Ken Aptekar
A Personal Public, showing at Reed College's Cooley Gallery, 3203 SE Woodstock, August 20 - November 18

The Late Baroque and Rococo periods conjure visions of shell-shaped soaps and prints of plump nymphets that hang in grandmothers' bathrooms. Ken Aptekar wants to change that. He bolts 18th-Century paintings behind sheets of glass, then etches text across the surface of the work. His latest exhibition, A Personal Public, revisits Madame de Pompadour, the 18th-Century Parisian courtesan who used sex and intellect to become mistress to Louis XV and one of the most influential arts patrons in all of France. She was the primary topic of our Portland-to-Paris email exchange.

Your work has often been very autobiographical. Why did you choose to explore the life of Madame de Pompadour?

I saw an exhibition two years ago about her influence on 18th-Century French art. It was dead, dead, dead. This woman was largely responsible for much of the luscious, extravagant, decidedly non-religious art of the period that has fed my own work for many years. It killed me--what a missed opportunity! I resolved then and there to see what I could do to bring to life the personality behind the art that had drawn ME in for years.

So we shouldn't be fooled by the porcelain skin and corsets; it is somewhat autobiographical?

I came to see Madame de Pompadour's struggles as a reflection of my own. She loved art and had to figure out a way to make it the center of her life, but was outside the world she needed to enter. I often felt that my chances of making an artist's life were just beyond my reach. I identified with her struggle to have the life she wanted. OK, she was a call girl, but then she remained Louis XV's most trusted adviser for years after the sex.

So by bridging Pompadour's narrative and your own work, you hope to bring the art of the past into a contemporary context?

I hope people will come away with a desire to look again at the art of the period. You don't even have to get on a plane to Paris--the Portland Art Museum has a painting related to the work at the Reed exhibition. Although, any excuse to come to Paris... !