The La Brea Tar Pits: Dire Wolves

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

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

 

Franz Marc Photo Discovery

Much as I enjoy burying the lede, the headline on this story is that I found a heretofore unpublished photo, and this is the Franz Marc photo, taken in the spring of 1914 by the artist’s brother, Paul Marc, in Munich:

Franz Marc photo

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

The whole story of finding the Franz Marc photo and a thorough analysis of why it might be that significant images of people and animals are overlooked is forthcoming in the second part of the “Exposing Animals” sequence of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture in September, and this photograph and some others will be reproduced there, but it is also appearing in a different kind of work I did for Empty Mirror Books that comes out this week, so I decided to post it, finally (I first found it in 2015!), here today.

Beyond standing as a strong reminder that there is so much we have not yet learned about the historical avant-garde, this is just a wonderful photograph, “eerie and magnificent,” as Marc would say, so I will just leave it at that for now.

documenta diaries I: press opening

For the first installment of documenta diaries…here is George Baker’s “The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor” (2004). Much of the work seen thus far at the German quinquennial, having liberated itself from theory and history, is therefore very literal, in a Thelma-Golden’s-1993-Whitney-Biennal way. There is more going on at documenta, of course, than granular personal narrative…but the emphasis is definitely on identity and by extension individuality. (more…)

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.