Hervé Télémaque. No Title (The Ugly American). 1962/64

Hervé Télémaque No Title (The Ugly American) 1962/64

  • MoMA, Floor 4, 412 The David Geffen Wing

Here, Télémaque juxtaposes historical figures, literary references, and personal imagery. An ancient Venus is portrayed alongside Toussaint Louverture, who led a revolt against slavery and colonial rule in Haiti in the 1790s, and Fidel Castro, the communist leader of the Cuban Revolution. The words at the top left are from Alfred Jarry’s play King Ubu, a satire about a bloodthirsty dictator. Télémaque completed this painting in Paris, where he had moved after becoming disillusioned with New York; the blond heads screaming “STOP,” as well as the work’s pointed title, convey what the artist called the American city’s racist “atmosphere.” These caricatures join other grotesque, cartoon-like imagery in a kaleidoscopic mix that suggests a recurrent history of chaos and senseless violence.

Gallery label from "Collection 1940s—1970s", 2019

No Title (The Ugly American) was completed soon after Hervé Télémaque (Haitian, b. 1937) moved to Paris in late 1961, discouraged by the difficulty of finding a studio in New York and disheartened by the city’s pervasive racism. Painted during the escalation of tensions during the Cold War, the work takes aim at the boorish bigotry the artist had recently fled: the blond heads screaming “STOP” appear as caricatures of what the artist described as “New York’s racist, WASP atmosphere.” The speech bubble contains words from Alfred Jarry’s satirical play King Ubu (1896), whose protagonist is a greedy, bloodthirsty dictator. Wide-open mouths with threatening teeth evoke Francisco de Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son (1819–23). The pink and green biomorphic form on the left-hand panel evokes the Hottentot Venus, the name under which a pair of South African Khoikhoi women were exhibited in 19th century Europe, a recurrent motif in Télémaque’s compositions. Using elements like these, the artist mixed politics with, in his words, “the violent representation of sexuality.”

Medium
Oil on canvas, two panels
Dimensions
77 1/2 x 102 3/8" (197 x 260 cm)
Credit
Gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis in honor of a lovely American, Jerry Speyer
Object number
213.2018
Copyright
© Hervé Télémaque. Courtesy of the artist.
Department
Painting and Sculpture

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