when we kiss


This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.

This is a collection of representations of the kiss, and serves to challenge our notions of the kiss as primarily a romantic or loving act.  Bohumil Kabista's 'Kiss of Death' is dark and angular, portraying the moment of passing from life into death in modernistic, menacing style. The recipient of the kiss almost fades into the background as though melting away out of life, as he/she is kissed by the skeletal form representing death. The figures are centred in the frame and the background fades into deep shadow around them towards the edges. The image has an otherworldly feel created by unfamiliar textures and figures that blend into the background around them. Painted in 1640, Paolo Emilio Besenzi's 'Santa Caterina kisses Jesus' plagues' is presented in the style of many of his contemporaries' religious images, with softened colours, billowing textured fabrics and the prominence of a religious figure within the frame. Jesus sits as if on a throne, bare to the waist, while Santa Caterina kneels before him, appearing to kiss his side, although all the viewer is able to see is the leaning in of her head as we are left to imagine the kiss itself. This image portrays the kiss of healing, often seen as an act of religious devotion. The 1997 'Kiss' by Ahn, Chang Hong is modern and vivid in colour and composition, with sharp outlines and a lack of shadow and texture in the figures included. A man seems to be attempting to kiss a woman, but she turns her head away toward the front of the frame, looking down leaning away from him, as his kiss lands on her cheek. The image does not appear to be violent or threatening, but merely a portrayal of an awkward mismatch of desire. The kiss is the unwanted kiss, the awkward kiss that grows from the attempt at the romantic. Dimitrij Vrubel displays cultural appropriation in his 1990 'Lord Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love', and projects new meaning onto what was originally a politically charged image. The image is actually a 1979 news photograph of then Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker at the 30th anniversary celebrations for the Deutsche Demokratische Republik — East Germany. In 1989, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vrubel painted this image on the remaining portion of the wall, now the East Side Gallery, with the caption “Lord Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”. It has since become one of the most famous examples of political and social commentary through the appropriation of a historical image, having been republished and reprinted thousands of time, and the subject of pop culture iconography on Tshirts, towels and coffee mugs. This is the brilliant appropriation of the kiss for political means, and the subsequent re-appropriation of the image's absence of romance for satirical use by Vrubel. Edvard Munch gave us 'Vampire' in 1895, and although the image contains all the conventions of the romantic kiss: the embrace, the flowing hair, the submission of the subjects to desire, the image is not romantic in the loving sense. This is the kiss of the vampire, the bite to draw blood and rob one of life, similar to the 'Kiss of Death' by Kabista. The dark rich colours and the swirling brushstrokes are typical of Munch and the image does not stray from his nightmarish conventions. As in Besenzi's image, we do not see the kiss itself, but the positioning of the bodies in the centre of the frame leads our imagination to believing in it and its effects on the victim. The choice of red hair for the vampire is likely historically based as women with red hair were once thought to be witches, evil or able to consort with the devil, so the portrayal of a vampire as a red-haired woman would have lent meaning and shared social understanding to the image at the time. Finally, the last image is by Kang, Hyung Koo entitled 'Kiss', and is a representation of a famous movie kiss from the classic epic “Gone with the Wind”. This kiss may appear to break the mold with its inclusion of romance, but the romance is false. This is a Hollywood image of romance, it is artifice created by actors on a soundstage and in reality, the kiss they share holds no romance other than that we bring to it as viewers. It is the perfect expression of viewers making meaning, of our ability to project emotion onto an image in such a powerful way that we truly believe it to exist independent of our own projections. Hollywood and indeed, the entertainment industry as a whole depends entirely on our ability to convince ourselves that the emotions we feel are being elicited by their products, and not merely projections of our own beliefs and connections made in our own minds in reaction to them. This image shows that if a kiss is romantic, it is because we make it so. In reality, a kiss really is, just a kiss.

Kiss of a Death, Bohumil Kubišta, 1912 - 1912, From the collection of: Oblastní galerie Liberec
Saint Catherine kisses Jesus’ plagues, Paolo Emilio Besenzi, 1640 circa, From the collection of: Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Kiss, Ahn, Chang Hong, 안창홍, 1997, From the collection of: Korean Art Museum Association
Lord Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love, Dimitrij Vrubel, 1990, From the collection of: East Side Gallery
Vampire, Edvard Munch, 1895, From the collection of: The Munch Museum, Oslo
Kiss, Kang, Hyung Koo, 1998, From the collection of: Korean Art Museum Association
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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