Great Art Made by Imperfect, Flawed Men

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It is a rare exception for the front page of the New York Times to feature an article dealing with the art world. If I remember correctly, the last time this happened was when an astonishing amount of money – close to a half billion dollars – was paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s overly restored Salvator Mundi painting (the authenticity of which is questioned by a number of experts).

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Installation shot of Chuck Close: Face Forward, Federick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University. 2015. Photo by Edward Goldman.

On Monday, at the top of the New York Times front page, there was an article with the subheadline, “Chuck Close Sidelined, Is Picasso Next?”. The article was prompted by the decision of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to “indefinitely postpone a Chuck Close exhibition because of allegations of sexual harassment involving potential portrait models”. Mr. Close, for his part, has denied these allegations.

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L: Self-Portrait III, 2009. Chuck Close. Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. R: Kara, 2010. Chuck Close. Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Photos by Edward Goldman.

This postponement news raises difficult questions for such museums as The Met in New York, Tate Modern in London, and Centre Pompidou in Paris, just to name a few major institutions that proudly display Chuck Close portraits from their permanent collections. Should the work of Chuck Close and other artists accused of questionable conduct be “revisited or recontextualized,” or even removed?

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Minotaur Caressing the Hand of a Sleeping Woman with His Muzzle, 1933. Picasso. Photo by Edward Goldman.

If you know a thing or two about the history of art, you can’t help but wonder why Gods and Muses, with their crooked sense of humor, often give inspiration to artists that are far from perfect human beings. Let’s talk about Picasso, one of the greatest artists of all time, whose work we admire in spite of the knowledge of the pain and tears he caused his wives, mistresses, and children.

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L: Woman on a Pillow, 1969. R: Reclining Nude, 1967. Installation shot from Picasso Museum, France. 2015. Photo by Edward Goldman.

It’s not by accident that his biography by Arianna Huffington is titled Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, and his 1994 exhibition at LACMA was titled, Picasso and the Weeping Women. Obviously, no museum curator in their right mind would remove Picasso’s work from their galleries – but, one would think it’s important to mention in the wall labels the controversy surrounding his personal behavior.

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David with the Head of Goliath, 1609-1610. Caravaggio. Ministero dei Beni e delle Attivita Culturali e del Turismo-Galleria Borghese. Image courtesy Getty Museum.

Curators and museums directors are largely in agreement that making exhibition decisions based on personal behavior is a slippery slope. Should the Getty Museum close its current Caravaggio exhibition because this famous Baroque painter was convicted as a killer?

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Installation shot, Taking Shape: Degas as Sculptor. Norton Simon Museum. 2017. Photo by Edward Goldman.

Or, must Norton Simon Museum remove from view all sculptures and paintings by Edgar Degas, the great French artist who, unfortunately, was known to be an anti-Semite? Indeed, the paradox of human imperfection combined with artistic genius is a difficult issue to wrap one’s mind around. But, consider for a second the irony of the fact that the color and aroma of beautiful roses depends not on honey, but on horse manure embedded in the soil…

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L: Generations, 1925. Ogawa Gesshu. Sakura-Do, Tokyo, Japan. Image courtesy Sakura-Do. R: Nuit de Noel, 1963. Malick Sidibé. L. Parker Stephenson Photographs. Copyright Malick Sidibé, Image courtesy L. Parker Stephenson Photographs.

Now, let me finish today’s Art Talk on a positive note. This weekend, another art fair, Classic Photographs Los Angeles, will take place at Bergamot Arts Center in Santa Monica. First of all, thank Gods, it’s not sprawling, but rather intimate in its scope. Its focus is on vintage, modern, and contemporary photography, with a roster of 30 well- known galleries. And, additional good news about this photo fair is the fact that admission is free.