Tag Archives: Art History

documenta diaries ii: topical solution

One of the paradoxes that has emerged from documenta 14 is that many of its spectacular installations make very simple statements about global consumerism using enormous material expenditures. In fact it can be difficult to see past the pyramids, windmills, and tents erected to comment on issues such as migration and the market-possessed-body – elaborate efforts to illustrate political generalities – to documenta’s truer theme, an attempt by curator Adam Szymczyk to assail, or at least supplement, canonical art history with work by indigenous and overlooked artists. 

iQhiya, Monday, 2017, Performance und Installation, Ehemaliger unterirdischer Bahnhof (KulturBahnhof), Kassel, documenta 14, Foto: Fred Dott

iQhiya, Monday, 2017, Performance und Installation, Ehemaliger unterirdischer Bahnhof (KulturBahnhof), Kassel, documenta 14, Foto: Fred Dott

But the contemporary art fair world floats above scholarship on a bubble of self-satisfaction. The documenta participants who are the big draws – Mona Hatoum and Pierre Huyghe for example – aren’t worried about posterity. So what was meant to be exposure becomes competition for a footnote. Some of this lesser-known work also really struggles when removed from its local context. Poor facture and inappropriate plinths meant as fauxnaïf comes across as a weird form of doubled sociological good intentions gone awry, and, amid Kassel’s half-hearted Brutalist buildings, calls to mind Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of Bavarians dressed as Native Americans. In this respect, perhaps it was afterall an important achievement, and more consistent with Szymczyk’s goal, to move the most of documenta to Athens.

One excellent work, shown above, is iQhiya’s Monday (2017), which unfortunately was performed only once on 13 June. Staged in Kassel’s “little” Bahnhof, the spoken, moved, video, books, saws, pens, needles cloth, and film endurance piece used an eight-hour projection loop of Sarafina! (1992) to examine the “hidden curriculum” experience of black, South African women college students. Mimicking the rhythm of a real school day, naturally people wandered in and out. The coming and goings of the Eurobahn and Regio trains moving through the station plinked the hour glass and also made a rumbling vibration that was unsettling and comforting at the same time. I’m not sure if the reference to Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Human Being @Work (2009) was intentional or ephemeral coincidence, but the eleven-member iQhiya troupe made use of sound and light in a similar way as Tayou’s (also very successful) occupation of the Biennale di Venezia’s Arsenale – only with real trains.

Now, about Olu Oguibe…

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“Vermisst: Der Turm der blauen Pferde von Franz Marc” at Haus am Waldsee, Berlin

Marcel van Eeden, High Mountains, a Rainbow, the Moon and Stars, 2017

I really wanted to like Haus am Waldsee’s thematic “Vermisst: Der Turm der blauen Pferde von Franz Marc,” but was also nervous about all the expectations I would bring to the exhibition. To (un)prepare, I imposed a media blackout upon myself, not reading up on who the artists were or any other reviews,[1] avoiding a seminar and joint show co-sponsored by the Pinakothek der Moderne in München. Vermisst’s concept was to pair some scholarly discussions of Marc’s missing 1913 masterwork with the expansions of contemporary artists upon its theme.

Beyond mild speculation, a purpose of Vermisst did not seem to be to offer any type of meaningful investigation into where the painting might actually be. It is not incumbent upon Haus am Waldsee, where the painting was last seen in 1949, to conduct such an inquiry…and yet the stubborn refusal, still, of German museums and art historians to grapple with the issue of Raubkunst, particularly in a case as famous as that of  Turm der blauen Pferde, where someone knows something, is a real problem. (I have an article coming out on this very subject, so I’ll just leave this here for now.)

Of contributions by a dozen artists, one seemed to address both the absent presence of TdbP and also the circumstances of its disappearance. In fact if Marcel van Eeden’s High Mountains, a Rainbow, the Moon and Stars (2017), a series of 26 prints including the text of a short story revealing some fantastical open-ended conclusions about what happened to the painting, had been the only component of the exhibition, that would have been fine. Only two of Eeden’s panels are in color, both reproductions of aspects of TdbP, which makes a nice allusion to the Wizard of Oz (1939), both in temporality and in the vibrancy of the world of dreams, and of lost alternative futures. Continue reading

Ars Graphica Deutschland at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Ars Graphica is a group of mostly European scholars who study prints but also photography. The pan-European organization also has a few GesamtstaatenArs Graphica Deutschland recently branched off and began its own activities. The first one was this week, a tour of the In die Dritte Dimension: Raumkonzepte auf Papier vom Bauhaus bis our Gegenwart exhibition at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt given by the curator, Jenny Glaser. You can read more about what transpired here.

