Fête Galante

Saturday September 19th, 2020

Curated by Gwendolyn Zabicki

With work by: Elise Ansel, Karen Azarnia, Agalé Bassens, Katarina Janeckova, Aubrey Levinthal, Tess Michalik, Melissa Murray, Kelly Neibert, Sophie Treppendahl, Greta Waller, Laura Wetter

Click here to watch the Fete Galante virtual artists talk 

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.