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of Images, the painting which includes the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" – but in this version the stem had been replaced by an erect penis.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

Graduate Web Developer

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Graduate Database Developer (SQL)

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

Read Next
lowers, candles and other tributes in front of the Netherlands Embassy in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17  

To punish Putin for the MH17 disaster we must boycott Russia 2018

Jack Gilbert
 

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor