Sat, Oct 26, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: The Cubist simultaneity

Photo 1: Football Players, Albert Gleizes, 1912-13. Oil on canvas. 225.4cm × 183cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, US.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In the words of art critic John Berger, Cubism is the most significant revolution in art since the Renaissance. This is no exaggeration.

Linear perspective, which matured during the Renaissance and developed with the help of geometry, allowed humans for the first time in history to render precisely what we see with our eyes onto a two-dimensional surface. The trompe-l’oeil illusion can make the depicted as tangible and the space as real as if we could just walk into it.

In this realistic pictorial tradition that has long been taken for granted, paintings like Football Players (photo 1) might seem unimaginable and confusing. (We can start by finding out how many people are depicted in this picture.) In this seemingly chaotic picture by Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), a major figure of the Cubist movement, we can spot a player in blue top running with a rugby football. The player on the left grabs the shoulder of another player, as if trying to block his attack, while another player in the lower left corner falls on the green turf. At the top right of the picture you can see the spectators. Watching the fierce attack and defense in the field, we can almost hear the crowd cheering.

In a single picture, we can see a series of actions, an exciting game full of twists and turns — and all these are supposed to be unfolded in time.

At the top of the screen, we see houses along a road, a bridge, and something like white clouds or mist on the horizon. These things are supposed to be part of the background, but they are not presented with distance and depth of field that could have been created via linear perspective (photo 2, 3). Instead, the “background” seems to be flattened like a pattern and placed on the same layer as the foreground and subjects.

Football Players demonstrates the mobile perspective and the principle of simultaneity proposed in the On Cubism, written in 1912 by Gleizes and Jean Metzinger (1883-1956). It is not a picture captured in a single moment from a single perspective — like a photograph does — but a combination of different aspects of things in constant movement.

Scrolls, a Chinese painting format, are also good at dealing with sequential time and space. The painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival is a well-known example (see Bilingual Arts on March 25, 2017). Qingming is like a long strip of film that consists of sequential scenes, and the viewer can decide where their gaze lingers. However, Football Players is like a messy pile of film, in which we have no choice but to view scenes from a different time and space at the same time.

Ever since the proto-cubist Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) (photo 4), by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), and the coining of the term Cubism in 1911, the movement has continued to change the way we see the world.

(Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)







Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top