Eakins Painting Looks Better Restored, Kleins A Rumored Speed Freak

by Paddy Johnson on August 26, 2010 · 7 comments Blurb

Thomas Eakins, The Agnew Clinic, 1889

Oh the great quandaries of an intellectual: intending to read one book and putting it off to read another. Eric Banks, Senior Editor at Art Forum, puts together a two part culture diary for The Paris Review blog, which is basically an account of exchanging one form of cultural consumption for another. I could have done without the stream of consciousness transit accounts — the observation that many filmmakers find inspiration in the Philadelphia train station isn’t all that interesting — but there’s a few worthy tidbits sprinkled throughout Banks’ account of the week for the bibliophiles out there.

On the restoration of Thomas Eakins’ Gross Clinic:

The canvas now has far more commodious digs—almost its own mini-chapel, where it's flanked by Eakins's other surgical masterpiece, “The Agnew Clinic.” And after the restoration effort, it's that much clearer just how strange a picture it is. Before, you saw Gross holding his scarlet-flecked scalpel upright like a paintbrush, you made out the scene of the operation, with its attending surgeons wielding their blood-tipped knives like pencils. But so much else was clouded and clotted in a bizarrely blah electrically colored background glare—the tonal registers were just weird, almost fecklessly unresolved. Now you can really pick up the dark clarity of the whole background, including the image of the figure just behind Gross, who's taking notes and whose grip on his pencil ramifies that of the doctors going after the rotting bone. The sharply foreshortened patient's fuzzy blue socks jut out at you all that more dramatically and make a clean rhyme against the ether-soaked pillow over his head. And the guy lingering in the hallway—Gross's son—behind the theater, swallowed in a red haze, is a lot more fiendishly integrated into the scene. I first saw the canvas when it was in the Met's Eakins retrospective in 2001, and this was like seeing a totally different picture.

Also, this juicy bit of gossip about Yves Klein is good,

Anybody who knows anything about Klein knows that he was a serious student of judo, but I'd always lazily pictured it along the lines of Andy Kaufman's enthusiasm—or whatever it was—for wrestling. It's standard to mention the book he wrote about its techniques, which I always imagined as some sort of self-publication. Wrong: There's a copy of his Fondements de Judo in a vitrine with its handsome cover, published by Grasset. Archival photos are a dead weight in a lot of exhibitions, but here they're a nice compliment to the work itself. In one picture, Klein's sitting on the beach in Malibu, in swim trunks that look like they're held together with masking tape, beaming as he holds up the monochrome he's been working on with the blue ocean in the background. It's still weird to imagine him dying at age thirty-four from a heart attack—the exhibition encourages the myth that Klein was shocked into cardiac arrest from the distress of seeing the film made about him at Cannes, the same death by celluloid that triggered Boris Vian's heart attack when he saw the movie made out of I Spit On Your Grave. My art historian friend mentions the more prosaic speculation that he was juiced on steroids (the judo thing), and later a friend avers that he was a speed freak.

In the second part of Banks diary, he finally gets around to reading Jonathan Franzen.

  • Molly

    Paddy, I think this is the painting in the description: http://web.fu-berlin.de/phin/phin52/p52t4g/p52t4_5.jpg

  • Molly

    Paddy, I think this is the painting in the description: http://web.fu-berlin.de/phin/phin52/p52t4g/p52t4_5.jpg

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Thanks Molly. I’m going to leave the image as is, but I updated the description and provided the link in the post.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Thanks Molly. I’m going to leave the image as is, but I updated the description and provided the link in the post.

  • Howard Halle

    Hmm. This photo of Klein (http://punjapit.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/yves-klein3.jpg) suggests someone in decent shape, but not juiced, and it’s not clear to me how easily available steroids were in the late 1950s. Benzedrine, on the other hand, was a common ingredient in over-the-counter nasal inhalers, and diet pills were easily obtainable, so I vote for speed. It’s what did in Philip K. Dick. Fun fact: the movie at Cannes referred to above was Mondo Cane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondo_cane). Fun fact #2: Klein was a follower of Rosicrucian philosophy.

  • Howard Halle

    Hmm. This photo of Klein (http://punjapit.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/yves-klein3.jpg) suggests someone in decent shape, but not juiced, and it’s not clear to me how easily available steroids were in the late 1950s. Benzedrine, on the other hand, was a common ingredient in over-the-counter nasal inhalers, and diet pills were easily obtainable, so I vote for speed. It’s what did in Philip K. Dick. Fun fact: the movie at Cannes referred to above was Mondo Cane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondo_cane). Fun fact #2: Klein was a follower of Rosicrucian philosophy.

  • Howard Halle

    Hmm. This photo of Klein (http://punjapit.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/yves-klein3.jpg) suggests someone in decent shape, but not juiced, and it’s not clear to me how easily available steroids were in the late 1950s. Benzedrine, on the other hand, was a common ingredient in over-the-counter nasal inhalers, and diet pills were easily obtainable, so I vote for speed. It’s what did in Philip K. Dick. Fun fact: the movie at Cannes referred to above was Mondo Cane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondo_cane). Fun fact #2: Klein was a follower of Rosicrucian philosophy.

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