Tag Archives: art

Mona Lisa & an Iguana on 5th


MonaLisa Winking

While LVMH has Masters in their windows, someone at Gucci must be reading this blog.

How ELSE would an iguana wind up in the Gucci window on 5th Avenue this summer? (please see Day of the Iguana).

OR, Gucci Inc. has been following me since the late 80’s when I worked as a Christmas seasonal hire blissfully selling merchandise at the flagship 5th Avenue store, spending my days/eves chatting in Italian and English with Signora Rossellini (yes, Isabella’s grandmother and Elettra’s great grandmother) who was the concierge there in those years and who would randomly award me with those in her client book when they happened in on the store. Ah, what fun and nice commissions, too.

In any event, back to the iguana. Here it is: GucciIguana Window

GucciIguana CloseUp

…and a chameleon, too!

GucciChameleon CloseUp.jpg

There are also kitten head children one store front north of the iguana and chameleon.

Gucci KittenChildren

All this was quite the build-up as one walks up the avenue, to fashion conglomerate LVMH’s display/appropriation/misappropriation of the Mona Lisa and four other master works of art for luxury handbags designed by artist Jeff Koons for LVMH.

VanGogh LVMH Window

Frangonard LVMH Window

Where do I start with the wrongness of this? And yet I am drawn to the Titian tote despite its $2,800.00 price tag. Watch this and you’ll see why…

…and this…

At least the window displays are a more subdued treatment than the monumental projections of Mona Lisa & Co. when the collection launched. Drat! No photos and I was there for it, but too dazzled by the spectacle and too mournful of the Benjamin-ian auras decaying by the nanosecond. (please see The Digital Aura).

It is summer after all and even I could not resist a contemplative selfie (or two) with a winking Mona Lisa and a Titian AND hilarious passers-by in the background:SelfieWith Winking MonaLisa

SelfieWith WomanOnPhone

SelfieWithTitian AndWoman

photos, selfies and video by Carolyn



Current events news and media coverage of ongoing trouble in the Greek economy should remind us all of the cultural debt owed to Ancient Greece. Lest we forget, the basis of every effective form of persuasion, legal argument, political campaign and advertisement is STILL the Aristotelian appeals of ethos, pathos and logos, EVEN IN the age of user customization and mobile marketing.


Ethos triggers our moral compass, pathos tugs at our collective heart and logos appeals to our sense of reason, the hallmark of humanity.

All hail Aristotle as CultureArtMedia launches TheCultureTalks series Summer 2015 with EthosPathosLogos.


The Digital Aura: Selfie & Renaissance Gaze Shift

Portraits confront us on the most fundamental level of the self. Self-portraits, even more so.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the current obsession with social media self-portraits via the selfie. Is this a trend of collective narcissicism peaking in our increasingly mediated, digitized and posted lives? Or, is the selfie merely the result of the awesome technology literally in the palm of any smartphone wielding global citizen? Through visual and digital anthropology, aesthetic and media theory, citing art and photographic history, I will explore the digital aura and its significance in culture, art and media.

“Selfie” was a top 10 buzz word in American culture by 2012, though in use before then. “Gaze” has been in use much longer.

The “Renaissance Gaze Shift” is a concept used to describe the evolution from profile to a direct gaze in Renaissance portraiture, paralleled by a socio-economic shift in European wealth from the nobility to the merchant class. One of the Renaissance Gaze Shift’s novel effects, in addition to achieving a hallmark aesthetic, was to celebrate the “individual” which, I contend, is also the hallmark of contemporary selfies.

The term “gaze” was popularized by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan who was influential in the 1960’s and 70’s, to describe the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. The psychological effect, Lacan argues, is that the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object. Judging from any Facebook page, or celebrity Instagram account, this self-conscious, and even anxious state of being viewed, has obviously gone by the wayside in American culture. So too, has our autonomy from being viewed so regularly.

As facial recognition—that most primal and vital of functions—enters the technological realm, the digital aura, is taking on even greater significance, in my opinion. “Our brains are specialized to deal with faces. Indeed, face perception has evolved to occupy more space in our brain than any other figural representation”. [Kandel] As we eerily head toward cyborg life, is the ascent and dominance of a digital platform named Facebook to record our lives or of “app” games like Flinch, a popular online staring contest, any wonder?

