Where are all the best postcards at the Magritte Museum? Put that in your pipe and smoke it

Plus: OMG –WTF is this TPM thing? And, Paul Noble: genius squared with madness

Share
Related Topics

The other day I caught Rachel Whiteread's contribution to Front
Row's excellent series, Cultural Exchange, in which a variety of
contemporary artists across all fields talk about a single artwork
that has been influential to them. Whiteread's selection was a
Bridget Riley painting called Fall, or rather a postcard of Fall,
which Whiteread had carried around with her as a kind of talisman
for years. It lead to a brief discussion of the art postcard as a
modern form of cultural souvenir – and, by coincidence, it chimed
with a recent postcard disappointment of my own, after visiting the
Magritte Museum
in Brussels for the first time a few days
before

The disappointment wasn't a novel experience. Sutcliffe's Law of the Museum Shop states that the availability of a postcard is likely to be in inverse ratio to your desire to possess it. You conceive a passion for a particular painting but when you go to buy a reproduction you discover that it hasn't made it into the postcard rack's Greatest Hits. It sometimes makes you wonder a little who decides what makes the cut and what doesn't.

Do the curators of the exhibition just pick their favourites? Or is a panel convened to weigh up the likely sales figures for individual works? I'm guessing that anything with a cat on it has a serious advantage in this Darwinian contest of marketplace fitness.

In this particular case, though I wasn't entirely surprised that it wasn't in the rows of miniaturised Magrittes. There were empty gaps in the racks, so it's possible they'd simply sold out on the day I went. But I'm guessing not, since the picture was a complete surprise to me and I couldn't even find it in a Google image search. I'd entered variations on the phrase "Magritte Penis Pipe". But though I got a lot of his most famous pipe – and was directed by a convoluted route to a less famous one – I couldn't find the picture I'd seen at the museum. Perhaps it's just been deemed too shocking for widespread reproduction though – because it was startling. The bowl was almost identical to the one that features in The Treachery of Images, the painting which includes the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" – but in this version the stem had been replaced by an erect penis.

It's quite tricky to think of an occasion for which a postcard version of this image would provide the perfect fit. Because, like other great surreal combinations, it's unsettling to look at. I found myself thinking of Meret Oppenheim's fur-covered cup and saucer, a similar collision of the tactile and the sexual, of genital metaphor and perturbing concrete object.

Magritte was making a verbal joke, I guess, since "faire la pipe" is one French term for fellatio. And you could easily object that the image doesn't deserve wider exposure because it makes explicit what lurks beneath the surface of The Treachery of Images.

It is, perhaps, just too obvious in its yoking of the inanimate and the animate, even a little crass in the way that it thrusts its meaning in your face (part of its effect comes from the fact that it is all but impossible to look at an image of a pipe without thinking, at some level, of the act of smoking one).

It isn't the only pipe/penis visual pun Magritte drew. There's another odd image in which a smoker's penile nose droops into the bowl of the pipe he's smoking, like a tobacco tamper. But that has none of the disturbing incongruity of the picture I'm talking about, which is altogether more jarring. And it disrupts the sense of Magritte as the most family-friendly and respectably bourgeois of the Surrealists (the furniture of his dream world is usually so municipal).

Maybe that's why it isn't available as a take-away. It wasn't that they thought that sales would be too slow. It's that they feared they might be unsettlingly high.

OMG –WTF is this TPM thing?

I'm not sure whether to be fascinated or appalled by SecondSync, a company which offers a sort of instant cardiogram of audience reaction to television shows based on analysis of tweets about them. On the one hand it's fun to look at their daily leaderboard of most tweeted programmes, which includes a record of the peak tweet-per-minute (TPM) rate and a graph registering surges in WTFs and OMGs (I'm guessing the Matterhorn spike in 127 Hours coincided with the penknife work). On the other hand how much worse could television get if commissioning editors start to compete for high TPM moments?

Genius squared with madness

I wasn't entirely convinced by the Hayward's Alternative Guide to the Universe exhibition, as fascinating as some of its exhibits were. But it was intriguing to discover just how hard it is to distinguish between artists and outsider artists. Fixed obsession with one subject and style? Well what about Rothko or Mondrian's work? Fascination with imaginary worlds and cityscapes? I give you Paul Noble, Turner Prize-shortlisted for his drawings of Nobson Newtown. Conviction that their work illuminates a hidden truth veiled by the superficial appearances of the world? Virtually every contemporary artist alive. The line between genius and madness isn't just fine. I'm not sure it's there at all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Secondary Supply Teachers to work in Peterborough

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers required fo...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
The colours of autumn leaves are among the many pleasures of the coming season  

In Sickness and in Health: As autumn arrives, more of us should wear high-vis clothes

Rebecca Armstrong
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week