May 10, 2008

Could you wrestle the sensory input and intense emotions into the teaching moment about American slavery this is supposed to be?

I'm all for nude statues in museums, but check out this glamorous slave on display at the Brooklyn Museum:

Glamorous slave with Abe Lincoln

And see who's brooding in the shadows behind her?

Bust of Abraham Lincoln

It's Abe Lincoln. (As sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1922.) The lady is "The Greek Slave," sculpted by Hiram S. Powers, an American, in 1869.

The museum is clearly set up for the benefit of the many schoolchildren who pass through, and I don't know how teachers use this particular juxtaposition, but obviously they are supposed to do something here.

Here's what the museum's website says about the slave statue, which is absurdly out of touch with the slave experience:
Hiram Powers was part of a large community of expatriate American sculptors who lived in Italy in order to obtain the training, materials, and assistants necessary to create monumental Neoclassical sculpture in marble. This work, the last of six versions Powers made (the first version dates from 1841–47), represents the plight of Greek women who were enslaved during their war of independence with the Turks (1821–30). The image of a naked, manacled woman took on added significance in antebellum America, where it came to be associated with this nation's enslaved blacks. When it was exhibited, The Greek Slave attracted large audiences and elicited impassioned commentary from priests, critics, and others sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. For example, one reporter for an antislavery newspaper wrote: "As this elegant statue traverses the land, may many … be awakened to a sense of the enormity of slavery.… Waste not your sympathies on the senseless marble, but reserve some tears for the helpless humanity that lies quivering beneath the lash of American freemen!"
What would you say if you were herding school kids through an art museum and they rounded the corner to see this dramatically lit — dazzlingly white — beautiful naked woman? It would take a long time before the kids would perceive Abe. Could you wrestle the sensory input and intense emotions into the teaching moment about American slavery this is supposed to be?

IN THE COMMENTS: Lots of great stuff but I must highlight this from JohnAnnArbor:
Augustus Saint-Gaudens died in 1907. So what's up with the post-death statue?
Good question for the kids to ask the teacher. I mean, I was just reading the museum's own label:

DSC08399

If I were the teacher, winging it, I'd say:
Well, children, do you think a dead man could sculpt Lincoln? Did he need to die to find Lincoln in Heaven so he could get him to sit for a portrait? [Kids laugh.] Do you think the museum made a mistake on the label? Let's assume it's not a mistake. How could the numbers be right? [Get kids to notice that this is a bronze cast and that Saint-Gaudens probably worked in clay and someone else did the casting, and 1922 is probably the year the bronze was made.]

54 comments:

Paddy O. said...

Not just an Abe, a dark-skinned bronzed Abe.

The colors of American slavery are reversed.

My impression is that the Greek statue is a symbol of slavery as slavery, rather than as racial dominance. I think that's a big message, especially for the era. Slavery was justified as being a natural order of things, with blacks inherently a servile class to the advanced whites.

Using race was a pernicious excuse. And it also deflects attention away from how slavery is still an issue in so many places and so many cultures. Anyone can be a slave, and around the world, and in history, it's not limited to color or religion or culture.

I see that statue and think now of the eastern European women who are sold into sex slavery. Where is their freedom going to come from? Who will be their Lincoln?

Eli Blake said...

I'm not sure an art museum is the best place to learn about slavery anyway.

When I was in school we had to read Uncle Tom's Cabin. Of course reading it meant hours of discussion, research and writing as well. I don't know if they still make kids do that anymore, or if they just schedule a day trip to the art museum so they can go on and study what today's schools consider to be really important stuff, like rote memorization of disconnected bytes of information so they can fill in the right bubbles on all those standardized tests (when it comes to a choice between critical thinking skills vs. school budgets...)

rhhardin said...

I remember no sensory input or intense emotions in school field trips to museums. You get a day out of school, is the emotion. Yay!

I'm sure every message is lost on the kids.

Slavery ended when it could no longer be justified.

Stephen said...

Was this a "tribute to slavery" at this museum? If not, why does the word "slavery" have to always drudge up so much anger in Blacks and guilt in Whites. If we truly are even going to move past that era, we need to put that behind us.

Shame on Althouse for making this an issue because Abe was supposedly strategically placed by a Greek slave. This is a horrible waste of airing your opinions.

Somebody needs counseling.

losergrrl said...

