I recently went to see the 100th Anniversary exhibition of the work of Balthus at Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny in
Two things were immediately apparent: Balthus was enormously talented and he was fascinated by images of young girls that convey a deep and passionate eroticism.
Although none of these images show anything as graphic as actual sex, they show clearly the sexual nature of these young (sometimes very young) girls.
It left me startled. I couldn't make up my mind whether I should be outraged, whether I should be ashamed of myself for feeling the power of these paintings or whether I was imagining things as everyone else seemed to be browsing the exhibition as if it was another viewing Monet's Water Lilies.
I think that their power shows them to be art. I feel like a Victorian wanting to add a fig leaf to the Michelangelo's David but I can't get over how disturbing I found the images and how easily those around me accepted them.
I finally realised that what disturbed me about these paintings is that Balthus makes me see little girls the way a child molester does. He does it subtly and with skill and his vision has a certain type of truth to it. The verb that comes to mind to describe this is corruption.
I know, I know, I'm reacting on a purely moral basis here.
I'm sure there are gay artists who could make me see men the way they see them. I would be fascinated but I wouldn't feel corrupted.
What makes Balthus different is that I think that what he sees (and what he makes me see) is not the truth about these girls but a projected fantasy of what he would like them to be.