Dr. Glaser has organized a really superb show. The low and direct lighting is a bit off-putting at first, but many of the works are cut-outs, collages, incisions, or have subtleties of depth that the creation of shadows augments. The El Lissitzky poster prints from the Bauhaus are the stars of the show and Glaser’s clear favorite, but the less-known miniatures (matchbox sized) by Blinky Palermo placed across from Sol LeWitt’s late (2001) colorful confetti collage are probably more interesting, as is Michael Riedel’s artist book of minute but deep surgical removals.

There was also a look at the Städel’s more traditional Renaissance and Early Modern prints, and we got to visit and share a bit about our research…of course I have a vested interest in something at the Städel that is not a print…

I thought it might be best to just tell the exciting but short story about Liegender Hund im Schnee‘s journey from the Franz Marc estate to entartete to West Palm Beach and back to the Städel. Somehow the actual Germans were able to refrain from exclaiming that “all Germans are Nazis so who really cares if the museum was looted?”*

*Actual crowd responses at two of my last talks. More on this, as I keep promising, shortly; I actually have quite a lot to say about this in reference to the College Art Association in particular and looting apologists in general.

August Macke and Franz Marc: An Artist Friendship

Book Review: August Macke and Franz Marc: An Artist Friendship

Catalog of an exhibition held at the Kunstmuseum Bonn, 25 September 2014 – 4 January 2015; and at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, 28 January – 3 May 2015; 359 pages with many color illustrations and black and white archival photographs.

I recently began doing some book reviews for Museum Bookstore, an online repository of catalogues and other printed material generated on behalf of museum and gallery exhibitions. My first review is of my favorite book of 2014-2015, the outstanding catalogue presented by the Lenbachhaus and Kunstmuseum Bonn in support of August Macke und Franz Marc: eine Künstlerfreundschaft. Please support this very worthy independent bookstore effort by checking out the companion text on the site.

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Published on 26 September 1914 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the death of August Macke as well as the launch of the ambitious cooperative retrospective of Macke’s and Franz Marc’s overlapping oeuvres, the exhibition catalogue August Macke and Franz Marc: An Artist Friendship (August Macke und Franz Marc: eine Künstlerfreundschaft is its twin in the original German from which the English version has been translated) is, perhaps not surprisingly, a tour-de-force of editing and research. What is unexpected is that the editors, longtime Lenbachhaus Blaue Reiter curator Annegret Hoberg and Volker Adolphs of Kunstmuseum Bonn, along with a smartly-assembled team of university- and museum-based German art historians, bring to bear not just a wealth of knowledge but so much compassion to these essays, confronting directly the loss and sadness we naturally feel over the too-short lives of Marc and Macke. Macke, the extroverted Rhinelander, was killed in Champagne, France, at 27, while Marc, the contemplative Bavarian, died aged 36 at Verdun in the spring of 1916.

Despite their frank sentimentality, the catalogue’s chapters and essays are impeccably scholarly. Hoberg’s “August Macke and Franz Marc / Ideas for a Renewal of Painting” and Adolphs’ “Seeing the World and Seeing Through the World / Nature in the Work of August Macke and Franz Marc” are classic art historiography based in peerless analysis. Hoberg focuses on the milieu of the international avant-garde that encouraged Marc and Macke to not only follow the careers of but become personally acquainted with the Parisian Orphist Robert Delaunay and the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni. While Marc’s primary subjects directly encompass animals and the pastoral, albeit reframed through a unique pantheistic realism, Macke, who often painted urban scenes, has a less direct relationship to “nature,” which Adolphs teases out, particularly in comparison to Marc.
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A Trip to the North: Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Oldenburg

SINTRAX Kaffeebereiter, 1932, Gerhard Marcks.

SINTRAX Kaffeebereiter, 1932, Gerhard Marcks.

August Macke, Stillleben mit Tulpen, 1912

August Macke, Stillleben mit Tulpen, 1912

First I would encourage you to just skip this text and go right to the photos!

Otherwise: I went to Animalia: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Explorations at the beginning of September mostly to see what the undergraduates and MA candidates were working on. The animal studies program at Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg is based within the Institute for American / English Studies. Though there was a mix of literary and cultural Human Animal Studies at hand the distinctive approach of this program is to examine the discipline through gender studies.

