Blast Course: “Modern Painting and Prostitution”


Course Title“Modern Painting and Prostitution"

Dates: Tuesdays/Fridays from July 13th through August 14th (5 weeks)

Class Type: 1 lecture + 1 live discussion meeting (Zoom, Fridays at 11 AM) per week 

Course Description: This course offers an introduction to the conventional history of modern painting and suggests that it is dependent on objectifying the female body, particularly the colored body, as a commodity. Studying two iconic pictures—Édouard Manet’s Olympia and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon—we will see that it is the logic of prostitution, or the female and colored body as a commodity, that first drives the qualities of frankness, raw confrontation, and rough handling now associated with modern painting. Why do these qualities depend so directly on presenting female bodies as transactional? Looking at the motivations and afterlives of these pictures, we will ask this question while studying a range of figures—Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse among them—central to the history we have inherited about modern painting. We will then read feminist debates on the construction of the prostitute as a figure associated with modernity and focus on the status of the black model in modernism, and subsequently in black portraiture, by closely considering Denise Murrell’s landmark exhibition Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today (2018). In our last week, we will use our discussions to analyze the self-portraits and writings of an artist we don’t know enough about yet, the Indian-Hungarian painter Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941), and ask what sort of artistic strategies female-identifying artists of color outside Euro-America have used to reclaim the centrality of their bodies, and themselves as subjects, in painting.

Instructor: Meghaa Ballakrishnen, History of Art and Program for Women, Gender, and Sexuality (she/her)

Open to the public

[image credit: A Little Taste of Outside Love by Mickalene Thomas (© Brooklyn Museum 2007)]

 Event Date
Monday, July 13, 2020

Friday, August 14, 2020

Alexander Grass Humanities Institute

Status message

This class is now full. Please email with your name and the title of this class if you would like to be added to the waitlist. In the meantime, please check out our other Blast Course offerings.