December 4, 2017

The Metropolitan Museum of Art declines to remove a painting that is — according to a petition — "undeniably romanticizing the sexualization of a child."

The painting, by Balthus, is “Thérèse Dreaming." The NY Post has the article, showing the painting (which shows a young girl posed so we get a good look at her underpants).

From the petition: "I am simply asking The Met to more carefully vet the art on its walls, and understand what this painting insinuates. Ultimately, it’s a small ask in consideration of how expansive their art collection is… how overtly sexual the painting is, and the current news headlines highlighting a macro issue about the public health and safety of women."

The NY Post informs us not only that Bono sang at Malthus's funeral, but that Elle Macpherson was also in attendance. Does that vouch for him somehow or is it just a way to nudge us idiots to understand that Balthus was famous? (Not famous enough for my spellchecker to lay off changing his name to Malthus.)

Anyway, the museum's spokesperson shows no empathy for the feelings of our era — The Reckoning  — but loftily informs us that its "mission is to collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas." And "Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present."

So here's the painting:



Let's have the conversation.

I'll just start by saying that I saw the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in Boston in 1990, and one of the photographs showed a young girl — younger than "Thérèse" — and she was posed so that we could look up her skirt and there were no underpants. I remember that the elite media portrayed those who said this was wrong as unsophisticated. The photograph conveyed the charming innocence of a child, we were told.

Ah, yes, here's a NYT article, from 1996, "PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; The Child, the Adult Within and the Blur Between," by Vicki Goldberg, talking a bit about that photograph, "Rosie."
The fact that, though clothed, [4-year-old Rosie] unwittingly displays her genitals puts the spectator in a slightly uneasy position; besides, her expression could be read as wariness.

Mapplethorpe had an agenda: "Children are sexual beings," he said, "but it's an area that makes most people feel uncomfortable."...

[In the 19th century, c]hildren were not yet considered sexual beings, which is why Lewis Carroll could get away with taking nude shots of little girls, at least for a while, and why Freud would later encounter such resistance to his theories of infantile sexuality....
Speaking of Lewis Carroll, here's an excellent New Yorker article from 2015, "Go Ask Alice/What really went on in Wonderland," by Anthony Lane. Excerpt (beginning with a letter from Carroll):
I have a little friend here, Lily Gray, child of Dr. Gray, and one of my chief beach friends at Sandown this year. She is 5, a graceful and pretty child, and one of the sweetest children I know (nearly as sweet as Gertrude)—and she is so perfectly simple and unconscious that it is a matter of entire indifference to her whether she is taken in full dress or nothing. My question is, are you going to allow Gertrude (who I think is also perfectly simple and unconscious) to be done in the same way?
It is impossible to read this now without horror. The politesse, the pointing up of sweetness, and the ascribing of “entire indifference” to the child evoke the classic stratagems of the pedophile, planning his campaign and convincing others (and, more important, himself) that he is doing no wrong—that there is no victim but merely a willing collaborator....

69 comments:

Michael K said...

Mapplethorpe was also a fan of urine and Christl

Amadeus 48 said...

Off with their heads!

Lewis Carroll tells us, "The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. 'Off with his head!' she said, without even looking round."

Kevin said...

I remember that the elite media portrayed those who said this was wrong as unsophisticated.

It's their go-to response that you're just not educated if you don't agree with their position on everything. When that fails, they fall back on your lack of sophistication.

To not belong to their club is never to have a different opinion. It's simply that you don't measure up.

tcrosse said...

Thérèse is a child ?

Kevin said...

In other news: if you object to ritualistic beheadings and genital mutilation, it's because you lack the sophistication to understand cultures other than your own.

Now see how many people decided they'd rather defend those things than find themselves outside the tent with the deplorables.

Liberalism is bullying.

Mel said...

Balthus's funeral. Bon's old, but not ancient.

You caught the Mapplethorpe fungo.

YoungHegelian said...

There's little doubt about the Balthus. In French, as in English, the female genitalia can be referred to in feline terms (la chatte or le minou = pussy).

To have a cat liking milk at the girl's feet is about as subtle as a 2x4 upside the head.

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't see it unless I choose to see it in that way.

