Performers of the Belle Époque: May Belfort

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

May Belfort_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, May Belfort, 1895. Crayon, brush, and spatter lithograph, printed in five colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in red, black, gray, and yellow on wove paper, 31 5⁄16 × 24 in. Private collection

“It goes without saying that proofs before letters or prints on special paper of posters . . . are more valuable than ordinary copies.” —author Charles Hiatt

With her little girl stage persona, black cat, and nonsensical songs, Irish singer May Belfort charmed Parisian audiences at a time when there was growing interest in British entertainers. On view in Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque are three iterations of this work: a rare trial proof (one of only three known impressions) and two finished posters (one of which incorporates the name of the venue where Belfort performed). All three show how effectively Toulouse-Lautrec isolated color—seen in Belfort’s trademark ruby red lips and dress—to package and promote performers. Similar in size, May Milton is considered a pendant poster. The two performers were romantically involved.

A Charged Moment

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

Englishman at the Moulin Rouge_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge, 1892. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in six or seven colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in aubergine, blue, red, yellow, and black on wove paper. State II/II, 21 × 14 3/4 in. Private collection

At the Moulin Rouge, La Goulue and Her Sister and The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge, shown here, make an informal pair. They share a similar handling of large, flat expanses of color juxtaposed with refined tonal gradations achieved through the spatter of lithographic ink. British artist William Warrener posed for the male figure in this print. Toulouse-Lautrec first drew a portrait of Warrener and then developed a painting. The lithograph went through a black-and-white state and a color state, seen here, each printed in an edition of 100 impressions. The scene reveals a sexually charged moment. A wealthy client entertains the seduction of two flirtatious Moulin Rouge dancers, Rayon d’Or and La Sauterelle, suggesting the practice of prostitution common at Montmartre’s nightclubs. The cropping of the image enhances its immediacy, and the man’s inclined posture reinforces the nature of their exchange.

The Way He Thinks

Condo installation-13_Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of George Condo: The Way I Think. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

German artist George Condo has attracted international attention for decades. A man who befriended Basquiat, worked for Warhol, and collaborated with Kim and Kanye was in DC for the opening of his show The Way I Think here at the Phillips. When speaking with friends about what may be my favorite DC show, mention of the name George Condo usually invites a response along the lines of, “Oh yeah, the Kanye guy.” Condo received a flood of media attention in 2010 when his design for Kanye West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was deemed “explicit” by providers like Wal-Mart and iTunes. “The superimposition of people’s perceptions on a cartoon is shocking,” Condo responded at the time. This would not be the last attack on Condo’s art, as his painting on a handbag for Kim Kardashian in 2013 met similarly skeptical reviews on social media.

Through instances like these, Condo’s work raises the issue of censorship. For Condo in particular, censorship is stifling, and it’s easy to see why in The Way I Think, an array of over 200 works arranged and installed with Condo’s guidance. The exhibit reads like Condo’s own train of thought, complete with piles of diligently kept notebooks and sketchbooks. The sheer volume of work in the exhibition is breathtaking, and the alarming nature of Condo’s figures are captivating. The exhibit is laid out just as it sounds; the way the artist thinks. The exhibition revives the age old question of whether art—any art—should be censored. Can we censor thought? What about thought on paper? Condo’s reliance on his own memory and psychology as sources of artistic inspiration make it difficult to imagine a “parental advisory” sticker plastered across one of his pieces.

It is probable that The Way I Think will elicit a range of emotional responses as wide as Condo’s artistic styles. Without question, George Condo’s intersections with music, celebrity, and popular culture make his art irresistibly interesting to any viewer. I think, however, it is the personal depth and furious imagination of the artist which will make this particular exhibit magnetic and intimate for each and every visitor.

Elizabeth Federici, Marketing & Communications Intern