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Cat’s Meow About Great Art

Every time I go to see a movie in which the major character happens to be a painter, I brace myself for the embarrassing moment when the actor or actress, no matter how good he or she is, stands in front of a canvas and unconvincingly – very unconvincingly – pushes paint around. Last week, when I went to see one of my favorite actresses, Juliette Binoche, in her new movie, Words and Pictures, I prepared myself for the inevitable disappointment of seeing her character – an art teacher at a prep school – faking the process of painting. But NO! She performed so well, so convincingly…

The camera captures her every gesture and every brushstroke, and I have to admit, the resulting paintings looked damn good. In spite of all my skepticism, I was totally convinced that Juliette Binoche had somehow transformed herself into a real painter. And, you know what? I just found out that Binoche, in her real life, has been in love with painting since she was a child. She took art classes and continues to paint and exhibit her works throughout her busy and very successful career as a film actress. Good for her.

And now, let me share with you something deliciously silly. One of the listeners of my Art Talk sent me an email with very funny images, which sent me into a fit of giggles. I would describe these images as the “cat’s meow about great art.” I showed them to a few friends and their response was, “Edward, you MUST share this with your listeners.” So, that is exactly what I’m doing right now. But be sure not only to hear me, but also to see these images on the KCRW website.

The first one is a famous painting by Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, with its surreal images of melting clocks. But what are these three fat cats doing next to the clocks? They come courtesy of Russian artist, Svetlana Petrova, who uses a very fat cat, Zarathustra, inserting it into iconic paintings that most of us would immediately recognize.

Svetlana inherited Zarathustra from her mother, who passed away a few years ago, and somehow, she figured out how to deal with her sense of loss by creating a series of witty images where she pays homage to great art, to her mother, and yes, to the large, fat Zarathustra. Here is The Three Graces by the great Rubens. But in this case, two of them are substituted by chunky, furry creatures.

And trust me, your love and respect for Grant Wood’s American Gothic will not be diminished by seeing Zarathustra sharing the stage with the stern-looking, pitchfork-wielding farmer.

I am not sure if the great Italian Maestro Sandro Botticelli (Allegory of Spring) or Spanish virtuoso Diego Velasquez (Venus at her Mirror) would approve seeing their famous paintings invaded by cats, but I want to think that they both would have had a good sense of humor about it. Hey, good laughter is good for our health. We all know that. There is so much going on right now – here and around the world – that makes us want to pull out our hair. So, why not share a giggle or two – and not at the expense of great art, but rather as a playful and lighthearted tribute to iconic images that we’ve been kneeling in front of for ages.

For more than 20 years, Edward Goldman has been art critic and host of “Art Talk,” a weekly program which airs prime-time Tuesday evenings during All Things Considered on LA’s largest NPR affiliate, KCRW 89.9 FM. Edward also contributes weekly art reports to the Huffington Post. Both fearless and fun, Edward is a favorite on-air presence, offering a unique “accent” on art. Born and educated in Russia and formerly employed by the famed Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, he offers impassioned views on what he sees in galleries and museums and at cultural events throughout the world, and he is not afraid to “speak truth to power.”

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