The Gurlitt Hoard and The Orpheus Clock

Franz Marc, Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube), 1912.

Following below my reviews of two catalogues relating to the Hildebrand–Cornelius–Gurlitt bequeathal as has appeared on the Museum Books website and archived on Humanities Commons. First some digressions on the subject of Raubkunst.

One of the works recovered in Munich in 2012 you see here, Franz Marc’s Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube) (1912). As in Die Vögel (also 1912 – I am just saying!) which lives at the Lenbachhaus, it is very hard to reproduce and thus to see the tone and hue of the violet Marc uses in these paintings about the avian experience. More on this soon, but hopefully you can get a bit of an idea of just how luminous and concatenate the purple and jades are in this canvas. Doubtful it can undergo conservation.

Franz Marc, Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube), 1912, detail.

Both of these catalogues are very good, and I’m sure the forthcoming second part of the Gurlitt Status Report will be excellent too. (In another of the case’s amusing-macabre turns, these volumes are issued by the Hirmer Verlag, Hirmer, you may recall being the menswear hoarding store of choice of Cornelius Gurlitt. The companies are unrelated.)

But one of the things a scholarly work, at least under the present rules of publication, cannot capture is the intense emotion the discovery of the Gurlitt trove aroused in those who love the work – and not just art historians. One of the most intense experiences I had in Munich was the day in 2013 the Gurlitt seizure was revealed in FOCUS magazine. When the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine began flashing notifications and tweets about the story at around 15:00 on 3 November, Schwabing’s ride-or-die Expressionism lovers (i.e. everyone in the neighborhood) literally ran out onto the streets both to steal a “just out walking” glimpse of the Gurlitt flat on the north side and to snatch up physical copies of FOCUS. I was fortunate to be on the U3 on the way to Schleißheimerstr already and just jumped off at the Olympiapark stop and, for once observing Bavarian queue rules, jostled my way up to the front of the news seller’s and grabbed the last one.

When I heard Simon Goodman speak at the Getty Research Institute this past March I was struck of course by his story, which is told in his book The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis (2015), but also by his marshaling of those powerful narrative and emotional resources that come from outside academic art historical presentation. You can view the whole talk at the Getty website.

Franz Marc, Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube), 1912, detail.

First and foremost is the title: Who wouldn’t want to read a book called The Orpheus Clock, no matter what it was about? Goodman never wavers from the issue of provenance research that is in the foreground of the saga – if you watch the video you will hear Thomas W. Gaehtgens recount how Goodman quietly and unassumingly worked in the Getty library for years without revealing himself – but the story of the family, and the intrinsic value of the stolen and then recovered artwork, moves the narrative.

The other thing that strikes me, as my own Raubkunst at the Ringling project inches forward, is the cost of this kind of research, in every sense. For all his drive, patience, eloquence, and charm, Simon Goodman had a few advantages in his quest. But finally even the well-educated polyglot with many financial security, business, legal, and social connections could only use the threat of raining shame upon Sotheby’s and Christie’s to move them to reveal important information about the eponymous 16th Century silver and paintings by Cranach, Degas. Drive and weaponized publicity should not be the only avenues of retributive justice available. Systemic cooperation needs to lead.


Franz Marc, Sitzendes Pferd, c. 1912.
Look at this multimedia extravaganza! LOOK AT IT! LöL. Don’t ever tell me again FM isn’t funny.

In the wake of the revealed discovery in November 2013 of what has become known as the “Gurlitt hoard” – the thousands of artworks seized in a 2012 raid by the by German Federal, Bavarian State, and Munich police upon the Schwabing apartment of then 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt – a number of thoughtful and well-researched books have emerged, notably The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler’s Dealer and His Secret Legacy (2015) by Catherine Hickley.[1] Gurlitt, the peripatetic son of art dealer, gallerist, and sometime-curator Hildebrand Gurlitt, died in May 2014, bequeathing his collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern. The lifting of the embargo by a German court to allow Gurlitt’s trove to be dispensed to the museum was far from acclaimed – in fact, with many works by 20th Century luminaries missing since the 1930s recovered from Gurlitt’s possession-jammed flat still of uncertain provenance – quite the opposite. Thus the museum of the city of Bern has been placed on defensive alert even while surely exulting over the acquisition of paintings, drawings, and prints by Franz Marc, August Macke, Henri Matisse, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and many others that greatly enrich our understanding of the historical avant-garde.