Oh, those earnest Victorians.  The naked 'Slave' was supposed to inspire all those high anti-slavery Christian thoughts.

Humbug.

What she really did, with those tasteful manacles, was to inspire many a top-hatted, waistcoat-wearing gentleman to jack off furiously on the privy as soon as he got home, wishing he could inspire his wife to a little hanky-panky along those lines.

If you have to have Abe Lincoln staring at her for eternity, at least complete the statue with his hand down his trousers.

William said...

Dittos to losergrrl. Ginger Lynn's classic movie Hot Sluts in Lock-up was not an earnest plea for prison reform. They say an intellectual is someone who thinks there is something more interesting than sex....and he will keep looking (and over looking) until he finds it.

Freeman Hunt said...

Could you wrestle the sensory input and intense emotions into the teaching moment about American slavery this is supposed to be?

Sure. There she is, beautiful, strong; and chained. It would be like seeing a bald eagle or a crane chained to the ground. It makes the chains seem obviously wrong.

As for Abe, I don't know. After that first part I guess you tell them about the abolitionist movement and then about Lincoln and the Civil War.

Ann Althouse said...

Stephen: "Was this a "tribute to slavery" at this museum? If not, why does the word "slavery" have to always drudge up so much anger in Blacks and guilt in Whites. If we truly are even going to move past that era, we need to put that behind us. Shame on Althouse for making this an issue because Abe was supposedly strategically placed by a Greek slave. This is a horrible waste of airing your opinions."

As I said in the post, this museum is obviously set up for the education of schoolchildren. The juxtaposition of Lincoln and a statue of a slave sculpted by an American in 1869 ought to be enough for you to believe me, but I could provide much, much more evidence. For example, on this floor full of American art, in the first room, this quote from Booker T. Washington is painted in large letters on the wall: "The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little."

And really, Stephen, you goofball, you think it wasn't by design that the statue of a slave was put next to Lincoln? It's just some weird ideation by me?? And the word is "dredge" not "drudge." Seriously, you are dumb.

peter hoh said...

Until Althouse pointed it out, I didn't notice that Stephen used drudge for dredge. Interesting. I wonder if there is a chance that drudge will take the place of dredge. After all, who knows diddly about dredging any more? But Drudge, he dredges up all sorts of stuff, so there's a chance that usage will shift.

George said...

An enlightening Wiki article on the work. Some were indeed scandalized. Other viewers saw shameful degradation, clearly the artist's intent.

Ministers told their congregations to see the statue. Remember that slaves were, at that time, being sold at market in the South. Female slaves would have been particularly degraded by the experience, a fact that would not have been lost on white women. For the contemporary viewer to emotionally identify with the piece, the sculptor chose a white Greek woman enslaved by Muslims, a more acceptable image in Northern museums than a black model.

Remember also that slavery was a real thing, a horror that people who traveled South knew of first hand; its evils were preached in sermons, and people would have been emotionally affected in ways that we are not today.

"There is the artist's assurance that "It is not her person but her spirit that stands exposed," wrote one critic. "There is, in the phrase of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the statue's "passionless perfection."

"Let the solemn lesson sink deep into the hearts of the fair women of the North and of the South!" one editorialist wrote. "Waste not your sympathies on the senseless marble, but reserve some tears for the helpless humanity which lies quivering beneath the lash of American freemen."

"Torn forever from her country," wrote another contemporary, "its faith, and its loves, chained in the market-place of her enemies, all disrobed, and awaiting her brutal purchaser, she is yet pure as a seraph, and proud as a crowned queen, yet unconquerably constant to her love, her country, and her God. Oh, what a divinity of purity, what a glory of womanhood is round about her, holier than the halo of saints, and mightier than the panoply of warriors!"

"The spectator was much moved," according to another essay, "and tears flowed faster than they had done for many years. The image, turning again upon her pedestal, averted her face, the spectator slowly arose, put on his hat, and went home sorely grieved, and touched to the very centre of his heart, for he had great possessions in the bodies of men, women, and children."

To see the sculpture pruriently reveals the modern viewer's abasement and naked disconnection from his own past.

Kirby Olson said...

Slavery was accepted in the OT and even I think in the NT.

It's Locke's philosophy that gave us the rights to "life, liberty, health and property," and said that these were "God-given."

It's a new notion in the vocabulary. Locke was a Christian, but I never knew where he got the notion that "liberty" was a Christian concept. Still, it's a good concept.

