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Posts tagged ART
Running errands in the garment district this week, I spotted, on three different side streets, three young fashion models. These weren’t supermodels but working models. Dressed in jeggings, boots and short coats, with black portfolios tucked under their arms, they must have been on go-sees for the upcoming Fashion Week shows at Lincoln Center. Although each had dramatically different coloring, they all had That Body, with the precious, infant-like head, the tiny waist, and the endless arms and legs. The girls didn’t look tall and thin so much as super-long, as if they had started out regular-sized and then been stretched. Their waists were raised unnaturally high off the ground and their legs were impossibly spindly, as if they might simply snap. Walking past them on the sidewalk, they caught my attention for looking freakish — that is, nothing like the rest of us — more than pretty.
Why is That Body considered ideal? In pragmatic terms, it’s a size 2 body. These girls will fit into the samples that designers make, show them off best, and photograph well. Their shape is also a highly exaggerated version of the female body we have always considered beautiful, one with a small waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). That standard, a biologically based one, linked to a woman’s youth and fertility, has remained constant through time and culture, with relatively minor variations. In harder times, when food is scarce, cultures value a fuller figure. And now, when calories are cheap and plentiful, cultures value thinner figures. Every artist (and every fashion designer, too) has his own ideal of how a beautiful woman is proportioned. Most proscribe a figure that’s seven or eight “heads” high. But there’s crazy variation in how women are represented in the arts, suggesting that what we find beautiful is at least in part arbitrary. Take a look at Albrecht Durer’s study of the female form, based on his own measurements. While in one sense this woman, with her bumps and curves, is liberatingly realistic, in another her shape is just as preposterous and (for most of us) as elusive as the ideal fashion figure. The girls I saw on the street resembled more closely Sandro Botticelli’s Venus, who is seven heads high, with an affected, linear grace. Maybe that’s the key — those girls have bodies that lend themselves easily to illustration.
The exhibit of work by Roberto Burle Marx, the legendary Brazilian landscape architect, at Rooster Gallery is called Tablecloth, after a large canvas one he painted in the 1960’s that’s been cleaned, stretched and given pride of place in the small gallery. Burle Marx is best known for designing the park Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo and for his collaborations with architect Oscar Niemeyer and planner Lucio Costa, including the grounds of several civic buildings in Brasilia. The tablecloth, along with the seven other paintings in the show, were gifts from Burle Marx to José Ramoa, a Portuguese art collector and close friend. At the opening reception the tablecloth, rendered in dizzying, overlapping patterns, made a stylish backdrop for patrons strolling back and forth with capirinhas in hand.
When you look at a painting by an architect (like one by Le Corbusier, or Michael Graves, or Zaha Hadid), you’re likely to find the same forms they employ in their architecture, but lacking their dynamism. Somehow these architects aren’t always able to capture the life of their architecture in their art; their two-dimensional works are unnaturally dulled. So I was surprised to see Burle Marx’s smaller paintings, which have a dense, sculptural sensibility altogether different from his landscape designs. You can spot similar amoeba-like geometries in both, to be sure, but the paintings boast a spatial complexity that’s different in character from his best-known garden designs, which seem to be primarily graphic. Is there more life in this great landscape architect’s paintings than in his gardens?