Eduoard Manet's 1863 paintingLe Déjeuner sur l'herbe(The Luncheon on the Grass)is one of the more prized works owned by the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. And like the museum's other iconic paintings — including Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother(Whistler's Mother) — Manet's work has inspired generations of artists to copy it, lampoon it, or reference its indelible scene.
The celebrated Italian artist Ozmo has transferred Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe and its three lunching figures onto the giant backside of the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theater, where he's added a large-scaled nude Barbie doll and classical nude statues. Ozmo has also put a bull's head a la Picasso's Guernica over the face of the lunching middle man. And he's added a humongous panther ring from the high-end French jeweler Cartier.
Viewers “have to deal with these juxtapositions and try to figure out why they're sharing the same place, and doing this kind of picnic,” says Ozmo on a recent Saturday morning as he stood before his painting. Of the Guernica head, he says, “With all those beauties, I needed something strong and even ugly … The (work) is something beautiful and dangerous at the same time.”
Ozmo is known for reworking historical art sources, and the Olive Street painting coincides with a new exhibit of his at San Francisco's Fifty24SF Gallery, which opens July 1. With its then-unusual mix of flesh and flora, Manet's original 1863 canvas caused controversy in staid French art circles. Its choice as a starting point for Ozmo's newest work, on the outside of a theater where nude women tease and gyrate for mostly male patrons is entirely appropriate, he says.
“Sometimes, it's the location that gives me inspiration,” says Ozmo, 41, whose mural replaced a giant wheat-pasted work that was deteriorating. (John Vochatzer, who did that work, helped Ozmo on the new mural.) Ozmo's previous public work has included a Madonna figure in Ancona, Italy whose head is upside down. One Ancona passerby, a girl, thought Ozmo's work was sacrilegious, but an older woman praised it. “My poetry,” Ozmo says, “is to steal from history, steal from the world, and to make connections.”