I think it's still universally valid, and should apply equally to Tibetans, Burmans, and Iraqis (Locke said it was a universal).

At any rate, the woman appears to be so stylized and so lacking in passion that I can't understand how anybody would have melted over what is essentially cold stone.

But this is another example of what I'll miss when you go back to Madison.

The art museums of Brooklyn and NYC are clearly superior to those in cheese country.

Kirby Olson said...

Or I should have said, "in cheesier parts of the country."

peter hoh said...

Good citations, George.

Art functions on many levels, of course. It's often hard to get inside the head of the audience from another time, but it would seem that that's the point of this piece of art on display now. This sculpture helped break the sense of otherness on which slavery depended.

Trooper York said...

As a teaching moment, you can teach the little boys how to slip a dollar bill to her without actually touching her so the bouncer won't throw you out of the strip club.

peter hoh said...

Kirby, have you not heard of the wonders in store at The House on the Rock?

Pogo said...

Abe clearly does not have the best view.

Pogo said...

Wisconsin has both House On The Rock and the Rock in the House.

rhhardin said...

The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little.

Give all the kids sharpies as they enter the museum and the power structure will reverse.

Ann Althouse said...

As for Madison and museums, we do have the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, but the big problem for me is that they don't allow photography. I can't cover art in Madison because of this stupid, provincial rule. Here is where the superiority of New York is most clear.

Keep in mind that from Madison, I often go to Milwaukee and Chicago, and both of these cities have great art museums.

I will also travel to various places, even out of the country. I'm going to do a post on this, so answer the question I'm about to ask.

Joe said...

Hot Sluts in Lock-up was not an earnest plea for prison reform

Dammit, there goes my master's thesis.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

...not to mention that less than 40 years had passed since Thomas Jefferson ended the (Muslim) Barbary Pirates' enslavement of European and American sailors and villagers?

Roger J. said...

I think Losergrrl is on the mark--this is Victorian soft porn.

vbspurs said...

They say an intellectual is someone who thinks there is something more interesting than sex....and he will keep looking (and over looking) until he finds it.

LOL...

As for the wrestling with the sensory input and intense emotions, listen.

This statue may look Hellenically languourous and sensual, even spiking kinky thoughts to the Hot Sluts crowd, rather than to portay a brutalised human being shackled.

(The latter being the ultimate human power play -- a naked woman in chains)

But obviously this depiction of slavery then and now was supposed to shake white people to their very foundations.

Oh look, white people were once in manacles too. I wouldn't like that one bit. Hey...slaves down South are in manacles.

That is WRONG.

I mean, I don't know. What else can you show kids from shall we say, a white point of view of slavery?

I suppose you could show them Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce and his anti-slavery crusade.

But that only came out in 2006. Still, remember when we put the lights out and turned down the blinds in the classroom ?

That was EXCITING!

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

I think Losergrrl is on the mark--this is Victorian soft porn.

Ironically, it is the post-modern age that suffuses pornography into everything.

This may be sexual, but people in the 19th century were used to the portrayal of the human form in statuary, much more so than we are -- the product of photography, and moving images.

In an age where seeing a woman's ankle entering a hansom cab made a Victorian man's pulse rush, you may think a whole naked statue must've thrown them into a frenzy of lust.

But that's our modern reading and perceptions coming into play.

They were surrounded by nudity, in so many statues and carvings around the Old World, that one alabaster slave maiden probably had the same effect as Pam Anderson does to us today, in terms of kink.

"So what?"

Cheers,
Victoria

bearbee said...

Wiki in one hand she holds a small cross on a chain.

White Slavery Was Much More Common Than Believed

Joe said...

Ironically, it is the post-modern age that suffuses pornography into everything.

By and large, it's a bizarre coalition of radical feminism and the religious right that turns everything into pornography (and declares it evil.)

Iapetus said...

What should a teacher say? I'm not sure, but whatever it is, it will be lost on underage school kids. The young girls will be embarrassed by the statue's nudity, the young boys will go home with images of its nakedness, and all of them, probably thoroughly confused, will create their own fractured history and believe that Lincoln freed the Greek slaves. This is the sort of ambiguous "teaching moment" that sensible adults prefer to avoid.

titusgetme the ax!!!! said...

All I see is tits in bondage.

Boring.

Freeman Hunt said...

