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Love Potion No. 194

On a balmy day on May 29th, 2011 (at 6:39 PM EST to be exact), love was born. That is, the gene, Love, our 194th gene. Love was not born of the sea; no zephyrs swept it over the waves; it was added unceremoniously to The Art Genome Project; but we quickly started thinking about how it might be related to artists and artworks on Artsy. 

Botticelli may say that love is divine; contemporary artist Carsten Höller may contend that love is the chemical byproduct of phenylethylamine, a mood-enhancing compound found in chocolate, which the artist added to his Love Drug (PEA) (1993/2011) potion – and we leave such explorations up to the artists. We don’t purport to have figured out love’s ingredients or where it comes from. 

It is also indisputable that definitions of love have differed throughout history and across cultures, as have the behaviors considered acceptable in its pursuit. If gods could descend from the heavens to “seduce” (often forcefully) mortal women in Classical Mythology, then by the 18th century, cupid and his handmaidens–small cherubs called “putti”–hastened along a more romantic cycle of seduction and courtship. And what would love be without intimate moments and embraces, erotic encounters or the private spaces that allow for them. Working on The Art Genome Project, we have attempted to create genes to describe some of the many permutations of eros and amor as depicted or taken as subject matter in art throughout the ages, including other genes such as Nude, Stolen Moments, and tags like VenusCupidHeart or, for a special occasion, Flora

From the Romantic Delusions of Jesper Just’s film to the volatile relationship between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, love isn’t always easy (or easy to come by). William Hogarth caricatures the conventions of “modern” 18th century marriage, and over two hundred years later Xiao Lu relates that “Love is a state of mind. Marriage is just paper.” A kiss is hardly ever just a kiss (as the stranglehold in Klimt’s work reveals), and love, as Tracey Emin astutely observes, can be as abstract as a distant star. But even after all these years, artists haven’t given up trying to bring love down to earth, from the heavens, and, in however small a way, make it relatable.   

-Jessica Backus, Researcher on The Art Genome Project

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