A highlight of the trip (in fact I devoted a whole day and night and went back the next day for this little side excursion) was visiting the Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg which is actually three buildings: Oldenburger Schloss, Augusteum, and Prinzenpalais; devoted to regional history, international “Old Masters,” and modern art, respectively.

The museums were fantastic in showcasing some artists you hear less about, or in prominent placement of less-famous works by people who are very well-known. The outstanding discoveries for me were a mournful 1937 still life by Gabriele Münter called Puppe, Katz, Kind; a the cheerful small Stillleben mit Tulpen by August Macke (which I think might be unfinished; it is very uncharacteristic in its facture of his work at this time) from 1912; Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s early Grace (1905); the subdued placement of Kurt Lehmann’s Sinnender Knabe (1948), who had a lot to think about, and a  delightful whirligig coffee making device from Gerhard Marcks’s highest Bauhaus phase in 1932.

The Prinzenpalais is the collection that recently had its Max Liebermann Reiter am Strand (1909) returned to it, one of the most expeditiously executed rectitudes of the 2013 Cornelius Gurlitt recovery in München. The Prinzenpalais’s reaction to this turn of events seems strangely half-hearted, with just a small vitrine of the correspondence relating to Hildebrand Gurlitt’s involvement in the brokering the resale of the then-Entartete Kunst Reiter, and no explanation of the situational context really anywhere. I asked the docents if they were happy about having the painting back; they clearly weren’t all that happy, and doubly not to have someone ask informed questions.

Oldenburg has a nice Altstadt near the Landesmuseum but as middle-sized German cities go is somewhat difficult to get around in as it has only bus service, no UBahn or even a Straßenbahn or light rail system. Right now there is a lot of road construction with many ersatz Haltestellen and barricaded sidewalks, which the Münster- and Hamburg-aggression level Radler do not seem to be taking into consideration. Excluding Berlin, the farther north I go, the less I like it, and the more I recognize what a confirmed Südländerin I am.

 

Mysterious Skin: Franz Marc’s Hidden Painting

Franz Marc's mysterious nude in a landscape from around 1911.

Franz Marc’s mysterious nude in a landscape from around 1911.

In clear contrast to the well-planned execution of the grazing horses on its front, the verso of Weidende Pferde IV is wild, mysterious, and haunting, and provides an intimate look at Franz Marc’s more intuitive approach to color and form.

Though the composition is partially obscured, the underlying motifs are clear enough.

Shown is a reclining female nude in a dimly lighted landscape under a deep blue sky. The figure rests on her back, her right leg is bent. Her head with long and flowing red hair is slightly tilted to the right; her arms clasped behind her. This figure is somewhat characteristic for Marc in terms of the visible hatching and decorated, colorful outlines. The left of the picture area seems to indicate another figure whose gender and position we can only guess at. The middle of the picture consists of a dramatic, deeply-hued landscape, which in turn is what the reclining nude in the foreground would be part of and also looking at. Though Marc often painted nude figures relaxing outside, this painting does not seem to correspond to another finished work.

Weidende Pferde IV, 1911

Weidende Pferde IV, 1911

Weidende Pferde IV is also a stunning picture when considered in terms of Marc’s efforts to produce it: Three red horses with purple mane prance against a lemon-yellow sky and a deep blue rock formation. Marc had devoted a lot of time to developing the arrangement of the horses’ bodies in this formation. Marc had been preoccupied, and had made a difficult and lengthy process of, how exactly to balance the shapes and colors of the horses in the overall composition.

Weidende Pferde IV is the star of the second part of the exhibition trilogy “Franz Marc: Zwischen Utopie und Apokalypse,” presented by the Franz Marc Museum in Kochel on the 100th anniversary of the death year of the painter. This is one of just a few paintings that Marc saw hung in a museum himself, following its creation in 1911 and first display at the Thannhauser’s Galerie Moderne in Munich

The same year the collector Karl Ernst Osthaus purchased Weidende Pferde IV for the Folkwang Museum’s first incarnation in Hagen. The painting sold for 750 marks, as Marc triumphantly informed his brother Paul on 3 December 1911.

Marc had been constantly busy with live horses during his years in Kochel and Sindelsdorf (“Pferde auf Bergeshöh gegen die Luft stehend”), and he studied them in detail as he drew, printed and painted them.