A lot of people are acting like children have never seen nude, Classical-type sculpture. That is highly unlikely. Very few children would be scandalized by a statue like that.

Freeman Hunt said...

Also, I don't think the point of the sculpture is race. It's not a "what if it were white people" thing. It's a Greek woman, not an American white woman.

The point is the juxtaposition of an elevated sense of man with chains. The Neoclassical style brings to mind all the idealizations of man: his physical beauty, his rationality, his virtue, etc. because of its association with all of the contributions, both artistic and intellectual, of the Classical period. So he sculpted in that style and added chains.

"This is what is being done. Man, the creature with the divine spark, is in chains, and it is shameful that it is so."

Paddy O. said...

"Slavery was accepted in the OT and even I think in the NT."

I think it's better to say that it existed, than it was accepted.

In the OT we have the featured people, Israel, being slaves. Their own slavery defined not only one section but really defined much of their whole identity. God again and again defines himself as the God who brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery. And in that we see in their Law a lot of consciousness of slavery. They were to treat slaves well. Slaves weren't mere property, and there was ways of stepping aside from slavery. Add to this the year of Jubilee in which Hebrew slaves were freed.

In the NT we hear Paul talking about slaves, but not in an endorsement. He saw it as something people had to live with. At the same time he writes that curious little letter Philemon, in which he sends back a slave to his master, but rejects the slave/master relationship calling Onesimus a brother. There was no sense that Onesimus was any lesser.

Early Christians were popular among slaves, and spent money buying people out of slavery, acting as advocates for freedom within a culture where slavery was assumed.

That's why American slavery has extra levels of evil. People used mentions of slavery in the Bible to justify whatever form of slavery they wanted, becoming entirely unBiblical in their treatment and attitudes, something that the founder of my Evangelical college understood and why he dedicated his life to abolitionist causes during the mid-18th century.

George said...

Interesting story...this was the most famous sculpture of the mid-Victorian period... basically the figure of Venus with a chain added...the slave's predicament was offset by her modest expression and smooth white surface which suggest courage and purity... the association between whiteness, Christianity, and Greek civilization would have been apparent to the sculptor's audience... religious pamphleteers sought to protect women and children from the statue...due to the image's wide circulation, the artist lost control of its copyright...at the time sculptural nudity was far less contentious than nudity in other media, because of its frequent placement in public sites, if correctly posed,...after being adopted by abolitionists before the Civil War, it became a symbol in the 1870s anti-prostitution movement.

From "Exposed: The Victorian Nude" ed. A. Smith

Freeman Hunt said...

To see the sculpture pruriently reveals the modern viewer's abasement and naked disconnection from his own past.

Well put.

vbspurs said...

Freeman, I think you nailed the subtext of this statue, precisely.

George, were those ellipses in the quoted section of "The Victorian Nude", yours or theirs?

Either way, it gives a feeling of unresolved thoughts mixing with vague chastisement.

As if the author wished to bring out a special lesson in the telling, but left it to the reader's sudden consciousness of his hypocrisy to understand it.

Cheers,
Victoria

The Drill SGT said...

Ann,

Why is everything about race?

This was done in Italy (by an American of course) during the Victorian era. The creator stated:

The Slave has been taken from one of the Greek Islands by the Turks, in the time of the Greek Revolution; the history of which is familiar to all. Her father and mother, and perhaps all her kindred, have been destroyed by her foes, and she alone preserved as a treasure too valuable to be thrown away. She is now among barbarian strangers, under the pressure of a full recollection of the calamitous events which have brought her to her present state; and she stands exposed to the gaze of the people she abhors, and awaits her fate with intense anxiety, tempered indeed by the support of her reliance upon the goodness of God. Gather all these afflictions together, and add to them the fortitude and resignation of a Christian, and no room will be left for shame.

It might be soft porn

It certainly is about the Greek struggle

It also concerns 1100 years of Muslim Jihad and slave taking (0700-1800) of European Christians.

It is certainly more a Muslim / Christian piece than a White / Black piece.

oh, I forgot, we don't talk about Jihad.

BTW: it was done before 1869, since books were written about in in the mid 1940's

Steven said...

The Greek Slave didn't just exist in museums; there was a mass market in miniature copies of it throughout the 19th Century. I think to deny that prurience drove many of those sales is to live in denial.

