Soup Cans and Sacre Coeur

Hello readers! Yet again our schedule has paired a stay at a museum of modern art with a tour of a Catholic church, which has again resulted in an interesting day for the Art 290 students. 

The Museum of Modern Art 

Before I started writing this post, I looked to my classmates for suggestions for a catchy title, to which one of my peers replied "How about 'Wahrol Shmorhol, JK he was Pretty Cool'?" While this particular suggestion did not secure the title spot, I do believe that there is something to be said for it. Many people have written off Andy Warhol as a subpar artist because he was not original, but when his work is examined more closely the message it conveys really is pretty cool. Our class spent a decent amount of time wandering through rooms upon rooms of Warhol's art, and at the end of the day we were left ponder just what it means to be an artist.

Andy Warhol

I do not pretend to be an expert on Andy Warhol. I was largely unfamiliar with his work when I first entered the exhibit dedicated to him, but nevertheless I dutifully strode through hallways full of Capbell's Soup posters and cow-themed wallpaper, stopping periodically to read the captions associated with each piece. I appreciated the visual prettiness of his work, but was not able to understand its utility until I sat down to interview my professor about it later on. The following passage is a mixture of what I learned from my interview with him and my own observations from the museum. 

The bright colors and striking level of dark and light contrast with which Warhol worked were beautiful, but he was not solely concerned with their aesthetic function. Much like the Renaissance artists that the Medici's employed, Warhol's artwork gives modern viewers insight into what the world was like when he was an active artist in the 1960s. His imitations of Brillo boxes and soup cans may seem mundane, but they are actually a commentary about the ubiquity of commodification in his day. He later extended this message beyond inanimate commercial items to include multicolor portraits of Jackie Kenndey in his collection. Warhol noticed that the media turned the First Lady into a fashion icon who was never free from the scrutiny. After her husband's assassination, Mrs. Kennedy's grieving face was splashed across magazine covers and news reels, which Warhol believed transformed the woman into a commodity not unlike Campbell's soup cans. It was this that inspired the artist to create a series of Jackies, some smiling and some grief-stricken, in order to make his viewers reexamine the way in which they consume information relayed by the media. 

Furthermore, Warhol was greatly influenced by Marcel DuChamp, the artist who infamously placed a urinal in the middle of a museum and demanded it be considered and valued as art. Andy Warhol took decidedly unoriginal images and turned them into what many consider to be works of great importance. In fact, during an interview he famously asked "Why should I be original? Why can't I be non-original?" In so doing, Warhol demanded introspection from the art world and changed the definition of what it means to be be an artist. To him, ideas far outweighed the importance of originality. 

Warhol's endeavors in the visual arts marked the beginning of the pop art craze that swept across America, but his talent was not limited to silkscreened images; the man was enthralled by music and filmmaking as well. The Velvet Underground owes a great deal of its success to Warhol, who produced their debut album in 1966 and was one of the band's most prominent supporters. The museum devoted a sizable portion of the Warhol exhibit to his foray into the world of music, but as I cannot read French (the language in which many of the explanatory brochures are written in) and didn't spend a lengthy amount of time in these rooms, I don't have much more to say about the subject. If you are interested in learning more about the Velvet Underground, you can find a link to a more informative website.

As for filmmaking, Warhol's passion for the practice may have even exceeded his passion for silkscreen art. On one occasion, after the Flowers collection debuted, the artist announced that he would retire from painting to channel all of his energy into film. This retirement was short-lived, but nevertheless Warhol remained deeply fascinated by the world of moving pictures. Several of his movies featured models doing nothing in particular, lasting only a few minutes. Others had more risqué messages, but rarely (at least among the inventory displayed at the museum) do any of his films contain dialogue. This forces the viewer to simply observe Warhol's subject and nothing more. As you can imagine, this intense act of watching provokes a considerable amount of self examination, which was Warhol's aim with his more stationary pieces as well. 

The Permanent Collection 

The museum's permanent collection primarily featured modern art from the early 1900s, '20s, and '30s, and among the artists responsible for these pieces were memorable names like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. These two men were actually active at the same time, though Matisse was much older than his cubist peer. Today, we hold these two in high regard, but their contemporaries were not nearly as taken with their work. For example, the fauvism movement in which Matisse took part was ridiculed by the upper echelon of the art world. The word fauve literally translates to "wild beast," as many believed the vivid colors and visible brushstrokes common to this style proved the artists to be unskilled, beast-like painters. It took time for these artists to be accepted, but we know that in the end their work was given the appreciation it deserves. I'm sure the fathers of fauvism would be amused to hear that a label that was once thrown at them with contempt has now become synonymous with great art. 

Even the impressionists, whose work was relatively inoffensive, were given their name by way of insult. The terms impressionist and impressionism originated from a sarcastic remark one unsatisfied art critic made about Monet's, Impression Sunrise. Obviously, snide comments did not deter Monet and others like him, but it is interesting to note that even some of the most successful and renowned painters in history could not please everyone. 

Sacre Coeur

The Sacre Coeur or "Sacred Heart" Basilica is, ironically, a deceiving building. Upon first glance it may appear to be a Renaissance church, but its construction began in the year 1875! Plans for the glorious structure were already underway 1870, until France endured a brutal defeat at the hands of the Prussians. In 1873, the achitects were given approval to build the basilica, but it now stood as a monument to pertinence and even shame at the recent military loss as opposed to glory and pride. You can learn more about the history of Sacre Coeur.

Both the interior and exterior of the basilica differ from that of the other churches we have seen on this trip. It is designed in the Romano-Byzantine style, much like that of the Haiga Sofia in Constantinople, and the vast majority of the decor within was added in the 1920s, though it is designed to look older than it is. The Sacre Coeur is certainly a fascinating building that manages to set itself apart from Paris's many architectural marvels. 

Our class very much enjoyed walking through the halls of the basilica, but by far the church's most impressive features are the views it boasts. You might think that we would grow tired of hiking to the roofs of domes to look at European cities, but the sheer beauty that lies at the top makes all the stair climbing worth it. It's truly a magnificent sight. 

We certainly ended the day with a lot to think about, and I now know three things to be true. First, Andy Warhol and was indeed "pretty cool." Second, we can all learn from Matisse, Monet, and other artists who followed their dreams in spite of a hoard of critics, and finally, that sometimes you need to push through a few menacing flights of stairs in order to see something beautiful.

That's all for today, thank you for reading! 

Your Friendly J Term Blogger,

Kate Koch 

View of Paris from Sacre Coeur
View of Paris
The Disquieting Muses
Sacre Coeur Montmartre
Still Life --an example of how modern art can encompass a wide variety of styles.
Rythme no. 1 - Robert Delaunay. Very different from the Still Life and the work of impressionist painters, but still an example of modernism.