Vincent Van Gogh… occupies a special place in both art history and ‘general knowledge*. VG is the well-known and popular artist. No other Western European painter is so universally familiar…Exhibitions of his work draw large crowds throughout the world from New York to Korea. He is the subject of innumerable books, films (like Lust for Life (1956)), novels, television documentaries and so on. A large museum… displays a permanent exhibition of his paintings and drawings while also selling books, postcards, calendars, slides and other memorabilia to tourists from all over the world. VG reproductions adorn school corridors and dentists’ waiting rooms.
(Pollock, 1980, pp. 59-60)
Written in 1980 this work forms part of a feminist discourse exposing the hither to accepted and consequently hidden dimension of gender in the myth of the artist, the genius artist was always male. Art histories have moved on from there, it is now accepted that women and other marginalised groups can indeed paint and produce other art works, however one feels what was the periphery is now more accepted in the ‘genius’ cannon perhaps only on its pre-existing terms, the parameters remain the same for the most part, the door is only slightly ajar. Her descriptions of Van Gogh as ‘a paradigm of the ‘modern artist’’ and the fabrication of the artist themselves as artistic subject could so easily be attributed to current myth making in the here and now around the artist Frida Kahlo.
The 2018 exhibition “Making Her Self Up” at the Victoria and Albert Museum takes this polarisation one step further in displaying the artist personal paraphernalia, the stuff by which it is suggested she made herself up, invented and constructed herself as ‘subject’ (not her art) without showing much of her artistic production at all, save a few paintings and reproductions.
I was both pruriently transfixed by the ‘death spectacle’ of the imagery and presentation style, and deeply uncomfortable dragging Kahlo forward into our modern concept of the selfie generation (Bramley, 2017). A portentous white-noise sound track reminds you that life was hard and short for Frida Kahlo. Her bits and pieces, outfits and jewellery displayed in ethnographic style on child size beds. The premise being that she invented herself, constructed herself daily therefore we can view her and her personal belongings as ‘subject’. Blurring entirely the distinction between artistic self and artistic product as subject. Pollock’s article was keen to illustrate that the two polarised subjects ‘artist’ and ‘art’ were in fact operating within the same exclusive territory, perhaps then this exhibition could be framed as the ultimate expression of those ideas.