Franz Marc’s Winterschläfer

In the spirit of rebirth an excerpt from my research about Franz Marc’s visualization of a kind of pantheistic utopia, followed by an introduction and explanation about this new website and some other breaking German Modernism news.

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Though it doesn’t seem as if these two images appended here could possibly be related, they do have a commonality – the figures are in a state of private reverie that is between sleep and wakefulness.

Franz Marc, Der Traum, 1912.

Franz Marc, Der Traum, 1912.

Franz Marc himself charaterized his mode of trying to perceive as the animal as if in a state of somnambulism, partly conscious yet also given over to the transformative experience of being another, in this dream-like state. The animals to Marc possessed in their purity a sort of natural extraconsciousness. His work has numerous examples of figures in such a “sleepwalking” state, corresponding to the posture of animals, and also people, in a relaxed posture reclining into a receptive earth. This natural somnambulism blurred what was conventionally taken to be a distinction between people and animals, that animals are innate and instinctive, whereas humans can return to this state only in dreams.

In 1911, Marc had written an interesting personal aside in his journal:

[Können wir uns ein Bild machen, wie wohl Tiere uns und die Natur sehen?]

Gibt es für Künstler eine geheimnisvollere Idee als die [Vorstellung], wie sich wohl die Natur in dem Auge eines Tieres spiegelt? Wie sieht ein Pferd die Welt oder ein Adler, ein Reh oder ein Hund? Wie armselig, [ja] seelenlos ist unsre [Gewohnheit] Konvention, Tiere in eine Landschaft zu setzen, die unsren Augen zugehört statt uns in die Seele des Tieres zu versenken, [daß wir das seinen Blick Weltbild] um dessen Bilderkreis zu erraten.

[Diese Betrachtung soll keine müßige causerie sein, sondern uns zu den Quellen der Kunst führen.][1]

We can see this interest in the perception of animals reflected not just in Marc’s belief in the inherent Beseeltheit [2] of animals but also in his knowledge of contemporary zoology research taking place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, for example, the writings of Wilhelm Bölsche on plant and animal taxonomy[3] and more clinical examinations, such as studies about how the retinae of insects’ eyes functioned.[4]

Thus what we think of now as “the question of the animal” was under Marc’s consideration in suprisingly contemporary terms, and should not be considered merely an outflow of his private, sentimental feelings about his pets. Like Kandinsky, Marc was curious as to whether there was a tangible basis for their claims that there existed unseen dimension in the regular order of the world but which had become invisible to callous, spiritually deprived humans.

The sketch, Liegender Hund (Russi), (and note also the title) shows that even before he began to wrangle with the problem of color, Marc was busy practicing making copies and models for his later paintings, sketches which nonetheless stood as discrete works for Marc, since, in his somewhat haphazard fashion, he also named and numbered them.

Unlike Paul Gauguin, from whom he certainly drew upon for ideas about content and color, to Marc, nude women in a natural setting were not excuses for a prurient gaze but rather these women, like Marc’s contemplative animals, symbolized innocence and purity, and were associated with the reclamation of paradise. Dreaming animals and people stood for a somnambulant state marking a kind of emotional perception that synaesthetically included auratic impressions and warmth.[5] In his painting Der Traum in which a “Wilden” woman sits cross-legged. Marc blends this image of longing for an original paradise with the European idea of paradise, where the wild lion, like that of St. Jerome, lives in peaceful harmony with horses and humans. Marc’s Animalisierung is in evidence here. Like “wild” people, animals as envisaged by Marc display a natural attunement to the spheres, having been born directly into their instincts, which modern humans – expelled from paradise – have lost.
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Hund vor der Welt: How a Dog Sees the World

Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

I write about this painting a lot – in fact I once, for quite a long time, devoted my academic research solely to this painting – but I realised I don’t often say anything about it in this space. So here is a little excerpt not from my current chapters but from a side project.

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Franz Marc made an innovative painting – a metaphysical genre portrait of his dog Russi – called Hund vor der Welt in the spring of 1912. The large vertical canvas shows the white hound seated on a hillside, facing the sun and the landscape at an angle across an indeterminate space. We have an account of what Marc had in mind in making this image in particular and Marc’s other thoughts about painting his frequent model.[1] There is also a substantial amount of documentation about Russi, the dog, who, as the artist’s constant companion, was a character who populated the art, photographs, and writing of other people. We even know where Russi was born, how he came as a puppy to live with Marc, and when he died.[2] So despite its slightly whimsical affect, Hund vor der Welt is an image of a real dog about whom much historical information is available. Marc made many paintings in which Russi also appears as a peripheral regular “character;” he leads the way in Im Regen (1912) and leaps after Die gelbe Kuh (1911).

