Open hands : Cézanne at the Met

Throughout his life, Paul Cézanne nurtured an ambition to paint figure compositions in the renaissance tradition. At various points in his career he thus attempted to populate his otherwise open landscapes with anonymous, lumpy nudes, often bathing. There is something uncomfortable, something unresolved, about these paintings — they seem an intellectual aspiration toward a pastoral that was beyond him, not to mention his time.

His shyness only complicated matters — not since his years as a student had he spent any sustained time drawing from the nude, and he was unwilling to hire models to pose for him. Late in life however, in the early 1890s, he began paying the gardeners and hired hands at his estate in Aix-en-Provence to sit for his pictures. The result was a number of monumental portraits and group compositions of card-playing peasants that arguably more than any other group of works in his oeuvre succeeded in capturing the grandeur of his great historical paragons.

A small, exquisite exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, organised in collaboration with the Courtauld Gallery in London where I saw it in the fall, focuses on these pictures.

Picks of the Week

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Eagleton on Hobsbawn on Marxism. Three-in-one. What’s not to like?
  • Kirb Your Enthusiasm. HiLowbrow is currently running a relay series on Jack Kirby, with 24 writers, artists and critics each writing about one panel of choice from The King. Good contributions from Gary Panter, Ann Nocenti, and Greg Rowland. Bonus: 4cp is running a suitably fetishistic series of 70s panels concurrently.
  • James Romberger on Jules et Jim. Excellent analysis of Truffaut’s masterpiece as a political film.
  • Entering the Second Decade

    As you may have noticed, the Metabunker now looks slightly different from how it did until last week. The simple reason is that we’ve finally shed the coils of our 2007 WordPress installation (see image for a reminder) in favour of something a little more 2011. A huge thank you to Derik Badman for mastering the transition. Without him it probably wouldn’t have happened for another four years, if at all.

    So, it is now easier to sign up for our RSS feed — just tap the switches on the upper right of the sidebar. Other than that, we’ve decided finally to activate our dormant Twitter account as an experiment, in order to see whether that particular piece of hyped online ephemera is going to cause any revolutions in our neck of the woods. We ain’t asking for much — a little fun will do — so we might just be pleasantly surprised. Please note, however, that we haven’t yet managed to set up a mechanism to hype updates made here directly in that succinct format, but it may happen sometime soon!

    In any case, we hope that you’ll keep reading and find something to enjoy. There’s always stuff in the pipeline. Let us know what you think!

    Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Trying to orient myself a little on the momentous events in North Africa and the Middle East, I’ve appreciated The Atlantic‘s horrifying reports from Libya, and the caution they’ve relayed from people in Yemen. This piece by Abdel Monem Said for Asharq Alawsat provides a lot of interesting detail about what’s presently going on with the transition of power in Egypt, while Adam Shatz has an interesting analysis in the LRB of where things might be going. And this piece by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed for The Daily Star talks about the region’s financial problems in the long term, interestingly noting the lack of drinking water as a potentially determining factor for how things will develop.
  • In the entirely un-momentous realm of comics, there’s been some good material posted lately. Jog has written a very fine, if characteristically and somewhat unnecessarily prolix piece on Steve Ditko’s current work over at ComicsComics, while Sean Michael Robinson conducted a great interview with Cerebus co-artist Gerhard at The Comics Journal (bonus musings at HU).
  • Greatest Comics Show Ever?

    Might the Egyptian Book of the Dead show at the British Museum be the best comics exhibition ever? It certainly contains some of the greatest comics I’ve ever read. It’s good sometimes just to forget about the historically determined understanding of comics as a modern art form and remember that humans have told stories in sequentially-arranged images and text for millennia. Irritating as Scott McCloud’s formalistic muddying of the waters in Understanding Comics might be, there is also something problematic about the dominant urge to isolate the modern mass-culture iteration of this practice from the larger history of word/image art.

    Expertly presented, the exhibition itself merges sequence and repetition to evoke for the visitor the deceased’s journey through the afterlife as described in the official Egyptian guidebook, the collection of spells today known as the book of the dead. Drawing largely upon the Museum’s own astonishing collection of such ‘books’, it presents the narrative of what happens after death stage-by-stage, from mummification and burial to the perilous voyage through the netherworlds to the eternal fields of green beyond. Following us are sections of one extensive version that belonged to a scribe named Ani, which become our own guide through the show’s different rooms, in which examples from other Books of the Dead as well as objects related to death and burial in the Egyptian New Kingdom deepen the experience. Because the set of spells laid down in the Book are essentially the same, one is familiarised with their narrative, internalising it as one moves along.

    L’Association strike lifted, but uncertainties remain

    On 11 February the striking employees of seminal French comics publisher l’Association announced that they were lifting the strike that they had been conducting since 10 January. They are satisfied that efforts at mediation between them and directorial have led to the decision to hold a general assembly on 5 March where the problems plaguing the publisher will be addressed.

    At the the heart of the conflict is the announcement of redundancies made by the direction in December, a decision the employees don’t believe is justified by the troubled financial situation the publisher finds itself in, in part due to the collapse of their distributor Le Comptoir des indépendants last fall, but primarily due to reduced sales in general. They have been insisting that there are other means of solving its current solvency issues, including reducing its enormously costly back catalogue storage (apparently, l’Association has never held a sale or eliminated inventory). They describe the decision to fire a number of employees as a “philosophical” one, meant to strengthen the publisher’s new line of radical but reduced output and express dissatisfaction with this decision having been made over their heads and without consulting the membership (remember, l’Association is not registered as a traditional business, but rather as an organisation).

    Responding to this press release and to the events of the last month and a half in general, l’Association’s unofficial director and editorial and ideological centre, Jean-Christophe Menu has released a long letter, sharing his point of view on the affair. I won’t go into detail, but merely note the main points here:

    Changes at The Comics Journal

    dan_nadel.jpgBig changes coming at The Comics Journal — if the rumors are true, we’re going to see an amalgamation of that fine group blog ComicsComics and the venerable but these days somewhat faltering beast. The site has long needed an overhaul, both in terms of design and editorial direction, so I’m looking forward to what’s next, even if it may mean a consolidation of two sites that ideally would continue each on their own. There are precious few comics resources online of ComicsComics’ quality, so it’ll be somewhat sad to see it subsumed, even if it means a much better Comics Journal.

    Anyway, one upshot of all this is that the subdomains at, the recently-launched Panelists group blog and The Hooded Utilitarian, to which I’ve been a contributor for a while now, are being cut loose. Apparently they don’t fit in the new scheme, which probably makes sense. Thankfully, they will both continue on their own at freshly acquired urls, and

    Speaking as a contributor both to TCJ and HU, I think this is basically a positive development: from having delivered something like a third of the content at TCJ, HU is now free to evolve on its own, while the new Comics Journal will be able to develop its new direction without the distraction of having this eclectically evil twin intruding (Sean Collins’ dubbing it “The Reverse Comics Journal” is perhaps my favourite snub of our contentious little blog so far!).

    So, all in all good news, even if there were bumps along the way. I’m looking forward to reading and hopefully contributing to the new, improved Journal, as well as to finally seeing the long-awaited print issue #301, which looks like it’s going to be pretty damn great.

    Above: Dan Nadel, publisher at PictureBox and helmsman at ComicsComics… and now TCJ?