It is the last day of Cupid’s month.
He has been a little miffed since I explained to him that, Primordial Immortal though he was to the ancient Greeks, we are not ancient Greeks: we have our own gods and winged creatures too, even if they are not as cute as he is.
Does your civilization know about love? the god asked.
Yes, I answered. It is in our DNA for ever and ever. Love and lust and all that stuff.
Show me, the god said.
We’ll be here until eternity, I said, if I were to start showing you pictures on the subject of love and lust.
Show me, said the god.
I’ll compile a small sample, I said. But only of a part of the modern Western tradition because you will never leave if we start a tour of Indian ritual, erotic art or the entire Renaissance corpus with all you gods cavorting and raping Sabine women.
The god had a good look at the sample.
I don’t like your use of the word ‘cavorting’, or ‘raping’. Cupid said at last. Strange kind of art you have, you Moderns, he added. Are you all mad as well as barbaric and irreligious?
Postmoderns, I corrected. And civilized. Kind of. And Secular: we don’t call it ‘irreligious’. It’s in the Constitution, I said.
And we don’t think we are mad. I continued. We call it ‘impressionism’ and ‘abstract expressionism’ and ‘conceptual’ and ‘Pop’ and ‘neo-graffiti’ and anything so long as it sells, I said.
We blame Marcel Duchamp, I said. But not entirely. There is Dada and German Expressionism and Surrealism and Andre Breton, I said, too. And the Belgian with the pipe which is not a pipe. And Andy Warhol taking the piss.
But we are pursuing our happiness, I told the god. It is in our Constitution.
You have all gone mad, the god said. Your modernisms have driven you away from the Golden Mean and into madness.
And, with that, the god was gone until next February. Along with Black History Month for another year.
How would I explain Black History Month to Cupid? I thought. What if he asks what kind of madness is this for just one month a year and then we can forget all about the Blacks unless revolutionary activity breaks out in the country?
So glad the god is gone, I thought. I don’t know the answer.
Cupid is on Olympus now.
Mount Olympus, 1997. Vinyl. Marina Borker, American. Displayed courtesy of the artist at PAFA. 2015
Cupid, 1530, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472 – 1553, German. Philadelphia Art Museum. 2016
A SAMPLE OF LOVE, DESIRE, AND RELATED STUFF
Lacquer Screen, c. 1917; oil on canvas. Leypold Seyffert, 1887-1956, American. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
The Angl0-American Victorian puritanical nonsense: the painting directs you to the screen as if there were no body lying there. Without pubic hair, of course. I don’t think she has nails, either.
Study of a Female Nude, 1840, oil on canvas. Henri Lehman, 1814-1882, French. Metropolitan Musuem of Art.
Definitely not an Anglo-American Puritan anything.
The Kiss, 1917, limestone. Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957,French, born Romania. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Clothespin , 1976, Corten steel. Claes Oldenburg, born 1928, American. The artist associated this sculpture with Brancusi’s The Kiss. West side of City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Romantic Landscape; oil on canvas, 1950. Ellsworth Kelly, 1923-2015. On loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Bride (image top) Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (image on the bottom right). Also known as The Large Glass; 1915-1923; oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, dust on two glass panels; smashed in transit and put together again by the artist. Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968; American born French. Philadelphia Art Musuem
The Passage from Virgin to Bride, 1912. Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, American born France. MOMA, New York.
Wedge of Chastity, 1963 replica of 1954 original; sculpture in two sections: bronze and dental plastic. Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968; American born French. Philadelphia Musuem of Art.
Oven Pan, 1963; paint, canvas, cotton, steel, wood. Yayoi Kusama, born 1929; Japan. Loaned to the International Pop exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum, 2016.
Bedroom Painting #34, 1976, oil on canvas. Tom Wesselmann, 1931-2004; American. On loan from a private collection to the Delaware Museum of Art. 2015
Everything Has Failed! Don’t You Think It is Time for Love? 2007. Spray paint on paper part of a 5-channel video installation which MOMA, New York thought important enough to buy in 2012 for its permanent collection. Sharon Hayes, born 1970, American.
I Think We are Alone Now, 1971; oil on paper. Tommy Dale Palmore, born 1945; American. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
I love you, 1965-66; acrylic on canvas. Michelangelo Pistoletto, Italian. On exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2011 by the Cittadelarte-Fondazione-Pistoletto.
In the Boudoir (Before the Mirror), oil, graphite, metal, photograph and wood on panel. Alexander Archipenko, 1887-1964, Ukrainian. Philadelphia Art Museum
Venus, 1967; mixed media. Jana Zelibska, born 1945, Czech. On loan to the International Pop exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2016.
The Room, Tarzana; 1967; oil on canvas. David Hockney’s portrayal of Peter Schwesinger, a partner and model. David Hockney, born 1937, British. On loan to the International Pop Exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum, 2016.
No darling, thank heavens I can’t remember a wife, and side view, 2006; packaging tape on Plexiglas with light box. Mark Khaisman, born 1958. Delaware Art Musuem.
Interior, and detail, 1868 or ’69; oil on canvas. Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, French. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In the center of this painting is what appears to be a leather case, that of a man: leather perhaps lined with soft fawn-coloured suede or the plush velvet which is no longer available.
The man at the door came into the room, saw the case, opened it and threw onto the floor a bustier he found in it. He has beaten her up for this.
The top hat on the chest in the left hand of the frame and the jacket on the bed railings probably belong to the man who gave this woman that bustier. He is otherwise absent from this scene. The top hat, on the other hand, may belong to the man standing at the door. He may have crossed the room and taken control of it in that manner, laid down his hat and then beaten and humiliated her.
This is a scene of tension and violence which Edgar Degas, no particular lover of women if I recall correctly, called just Interior.
Mattress (Erotics in Technicolour); acrylic on mattress foam and rubber. Marta Minujin, born 1943; Argentine. Loaned to the International Pop exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Musuem, 2016.
Untitled, 1968-1983, oil on canvas. Lee Krasner, 1908-1984, American. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
The Healing Power of Music, mural of 2008 painted by Paris Stancell for the Philadelphia Mural Art program in the Fairmount section of the city.
The Joy of Life, 1905-1906; oil on canvas. Henri Matisse, 1864- 1959, French. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
Love sculpture, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Originally made in 1970 of Cor-Ten steel. Robert Indiana, born 1928, American.