Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vollard Slideshow

I really enjoyed today's slideshow on the art collector Ambroise Vollard and the works by Picasso, Gaugin, and other heavy hitters of the modern period. The piece did all the things I would want such an article to do: showed me some paintings I wasn't familiar with, introduced me to different trends of scholarship and curating, asked pertinent questions about the exhibition, and gave me a sense of what makes Vollard both fascinating and a little vague around the edges. All written in a tone that is critical without being condescending.

The Derain painting was a revelation to me. In general, the work here is not just beautiful, it's visually striking. I can see them belonging to a man who liked to call attention to himself. The end of the article suggests they may have been a bit like a bullfighter's cape -- while we look there, Vollard was elsewhere.

The business, ego, and personality of collectors, the way they have shaped our tastes, are important issues. The honest critic will fess up, acknowledge that the way we view the world is an inheritance as much as a novelty. It makes the act of criticism more difficulty -- if my tastes are socially constructed, are they perhaps less distinctive (and thus less marketable)? It's also tough to write simultaneously as cultural historian and cultural critic, to recognize the importance of context and still maintain a distinct voice. Well done.

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