Monday, September 30, 2013

Balthus @ the Gagosian & the MET: Art or Nymphet Pornography?

I went to the Gagosian's new ground floor-gallery on 76th and Madison avenue this past Friday to see the Balthus: The Last Studies exhibit. The exhibition displayed a series of little-known Polaroids that Balthus took of nymphet Anna Whali, who was the youngest daughter of Balthus' physician. Balthus started photographing Anna when she was eight-years-old. 

Anna was topless in most of the Polaroids, and the exhibit reminds me of the subjective nature of the United States child pornography laws. For example, Balthus and David Hamilton are considered artists, but photographer Donald Raymond Croft II was charged with child pornography in 2012 for his photographs of nude nymphets.  


From Vanity Fair (October 2013)
BALTHUS Untitled, c. 1999–2000 at the Gagosian


On Saturday I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) to see Balthus Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations and once again the lines were blurred between art and nymphet pornography. For example, Balthus' pre-teen neighbor, Thérèse Blanchard, is posing provocatively in a number of the paintings in the exhibit

BALTHUS Girl and Cat (1937) at the MET

However, there is at least one Balthus that even the Gagosian or the MET won't touch and that is Balthus' Guitar Lesson. According to New York magazine, the Guitar Lesson debuted in Paris in 1934 in an backroom exhibit that lasted for fifteen days. Then in 1977, the painting was exhibited for a month in Pierre Matisse’s mid-town Manhattan art gallery. From 1977 to 1982, it sat in the storage area of the Museum of Modern Art. And after being exchanged between buyers over the years, it landed in the possession of multi-billionaire Stavros Niarchos. 


Guitar Lesson (1934)

Update 03/23/14: The Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany has cancelled the “Balthus: the Last Pictures” exhibit that was scheduled to open next month. More details can be found here.

Update 3/20/16: Purple magazine published "Balthus Polariods" in the S/S 2016 issue 25. From Benoit Peverelli's presentation we learned that a few years after Balthus' death, thousands of documents were discovered in his Rossinière, Switzerland based studio at the Grand Chalet. Balthus found it difficult to draw due to his age which is why he switched to using a Polaroid camera to capture his nymphets. The Polaroids were used for Balthus' last six paintings - three of which were never finished. 


Balthus' Polaroids via Purple Magazine
 Update 8/10/17:


Balthus the Painter (1996): Anna Visits Balthus