Looking at Late de Chirico

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Matvey Levenstein, Stephen Ellis, and Lisa Yuskavage discuss de Chirico’s oft maligned late work. Their comments were submitted as part of a panel (moderated by Giovanni Casini) associated with the exhibition Giorgio de Chirico – Giulio Paolini / Giulio Paolini – Giorgio de Chirico at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA), New York, on view through June 24, 2017.

The question, as phrased by Levenstein is “… how does an ur-avant-gardist of the moment become a reactionary? What motivates that person? What fuels an avant-gardist impulse in the first place is a desire to overthrow the oppressive deadweight of tradition. But what happens if the avant-garde or modernism itself becomes institutionalized? Where can a radical impulse turn to? In a sense, ironically, perversely, through turning to the past.”

Ellis asks: “Can anyone, looking at these later portraits, possibly imagine that something like this was meant to be taken in earnest? Yet this idea of comedy vibrates strangely against de Chirico’s earnest politics and the seriousness of his return to craft. The contradiction emphasizes the abysses that may open between what an artist says or thinks they are doing, what they actually do, and what the work itself may be doing.”

Yuskavage notes: “[de Chirico’s] trajectory takes him to this idea of ‘bad painting,’ and I think it led to a lot of great painters, like late Guston. … Young painters should be looking at these really nutty late de Chiricos and figuring out how to rip this off.”

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