Saturday, November 20, 2010

Achtung, baby

What's the deal with fascists? Do they have bad taste in art or what?

OK. You'd think the stormtrooper set would go for Frank Frazetta-style warriors and gore. Nah. The actual brown and black shirts went in for art with a classic vibe. Clean cut stuff -- weirdly sexless and austere -- ranging from Norman Rockwell purity, to knock-offs of Greek and Roman classicism. It's as if Klingons had a taste for Vulcan art. Why is that?

From "Chaos to Classicism" at the Guggenheim attempts to answer that question -- a retrospective of Europe's classic revival from the end of World War I to the start of World War II.

This movement began as a reaction to the bad scene of the Great War -- which people didn't realize was part of a numbered series yet. Europe came down with a continental case of PTSD. The shattered visions of the Cubists suddenly looked too much like random arms and legs on the battlefield. People wanted wholesome art -- in the literal sense of art that was whole and complete in itself. They wanted Aristotelian stasis -- formal balance, not nervous kinetic energy. Picasso started painting like Ingres -- as the critics were fond of saying at time. Lots of people did.

This art didn't start out as Nazi art. The goosesteppers just took a hankering to it and adopted it as their own. Those poor damn Futurists over in Italy were cranking out fractured fascist art that looked like David Bowie album covers. Out of nowhere, Il Duce went on a Roman holiday and fire them. They all had to find real jobs.

This exhibit has some arresting images, ranging from some of Picasso's more chunky women (with their eyes in the right place) to Nazi Olympic posters to some weird busts of Mussolini -- including one that looks like a 360 degree motion blur. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake ...

This creepy perfection hasn't gone away, of course. All those wholesome, perfect bodies survive in the world of advertising. The Ubermensch lives on, selling us crap. Today's Aryan Superman works for the Mad Men.

Is wholesome art is necessarily fascist? Intellectually, I don't think it has to be. Emotionally, the art of Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell and their ilk gives me a strong totalitarian vibe. Give me R. Crumb any day.

A dude plugging his wiener into a light socket?

Now that's the art of freedom.

No comments: