Hannah Gadsby: taking down art history’s misogyny through comedy

In her latest Netflix show, Douglas, Hannah Gadsby lampoons the renowned art critic Kenneth Clark for his comments on nudes Ali Goldstein/Netflix © 2020

A few months ago on this page, we commented on the dearth of original content on art found on streaming services like Netflix. Search under “art” or “art history” and it is clear that remains the case. But hiding in plain sight on Netflix is some of the most biting art-historical thinking amid searing socio-political commentary on any broadcast platform. The genre youll find them in, though, is comedy.

“You wont hear too many extended sets about art history in a comedy show,” admits the comedian in question, the Tasmanian Hannah Gadsby, in her stand-up show, Nanette (2018). “Its bold, I know.” It is indeed an unlikely genre in which to hear explorations of the High Renaissance, of the anatomy of the reclining nude, of Cubisms dismantling of perspective, of the fetishisation of the mental illness of Vincent van Gogh and the misogyny of Pablo Picasso. But Gadsby is pushing the boundaries of her medium. Perhaps the correct term for her is “post-comedian”, since she powerfully renounced comedy and highlighted its limitations halfway through Nanette.

But in that show and in her follow-up on Netflix, Douglas(2020), significant chunks are built on her study of art history and curatorship at the Australian National University up to 2003. In both, she brilliantly weaves art-historical imagery and theory into wider themes, often in what she describes with a glint in her eye as “a gentle and very good-natured needling of the patriarchy”.

That needling is superbly delivered. It might be playfully exploring Peter Paul Rubenss Three Graces (1630-35) in Douglas, and pondering exactly how it is that the “waft of gauze” between the three otherwise naked figures “has made its way so far up [the central figures] clacker”. She points to the fact that the work “is not an accidental photograph taken of an unfortunate moment—awkward. No, what this is is a painting, which makes this”—she uses a pointer to highlight the gauze up the “clacker”—“a decision that a man made and spent time on”. Elsewhere, shes full of righteous anger: “The history of Western art is just the history of men painting women like theyre flesh vases for their dick flowers,” she says in Nanette. Gadsby even ventures into one of the thorniest ethical debates of our moment when she talks about mid-50s Picasso sleeping with the underage Marie-Thérèse Walter and the idea of “separating the man from the art”. “Okay, lets give it a go,” she says. “How about you take Picassos name off his little paintings and see how much his doodles are worth at auction? Fucking nothing!”

Hannah Gadsby performing her latest Netflix show Douglas Ali Goldstein/Netflix © 2020

Gadsbys antipathy towards Picasso—“I hate him, but youre not allowed to,” she declares in Nanette—seems to have grown even in the years since she explored his painting Les Demoiselles dAvignon (1907) in her series for BBC Radio 4 in 2015, Arts Clown. The four-partRead More – Source

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