There are many luxurious international exhibitions this season in the museum world. What are 27 of all the 35 works of Vermeer in the world, which the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum promises to show together. But smart conceptual expositions, which owe their power not so much to the displayed masterpieces as to the exploratory brilliance, are much less. The end of autumn – the beginning of winter, the Metropolitan Museum gave one of these rare projects. Curators Emily Brown and Elizabeth Cowling proposed to compare two phenomena in the history of fine art that have not yet been considered side by side: the tradition of still life-“trickery” (trompe l`oeil) and seemingly destroying everything classical cubism. Browser “Kommersant” Kira Dolinina talks about this most successful experiment.
The fact that the art of the image is directly related to illusion, deception and self-deception is its very nature. “Natural History” by Pliny the Elder contains an entertaining story about the ancient Greek artist Zeuxis, whose skill reached such heights that birds flocked to the grapes he painted and pecked at him, having been deceived. Thus, the historian describes the main goal of art – to depict the maximum semblance of reality. Such a view of the art of painting could only be afforded by an ancient person who did not paint himself. Because it quickly became clear that painting should not be “like reality”, it should be “better than reality” (more complex, more passionate, more edifying, more beautiful, more orderly). That is why, in the classical hierarchy of genres, the landscape is lower than the portrait, and the still life is lower than the landscape.
The art of the 17th century, the art of the Baroque, observed this hierarchy, but allowed itself to laugh at it. The best such joke was the flourishing of “tricks”, trompe l`oeil, which spread from Holland, programmatically abandoned still life attempts to appear as something more than the actual depiction of inanimate objects. The Dutch, pure geniuses of still life art, wrote their “quiet life” (stilleven) as a hymn to life with a constant understanding of its finiteness. The grapes will wither, the lemon will shrink, the candle will burn out, the bread and cheese will stale. Everything, of course, rejoice while you are alive.
On the one hand, the fake pictures are about the same thing – about the value of every moment and every little thing. We are all equal before God and time. There is existential humility both in the wrong side of the canvas, which has become the subject of the picture, and in the engraving painted on a pseudo-wooden porcelain plate: all this is the work of God’s hands, and “owls are not what they seem.” On the other hand, trickery is the purest example of mind play. The artist here takes the viewer as a co-author, plays with him, makes hints, makes him believe in the painted reality and immediately turns the trump card face up. shown by the best of the best: primarily by the work of Samuel van Hoogstraten and Cornelis Norbertus Gisbrechts. In the 18th century, trickery was much less favored; in the next century, the “art of appearing” became the craft skill of decorators, for whom making one material similar to another (more expensive, as a rule) was a professional prowess. An interesting excess here is the short fashion for trompe l`oeil in American art of the 1890s, in which the desire to deceive the viewer is wonderfully combined with self-irony, since American prosperity, which is growing by leaps and bounds, provides many examples of this. The work of Jefferson Chalfant (1890) looks like a perfect pre-avant-garde, who placed on one sheet a real stamp and her own, but drawn, and below he drew a “fragment of a newspaper”, in which the “reader” is asked to determine “which brand is which?”. Reality, copy and falsification of the circulation list – this is what the cubists will deal with.
The exhibition has three main characters: Picasso, Braque and Gris. Those cubists who started it all and who in a couple of years worked out the basic techniques of cubist still life, in which everything seems to be subject to the laws of the new time. The curators of the exhibition insist that this is not so: many of the techniques of trompe l`oeil art are used by the Cubists both directly and with open irony. The wrong side of life and profession, scraps of everyday life, pieces of text and wallpaper, the equation of a violin drawn and a violin glued to canvas, decomposition of a still life into terms, strengthening of shadows, craft skills (Brak came from a family of painters and actively used his ability to paint marble and wood with paint) – it all worked for the cubists. Step by step, chapter by chapter, on the example of more than a hundred works of art from two eras, the curators unfold the story of the transition from trompe l`oeil (deception of the eye) to trompe l`esprit (deception of the mind), which, in their idea, was the key goal cubism. An attentive viewer of this complex puzzle will be rewarded and will be able to honestly admit that “I myself am glad to be deceived.”