(Let us also recall that recent examination of patron commissions has shown that many of the nudes of the Renaissance were specifically ordered as bedchamber adornments.)

However, art is perfectly capable of doing many things at the same time. There is no reason it can't simultaneously appeal to prurience, be a commentary on current events (the Greek revolution), be a commentary on the social order (slavery), serve as a fine example of neoclassicist style and technique, and more.

titusgetme the ax!!!! said...

There's a lot of tits on this blog.

George said...

vbs--

I take full credit for all ellipses, thank you very much.

As for the little statuettes, one suspects they graced the dusty shelves of a million middle-brow parlors. Kitsch, not porn.

losergrrl said...

Oh, Victoria, so aptly named, you and others have done a good short job explaining one 19th century view of art.

I was going to write that the Victorian superego was in a different place than the modern one.  Nowadays we would see porn in the representation of a chained woman, while thinking about her perfect titties and nothing about the message the statue was supposed to convey; what we're told to be concerned about is the carbon footprint of that statue—all the needless transport, etc.

The Victorians may have been accustomed to acres of naked marble and had their sexual sensibilities in different places (although I doubt that is completely true—see below), but they were, in fact, concerned with earnest subjects such as slavery and sanitation and child labour, all the while heaping more coal on the grate.

Different ages; different sensibilities.

However the student of the past would like to think it was an entirely different sexual world, I should remind him or her of a standard piece of 18th century humour: the 'art' connoisseur ogling...that is, 'examing' a painting closely for a better view of female charms.  You may see this in Watteau's famous art shop picture, as well as Hogarth, Rowlandson, et al.  Look them up yourselves, although for a view of the nexus of 'Attic' sensibility and pornography in a slightly earlier age than our Victorian example, I will link this Rowlandson drawing of Lady Hamilton striking a 'Grecian' pose for the benefit of 'art.'

Another hint about the relationship of sexual sensibilities and marble statues in Victorian times may be found in the life of John Ruskin.  He apparantly had a hard time getting it up for the otherwise lovely Effie Gray after they were married.  I think he spent too much time around those marble ladies, and when confronted with a real woman with pubic hair, who may not always have smelt like flowers in May, etc., his little friend wilted.  He no doubt went back to pleasuring himself over statues and pictures of Gothic cathedrals, while Millais got the job done in the end for Effie.  Welcome to the varities of Victorian gentlemen.  Ruskin's modern counterparts may have similar problems with actual females, having spent their formative years jacking off to Pam Anderson videos.  Ladies, you know the type.  The school for impotency for the 21st century will be the internet, a role played by overexposure to art in the past  But I digress.

We think we know the past, but we each look at its works with the knowledge of our own times.  I prefer to look back at the Victorian era with cynical eyes formed in the 20th and now 21st centuries, while if the 18th century could have looked forwards, it might have seen Victorian humbug with a similar view.

So, the question remains what to say to the schoolchildren about the undressed Greek slave and Abe?  Tell them it was indeed so much humbug, for the only way to get some white people to concern themselves about slavery at the time was to show a naked Greek lady enslaved, and wasn't that terrible, especially since Turks were about to ravish her? People might then have been convinced that Negroes should have deserved, say, three-fifths of the sentimental concern they might have felt for the kitsch marble slave.

The other two-fifths of the sentiment were for the gentlemen to enjoy.

rhhardin said...

The feeling wasn't that Negroes deserved or didn't deserve to be enslaved, but that slavery was just an economic arrangement, and some people were slaves.

I doubt the enslaved white lady had any effect at all.

rcocean said...

The truth is the Victorian "humbug" about sex had a noble and also practical side.

The noble side, of course, was the living up to the Christian idea of chastity and purity, etc.

The practical side was probably more important. There was no cure for Syphilis or VD, condoms were almost unknown. Childbirth was dangerous, and no man wanted to support an unmarried girl with a child. Most working class people were living on the edge of starvation and the workhouse. Abortion was not only illegal but highly dangerous - qualified doctor or not.

Our carefree attitude toward sex is really born of advances in medicine, birth control, and overall society wealth rather than our progressing beyond those "Victorian" attitudes.

rhhardin said...

