Karl Marx at the Venice Biennale

384519613_1777641445Donald Kuspit at Brooklyn Rail:

The sale in March of Paul Gauguin’s “When Will You Marry?” (1892) to an anonymous buyer for $300 million—the highest price ever paid for a work of art, according to The Economist (April 4, 2015)—brings to mind two of Gauguin’s remarks, both relevant to any discussion of so-called protest art. Gauguin was a protest artist: his “ancient Eve,” as he called his Maori female, was a sort of protest against “the Eve of your civilized conception,” as he wrote in a letter to August Strindberg. She made “misogynists of you and almost all of us”; the ancient Eve, who inhabited a “paradise,” brought a “smile” to a man’s face. Gauguin’s primitivism, as it has come to be called, more pointedly what he called “the barbarism which is for me a rejuvenation,” was a radical protest against, not to say a total rejection of, the “civilization from which you [Strindberg] suffer.”

Ever since so-called “advanced” art—Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstract Art—has been a species of protest against supposedly retardataire civilized art. It is a clash of opposites, indeed, a fight to the death: Gauguin preferred beauty that “results from instinct” (e.g., Breton’s “convulsive beauty”) to beauty that “come[s] from study” of tradition (e.g., Renaissance beauty, grounded in the study of classical art). Thus Gauguin’s preference for “the wooden hobby-horse of his infancy” to “the horses of the Parthenon” was in effect a nihilistic protest and revolt against the classical tradition—and with it against the ruling powers and establishment ideologies it served and celebrated.

more here.