A research catalogue and attendant exhibition was promised by the Kunstmuseum Bern, surveying the contents of its permanent collection as well for the presence of Raubkunst. And director Matthias Frehner kept his promise. The depth if not the scope of Modern Masters “Degenerate” Art at the Kunstmuseum Basel, the resulting publication, is even more ambitious than anticipated. lt offers a comprehensively illustrated checklist of the paintings from the Gurlitt acquisition as well as many other fascinating images and tales, from an account of the activities of patron-donor Othbar Huber to archival photographs rarely seen of Kathe Thannhauser and Herwarth Walden. However the excellent series of volumes Gurlitt Status Report: – Confiscated and Sold, Kunstmuseum Bern – Nazi Art Theft and Its Consequences, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany (the second has just appeared – watch this space for updates) taking stock both more specifically and in consideration of the broader ramifications of the Gurlitt situation to some extent eclipses the Bern effort, launched from a collaborative co-exhibition at the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn.
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Hillsborough County Library Cooperative Art History “Lecture” Series

So, now that my time at the Rifkind Center is coming to an end, I have some breaking news announcements to post in sequence…

First, beginning this Saturday and through the summer months I will … well, be involved in a series of discussions about art history sponsored through a grant I received from the  Hillsborough Public Library Cooperative. It’s all kicking off at the SouthShore Regional Public Library in Ruskin.

IKR

The SouthShore Library has a great history of funding arts programs for the patrons in its off-the-track corner of the county and I am very grateful to receive this support and for being able to work around upcoming travel obligations. The library staff had in mind a formal sequence of talks, but the proposal I made is for something more experimental that I have had in mind for a while…

…which is why I hesitate to call these “lectures.” Each session is going to be very interactive and will unfold in a participant-driven way, and there will be a digital component posted for downloading during and after each event.
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The La Brea Tar Pits: Dire Wolves

Skeletons of dire wolves at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, Los Angeles

One of the first animals I became fascinated with when I was very little was the dire wolf (canis dirus). This was not for the “dinosaur” reason (although I was also very interested in Sauropterygia), a sense of what-if nostalgia for an unknowable past, but for the opposite, that being just a bit bigger than wolves of today, and relatively recently extinct (in the late Pleistocene, about 10,000 years ago) surely there could be a few hanging out still in the Fagne.

Around the same time I was also horrified to learn of the existence of the La Brea Tar Pits, despite its amazing contents of millions of prehistoric animal remains. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the animals slowly suffocating in the tar. I guess I must have pushed this memory aside somehow because despite knowing that the tar pits were right in the middle of Los Angeles (also from the famous sequence in Bad Influence (1990)), I was astonished to see that the LBTP are immediately adjacent to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Staying just down the street, I can walk through the excavation sites on my way to the museum. As many other people have commented the sunniness and wide-boulevardisation of Los Angeles compared to its low pedestrian density is uncanny already. Most of the time the paths around the tar pits are also eerily quiet. There have been a few days of heavy rain, and during those times of precipitation accumulation, water collects on top of the gravel, the grass, and the tar beneath. It’s a strange thing to witness.

Anyway the La Brea Tar Pits Museum has collected the skulls of more than 400 dire wolves, which yielding lots of information about the sizes and shapes of the animals and even allowed them to be divided into two subspecies, Canis dirus guildayi and Canis dirus dirus.

Bruce Nauman, “La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits,” 1972

 

Mernet Larsen: Getting Measured, 1957-2017

I have known Mernet Larsen from her role as professor as professor at the University of South Florida’s art studio department, and from her many trenchant and witty remarks on the art situation in Tampa, as well as from her kindness to students and fellow faculty. She made some very telling and compassionate comments at the small memorial for Bradley Nickels some years ago.

Nonetheless I felt as if I could give this retrospective at the Tampa Museum of Art a fair review and was glad I took the chance to do so for Empty Mirror. Larsen’s painting are intellectually engaging and unclassifiable. Many from Getting Measured, 1957-2017 are reproduced with the article so I will let you look at it on the Empty Mirror website, and it’s also archived as a PDF at the Humanities Commons Core Depository.

Eggs, 1961. Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist. © Mernet Larsen

Empty Mirror Arts Issue: The Tempest and the Savages: Franz Marc, Hugo Ball, and a Decisive Moment in Dada-Expressionist Theater With a Special Appearance by August Macke

My research about Franz Marc’s 1914 essay »Das abstrakte Theater« and Marc’s collaboration with Hugo Ball on an intended production of The Tempest has been published in a special arts issue of Empty Mirror. The fun long title of the article is “The Tempest and the Savages: Franz Marc, Hugo Ball, and a Decisive Moment in Dada-Expressionist Theater With a Special Appearance by August Macke,” and this piece contains important breaking historical avant-garde news.

Fig.01: Franz Marc, Fragmentary First Page of „Das abstrakte Theater,“ 1914. Das Archiv für Bildende Kunst im Germanischen Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, Germany.

