Thursday, July 19, 2007

Schlock Value

The "Vado Retro'' art exhibition in Milan, which was intended to celebrate homosexuality in art, has been shut down due to complaints about a blasphemous sculpture of the Pope in drag entitled 'Miss Kitty' (shown at left). The exhibition at the Palazzo della Ragione was modified several times, including removing the offending drag pope, but the mayor Letizia Moratti ultimately wanted 14 pieces removed, and the show was cancelled, proving yet again that it's impossible to negotiate with authoritarians.

Of course people who try to stifle art are tragic buffoons- whether they're upset about doodles of Muhammad or Plexiglas Popes in panties- and Letizia Moratti deserves whatever ridicule he receives. But there's also something tragic about the sculpture to me: I've seen a number of pictures of it, and as far as I can tell, it's masterfully executed, and so you have to wonder how many hours the artist, Paolo Schmidlin, spent to create the artistic equivalent of a fart joke. On the scale of wit, priests in drag is somewhere beneath talking babies, but above dogs in people clothes; it's just sort of dumb. And yes, I get that the Pope is a homophobe who dresses like a drag queen- the fact that Robin Williams did a routine about that conceit back in the 80s should give you some idea of how comically sophisticated it is. How long before somebody decides it's awfully clever to exhibit one of those singing rubber bass toys in a gallery?


Holly said...

I think it's a mistake to write off this figure as an attempt at wit. It strikes me as a direct effort to humiliate and harm the pope, an indictment, but I'm not convinced it's "about" that. Sure, it might be considered a joke but, in fact, making an effort to humiliate someone isn't funny, and is always backed by some kind of agenda. And, as you say, that joke's already played out, there is no reason to go again.

My guess is, the artist's desire to harm the Pope (and therefore the establishment that he fronts) goes beyond homophobia and cross dressing. This is a sexualized representation of a person who is supposedly beyond sexual concerns. It's an exposure of a person who supposedly has nothing to hide. Even considering that we're seeing the earthly hand of God in his drawers, maybe thinking about pleasuring himself (suggested by that hand) he doesn't look abashed. In fact, he's looking at the viewer.

It's confrontation of the viewer that this piece revolves around. Notice the weirdly engaged eye contact of the piece. This is not the blank stare of a bronze portrait bust, or even of the most skillfully painted picture. The scale appears to be life size, which is another clue about the intention having to do with direct confrontation of the viewer.

My best guess is, the artist is saying that the Pope gets off on YOUR discomfort, personally. There are a million weird implications in that idea, and I could easily be WAY off. But that's my guess.

Rufus said...

I see what you're saying. It is definitely more confrontational than wacky. It's creepy even.

I think it's just hard for me to take cruel representations of public figures seriously. For some time, every other punk rock band put a picture of Ronald Reagan in some compromising pose on their album cover. Then there was the year in which I kept seeing ugly versions of Benito Guiliani in art exhibits. And now there are quite a few representations of Bush in art. I'm not offended by them or anything, but they remind me of caricature. I also don't think they age very well.

Holly said...

Even if the artist truly believes this "version" of the Pope to be "true" I find it highly unlikely that he is personally acquainted with the Pope, to be in a position to actually know these things--in which case it's speculative. Speculative art isn't a thing; it doesn't make sense. And, you are correct, this sort of thing doesn't age well, except if we're talking about Honoré Daumier...

Rufus said...

It's interesting that artistic representations of events age well- not only Guernica, but the raft of the Medusa, and several other examples can be cited- and can be even more devastating than caricature.

A devastating caricature of its time was Charles Philipon's portrait of Louis-Philippe as a pear:
It was so popular at the time that the regime outlawed drawings of pears!

But, again, it makes little sense today.

Holly said...

That one pear drawing rated an entire lecture in an art history survey course I took, which is remarkable in itself. Sadly, I believe most of the students hadn't the slightest clue what the instructor was on about. I guess it's hard for people to see sometimes that the significance of a thing can go beyond the paycheck. Art is pretty queer, after all.

Holly said...

Whoops, hit send too soon. I gathered that Daumier's Gargantua was almost as big of a deal, although outlawing pictures of pears was probably easier than outlawing unflattering pictures of leadership.

See it here.