Tag Archives: Goya

Goya and nft’s: tragedy and Farce (each in more ways than one)

Obligatory comment on the “nonfungible token” (NFT) craze;

Goya’s Graphic Imagination; at The Met, through May 2, 2021.

Everyone interested in any way in “contemporary art” must comment on the development and encroachment of NFTs — virtual-only stuff stored in cyberspace in that makes Photoshop-minded and delivered imagery seem archaic –into the elite art world.  In some ways, art collecting always been that way–i.e., about chancing a “find” that would accrue in cultural as well as financial value in some sort of tandem. There’s been admiration, in retrospect, for collectors and dealers who made and jumped waves, individually and as part of art world cabals, variously near- and far-sighted; in short, part of what reifies art, artists, and artistic directions in history. Almost too obvious to be said, media and materials as well as what may be, in many cases, mementos of a particular moment in historical time (aka artificial [human-made] things) evolve.   There is evidence that elite members of a number of very ancient peoples sponsored the creation of symbolic and/or documentary “tokens” (art; artifacts), perhaps musing far into the future. 

It has been a tenet of many art dealers working with living artists across at least two centuries: don’t buy art only as investment–barely such a thing as sure-fire in the early days; make sure you like it as art or you may ultimately be very disappointed in more ways than one. Somewhere c. 1990 (formulating gradually under Reaganomics) that changed and so now we’re here with the crypto-currency crowd buying up code.   Who is shocked?

There is only so far I want to go with this after so much more explicit blabber, better and worse; honestly, I am not that interested. The idea that novelty per se in any form seems to have a kind of instinctual appeal and titillation for many, itself provokes mild curiosity. Specifically, I do believe the recent rise of this one particular $million sale of an NFT by the artist Beeple this week marks a pending final death knell for a postwar art world that survived the first decades of the new millennium (for better and worse).   Late boomers (me) have remained tethered to a mixed sensual and psychic interaction with art by any means (i.e., art in person, wherever, however – even if its in a booth or isolated place on a screen yet presented as the surround of the art). Traipsing through the galleries and museums of NYC for all sorts of reasons and non-reason and in many different hats and contexts–that was a norm and a boon and a privilege in New York for the art-leaning (in myriad directions). Whatever the exclusionary, financial-and-other scandal-laden networks of elite New York art dealers and galleries for several centuries now, the fact remains that their respective office spaces (as it were) have been largely open to anyone to peruse art for free. For many of us art-loving plebes the galleries were en route every day or a frequent small detour, if not a full-blown scene. That “norm” has drastically changed now in more ways than one. Veritably all art and general interest journals and newspapers cover physical art through online interaction.  Covid-19 of course is tied up in the kind of synchronistic event that is the Beeple sale. Certainly the gallery sphere appears to be headed to a wholly virtual reorganization very quickly. Likewise, some museums, spurred by the pandemic to be sure, are nearly saturated, even in online presentations, with digital bells and whistles.  So this blog was started at the the tail end of that era and the crest of addiction to “art on Instagram” that everyone acquired in isolation. We’ll see what happens.

For the moment, I reacted to the hype with an antidote–the sensitive, Gothicizing works on paper of Goya at The Met.  Goya is a good go-to when the going gets bad. His often cryptic, sometimes oddly breezy iconography of fear and suffering, especially that humans directly provoke in each other, are visceral at intimate scale, close-up, IRL. I find myself taking, or looking for, “sides” with Goya–not so much politically drawn as emotional and spiritual, in terms of reactions to his miniature mis-en-scenes–here fluid ink-washed drawings are included with his signature scratchy etchings. Images from some of his most renowned series,such as the intricately brutal Disasters of War, still shock–thank goodness. Also included are a few studies of more mainstream period subjects to remind of the stature, training, and assorted patronage of the “enlightened” artist; but the disturbing ones remain most compelling and communicate a soul-searching creative, as well as a unique artistic hand.

Sleeper Print Show at ‘The Met’*

*aka The Metropolitan Museum of Art (google “new Met logo”):

“The Power of Prints: The Legacy of William M. Ivins and A. Hyatt Mayor”; through May 22.

Print shows per se are most often geared towards specialists/special interests within the niche.  This one, though, stands out as an engaging, star-studded chronological survey, from early modern image printing to the turn of the 20th century, through choice examples from the Met collection.  (Ivins and Mayor have been the leading curators in establishing the range and caliber of the Met’s cache.)

In one of my favorite exhibition spaces at the museum for its manageable scale and tripartite symmetry (second floor off the corridor to 19th c. European painting and sculpture), the central portion features a large-scale vitrine in which (mainly) early illustrated books, strategically propped open, are displayed.  Both  incunabula (early printed material, largely from Gutenberg-renowned German territory) and full-fledged Renaissance publications are well represented, collectively exemplifying progressive mis-en-page ingenuity and letterform and illustration diversity–mainly wood cuts for the images, some with hand flourishes.  Note, among the various then modern studies on classical arts and the natural science studies an early edition of Vesalius’s “anatomy,” and Durer’s “Four Measurements” treatise, in which his ubiquitous image of a draftsman peering through a gridded frame at a nude female subject first appeared.  Durer also stands out on the walls; it’s a forgotten treat to view his engravings closely–known ubiquitously through all manner of reproduction for centuries.  Big-name Italians, like Mantegna, will also be noted while perusing the abundant Renaissance array.

The flanking galleries give an orderly overview of 17th, 18th century, and  19th century developments.  Etching mastery is illuminated (literally) by the inclusion of several states of a Rembrandt Crucifixion.  Selections from Goya’s “Disasters of War” bring to mind (among many other things) the impact of the increasing distribution of images that facilitated print culture in the first place.  That concept, in an aesthetic vein, is at issue in the reproductive transformation of paintings into prints, sometimes done or directed by the painter but often by other art or publishing entrepreneurs, increasingly prevalent through the period covered.  Chemical experimentation is prominent in a washy, sepia-toned interior by Whistler and color works by Cassatt.  Daumier’s sketchy lithographs usher in the journalistic potential of that medium, while its artistic potential culminates in nouveau color posters by Toulouse-Lautrec and others here.  Overall: a feast of technique, form, and iconography, which also conveys the populus-conscious, metaphoric matrix of printmaking.