Is this Modigliani guy dead or alive?

Today’s Daily Prompt is about conversations that were involuntarily overheard while the overhearer wished it had been otherwise. 

Many visitors to art exhibitions annoyingly believe their opinions, questions, or concerns are something to be loudly shared because obviously everyone else must have the same opinion, question or concern, so maxing the volume up serves the public.

Sometimes, these exchanges are, indeed, a bonus. Very often though, the effort that goes into NOT bursting with laughter prevents subsequent involvement into the art being exhibited.

Dialogue 1

Queue for tickets to The Encounter with Modigliani exhibition at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow.

“Modigliani… Do you think he’s alive?”
“Of course he is! The show’s name is “The Encounter with Modigliani”. It would be sick to make people bump into him were he dead!”


Dialogue 2

A large Picasso exhibition in Moscow a few years ago had a few photographs of Picasso with his contemporaries on one of the walls. Now imagine a formidable middle-aged man, looking a great deal posh and a bit artistic, with a young “model” trailing behind. The man is both exhibiting his girlfriend and attending the exhibition.

They approach the photographs, the girl leans towards them and reads out names of artists in the picture: “Pablo Picasso… Lucien Freud…” and then she happily announces, “I remember you were telling me that Lucien Freud was a son of Picasso!”

The gentleman lover, now blushing, hisses spitefully, “No!! (“you idiot” can be lip-read, but not heard) He was a grandson of Zigmund Freud!” 

As the embarrassed gentleman nudges his girlfriend towards the exit, giving her hushing signs and sounds along the way, she keeps entertaining the room with her glamorous Moscow drawl, “But daaaarlin’! Was Zigmund Freud also a painter?”


Have you ever overheard a dialogue about art that changed your perspective?


  1. In dialogue 2, it seems more likely that the lady misunderstood what she was told because by your comments, the man seemed to know that Freud was not Picasso’s son.

    I’ve never been in an exhibition where any member of an audience has publicly said the work is crap that isn’t worthy of being exhibited. That said, I’ve heard artists stab each other in the back but publicly being polite. Maybe gallery patrons are just too polite in Australia.

    Saying an exhibition is crap seems to be somewhat of a media strategy to drum up attention. At the American Armoury Show of 1913, European art was savaged by American press but the criticism made icons out of the Euro artists and led to European out outselling the home-grown stuff. I think since then to be denounced by the media has been seen to be a great thing and has turn given us Piero Manzoni’s Artist Shit (1961), Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1992) and everything by Jeff Koons.

  2. My first concern in art galleries is often that they sound like a tomb as people are too afraid to give an opinion. My second concern is going to an exhibition opening and the art is ignored as patrons and even the artist talk about what they are going to do on the weekend etc.

    I don’t cringe at the conversations you mentioned. In some ways, I think it is like laughing at a child being unable to draw properly. We all start from positions of ignorance and sometimes that ignorance leads to insights. Even the comment about whether Modigliani was alive or dead has some value. I think it provides an opportunity to reflect on why a done-to-death cliche has been used to title an exhibition. Don’t curators have any imagination?

    I also quite like the irrelevance. When art becomes sacred, people are scared to question it and it becomes less interesting as a result.

    1. I can’t say I cringe at those remarks, but they do entertain me. Dialogue 2, I think, is different from a child unable to draw because a child doesn’t pretend to be a genius art connoisseur to raise himself above his fellow children. When false pretencies are exposed, it looks pathetic and usually funny )

      I understand your concern about people being reluctant to question art because they are afraid to look silly in front of other people – but it is more often that I see people who are not afraid to demonstrate they believe art they see in front of themselves is a pile / surface of crap not worthy of being exhibited. That doesn’t count show openings, because they are almost never about art )

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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