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

I don't think the painting is particularly erotic. Then again, no one ever consults with me on matters like this, so what I think is immaterial. It is noteworthy, however, that the Post presented the whole circus in a surprisingly (for the Post) even-handed manner. I suspect that's because the petitioners are not reviled, short-fingered vulgarians from flyover country but (unless I'm mistaken) NYC/elite/ruling class royalty. (Merrill has a masters degree in social work from Columbia and her great grandfather-in-law founded Merrill Lynch. That, according to a 2013 wedding announcement in the NYT.)

This episode has tons of entertainment value! Even the left is saying that the left has gone too far!

The culture war rages on. Some folks in the Culture Axis Powers are asking others to soft-pedal the kiddie porn thing until they get the Free Love/Hollywood/Potted Plant Abuse monster tamed.

The Met told them to fuck off. For now. Their explanation is laughable. This, combined with the pervy Met Opera director story means we now have perv parity between the coasts.

n.n said...

Liberalism is bullying.

Liberalism is divergent.

Big Mike said...

First of all, I don't find images of young girls to be titillating, so I have a problem with other people finding "Thérèse Dreaming" to be "sexualization of a child." But one way to think about "Thérèse Dreaming" is to compare it to "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair" by Mary Cassatt, which is in the National Gallery of Art. Do we pull the work by Cassatt off the wall, too? The long-deceased model (it was painted in 1878) has her skirts hiked up even higher, after all. Or do we give Cassatt a pass because she's been dead 90 years while Balthus died only 16 years ago. Or does Cassatt get a pass because she's an impressionist while Balthus is a realist?

Okay, having written the above I can also say unequivocally that Balthus' "Guitar Lesson," is simply gross.

Biff said...

I remember that the elite media portrayed those who said this was wrong as unsophisticated.

Gaslighting.

Nothing more, nothing less, except that it seems to be practiced with unusually high frequency in the arts.

Rabel said...

I say that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is delivering pedophiliac titillation with the deniability of artistic pretension.

Freeman Hunt said...

Now, having looked at other Balthus paintings, I definitely see it.

YoungHegelian said...

The NY Post informs us not only that Bono sang at Malthus's funeral, but that Elle Macpherson was also in attendance. Does that vouch for him somehow or is it just a way to nudge us idiots to understand that Balthus was famous?

And while we're talking about froggy subjects, let's revisit Rabelais & his famous Abby of Theleme, with its famous motto of "Do what thou wilt". Often lost in the rendering of that saying into modern narcissism is the strong stench of aristocratic classism that accompanies it in its context:

...because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.

This is why its important to know that Bono sang at the funeral & Elle McPherson attended. It shows that Balthus was of the modern nobility who could do what he wilt, & that such details as a prurient interest in little girls was to be overlooked. Our betters make us live by rules of morality that they exempt themselves from.

Why do you think among all these stories of moral failure there are so many "open secrets, everyone knew"? The ruling classes protect their own.

The Drill SGT said...

Much ado about nothing.

I find the painting attractive, but not in a sexual sense

LarsPorsena said...

Is that Morton Salt Girl still running around unchaperoned.
Thanks God, Coppertone pulled all the ads with the half-bared derriere of that little girl.

Rabel said...

For anyone who decided to have a look at Balthus's portfolio, I recommend CCleaner and a drive wipe.

Jay Elink said...

I recall seeing in Munich's Neue Pinakothek museum a painting of a smiling young girl lying in bed facing partly away from the viewer,and holding over her a small dog wagging a long fluffy tail.

The tail is quiet obviously stimulating the girl, who's wearing no underwear.

Perhaps Balthus got his "inspiration" from that work.

Or maybe he was just another pervy painter.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

So here's the painting:

Cute pussy.

TwilightofLiberty.com said...

So the lady starting the petition for removal is 30 years old. I'm really getting sick of everything having to be approved of by the dumbest generation to be allowed to exist.

Grow some got-dang humility, millenials. You ain't that special.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I mean the cat, of course.

Man, you people are sick.

Rabel said...

After looking at the second page of Balthus paintings, I think BleachBit might be a better option.

Carl Spackler said...

If there is confusion over the artists intent, cross reference with another of Balthus’s work “the guitar lesson”.

R.J. Chatt said...

I don't disagree with the premise that some children are innately aware of their sexuality, while there are other people don't seem to have any awareness of their sexuality until much later in life. (The age old question for gay people is when did you become aware of being gay? Some people know at a young age, others only discover this much later.)

