Tag Archives: Photography

Finding Franz Marc’s House in Pasing

Franz Marc's family home in the München suburb of Pasing.

Franz Marc’s family home in the München suburb of Pasing.

I’ve written a little bit about (we’re saving our full repertoire for our even-bigger-screen reveal) the accidental hobby of my creative partner and myself, a sort of reverse geocaching + film. Basically we found out we like to research the addresses of art-historical places and find the spot on the earth where they once stood. In most of these cases, such as the pop-up gallery in Berlin search which ended up being recorded during a blizzard, or the colorful studio here in München destroyed in the war, we had city records and things like invitations to or posters for exhibits to go on, and it was possible to figure out, even where addresses had changed or buildings had been demolished, where they once stood. Sometimes we were able to use GPS coordinates, tagging our own maps as we went along, and sometimes we just used a compass, building keystones, and asking questions. Most of these excursions took a couple days of research and a one-shot hike.

Franz Marc’s family house in the München suburb of Pasing turned out to be our biggest challenge, though, and somewhat unexpectedly since Pasing was never destroyed and a lot of the old buildings have been preserved. However, perhaps not surprisingly, neither were Sophie and Wilhelm Marc, the parents of Franz, nor Paul, Franz’s brother, either very good with managing money nor with keeping records. Thus as it turns out the Marcs owned the house through a chain of convoluted machinations, so the normally very useful city and state records were not helpful. We assembled our clues – fragments of notes and letters mostly, and importantly, photographs showing  the house and the yard – and set off to Pasing with only a couple of bottles of water because “how big can Pasing be?”.

Well, Pasing is not that big, but, never underestimate the amount of confusion Franz Marc can cause. On our first journey (like, on the Straßenbahn Linie 19 so not that far) we walked around the neighborhood with the most Altbauten – nothing. The second day we knew to bring some snacks, but, still, after many hours – nothing. We were getting a bit anxious time-wise, and looked over all our notes again. I kept going back to the photographs, which showed very clear views of the property including which way the shadows were falling, and, since they photos were clearly taken in summer, and then in winter, you could see which way the house itself faced. We decided on the third trip to just be more playful and counterintuitively left everything at home but the camera, and getting off the tram just walked in a direction that seemed, for lack of a better way to describe, enticing and pleasant.

Not even half an hour into the walk, we turned a corner, and there it was. The other times we had been going completely in the wrong directions, by the way. Even if I didn’t know from the photographs, I would have just known, I think, that this was a place the Marc family would have lived. It’s a comfortably large enough home, but kind of secluded, even though it’s on city block, with many trees that were saplings in the photographs, a sort of open gazebo, and many eaves and places for birds to live. It definitely had an aura and I was very happy to have found the place – it made me feel very light at heart – and happy that the Marcs had lived there. Sophie Marc stayed on at the house after Wilhelm Marc died in 1907 until she went to stay with Maria Marc later in 1914 (yes, Sophie Marc outlived Franz by just a few months).

Unfortunately, as you can see from the photos, the home is abandoned and in desperate need of some repairs. It’s probably not habitable the way it is now. I dearly hope someone will lovingly restore this historic treasure. If that person is you, please write to me and I will send you the address!

Once my heart had turned to being interested in “recovered biography” I realized how important it is to actually physically experience places and things important in the life of Franz Marc. It’s incredible to me that in a place as self-consciously “historic” as Bayern so many things are falling away. In 2013, the Goltz book store closed its physical location on the Türkenstraße, which should really have been outlawed or something. We did make some documentation of that location, too, though. But that is another story.

UPDATE: May 2015

In some recent research I was doing about some other property records and dates of births and things, I ran across an interesting fact: Around 1885-1900, Annette von Eckardt and her family, which then would have included her baby daughter Helene and husband Richard Simon, a professor at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, lived in Pasing. By this time Richard Simon would’ve known Paul Marc, Franz Marc’s brother who also taught at the university, and who still lived with the family in Pasing, too. I’m writing something for publication about these interconnected relationships for soon, so…watch this space. The implications are interesting, and a little disturbing, too, but my intuition has been givine me this message for a long time…

Lorna Simpson @ Haus der Kunst

Lorna Simpson @ Haus der Kunst

Lorna Simpson @ Haus der Kunst

One of the aspects of Lorna Simpson’s work I have always admired is the technical quality of her photographs. At her recent press conference at Haus der Kunst she confirmed what you’d expect from examining the gelatin prints in particular but really, upon close in-person inspection, her oeuvre: that Simpson develops, prints, mounts and even frames most of her photos by herself in a darkroom/studio in New York City.

