Contempt for the New: A Thought-Provoking Exhibition and Lecture Series at the Brooks


Jackson Pollock (American, 1912 – 1956)Number 9, 1951
Silk screen 19/25
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Public conscience was indignant. This was awful, stupid, dirty; this painting had no common sense. 
–F. O’Squarre, “Les Impressionnistes,” Courrier de France (1877)

This so-called piece of art is a deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity.
–Senator Alphonse D’Amato regarding Andres Serrano (1989)

Though these two critics lived over a century apart, their attitudes towards new art are remarkably similar.  Over the past two centuries, artists who have sought to break with tradition have often been met with outrage from the public.  In 19th century France, the Impressionists were excluded from the annual Salon exhibitions.  The early 20th century Expressionists were labeled “wild beasts.”   Critics bemoaned Pop artists for destroying the distinction between high and low art.  However, decades later, these same artists are now considered essential figures in the history of art.

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art explores the shifting, sometimes contemptuous attitudes towards new art in an exhibition entitled Contempt for the New, on view through May 17, 2009.  The exhibition features artists as varied as Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Mel Ramos, William Eggleston, and Andres Serrano, among others.

Lecture Series
The tense relationship between artist and audience is not limited to the field of visual art, but also exists in film, music, and literature.  Contempt for the New is also an accompanying lecture series exhibition exploring these ideas in each discipline of the arts, every Thursday in March at 6pm.

Music: March 5
Commercial Appeal contributor Andria Lisle, musician Teflon Don, and Highway 61 radio host Scott Barretta discuss the parallels between the blues and to hip hop, as well as audience reactions to both.

Film: March 12
From the grotesque moments of Un Chien Andalou to the eerie Club Silencio sequence in Mulholland Drive, Professor Rashna Richards, Director of Film Studies at Rhodes College, will discuss the treatment of shock in film history.

Literature: March 19
University of Memphis Associate Professor of English Leigh Ann Duck will discuss the themes of Modernism, Realism, and Repulsion in the work of James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Zora Neale Hurston, among others.

Visual Art: March 26
Brooks Director Cameron Kitchin discusses the role and response of public art museums in culture wars and art controversies of the past three decades.

Admission is (members) $7 per lecture/$25 for the series, or (non-members) $10 per lecture/$35 for the series.  Special rates are available for students and groups of 10 or more.  Please call 901.544.6208 for full details and to sign up for the talks.

The Brushmark Restaurant is open for dinner every Thursday night from 5 to 9pm. Reservations are recommended, please call 901.544.6225 for reservations.


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