Our discussion of photographic portraits at the St. Louis Art Museum on Friday, especially about the theme of photographers taking nude portraits of their wives, reminded me of an exhibit we saw in June at the Musée d’Orsay called Confusion of Genre. I wrote a little about it when describing our second full day on our own in Paris. The Musée d’Orsay doesn’t make permanent web pages for their photo exhibits in the same way as they do for their other art exhibits (I’m getting the impression that they aren’t fully on board with the notion of photography as art), but here is a French blog post that displays the photograph that was on the poster for the show.
As I recall, the Musée d’Orsay exhibit was of very early photographic nude portraits — the last in the exhibit was one of the Alfred Stieglitz photos of Georgia O’Keeffe. I interpreted the exhibit as looking at where art ends and pornography begins and how photography opened up the question in more direct ways than earlier painted artworks. And, I think there was a bit of an examination about whether some of these early photographers were trying to pull the wool over the eyes of those who might censor their works by declaring it to be art. Of course, all of this could be my puritanical American view of things and it might have been a quite different confusion of genre that the exhibit was attempting to address.
All of this reminded me of a favorite page in Lucy Knisley’s illustrated Paris travel memoir, French Milk, the one where she stands in front of a wall of paintings of naked women with the thought balloon: “I think from now on, I’m only going to make art involving naked men.” There were a few naked men in the Confusion of Genre exhibit, but I got the impression that they were taken, in part, because these men happened to be the objects of affection for the male photographers (the French being more open about such things much earlier in history).
This is my Dreaming of France post this week. It’s amazing how many things, these days, can prompt a memory, thought, or dream about France. Check out An Accidental Blog for more French-themed posts.