Monday, April 5, 2010

Νίκη della continuità nello spazio: Victory!

I thought this would be an appropriate introduction to this new venture. I study images and their relationship to us. How obtuse. I am fascinated by how what we think of as "art"-whether created to be admired for its aesthetic attributes, to be venerated for its spiritual value, or to be used to serve a specific purpose—plays a role in our society. Art is everywhere. Art surrounds us. Everyday I (well, you too, but I just continue to think about it) am inundated by images that take my mind through a series of questions analyzing their meaning and purpose. Some may say perhaps I am thinking too much? Yes, perhaps. But I believe in the perpetuation of images and art as a manifestation of something. As proof. Of what, you ask? That depends entirely on the example. But I happen to believe that the signs and symbols one might think of as quotidian decorations penetrate our minds and thoughts and do, in fact, carry an influence onto their viewers. Along that same vein, these illustrations also comment on our society, our values and our times.

I am using this blog as a platform on which to share some of my frivolous musings on art and its greater meaning. In this case I will consider art anything that can be photographed. Specific examples may not be what we think of now as beaux arts, but neither were most examples of visual culture created up until the 19th century that are now housed and adored in museums. For each posting, I intend to juxtapose (oh, there goes the title!) contemporary examples with historical counterparts as a means to comment on a works potential meaning. It is important to remember that, when you break it down to a fundamental level, everything that exists now has always existed and will always exist, it is simply the intended purpose and its presentation that changes. This precisely is what shown when one can draw a correlation between a statue dating roughly from 190 BCE to art from the 1900s and later.

Winged Victory-or-Nike of Samothrace

Circa 190 BCE

Parian Marble

Louvre Museum, Paris

Ah, the beloved Nike. This statue reigns above the Daru staircase at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Perhaps the most notable characteristic of this masterpiece is how the sensation of wind and movement is manifested throughout the statue. This work now stands upon a contemporary base that separates it from its original one which is in the form of a boat. This is an appropriate attribute as the sculpture was created to honor both the goddess Nike or Victory, but also to celebrate sea battle. Thus Nike was made to give the impression that she was literally leading a fleet to victory as she stood at the bow of a ship. Her voluptuous body, accentuated by the drapery that at some points appears tightly pressed against her curves while at others is a dance of drapery, is the kind that the ancient Greeks considered ideal. Her wings, now even more emphasized due to the missing head and arms, swell with the gust of air that would be created by the speeding vessel. Some historians suggest that because her shoulders are not symmetrical and because what is left of her neck appears to be cocked to one side she was also blowing a horn of victory.

In my mind, this work connects me to two modern examples. Lets start with the obvious. Think of the original Greek name: Nike. Nike means victory but our corporationally trained minds can’t help but bring us to the sports equipment enterprise with the same name. Apparently that famous swoosh got its form from the curvilinear nature of the goddesses wings. The original symbol circa 1971 looks slightly different that its 2010 reproduction, and a lot more like its original inspiration.



Caroline Davidson

The other direction my mind pulls me in in seeing Winged Victory is one of the most quintessential examples of Futurist Art. You may have already guessed it. For most, it is referred to as the “blurry walking man” though its real title is Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. This work, now one of the most cherished works at the MoMA was created in 1913 by the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni.

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space


Umberto Boccioni


Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

That movement was one that began as a craze over Italy in the early 20th century and spread eventually to other nations like Russia and England. Futurism was both a social and artistic movement founded by Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, a charismatic Italian writer who first published his Manifesto in La Gazzetta dell’Emilia on 5 February 1909. It was reprinted two weeks later in the French newspaper Le Figaro. Frustrated with Italy’s contemporary troubles and with the people's die-hard celebration of the past, Marinetti called for the abolishment of all things ancient—especially in the domains of politics and art. Think of Italy…got an image in your head? What is it? The Coliseum? St. Peter’s Basilica? The rolling hills of Tuscany? It is probably something of yesteryear. Something likely created during the wonder years of the Roman Empire or soon after in its aftermath. Well, this was precisely the image of Italy that Marinetti wanted to rid from the world. Instead, he, along with his faithful Futurist followers, cherished technology, speed and youth (think automobiles and trains, yes Futurism was a rather macho movement) and the idea of Italy’s modern advancement.

It is this idea of speed and movement that is captured in Unique forms of Continuity in Space. Like many examples of Futurist art, this work rejects formal beaux arts ideals of sculpture and of beauty. About this work, the artist stated that:

It seems clear to me that this succession is not to be found in repetition of legs, arms and faces, as many people have stupidly believed, but is achieved through the intuitive search for the unique form which gives continuity in space.

The flowing movement of this man-like figure walking recalls the sensation of wind blowing one feels when looking at Nike, which is quite ironic considering that this Greek statue is exactly the kind of classic sculpture from which the Futurists were aiming to distance themselves.

Juxaposition of Nike and Unique Forms.

It is also in bronze, which was a medium often used for sculpture in ancient Greek and Roman art. Despite the two vastly different situations in which these two sculptures were created. Both glorify celerity and movement as well as pay homage to the homeland—recall that the statue of Nike both honors the goddess as well as Greek naval fleets while Unique Forms represents Italy moving swiftly towards modernization.

At once these two works symbolize entirely different ideals yet have several analogous attributes. Despite Boccini’s intention of innovation and originality, he falls upon a classic of art history. Some things, it seems, are timeless and some sensations or feelings are always paired with similar principles, regardless of the overriding ideals and contemporary settings.

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of this blog and where it might take me. It is always refreshing to read essays (aka blogs) that cause me to think, go back over what I have read, extend that thought into another area. Whether it brings up “I never thought of that”—as in the relationship between the Nike and Unique Forms…, or “hmmm, interesting” or “no way!”, it causes me to think. This is good; I look forward to more

    I do question your definition of art as “anything you can photograph”. Perhaps this needs honing? Is it the photo that is art or the image that is art? If it is the image, I know that Duccio’s Madonna and Child in the Louvre is art, but is the is the photographed pile of dog feces that rests by the tree in front of my house art? If it is the photo, I can see creating art (a photo) based on the image of the dog feces, but where does that put the actual object—like the Duccio’s Madonna and Child?