Cesar Santos

A review by Robert Genn

After my last missive about George Condo's advanced goofiness, dozens of emails remarked about art relating to the art of others. Art about art is in tsunami-mode these days. The wave made me want to say a few words about Cesar Santos.

In The Graces Santos shows us Henri Matisse's The Dancers, awkwardly simplified and well-gushed ladies eclipsed by three mini-skirted, heeled and booted, bare-breasted contempo-girls dangling colourful garlands in homage.

Santos was born in Santa Clara, Cuba in 1982. While growing up in Miami he studied conceptual art at the New World College. Eager to get a "sound training in the art of painting" he moved to Florence, Italy to study under Michael John Angel, a student of Pietro Annigoni. Married to the lovely Valentina, who frequently models for him, Santos now cleans his brushes in New York. His recent work touches the nexus of academic art, Renaissance art, and contemporary society. Like Condo, folks are eating the guy up. FYI, we've put some of Cesar Santos' work at the top of the current clickback.

Another painting, After the Arrival, mimics Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa. It shows contemporary folks reenacting, as if self-consciously bored with the lack of challenge in modern life, the famed shipwreck and distress but in the safety of a rubber inflatable in a modern, neoclassical hot tub with hints of the Berlin Wall.

When an artist takes as a starting point some popular work that has entered the public imagination, he starts to say,

  • Art has universal values that are immutable and timeless.
  • Art is not so sacrosanct that it cannot be parodied.
  • There's nothing new under the sun.
  • There's always something new under the sun.
  • Art is a brotherhood and sisterhood that defies death.
  • Art about art teaches the dangers of entrenched tradition.
  • Older and time-worn ideas are forever worth examining.
  • Art about art need not answer all the questions about art. Riddled as it is with riddles and enigmas, art lends itself to further riddles and enigmas.


"Tradition becomes our security. When the mind is secure, it is in decay."
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Esoterica: In many of Santos' paintings he seems to be saying, "Look, I can do better," and "Look, there is something to be said for the human figure as it is." This is the prerogative of the golden ego. But more than anything it's a triumph that a young man might follow his bliss to a place where a dying art is still taught, that he might make it his own and do it with honesty and little fuss. Say what you will--it's a wise understanding. "The world," said Joyce Cary, "is in everlasting conflict between the new idea and the old allegiances, new arts and new inventions against the old establishment." What is old? What is establishment?