Hence my nexus of the superficial selfie to the idealized faces of the Renaissance Gaze, which I show an evolution toward in The Digital Aura video above.

Returning to portraits and self-portraits, such self-images are controlled either by the artist toward the image he/she is rendering or by the sitter controlling the image he/she is putting forth. In other words, the aura. When artist and sitter work in concert, there is often a formidable image and aura created and conveyed. Such image and aura are the main characteristic of portraiture in its most exalted forms: the “royal portrait” and the “society portrait”.

The first photographic self-portrait in the “new medium” of photography (a medium that would come to rival portraits executed in paint) is attributed to Robert Cornelius of Philadelphia, PA, in 1839. The image he successfully captured of himself radiates a certain self-possession, striking both an image and an aura.

But do all self-portraits and their derivative selfies possess unique auras? If not, why not?

I think there’s a clue to addressing the above in the concept of the aura in works of art, as put forth by Walter Benjamin in his prescient and radical essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” which I’ve studied, examined and cited for many years.

But first, we must turn our gaze (all pun) back to the idealized faces of the Renaissance, before the development of photography, to the head-on confrontation of subject to viewer which developed alongside artistic innovations and socio-economic changes: the aforementioned Renaissance Gaze Shift.

The Renaissance Gaze was “third space” thinking and innovation. This preferred direct gaze aesthetic broke the bonds and confines from the revered profiles of the revived classical past. “While the profile portrait was de rigueur in Florence for most of the fifteenth century, artists in Flanders had been painting portraits of sitters turned in three-quarter view” [Virtue & Beauty] by the 1430’s, as well as inventing new media, techniques and a “radical new choice of subject matter: the ‘common’ individual. Northern Renaissance art was the first since antiquity to depict non royal subjects with regularity.” [Brad Finger]

The Flemish trends eventually found their way to Florence and the High Renaissance, so that those portrayed, noble or not, turn to face the viewer in three-quarter view. The Renaissance Gaze engaged the viewer, dramatically shifting the dynamic between subject, artist and viewer, hinting at an inner life thereby newly empowering the subject, art work and aura.

Apexing in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona La Giocanda aka the Mona Lisa, and Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, widely regarded as the prototype Renaissance Man in painting and in life. Enter the humanistic concept of “self-fashioning” [Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare as cited in Portraiture Oxford History of Art] a new notion complete with “how to” manifest Il Cortigiano/The Book of the Courtier penned by Castiglione himself. No longer did enculturation come only through aristocratic birthright and inherited fortune–it could be learned, a seed toward the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and ultimately Robert Cornelius. (I contend that the self-help, self-discovery and self-actualization movements which routinely become simplistically packaged in to fads, cults, and ceaseless “fountain-of-youth” products also have their roots in Renaissance Humanism, but I don’t want to diminish great minds or digress).

In my opinion, this shift in gaze challenged the concept of self in the way the selfie currently challenges our post-millennial concepts of self, identity, space and time. Therefore, every selfie has its roots in the Renaissance Gaze. Hence, my theory.

Selfie images are indeed portraits, no less contrived than a “society portrait” and increasingly “enhanced” through the use of “app” filter technology. But they are ephemeral, fleeting and of-the-moment, controlled and directed by the circumstance, whim and ego of the shooter (the self). It would take an entire iphone camera roll of selfies to grasp an authentic “portrait” of an individual.

Therefore, I find the selfie to be a micro-portrait and the Renaissance Gaze as the great ancestor of everything in our very visual culture from magazine covers, to the clichéd “Sears portrait”, and now also, the selfie.

End Part I.

To read more on my theory, please visit: The Digital Aura

Excerpt from The Digital Aura: Selfie & Renaissance Gaze Shift February 2015 – April 10, 2015 conceived and written by Carolyn A. McDonough with multimedia content video conceptualized and produced by Carolyn A. McDonough ©2015, 2019 and in perpetuity.

Works Cited:

Benjamin, Walter “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Media & Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001. 48-70.

Finger, Brad, 50 Portraits You Should Know. Prestel, 2014.

Kandel, Eric R., “Face to Face with Portraiture.” Eye to I 3000 Years of Portraiture. Katonah Museum of Art. 2013.

