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.