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David Zwirner Books

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Paperback, 4.25 x 7 in. / 168 pgs / 130 color / 25 bw.

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Catalog: SPRING 2017 p. 63   

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DAVID ZWIRNER BOOKS

Pissing Figures 1280–2014

By Jean-Claude Lebensztejn. Translated by Jeff Nagy.

Featured image is a replica of Jerome Duquesnoy the Elder, "Manneken-Pis", 1619.

"Not just anyone makes a good pisser."--Jean-Claude Lebensztejn

Jean-Claude Lebensztejn’s history of the urinating figure in art, Pissing Figures 1280–2014, is at once a scholarly inquiry into an important visual motif, and a ribald statement on transgression and limits in works of art in general. Lebensztejn is one of France’s best-kept secrets. A world-class art historian who has lectured and taught at major universities in the United States, his work has remained almost entirely in French, his American audience limited to a small but dedicated group of cognoscenti.

First introducing the Manneken Pis—the iconic little boy whose stream of urine supplies water to this famous fountain and is also the logo for a Belgian beer company—the author takes the reader through a semi-scatological maze of cultural history. The earliest example is a fresco scene located directly above Cimabue’s “Crucifixion” from around 1280 at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, in which Lebensztejn’s careful eye locates an angel behind a pillar urinating through a hole in his garment. He continues to navigate expertly through cultural twists and turns, stopping to discuss Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 film Teorema, for example, and Marlene Dumas’s 1996–97 homage to Rembrandt’s pissing woman. At every moment, Lebensztejn’s prose is lively, his thinking dynamic, and his subject matter entertaining.


Jean-Claude Lebensztejn is a French art historian, critic, and honorary professor of the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. His interests range from the art of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, to film, music, human animality, and more generally, the question of frontiers and boundaries. In addition to his Études cézanniennes (2006) and a scholarly edition of fifty of Cézanne’s letters (2011), Lebensztejn has recently published a collection of essays on nomads, a translation of Lao-tseu, a study of Pygmalion, a conversation with Malcolm Morley, and numerous texts concerned with questioning norms of taste and aesthetic values in general. He is preparing a book on transgression in the works of Franz Kafka, Marquis de Sade, and Comte de Lautréamont.

Jeff Nagy is a translator, critic, and historian of technology based in Palo Alto, California. His research focuses on networks pre- and post-Internet and the development of digital labor.

Featured image is a replica of Jerome Duquesnoy the Elder, "Manneken-Pis", 1619.

PRAISE AND REVIEWS

Hyperallergic

Thomas Micchelli

The books in the series seem designed to slip into your back pocket — slim, spartan, and compact, sporting uniform covers consisting solely of typeface in black or white, with a matching horizontal bar across the top, against a solid color.

Artnet

Jonathon Sturgeon

. . . amusing, memorable books. . .

Artsy

Alexxa Gotthardt

...[Lebensztejn] elegantly reveals how artists have repeatedly used our queasiness in the face of bodily functions to transgress narrow-minded cultural norms.

The New Yorker

Dan Piepenbring

The book, in a rangy, fluent translation from Jeff Nagy, is a record of what Lebensztejn calls our “diuretic fantasies”—of the lore and lust surrounding urine, sacred and profane.

Pissing Figures 1280–2014

in stock  $14.95


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EKPHRASIS READER SERIES
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Pissing Figures 1280–2014
PISSING FIGURES 1280–2014
By Jean-Claude Lebensztejn. Translated by Jeff Nagy.
DAVID ZWIRNER BOOKS
ISBN: 9781941701546 | US $14.95
Pub Date: 8/22/2017
Active | In stock

FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG

CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 8/2/2017

"Not just anyone makes a good pisser"

"Not just anyone makes a good pisser"

A third-century Roman sarcophagus with a pissing bacchanalian Cupid, Pieter Breugel the Elder’s 1558 oil painting of a man “pissing at the moon,” an early twentieth-century pornographic photograph of three Parisian courtesans pissing in unison, and artworks by modern and contemporary masters like Picasso, Takashi Murakami and Marlene Dumas (featured here) all make an appearance in Jean-Claude Lebensztejn’s engrossing new study of art-historical Pissing Figures, 1280-2014. Throw in Renaissance masters like Titian and Michelangelo, Edo-period erotica, Fascist postcards and images from twenty-first-century video games, and you’ve got a book like no other. The newest in David Zwirner Books’ pocket-sized ekphrasis series. continue to blog


FROM THE BOOK
Excerpt: Little Julian by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn

The little bronze statue of a urinating boy that ornaments a fountain in Brussels, universally known as Manneken-Pis, was commissioned in 1619 from Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder. It replaced a stone statue dating from the fourteenth century, which, by the middle of the following century, was known by the name ‘t Menneken-Pist, the boy (who goes) piss. Manneke or menneke is a specifically Belgian word, the equivalent of the middle Dutch mannekijn, a little man, which gave rise to the French word mannequin: denoting first a figurine or jointed statue, later, a man lacking in character, and, finally, a living male figure (1830) and then a female one (1897), employed in showcasing the designs of new fashion collections. In keeping with contemporary aesthetic criteria, they are now tall rather than diminutive.

