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Liron Ben Zikri, Itamar Brand, Dana Gazit,

Lior Helled Shomroni, Raffi Lavie, Noy Azouri,

Alma Seroussi, Rita Zimmerman,

Shahar Kornblit, Lilith Chamboon

Curator: Ido Cohen

The Pink House Yuck \ Ido Cohen

In 1747, in the outskirts of Potsdam – now Germany – a palace was inaugurated by King Frederick II, or Frederick the Great, of Prussia. Named Sanssouci ( “carefree” in French), it was created as the king’s pleasure palace and was built in the Rococo fashion so closely identified with the king that it later became known as the “Frederician Style”. This was where Frederick was free to realize his artistic ambitions without the pomp and circumstance of his official residence. Frederick supervised the design and construction of the palace and its gardens with the same determination and ruthlessness he exhibited on the battlefield.

On Drubin Street, in Rishon LeZion, stood a pink building whose banisters were designed as decorative ribbons hung between two pillars topped with white globes. When my brothers and I were young, whenever we passed this building on our way home we’d announce: “The pink house yuck.”

Frederick the Great was also a gifted flutist and even composed several pieces. Adolph von Menzel’s 1852 painting “Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci” depicts Frederick performing, along with a chamber ensemble, before a fashionable gathering of noble men and women. Another painting by Menzel, “King Frederick II's Roundtable at Sanssouci” from 1848, is likely a more accurate depiction of events, as women were not allowed in Sanssouci during Frederick’s lifetime. This painting shows Frederick among an exclusively male group of military men and intellectuals, including the diplomat and libertine Francesco Algarotti and the French philosopher and writer Voltaire.

When I was four years old, Yardena Arazi represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Ben Adam”. I was a huge fan and would wear my mother’s dress while I danced to the song in our living room. Back then we lived on Kiryat Sefer Street in Rishon LeZion, and I had a neighbor called Shani. She was a “girlie-girl”, and together with my best friend Aya – a tomboy with short hair – we would make fun of her for liking pink.

In the television series Palm Royale, which takes place in the late 1960s, protagonist Maxine Simmons is determined to do whatever it takes to become a member of an exclusive and conservative high-society club in Palm Beach, Florida. Her feminist friend Linda, who believes that the pink-loving Maxine should dedicate her efforts to worthier causes, chastises her: “We are women fighting for our future!” Maxine responds: “I don’t have children. So, what matters to me, as a woman, is not the future. What matters to me is happiness and beauty, today.”

Frederick the Great was likewise childless, a fact that didn’t help dispel rumors of his homosexuality. While it’s hard to say whether he was homosexual in the same way we perceive that identity nowadays, we do know that Frederick often invited men into his bed and expressed his desire for them in the erotic poems he wrote. One of them, "La Jouissance" (“The Pleasure”), was dedicated to the diplomat Algarotti, who was also known as “Swan of Padua”. However, evidence of the “Greek love” Frederick shared with other men didn’t detract from his reputation among his courtiers and subjects as a great military leader and statesman – namely, it did not diminish his masculinity in their eyes. This is in contrast to his childhood, in which Frederick was often humiliated by his father, Frederick William I, for his inclination towards music and literature, his fragility and the amount of time he spent with female family members. In 1730 his father even had Hans Hermann von Katte, a low-ranking officer in the Prussian army who was likely Frederick’s lover, executed before Frederick’s very eyes for the crime of helping Frederick attempt to escape his father to Britain.

After we moved, a vanity with a mirror and a built-in lamp appeared on Mom’s side of the bedroom. It was very exciting. Whenever my mother put on makeup, I wished she would turn on the lamp so it would look like a makeup scene in a movie. She almost never did, and I was a little disappointed. I also liked to help her pick out earrings.

In 1750, François Boucher painted “Pompadour at Her Toilette”, one of many portraits painted of Louis the XV’s mistress, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, famously known as Madame de Pompadour. This portrait depicts Pompadour as she uses the brosse à rouge in her dainty hands to apply pink rouge to her cheeks. Pompadour’s fondness for the color pink made it especially popular during her time, and French Rococo painters often used pink in their work. Their critics saw this as a sign of artistic stagnation rife with cosmetic beautification, misdirection and deception. The layering of paint on the canvas was likened to the application of makeup.

Such was the spirit of a rant made by painter Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre in a 1772 letter to the comte d’Angiviller, in which he wrote that young French painters “come back from Italy [painting] with color and vigor, which they lose little by little, driven by the need to please a nation that wants everything colored pink." [1] Critics were likewise deterred by the androgyny of the painted figures, and warned of a “feminization” of art. They asserted that the art was feminine not only because “it was made for ostentatious women (whether royal mistresses or meddlesome socialites) and their unmanly cronies but also because it was like them: coquettish, false, shallow, excessively adorned, and painted.” [2]

The taste of Bazooka bubble gum never lasted long. When I was young, I loved the excitement and anticipation that preceded the removal of the shiny wrapper, followed by the touch of the hard, synthetic pink candy. How on earth do you chew that? And then I’d stuff my mouth with more and more and more gum just to feel the explosion of taste, until all at once it disappeared and I was left with a headache from chewing too aggressively.

Pompadour and Frederick the Great had a mutual friend – the aforementioned Voltaire, whom Frederick admired for a long time and corresponded with at length. In 1750, Voltaire even accepted Frederick’s invitation to come and stay at Sanssouci (Volatire would be shamefully banished from the palace three years later). In his satirical novel “Candide: or, The Optimist”, published in 1759, Voltaire viciously attacks the optimistic philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who claimed that our world is “the best of all possible worlds”, or that “all is for the best” – even the syphilis which Candide’s optimistic mentor Pangloss contracted, indirectly, from Christopher Columbus. One might say that Leibniz was simply trying to view the world through “rose-colored glasses”.

In the tenth grade I bought a fuchsia-colored polo shirt. It had become suddenly trendy and acceptable for straight men to wear pink. To me, the shirt meant something different: It gave me the freedom to wear something gay without raising suspicion.

In the early 1960s, Israeli painter Raffi Lavie commented on his first use of pink: “The pink followed white, which is an anti-color that I used because I grew tired of colors. I started using pink because I wanted a color that was outside the generally acceptable palette without being an anti-color.” [3]. This liminal positioning is what made pink the focus of so many cultural, aesthetic and even moral debates throughout history.

Drag artist Ru Paul often notes that “Drag doesn't change who you are, it actually reveals who you are”. Is it possible that those who criticized Boucher and the rest of the Rococo painters were, in fact, scared of the truth revealed by these pink shades? By their power as a symbol of disenchantment, rather than of childish delusions? After all, pink allows one to be both natural and artificial, highbrow and lowbrow, sweet and promiscuous, optimistic and sarcastic – in other words, to contain multitudes. The pinks which washed over the art in Frederick’s time were also reminiscent of his life: Of the objects which filled his palaces, of his ruthlessness, of the honesty of his romantic choices.

[1] Hyde, Melissa Lee, and François Boucher. Making up the Rococo: Francois Boucher and His Critics. Getty Research Institute, 2006, 88.

[2] Ibid., 4-5.

[3] Cited in Sarah Breitberg Semel, The “Aesthetics” of Raffi Lavie. In Sarah Breitberg Semel (curator) and Hanoch Ron, Raffi Lavie – Selected works [exhibition catalogue], Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 1979.

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