Images As Role Models

Lippifaces In 431 the church declared the Holy Virgin the Mother of God, thus sanctioning the cult of Mary. Her popularity became staggering. In France alone more than a hundred churches and eighty cathedrals were raised in the name of Notre Dame, Our Lady, including the cathedrals of Paris, Chartres, Reims, and Amiens.

To counter the massive illiteracy of the Dark Ages, in the 6th century Pope Gregory the Great overruled the commandment forbidding the making of idols, declaring that "Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read." To fill churches, cathedrals, and private chapels, hundreds of sculptures, frescoes, and paintings were commissioned of the Madonna and child. Many of these images are remarkably beautiful, typically showing us a serene young mother holding her clear-eyed young son. Images of Mary and her son became so widespread that when people had spiritual visions in this period, they most often saw the Virgin Mary.

Images of the Virgin Mother presented the church's two desired states for fertile women: either chaste virgins or married women bearing children. Celibacy was much championed in the Middle Ages. The church encouraged young women to remain permanently chaste by becoming a nun. The cult of courtly love that arose in France praised young women who remained unattainable, who steadfastly resisted the pleas of their wooers.

Unmarried women who failed to remain virginal until married were regarded as loose, immoral, and even sexually aggressive. Men supposedly feared that such seductresses would tempt them like the Biblical Salome, but many were fascinated by the ancient femme fatale archetype.

2122980171_31e4c30dc5 Hard and fast categories like virgin, mother, or immoral seductress are of little use to most contemporary women, and in modern culture images abound of women in multiple and varied roles. We see images of women as doctors, lawyers, writers, mothers, athletes, business owners, models, police officers, fire fighters, and fighter pilots.

One striking advertising image shows Danica Patrick's face split into the roles of race car driver and glamorous woman. In one case a helmet completely masks her identity--she seems a mysterious black knight. In the other case hairstyle and makeup create another kind of mask--she seems an unstoppable seductress. Neither image is false, but neither represents ordinary reality. Both are stylized, artful portrayals of a woman who has been successful as both a race car driver and model. Contemporary women can choose to play multiple and varied roles, and most no longer rely on patriarchal authorities in choosing which roles to pursue. For an individual woman, balancing the multiple roles that interest her can sometimes become one of the challenges of modern life.

[Detail of Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, photo by Virginia Postrel. Photo of Danica Patrick billboard courtesy of Luis Rodriguez Gonzalez (Spain), whose Flickr sets are here.]

How To Make A Ferrari Look Even More Glamorous

FF09_r126_01 FF09_r103_01

These two beauties are up for auction at RM Auctions' annual Ferrari: Leggenda e Passione auction, to be held May 17. On the left, we have the 1964 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso Competizione and on the right the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa (Pontoon Fender). Bellissime!

But as gorgeous as those studio portraits are, they aren't as glamorous as these two other shots, also from the auction's online catalog. The promise of a sleek automobile is not, after all, simply to look beautiful, but to take you somewhere. As Ferrari collector Ralph Lauren puts it, a car represents "an escape, or an entry into wonderful worlds." Escape requires a road, preferably one that looks like it goes somewhere exciting.


 FF09_r130_01Left: 1959 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder. Right: 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB/6C Competizione Berlinetta on the right.

One proof that California hasn't completely lost its glamour: Ferrari used that storied name for the new grand-touring convertible it introduced last year. This Michael Mann video illustrates where it might take you.

Watch a video of Ralph Lauren's Ferrari collection here. Here's a beautiful book on his car collection, which was featured in a 2005 exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Art.

[Photos: 1964 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso Competizione, Michael Zumbrunn; 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa (Pontoon Fender), Darin Schnabel; 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB/6C Competizione Berlinetta, RM Auctions; 1959 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder (LWB),  Darin Schnabel. All courtesy of RM Auctions, used with permission, and not for reproduction.]

This Time With Feeling! Belgians Bop

If only everyday life was more like musical comedy! The Antwerp train station was the scene for a seemingly impromptu song and dance number. (Actually, a Dutch TV series is searching for the next Maria to star in The Sound of Music, but it's still festive and fun, and even a little touching.)

Here in LA, Union Station would be the perfect setting for You're the One That I Want from Grease.

Interior Design And The Lust For Licensing

This Reason.TV video pokes some serious fun at state laws requiring interior designers to be licensed in order to work or, more often, in order to call themselves "interior designers" rather than decorators. The attempt to justify such laws as consumer protections is lame. The video sums up the obvious motive behind them in a pithy quote: "You make more money if you have less competition." Ah...the glamour of restraint of trade.

Over the past decade or so of observing designers of all sorts, however, I've come to believe that there's more to the lust for licensing than pure economics. Designers crave respect--note the video's derisive references to throw pillows, even as it makes the case that good interior design requires talent and experience--and many imagine that a license will buy it for them: Hey, I'm a professional! Even if it doesn't, more money makes a nice consolation prize.

