Friday, January 4, 2008

Sad Times

Art critic Roberta Smith of The New York Times takes notice of the PMA’s Antonio Mancini exhibition in today’s edition. On one hand, it’s nice to see this sleeper of an exhibition get greater press, especially someplace as visible as the Times. However, the one thing that I loved the most about the catalogue to the exhibition (which I reviewed here) was that it totally resisted making the "Van Gogh angle" of the "crazy painter" the main focus. Smith makes some interesting comments, drawing parallels between Mancini and Balthus, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly, but falls right into the same, tired storyline of the mad painter. “Yes, I am a little bit nuts,” she imagines one of his paintings saying. Perhaps Smith takes that tack to pander to popular taste, which thinks that all artists are a bit daft, but you’d hope for something a little better from the alleged paper of record. Yes, Mancini had severe emotional and mental problems. Yes, he lived a strange, tragic existence. But to insinuate, as the mad painter storyline always does, that the art is a pure, unconscious manifestation of that madness rather than a talent developed by effort expressing a particular inner life does injustice to the artist and perpetuates prejudice against the mentally ill. (Smith also veers off into a critique of some of Mancini's paintings of children, likening them to Calvin Klein ads and thus skirting the periphery of a pedophilia accusation, maybe as another component of his "madness." Personally, I believe that Mancini's depictions of children are his most striking works in their honesty and intensity. They are truly cases of an "inner child" being let out, in this case on canvas.) When Annie, Alex, and I toured the Mancini exhibition after visiting the Renoir Landscapes recently, I was simply blown away, even after being somewhat prepared by seeing the works in reproduction first. Annie couldn’t believe how someone that good could remain unknown. The PMA’s exhibition hopes to create an atmosphere in which Mancini the artist can be rediscovered by a modern audience. Roberta Smith’s piece on Mancini the madman simply covers him up again.

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