In the first decade of the twentieth century, Claude Monet’s world began to go dark. The impressionist painter had experienced problems with his eyesight before: as early as 1867, a young Monet found that his penchant for painting outdoors, in full sun, strained his eyes to the point where he worried he would go blind. Now, some forty years later, he was developing cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens that can cause blurring and color distortion.
"Objet trouvé par Leonor Fini. Couverture d’un livre ayant séjourné dans la mer.” Like all object labels, this label tells a story. The first sentence is true. The second, a seductive fiction.
The artist Leonor Fini did find this object, but not on a beach. Though seemingly encrusted with mud and marine matter, it has never spent time in a sea. Instead, it is a German-language novelty item created by Carl Maria Seyppel circa 1890, entitled Christoph Columbus Logbuch. An antique discarded object by the time it came into Fini’s hands, Seyppel originally had made the book to look as if it were water-damaged. Though the caption encourages us to imagine Fini having the tides deposit it at her feet, the real moment of encounter would have been far more quotidian: Fini came across it as at a flea market or bookstore.
There’s a recent feminist slogan that, no matter how staunch my feminist allegiance, always troubles me. You’ve no doubt seen it in one form or another: the ubiquitous “This is what a feminist looks like” emblazoned on posters, memes, and fashion apparel such as t-shirts, onesies, and, heaven help us, even aprons! I believe I understand the laudable intention underlying this message: to demonstrate visually that feminists come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, classes, genders, and orientations, and to help reclaim and destigmatize the term feminist after decades of conservative backlash. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the many unsettling questions the slogan raises for me:
Why the emphasis on image and appearance? What does it matter what a feminist looks like? Isn’t it a person’s actions that makes them a feminist? Wouldn't a better slogan communicate what a feminist believes in and stands for, the changes a feminist demands and is prepared to agitate for? And why the stress on the singular feminist? What about feminists as a collective?
What do images have to do with the law? A lot, as it turns out. To make sense of an image requires the viewer to imagine a form of life. To imagine a form of life is to imagine a form of law. So law owes its existence to images; they clothe its abstract existence in sensible form.
Rain in Lisbon often made me think of notation, of glyphs and dashes inscribing a page |/. I know this sounds too romantic, too neat, particularly for a rain that would often fall in unruly sheets, dislodging cobbles, stripping trees, and running thick with dirt and debris. There was something in the geometry of its fall, however, oblique strokes driven by Atlantic winds that would swing in an arc of directions, backlit by the amber lamplight. Each long strip of water was visible, and, in the labored rate of its fall, traceable.
Situated off the River Calder in West Yorkshire, the Hepworth Wakefield is a bright, airy gallery with ceiling to floor windows that draw in views of the waterfront and gardens outside; these demand to be taken in alongside the artwork within.
Although Mina Loy consorted with nearly every historical avant-garde movement, she was contained by none and is rarely mentioned in their histories. She’s not alone in this regard. Canonical histories and theories of the avant-garde typically marginalize the work of women, people of color, queer, and disabled artists. Despite significant efforts to articulate the importance of gender, sexuality, and race to the avant-garde, scholars have yet to offer a comprehensive theory of the avant-garde that accounts for the experiences of marginalized artists who were often ambivalent about claiming affiliation with white, male-dominated movements.
This article is part of a special series on the Visualities blog exploring digital archives connected to modernism’s visual cultures. Over the next few months, contributors to the forum will introduce and model the uses of online resources spanning art, film, media, book history, print cultures, and more.
For their final writing assignment in a course on contemporary art, my students were required to analyze a single artwork from the last sixty or so years. The point was to encourage them to apply the theories of visuality that we’d studied throughout the quarter, and the assignment had one nonnegotiable stipulation: the artwork must be accessible somewhere in Chicago, where our class was held.
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Glass tears do not leave a trace. In Man Ray’s photograph, Les Larmes de Verre (Glass Tears) (1932), they rest on the model’s cheekbones—hard, cold drops, threatening to fall (fig. 1). The tears are too smooth, too round, too still. If the tears were to slide off her face, they would scatter like tiny marbles across the studio floor.