Some Thoughts on Art as a Point of Connection
Between What Has Been and What Can Be
By Yassana Croizat-Glazer, Ph.D.
Founder and Principal, YCG Art
At this point in my life, I’ve come to realize that the future is everything, and yet it cannot exist without the past. In fact, the past never trails far behind, neither the moments that we deeply miss, nor the ones we’d like to reimagine, ignore or even excise like tumors. By keeping an eye on our pasts, we can better safeguard our futures, analyze our mistakes as a species, at times too abominable for words, and assess what we consider progress.
And we can look too, at the many remarkable threads of thought, practice and feeling that stretch across time and space and allow us to examine how values endure or not—and why. Art offers a particularly rich terrain for exploring these issues, which is one of the reasons it remains a perpetual source of interest for me.
Among many cultures past and present, steadiness and continuity have been prioritized by maintaining a constant connection with history, a process facilitated through the preservation of certain visual idioms. This explains, for example, why the art of Ancient Egypt remained relatively stable over millennia. The practice of retrieving “vestiges” from a distant past is another phenomenon that emerges frequently in the making of art for a variety of reasons, including political ones.
King Sahure and a Nome God, ca. 2458-2446 B.C. Old Kingdom, Dynasty 5. Gneiss, 25 3/16 x 18 1/8 x 16 5/16 inches. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
This occurs very clearly, for instance, in France at the end of the 18th century, when revolutionaries relied on the artistic vocabulary of Ancient Greece and Rome, perceived as the birthplaces of democracy, in their mission to abolish the absolute monarchy.
Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784. Oil on canvas, 129 3/4 x 167 1/2 inches. Louvre, Paris.
Over the centuries, there have been countless artists, who, whether because of ideological motivations, creative reasons, or to satisfy a patron’s request, have referred to the work of their predecessors to varying degrees in their own output. Among today’s artists, many have done so emphatically, including Jeff Koons, John Currin, Rachel Feinstein, Kehinde Wiley, Barry X Ball, and Kara Walker to name but a few. As an art historian, writer, curator, art dealer and advisor, looking for such references and considering their significance is an activity I engage in on a nearly daily basis, whether I’m assisting clients, visiting an exhibition or writing an article or Instagram post.
In establishing professional relationships, I often gravitate towards artists with a strong interest in one, or many, aspects of the past; this propensity can be more or less obvious in their work and pertain not only to content but to technique as well. The individuals I work with have taught me so much about the different ways a contemporary artist might choose to process the past in their work, and why that very act is meaningful.
Morgan Everhart, Fall (Fallow Me) part of the Four Seasons series, 2019. Acrylic on plastex, 96 x 48 inches. YCG Fine Art, New York. Everhart’s series draws inspiration from the Art Nouveau posters of Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha. In the case of Fall (Fallow Me), the artist had in mind Mucha’s Fruit of 1897.
Jane Banks, Untitled (Descendant), 2019. Acrylic on panel, 12 x 12 inches. YCG Fine Art, New York. Banks’s interest in Renaissance portraiture, such as the anamorphic portrait of Edward VI (1546, National Portrait Gallery, London), reveals itself in this distorted representation of a young man.
By engaging with images and objects made 50, 500 or 5,000 years ago, by opening up a dialogue with a moment vanished long ago, artists today encourage us to remember, to question, to challenge, to appreciate, and especially to look carefully at what has been—and what can be. In other words, in that moment when a dab of paint, an etched line, or a chiseled stone becomes a point of connection between then and now, we can find guidance for what we want of ourselves today and tomorrow.
Allen Hirsch, Lafayette Shutdown, March 2020. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. YCG Fine Art, New York. HIrsch’s connection to seventeenth-century Dutch art, particularly the paintings of Pieter de Hooch, permeates much of his work, such as this view of Lafayette Street made during the recent lockdown, as expressed in the artist’s handling of light, space and atmospheric effects.
About the Author
Yassana Croizat-Glazer received her Ph.D. from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. After serving as a curator at The Metropolitan Museum Art, Yassana founded YCG FINE ART, an online gallery and art advisory business specializing in contemporary art, as well as European painting from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Exhibitions curated by Yassana include OFF CANVAS (Fall 2020) hosted by A Women’s Thing magazine, and FLESH & BLOOM: PAINTINGS BY MORGAN EVERHART for the David Owsley Museum (opening May 2021). In addition to contributing a column called “Past Matters” to A Women’s Thing, Yassana has authored several scholarly publications, most recently Exploration and Revelation: French Renaissance Studies in Honour of Colin Eisler (Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, University of Toronto, 2020).