All kinds of legends are associated with the origins of the Manneken-Pis: it’s said the boy used his stream of urine to snuff out the fuse of an enemy cannon, or was relieving himself in front of the house of a sorceress, or that he had been lost and then found “in the act” by his father, who presented the city with this votive statue. He became so popular that he was repeatedly stolen. (In 1913, the filmmaker Alfred Machin directed a short – featuring an eight-year-old Fernand Gravey and a five-year-old Balthus – in which the panther Saïda runs off with Manneken-Pis). After the last theft in 1965, a copy was installed in the fountain, and the remains of the original are now preserved in the Maison du Roi on Brussel’s Grand Place. Since the end of the seventeenth century, it’s become a tradition to dress him up on certain occasions: today, his wardrobe contains more than nine hundred costumes. Like the Mona Lisa, he smiles; his pelvis juts forward, and his left hand lifts his little member higher than parallel to the ground, so that the refreshing stream flies as far as possible.

The degree to which little Julien, that being his first name, has become a kind of Belgian Mona Lisa can be judged by his Japanese reception: in 1952, a dentist presented the city of Tokyo with a freely-interpreted replica, in the form of a boy perched on a tall, rectangular pedestal, outfitted alternately as a fireman, or a baseball player, or in traditional Japanese dress complete with short kimono, Tabi socks, shorts, hashimaki and fan. He fills a small rectangular basin bordered by flowers on a train platform at Hamamatsucho Station. In 2011, the Japanese corporation Sega developed a video game called Toylet, intended to be installed above urinals, which would measure the volume, force, and precision of a player’s stream of urine. There are four versions, and one is named Manneken-Pis.

Belgium has preserved a culture of excretion throughout its history: from the shitting man that served as a symbol for Dinant, the birth city of Joachim Patinir who occasionally signed its name to his landscapes, or from the old proverb, illustrated by Bruegel, that warns against “pissing at the moon,” up through Teniers and the series of canvases by Jordaens that depicted the popular Epiphany feast known as “The King Drinks,” in which sometimes an old woman wipes the ass of a crying baby, and sometimes the same baby pisses a vigorous, occasionally bifurcated stream while a man vomits off to the left. In Brussels itself, towards 1435 or slightly after, Rogier van der Weyden, having been named the official painter of the city that produced little Julian, worked into the background of his Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin Mary a man and a woman seen from behind, a motif he might have found in van Eyck’s recent Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. But here, the man seems to be pointing even further off into the distance, at the miniscule figure of another man, also seen from behind, who pisses against the corner of a crenellated wall.

These are the outlines of an entire tradition, maintained in popular imagery, a tradition that Baudelaire, while living in Brussels, pinpointed in his “M. Hetzel’s Opinion on Faro” (“Faro, a synonym for urine!”) – a synonymy that he elaborated in his Article on cuisine. / Brussels Beverages. “Faro is drawn from that great latrine, the Senne: a beverage extracted from the city’s excrement by a distilling device.” Brasserie Lindemans describes faro as “a sweet, fruity, thirst-quenching Belgian beer. The favorite beer of women!” Brasserie Lefebvre, for its part, has decorated bottles of its white ale, produced in Brussels since 1989, with a Manneken-Pis urinating on the same wheat and hops the beer is brewed from. A website devoted to rating beer describes it thus: “Pours a light yellow color, on the clear side, with a head of more or less ordinary foam. Aromas of banana and orange, slightly sweet malt, and a dash of lemon. A hint of yeast in the background. In the mouth, you taste the lemon first, with yeast, malt, and coriander underneath. A bit of orange comes back in the final sips. Banana more subdued but still noticeable. The epitome of white beer.” The same Brasserie Lefebvre, in 2010, renamed one of its blonde ales Manneken Pils / The Belgian Spirit. The “i” in Pils is a Manneken-Pis with a red sun rising behind him.

In the era of women’s rights movements, it was inevitable that the eminently – if modestly – virile symbol represented by the statue would need to be shared more equitably: in 1985, Denis-Adrien Debouvrie or Debouverie, the wealthy owner of restaurants and real estate in the touristy center of Brussels, presented the city with Jeanneke-Pis, a bronze statue of a young girl squatting to relieve herself. His comment on the gift: “We hereby achieve equality between Men and Women.” In 2008, Debouvrie, then 74 years old, was found with his throat slit, dead in a pool of blood. The major French-language newspaper, La Dernière Heure, let it be known that “Denis Debouvrie never attempted to hide his interest in young children of North African origin.” The manager of his restaurant, The Little Fountain, T*** L***, 54 years old, was formally charged. As I write this, in September 2013, the case is still ongoing, after an initial dismissal and the opening of a new trial. On September 13th, La Dernière Heure added, in an eloquent preterition, “We won’t speak of the rest... Not of Debouvrie’s character, and not his predatory sexual behavior targeting young children, nor of the ‘special’ films of those children that he made and hoarded.” The paper does not specify whether or not these special films contained any scenes paying homage to local folklore.

In 1998, Brussels installed, directly on the pavement, Zinneke-Pis, a dog lifting its leg to relieve itself against a post, near the banks where Baudelaire’s beloved Senne still flows.

The natives of Brussels were proud to quench their thirst with little Julian’s pee, but the authorities in seventeenth-century Flanders did not look kindly on love for young boys. In 1654, Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger, son of the father of Manneken-Pis and brother to François, the most well-known member of this family of sculptors, was accused of committing sodomy with two of his apprentices. He was sentenced to death and executed in Ghent; his body was burned to ashes.

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