September 19th – October 25th
Curated by: Gwendolyn Zabicki
Open to the public on September 19th (mask required)
On view during gallery hours: Friday/Saturday 1-6PM, Sunday 1-5PM
In 1717 Antoine Watteau wanted to join the French Academy. Seeking the prestige and money that came with being an officially recognized Academy painter, he submitted Pilgrimage to Cythera, a painting of young people in luxurious satin frocks flirting and whispering sweet nothings to each other on their way to (or returning from) the island of love. The academy recognized three categories of painting: historical images, royal portraiture, and religious figures. There was no category for Pilgrimage to Cythera, so the French Academy created one. The fête galante (courtship party) was born.
Today the fête galante might seem frivolous and perhaps even offensive at a time when most of us are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustice that plagues our nation. Large gatherings and physical intimacy once so innocuous now feel dangerous. But Watteau’s Rococo fantasies are still instructive because they allowed intimacy and personal pleasure into art in important and unprecedented ways. His work is some of the earliest painting to reflect modern tastes-- to show us the desires and behaviors we recognize in ourselves. Afterall, “Rococo” was originally a pejorative term used to describe any work that was too frivolous, too decorative, or not performing the serious and moralizing duties of art. The fête galante is an art party, or better, a party for art. The medium is allowed to relax, to bask in itself, in the juiciness of paint and its seductive abilities.
The fête galante, though largely forgotten, never really left the artist’s studio. From Watteau to Renoir (Dance at Le moulin de la Galette) to Nicole Eisenman (Another Green World), one can find a continuous line of artists who delight in showing us people at parties listening to music, drinking, flirting, slow dancing, or deep in private conversation. The work in this exhibition is all about the party. It is set in lush, verdant gardens of sumptuous materials and tactile pleasures. One can find romantic couplings, familiar friends in private corners, extravagance, feasts, and jokes at this gathering. Everyone is invited.