Apartment Therapy makes us want to clutter our walls with framed art and all your cool friends of friends with art history degrees and jobs want to know who your favorite artist is. Avoid making your apartment look like a dorm room, post-campus center poster sale, by knowing the all the art clichés and moderately impress gallery hawks with some mainstream, less hackneyed alternatives.
1. Art Nouveau Posters
Art nouveau’s spaghetti lines, elementary French banners, and sinuous lady lumps have been hanging around dorms and bathrooms like an absinthe hangover since the 1890s. They’re the most intractable eye worm of the Art.com age: stumble upon one on a thank you note or the wall of a high end grocery store and you’ll be plastering your notebooks and kitchen walls with that terrifying, underfed Chat Noir for the next eighteen months. Late Victorian ad men kept trotting out the same Medusa-haired, vaguely pre-Raphaelite princesses to foist opium-laced tonics on the plebes of Paris in poster after poster and if we’ve kicked the patent medicine habit, we’ve become obsessed with those ladies and their conveniently draped dresses. Yes, the posters are slinky and stylish, with a whiff of chi-chi imperialism and Dorian Grey decadence and marquee names like Moulin Rogue and Tulouse-Lautrec. But that preening peacock has been beaten to death. An Art Nouveau poster doesn’t give your kitchen or your cooking any French authenticity, particularly when you purchased it at a calendar stand in the mall. It’ll just make you look like a Louis-come-lately to the Francophile party.
Seriously. Don’t feed a stray Chat Noir. It’ll stick around.
If you like that, try this: Aubrey Beardsley’s gently filthy and hilarious prints, where art nouveau’s elongated lines make for some great genitalia; Alphonse Mucha’s woodland interiors, part Keebler elf tree, part Arthurian fantasy, all lavishly kitsch; anything that doesn’t feature a pantalooned kick line or a cat.
2. The Starry Night
Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is to a vaguely alternative adolescent’s bedroom as star gazing and “feeling small” are to romantic movies and first dates: hackneyed, forced, and less profound than you think. Van Gogh’s swirly impasto sky is admittedly beautiful, but it’s so overdone it should be included in college-issued dorm shopping lists, right next to “shower shoes.” Meanwhile, if you want your apartment to announce that you just moved into adulthood and your first place with an actual stove, make sure to hang Starry Night print above that red leather IKEA couch. Sunflowers is dead too. Don’t you dare try to squeak into Apartment Therapy with that one on your walls.
If you like that, try this: the work of Van Gogh’s best frenemy, Paul Gaugin, with similar heavy brush work and bright colors and significantly more naked Tahitians. If you insist on Van Gogh and cosmic splendor, at least tack Starry Night over the Rhone to your walls instead. Again, we’re not trying to break anything or impress Simon de Pury.
Ah, Rothko. The art everyone pretends to understand and no one really does. Rothko thought he pumped all the basic human emotions into his paintings and that his agony and effort in their creation could trigger a religious experience in their viewers. And maybe he did. A wall of them at the Tate Modern attracts a lot of art gawkers, mostly self-styled critics trying to find Nietzsche and/or themselves in the blankness. And like a lot of modern artistis, Rothko draws a lot of defiant “I/my toddler could paint that/pass that off as art!” But you didn’t so Rothko gets to be famous for rectangles of color and Duchamp gets to be famous for a urinal turned on its side. Even Mad Men poked fun at the inanity of Rothko’s cult when amateur art collector Bert Cooper purchased one of his multiform paintings as an investment in almost horror of its abstractness–and Mad Men names episodes revolving around baked bean ads after Plath poems. Bert doesn’t get it, you probably don’t get it, and your friend who once took an art history course in college and now struts around museums self-importantly mixing up Koonz and de Kooning doesn’t get it either. So can we all stop pretending?
If you like that, try this: Barnett Newman’s zip paintings are similarly saturated and stark and so sharp they make Rothko’s color fields look like they’ve been fed through untracked VCR. Clyfford Still’s colorfields are jagged as if pixilated and the blackholes in Robert Motherwell’s 100-painting Elegy to the Spanish Republic that might just be abstract depictions of a dead bull’s testicles.
With themes anyone with a copy of Edith Hamilton can grasp and fondness for fierce broads with WWF necks and ANTM hair, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are rakish, accessible bunch. Their paintings are lush and sexual, William Morris’ designs go with anything, and, more importantly, their personal lives were the stuff of a laudanum soaked soap opera. John Millais married and deflowered John Ruskin’s virgin wife, Morris’ wife Jane had a torrid affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt had a religious epiphany that led him to paint goats for a number of years. All these affairs, heaving bosoms, and drowned ladies have become really popular among the breed of earnest hipsters who wear their grandmothers’ clothes and like period dramas genuinely, not ironically, to the point that everyone’s girlfriend’s favorite art is Pre-Raphaelite art and even if we’re post-post modern we’ll never be post-Raphaelite.
If you like that, try this: Anyone but Waterhouse, the audience in Rossetti’s Bob Ross broadcast; maybe work from the weird few years when P-R Brother William Holman Hunt painted nothing but goats that were supposed to be Jesus; a portrait of yourself
Honorable mentions: The parody staples, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and American Gothic; Bansky; Pollack; Degas and all our prima ballerina dreams.