Gender and Art

So if a person were to count up the number of male versus female nudes depicted in museum-quality art, what percentage would you think are female? Aside from naked male statues, and the many depictions of a baby Jesus in all his unclothed glory, male genitalia really gets the short shrift in the art world. Could be because the overwhelmingly male population of painters has more interest in depicting breasts that penises, and who could blame them? Even female painters tend to stay away from them. Some statues were so upsetting to the men in charge that they had to be covered with fig leaves or codpieces or drapery. Pretty drastic.

Giant-Louise-Bourgeois-sp-010There’s one artist, the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who primarily did gigantic spiders and creepy things like that – but she also did a few penis sculptures that are really something to see. I’m not going to put a photo of one of those in this blog, although it is tempting. Instead, this is a giant spider called “Maman” that was shown all over the world and stands more than nine meters tall. Bourgeois also sculpted figures with multiple breasts (common in ancient sculpture as well), some that look like intestines wrapped outside the body, and lots of eyes peering from within solid structures.

So, what does it all mean? Damned if I know. It’s just messing with the students trying to do their assignments for my class, “Boobs and Dicks All Over the Place.” Turns out, you can spot plenty of boobs in NYC, but a good dick is hard to find.


Glamour, Anyone?

Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe 1967

One thing about Andy Warhol, the guy sure liked repetition. And bright colors. He was like an advertising executive without a specific product to sell. Or maybe he was just selling “Cool.”  How a Campbell’s soup can is cool, I don’t know, but Warhol’s art is instantly recognizable, so obviously he made an impact on the collective consciousness. But it was not painted, it was art created through the manipulation of color on photographs. Photoshop, anyone?

First Stabbing, Now Stealing

Klimt 1912 closeup

This lovely, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, was painted in 1912 by Gustav Klimt. I’m sure it was appreciated by the owners. It’s different from his usual gold-infused portraits, and for that reason it seems to have a whimsical feeling.

And then there were Nazis. This painting was one of thousands of pieces of art that were taken and enjoyed by German officers and their families, and then hidden when the war was coming to an end.

When I was a graduate student in the discipline of Art History, I became obsessed with these stolen paintings. To the extent that I ran around some Eastern European countries late at night, dressed in black, jumping on stranger’s motorcycles and at times, even carrying a gun. My dissertation was killer, because I found a stolen painting, restored it, and returned it to its rightful owner. Not all of the stories associated with the rescue of these paintings end so well. More about that in “Embracing the Fool.”

Anywho, a lot of legal fights have been held over who really owns this painting. All I think you need to know is that it was recently sold at auction by Oprah Winfrey to a Chinese collector for a ginormous amount of money. I sincerely hope he’s enjoying it. But more than that, I hope the rightful owners see the news and show up at his door to claim it as theirs.

Art is in the Details


Margaret Bourke-White, one of the most well-known photographers of the 20th century, spent her life documenting not just the construction of America’s most fantastic structures, but also some of the most significant events that occurred during that century. Whether you believe that photography is “art” or not, you have to admire the composition and clarity of her photographs, ranging from destitute farmers during the depression to peasant workers in Russia after World War II. She was there to witness the liberation of the concentration camps in Germany, and her photographs of the survivors are stunning in the humanity they bring to that horror. Her photographs for Life magazine enabled Ms. Bourke-White to travel the globe, with access to places few Americans had gone before. This photo of the Chrysler Building in New York is less well known than the one taken of the photographer herself, perched on the back of an eagle-shaped gargoyle, getting ready to shoot pictures. It’s inspiring, and exciting, and the legacy of a very productive life.

Art Stuff: Who Decides?

frida kahlo self-portrait with monkey 1940_0

So, who decides what is “pretty” and if that’s even relevant when looking at art? Most of the time, poor Frida Khalo painted to show her pain, if not through her exposed heart, then like this, with ribbon almost choking her and a literal monkey on her back. But all of her work was filled with lush color and imagery that captured the time and place in which she lived, and there are some who believe her work is “better” than her husband’s, Diego Rivera. Her yes command you: Look at me. Never mind the uni-brow and the mustache, the circles under my eyes. See me, and see my talent. See my gift, how I rise above and paint my life for you. Do you see it?

Ahead of His Time

head_largThis painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, untitled, was one of many heads that the artist painted during his short life. This one in particular jumped out at me because of the frenetic nature of the lines, the fearful look in the eyes, and the apparent gnashing of the teeth. I believe that’s how many people walk around since 2016, and I’m not sure how much longer we can keep it up. The planet itself seems ready to explode sometimes. Maybe I should stick with paintings of flowers and breakfast in bed from now on.