Hungary, Dali, And Bringing Back The Glamorous Mustache

2622909893_507e475249 In recent years, the mighty mustache, hero of the upper lip, has found itself more closely aligned with comical cops than with the esteemed mustachioed men of history. A symbol of both man’s virility (it takes some testosterone to grow all that hair) and attention to appearance, the mustache has been a matter for debate for thousands of years.

It's said (on quasi-reliable websites, at least) that in ancient Egypt, Pharaoh Teqikencola so disliked the concept that he forbade anyone under his rule from growing a mustache. Today, discussion is a little less dramatic and a lot more open but even among those who find mustaches sexy, they’re a little bit of a joke.

All mocking aside, mustaches have a rightful place in cultural and artistic history. In addition Salvador_dali_nywts to the many thousands of stiff portraits that have been painted of gruff, mustachioed military men, the mustache has been a form of expression for artists themselves, from Rembrandt to Mark Twain to, maybe most famously, Salvador Dali. For Dali, whose mustache inspired its own book (the aptly named, Dali's Mustache), facial hair was one part branding tool and one part functional – he used it to paint. Genius or kind of gross? I can’t decide.

In today’s less mustache-centric society, at least one group is celebrating all things facial hair. Extremely Hungary, a year-long festival of Hungarian arts based in New York and Washington, D.C., is sponsoring “The Most Fabulous Mustache Growing Contest Ever.” Contestants must start clean-shaven (before photos are key) and beards are strictly forbidden. Sideburns and the use of mustache “product” are, however, allowed. The owner of the “most fabulous” mustache wins a roundtrip for two to Budapest. If you’re interested in entering, start growing. The deadline is in less than two weeks – April 13th.

Yes, it’s still a little bit of a joke. But the reverence for Hungarian history, in all its mustachioed glory, is very real. And who knows: the contest could very well turn up Salvador’s rightful heir to the glamorous mustache throne.

[Cowboy mustache by Flickr user a4gpa under Creative Commons license.]

Glamour Vs. Art? And At An Andy Warhol Exhibit!

I was amused to read that Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent's partner and keeper of his legacy, had withdrawn YSL's portrait from a Paris exhibit of Andy Warhol portraits, on the grounds that mixing the designer with others from the world of "glamour" was disrespectful to Saint Laurent as an artiste. Bergé's letter of explanation, published in Le Monde, opened with a quote from Warhol himself, proclaiming YSL "le plus grand artiste français de notre temps."

Even leaving aside the very important and limiting qualifier français, what would Andy Warhol mean by proclaiming someone a "the greatest artist"? After all, Warhol famously wrote:

Business art is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist. After I did the thing called “art” or whatever it’s called, I went into business art. I wanted to be an Art Businessman or a Business Artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business—they’d say, “Money is bad,” and “Working is bad,” but making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.

Bergé's reaction was very French and not very Warholian.

“All things considered this was not an affair about painting but about people," said the exhibit's curator in response. "It’s a decision I regret enormously, because the portraits are those where Warhol’s empathy for the subject is of the highest degree.” 

Once the show opened, people pretty much forgot about Saint Laurent.  In an interesting review that doesn't mention the missing portraits (except in their appearance in a poorly reviewed exhibit 30 years ago), the FT's Jackie Wullschlager writes:

The sweeping style with which some 100 paintings are displayed, across vast galleries linked by a belle-époque staircase, would surely have made Warhol delirious with snobbish glee. His best works – “Red Jackie”, “Silver Liz”, laconic 1963-64 self-portraits in dark glasses, interleaved with paintings of a glittery dollar sign and an electric chair – have never looked more seductive or more classical. Warhol, New York soup can prince of conceptualism, becomes in Paris an opulent society portraitist in the tradition of John Singer Sargent or Kees van Dongen: master of colour, texture, clarity, precision, ravishing yet chilly, flattering even as he anatomises triviality and brittleness...

Frivolous in appearance but deadly serious in intent, his mechanical repetitions put painting in its place, within a continuum of the 1960s media of mass production – particularly photography – only to exalt it again by the conviction and beauty of his painterly surfaces. This is an utterly enjoyable show which illuminates the artist’s lifelong concerns, methods and his discomforting, prophetic take on an epoch that continues to shape our own.

This online article, which features some shots from the show (including one of the missing YSL portraits), explains some of the groupings:

Hollywood stars (Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Sylvester Stallone, BB, etc), pop stars (Mick Jagger, Deborah Harry, etc.), artists (Man Ray, David Hockney, Joseph Beuys, Keith Haring, etc.), collectors and art dealers (Dominique de Menil, Bruno Bischofberger, Ileana Sonnabend, Leo Castelli), politicians (Willy Brandt, Edward Kennedy, etc.), fashion designers (Yves Saint Laurent, Sonia Rykiel, Hélène Rochas, etc.) as well as businessmen and jet-setters (Gianni Agnelli, Lee Radziwell, Princess Grace of Monaco, Günter Sachs, etc.). Famous or less famous, they all glow with the aura of Warhol’s genius. The entire global social scene… in paint!

Like designers, singers are commercial artists. But you don't see Mick Jagger and Deborah Harry pitching fits about not being adequately respected. Of course, they aren't French.