I have known Mernet Larsen from her role as professor as professor at the University of South Florida’s art studio department, and from her many trenchant and witty remarks on the art situation in Tampa, as well as from her kindness to students and fellow faculty. She made some very telling and compassionate comments at the small memorial for Bradley Nickels some years ago.
Nonetheless I felt as if I could give this retrospective at the Tampa Museum of Art a fair review and was glad I took the chance to do so for Empty Mirror. Larsen’s painting are intellectually engaging and unclassifiable. Many from Getting Measured, 1957-2017 are reproduced with the article so I will let you look at it on the Empty Mirror website, and it’s also archived as a PDF at the Humanities Commons Core Depository.
Eggs, 1961. Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist. © Mernet Larsen
Much as I enjoy burying the lede, the headline on this story is that I found a heretofore unpublished photo, and this is the Franz Marc photo, taken in the spring of 1914 by the artist’s brother, Paul Marc, in Munich: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, 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.
While I was in New York City for the College Art Association meeting – more on this next post – I was really busy and also sick the entire time. Fortunately though I did get to go to a few museums, and a significant highlight was the Max Beckmann in New York exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Fifth Avenue. (My review of the catalogue of the show for Museum Bookstore is on their blog, and in part below).
When I last left Beckmann in my research, he had forlornly been rejected by the groundbreaking Köln Sonderbund show of 1912 because his work was deemed too old-fashioned. This was found to be hilarious by Beckmann’s self-appointed foil, Franz Marc, who had withdrawn his own work from the Sonderbund on the grounds that the entire exhibit was too old-fashioned and boring for his animal paintings.
Over the years I’ve come to appreciate Beckmann’s devotion to his own vision and embrace of the sort of contemporary history painting that forms an important aspect of the Neue Sachlichkeit, though beyond its opposition to Expressionism, Beckmann did not think himself a part of that or any school or movement.
Staged at the Met in what turned out to be the last week of employment of director Thomas Campbell, my aesthetic reaction was that the paintings, mostly large portraits and a few of his famous triptychs, would have better served Beckmann by being installed in a single large hall. This is a small complaint though because even on a crowded Saturday it was possible to see the paintings well enough.
People were very interested in “Woman with Mandolin in Yellow and Red,” 1950.
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.
The “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).