August Macke, who came into frequent contact with Russi and made his own drawings of the dog, prevailed upon Marc to change the name of the painting from the one Marc originally had in mind, So wird mein Hund die Welt sieht.[3] We know from Marc that he wanted to show Russi in thought, so the dog’s seated posture suggests that this is what is happening in the stillness. The strange view of the landscape Russi “sees” is nonetheless completely identifiable as a typical one from around Sindelsdorf where Marc lived. By placing buildings in the recognizable, managed farmlands of Bavaria, Marc suggests that people and animals are part of the same ecology, which, for dogs as the primary animal of domestication, is certainly true.

Russi did not have the life of a working dog, instead, with Marc, dividing his time between Munich, Berlin, and the small towns of Sindelsdorf and Ried. Russi lost part of his tail in 1911, an adjustment to his appearance that is reflected in his 1912 portrait. This shows that Marc had a commitment to showing morphologically accurate details even about the animals he painted, even as the paintings themselves broke with academic naturalism.

Die gelbe Kuh, Franz Marc, 1911 189.2 × 140.52 cm Oil on canvas Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

Die gelbe Kuh,
Franz Marc, 1911
189.2 × 140.52 cm
Oil on canvas
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

 

[1] Franz Marc, Briefe, Schriften und Aufzeichnungen, (Leipzig: Kiepenheuer, 1989), 11. Observing Russi at this moment, Marc wonders: “Ich möchte mal wissen, was jetzt in dem Hund vorgeht.”

[2] Marc, Briefe, 196-197.

[3] Franz Marc, August Macke, Briefwechsel, (Köln: DuMont, 1964), 124-126.

Essay in KAPSULA: Franz Marc, Joan Jonas, The Presets

I was very pleased and honored to have my article “Channeling Franz Marc in the Prelapsarian Longing of Joan Jonas and Lee Lennox” accepted and published by the Toronto-based journal of contemporary art, KAPSULA.

The subscription to KAPSULA, which iScreen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.18.27 AMs organized as an email listserv (so you register with your email and then get the publication delivered) is free and of course I highly recommend you subscribe at once! The thematic sequence for this series is “Longing,” and the archive of other topics such as “Bad History” and “Acting Up” is on the magazine’s website.

In the article, using an iteration of Hal Foster’s Nachträglichkeit from The Return of the Real (1996), I tell how Franz Marc’s ideas about paradise and our separation from animals reignites in the 2009 Venice Biennale installation Reading Dante by Joan Jonas and the video by Lee Lennox for the Presets’ EDM song “Girl and the Sea.”

After I wrote the article it occurred to me that I had not explained why I discussed the works out of chronology, “Girl and the Sea” from 2004 after Reading Dante from 2009. The reason is because I actually saw the Jonas first, and then the Presets video. For… reasons…the video really upset me, but it also gave me some knowledge about myself, and, more importantly, “activated” the connection between Reading Dante and Marc’s Paradies.

As I say in the article this idea has been churning inside me for awhile, and I am so grateful to KAPSULA and particularly to editor Lindsay LeBlanc for giving these ideas a polished voice and a beautifully-designed forum.

Finding Franz Marc’s House in Pasing

Franz Marc's family home in the München suburb of Pasing.

Franz Marc’s family home in the München suburb of Pasing.

I’ve written a little bit about (we’re saving our full repertoire for our even-bigger-screen reveal) the accidental hobby of my creative partner and myself, a sort of reverse geocaching + film. Basically we found out we like to research the addresses of art-historical places and find the spot on the earth where they once stood. In most of these cases, such as the pop-up gallery in Berlin search which ended up being recorded during a blizzard, or the colorful studio here in München destroyed in the war, we had city records and things like invitations to or posters for exhibits to go on, and it was possible to figure out, even where addresses had changed or buildings had been demolished, where they once stood. Sometimes we were able to use GPS coordinates, tagging our own maps as we went along, and sometimes we just used a compass, building keystones, and asking questions. Most of these excursions took a couple days of research and a one-shot hike.

Franz Marc’s family house in the München suburb of Pasing turned out to be our biggest challenge, though, and somewhat unexpectedly since Pasing was never destroyed and a lot of the old buildings have been preserved. However, perhaps not surprisingly, neither were Sophie and Wilhelm Marc, the parents of Franz, nor Paul, Franz’s brother, either very good with managing money nor with keeping records. Thus as it turns out the Marcs owned the house through a chain of convoluted machinations, so the normally very useful city and state records were not helpful. We assembled our clues – fragments of notes and letters mostly, and importantly, photographs showing  the house and the yard – and set off to Pasing with only a couple of bottles of water because “how big can Pasing be?”.