Here is the abstract: This article discusses Franz Marc’s 1914 essay “Das abstrakte Theater”1  and the events surrounding an “Expressionist” production of Shakespeare’s Der Sturm planned by Marc and Hugo Ball the same year. Marc’s position in this detour from painting and writing can be understood in terms of his embrace of “die ‘Wilden’” – “the ‘Savages’” – an idea Marc introduces in 1912’s Blaue Reiter Almanac – as a metaphorical aspiration and as a state of being for both artists and the public as patrons of the arts and citizens of modernity. I also bring recognition to August Macke’s background in theatrical theory and design in terms of how this influenced Marc, particularly in analysis of the artists’ collaboration on Macke’s contribution to the Blaue Reiter Almanac, the essay “Die Masken,” and how this relates to the Der Sturm project. I propose a way of understanding how Marc’s beliefs in the paradoxically beneficial power of destruction dovetailed with Ball’s theology. In the context of this background information I give close reading of paintings Marc made of the Caliban and Miranda characters from Der Sturm. I also correct inaccuracies in the record regarding the chronologies of this encounter between these protagonists of Dada and Expressionism, and in our understanding of Marc’s text itself. Viewing this data in a holistic manner allows new interpretations of influences and collaborations amid the historical avant-garde.

It is great working with Denise Enck at Empty Mirror so it would be nice to look at the article on the Empty Mirror website, but if you would like a PDF of the article there is one here and also at Humanities Commons.

Fig.03: Franz Marc, Caliban, 1914. (Figure for Shakespeare’s „Der Sturm“. Tempera, 46 x 39.5 cm.) Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstichkabinett der öffentlichen Kunstsammlung, Switzerland.

Fig.03: Franz Marc, Caliban, 1914. (Figure for Shakespeare’s „Der Sturm“. Tempera, 46 x 39.5 cm.) Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstichkabinett der öffentlichen Kunstsammlung, Switzerland.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume, Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg

Padmé Amidala’s throne room robes

This is a “locally-coloured” version of this exhibition review. See the “professional” iterations at Humanities Commons or on the Museum Bookstore website.

On view through the spring, this exhibition features 60 costumes representing characters from the Star Wars film saga from A New Hope in 1977 through The Force Awakens in 2015. These outfits are accompanied by selected accessories: props such as light sabers and artists’ sketches of how the costumes, and characters were originally envisioned and evolved. As a group the costumes highlight the intricacy of theatrical and cinematic clothing design. Membership in the cult of Star Wars is not a prerequisite for their appreciation.

These costumes and the drawings giving their background illustrate the evolution from storyboard to screen, and then of the characters who wear these ornaments and attributes. The earlier pieces from the original trilogy – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) followed A New Hope – are closely allied to the vaguely fascistic, neo-classical iconography favoured by creator George Lucas. These styles – Reich-referencing Imperial officer and Stormtrooper uniforms, the togas and cloaks for Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker – tend to be simplified and literal. As the series progressed with Episodes I, II, and II I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005) – the prequels that appeared fourth, fifth, and sixth in order of release – costumes for both the Republic officials such as Bail Organa and Imperial minion Darth Sidious tend to be highly decorated while more referentially abstract. Particularly the scarlet robe and ornate crown for Princess-Senator Padmé Amidala Naberrie’s Phantom Menace throne room garb, which greets visitors at the exhibit’s entrance, is a marvel. The dazzling effect of the wardrobe of Padmé, portrayed in the films by Natalie Portman, was achieved by the imaginative and subtle use of beads, paillettes, layers of leggings and petticoats, and embedded electronics. Her trains of shimmering brocade and elaborate ceremonial gowns and headdresses show strong influences from feudal Mongolia and Shōgun era Japan. I was astonished to see the level of handicraft and detail given to each garment, having assumed that costumes in a fantasy epic were embellished by computer-generated animations such as those that brought Katniss Everdeen’s “flame” gown to the screen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).
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The Dead in Ancient Rome

Funerary shroud of Tasherytwedjahor from Roman Egypt, c. 150. Tempera on linen. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Nr. 54.993

Funerary imagery permeated Roman culture and riddled the visual landscape. Representations of death in the form of monuments and statuary are the best-known artifacts of Roman Imperial customs surrounding death, but these static glyphs complemented a “lively” practice of ancient Roman funerary practices in honor of the deceased and his or her family. During the city’s Caesarian and Julian centuries, roads leading into the city were lined with tombs, and to walk Roman streets meant encounters with representations of the dead on a daily basis. In Rome, the dead were ever-present.

