The frightening central figure in this painting by Francis Picabia is taken from a Surrealist photograph by the young photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. The source image in The Adoration of The Calf (1941-42), which was reproduced in the Paris press in 1938, features the head of a dead calf posed atop a classical torso draped with fabric, and possibly refers to Hitler. To Blumenfeld’s composition, Picabia added a series of dramatically lit, expressionistically painted hands, many of which are splayed open in gestures of entreaty. They seem to emerge from the bottom of the canvas, suggesting the presence of bodies just out of sight. Although Picabia was a resolutely apolitical artist, it is difficult not to read this painting, and its cynical vision of the worship of false idols, as an engagement with contemporary politics.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as part of the Exhibit Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction.
Louise Bourgeois‘ two hands engaged in an intimate caress sit incongruously on a roughly chiseled, seemingly unfinished base. In the early 1930s, Bourgeois studied with Charles Despiau, one of Auguste Rodin’s assistants; she may well have learned about Rodin’s marble sculptures of hands from Despiau. Later, in 1967-68, she traveled to Pietrasanta, Italy, where she discovered the same marble quarries from which Michelangelo sourced his material. It was at this point that Bourgeois adopted the medium. As the artist once said of the difficult task of working with marble,” you have to win the shape.” Her fight to conquer the block of marble is left visible here in this work from 1996.
Untitled (No. 2) was Photographed in The Met Breuer (former home of The Whitney Museum), in Manhattan, where it is part of the Museum’s Inaugural Exhibit, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.