults to admit that they found avant-garde painting too difficult and preferred the comforts of story time. What Gadsby did was give the audience permission—moral permission—to turn their backs on what challenged them, and to ennoble a preference for comfort and kitsch,” Farago writes of Nanette, later adding, “The function of a public museum (or at least it should be) is to present to all of us these women’s full aesthetic achievements; there is also room for story hour, in the children’s wing.” You can read the full piece here.
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