This sort of mid-career retrospective represents more than 30 years of of photography, film, video, and drawing. Known (as in these photos have entered the canon) for her mid-1980s for her language driven large-scale works combining photographs and text, Simpson’s effective enigmas are clearly coded but spacious enough to still wonder about. One of the most interesting works on view in München are a series from the 1990s of large multi-panel photographs printed on felt, accompanied by text panels describing their locations and the intimate encounters that are described but only hinted at visually. At the edge of the Englischer Garten where something exactly as described is probably happening right now only not as well concealed, the effect was actually humane and tender as opposed to amusing. The exhibit, which unfortunately overlaps with some other very strong show and with Haus der Kunst’s interactive festival also showcases Simpson’s film and video works, a group of watercolors, and an archive of found photographs from the 1950s, which Simpson has embellished by creating replicas of, posing herself to mimic the originals.

The Dream of Freezing: Gerhard Richter – Atlas MikroMega @ the Lenbachhaus

Atlas Mikromega @ the Lenbachhaus

Atlas Mikromega @ the Lenbachhaus

A few years ago I went through a phase of being consumed with interest in Gerhard Richter’s cycle of 15 paintings, Baader-Meinhof (18. Oktober 1977).  Writing this now my obsession seems doubly strange because I did not then have the  geographic or cultural context for these works I have in 2013. One spring break I had seen the paintings – based upon photographs of Ulrike Meinhof, Holger Meins, Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader; the funeral of Jan-Carl Raspe, and Baader’s books and record player – at the Museum of Modern Art and had a very strong reaction to them. I think I explored this subject so intently because my response was the opposite from my feelings for Franz Marc’s animals. The blurred details of the black and white photographs of portraits, news stills, and police snapshots made the subjects abjectly lifeless. The effect was like the dream of freezing; cold, sad, and bitterly empty. The paintings made me drained and ill. Yet I was fascinated by the tension – and desire – that was generated by being repelled by images whose subjects I was very drawn to.
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Ideological Objects

Cafeful: Capitalism Can Hear You
There were opportunities during Isabelle Graw’s presentation this past week at the Lenbachhaus to make some some site-specific comments about the collections at hand, and Graw did make tangential connections to work by Joseph Beuys and Wolfgang Tillmans, thought not those which belongs to the museum’s Kunst Nach 1945 collection.

Intensely and yet breezily theoretical (I have heard Graw speak several times, on one of those occasions dismissing the Adorno-Horkheimer ‘culture industry’ works most art historians spend their lives trying to understand as insufficiently complex for her needs in explaining the reification of art) Graw is an engaging speaker, readily admitting that many of her contentions create oppositional paradoxes which thus cannot be argued against. Graw herself occupies dual roles, as professor for Art Theory and Art History at Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Frankfurt am Main and as an art critic and co-founder of Texte zur Kunst, the respectable but for-profit Berlin art journal. Graw also has a heavy amount of street cred coming from a lengthy association with Martin Kippenberger during Kippenberger’s time in Cologne.

objecitons3Her talk at the Lenbachhaus, Malerei als indexikalisches Medium in der neuen Ökonomie recasts the idea that paintings are “alive” somehow in the sense that they emanate an autonomous value in terms of the role of Painting with a “P” as both commodity and part of the larger “organism” of the process and documentation of the making of art.

Indexical is a word mostly associated in art history  with photography, and photography is important to Graw’s current interest, which expands upon many of the ideas she raised in her recent book High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture in the sense that “documentary indexicality” is all but a de-facto given the ubiquity of record-making technology. Additionally, in the trinity of “icon/index/symbol,” “index” marks a definite place and time by compelling a reaction in the beholder. But I think it is the more abstruse “referential indexicality” that most interests Graw in this sense, as she used Diedrich Diedrichsen’s term “Selbstdarsteller” to describe Kippenberger’s performances of himself as himself (as opposed to performing “the other” or just “being” himself).objections2

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Haus der Kunst in the House!

I approached the tour of the exhibition The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (10 April 2013 at Haus der Kunst) featuring curator Okwui Enwezor and photographer Gideon Mendel with equal parts hopefulness and skepticism. The conversation and the galleries of photographs and videos were very interesting and relatively straightforwardly informational, and impressively accessible.

