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Ingres as a Blasted Allegory

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John Baldessari's concept of ‘blasted allegory’ forms the theoretical framework for a discursive reading of how Ingres has been revisioned by four twentieth-century artists: Pablo Picasso, who pays an ironic homage to the Old Master in his 1918 painting of Bathers; Cindy Sherman, who associates Ingres with the abject in her 1989 history portrait; Calum Colvin, who restages the Bain turc as a kitsch palace in his 1986 photo-construction; and Kurt Kauper, whose 1996–99 suite of paintings entitled Diva Fictions use a seduction of the signs to destabilize gender – imagine Ingres as a drag queen. These four case studies are looked at as a form of historiography, but what unfolds is perhaps better labelled hysteria-graphy since Ingres emerges as an hysterical discourse in the form of a ‘blasted allegory’. What gets ‘blasted’ is any notion of a monolithic definition or mastery of what all Ingres has come to signify within the context of twentieth-century art practices and their critical receptions. Both elevated and derided as the epitome of ‘high culture’, a return to Ingres is cast as reactionary (Picasso) and cutting-edge (Sherman and Colvin), and sometimes cutting-edge precisely because it is reactionary, and thus transgressive (Kauper and Picasso). Read in these opposing ways, the twentieth-century Ingres ends up a ‘blasted allegory’ with no singular, coherent truth.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: California State University, Long Beach

Publication date: 2000-12-01

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