New York

Boris Lovet-Lorski

Finch College Museum of Art

How Boris Lovet-Lorski ever got to be made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor must be a question purely of social history, because it is not accountable to art. Lovet-Lorski was born in Russia in 1894; he emigrated to America in 1920 and was naturalized in 1925. I myself am not unmoved by the Art Deco style, but I had trouble swallowing this. The presence of Les Levine’s compelling documentary show on the Irish problem on the upper floor of the museum at the same time may, I admit, have affected my appreciation of Lovet-Lorski’s sculpture. It was as if this material had been shown simultaneously so that if Tricia Nixon and other Finch alumnae stopped by they wouldn’t be too upset. Noticing that Lovet-Lorski left the Soviet Union in 1920, at the age of 26, didn’t encourage me too much either.

When you come right down to it, Lovet-Lorski’s work is astonishingly vulgar, so supremely and contrivedly vulgar that you almost don’t notice at first. There is a high level of technical finish, but most of the output is nothing more than soap carving executed in expensive materials. ft is possible to relate this artist to the advanced sculpture of his time—possible, but uncalled-for. These monstrous book ends, these veritable clock mounts, paperweights, and bosses’ pen holders, pretend to be fine art in a much more pompous way than do many of the actual decorative objects of the ’20s and ’30s. Capitalist materialism moves Lovet-Lorski to a decadent affectation of paganism, as in God Unknown, an idol in the form of a head that comes in two flavors, a perfect white marble that looks like ivory (1927, worse) and a granite that looks like solidified granola (1934, better).

Even the natural tastes and preferences of the period are pushed to grotesque extremes as if in unashamed competition for the market. Thus the tendency to conceptualize and exaggerate the musculature of the male nude, and the taste for dark, hard, reflective surfaces as inorganic as possible (bakelite, onyx, dark mirrors, chrome)—these are pushed to the point where a man looks more like a sea lion than a human being, executed hold on in lava (Departing Tonight, 1927). High-class, uptight extremism is the substance of this art. A sculpture is not allowed to look too much like either a person—that would be common—or like an abstract entity—that would be rudely bohemian. Materialism without an ultimately realist dialectical aim. Art for the bourgeois devotees of psychoanalysis who deserved the guilt they had begun to feel. A piggish, falsely elitist art that claims historical relations while shying away from taking a stand in history. A Stalinistic, fascistic art that substitutes the thrill of power for dignity, the impression of power for honor, and the immediate pursuit of a powerful clientele for artistic achievement. This art manages to be both elegant and ugly, like some styles in the fashion industry. LovetLorski is claimed to be “the greatest of the Art Déco sculptors,” an apt remark when we note that its obliviousness to more serious artists like Gaston Lachaise might be deliberate: he is “great” in the mere fashion, trivial in the style. The more I think about this material the more I am disgusted by it.

Joseph Masheck