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Old World Art References In Iconic 2000s Pics
When old world becomes new world
Art Girls Jungle 28 Jul 2019

At first glance, old world art and the early 2000s have exactly nothing in common. Think again. History is destined to repeat itself, and low-rise jeans are no cause for exception. To make up for the art history paper I was never allowed to write, today I’ll be unearthing the shocking similarities between classical art and 2000s pop culture. The compare/contrast exercise just might reveal some profound truths about the nature of reality.
Warning: what you see below may shake the very foundations of your worldview. Proceed with caution.
1) Paris Hilton, a secret sage
the simple life Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project
Grant Wood, American Gothic (1930).
…Otherwise, why would the cover of her iconic reality TV show reference this equally iconic Grant Wood painting? The only conclusion is that Paris has a much higher IQ than all of us combined. She’s probably secretly running NASA for all we know. Need more proof? Consider that Paris was kind of the first Kardashian, before there even were Kardashians. She was a wizard at milking the press to boost her own popularity (and bank account). I mean, the girl once called a press conference to alert the media that she and her BFF were no longer BFFs.
2) The art of pole dancing
paris hilton pole dancing dancer degas
Edgar Degas, Dancer (c. 1877-78).
If you think Paris looks trashy as she whips her hair on the pole at Light Nightclub in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, think again. She is, in fact, asserting her affinity with a time-honored tradition of artists.
Over the centuries, artists have been drawn to dancers, intrigued by their graceful movements and sumptuous costumes. Of course, Degas is the dancer artist—the man made hundreds of paintings of ballerinas, on stage and behind the scenes.
Place these two images side by side and the similarities are striking. From their poses (arms up, legs straight) to the lighting, and even the anonymous onlookers in the foreground, they remind us to take our judgments about “high” and “low” art forms with a grain of salt. After all, even ballet, the pinnacle of refinement today, used to be a scandalous profession. In the nineteenth centuries, polite society enjoyed the theater and the ballet, but wouldn’t be caught dead mingling with actresses and dancers, as many of them were also sex workers.
Sound familiar? An heiress with a sex tape, Paris embodies a similar tension between opulence, class and transgression.
3) Kim K., a modern saint
kim k angel wings transfiguration-1442 fra angelico
Fra Angelico, Transfiguration (1440-42).
Here we have a pre-fame Kim K, looking saintly with all her angelic charms on display. Has she already hatched her plan for world domination by sex tape? No way to know, but the seeds of her public image are already here. Kim managed to become such a popular pop culture figure because she’s an expert at playing Madonna and whore at the same time.
On one hand, her fame rests entirely on her sex appeal: catapulted into the spotlight with a sex tape, she’d be nowhere without that legendary ass. On the other, she keeps her public image squeaky clean. Kim’s a serial monogamist, not to mention she doesn’t drink. Unlike her old BFF, Paris, Kim would never be caught dead sloppy wasted in Vegas. Even her sex tape is pretty sexless, not that I’ve watched it.
While Kim is no Christ, there are some parallels between her story and the transfiguration. According to the Bible, Christ appeared, resplendent, to his disciples from the top of a mountain. In this Fra Angelico painting, we can see the lesser saints literally blown away by the prophet’s divinity. She’s no messiah, but she’s arguably as well known and divisive in our day as Jesus was in his. Like the Holy Spirit, Kim K. is everywhere. Her perfectly airbrushed face and unmistakable curves outshine all lesser celebrities. Try as you might, you simply can’t keep up.
4) Dirrty or divine?
christina aguilera in front of a mirror venus-in-front-of-the-mirror-1554.jpg!Large
Titian, Venus in front of the mirror (1553-54).
In art, mirrors contain a wealth of symbolism: identity, illusion (think smoke and mirrors), narcissism, facing truth. But put a naked lady in front of a mirror and let’s just say the meaning shifts.
In times gone by, artists got away with painting naked women by naming them after mythological goddesses. It can’t be dirty if it’s classical culture, right? Never mind that the Greeks and Romans were just as horny as Renaissance Italians, if not more.
Today, we’ve mostly abandoned this tradition. In the page of Playboy and Internet porn, a boob is a boob is a boob. And yet, in this photo, Christina embodies many tenants of art historical allure. Artfully posed, she conceals and reveals at the same time. Using the mirror, she pulls off the demure, turned away pose as the classic eye contact move at the same time. While Titian’s Venus uses her mirror to admire herself, Christina’s mirror allows her to confront the viewer head-on. She knows you’re there, and she sees you looking.
She’s not the first one to pull this trick. Diego Velazquez stuck a mirror in front of his Venus, presumably to show off her pretty face. But her gaze doesn’t pierce the viewers quite like Christina’s. In fact, you can’t really tell where she’s looking. And for that, we’re giving Christina a seat at the old world art canon table.
5) Some things never change
kate moss odalisque the clothed maja goya
Francisco de Goya, The Clothed Maja (1800).
