For ages, the story of Venus and Adonis has been utilized in different sexually ambiguous ways. In his lengthy poem Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare assumes the goddess’s voice: she begs her beloved – or is it the Bard? – not to go, not to go on the boar hunt in which he is destined to perish.
Cy Twombly’s paintings, in which Adonis represents his former lover Robert Rauschenberg, reflect its poetry. The metamorphosing body of Venus allows a shift of identity for the pioneering British modernist Duncan Grant, as seen in a joyful exhibition at his mural-covered, biography-stained home in the East Sussex hills.
This is not a lady, but an abstract shape with which the artist may unite in order to convey his own desire for Adonis.
Venus and Adonis, a 1919 artwork by Grant, depicts the goddess leaning on her hand as she watches her lover race to his death. Except her massive hand hovers in front of her ear, on top of a bulbous arm that is only loosely connected to a torso that has nipples for eyes and appears like a different monster.
Her huge hips and orotund legs kick through space like a third autonomous person. Her brilliant pinkness is the only thing that keeps her together.
Grant, the Bloomsbury Group’s most brilliant artist, debuted this crazy picture at his first solo exhibition in 1920. It now hangs at the start of a loving recreation of that show, which reassembles as many pieces as possible in the Paterson-Carfax Gallery in London.
What a start. It’s a comedy about desire and identity.
Venus is a disoriented contemporary woman who sleeps in an environment that resembles an unstable theatrical set, exploding into disjointed pieces. And there’s a nude man object of want out in the distance.
Grant was living in a really contemporary and fluid manner at the time. At Charleston Farm in East Sussex, he cohabited with his two loves, fellow painter Vanessa Bell and writer David Garnett.
A large slanted perspective of a space where they are working is one of the most captivating paintings here. Bell focuses on her easel, painting an arrangement of apples in a long-stemmed bowl and a white coffee cup, while Garnett hunches over a tough piece of Russian translation.
On Bell’s painting, we can observe a half-completed still life, which we may contrast with Grant’s more harder, finished representation of rounded, geometrical fruits and pottery. He has a soft touch that allows him to get away with stripping Cézanne bare.
He absorbs the great French artist’s sense for structure while displaying little resemblance to his seriousness or introspection. Grant just wants to have a good time.
His acquaintances who purchased paintings from the show included historian Lytton Strachey and economist John Maynard Keynes, both of whom slept with Grant at this bohemian retreat. Grant as a gay contemporary master is well-represented in this exhibition.
The release of his pornographic drawings revealed how profoundly sexual his work is, and the seemingly peaceful home subjects of many of his paintings take on a new meaning.
To all of the French modernist concepts he has plagiarized, Grant puts his own spin. You might dismiss his nudes as a re-enactment of Matisse’s work from a decade before. But it would be missing the subversive sexiness twist he adds.
His picture Juggler and Tightrope Walker depicts two strong but voluptuous figures whose gender is unimportant: they live in a modernist paradise of freedom.
This show exudes a feeling of freedom. Grant had relocated to the countryside to do the farmwork that was required of him as a conscientious objector during WWI.
Even his cowshed drawings have a hidden pleasure – who slept with whom in the hay? It helps that this barn gallery smells like cow manure.
Grant’s formal borrowings are anchored in the pleasant scent of life by the reality of sex, nature, and rural odors.
Everything looked tired after the war. This exhibition, on the other hand, heralded the Roaring Twenties.
The distance between Charleston and the Charleston is not great. When you walk in, you’re greeted with a burst of vibrant color. It has the same redeeming beauty as it did a century ago.