Tim Keane reflects on works by Gustave Moreau on view in the exhibition Les Fleurs du Mal at Nahmad Contemporary, New York, on view through April 9, 2016.
Keane writes: "Moreau’s work is charged by an 'awareness' of an especially modern kind — the psychodynamics between a viewer and an image. His scantily clad figures are secluded, implicating the viewer as a voyeur. Again and again, we become unwitting participants in Moreau’s sado-masochistic spectacles, his beatific and brooding reveries. And finally the language of paint — color for its own sake, and for the sake of its infinitesimal patterns, tonalities, gradations – is Moreau’s definitive subject. The more closely you look at the Moreau paintings hanging at Nahmad, the more you appreciate his vision of painting as a means to transcend or overpower any other plane of reality. In Moreau, the modernist dream of an absolute form of art is realized by fusing hard-earned subversions of traditional iconography with unrelenting attention to minute details and free-floating variations of color and line until fantasy and reality converge, conveying alternating currents of alienation and recognition. Unable to interpret a given scene’s meaning in literal terms, the viewer relies on its inexhaustible concrete particulars to make sense of the whole."