The day before Alexej Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin and Adolf Erbslöh first visited Marc in Sindelsdorf on 3 February 1911, he wrote to Maria Marc who had at this time had left Bavaria to stay with her parents in Berlin, “Ich habe noch ein großes Bild mit 3 Pferden in der Landschaft, ganz farbig von einer Ecke zur anderen, angefangen, die Pferde im Dreieck aufgestellt. Die Farben sind schwer zu beschreiben. Im Terrain reiner Zinnober neben reinem Kadmium und Kobaltblau, tiefem Grün und Karminrot, die Pferde gelbbraun bis violett.”

The visitors loved the paintings, and by the day of his 31st birthday on 8 February Marc was a co-chairman of Neue Künstlervereinigung München.

Certainly the powerful painting of the reclining redhead should be regarded as an entirely discrete creation and given a proper name and place in the artist’s catalogue raisonné. It is curious that Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, which purchased the painting when it was declared Entartete Kunst in 1937, has not taken the initiative to see that this is done. If only this painting could be permanently repatriated to Kochel, where it belongs.

Hienieden Franz Marc ~ Trauerarbeit 100

Indexical photo with authorial shadow; graves of Franz and Maria Marc Indexical photo with authorial shadow; graves of Franz and Maria Marc

On 4 March 2016, the 100th anniversary of the death of the painter, animal lover, writer, and ever-elusive person Franz Marc, I visited Marc’s grave in Kochel. Initially I had intended to spend the day between the Lenbachhaus and the Pinakothek der Moderne in München immersed in the paintings I have studied now for many years. But in truth I am devoted to Marc’s life as much as his art, and it seemed more right to take make a pilgrimage and pay respects in the proper sense of the word in the tiny Bavarian town where Marc lived off and on.

This trip was covered on the now-silent Franz Marc Twitter account and received much support and nice wishes from many kind souls.

It was a very emotional experience and had some typical Bavarian humorous adventures as well. I arrived on the regional train at about 11:00 on a dazzling clear, cold day, with most of the snow from the previous week’s blizzard still on the ground. The Ammergau Alps, what Marc called „das blaues Land“, glowed. Inserting itself into this majestic, somber first act was the fact that, in Kochel, Ruhezeit on Fridays apparently begins at 11:00…and this was a very intense Ruhezeit too…everything had abruptly closed, including the flower shop where I had intended to get some violets. I should add that all the flowers and plants were just sitting there outside, and the doors to the shop were open, but the lights were off and the people away being quiet. This was the same at other shops – I have always found it very amusing that in places where Ruhezeit is taken seriously, lunch places also close, even though Ruhezeit is at lunch time, and Kochel takes Ruhezeit quite seriously. In fact it was Friday Ruhezeit the entire time I was there. I stayed until 16:00, the hour of Marc’s death.
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Franz Marc, 8 February 1880 – 4 March 1916

Franz Marc's palette, from the archives of the Franz Marc Museum, Kochel.

Franz Marc’s palette, from the archives of the Franz Marc Museum, Kochel.

Franz Marc’s “Aphorism 82,” from Die 100 Aphorismen, 1915.

“Ich sah das Bild, das in den Augen des Teichhuhns sich bricht, wenn es untertaucht: die tausend Ringe, die jedes kleine Leben einfassen, das Blau der flüsternden Himmel, das der See trinkt, das verzückte Auftauchen an einem andern Ort, – erkennt, meine Freunde, was Bilder sind: das Auftauchen an einem anderen Ort.”

“I saw what the moorhen sees as it dives: the thousand rings that encircle each little life, the blue of the whispering sky swallowed by the lake, the enraptured moment of surfacing in another place. Know, my friends, what images are: the experience of surfacing in another place.”

Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?

IMG_5470During February and March I am a Wissenschaftliche Gäste of sorts at the Universität Kassel’s Tier-Mensch Gesellschaft. I’m doing some research in the dOCUMENTA Archiv, finishing up a chapter in my dissertation, and giving a talk at this first-of-its-kind conference, “Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?“.

The program is incredible and the speakers amazing, each talk as fascinating as the next. There are also several installations and exhibits by Mathias Antlfinger and Ute Hörner and the interspecies collective from CMUK Köln. The program is free and you can register through 25 February through the link above.

