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on February 8, 2011
This text by Foucault is a very interesting work in his oeuvre. His main argument he presents is how Manet as a painter comes along and ruptures, or opens up the pathway for modern art. He also looks at conditions of representation, self-conscience depiction of art, and free range of space, among others. This text was a lecture given by Foucault during his post-structural years and as such is very evident as he introduces time into space. Very good text to read if you are a Foucault fan.
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on June 24, 2010
As an artist, I found Foucault's observations pointed, but not as insightful as I have come to expect from his brilliant mind. This book is a lecture, not a more contemplative tour de-force and thus not as lengthy and in depth as I would have liked. That said, I did thoroughly enjoy this very quick read. If you like Foucault and have a basic appreciation of the plastic arts, you will probably enjoy this book. There are few subjects better than Manet's catalog and I commend Michel for sharing his thoughts. As always, it is filled with clever observations that will invariably contribute to any small talk at a dinner party.
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on November 21, 2012
The text of this thin volume is a transcript (translated from French to English) of a recording of a lecture Michel Foucault delivered in 1971 at the Tahar Haddad Cultural Club in Tunis. Foucault's words, in print, occupy 40 pages.

Foucault illustrated his lecture with 13 slides. The book includes reproductions of each of those paintings, from "Music in the Tuileries" (1862) to "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere" (1881-82). Unfortunately, as another reviewer rightly laments, those illustrations are tiny (all 81.9 by 104.5 inches of "Luncheon on the Grass" (1862-63), for example, are shrunk to a Lilliputian 3.2 by 4.2 inches) and are blandly reproduced, with details lost, colors misplaced, and the punch of Manet's blacks absent. This is sure to frustrate many readers.

Additional editorial content includes an introductory essay by Nicolas Bourriaud (11 pages), a very brief Translator's Introduction by Matthew Barr, and a one-page index.

At the outset of his lecture Foucault says with modesty: "I am not a Manet specialist; nor am I a painting specialist, so it is as a layman that I would speak to you about Manet." His focus is on formal analysis, and he organizes his thoughts under three rubrics: the space of the canvas; lighting; and the place of the viewer. He concludes that Manet "was inventing, if you like, the `picture-object', the `painting-object'." From my own perspective as someone who's no stranger to the inside of an art museum (but also a "layman"), I'm thankful to Foucault for providing me new deciphering tools to use when standing before a Manet -- and new ways of seeing paintings in general.

At the same time I'm mindful of the limitations of Foucault's perspective. First, his interest is constrained to painting. Other forms of representation such as sculpture, drawing, printmaking and illustration, are ignored. Also, non-European art -- the bulk of mankind's imaginative achievements -- is not within Foucault's ken in this lecture.

An important realization is that the revolution whose success Foucault attributes to Manet terminated what we can see now was merely a brief interregnum -- a mode of representation that occupied only a few hundred years, from the early 15th to the late 19th centuries, before receding into the broad flow of European artistic output.

You may be disappointed too if you expect Foucault's insights to stray much beyond formal analysis into the realm of philosophy. Fortunately, that task is taken up in Bourriaud's introduction, a superb essay I recommend reading both before and after reading the main text if, like me, you've had no previous exposure to Foucault's philosophical works.

This small book is handsomely produced, and features the surprising use, in a paperback binding, of stitch-sewn signatures. For a closer look, please see the set of photos I've uploaded to the "Product Images from Customers" section, found on the right side of this Amazon Product page.
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on March 23, 2014
[Note: Four reviews of this illustrated essay can be read on Amazon's main product page for the book, here: Manet and the Object of Painting. Below is just one of them.]

The text of this thin volume is a transcript (translated from French to English) of a recording of a lecture Michel Foucault delivered in 1971 at the Tahar Haddad Cultural Club in Tunis. Foucault's words, in print, occupy 40 pages.

Foucault illustrated his lecture with 13 slides. The book includes reproductions of each of those paintings, from "Music in the Tuileries" (1862) to "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere" (1881-82). Unfortunately, as another reviewer rightly laments, those illustrations are tiny (all 81.9 by 104.5 inches of "Luncheon on the Grass" (1862-63), for example, are shrunk to a Lilliputian 3.2 by 4.2 inches) and are blandly reproduced, with details lost, colors misplaced, and the punch of Manet's blacks absent. This is sure to frustrate many readers.

