As you’ve probably already heard, there’s some guy who claims to have found the upper-half of Courbet’s painting The Origin of the World at a furniture shop. This isn’t the first time somebody’s wanted give that legendary vagina an upper-half, and it might not be the most notable. New York’s own Filip Noterdaeme, artist, writer, and notably, founder of the Homeless Museum of Art, made his own upper-half back in 1991 while an MFA student at Hunter College.
“Maybe it’s the head that’s haunting us,” Noterdaeme told us. “The head wants to speak.”
Riffing on Courbet cost him a degree; the program expelled him for plagiarism.
“The [Hunter] faculty was a bit too dry,” Noterdaeme told me over the phone this morning, adding that the painting instructors were “conservative, macho, very bearded, full of burly old school painters.”
During Hunter’s 1991 MFA mid-term exhibition, Noterdaeme showed two paintings, one showing the missing upper-half, a self-portrait of the artist in near-orgasmic state while smoking a very Magrittean pipe, and the other, a version of Courbet’s lower-half with a pipe squeezed inside the sitter’s slit.
“At the mid-term exhibition, the jury came by. I wasn’t there, but from hearsay,” Noterdaeme spoke, “the Chair had the final decision.” And that was that; he was accused and expelled for plagiarism, for making a more complete Courbet.
These are not accomplished paintings. But by the 1990s, appropriation had become common parlance in the art world, so altering “classics” had become a relevant tactic. Now, with the furniture shop Courbet, it seems that wanting to make a more complete version has become a century-old desire.
Noterdaeme believes it’s common for people to seek for a completeness, for wholeness; that it’s a response to anything that’s been cut or cropped. “Someone made a decision to cut something,” he said, gravely in response to The Origin of the World, “but that’s something for Freud or Lacan.”