Tuesday, April 17, 2007

art nouveau/new art

It’s impossible to go to Paris these days without being barraged with Art Nouveau imagery—from Hector Guimard’s serpentine metro stops and brasserie décor to the infamous Chat Noir trinkets and Moulin Rouge dancers that saturate the touristy knick knack shops by Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower.

Art form reduced to pure commodity. Fittingly, I should say, for that was always the intention of the original artwork, at least in regards to the printed posters: to advertise products and businesses.

Grecian-style ladies float effortlessly—and toplessly—atop bicycles and champagne bottles. They smoke cigarettes rolled in rice paper. They turn green with Absinthe. They glow in the limelight. Full drama, full sexuality; they demonstrate that “sex selled” just as much a hundred years ago as it does today.

The artwork and line is stunning, but printed on coasters, mugs, thimbles, key chains, cigarette lighters, cheap trinkets and other mass merchandise, the glossy prints from eras past feel somewhat seedy and underwhelming.

Still, fascinated by anything French and burlesque, my sister Emma (a.k.a. Allestine, the Parisian cabaret dancer) and I were thrilled to learn that some of these very posters—these “affiches illustrées”—are on display at the Firehouse Gallery for five days only. Quick for an art show, but a lifetime compared to the 10 second web clips of today’s advertising media.

We went today during lunch and were thoroughly impressed. The saturation of color and lithe womanly figures on the life-sized prints were anything but cheap or commodity. They reflected a soulful shadow—a base brothel nature juxtaposed with feminine purity and angelic compositions. Great irony; great inspiration. Just in time for the vaudeville season.

And speaking of new art, my friend Elisa has an art show opening this Friday at the Pursuit Galllery in downtown Burlington. It's an art-filled week!

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