“M. Giorgio de Chirico has just bought a pink rubber glove”—so wrote the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire in July of 1914, noting the purchase because, he went on to say, he knew the glove’s appearance in de Chirico’s paintings would add to the works’ uncanny power. Implying human presence, as a mold of the hand, yet also inhuman, a clammily limp fragment distinctly unfleshlike in color, the glove in The Song of Love has an unsettling authority. Why is this surgical garment pinned to a board or canvas, alongside a plaster head copied from a classical statue, a relic of a noble vanished age? What is the meaning of the green ball? And what is the whole ensemble doing in the outdoor setting insinuated by the building and the passing train?
Unlikely meetings among dissimilar objects were to become a strong theme in modern art (they would be an explicit goal of the Surrealists, for whom de Chirico’s work was influential), but de Chirico sought more than surprise: in works like this one, for which Apollinaire used the term “metaphysical,” his aim was to express something of the reality he saw hidden beyond outward appearances. Cloaked in an atmosphere of anxiety and melancholy, de Chirico’s humanoid forms, vacuous architecture, shadowy passages, and eerily elongated streets evoke the profound absurdity of a universe torn apart by World War I.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)