“Virtue & Beauty.” National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. nga.gov. Sept. 2001-Dec. 2002. <https://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2001/virtuebeauty/view.shtm>. p. 5.

West, Shearer, Portraiture Oxford History of Art. Oxford University Press, 2004.

WikimediaCommons. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RobertCornelius.jpg>.


Pisanello, Italian, c. 1395-1455 Cecilia Gonzaga, 1426-1451, daughter of Gianfrancesco I [obverse], 1447, lead, overall (diameter): 8.66 cm (3 7/16 in.) gross weight: 215.56 gr (0.475 lb.) axis: 12:00, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1957.14.609.a

Ercole de’ Roberti, Italian, c. 1455/1456-1496 Ginevra Bentivoglio, c. 1474/1477 tempera on panel overall: 53.7 x 38.7 cm (21 1/8 x 15 1/4 in.) framed: 80 x 66 x 7.6 cm (31 1/2 x 26 x 3 in.) Samuel H. Kress Collection 1939.1.220

Girolamo di Benvenuto, Italian, 1470-1524 Portrait of a Young Woman, c. 1508 oil on panel painted surface: 58.1 x 43.2 cm (22 7/8 x 17 in.) overall: 60 x 45 cm (23 5/8 x 17 11/16 in.) framed: 75.6 x 59.7 x 8.3 cm (29 3/4 x 23 1/2 x 3 1/4 in.) Samuel H. Kress Collection 1939.1.353

Leonardo da Vinci, Italian, 1452-1519 Ginevra de’ Benci [obverse], c. 1474/1478 oil on panel overall (original panel only): 38.1 x 37 cm (15 x 14 9/16 in.) overall (thickness of original panel): 1.1 cm (7/16 in.) overall (with addition at bottom edge): 42.7 x 37 cm (16 13/16 x 14 9/16 in.) overall (thickness of addition at bottom edge): 1.9 cm (3/4 in.) framed: 59.7 x 57.8 x 3.8 cm (23 1/2 x 22 3/4 x 1 1/2 in.) Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1967.6.1.a

WikimediaCommons, Robert Cornelius, self-portrait, “the first light Picture ever taken”, 1839

CultureArtMedia.com, selfie, Carolyn A. McDonough

©2015 Carolyn A. McDonough


Bravo to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for mounting a heroically comprehensive homage to Alexander McQueen to coincide with Paris Fashion Week 2015, which includes the profoundly memorable Savage Beauty. I was among the lucky to view its closing night at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In my opinion, Savage Beauty references culture, art, media, multi-media, performance art, technology, art + engineering, memory, identity, gender, and of course, fashion, in astounding and, as yet, unparalleled ways. Its use of screens, projections, TV monitors, soundscape, and the inclusion of its haunting hologram, affected me deeply and lastingly.

In the words of Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1 & Chief Curator “art can be beautiful” but “good art…has a disturbing quality, it makes you stop…and examine what is real in your life”. This was indeed my experience in attending Savage Beauty on its closing night. Both the exhibition as a whole and seeing the Kate Moss hologram are experiences I’m still processing on many levels–experiences that have forced me to confront “reality”, perception and meaning in culture, art, media, fashion, narrative, design, beauty, violence, nature, death, curating, and genius.

Closing night of the Met’s exhibition was a “happening” in and of itself. I can personally vouch for this. As I wound my way serpentine waiting on line chatting with a German director most known for his Pantene shampoo commercials, both outside and then through the entire museum, the line was buzzing with anticipatory energy. I myself had a close encounter with Anna Wintour, Chief Editor of Vogue, who smirked at my outfit while bypassing me in line, startling me as this a compliment of sorts, coming from her. Having stood in line for 3 hours, I finally entered at 11:00pm (The Met kept the museum open for 24 hours, to accommodate as many final visitors as possible.) Finally inside its confines, I became fuzzy on museum policy and took photos to capture what I was immersed in, until I was reprimanded by a guard. The rooms were packed and warm with body heat, the crowding was scary.

