"Just an eye, but what an eye" is the famous quote by Cezanne usedto describe Monet's paintings. Impressionistic paintings don't makeviewers uncomfortable, face dark truths, or wonder what on earth the artist is trying to say, like modern art. And so exhibitions of them draw huge crowds. But admittedly, I didn't plan on attending the show at the de Young until I found out there would be a tango event -- Milonga del Musee d'Orsay. The tango and impressionism are, after all, artistic cousins.
The Argentine tango started in the ports of Buenos Aires and Uruguay in the early 1800s. Currents ushered boats full of immigrants up the Rio de la Plata from the Mediterranean, along with shackled black slaves from Africa and white slaves, mostly women from Eastern Europe, forced to work the brothels and service this huge influx of men. The tango was born of this human tragedy, hardship and homesickness. It was never accepted by middle and upper class Argentinians, until it went to Paris.
The tango was performed at the Paris World's Fair in 1878, and theFrench loved it. By 1913, tango was the favorite pastime of Parisians: tango trains, charity tangos, outdoor tangos and champagne tangos proliferated. The craze spread through Europe and the United States. By the 1930s it was the national dance and the identity of Argentina.
Impressionist painters were outsiders at their earliest phase aswell, rejected by the establishment, particularly the Academie desBeaux-Arts, the gatekeepers to art sales in France. But like the tango, their status changed over time and these artists and their depictions of the boulevards and parks of Paris became part of French identity everywhere and always.
So I hope to dance a tango or two, then wander into the show and see Degas' ballet dancers and Cezanne's urban landscapes. And even if you don't know the history of the tango, you may see connectionsbetween these Belle Epoch art forms in their motion, light and ephemeral beauty.