Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine:
Henry Darger’s little girls, Gustave Courbet’s genital close-up, even Picasso’s explicit depiction of fellatio: You might think we had passed the point where a major painting by a first-tier artist is still taboo. Nonetheless, The Guitar Lesson, from 1934, by (the bogusly named) Count Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, better known as Balthus, is just such a forbidden work. At its 1934 debut in Paris, it was shown for fifteen days, covered, in the gallery’s back room. In 1977, it appeared for a month at Pierre Matisse’s 57th Street gallery. It has never been exhibited again, as if it were some metaphysical equivalent of the cursed videotape in The Ring that kills anyone who views it.
In his review of that 1977 show in New York Magazine, Thomas Hess lamented that it “can’t be illustrated in the pages of New York.” (Well, times change.) Alas, you also won’t see it in the scintillating “Balthus: Cats and Girls,” opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week. The exhibition’s organizer, Sabine Rewald, is by far the greatest Balthus scholar ever, and her show’s theme and focus may justify its exclusion. So it remains frustratingly, heartbreakingly hidden from view.