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What's in a Name: The Meaning of Titles

January 8, 2009

Artists use titles to illuminate, explicate, confound, frustrate––or justify a tax deduction. Even Untitled suggests a meaning.

demoiselles

Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907: originally called The Philosophical Brothel

Frank Stella has named his works after Brooklyn apartment buildings, Polish villages, Nazi death-camp slogans, racetracks, exotic birds, and chapters in Moby-Dick. Janine Antoni has chosen titles like Gnaw and Lick & Lather in part because she likes the way they feel in her mouth when she says them.

Eric Fischl recently found inspiration in an unpublished poem he wrote in the 1970s, using lines from it––like “Surviving the fall meant using you for handholds”––to name a series of bedroom scenes. Helen Frankenthaler says she used to keep a long list of possible titles that she had thought up or come across. “It’s a poetic job,” says Frankenthaler, adding that her titles, like Jacob’s Ladder (1957) and Nature Abhors a Vacuum, are meant “to place a picture.” Continue reading. . .

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