I don’t know if I can quite live up to the talents of the other panelists, but I am confident of the attraction, pathos, and intrigue of my animal biographic subject, Russi Marc, whose death exactly 100 years ago this week was noted by his lifelong human companion, Franz Marc, who made many drawings and paintings of Russi through their lives together. Franz Marc himself died just a few weeks later. Studying Russi has taken on a life of its own in my research, and as this was a very well-documented dog and one who had many humorous and thrilling adventures I am very excited to be able to share his story with other animal lovers.

One thing I like so much about animal studies (in discussing the title of our nascent discipline, which is now beginning something like its second wave most of us are happy to jettison the “human-” prefix) is that its adherents are for the most part partisan activists. This challenge to the academy as we fight the losing battle of the Anthropocene and the Sixth Mass Extinction has not gone unnoticed; this week, a sort of prank article was exposed (and one could extrapolate perhaps planted by the same people or person), in the December 2015 issue of the academic journal Totalitarismus und Demokratie. In retrospect, perhaps a “discovery” about the inherited aggression of “German” German Shepherds was too good to be true…but I am very curious to see what the fallout will be, since the “research” depended upon “primary sources” about dogs…another reason to be glad for Russi’s well-established canine celebritude, I guess.

The King of the Cats

Franz Marc, Zwei Katzen, blau und gelb, 1912

Franz Marc, Zwei Katzen, blau und gelb, 1912

The College Art Association conference was held 3-6 February in Washington, D.C., which for what I study is not a very interesting art city in the way New York City is…and D.C. is thus also very expensive to visit, since the trip doesn’t include a few precious hours in the Met, MoMA, Guggenheim, Neue Galerie, and so on.

If conferencing, not museum-visiting, is to be CAA’s focus going forward, the organization should do what the German Studies Association does, and move the meeting to some less-costly destinations that still have good mass transit and more of a range of hotel rooms, like Las Vegas or Atlanta.

This conference I had a lot of tasks I actually had to do, and one I wanted to do, or I should say was very curious about doing, attending the Historians of German, Scandinavian and Central European Art, or HGSCEA, [formerly just HGCEA, but, I guess the Munch people or something…] meeting, which this year took the form of a dinner honoring the long-reigning and undisputed chief Kandinsky scholar, Rose Carol Washton Long of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Charles Haxthausen from Williams College.

I took the cryptic “honoring” on the invitation to mean “retiring,” which put me in mind of The King of the Cats. Miss Jessel’s “Haunted Palace” blog gives a nice account of the oral history tradition of this tale and its place in the folklore of the British Isles but, basically, without belaboring the point the outstanding extra-narrative moral for cat lovers and observers is probably that upon learning of the death of “the king of the cats,” all cats think that they are the designated heir to the throne.

So with respect to the fractious group of people who comprise known Kandinsky scholars…without an obvious heir apparent (to my mind there is not one, the once-promising regent having chosen their battles poorly), wouldn’t they all be prepared for anointment? As it turned out RCWL, in her very congenial speech, immediately made clear that while she was retiring from CUNY, she would not be relinquishing the reins to the Kandinsky dynasty anytime soon.

IMG_5340The “party” itself was quite a mysterious affair in that it did not appear as an “affiliated society” event anywhere on the CAA schedule (or the new Linked-In developer-sponsored) app, and was held in a small restaurant in Adams Morgan which was entirely closed except for the HSGCEA dinner. RSVP, affiliation, and credentials were thoroughly vetted at the door, and there were no nametags. Nametags would not have been much use anyway, since everyone went by a non-apparent nickname, like “Ricki” or “Mark.” And it was very dark inside the restaurant, Lillie’s (actual lighting shown), and you couldn’t see even across the room. So in other words it was pretty much how I expected it to be, except there wasn’t any kind of St. Bartholomew’s day type of fracas, duel, or mass feline exit through the fireplace.

As to my own paper and panel, I was thrown off my presentating game a little – not a lot, or not as much as I had expected or was undoubtedly intended – and got a lot of good questions, including some very specific queries from some more-than-casual idolators about Animalisierung, of all things, about the painting Tierschicksale, and about what I had specifically set out to talk about, affect/effect disturbing/calming animal images have upon human animal/human-animal empathy.

Basically my claim is that disapprobation toward animal abusers – such as generated by the film The Cove and the work of Sue Coe – is not as strong a motivator as true identification with the animal subject. Hence the focus on Franz Marc. This isn’t necessarily as obvious an idea as it seems, and bears more discussion and exploration (which is why I am writing about it).