There's a danger for those naturally sexual children, as the painting suggests. But a child is still only a child and any responsible adult refuses to indulge their attraction to beautiful children, at least in Western cultures. People who indulge in child porn are subject to criminal prosecution. Somehow a painting in a museum is legal. In both cases children are used as models, so I don't know how that is justified.

I can see where multiculturalists should have a conversation about the practice of child marriage in Muslim countries, how young a girl can be for sexual activity, and whether Mohammed was a pedaphile. A Muslim viewer who comes from a country which allows child marriage might have a very different reaction to that painting and this subject matter.

Rabel said...

After looking at the third page of Balthus paintings, I've decided to burn my laptop.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

Wow I didn't know Roy Moore was on the Met's board.

I guess diversity is our greatest strength.

Rabel said...

It's a little known fact but the original title of Balthus's "Guitar Lesson" was;

"If she's old enough to strum, she's old enough to come"

readering said...

From 1999 New Yorker article:

“The Guitar Lesson” was on an upper floor of an apartment building on Fifth Avenue, later revealed to be the home of Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos... In one of our conversations, Balthus said that he was sorry he had ever painted “The Guitar Lesson.” It had generated too many misconceptions, he explained. In any case, he now regarded it as more of a youthful prank than a serious work of art. However, the more I looked at “The Guitar Lesson,” the more I came to see it as perhaps the most self-revealing—if enigmatic— work in Balthus’s long career....

readering said...

Difficult to answer the point that the Met storerooms are filled with art that could replace the controversial Balthus piece,

steve uhr said...

Trump today told Moore to "go get em". White House Officials would not confirm whether Trump was aware that Moore was at his favorite middle school at time of the call.

Rob said...

First they came for the sexual predators, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a sexual predator.
Then they came for the masturbators, and I did not speak out—
Because I figured if I held out long enough, they'd come for the paintings.

mockturtle said...

The best way to hide a tree is to place it in a forest. Is the sudden 'exposure' of pedophilia meant to expose or to dilute the seriousness of actual criminal behavior?

BTW, there is far more evidence for J.M. Barrie being a pedophile than Lewis Carroll.

tcrosse said...

In 'Thérèse Dreaming', unlike in ballet, I see no fuzzy areas.

Lydia said...

His second wife sets us straight:

But, crucially, what’s the opinion of Balthus’s widow, Setsuko Klossowska de Rola—the woman closest to him for almost 40 years—about her late husband’s controversial oeuvre? And what does she make of the long shadow pedophilia has cast over his unique work?

“It’s other people’s opinion and they have a right to that stupid opinion,” Klossowska told the South China Morning Post. “[Do I worry about] Pedophilia? If it is not true, then what’s wrong? Balthus totally has another vision,” she declared, adding that her husband’s work was, in essence, about Eros being a divine nature and the ultimate truth.


"Eros being a divine nature and the ultimate truth". Imagine the idiotic conversations those two had with each other.

Molly said...

Are we saying Jesse Helms was right all along? That can't be.

gbarto said...

Let me tell ya, that cat...

Farmer said...

"I am simply asking The Met to more carefully vet the art on its walls, and understand what this painting insinuates. Ultimately, it’s a small ask in consideration of how expansive their art collection is… how overtly sexual the painting is, and the current news headlines highlighting a macro issue about the public health and safety of women."

It's just a little censorship, and for such a good cause!

"Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present."

That's a surprisingly reasonable response. Presumably the spokesperson is being tarred and feathered on Twitter.

rcocean said...

Lane's article is good but its marred by the typical Liberal view of Victorians. he dislikes that Carroll was a Religious man who liked his family and was a prude. So, using the Lytton Strachey approach, he tries to show that Victorian Carroll was really a hypocrite and secret pedophile underneath all the respectability.

Which of course is ridiculous. Plenty of men like being around children - for limited amounts of time -for all kinds of reasons. Its quite possible that Carroll liked being around children, because he was a "Child at Heart" and they reminded him of his happy childhood, or they reminded him of his daughters.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Mia Merrill: “Given the current climate around sexual assault … The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children.”

Absent the current climate around sexual assault ... well, it is just another up-skirt pic in the Met's porn gallery.

BillyTalley said...

Time for Nabokov:
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

steve knoche said...

Maplethorpe's pictures are crap. Can we allow children to retain their innocence until at least 14 before we allow society to ruin them?

Khesanh 0802 said...