As far as I know, nobody has trouble being sexually interested in actual women. (Who wrote very recently on labiaplasty that he didn't know of any male not satisfied with female genitalia. Steyn I think...Ah yes First things first: what is a labiaplasty? Well, it's a cosmetic procedure performed on the female genitalia for those who are dissatisfied with them. I think I speak for many sad male losers living on ever more distant memories when I say that I find it hard to imagine being dissatisfied with female genita . . .

link

It's just that your wife or girlfriend with no clothes on is not particularly sexy, unless it is an occasion of making love ; which gets signalled in various invented ways.

The challenge in nude statues is in keeping them from looking ridiculous.

Paddy O. said...

"The point is..."

I don't think there's a single point to be had with such a thing. There are multiple teaching approaches to this. There might be a point that resonates more with you, of course, but I think the joy of art is that it's not just a bullet point list of things we are 'supposed' to get from it.

As I consider this thread more I now remember going to the Getty Museum in Malibu in sixth grade. It's now the Getty Villa focusing only on the ancient art, with all the other art moved to the Getty (a wonderful museum to visit). There was all kinds of nudity going on, of course, in both the ancient and modern art. There was even a marble statue of a woman that was set aside to touch, to feel up, to discover the thrills of, um, marble.

I remember giggling with the other sixth grade boys, but I don't remember it having any lingering effects. It's marble after all, not flesh. Growing up around art museums I guess had taught me how to deal with art nudity even at that age without getting all out of control lusty (or more than I already was as a sixth grade boy).

That's kind of why I dispute the idea that it's feminism and the religious right that turns everything into pornography. It's those who purposefully make the innocent, even nude innocent, into purposeful sexual objects that cause society to think of sexuality in every direction. It's not repression to not think everything sexual, it's often good psychological balance, something that's been attacked by people thrusting sexuality into every dimension of life.

blake said...

The feeling wasn't that Negroes deserved or didn't deserve to be enslaved, but that slavery was just an economic arrangement, and some people were slaves.

That doesn't match my understanding at all. The 18th century gave flower to all sorts of "scientific racism", and it is precisely that which makes slavery in the US so pernicious (to this day, even as it's reversed).

I can't remember the guy's name now (see Trying Neaira) but there was a Greek in ancient times who went out to fetch some runaway slaves, and his boat was captured and he was made into a slave himself. Slavery was a matter of chance, essentially.

In the U.S.A., blacks were thought either inferior or, in the view of Benjamin Rush, diseased. Upon seeing a black man who had vitiligo, Rush decided that being black was a disease, which he dubbed "negritude", of which this man had been spontaneously cured.

William said...

I am, perhaps, the last generation that grew up reading books for the dirty parts. I had to swim through oceans of crap like Peyton Place to find the two or three hot scenes in the book. And then there were the arty photography books in the library that made naked women look like sand dunes. Prurient sex took a lot of effort in those days. You young people are spoiled. Two clicks on the internet and fantasies beyond Henry Miller's imagination are illuminated. You have reached such a sated, jaded state that you cannot see that a statue of a beautiful, naked woman--whatever the statue symbolizes--is sexy. That's the whole point to naked, beautiful women. You have been raised on Paris Hilton nipple slips and now you pay the price.

JohnAnnArbor said...

Augustus Saint-Gaudens died in 1907. So what's up with the post-death statue?

Palladian said...

Children should not be allowed inside art museums. Children should only be allowed to look at reproductions of art in books.

Also, people who want to take photographs inside museums should have to take a short quiz to prove that they're not simply going to take pictures of their fanny-pack-wearing husbands standing next to a Rubens or use the camera to take substandard snapshots of paintings when they could buy far superior reproductions in the gift shop.

Palladian said...

Also, I hate the Brooklyn Museum. They have wonderful collections ruined by ham-handed attempts at teaching political lessons. For Chrissakes, they have a gallery called the Herstory Gallery. Really.

Dear Brooklyn Museum: Stop using the objects in your wonderful collections as if they were "Wacky Experiments" in a children's science museum. These objects, for the most part, were not made for urban liberal didactic purposes. Show us the stuff in a beautiful and sympathetic way and shut the fuck up. You were already tiresome by the time you "stuck it to the man" with the "Sensation" exhibit in the late 90s. Now you're just embarrassing yourself. And disrespecting the wonderful art over which you, unfortunately, have stewardship.

rhhardin said...

That doesn't match my understanding at all. The 18th century gave flower to all sorts of "scientific racism", and it is precisely that which makes slavery in the US so pernicious (to this day, even as it's reversed).

