Friday, July 31, 2009


the line that runs from manet's "first modernist painting"(1867) through dubuffet's painting(1950)to twombly's(1957)isn't simply the name olympia but a fault line whose slipping & sliding maps out a kind of movement in 20th century art. manet's formalist concerns while subverting conventional content is all about the direction modernism took beginning in the late 19th century. the body is simply regarded as a piece in a visual puzzle, truncated in opposition to classical elongated nudes. dubuffet's art brut flattening of the body(like road kill)signals an impulse towards the ordinary, what you might find in the lowly gutter, which twombly takes to the obscene site of graffiti, the outline of a body emerging from beneath scribble.

the initial painting in all it's notoriety is a triumph of formalism, the impulse to fill the frame structurally in a certain way. as zola remarked:

"for you a painting is a simple pretext for analysis. it requires a nude & you have chosen olympia, the first comer; it requires dark spots & you have put a negress & a cat in one corner."

the binary opposition(form/content)that manet upset in 1867 begins to unravel by the time dubuffet flattens things out in a formal challenge to another binary(ground/figure). by the time twombly mostly erases the figure to replace it w/doodles & graffiti, the move to challenge binaries in nearly complete. if the chafing under the pressure of the binaries was present(though not primary) back in 1867, what does its presence there effect in our viewing of it now? in other words, by twombly declaring the logic of the binary null & void in his olympia, isn't he also signaling its nullity retrospectively? or at least pressuring the fissure enough to unsettle our base assumptions about olympia in her many manifestations?

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