Well, Pasing is not that big, but, never underestimate the amount of confusion Franz Marc can cause. On our first journey (like, on the Straßenbahn Linie 19 so not that far) we walked around the neighborhood with the most Altbauten – nothing. The second day we knew to bring some snacks, but, still, after many hours – nothing. We were getting a bit anxious time-wise, and looked over all our notes again. I kept going back to the photographs, which showed very clear views of the property including which way the shadows were falling, and, since they photos were clearly taken in summer, and then in winter, you could see which way the house itself faced. We decided on the third trip to just be more playful and counterintuitively left everything at home but the camera, and getting off the tram just walked in a direction that seemed, for lack of a better way to describe, enticing and pleasant.

Not even half an hour into the walk, we turned a corner, and there it was. The other times we had been going completely in the wrong directions, by the way. Even if I didn’t know from the photographs, I would have just known, I think, that this was a place the Marc family would have lived. It’s a comfortably large enough home, but kind of secluded, even though it’s on city block, with many trees that were saplings in the photographs, a sort of open gazebo, and many eaves and places for birds to live. It definitely had an aura and I was very happy to have found the place – it made me feel very light at heart – and happy that the Marcs had lived there. Sophie Marc stayed on at the house after Wilhelm Marc died in 1907 until she went to stay with Maria Marc later in 1914 (yes, Sophie Marc outlived Franz by just a few months).

Unfortunately, as you can see from the photos, the home is abandoned and in desperate need of some repairs. It’s probably not habitable the way it is now. I dearly hope someone will lovingly restore this historic treasure. If that person is you, please write to me and I will send you the address!

Once my heart had turned to being interested in “recovered biography” I realized how important it is to actually physically experience places and things important in the life of Franz Marc. It’s incredible to me that in a place as self-consciously “historic” as Bayern so many things are falling away. In 2013, the Goltz book store closed its physical location on the Türkenstraße, which should really have been outlawed or something. We did make some documentation of that location, too, though. But that is another story.

UPDATE: May 2015

In some recent research I was doing about some other property records and dates of births and things, I ran across an interesting fact: Around 1885-1900, Annette von Eckardt and her family, which then would have included her baby daughter Helene and husband Richard Simon, a professor at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, lived in Pasing. By this time Richard Simon would’ve known Paul Marc, Franz Marc’s brother who also taught at the university, and who still lived with the family in Pasing, too. I’m writing something for publication about these interconnected relationships for soon, so…watch this space. The implications are interesting, and a little disturbing, too, but my intuition has been givine me this message for a long time…

“Dog Lying in the Vodafone Store”

 

Liegender Hund im Schnee, Franz Marc, 1911

Liegender Hund im Schnee, Franz Marc, 1911

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“… Du kannst Dir kaum vorstellen, wie wunderbar schön der Winter in diesen Tagen hier ist, schleierloses Sonnenlicht und dabei den ganzen Tag Rauhreif; sehr kalt, aber von jener schönen, erfrischenden Kälte, die einen nur äußerlich, nicht innerlich frieren macht. … Gegen Abend wird es chromatischer, statt blau weiß treten rosa und komplementär grünliche Töne auf, auch violett gegen farbige Abendluft. Ich habe zwei Sachen im Schnee in Arbeit: die Rehe unter schneebedeckten Ästen und den Russi im Schnee liegend. Ich komme mit beiden ganz gut weiter, sehr farbig. …”

Franz Marc, 17.1.1911

 

Sighthounds in the Art of the Ancient World

 

The Townley Greyhounds

The Townley Greyhounds

 

The artistic expression of human relationships with animals has been and remains deeply complex and shifting. From the shaggy predators of the Lascaux Cave paintings to the costumed, hyperreal Weimareiners in the photos of William Wegman, the canine form has been especially popular with artists as both an ad hoc subject and a highbrow icon. A particular type of dog, the Cirneco dell Aetna, or Italian Greyhound, appears quite often in the art of ancient Greece and Rome, enjoying a commonality shared only with cattle and horses.

The Italian Greyhounds, however (as we shall call them henceforth), literally crossed the threshold in the ancient world, entering households not as steeds for work and war or sacrificial offerings, but as companions and objects of beauty.

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The aim of this paper is to point out for consideration some examples of Italian Greyhound imagery from several ancient eras and geographical locations, to describe the history of this breed of dog in relation to its popularity in Greece and Italy, to draw a few conclusions about the dogs’ visual evolution and the reasons for its prevalence, and to show how both the animal and its image continued as both an influence and a viable species beyond the end of the Roman Empire. A starting point is to describe the nature and appearance of the Italian Greyhound, a species which exists fundamentally unchanged from its earliest days.

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