Yesterday I talked to high school art students during their tour at the Chazen Museum of Art where I am a docent, about humor in contemporary art. The example I used was “Laureate Standing” by Leonard Baskin. It’s a cherrywood statue of a naked man wearing a crown of laurel. His arms are crossed over his belly and he looks very proud of himself.  But he is much too fat to look down to view his nakedness. I find that sculpture wildly humorous, the irony of his self-importance versus his nudity…or is it his vulnerability?  

I also showed the students a painting of Lucrecia by a student of Leonardo de Vinci.  I  used those lovely Italian words sfumato and controposto in describing the painting and shared her heartbreaking story of rape and subsequent suicide.  The dramatic painting shows her from the waist up, twisting in an S-curve, breasts bare, knife point about to pierce her skin.  To my amazement, in this breast obsessed world, they stood back as though they were avoiding a bad smell.  I realized later that I had not prepared them for this work, and that just because teens may think about sex, they don’t necessarily want to be confronted with it in the presence of their classmates.  I gave them more credit for being art students and less for being just kids.

The photo is from Olympia, Greece.  The ruins in Greece are, well, ruins.  Rubble, my husband says, but still beautiful as well as evocative of a glorious past.

In Ruins

The cat was Greek; I called him Olio.

He wrapped himself around a chunk of stone,

a column, twenty-five hundred years old,

torn off at the base, a silent tooth; broke.

The secrets of the ancients are in the temples,

those ruinous patches of rubble;

in stadiums, rising arcs of marble;

and theaters where loud echoes rumble.

They built to celebrate their victories

but now the statues have been pried free

by enemies un-imagined by the Greeks:

Men intent on filling their museums.

Will someone prize Trump Tower’s pediment,

justified by words of entitlement?


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