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21st April 2015

The École des Beaux-Arts

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512MivOs9zL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I lecture annually at Artis—Naples. It is a cultural center in Naples Florida which presents “Lifelong Learning,” has a concert hall presenting classical music, opera, and Broadway shows, and includes the Baker Museum.

Last year I saw a show at the Baker Museum of works by Marcel Duchamp and members of his family.

This year there is a show of Surrealism in Belgium and a fantastic show: “Gods and Heroes, Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris.” (See part of the Artis online description below.)

In 1975 MoMA put on a major show, “The Architecture of the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts.”  Everbody was at the opening.  There were panels, symposia, lectures, big fights.

Modern Architecture had vilified the Beaux Arts as part of its orchestrated ascendancy, and in 1975 a lot of members of the old guard were still filled with the mindless anti Beaux Arts clichés they had learned in school.  (Here is one of the two articles I wrote about the show and the Brooklyn Museum show, “The American Renaissance, 1876-1917,” published in Skyline. I was for a moment a darling of Classical America.)

I do not have another article I wrote on my website, but I just looked online and there are references to it: “The Beaux-Arts: A Reconsideration of Meaning in Architecture.” AIA Journal, Nov. 1975.)

One reference to it is in a PhD thesis done at Penn by Kenneth Jacobs titled “This Could Kill That: The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts Exhibition At the New York Museum of Modern Art.” It addresses the deep theological angst sown in architectural religious circles by the show. Talking about Paul Goldberger’s review of the show in the Times, Jacobs writes: “Goldberger’s observations … tended to oscillate between anxiety (‘what appears to be a growing perception that the museum, once modernism’s most ardent champion, has thrust the modern movement aside’) and relief (‘the exhibit is anything but an attempt to reject modern architecture out of hand’), and was reflective of increasing public, professional, and academic ambivalence toward modern architecture as well as the Museums’ increasingly indecisive views on the subject. [Some] attendees … wore “Bring Back the Bauhaus” buttons to the show’s opening reception…”

And: “there was…some understandable bewilderment at the fact that the exhibition was organized by the Museum of Modern Art – an institution that spent the first ten of the last 40 years attacking the École, ten more years ridiculing it, and 20 more ignoring it entirely…”

In other words, the MoMA show, “The Architecture of the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts,” became the focus of extensive religious debate.

The relevance of this to “Gods and Heroes” show?  The Beaux Arts in painting continued and extended a tradition of using the human body to address issues of human nature and the human condition.  Would that the show was discussed in the art world with the depth the MoMA show was in the architecture world.


Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris

More than 140 works by such masters as François Boucher, Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Honoré Fragonard chronicle one of history’s most celebrated art academies. Organized around several epic themes, such as courage, sacrifice and death, Gods and Heroes details the École des Beaux-Arts’ (The School of Fine Arts) impact on Western culture. This is the first such exhibition in the US in more than 40 years. Organized by The American Federation of the Arts. February 21 — May 17, 2015.

(Find a longer description on the Artis website.)

Find the book based on the show on Amazon: “Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris”

It is one of those decadal “must-see” shows.

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