The event was arranged in quite a different manner than other “conversations” of this type I’ve attended before. Enwezor and Mendel actually occupied the same space as the 30 or so low-key attendees who surrounded the speakers attentively but not crushingly, giving listening and looking but not acting at all starstruck from being inches away from one of the most influential curators in the world.

The centerpiece of the talk was perhaps Mendel’s music and photo installation Yeoville, created especially for this exhibition and featuring the music of Dynamics, a South African band Mendel says he strongly associates with the mid-1980s when many of these photos were taken. Cropped to isolate details alternating with full-frame shots, these projections show Johannesburg residents during these years interacting in leisure and daily life in quotidian activities that nonetheless show, through the engagement of the mix of races and generations, the gradual, natural, erosion of the Apartheid system.

Mendel has much other work in the exhibition including a stunning color series of some Afrikaans “heritage” re-enactors. South African Jürgen Schadeberg’s work spanning 50 years is also wide-ranging. Most stunning, to me, were some of the covers and images from the 1950s magazine Drum, one of which stunningly restored the recently deceased Miriam Makeba to vibrant zenith. Continue reading

Franz Marc Holding a Cell Phone

Franz Marc holding a cell phone, 1915.

Here is a mysterious photograph from Franz Marc – Paul Klee: ein Dialog in Bildern, a volume beautifully illustrated with the artists’ postcards to each other and some interesting photographs. Klee seems more vulnerable and less arch than you might expect in these letters and drawings. Marc, maybe predictably, sort of absorbs and reflects Klee; yet the images and texts on the cards seem both entwined and quotidian. One of the photos is this fascinating unsourced image, captioned “Franz Marc im Unterstand, 1915/1916.” It’s hard to tell what kind of shelter this is…it appears shell-shocked and comfortable at the same time. There are some binoculars and map cases hanging, and an eerie prophetic broken mirror. FM is smoking, of course, but the captivating question is what is he holding?

It looks like a cell phone, the kind you would expect FM to have, not a Blackberry or an iPhone, just a functional Nokia with Alpenlaendische Volksmusik ringtones. Photography professors, librarians, and two photo archivists who specialize in early 20th Century images looked at this photo and everyone was perplexed about the photo shows. That’s just how FM rolls.

What do you think this object is?

This book (which is confusingly cataloged with lots of commas instead of the conjunctions and articles that appear actually in print) forms the combined catalog from three retrospectives from 2010 at
the Franz Marc Museum in Kochel am See;  the Stiftung Moritzburg (“Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt” in Halle, the craziest city in Flemish Brabant and the planet); and  Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern.

“In Plato’s Cave” by Susan Sontag from On Photography, 1977

Green Turtle, Albino,

[Green turtle, albino. By David Monniaux]

“To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.”

On Photography, Susan Sontag’s exhaustive critique of photography, which excoriated photographers even as it elevated the art form, opens (in the 1977 book form of the collected essays) with the chapter “In Plato’s Cave.” Arranged and edited in this manner this chapter is meant to serve as the introduction to Sontag’s collection of ideas on the sociological implications of the medium of photography.
So much has been written by and about Sontag with respect to the construction and importance of these essays, and so much biographical detail about Sontag has come to light since her death a few years ago, that is it difficult to consider “In Plato’s Cave” unto itself, separate from that information, let alone separate from the other essays in the collection.
Basically, Sontag takes humankind to task, as did Plato, for sitting around accepting whatever images that happen to dance past as a perfect mirror (or projection) of reality and judges photographers equally harshly for approaching their subjects with acquisitiveness and predation. Sontag investigates the simile of the cave but more deeply the metaphor of the mirror.
I was interested to learn that Sontag had also written extensively about Persona, the 1966 Ingmar Bergman film, probably around the same time she began the series of essays that are collected in On Photography. Persona can also be construed as being about mirroring, and also about a kind of (seemingly) passive transmission and reception of knowledge, as well as a complicated examination about the relationship between the beholder and the beheld. Persona is open to interpretation as a horror movie rather than a psychological study, one in which a very modern sort of vampire sucks the being from a similar but not identical human. Continue reading

