SNP’s word of the day: Anthropometry

SNP's word of the day: Anthropometry
SNP's word of the day: Anthropometry
Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Word: Anthropometry

Meaning: Literally, it’s the measure of a man or a woman; it’s the measurement of human parts relative to the whole. Art historically, it’s the name used by Yves Klein for some of his more infamous work.

Usage: Anthropometry: Princess Helena, 1960, is a good measure of how much an artist can get away with.

You should know it because: One of the standout works in the AGO’s Haute Culture: General Idea—A Retrospective, 1969—1994, is a riff on Klein’s various Anthropometries. Klein was a seminal conceptual artist and painter in Paris; late in his life/career, he made some hallowed (now) work in highly weird (then) performances. Nude female models were slathered in his International Klein Blue, then used to make imprints on paper, or dragged in abstract paths across canvas.

You can read Klein’s inverted body-art as pure objectification of subject, which, since his models in emperor’s clothes were invariably female, is sickening. You can see it as an absurd commentary on artistic license and control. Or a mockery of the historical reverence of the female nude. Or an OCD-level unwillingness to get his fingers dirty.

But it might make the most sense to view his anthropometric studies as a continuation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or Proportions of Man, drawn circa 1487. As humans we feel that our body is a universe, mysterious even to ourselves, possibly containing everything, a microcosm. And in sort of an opposite way, we’re obsessed with the mark we might leave on the much larger world, right down to its—our—exact measurements. Klein’s work is merely your basic fingerprint, like the ones you do in kindergarten with dollar-store paint, but writ large and hung in museums. (After all, they are beautiful. That blue!)

The radical queer trio General Idea clearly saw Klein’s experiments as ripe for picking on. Paying homage on one hand, mocking his egotism and exploitative use of (female) human bodies on the other, they used three stuffed poodles—their oft-seen symbol for themselves—to paint three giant X’s in Klein blue. This grandly serious joke, XXX (bleu), is the first thing you’ll notice if you go to the AGO retrospective of this Toronto art collective, opening this evening, and now you know what it means. Maybe.