That was when slavery could no longer be justified on any ground other than the slaves' lack of humanity. It marks the end of the institution.

Formerly it was simply a fact that some people were slaves, with nothing to question it.

losergrrl said...

Thank you, Palladian.  Well put.  I also agree with you, Paddy, and with the other commenters who maintain that there is a difference between art nudity and the real thing.  The historical evidence, some of which I linked to above, points to no lack of men who got their jollies from 'artistic' nudes.  That point has been made by others here, particulary regarding the mass reproduction of this statue.  Oogling art works for T & A is a standard 18th joke that 19th century earnestness preferred not to acknowledge.  Really, looking for naughty bits is featured prominently in one of Watteau's most important paintings.  It's nice William remembers doing the same with literature.  I'm quite certain the internet would give many a Victorian churchman apoplexy and cause the Marquis de Sade to pleasure himself to death if he were to pay us a visit.

I'm sorry I wasn't clear about one of my favourite Victorian words. When I speak of 19th century 'humbug,' I am not referring to sexual morality and caution; I am talking about rank hypocrisy and refusal to face facts.  The 18th century had no trouble with frank subjects of sexual practice and morality, as examples, rape in Don Giovanni or abortion in the Female Spectator of the 1730's.  Anyone read Tristram Shandy lately?  Tom Jones?  You can multiply examples of 18th century willingness, despite its fancy dress, to face facts in its characteristic sturdy and bemused way.

It was the 19th century that smothered everything over with a thick layer of bourgeois self-satisfaction and cant, not to mention kitsch, e.g, this statue.

Another point, also made in 18th century art and literature, is that fear of disease seemed not to deter those rakes and harlots, who commonly died sooner or later of venerial disease or its 'cure.'  The standard treatments of the time, mercuric compounds, were actually somewhat effective against the damn spirochetes, and were in use, with better chemistry and dosages, well into the 1930's.  I have myself read a 1931 medical textbook that details treatments using the same mercuric chloride with which Boswell was dosed in 1763-64. Mercury did shorten your life, but at least you might not die as quickly as Hogarth's pretty Harlot. Old joke: A night with Venus can lead to a lifetime on Mercury.

To put all this in distinctly non-trendy Freudian terms, the Victorian era was a great one for the cultural superego. The 1914-18 War stripped it away and laid bare the collective id. We have since painfully rebuilt an ego, global capitalism, which seems to be doing what egos are meant to.  My view is that much of contemporary political and cultural ferment has to do with an attempt to re-erect a superego.  You can see from the comments on this topic how fragmented this remains.  The view of sex and its place in life are central to any attempt at reconstructing that cultural superego, but this will be undone so long as we dwell not only on Venus and Mercury, but scattered on every other imaginable planet in the universe.  It's unclear how we'll get beamed back to Earth.

George said...

Losergrrrl....

Here are some hot statues for you....

Check this buff dude! (Controversial because people thought he looked like he was at a, er, bath house. Or something.)

And this broad!

The idea that horny Victorian-era men bought tiny replicas of nude statues for erotic purposes is worthy of a Monty Python skit.

vbspurs said...

The idea that horny Victorian-era men bought tiny replicas of nude statues for erotic purposes is worthy of a Monty Python skit.

I'm glad a guy is saying this.

May I also point out that though National Geographic's "aboriginal" ladies with droopy breasts certainly sent some fathers and sons into the loo for nefarious purposes, to say that was the only reason 1950s families bought the mag, is to be silly indeed.

No doubt the same people regarded the Sears Roebuck catalogue as the proto-Playboy of it's day.

Cheers,
Victoria

Palladian said...

"Augustus Saint-Gaudens died in 1907. So what's up with the post-death statue?"

Probably the date of the bronze cast in the picture. Saint-Gaudens probably executed the model in clay or wax during his lifetime and cast later.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

'Wrestle?' I don't think the choice is supposed to be 'a' or 'b.' It's an incluive 'OR' in symbolic logic. That's probably why it works. After all as St. Paul says in todays Mass reading, For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
We are all slaves to some extent. Scooter Libby is a 'slave' to the perceptions of Fitzgerald, judge and jury. Anybody who makes money is a 'slave' to the perception of the majority of the citizenry that he might 'need (or have a right to) what he earned.' To equate African slavery to male dominating lust in the Victorain age wasn't shabby as an argument.