While we’re on the subject of odalisques, here’s another side-by-side for the art history books. In this 2000 pic, Kate Moss gives the classic pose a grungy overhaul, throwing in fishnets and cigarette. But the composition, pose, lighting and even the drapey fabric bears striking similarity to Goya’s picture from exactly two centuries ago. Fashions might come and go, but sexy, lounging women are timeless.
6) A modern twist on old world art portraiture
miley and dog portrait-of-an-eleven-year-old-girl-with-a-dog-dressed-in-spanish-fashion.jpg!Large
Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of an eleven year old girl with dog, dressed in Spanish fashion (17th century).
Young Miley Cyrus cradling a puppy while rolling her eyes is a major mood. In fact, some might call it a permamood. I’m trying and failing to think of a time I haven’t related to this picture on a deep, spiritual level. On one hand, she’s fed up with the tedium of her surroundings. Her ennui is on full display with an eye roll that would make the brattiest of pre-teens jealous. Meanwhile, the fluffy ball of joy in her right hand represents youth, innocence, loyalty and affection. The result? Miley comes off as world-weary, endearing and relatable, all at once.
It’s a fully-loaded omelet of connotations rivalling the most skilled portrait artists. Take Cornelis de Vos’s Portrait of an eleven year old girl with dog. She might not be outwardly rolling her eyes, but for an eleven year old, this girl sure looks like she’s seen some shit. She looks like she could make a governess cry in 3 seconds flat. Or break an antique Ming vase and blame it on her little brother without batting an eyelash. And can we talk about her hand placement for a sec? why is cupping that poor puppy’s muzzle like she’s about to clench her first around it? As you can see, both pictures hold much more than meets the eye.
7) A kiss for the ages
britney kisses madonna the fraternal kiss
Besides the Notebook kiss in the rain, this might just be the most famous kiss of 2000s pop culture. Who can forget the on-stage smooch between Britney and Madonna at the 2003 MTV VMAs? When these two icons locked lips, a star was born. It’s as if Madonna, the reigning high priestess of pop, symbolically passed the baton to her young apprentice.
Personally, I can’t see this image without thinking of another famous same-sex kiss: the Fraternal Kiss between German and Russian communist leaders Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev. A photograph taken on a state visit in 1979 became the subject of a Berlin Wall graffiti painting that you can see in East Berlin to this day.
Both kisses proclaim an alliance between public figures with a vested interest in preserving the status quo. Neither kiss is between equals, but bestows the promise of collaboration and support. Of course, both authoritarian world orders have since fallen—the Soviet Union collapsed, and a handful of pop stars no longer reign over the music industry—but these pictures survive as proof that they happened.
8) Britney, a modern prophet of unrest
britney meltdown with umbrella 2007 the-fight-unnecessary fragonard
Jean-Honore Fragonard, The fight unnecessary (18th century).
Fast forward four years, and the tides have turned on Brit. Mid-2007 meltdown, When paparazzi descended on Britney at a gas station, angling for a shot of her newly shaved head, she famously attacked one of their SUVs with an umbrella, screaming “fuck you!” The resulting shot captured the essence of early 2000s pop culture in its unsavory decadence. It was the logical culmination of all the clubbing pics, DUIs and drug charges that loomed in the background of all our favorite 2000s celebrity moments. Smashing her umbrella against the SUV, Britney sounded the death knell for the entire era.
In a way, the early 2000s were not unlike the Rococo. Fueled by frivolity, conspicuous wealth and bad behavior, the Rococo also came to an end with a bang. A somewhat bigger one—the French Revolution. Like Britney’s meltdown, Fragonard’s The fight unnecessary can be read on two different levels: personal and societal.
In Britney’s case, a personal rock bottom corresponded with the death of a certain kind of star, and even a certain kind of lifestyle. That same year, the Great Recession hit, putting an end to careless consumption that fueled 2000s celebrity culture. Although Fragonard’s painting comes before the Revolution, we can’t help but read into the ominous foreshadowing.
In his signature frilly Rococo style, Fragonard shows a young woman about to strike a sleeping boy with a pillow. Even more so than Britney’s umbrella, it’s a laughable weapon better suited for releasing unfocused rage than inflicting any actual harm. As the title suggests, the woman’s grievances are probably petty, the fight unnecessary, like Britney’s. But actually, if we read both pictures as symbols for deeper societal pains, they became not only necessary, but inevitable. Think of these squabbles as canaries in the cultural coal mine, symptoms of underlying unrest soon to surface.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Want to tag me in @jerrygogosian memes?
⇩⇩⇩Drop hunny a line below ⇩⇩⇩
Text by Katya Lopatko.
Images via TV Guide, Wikipedia, W Magazine, WikiArt, @2000s.pop, @2000snowbunny, @2000sanxiety, The Charnel House, US Weekly.

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