Mary Cassatt's "Little Girl in a Blue Arm Chair" is as just as inappropriate. Ridiculous Puritanism.

Khesanh 0802 said...

In fact Mary Cassatt's entire oeuvre reflects rampant sexuality and inappropriate pictures of nude children. They should be burned!

(BTW some of Cassatt's paintings are among my favorites so my comments should be interpreted as sarcasm.)

Khesanh 0802 said...

@R. J. Chatt You are correct about some children naturally exuding sexuality. I once took my daughter and a female friend to the Big Apple Circus in Boston when they were maybe eight. Walking back to the car I realized that my daughter's friend without meaning to gave off a vivid sexual vibration. I had no idea why or how, but it was very clear to me that it was there. In fact I was a bit shocked that such a thing could be at that tender age.

Lucien said...

So you go from the Victorian era where women were wilting flowers who couldn't bear to be exposed to sexuality, to the 1960s and 1970s world of free love and women embracing their sexuality with open arms and a cry of freedom. And then the pendulum swings back and in the 2010s, women are wilting flowers again.

Human history repeats itself, again and again. Never quite exactly the same way, but close enough that you can see the repetition.

William said...

I have seen some of the pictures Lewis Carroll took. They were published in The New Yorker. There was definitely something going on with him, but I don't know if he ever acted out on what was going on. In later life none of his photographic subjects complained about any abuse. They led normal lives, not like MGM child stars, so maybe their denials are credible. In any event, whatever was making Carroll's gears grind produced durable works of art. Is first rate art an affirmative defense against pedophilia? If so, Carroll is entitled to plead that defense. Maybe Balthus, too. Bono went to his funeral. That's as good as a standing ovation from Meryl Streep..

Big Mike said...

@Khesahn, you plagiarist! Comparing "Thérèse Dreaming" to "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair" is what I did at 5:58.

Ken B said...

Good for the Met. She gave a good response. We have to stop letting the most foolish, the most self-absorbed, the very worst scolds, drive our culture. People have different takes, don't enforce upper middle class white millennial values on everyone.

Remember that video of a woman being cat called? She spent most of her time in black neighborhoods, snootily speeding past and ignoring black men. Their reactions, simply reflective of a different culture, and their reaction to her perceived rudeness, were held up to scorn. Because if it isn't upper middle class white culture it sucks.

The Godfather said...

I've actually been to some art museums, which apparently people complaining about this painting haven't. Museums are filled with paintings, sculptures, etc. of naked women and naked men. If you go to Florence (in Italy), the centerpiece of the Renaissance, you'll see this statue of "David" with his privates fully exposed. EVERYBODY takes a selfie with this statue (don't touch it though -- they're very protective of the statue). But it's all OK because it's ART. The real question isn't whether the little girl's underpants show, but whether it's ART.

If it were a Polaroid photo, we'd recognize it as porn, not ART, but it's a painting. Doesn't that make it ART?

Sebastian said...

"I saw the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in Boston in 1990, and one of the photographs showed a young girl" Was his attitude toward children the worst he did? As I recall, he contributed to the transvaluation of values in other ways. How long before the unleashing of violent gay sexuality and the attempted destruction of Christian values become part of The Reckoning?

mockturtle said...

There is no 'adult within' a child other than in pedophilic rationalization. The sexuality of a child is that of a child and not for adults to exploit.

Earnest Prole said...

The Met has a unique opportunity: using this painting, it can explain Roy Moore's appetites to New Yorkers, thereby promoting peace and understanding between Red and Blue.

Big Mike said...

If it were a Polaroid photo, we'd recognize it as porn, not ART ...

Or would we? Little girls on a beach show more skin than young Thérèse. What if you took a digital picture at a public beach and Thérèse and some of her friends were in the background wearing two piece swim suits? Did you just become a child pornographer? Do we have to stop taking pictures at a beach lest there turn out tonbe young girls in swim suits in the background?

PS: No one uses Polaroids anymore.

rcocean said...

"I have seen some of the pictures Lewis Carroll took. They were published in The New Yorker."

First, Neither Anthony Lane knows nothing about the Culture of Victorian England. Children were not thought of as sex objects.

Secondly, Carroll took thousands of pictures of everything.

Again, this is simply another Liberal/Left attempt to attack a Victorian figure they don't like.

n.n said...

The sexuality of a child is that of a child and not for adults to exploit.

