English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

What is Art?

One evening, I went to the MUMOK, Museum of Moderne Kunst – modern art. I’m glad we went on a Thursday when the museum stays open late and you can get in for a reduced rate because I didn’t like it. I didn’t get it. I was more impressed with the industrial, urban feel of the building than I was the art which seemed to be a range of everyday plastic items arranged on the floor or on a shelf. I left very dissatisfied. So, to compensate we went to the Albertina art gallery the following weekend, to see the Magritte exhibition. I appreciated the real art there. However, reading all the names of the artists I found myself reading the names of man after man after man and wondering where all the women were: invisible women, invisible artists anyway. The women were all on the walls; as the prostitutes with legs splayed, as the woman standing topless amongst a group of four fully dressed men, as the women undressed in their bedroom, as the women lying in lakes drowning and dying, as the woman suffering holding the baby, as the women in many and various stages of nakedness.

In Magritte’s work women were often undressed in contrast to the fully and, as the notes on the wall said, “respectably” dressed men, making the women disrespectable by default.

Does it help to know the biography of the artist when appreciating their art? It did when it came to Magritte. His mother committed suicide when he was a child and his lasting memory is of seeing her dead body covered with a shroud. Faceless people with shrouded faces feature heavily in his work. I’m still not sure if that has anything to do with why he dressed the men in his pictures and not a lot of the women. As for the female artists; we will sadly never know their biographies, never know what life was truly life for women other than the muses, wives, prostitutes, mothers or mistresses of men.

The MUMOK, more of a work of art than the works of art

The Albertina, a superb gallery

Sharing a shrouded kiss, one of Magritte's


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