Tag Archives: Expressionismus

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.”

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.

Franz Marc’s Visions of Egypt

Donkey Frieze from Egypt

Donkey Frieze from Egypt

 

A couple pending matters before getting along to new business; thus, before too much more time goes by, my adventures in Hull, England, in which it turned out that donkeys were very important. Incredibly before last fall, I had never been to England, let alone Yorkshire…*

When I first became aware of Botschaften an den Prinzen Jussuf, the story around which I originally intended to discuss at the University of Hull’s Visions of Egypt: History and Culture from the 19th Century to the Present conference, my immediate reactions was, “Wow…So Sylvester!” I’m sure you are aware of who Sylvester is but, as a reminder, before Boy George, before Lady Gaga, there was Sylvester.

In addition to being an amazing soul and HiNRG dance music recording artist, Sylvester was known for hanging out in San Francisco dressed in amazing costumes, including his trademark pharaoh outfit. One of the only two times I snuck underagedly into a nightclub with a fake ID (the other time was to see the Thompson Twins) was to see Sylvester at El Goya.

So. Visions of Egypt was a conference mostly attended by actual Egyptologists, not art historians, and thus there was a lot of humor and pop-culture-referencing in many of the presentations so I think Sylvester would have been well-received. However owing to the great enthusiasm for donkeys expressed by insurgent quadruped fans, I did not get to work in any sort of reference to Sylvester in my presentation.
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“That’s the Way I Am:” Franz Marc on the Gurlitts and Art Dealing

 

Franz Marc, Rotes Reh und gelbe Antilope, 1913, Mischtechnik und Collage (Silberpapier)

Franz Marc, Rotes Reh und gelbe Antilope, 1913, Mischtechnik und Collage (Silberpapier)

So, Franz Marc always said he was from the future…he amended the amount of how far in the future to 50, then 150, then “about 150 to 500 years” as his own time ran out, and often when saying this was expressing a complaint about his contemporaries that in 2013 we could characterize as: Haters gonna hate.

The recent (and continuing unabated in München) interest over the paintings stolen and hoarded by Hildebrand Gurlitt and his son, Cornelius Gurlitt, has turned to a conversation about the meaning of ‘ownership’ of priceless artworks probably at the very, very, very least obtained via coercive means, and the role of art dealers in the procuring of art and broker of deals for artists.

I began to think about this discussion, in an earlier version though informed by perspicacity, in terms of Marc, who always had a lot to say about art dealers, ranging from the fatalistic to a kind of grudging respect to affection and back, in the case of Hans Goltz, to sputtering but somewhat amused indignation. It seemed beyond the realm of possibility that Marc had encountered the Gurlitts, as Hildebrand Gurlitt was not born until 1895. However I should learn never to  ‘bet’ against Marc’s knack for knowing somehow what someday would be meaningful. So, of course he knew the Gurlitts, in the form of the Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, through the eponymous owner and Fritz Gurlitt’s son, Wolfgang (the first cousin of Hildebrand), who had taken over the Berlin gallery and brokerage in 1907.

I was very excited to discover in revisiting Marc’s correspondence with August Macke the followng passage, in which Marc describes his interaction, with Wolfgang Gurlitt (the entire letter follows the break):

