We speak of women artists, we find we share a love for Frida Kahlo, Tamara de Lempicka, Remedios Varo.
From Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, « L’expression du dandy: Phénoménologie du corps artistique » in Le dandysme, dernier éclat d’héroïsme (Paris: PUF, 2010) pp. 201-210.
This passage translated by Richard Jonathan.
Early in the 20th century, in the period 1910-1930, the ‘artist as body’ appeared. Examples include Tamara de Lempicka, whose very Art Déco aesthetic manifests itself with a rare meticulousness in her highly flamboyant portraits that evoke, with their distant echo of the Pre-Raphaelites, characters—both masculine and feminine—whose silhouettes and poses are very dandyish.
This way of making art and life coincide, or more exactly, of elevating life’s pleasures to the level of artistic beauty—its supreme value as much as its intrinsic dignity—is of course what Oscar Wilde advocated in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Indeed, he has Lord Henry say, for example, ‘now and then a complex personality took the place and assumed the office of art, was indeed, in its way, a real work of art’. Directly echoing this, Wilde, in Chapter 11 of the novel, enlarges at length on the luxurious, refined and cultivated life led by the young Dorian Gray: ‘And, certainly, to him life itself was the first, the greatest, of the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a preparation.’
Though in France Surrealism had won the battle for the avant-garde by the late 1920s, it was still struggling to gain a stronghold in America during the war years, and Tamara, who during her early years in the United States had executed several fairly successful Surrealistic paintings, might have done well to continue in that direction. Her quick wit and pleasure in the absurd, mentioned repeatedly by her friends, lent themselves to the genre, and those same qualities won her the loyalty of Salvador Dali, one of the few artist friends from Paris whom she continued to see in America. His 1934 painting Enigma of William Tell depicted Lenin’s exposed buttocks with a giant phallus (parodying a rocket) inserted between his thighs. Deeply offended by the insult to one of their heroes, other Surrealists were thereafter suspicious of Dali’s politics, further strengthening Tamara’s conviction that Dali was worth taking seriously.
From Laura Claridge, Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence (London: Bloomsbury, 2000) pp. 2-3
Named by her mother for the heroine of one of Mikhail Lermontov’s poems, either Tamara or The Demon, she fit the expectations that both comparisons to passionate women suggested. Sexually voracious, theatrical, stylish, smart, and talented, she was among the century’s most dramatic and imposing personalities. Whether it be her careless sexual affairs with any man or woman she considered beautiful, her glamorous parties, complete with drugs and naked servers, or her refusal to provide information about her past, the aura of decadence that came naturally to her ensured that she played always at center stage.
In life and in her work, she did not play with the idea of depth versus surface. And it is here that she fits, after all, within Modernism’s boundaries. But art historians have failed to note when rejecting Tamara from their definitions of Modernism that her high artifice rehearses a major Modernist tenet. This artifice consists of a narcissism so extreme that it becomes its own subject, constituting in the process a self-contained, self-referential painterly sphere.
Selections from Susan Sontag, ‘Notes on Camp’ in Against Interpretation (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966)
As a taste in persons, Camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated. The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of Camp sensibility. Examples: the swooning, slim, sinuous figures of pre-Raphaelite painting and poetry; the thin, flowing, sexless bodies in Art Nouveau prints and posters, presented in relief on lamps and ashtrays; the haunting androgynous vacancy behind the perfect beauty of Greta Garbo. Here, Camp taste draws on a mostly unacknowledged truth of taste: the most refined form of sexual attractiveness (as well as the most refined form of sexual pleasure) consists in going against the grain of one’s sex. What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine. Allied to the Camp taste for the androgynous is something that seems quite different but isn’t: a relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms.
Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’; not a woman, but a ‘woman.’ To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater. Camp is the triumph of the epicene style. (The convertibility of ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ ‘person’ and ‘thing.’) But all style, that is, artifice, is, ultimately, epicene. Life is not stylish. Neither is nature.
Detachment is the prerogative of an elite; and as the dandy is the 19th century’s surrogate for the aristocrat in matters of culture, so Camp is the modern dandyism. Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture. The dandy was overbred. His posture was disdain, or else ennui. He sought rare sensations, undefiled by mass appreciation. (Models: Des Esseintes in Huysmans’ À Rebours, Valéry’s Monsieur Teste.) He was dedicated to ‘good taste.’ The connoisseur of Camp has found more ingenious pleasures. Not in Latin poetry and rare wines and velvet jackets, but in the coarsest, commonest pleasures, in the arts of the masses. Mere use does not defile the objects of his pleasure, since he learns to possess them in a rare way. Camp—dandyism in the age of mass culture—makes no distinction between the unique object and the mass-produced object. Camp taste transcends the nausea of the replica.
From Laura Claridge, Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence (London: Bloomsbury, 2000) p. 2
and Antonello da Messina.
John Everett Millais
Tamara de Lempicka
Nicolas de Staël
Hans Holbein, Younger
Vincent Van Gogh
Caspar David Friedrich
Leda and the Swan