The Squinting Owl at Balthazar
I have been meaning to write about the bizarre and fascinating work of Todd White for some time, but I have been distracted by his even more interesting blog. Which is not surprising, because the blog is just as bizarre and fascinating as the art. In fact, they are both so odd that it is difficult to tell them apart.
TODD WHITE AT BALTHAZAR.
The squinting owl on the right might be a Picasso, if you don’t look too closely. The one on the left could be a White. Who cares? What’s going on here? Is this an international art scandal? Or something much more interesting?
On first glance one might think that these are two paintings done by two artists who were influenced by Picasso and decided to see what they could get away with in terms of copying his style. (A visit to Todd White’s blog reveals that he has a rather obsessive interest in Picasso.) But there’s something really odd about these pieces. They don’t just duplicate Picasso’s style; they duplicate it in a very particular way, one that you usually only see on a first or second attempt at doing something like this. The paintings look
When you walk into Balthazar in Paris, you are confronted with a yellow wall. On this wall, there is an owl. This is a very large and very yellow owl, but it does not stand out too much among the other yellow things in the room – and perhaps this is the point. The owl, after all, was one of Picasso’s favorite subjects.
This particular work is by Todd White, and it is part of an installation called “The Squinting Owl at Balthazar”. The title refers to a famous Picasso work “The Blind Owl” (which was an early attempt to adapt Surrealist techniques to representational imagery) that hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. White’s piece has been chosen by the museum for its permanent collection, and will be featured on the cover of their annual report.
TODD WHITE IS A GOOD ARTIST, but he isn’t as good as Picasso. That is the whole point of this blog: to compare these two artists side-by-side, to see what they have in common and how they differ. Let me begin by summarizing my own views on their work, so that you can see where I am coming from (or, if you like Todd
The Squinting Owl at Balthazar is a painting by the American artist Todd White. It depicts a series of stone steps leading down to a body of water, with an owl sitting atop one of the railings. In the background are two buildings, the right of which has a circular window with blue sky showing through. Behind it is a tree. The left building has a yellow door and window. The blue steps lead to a dark blue path on the water’s edge, which leads to a stone bridge with three arches. A small boat sits in the center arch, and there is another figure in the boat facing away from the viewer.
The work is an example of White’s signature style; he uses bold colors and thickly applied paint in his paintings. His style shows influences from both modernism and impressionism.”
The Squinting Owl at Balthazar was painted by Picasso in 1901. It is part of Picasso’s “La série des chats” series, and was one of three paintings that used the same model, André Derain, himself a painter. The model was also used for Le pigeon aux petits pois (1901), La guitare (1901), and L’Oiseau ble
The Squinting Owl at Balthazar is an oil on canvas by Todd White. It depicts two owls, one red and one blue, sitting on a tree branch. The painting is based on Picasso’s 1939 work The Weeping Willow. One owl is crying while the other looks off in the distance as if pondering the meaning of life.
The Squinting Owl at Balthazar was painted in 2009. It was shown at the 2010 Affordable Art Fair in London and sold for £140,000 to an anonymous buyer.
Picasso’s original is not a very good painting. In fact it looks like something a child would paint before they had even mastered correct proportions and depth perception. There’s nothing wrong with that of course; this is why we have children, so they can paint our walls and furniture to their heart’s content. If Picasso had done this under his own volition it would have been a different matter entirely.”
** The art world is a jungle. And the jungle is full of traps.
One of them is the squinting owl at Balthazar, a bar in New York City named after a character in one of Marcel Proust’s novels. The bar features on its walls a classic painting by Picasso, his portrait of a squinting owl.
But the picture has been defaced. Someone has scrawled over it with a black marker pen: “This painting is fake.” The accusation seems to be directed at both the painter and the owner of the bar.
This is not just an amusing prank. The idea that this portrait of an owl was painted by somebody other than Picasso raises questions about authenticity in art and about our attitude to art. Who do we trust when we look at art? How do we know what we like? What do we mean when we say that a work of art is good? Or bad? Or fake?
These are difficult questions and they are worth thinking about – especially if you plan to make your living as an artist or an art dealer or curator or critic or collector or appraiser or auctioneer or museum director or anyone else who might have to decide what you like, what you think is good, why you
The first Picasso work I ever saw was in the window of a bookshop, the second at a friend’s house. By contrast, the first Todd White art I ever saw was outside the MOMA, the second at a gallery in New York City.
Telling apart Picasso from Todd White isn’t hard: Picasso is famous and Todd White is not. The first cost $100M in an auction, the second $30. If you’re really interested to know who is who, read on. But if you just want to see some cool art, skip this article and go to Google Images and type “Picasso” or “Todd White”.
You’d think that if anyone could tell these two giants of modern art apart it would be a room full of experts. Not so. It seems that no one can tell them apart except me. And I have no formal art education or training other than being a voracious reader of art blogs and magazines (and now books) for nearly 30 years.
In fact, I think there are many more people like me who can tell Picasso from Todd White than there are people who can tell Jackson Pollock from Mark Rothko—another pair of giants whose style is similar. This suggests that being
White is a professional artist. He has been educated in the same sort of art schools and museums that Picasso came up through. His work is displayed in galleries and museums around the world, which is where we see it.
But that doesn’t mean his work isn’t worth looking at. In fact, he’s on a roll. His recent paintings have been all over the place, but they’re always interesting, often beautiful and almost always recognizable as White’s work. They’re also entirely in the mainstream of modernism – which makes for some interesting juxtapositions once you notice them.
Name:The Art of War