Modernism turns 100, mes demoiselles!


“You could argue that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is in fact a backwards-looking, unoriginal work of art, a recycling of the 19th century’s biggest cliches – “loose women” cavorting in exotic interiors.”

But this writer doesn’t.

“Try an experiment. Look directly at Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and speculate on its meaning. You can’t. You never get as far as deciding it is a painting of five women, let alone concluding that they’re prostitutes, or that it reflects male fears, or reach for any of the neat ways we customarily turn images into words. In order to interpret it, you must look away, or unfocus your eyes. Actually looking at the picture means moving constantly from one facet to another; it never lets you settle on one resolved perception.

Most of all, this is a painting about looking. Picasso looks back at you in the central figure, whose bold gaze out of huge asymmetrical eyes has the authority of a self-portrait. It’s interesting that we’re trained to see transvestite self-portraits in the art of Leonardo or Marcel Duchamp, but it doesn’t often occur to us to understand this painting in that way, misled as we are by the caricatures of Picasso as a patriarchal voyeur. What he painted in 1907 is a work of art that looks back at you with furious contempt.”

Read it all, in the Guardian of course, here.

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