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Saturday September 20, 2014
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Bernard Picart's prints

 

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One scene of a languid version of the Hindu god Ganesh (above) shows the god's four arms fused at the elbow instead of properly attached at the shoulder. Probably because of a blip in Picart's written sources, bizarre-looking multiple forearms appear in other works too, weird arm-flowers resembling a cross between windmills and a juggling manual.

A raunchier picture of Ganesh shows him with incongruous woolly satyr's goat legs, holding out his arms in a cocky "check me out" attitude. Picart's wide if misleading influence may be seen in one of the exhibit's several copies of his work by other artists; in this case, an English engraver woodenly imitated Picart's vibrant Ganesh scene but puritanically erased the naughty bits.

The same censorious primness is seen in another English copy — minus several juicy details — of my favorite Picart work, which depicts a dreamlike forest full of mystical wild men practicing odd rites. The work seems to be the product of an attentive, engaged anthropologist, whose attitude absorbs the viewer as well. In the fakirs' midst, tucked in a small temple under an ancient tree, a massive, serene god's face gazes dreamily into the infinite.

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