PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE IN PAVEL TCHELITCHEW
Farris Wahbeh, Benjamin and Irma Weiss Director of Research Resources, reflects on a favorite work in the Whitney’s collection.
When I look at Pavel Tchelitchew’s Anatomical Painting, I think of our bodies: our physical ones; our virtual ones, now accustomed to being displayed in boxed grids remotely; as well as the bodies of our four-pawed friends.
As news reports flash the numbers and counts of those we’re losing, Anatomical Painting reminds me of our enmeshed global world. In its meticulous rendering of the neuron-like rays emanating from the figure’s body, the painting is a cipher of our connected earth and how it depends on us to persevere while at the same time being resilient in the face of this pandemic.
Lincoln Kirstein, cofounder of the New York City Ballet and a close friend of the artist, donated this painting to the museum. Dance was a passion they both shared, and in the painting the body emanates strength as well as fragility: like the performed body in a ballet and the queer culture Kirstein and Tchelitchew embodied.
A week before New York City shut down, I experienced Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance on Broadway. Chronicling the lives of young gay men and how past generations of our community contribute to our present, the play makes manifest the joy and contradictions that history contributes to our lives—how a shared experience and a collective memory can meet, like a synapse, across time.
What will I remember of these days? I’ll remember Tchelitchew and his Anatomical Painting, which leaves me pondering our vibrant past, the uncertainty of our present, and our hopeful future of what we will become.