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Cézanne and the Fetishism of Commodities - A Masterclass with T.J. Clark: Session 1

Venue: Birkbeck Clore Management Centre

Speaker: Professor T. J. Clark, Visiting Professor at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (Oct 2016 - Sept 2019) and Professor Emeritus of Modern Art at University of California, Berkeley.

Still life was central to Cézanne's artistic project, and his 20th-century admirers often claimed he had turned the genre into a new kind of history painting. 'One may wonder,' wrote Roger Fry, 'whether painting has ever aroused graver, more powerful, more massive emotions than those... compelled by Cézanne's masterpieces in this genre.' Cézanne's recasting of still life is fully aware of the genre's bourgeois origins -- the Dutch in the 17th century, the accuracy and modesty of Chardin -- but his world of objects, and the access to it he provides the viewer, are in the end decisively different from those of his forebears. The 'objecthood' of his familiar utensils, bits of drapery, apples and oranges, has an uncanny feel. Focusing on a group of interconnected still lives done by Cézanne in the early 1890s, these classes try to characterize the new 'atmosphere' and ontology of the object-world on show, with the aid of the famous discussion of commodity fetishism in Marx's Capital.

The Masterclass will be spread over two sessions. The first session will start from Cézanne's Still Life with Apples (Getty Museum, Los Angeles), trying to characterize the painting's vision of space and substance, and putting the canvas in relation to other still lives from the early 1890s which deploy the same blue-and-black drapery. The second class will pursue the description of the Getty Still Life, in particular its unique treatment of 'materials', calling on Marx and Rilke for help.

You are welcome to join us for one or both of the sessions.

1. Tuesday 30 January 2018, 6-8pm - Book your place
2. Wednesday 31 January 2018, 6-8pm - Book your place

Suggested reading:

  • Roger Fry: Cézanne, A Study of his Development (first pub. 1927) - sections discussing specific Cézanne still life paintings
  • Meyer Schapiro, Paul Cézanne (first pub. 1952) - sections discussing specific Cézanne still life paintings
  • Karl Marx Capital (1867) - Chapter 1

T.J. Clark was born in Bristol, England in 1943, took a B.A. in Modern History at Cambridge, and a Ph.D. in Art History at the Courtauld Institute, University of London. He taught at various places in Britain and the USA, and from 1988 to the present at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is now George C. and Helen N. Pardee Chair Emeritus.

Clark is the author of a series of books on the social character and formal dynamics of modern art: The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France 1848-1851(1973); Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (1973); The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (1984); and Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (1999); as well as Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (written with 'Retort', 2005); The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (2006); and Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica (2013). In 2013 he co-authored (with Anne M. Wagner) Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, a book accompanying an exhibition at Tate Britain. A book-cum-pamphlet on the present state of Left politics, Por uma esquerda sem futuro, based on an essay 'For a Left with No Future', originally published in New Left Review, came out in Brazil in 2013.

For the past several years he has written art criticism regularly for the London Review of Books. He is completing a book entitled Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come, with chapters on Bruegel, Giotto, Poussin and Veronese; and co-curating an exhibition with Anne Wagner at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, opening in April 2017, called Pity and Terror: Picasso on the Path to Guernica.

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