Sindelsdorf bei Penzberg, den 12. III. 13 Oberbayern

Lieber August,

… Das Beispiel Pechstein ist für mich typisch. Ich habe kein reines Gefühl mehr vor seiner Persönlichkeit. Mir ist höllisch Angst vor einer Popularität wie der seinen. Nolde tut auch keinesfalls mit, die ›Brücke‹ hat sich bis jetzt auch gesträubt. Aber was die tun, ist mir schliesslich auch nicht ausschlaggebend; wenn sie mittun, ist es ›der Not gehorchend, nicht dem eignen Triebe‹. Meier-Graefe hielt letzthin in München einen Vortrag, in dem er uns  alle als Geschäftsmacher bezeichnete und das Publikum aufforderte, es solle sich gegen uns verbinden etc.!! Und Cassirer denkt im Grunde genau so. Mit diesem Kreis will ich nichts zu tun haben. Ich habe die Erfahrung gemacht, dass, wer was von mir haben will, zu mir selber kommt. Wer sich für mich und uns alle interessiert, geht sehr wohl in den ›Sturm‹ und kauft auch dort; der ›Sturm‹ ist als Ausstellungsraum glänzend, riesengross, gutes Licht, dunkle Wände; Ich hab recht gut dort verkauft; tout Berlin braucht gar nicht hinzugehen, ist mir viel lieber so. Gurlitt bedrängt mich seit Monaten, ich soll doch nur bei ihm ausstellen; ich habe ihm jetzt durch Niestlé sagen lassen, wenn er mich durchaus für seinen Salon braucht, soll er mit kaufen anfangen. Auf dem Ohr scheint er aber taub zu sein; wozu soll ich dann bei ihm statt im ›Sturm‹ ausstellen? Ich war dreimal in Berlin (wegen Niestlé) dort und habe, glaube ich, einen einzigen Besucher dort getroffen. Legros war ebenfalls öfters in der Niestlé – und gleichzeitig Pechstein-Ausstellung und traf nie einen Menschen dort. Wenn was Interessantes dort ist, geht man hin, so gut wie in den ›Sturm‹. Tu Du, wie es Dir am besten scheint; ich will mich zurückhalten; ich fühle es als Pflicht gegen meine Ideen über das Ziel unserer Arbeit, das nicht über den Weg der Berliner ›Sommerausstellungen‹ zu erreichen sein wird. Du schimpfst oder lachst, – ich bin nun einmal so. Dass Du Kandinskys Vier Klänge ›schlecht‹ findest, ist mir vollkommen unverständlich; ich denke das Gegenteil: sehr gut. …

One of the things I always like about Marc is that although he is (vaguely) aware of the practical importance of money and often worries about not having any, neither can he be easily enticed or motivated by it (no one seems ever to tried the ‘immediate gratification’ tactic of food, alcohol, cigarettes ‘oder sonst was.’).  Also, for a mostly guileless and impetuous person, Marc could sometimes machinate fairly well…

Here Marc tells August of Gurlitt’s persistence in trying to have some dealings with him. On the one hand, Marc doesn’t really have any intention of bailing on the Der Sturm enterprise, but on the other, he wants to keep a line into Gurlitt on behalf of his longtime friend, neighbor, and fellow animal lover and animal painter, Jean-Bloé Niestlé, whose drawings of birds, while very skillful, fell somewhat outside the concern of the avant-gardes. He says Gurlitt actually seems a bit out of it in terms of critical culture, and that, further, no one ever seemed to be at the gallery anyway. It’s interesting that Marc expends a lot of effort trolling Gurlitt for  Niestlé, and also that (this is a long and very affctionate letter) that he takes the opportunity to inject a comment preemptively defending Wassily Kandinsky to August, who was not a fan: ‘I think the opposite: very good.’

Actually, in the next few months, the Gurlitt gallery, which had already seen the first and only Brücke group show in 1912, will have a very successful Henri Matisse solo show, followed in 1914 by consecutive spaces devoted to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and the handling of all of Lovis Corinth’s prints, and printing portfolios and catalogues of work by Pechstein and  Oskar Kokoschka. This probably goes to show that Marc was right to trust his instincts…

In any case it is quite amazing that Marc was very aware of the family who would one day sell Tierschicksale to Kunstmuseum Basel (still waiting to hear the explanation for that) and keep a Blauen Pferde hidden for seven decades. I picked this multimedia print work by Marc because it was made almost exactly 100 years ago, when Marc wrote this letter to August. It’s also very unusual for Marc in that it is truly a collage – the animals are cutouts from another print, and the brown spots are pieces of colored paper.
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