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Les Demoiselles d'Alabama: Vestidas
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Les Demoiselles d’Alabama is the truthful retelling of what an Americanized version of the Spanish painter’s masterpiece would look like.

Despite its garish colors and penchant for satire, Robert Colescott’s work is more than just a parody – way different from the light-hearted, joking critiques of Marcel Duchamp’s urinals and Mona Lisa spinoffs. Colescott’s dark sense of humor reimagines Western art history from a black man’s perspective. You know, since the dominant narratives pretended that people of color pretty much didn’t exist for thousands of years.

With frenetic energy and inspiration, Colescott looked backward in an effort to help American culture move forward. In just ten years, from 1975 to 1985, he painted a series of artistic appropriations. Colescott focused on reinventing the genre of history painting, which had been solidified by titans like Jacques-Louis David and Sir Joshua Reynolds. The painting in question here is an obvious parody of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Other works from this series of reimaginations include Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa and even Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. Despite the lasting fame of these artworks, Colescott has lamented that viewers often associate his work with just this series. So do your due diligence and look up some of his other work.

The importance of this series has not gone unnoticed. This piece made it to the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection because of an art acquisition fund set up by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of their philanthropic endeavors, Bill and Melinda Gates gave back to the Seattle art community in a major way. In 1999, they promised $10 million to the Seattle Art Museum, with a particular focus on collecting. Like any other extremely wealthy person, Bill Gates is no stranger to good art. He owns a codex, or set of scientific writings, by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Based on this purchase alone, we know he probably could have given more than just $10 million to the Seattle Art Museum. The codex itself cost over $30 million when he bought it at a Christie’s auction in 1994.

Sources

Sources

  1. Artnet News. “Art Industry News: Bill Gates is Sending His Famed da Vinci Codex to Italy.” Artnet. 1 December 2017. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-industry-news-december-1-2017-1163906. Accessed 29 November 2019.
  2. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Seattle Art Museum Endowment Receives $10 Million Pledge from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.” Press Releases. 1999. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Media-Center/Press-Releases/1999/10/Seat.... Accessed 29
  3. Christie’s. “The Leonardo da Vinci Codex Hammer.” 11 November 1994. https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/the-leonardo-da-vinci-codex-hamm.... Accessed 2
  4. Fitzgerald, Sharon. “Robert Colescott Rocks the Boat.” From American Visions. 21 June 1997. https://arthurrogergallery.com/1997/06/robert-colescott-rocks-the-boat-a.... Accessed 29 November 2019.
  5. McKenna, Kristine. “Our Man in Venice.” Los Angeles Times. 15 June 1997. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1997-06-15-ca-3425-story.html. Accessed 29 November 2019.
  6. Phillips. “Redefining Mainstream Art History through the Black Experience.” 14 February 2018. https://www.phillips.com/article/29525250/redefining-mainstream-art-hist.... Accessed 29 November 2019.
  7. Seattle Art Museum. “Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas.” http://art.seattleartmuseum.org/objects/43847/les-demoiselles-dalabama-v.... Accessed 29 November 2019.
  8. Valentine, Victoria L. “‘Art & Race Matters.’” Culture Type. 18 September 2019. https://www.culturetype.com/2019/09/18/art-race-matters-first-comprehens.... Accessed 25 November 2019.

Comments (7)

flowingstill

The other picasso painting she mentioned is fascinating as well. Look at em side by side.

One of the things I try to tell people when talking about art history is that history's narrative is very much incomplete. I like Colescott's move to reimagine a piece as something black history that ought to have existed much longer ago.

Lorna Wright

Love that pink! Why don't more paintings have pinks like that?

pogo agogo

I have a feeling the critics would be even more appalled by this than by Picasso's original! https://www.sartle.com/artwork/les-demoiselles-davignon-pablo-picasso

Rick

It can be hard to beat Picasso but I think Robert may have done it.

pogo agogo

yikes, hard disagree!

flowingstill

I kinda agree with Rick... though I'm not gonna definitively say they're right. I do prefer this painterly style much better than the simplicity of the picasso. That said... limitations can also speak very loud volumes, so I'm a bit torn.

thinkstuff101

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord I'm comin' home to you