Sexual education advocates and transgender conversion therapy activists who target prepubescent and adolescent children would beg to differ.

Gabriel said...

It is impossible to read this now without horror. The politesse, the pointing up of sweetness, and the ascribing of “entire indifference” to the child evoke the classic stratagems of the pedophile, planning his campaign and convincing others (and, more important, himself) that he is doing no wrong—that there is no victim but merely a willing collaborator....

It would be ahistorical to do so. Lewis Carroll took those photos at request of their parents, who proudly displayed them. As well as other photos on many other topics.

Charlotte Allen said...

Parents used to think that photos of their little naked offspring were cute. My parents took a photo of one of my sisters and me at maybe ages 3 and 1 wearing nothing but our shoes. Other parents had professional photographers shoot their little darlings lying prone on bear rugs without a stitch on. These were middle-class people of impeccable mores. There was a societal innocence about small children back then. It was rather like all those Renaissance Madonnas holding a stark-naked Baby Jesus. So while I think that Lewis Carroll had a thing about little girls, in the absence of evidence of actual violations, it looks to me to have been an innocent thing.

Balthus was another story.

Charlotte Allen said...

"Lolita"--or at least its enthusiastic reception--was another product of 1950s innocence. It was a huge seller because it was perceived as a poke in the eye at puritanical 1950s sexual mores, and it didn't hurt that it was beautifully written by a master of English prose. Nabokov, of course, was playing a double game: at once identifying with the pedophilic Humbert Humbert as first-person narrator and at the same time displaying him to you, the reader, as the weirdly fixated perv that he was. He did the same double-vision thing in his next, and even cleverer novel, "Pale Fire," which I think was his masterpiece.

The funny thing about "Lolita" was that soon after it came out, a mass-market paperback publisher reissued his earlier (and not very well-selling) novel "Pnin," slapping onto Nabokov's saga of a bumbling emigre college professor who seems to have no sex life whatsoever a racy cover illustration prominently featuring a gaggle of supposed college coeds who looked too young to actually be in college. I'm sure that sold a lot of copies of "Pnin"; my parents bought one.

Bad Lieutenant said...

First, Neither Anthony Lane knows nothing about the Culture of Victorian England. Children were not thought of as sex objects.

Note that the age of consent in Victorian England was twelve (according to Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery).

Assrat said...

>Nabokov, of course, was playing a double game: at once identifying with the pedophilic Humbert Humbert as first-person narrator and at the same time displaying him to you, the reader, as the weirdly fixated perv that he was.

I always thought Nabokov was playing with the unreliable narrator. There's plenty of evidence in the text that Lolita is desperately unhappy and wants to be out. Something where he's daring the reader to buy what the narrator is selling.

Kubrick's film is pretty bad.

Robert Cook said...

"'The sexuality of a child is that of a child and not for adults to exploit.'

"Sexual education advocates and transgender conversion therapy activists who target prepubescent and adolescent children would beg to differ."


Sex education advocates do not advocate that children have sex; they advocate educating young people about sex so they are not ignorant about it, ("Can I get pregnant from kissing?" "You can't get pregnant your first time." "You can't get pregnant from rape." And so on.)

I am not aware of "transgender conversion therapy activists who target prepubescent and adolescent children."

Oso Negro said...

And then there is David Hamilton.

dbp said...

This Balthus, Andre Derain seems like a pretty clear sexualization of a young but sexually mature woman.

OTOH, if the corpus of an artist's work informs us of how we think of individual works, then shouldn't this have applied, in spades, to Robert Mapplethorpe's Rosie?

dbp said...

Sorry, this link should work...

Andre Derain

Zach said...

It is impossible to read this now without horror.

You know, we've had this go around before. You can quite easily find every one of Carrol's nudes online, and they aren't sexualized in the least.

I would have thought that an art student, of all people, would understand that utilizing nudes does not mean that the artist is schtupping the models. Or wants to.

Zach said...

First, Neither Anthony Lane knows nothing about the Culture of Victorian England. Children were not thought of as sex objects.

Secondly, Carroll took thousands of pictures of everything.


It's not just that they weren't sex objects. It was an extremely sentimental era, and they heavily romanticized childhood innocence. And Carroll, who was one of life's innocents, did so more than most.

Zach said...

I mean, you realize that it's quite possible, if not probable, that the man died a virgin.

AlanKH said...

"André Derain" is begging for a Harvey Weinstein photoshop.