MADRID – A Japanese aristocrat launched on Monday the preview of an exhibition at a Spanish museum featuring the work of her late husband – known by his artistic name Balthus – which in the past has caused controversy due to his candid depiction of young girls, which some critics consider as erotic.
A retrospective exhibition at Madrid’s renowned Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum showcasing Polish-French artist Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (1908-2001), considered one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic and mysterious painters, was presented by his widow, who lamented that there were still many people intent on not viewing his art.
“There are people who do not want to see the art, well, okay, I don’t mind, but it is a shame that problems arise when people make these types of observations,” Countess Setsuko Klossowski said, in reference to the long-standing uproar that erupted over the Balthus painting “Therese Dreaming,” which shows a young girl daydreaming while unaware that her underwear is in full view.
The exhibition, which was organized by the Spanish gallery in collaboration with the Switzerland-based Beyeler Foundation, has been supported by the painter’s family and displays 47 canvasses, including the controversial painting of the young girl Balthus created in 1938.
Owned by the American Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the painting has defiantly withstood the battle against some 12,000 outraged people who signed a petition to get the canvas withdrawn from public viewings.
The MET refused to take the canvass down despite the public pressure.
“I get asked about this a lot,” Setsuko said. “And I reply: let’s see, are we talking about art or something else? Because if we are discussing something else, fine, everyone has the right to express their opinion, but if we are talking about art then that is something different entirely.”
“It is like with children,” the Japanese countess, who is also a painter, continued. “If a child doesn’t like spinach, well, we give them something else. This is the same, but it pains me that instead of talking about art we end up talking of these opinions.”
Juan Angel Lopez-Manzanares, the curator of the Thyssen’s Balthus exhibition – which is the first one held in Spain ever since the Reina Sofia Museum of Art showcased Balthus’ work 23 years ago – addressed the gallery’s policy on the issue.
“The museum has adopted a policy of open debate on the issue but above all wants to contextualize Balthus’ work in order to better understand it and so that viewers don’t judge him based on some of the contemporary debates (surrounding his work),” he explained.
“Balthus started to paint in 1933, with the rise of the Nazis, a period of anxiety for Western culture,” the curator added. “And as a modern painter, he was exposed and influenced by the era’s interest in sexuality, which did not only affect him, but also Picasso and many others.”
“For Balthus, the theme of childhood had a special, more transcendental and important meaning, in line with (Austrian writer Rainer Maria) Rilke,” Lopez-Manzanares added, referencing the relationship between Balthus’ mother and the influential poet, who also ended up mentoring the painter.
The Spanish curator went on to accuse critics of hanging on to the erotic qualities of his earlier paintings, adding that the Frenchman’s style progressed and changed as he grew older.
A good example of this would be the works he produced during his later years while he lived at his Swiss chalet.
The Balthus retrospective is set to run at the Thyssen Museum until May 26.