Critics’ Picks

T. Venkanna, From Back, 2011, etching, 7 x 5 1/2".

T. Venkanna, From Back, 2011, etching, 7 x 5 1/2".

New Haven

“Lunch with Olympia”

Yale School of Art | 32 Edgewood Gallery
32 Edgewood Ave
September 20–November 21, 2013

Curated by Robert Storr and Carol Armstrong, this historical group exhibition takes on the monumental task of tracking the 150-year influence of Édouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863, and Olympia, 1865, on visual culture. At the time of their unveiling, both paintings irreverently dismissed their academic precedents, effectively opening the floodgates to a wave of popular critique by established writers and satirists who published scathing reviews and illustrations that circulated to the masses.

To this day the paintings are ready-made templates for high and low criticism, parody, and pastiche. A time line that stretches across the gallery’s back ramp traces a chronology of the works’ influence and includes over one hundred small-scale reproductions of treasures that did not make it into the show: slapstick television and comic book references (a still from The Simpsons’ “Crepes of Wrath” episode, a pastiche involving Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, from The Adventures of Tintin), sensational mass-media images (Burt Reynolds’s 1972 centerfold in Cosmo), and works delegated to the margins of the art canon (John Seward Johnson II’s re-creation of Déjeuner that lives in a sculpture park in New Jersey).

The most compelling works soberly undercut Manet’s undercut, imbuing his matter-of-fact depictions of race, class, and gender hierarchies with deeply felt first-person accounts. Carrie Mae Weems’s six-part series “Not Manet’s Type,” 1997, pairs photographs of a nude black woman lying alone in a bedroom with self-deprecating captions. One reads, IT WAS CLEAR, I WAS NOT MANET’S TYPE/ PICASSO—WHO HAD A WAY WITH WOMEN—ONLY USED ME & DUCHAMP NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED ME. T. Venkanna’s etching From Back, 2011, places the viewer in Olympia’s room, but as an onlooker behind her. From this postmodern vantage point, we see the black servant’s dress raised, Manet’s legs peeking out from an easel that blocks his face, and a crowd of men masturbating into the room through barred windows—from the space previously occupied by the viewer.