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Victoria Pass

Confronting Manet: Artists Responding to Race, Gender, and Modernism in Manet

         Larry Rivers, Yasumasa Morimura, and Crudeoils (the artistic team of Wafaa Bilal and Shawn Lawson) have responded to Manet’s works in their own chosen media by using direct quotations and appropriations. Their works have engaged with the canon of art history and Manet’s place within it. How do these contemporary artists see themselves within this canon? How do these artists see themselves in relation to Manet, what do they see as his place in the canon?  Through the exploration of these specific works I hope to engage the question of how the weight of history affects artists.I will begin my thesis by setting up the way in which art historians and critics have interpreted Manet’s work.

           I will then explore Rvers’, Morimura’s and Crudeoils’ responses to Manet’s work, which deal with the issues of race, gender, and the alienation symptomatic of modern life, all issues raised in the nineteenth century by Manet. Manet’s works are icons of urbanity and modern life and these three artists explore the ways in which issues of modernity continue to be relevant.

          Larry Rivers’ sculptural work, “I Like Olympia in Blackface” (1970), Yasumasa Morimura’s series of photographs dealing with Olympia (1988) and “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” (1990), and Crudeoils’ video installation “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” (2004) will be the focus of my inquiry. Rivers’ work confronts the issues of race and sexuality in Olympia head on. Morimura’s works brings up, more specifically, Orientalism’s relationship to modernism. The crux of both of these artists’ works lies in the substitution of the iconic white female with either a black woman or an Asian man. Crudeoils’ work poses questions about gender and the gaze. This work examines the place of the viewer in modernism by making the work interact with the viewer. Crudeoils also deals with role reversals, for example, that between the painting and the viewer. All of these works, like Manet’s ur-text,  explore art’s ability to be confrontational.

           The ways in which these works deal with other legacies of modernism, such as flatness and appropriation, is vital to understanding them. Through their use of media other than painting, these artists can pose questions about the world of the original painting and the world of the viewer.  I want to tease out of these works what these artists see as the place of Modernism in Postmodernism via Manet. As students of Manet, these artists all utilize Manet’s approach of confronting his audience with his art. For these artists Manet seems to function as a herald of Postmodernism through his own interest in appropriation and confrontation.


           Victoria Pass received her BA in Art History from Boston University. While attending SAIC, she interned at the Chicago Historical Society working on the Leopold and Loeb exhibition and in the Art Institute of Chicago’s department of Prints and Drawings. She has also worked at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore and at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C.


Thesis Advisor: Kymberly N. Pinder, Associate Professor and Graduate Director, Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Thesis Reader: Michael Newman, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Second Reader: Debra Mancoff, Adjunct Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism



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