It is the good fortune of Tokyo that the Slav Epic arrived recently. Others have done more justice in writing to the beauty of Mucha’s masterpiece, I would only add that to see it in person is a totally different experience than an art book. The physical size of the paintings impart a certain monumental feeling that is appropriate for the history of an entire peoples.
Although, all is not well at the National Art Center of Tokyo, where the exhibit is being held. Upon entering the Art Center grounds you are greeted by some tress dressed up in polka dots masquerading as Art™. Which is a bit like seeing your chef outside smoking before he cooks your meal at a fine restaurant. Interestingly, Mrs. Kusama’s work covers many of the same subjects as Alfons Mucha. The juxtaposition between the two made me recall an old recording of Glenn Gould speaking about Bach’s work.
Like, Bach, Mucha’s Slav epic was thought, or perhaps still is thought, to be outdated by many. While Mrs. Kusama enjoys significant popularity in her current time for her “straightforward” expressions, Mucha was arrested for being a reactionary. Which begs the question of who is actually more straightforward, after all, people don’t get arrested for being too opaque. Keith Haring is another good example of Japan’s obsession with art and artists that on the surface seem edgy or “straightforward” but essentially just mirrors their own obsequiousness. Also contrast the subject matter, of these two types Bach and Mucha vs. Kusama and Haring, the work of the former is almost totally devoted to the greatness of their god and countrymen and the later is effectively public masturbation, just count how many times “I” is used when describing their art.
Because of this, art that attempts to break the rules and channel modernity and fashionable sentiment chains itself to contemporary sentiment. Which, by useful definition, is not art. This also explains why it doesn’t seem to endure very long. In failing to transcend the everyday concerns, these so-called artists have failed to create anything meaningful.
Mucha’s Slav Epic seems to me to be a celebration of tradition and is therefore able to gift the viewer with a perspective above and beyond their own everyday life, that is what makes it beautiful.