A little guilty irony


This is a bar scene like so many created by modernists, those avant-garde painters from loosely the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. Back then a work like this would have fit their semi-formalized manifestos as it rejects re-presenting a traditional ideal in favor of presenting the unique, personal and ever-new.

There’s no cubism here, just one point of view and it a snapshot of one instant. You, the beholder, still can group the proximate parts; you can “pragnanz,” (it means to opt for the simplest solution) and you will see people, you then close and continue the lines to make them figures. You unconsciously resolve figure-ground issues the lighter shapes advance and the darker ones recede in space without issue.

But there is realism, no goddesses or heroes are here. Look at your people shapes sitting like real people would. First, look at the pairs on the left–love, before and after–the hand-holding wine sippers transfixed on each other and their isolated shadows transfixed alone. At house-right is another couple, a bartender and a drunk, no love here, just mutual enabling. The center group is more ambiguous. There is a threesome at the central table. Is there love-like desire and consequent mirroring; or is there miscommunication about the equally comradely high “five” or a call for another round?

And there’s more ambiguity (surrealism?). Look at server who’s at the apex of the über-classical central compositional triangle; we can’t tell who she’s attending. Will she defer to the orderer of “Three more!” or is she looking over that customer to others, one with a full beer and another empting his. Doesn’t matter to us all she’s only there to serve drinks, “A thing amongst things” (Paul Tillich). Or is her look is one of indifference she’s like the distracted melancholic Suzon in the “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” she’s, emotionally, no more at the bar than you or I. Hence the sketch in the lower left.

But this bar scene, created now with more than a little guilty irony, is a low-grade form of postmodernism. It is once again re-presenting a traditional ideal this time the ideal is modernist–sorry M. Manet, et al. It is also like from Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, and Warhol on. It is not unique, personal and ever-new but multiple, copied and recycled.