Tag Archives: College Art Association

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).

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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