Untitled, c. 1999–2000
4 x 4 inches (10.2 x 10.2 cm)
What better place to start than with the power house gallery of NYC: Gagosian. This gallery got its start in the 80’s and quickly became the king of capitalist marketing in its SOHO- then its Chelsea- gallery. Recently, Gagosian opened a new gallery on 976 Madison Avenue which is now the third Gagosian building in NYC. The opening show? Balthus, timed neatly with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balthus show entitled “Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations” which is open from September 25, 2013–January 12, 2014. Gagosian’s “Balthus: The Last Studies” takes a completely different look into the work of Balthus, focusing on his preparatory photographic work rather than the controversial content of his paintings. This show is almost over, however, it has been extended until saturday, January 18th. So, if you’re making the trek to Madison Ave in the next week or two, be sure to check it out!
Balthus is short for the less memorable name Balthasar Klossowski de Rola. He was born in 1908 in Paris and is considered a classical modern artist who was inspired by pre-Renaissance ideals and painting and who, despite this seeming conservatism, rejected the ideas and conventions of the art world. He refused to let his work be written about by galleries as he claimed that artwork needed no descriptions and no written legacy; they needed only to be described visually.
Of course, aside from his rebellion and his traditionalism, there is the great debate; was Balthus a mere pederast, fascinated by young, pre-pubescent girls, or was he, was his art, something more than that? It has been suggested that Balthus was a mystic, tragically misunderstood and often rejected. In the New Republic article reviewing the Met’s Balthus show Jed Perl calls Balthus a mystic; and from this we can say simply that this charged artist is being defended by symbolism. Many historians and journalists and critics have taken this view; that Balthus was not fascinated with the naked (or almost naked) bodies of young girls but that he was instead fascinated with what they represented to him and the world (for further information on Jed Perl’s views see his article at http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115658/balthus-cats-and-girls-met-review).
What Gagosian presents is a view of Balthus as a working, thinking artist who, in his last decade of life (1990-2001) began using a polaroid camera to capture his preparatory moments, as his aging hands were no longer suited to making his previous elaborate compositional drawings. The show features stark white walls with tinny little polaroids, framed in a beautifully minimalist way. This stark atmosphere of the contemporary gallery would contrast sharply with Balthus’s paintings, yet his polaroids feel well suited to this alien white space. They show that in his old age, Balthus was willing to experiment and change mediums. This show is facinating if only for the fact that it provides a direct access, via photography, to an otherwise extremely elusive mind.
Over all, yes, you should go see Gagosian’s “Balthus: The Last Studies” but only if you know of, and preferably have seen, the Met’s “Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations.” They are undoubtedly sister shows, and display that the gap between museum and gallery is closing fast.