24 May 2015

What's up for one more, well, a few hours..

The Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds retrospective, the product of ten years of work by Boston College's Elizabeth Goizueta, is winding up in Atlanta, and as with her other research interest, Matta, I have difficulty summarizing my thoughts in advance of its closing. There are a few original thoughts I can quickly relate while other questions will pop around in perpetuity..

Lam is commonly named as one of the rare students of Picasso. Lam, Gilot, and...? Breton wrote "Picasso has chosen to show a greater interest in Wifredo Lam than any of the younger painters." The show includes original Lam illustrations (left) for Fata Morgana.

Why didn't Picasso take on students? 1960: "To know what we are doing cubism we should have to be acquainted with it! Actually, nobody knew what it was. And if we had known, everyone would have known... The condition of discovery is outside ourselves, but the terrifying thing is that despite all this, we can only find what we know." Two statements to Jaime Sabartes: "If you want to draw a circle and be original, don't try to give it a strange form which isn't exactly the form of circle. Try to make the circle as best you can. And since nobody has made a perfect circle, you can be sure that your circle will be completely your own. Only then will you have a chance to be original." "In the museums, for example, there are only pictures that have failed.. Those which today we consider 'masterpieces' are those which departed most from the rules laid down by the masters of the period. The best works are those which most clearly show the 'stigma' of the artist who painted them."

Why did the take on Lam? I quoted here a few years back the recently departed Galeano's quip "Pillaged by its colonial masters, Africa would never know how responsible it was for the most astonishing achievements in twentieth century European painting and sculpture" but Picasso, a political anti-imperialist, immediately and paternalistically sought to get Michael Leiris, studying African art intensively, to tutor the quarter African, half Chinese Lam on the subject, which Lam knew about but he wanted to know more and revered Picasso, Breton's explanation for the apprenticeship. Picasso's influence was crucial to Lam, crucial to Picasso, to the future of Caribbean art, the CoBrA movement, so on and so forth, and Picasso seemed to have little doubts or reserve about the opportunity. Lam reflected "I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters."

Lowery Sims wrote "(Lam) decided not to follow the wishes of his godmother, Mantonica Wilson, a Santeria religious leader, that he become a babalao (high priest)." Richardson said Picasso's mother "although incapable of understanding his son's work.. always had implicit faith in his messianic aspirations." The subconscious desire to realize these lofty aspirations through unconventional means, I think, bound them. Also several years before he met Lam, Picasso completed his etching Minotauromachia, which I thought "appears to depict Marie-Thérèse Walter as a wounded, skeletal torera attached to a horse and also the bearer of the light that the bull hurls itself at. Juan Larrea remembered "hearing from (Picasso's) own lips as an obiter dictum that in pictures from a certain period of his artistic development, the horse generally represents a woman who played an exceptionally important part in his life." Sims wrote "Lam's 'horse-woman'.. personifies the devotee who is literally 'ridden' by the possessing orisha in the Santeria toque (drum rhythm)." Lam also spent his adolescence in the Prado, which may explain why it looks as if the figures in Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights are often arraigned in the manner of Las Meninas.

I loathed the High Museum building before it was renovated and, after its expansion, my loathing of it has expanded, as it is an extended joke directed at anyone who arrives with a mind to look at the art rather than regard the visit as conspicuous consumerism in a floor plan that prevents walking from one side of the building to the other, confining visitors to one area. Aside from a large section of outsider art, acquisitions have from the beginning have been minor, decorative afterthoughts, eager not to offend traditional sensibilities especially in its earlier acquisitions.

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