Additional editorial content includes an introductory essay by Nicolas Bourriaud (11 pages), a very brief Translator's Introduction by Matthew Barr, and a one-page index.

At the outset of his lecture Foucault says with modesty: "I am not a Manet specialist; nor am I a painting specialist, so it is as a layman that I would speak to you about Manet." His focus is on formal analysis, and he organizes his thoughts under three rubrics: the space of the canvas; lighting; and the place of the viewer. He concludes that Manet "was inventing, if you like, the `picture-object', the `painting-object'." From my own perspective as someone who's no stranger to the inside of an art museum (but also a "layman"), I'm thankful to Foucault for providing me new deciphering tools to use when standing before a Manet -- and new ways of seeing paintings in general.

At the same time I'm mindful of the limitations of Foucault's perspective. First, his interest is constrained to painting. Other forms of representation such as sculpture, drawing, printmaking and illustration, are ignored. Also, non-European art -- the bulk of mankind's imaginative achievements -- is not within Foucault's ken in this lecture.

An important realization is that the revolution whose success Foucault attributes to Manet terminated what we can see now was merely a brief interregnum -- a mode of representation that occupied only a few hundred years, from the early 15th to the late 19th centuries, before receding into the broad flow of European artistic output.

You may be disappointed too if you expect Foucault's insights to stray much beyond formal analysis into the realm of philosophy. Fortunately, that task is taken up in Bourriaud's introduction, a superb essay I recommend reading both before and after reading the main text if, like me, you've had no previous exposure to Foucault's philosophical works.

This small book is handsomely produced, and features the surprising use, in a paperback binding, of stitch-sewn signatures. For a closer look, please see the set of photos I've uploaded to the "Product Images from Customers" section, found on the right side of the main Amazon product page for the book, here: Manet and the Object of Painting.
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I have to admit that I am a philosophical illiterate, my eyes generally glazing over after a few paragraphs. But I was once an Assistant Professor of Art History, so I leapt at this beautifully presented transcription of a 1971 lecture by Foucault on Manet, in the hope of sampling some of the great philosopher's thought through the side door, as it were.

The good news is that Foucault's spoken style, as transcribed by the translator Matthew Barr with most of his repetitions intact, is much more approachable than what I have seen of his writing. It doesn't strike me as a major contribution to the study of either aesthetics or ideas, but it is a lecture I know I would have enjoyed in person. Unfortunately, it is not always clear what he would have been pointing at when he makes a specific reference, and though the book is pleasant to hold in the hand its reproductions are not always up to the task. In "The Balcony" (Paris, 1868-9), for instance, Foucault refers to the contrast between the black and white of the figures and the shocking green of the architectural surround, but the reproduction comes out as a uniform grey.

Manet is known as a precursor of Impressionism. Foucault's interest, however, is in how Manet "made possible all the painting AFTER Impressionism, all the painting from which contemporary art developed." He did this, Foucault suggests, by breaking free of the dominant convention of painting in force since the Renaissance, which treats the canvas as a window onto a pictorial space. Instead Manet emphasized the canvas as a flat, rectangular object, with which he plays games (Foucault even calls them malicious) with the observer looking at it. Through brief but cogent analysis of thirteen of Manet's paintings, he emphasizes such things as the artist's compression of depth, his structural repetition of the verticals and horizontals of the picture frame, his non-traditional use of lighting, and his interest -- for example in the "Gare Saint Lazare" (Washington, 1872-3) -- in having people look simultaneously out of the picture and into it at the same time.

At times I was frustrated by the limited scope of Foucault's enquiry, as for example his blindness to the fact that even in Manet's flattest pictures, such as "The Execution of Maximilian" (Mannheim, 1868), the eye's expectation of depth engages in dynamic struggle with the artist's imposition of the plane. But I was fascinated by comparing his discussion of people looking at things outside the picture with Roberto Bolaño's deconstruction of a photo taken at almost the same date in his story "Labyrinth," included in his posthumous collection, THE SECRET OF EVIL. I was struck by his suggestion that the scandal caused by Manet's "Olympia" in 1863 is partly due to the fact that, unlike its Renaissance predecessors, the source of the lighting comes from our viewpoint, and therefore that it is WE who call that shameless nudity into being. And I was as impressed as ever looking at "The Bar at the Folies Bergère" (London, 1881-2) by the artist's creation of a spectator who is both implied and denied in the picture.
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