If you have seen the Balthus show at the Metropoltian Museum of Art Cats & Girls: Paintings and Provocations, you may have been a.) bored b.) disturbed c.) confused or d.) all of the above. I happened to be e.) looking for more. This is not to say that there were not enough paintings or treasures in the exhibit, but that I came in knowing that there was an extraordinary piece missing:
Jerry Saltz in a recent review he wrote in New York Magazine, explains:
" What makes the banishment of The Guitar Lesson so bitter isn’t only that MoMA came this close to owning a second take on the blatant sexuality of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It’s that, in this one work, Balthus broke through his overweening coyness, predictability, and button-pushing theatricality, depicting a truly mysterious, open-ended picture of our strange, strange loves."
Not only is The Guitar Lesson a wild, puzzling, fantastic work of art, but it is also a wonderful demonstration of an evolved painter who has made an arresting image that is inexcusably moving. Most of the works that are actually featured in the exhibit seem unfinished and function more like drawings of ideas that suggest something lurking underneath the surface of Balthus' crazy mind. The lifting up of the various girl's skirts as they sit in an otherwise empty room, with a tired expression on their face is compelling and for lack of a better word, strange. But as a painter, I get hung up on the raw canvas and the outlines around the figures. The Guitar Lesson, however, is fully realized and every technical and stylistic choice lends itself to the disturbing image. There is a little side room in the show that is refreshing as it presents a comic book-esque series of small ink drawings of Balthus as a boy with his cat until he finally can't find the cat anymore. I have a feeling he may have never found his girl either...