Here is the Met’s curator Andrew Bolton on Savage Beauty:

The curator’s video illustrates how powerful this exhibition was to see in person. I can speak to this power. In the crush, I became obsessed with the “McQueen Tartan” pant suit upon first sight (it appears on the far left of the screen at 3:38 in the Romantic Nationalism room) a rare phenomenon I’ve only felt toward fashion a few times prior. I had the simultaneous, visceral feelings upon viewing it that “I would kill for it and wear it every Christmas for the rest of my life”. The divergence in these radical urges that came up in me from viewing a garment, is a testament to the art of seduction and the “dark arts” magic of McQueen. This exhibition is clearly not pretty dresses on mannequins. This is the work of a master tailor at war within himself, subverting his craft, and fashioning (all pun) art from this deep internal conflict.

An example of such inner struggle is the display of Dress No. 13 from McQueen’s 1999 No. 13 Collection. In the finale of this collection’s showing, it was worn by a model/ trained ballerina teetering on a rotating platform while being attacked, i.e. “shot” with paint by two robots, built by Fiat, that took one week to program. The concept was inspired by an installation of the artist Rebecca Horn, and the result, I can assure you, is much more than mere “Pollock couture” (my phrase). I have to think the artists Billy Kluver & Tinguely would have appreciated the “man vs. machine” engineering concept and de-construction of the formerly pristine dress. Have a look:

As is widely known and mourned, the darkness and tension of the runway ultimately peaked in real life with McQueen’s suicide by hanging himself in a wardrobe, in February 2010 at the age of 40, on the eve of his mother’s funeral. Even his death was self-orchestrated performance art complete with metaphor, one could say, though too painful and shocking for the industry he worked within and those close to him, to presume this. His untimely death, a year before the Met show mounted but already well within the planning and curatorial process, then became a ghostly presence in the final exhibition, like a modern-day Macbeth.

McQueen remains one of the rare exceptions in fashion with his work being described in art terms. Both a conceptualist and a formalist, narrative was of the utmost importance to him in his collections, putting him on a par with contemporary artists of note, in my opinion. Also an obsessive blogger, McQueen was ever examining his work and seeking ways to engage the public in his work, as many contemporary and DIY artists do. In 2010, he live-streamed his collection “Plato’s Atlantis” an outlandish array of monumental designs, that left me stunned upon seeing those selected for display at Savage Beauty.

In a tortured irony, with his own surname acting as pun, the House of McQueen posthumously dressed the bride Kate Middleton for the British royal wedding in April 2011, just one month before the opening of Savage Beauty, in which McQueen holds the English to account for their Scottish genocide, through his highly controversial 1995 Highland Rape collection, shown within the exhibition. A maddening dichotomy, befitting a queen, indeed.


Written by Carolyn A. McDonough, April 2014 for the Museum of Modern Art’s online course Catalysts taught by multi-media artist Randall Packer. Revised by the author on March 14, 2015 upon the opening of Savage Beauty at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
©CAM All Rights Reserved
CultureArtMedia.com™ & CarolynArtMedia.com™

References and Related Links:

Conversations: McQueen’s Savage Beauty [Andrew Bolton on McQueen’s creative producers]

Designer as Dramatist and the Tales He Left Behind

Alexander McQueen in All His Dark Glory




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Video/Photo Credits:
Video Backdrop of Ca’d’Oro, Venice, Italy
still photo by B. McDonough
video capture by B. McDonough
-CAM with funerary relief of Attia Rufilla, Mid 1st c, Marble, Collection of the Florence Lehman Loeb Art Center
-CAM with Rev. Billy at Joe’s Pub, post-opening of HoneyBeeLujah!

photos courtesy of FFLAC and B. McDonough
Hair by VuSalon and Randi/Eclipse/Aveda

The Moment of Conception

Photo credit: Brian P. McDonough

The above photo appears within the End-Note of my paper “Avedon’s Legacy to Media: ‘Paparazzi’ as Tipping Point to Portraits” which receives many views per week on my academia.edu account that span the globe. My research and papers on the photography of Richard Avedon are often rated as my most popular by academia.edu’s Analytics which are obtained, compiled and reported to me weekly through search engine keyword matches.

To me, the photos on this blog post communicate my personal definition of art. What is art, if not, the moment of its conception? The moment the muse visits, time stands still, it loses its grip, it becomes the timeLESS, thereby linking art with time, in what the mystics call the “eternal now”. In this awareness, we are shown the neutrality, the brutality, the potential hilarity–and the beauty–of any given moment. Recently two doves reminded me…