Mona Lisa doesn’t need to have work done. But that didn’t stop Marcel Duchamp in 1919 from painting a mustache on his version of the enigmatic beauty in his not-quite-a-tribute painting, “L.H.O.O.Q.”
The partners of Charlotte’s Ciel Gallery, an artists’ collective, decided to put their own spin on Mona Lisa and other masterpieces. Those paintings – homages all – will be up for auction Thursday, and money raised will go to the Arts & Science Council.
Perry Mixter, ASC’s vice president for development, said this is the first time artists have come together to raise money for the umbrella organization.
At Ciel’s monthly meeting in January, Emily Andress brought up the idea of a silent auction – a fun turnabout since it’s usually the ASC raising money to support artists.
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Andress was on a high after being named one of ASC’s 2015 ArtPop artists. (She and 19 other visual artists get their work displayed on billboards.) “It’s shocking the benefit I’ve gotten from the exposure,” she said. “All of a sudden, my career exploded.”
The Ciel artists answered the call. “Everyone wanted to give back,” said Andress. “And we said: ‘If you’re going to do this, donate your best.’ That’s what we got.”
Every artist in the collective in South End is participating, and everyone is giving 100 percent of the net proceeds. (A small amount – 5 percent – goes to the online auction company.)
“This is just a big circle of artistic love,” Andress said of the relationship the ASC has with the artists it supports – and vice versa.
The theme for Ciel’s May show was already planned to be “Skew the Masters,” based on a painting Ciel member Jean Cauthen had done. Her inspiration was Hyacinthe Rigaud’s image of King Louis XIV.
“This is the painting you always see in any discussion of Louis XIV,” said Cauthen. “It is fantastically over the top and encompasses all that The Sun King wanted to portray about himself, from his wig to the tips of his high heels, which he invented.”
Cauthen says viewers are likely to see humor in her whimsical work (Louis’ wig is askew from a wild night of dancing) and others on view. At the same time, the artists are recognizing the masters.
Andress’ contribution (one of three) is a portrait of Queen Charlotte reminiscent of Allan Ramsay’s locally famous one at the Mint Museum. But Andress gives the monarch a tiara that replicates Charlotte’s skyline.
The challenge of staying true to the original and to one’s own style pushed the artists in unexpected ways. Cauthen says the results are a “visual conversation” with the masters.
It wasn’t easy. Andress asked rhetorically: “How do you skew something that’s perfect?”
Choosing whom to skew was left up to the artists themselves. The list includes artists so famous they need only go by one name – Michelangelo, Botticelli, da Vinci, Picasso, Rothko, van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, among others.
Nearly 40 skewed works are for sale to the highest bidder. More original work by Ciel artists – 27 pieces – will also be up for bids that night. The auction, the night before Ciel’s May opening, is happening on the final day of the ASC’s fund drive.
The event is private, but bidding is open to all. And it will be done online. “That eliminates the stink eye that goes on at some auctions,” Andress said. If you get outbid, you’ll get a text message and can bid again.
For the show, a few of the Ciel artists created a site-specific installation from willow branches (a work of art in itself) as an entryway to the gallery on Park Avenue. “The Bower” was constructed in the style of North Carolina native Patrick Dougherty’s stick buildings – so it’s homage. “We … invited people to write names, blessings and what-have-you on pieces of ribbon, tie them to sticks and put them into the Bower,” said Andress.
The Bower was masterful as it was. But adding blessings to it somehow elevated what already seemed perfect.
It’s the same with local artists’ takes on iconic works of art. Mona Lisa didn’t need a makeover, but in her contemporary riff, Andress has given her a more colorful ensemble, more cleavage and seriously great hair.
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
Bid on a skewed master
Give to the ASC … and get an original work of art. The bidding at Ciel’s “Skew the Masters” benefit will be done electronically. The auction goes live at noon April 27 and ends at 8:30 p.m. April 30. Starting bids range from about $50 to $350. To view and bid: biddingowl.com/ASC.
Ciel Gallery: 128 E. Park Ave. in South End. cielcharlotte.com.
Art & Soul of South End
This year’s festival includes Pecha Kucha at Amos’ Southend on Thursday; the fourth annual “Carolina’s Got Art!” competition and exhibition at Elder Gallery on Friday; art, music, brews and more along the light rail line noon-6 p.m. Saturday; and Front Porch Sunday brunch across from Atherton Market.