However the civic perception was by no means entirely morbid. Rather than only mourn the death or commemorate the deceased, the Roman funerary cityscape offered opportunities for the display of familial, political, and personal symbolic capital. The accouterments of the funeral – chariots, triumphal regalia, the garb of magisterial office, and the display of past familial accomplishments – were intended to underscore the accomplishments of the deceased and demonstrable clout of aristocratic, wealthy, and politically connected citizens. In turn, the family could use funerary imagery as an internal yardstick that would present clear goals for its younger members to achieve. The dead offered exempla of past success, and reminders of one’s own place within the generational power structure of the family.

As the empire extended in all directions, Roman visual culture mixed with that of Egypt, Britain, and Byzantium, producing painted shrouds, sarcophagi, and mosaics. Some iconographic meanings are yet lost to us, such as a Roman sarcophagus depicting the Greek myth of Medea.

“[She] marries a Greek prince, a hero, goes back to Greece with him, they have two kids, but later on, her husband — a hero named Jason — has a mid-life crisis,” Dr. Mont Allen of Southern Illinois University has said. “He wants to jilt his wife, get a hot Ferrari and a hot trophy bride, and he essentially jilts Medea and her two kids there and she’s totally stranded, she’s a foreigner and here she is in Greece.”

Because Medea was a divorced woman, she had no protection in the ancient world.

“So she has her vengeance by killing her own two kids and then escaping, that’s the story of Medea,” Allen said. “What would [the sarcophagus] have cost, translated into modern dollars, $600,000? You think, ‘Why would an ancient Roman woman spend roughly $600,000 so that all her future generations of descendants could see the story of Medea on her coffin?’ Like, who on Earth would want to be remembered as a killer of children? The people looking at this are going to be your own family members.”

Roman Severan-Era Medea Sarcophagus, front view, c.190-200. Photo: University of California, San Diego

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Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask

During 2013 when I lived in München Gillian Wearing had a mid-career retrospective at Museum Brandhorst and a poster of the image you see here, “Self Portrait at Seventeen Years Old” (2003) was on placards all over the city as well as a huge replica on the side of the museum.

Gillian Wearing, “Self Portrait at Seventeen Years Old,” 2003; Claude Cahun, Self-Portrait, 1928.

The capstone nature of the show at least intimated that Wearing was moving on to subjects other than herself and I remember thinking that perhaps at last we had reached “peak self portrait.” This proved not to be the case specifically or generally.

I decided to review the catalogue of this exhibition in the hopes of re-examining Wearing and also setting the record correct about one of my favorite photographers, Claude Cahun. I feared when Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask was announced at the National Portrait Gallery in London that is would offer yet another opportunity for female erasure, which is what happened in reviews such as this one from Aindrea Emelife of the BBC shrieking: “Claude Cahun: The Trans Artists Years Ahead of Her Time.”

In fact Cahun was a woman, a lesbian woman, who was perfectly comfortable with her biological sex. She was sentenced to death during her time on Nazi-occupied Jersey for refusing to renounce her lifetime lover, Marcel Moore, so it seems especially egregious to suggest Cahun wavered in her “identity.”

One of the most distinctive aspects of Cahun’s auto-portraits is that her strong features are never obscured, she is always recognisably herself, no matter what the costume or haircut. This is something Wearing, in her response to Cahun’s oeuvre, seems also to diminish, as the series made for this exhibition find Wearing immersed in full disguises as Cahun, Robert Mapplethorpe, Dian Arbus, and others.

Claude Cahun, “Untitled (I Am in Training, Don’t Kiss Me,” 1929; Gillian Wearing, “Self Portrait as Claude Cahun,” 2015.

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To Never Know You

My article “To Never Know You: Archival Photos of Russi and Franz Marc” has been published in the Fall 2017 issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture.

Here is the abstract for the story, which also contains some valuable personal insights on vernacular photography from my friend Sabrina Hughes and benefited from the questions and comments from my Doktormutter Cecilia Novero:

This essay examines photographs of the German Expressionist artist, writer, and Tierliebhaber Franz Marc and his dog, Russi, taking the position that one of the most obvious characteristics of Marc’s life his – affectionate and respectful relationship with Russi – has been largely overlooked, though its documentation is clear. I extol the value of what are normally categorised as snapshots in reconstructing animal and human biographies. This raises questions about what photographs are valuable to such research, and why some are used repeatedly and others ignored. Significantly, a previously unknown photograph of Marc taken by his brother Paul in is published for the first time.

Mainly I had wanted to write about discovering this photo in the DKM/GNM, so here it is again:

Franz Marc, 1914, in Munich. Photo by Paul Marc. Germanisches Nationalmuseum | Des Deutschen Kunstarchivs | Nürnberg