Surveying the biennial circuit, the obvious conclusion is yes, the international art world is too elitist. For all the rhetorical emphasis on engaging local communities, histories, and cultures, it is populated by globetrotting curators, artists, critics, and patrons who temporarily parachute into various settings – the more obscure the better – and pat themselves on the back for their (our) worldliness and commitment to diverse publics while mostly talking to people they (we) already know. Occasionally this can tip over into outright black comedy: think, for instance, of the reports in the art press about Documenta 14 curators and staff carrying stacks of euros from Germany to Athens in their hand luggage to circumvent the cash-strapped Greek banks’ €120 cap on withdrawals (all under the auspices of ‘learning from Athens’).
His Minotaurs appear in scenes both of rape and of tender eroticism, as monsters and as victims and as heroes. In one piece from 1937, Minotaure dans une barque sauvant une femme, the monster is a saviour, hoisting a limp woman into his boat. In the Minotauromachie, the Minotaur, hulkingly huge on the right of the etching, reaches his arm out to block the light from a little girl’s candle. The girl is entirely unafraid; the monster, apparently, scared to be seen. But then he is also, as the viewer can hardly fail to notice, beautiful – a self-portrait that, once again, reads as a confession masking a boast, and vice versa.
A small piece from the world of art.
Perhaps Hermaphroditus was doomed from the start. His name, a conflation of those of his parents Hermes and Aphrodite, may well have presaged his fate. The beautiful youth resisted the charms of the water nymph Salmacis who, after spying him bathing, had rushed into the water and clung to him. The naiad implored the gods to keep them forever joined. Her prayer was answered, and the two were melded into a single body with a double sex. Since the cult of the god-goddess gained popularity in 4th-century BC Greece, the idea of the hermaphrodite – always portrayed in Graeco-Roman art as a female with male genitalia – appears to have intrigued us. Horace Walpole’s aunt, Lady Townshend, even quipped that the hermaphrodite was ‘the only happy couple she ever saw’.