“Pere Ubu” by Dora Maar, 1936

Pere Ubu by Dora Maar, 1936

Pére Ubu by Dora Maar, 1936

Authorship by Dora Maar gives this photograph authentic historic and even feminist credibility but I chose it because my main interest in art overall is the representation of animals. This is a very interesting view of a creature commonly seen in Florida (and all over), an armadillo (though this armadillo is of a different species than the nine-banded creatures who sadly cannot navigate traffic).
There is something primitive and otherwordly about armadillos and whatever Maar’s intent may have been in elevating such a seemingly lowly creature into this eerie portrait it is quite a lovely study. Since Maar was interested in primitivism, this seems apt.
With respect to technique, placing the pale, scaly armadillo against a grainy dark background removes it from a natural setting and allows for contemplation of the texture of its skin. The shadows on its chest accentuate its claws. There is no way to tell, framed in this manner, how big the armadillo is, whether he is, as Maar’s title suggests, “king” sized, or tiny like a fetus, which the armadillo also resembles.

On “Situationism: A Primer” by Marina LaPalma (Grim)

Situationist GraffitiSituationist grafitti, Menton, Occitania, 2006 (the 1968 slogan “It is forbidden to forbid”, with missing apostrophe). Wikipedia Commons

“Rather — just as certain biologists argue for the maintenance of species diversity among plants in order to preseve them for potential use by future generations — we should battle on the side of the obscure, the small, the powerless, the marginalized in order to maintain bio-diversity of memes, of ideas and aesthetic and imaginary realms.”

Marina LaPalma’s “Situationism: A Primer” is one of the best readings in existence for art history students because it is very easy to digest, in terms of distilling the much more difficult prose of situationists from the 1960s, particularly Guy Debord, but also because it is a call to action that clearly illuminates some of the social conditions to be acted against.

Written in 1988 in honor of the approximate twentieth anniversary of the publication of The Society of the Spectacle, “Primer” notes that the intervening decades have made DeBord’s observations seem even more absolutely correct. (Time has done the same for “Primer.”) LaPalma describes a completely dystopic society, yet in the last quarter of the article makes clear that her intent overall mood is hopeful.

Like the original SI group, LaPalma makes a few incorrect assessments, identifying simple sociopathy (“Can any pleasure we are allowed to taste compare with the indescribable joy of casting aside every form of restraint and breaking every conceivable law?”) and the Los Angeles riots as appropriations of situationism.

Yet many – most – of LaPalma’s statements about the Spectacle, like DeBord’s, seem even more valid today than when written: “The world we see is not the real world, it is the world we have been conditioned to see; a world constructed from the black and white of tabloids, a world framed by the mahogany veneer of the television set, a world of carefully constructed illusions – about ourselves, about each other, about power, authority, justice and daily life. A view of life from the perspective of power.”

LaPalma uses the commodification of superficially “rebellious” music (punk and techno) to illustrate the idea of recuperation, and is also, mercifully, extremely critical of hippie-collectivist modes of dropping out. “Revolution is a process, a process that can be started now,” says LaPalma.

The problems – isolation through the work/home/consumer system, totally immersive media that purports to broadcast reality, the replacement of the citizen by the consumer – are clear. The extremity of the endless war, continuous states of celebrity meltdown, and now, recession, makes action seem like the only choice. LaPalma does not provide any guidance for resisting the Spectacle within society without perpetuating it.

The Role of Photography in Construction of Alterity

Beirut, Lebanon, Nightclub by Stephanie Sinclair, 2005Nightclub in Beirut, Lebanon (Stephanie Sinclair, 2005)

In July of 2006, during a bout of intense border battles between Israeli armed forces and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, a photograph made by Stephanie Sinclair achieved a broad second life on the Internet when it accompanied a post on food writer and Travel Channel star Anthony Bourdain’s blog; Bourdain and crew had been filming an episode of No Reservations in Beirut and were “trapped” in the city owing to the destruction of the airport and an naval blockade effectively halting departures by Americans from the Gulf states. The photograph had originally appeared on March 12, 2005, in the Travel section of the New York Times with a story by Scott Spencer about the nonchalant nightlife scene in Beirut following the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The image was described in the Times as “Love among the ruins at the war-themed Beirut club known as 1975,” and on Bourdain’s blog with the following caption: “Prewar partygoers enjoy the music and atmosphere at 1975, a bar whose theme is the country’s civil war.”

The odd syntax of the cutlines suggests that “the war” was an omnipresent future, past, and present entity. Regardless of the date the image was made, though, its placement in the context of stories about a “live,” ongoing military flare-up, even amid the larger ceaseless tragedy in the Middle East, makes the powerful suggestion that Beirutis party even as rockets and air strikes devastate the buildings around them.
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