Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Titian and Clint Eastwood

The small but great National Gallery exhibition of three Titian masterpieces displayed side by side for the first time since the 18th century was a real delight. One of the three, The Death of Acteon, has been at the National Gallery for years; the other two (Diana and Callisto and Diana and Acteon) were only recently purchased for the nation for about £95 million and will be exhibited alternately in Edinburgh and London.

Acteon is of course doomed from the moment he sees Diana (the goddess of hunting) bathing in all her naked splendour. And the curators have used the occasion to have a real naked woman bathing, whom one can only see through a keyhole. It is quite an imaginative innovation, though it must be tiring for the women (I gather there is a change of women every two hours). 

Peeping through a keyhole implies spying on something that is forbidden or at any rate not on public view. It is a fitting complement to the voluptuous and erotic masterpieces of Titian (they were in fact exhibited for men only in the king’s private apartments in the royal palace in Madrid).

The penalty for spying visually on Diana was death. And the penalty for spying on a naked woman through a keyhole is…..?

Isn’t contemporary art designed to make us think about such things, about our relation to the woman seen through the keyhole in this instance? Or about being a peeping Tom in a public place? Or about exhibitionism? Or about secret fantasies? 

This was certainly more interesting than gazing vacuously at beach pebbles and filing cabinets.

While this exhibition was on, another potential exhibit for a museum of contemporary art came to my notice, though no one has commented on it in that context, as far as I can tell.

It was Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair (it starts at about 03:33) He was addressing the chair as if President Obama had been sitting on it. But there was of course no President Obama.

What would one call it – a Surrealist creation, a Dadaist creation? Conceptual art?

This dialogue between a living actor and an absent President – who could, in the imagination, be almost anyone – is also more interesting than beach pebbles and filing cabinets. In fact, I have actually seen empty chairs in museums of contemporary art that do not arouse nearly as much interest as Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, which is a good deal more imaginative.

I suggest that it would be a good exhibit at a museum of contemporary art. It stimulates the imagination more than the current empty chairs in some art museums. Some museum should rush to buy the copyright. It has, after all, attracted more than half a million viewers in about two weeks - and hence must be the envy of many a gallery.

And those who revile Clint Eastwood’s creation must at least acknowledge that it disturbed them enough to want to revile it.

In other words, it made them think.

Which is a good deal more than can be said for many exhibits in museums of contemporary art.


Anonymous said...

My feelings about Clintwood and the "empty" Obaba chair exactly! I found it to be extremely interesting, whereas most people I spoke with afterwards about it thought Clintwood was a bit addled.

S.Z. said...

Well, once it is exhibited in a museum of contemporary art, they might begin to feel differently.

Stephanie said...

I would like to return to the exhibition "Metamorphosis". Professor Zeki, you don't mention or describe your response to the three ballets created 'on the dancers' by choreographers and principal dancers of the Royal Ballet, nor of the extraordinary work of Conrad Shawcross using a car-making robot to represent Diana and antlers for the transformed Actaeon/the woods....I would love to know how you felt and what you think about those. To me this was one of the most stimulating, thought-provoking and beautiful exhibitions I have ever seen - and unexpectedly as I'd never have imagined loving so much a piece of artwork featuring a robot!

Stephanie said...

Oh...and I mentioned at your conference on the Olympic Mind a young lad (9 years old) playing a Mozart piece on his violin without music at the school where I teach Art. His playing was astonishing - mature, lyrical and eloquent. Afterwards I asked him about his learning method - was it Suzuki? (no score in the early years - simply repetition, mind- & muscle-memory, Your First 10,000 Twinkles) and he looked completely blank so I knew he wasn't learning with Suzuki. Then I asked how long he'd been learning the violin. He told me he'd started about five terms before. I was astonished & asked him how he could have done this. His answer was unforgettable: "Well.....I don't know, really. I just play the piece once through with the music, and then the violin seems to know what to play". Olympic this training or innate brilliance?
He is a doctor of medicine, now.

S.Z. said...

Thanks. I agree that this was quite exciting, but I did not see the real thing at Covent Garden, which I regret. I therefore thought it inappropriate to comment on it. What you say about robots is interesting. They can even arouse human sympathies, something that I gather is being studied.


S.Z. said...

I suppose it is innate brilliance. I have heard similar comments made by other musicians, and indeed artists. Apparently, Mozart used to be able to imagine (if that is the right word) an entire symphony completely at once. This is something that most of us are not capable of, and is very interesting.