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.

§ § §

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.

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(My) “Recent Publications” on Franz Marc

Die Lautenspielerin, August Macke, 1910

Die Lautenspielerin, August Macke, 1910

“Recent publications” is in quotes because all of the great opportunities to preach the gospel of Marc lately have come to me strictly through the generosity of other people, so I will quickly get to the point of thanking Trang Vu Thuy and the curatorial staff at the Lenbachhaus and Janine Arnold of Notes About Art. (Please click through the links to view the articles themselves.)

My post (which is present entirely owing to the patience of Vu Thuy) “Ein Manifest der Freundschaft” is in honor of the August Macke und Franz Marc: Eine Künstlerfreundschaft exhibition (on through 3 May 2015 in the Lenbachhaus Kunstbau) and concerns one of my favorite subjects, the Paradies mural.

Von »Köstlichen Figürchen« und »Wunderherlichen Farben«” by assistant curator Monika Bayer-Wermuth is actually the most wonderful post, though, on the gifts sent by the Marcs to the Mackes and is told in the same thoughtful, personal vein as are many of the chapters in the companion catalogue.

Thanks to the generous invitation of Arnold, I have two entries on her Notes About Art website, one called “Confrontations & Reconciliations” about my interpretation of Franz Marc’s gift of the painting Blaues Pferdchen, Kinderbild to August Macke and the other a bit about the history of Marc’s two Turm der blauen Pferde.

I am very happy to see art historians collaborating across distance and language just because we like the art and want for other people to be able to know about and appreciate the work of Der Blaue Reiter. Continue reading

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Every Word with Love

August Macke and Franz Marc : An Artist FriendshipToday is the 99th anniversary of the death of Franz Marc. (Marc would have really liked someone who also died this week, Leonard Nimoy and Nimoy’s Mr. Spock character from Star Trek.) I didn’t write my normal “Franz Marc’s Birthday” post (Marc’s birthday is 8 February) this year because the idea of the grief we feel for Marc and August Macke has been much on my mind. This is partly owing to my own research, but also to do with the publication of the catalogue attendant to the Lenbachhaus’s current exhibition, August Macke und Franz Marc: eine Künstlerfreundschaft (August Macke and Franz Marc: An Artist Friendship in English).

The catalogue is, not surprisingly, a tour-de-force of editing and research by longtime Lenbachhaus Blaue Reiter curator Annegret Hoberg and Volker Adolphs of Kunstmuseum Bonn. What is unexpected is that the editors and included authors bring to bear not just a wealth of knowledge but so much compassion to these essays, confronting directly the loss and sadness we naturally feel over the too-short lives of Marc and Macke.

This is not to say the entries are not impeccably scholarly; Hoberg’s “August Macke and Franz Marc / Ideas for a Renewal of Painting” and Adolphs’ “Seeing the World and Seeing Through the World / Nature in the Work of August Macke and Franz Marc” are classic art historiography based in peerless analysis. Gregor Wedekind’s “The Masks of the Savages / Primitivism and Cultural Critique in the Work of August Macke and Franz Marc” was of particular interest to me as it underscores how the work of the avant-gardes was received in its time as a shocking departure from what the world then considered “civilized” painting. There are a few small errors marring Klara Drenker-Nagels’ otherwise illuminating discussion of the relationship between Maria Marc and Elisabeth Erdmann-Macke that I’m sure will be corrected in subsequent editions.

Of special delight in terms of the arrangement and presentation of the catalogue are some shorter, data-packed chapters on the Paradies (1912) mural and other anecdotes about Marc’s and Macke’s overlapping but very different lives.

Of course the catalogue is rich with the paintings, weavings, sketches, and photos that grace the exhibition itself. As a discrete publication, this is one that must truly be enjoyed as a book – I received it on a Friday afternoon and spent the entire weekend poring over every image, footnote, and phrase, alternately smiling and wiping away tears. Turning the last page, I was filled with admiration for this Lenbachhaus-Kunstmuseum Bonn collaboration, every word written with love.

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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.

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Teenage Catalyst: Helmuth Macke and Franz Marc

Helmuth Macke,  Drei Pferde,  1913

Helmuth Macke,
Drei Pferde,
1913

“The ‘boarding school’ is in session,” Franz Marc wrote nervously to his friend August Macke.[1] Pining for company in the same letter, Marc nonetheless wondered if August should come and get Helmuth Macke, August’s young cousin, whom the Macke family had deposited some weeks earlier at Marc’s small apartment in rural Sindelsdorf. It was late November 1910. Marc would soon turn 31, and Helmuth was 18. Until Helmuth’s arrival, Marc had been working alone for some time. At the insistence of her concerned parents, Maria Marc had returned to Berlin. Marc was just beginning to see the slightest of incomes from his painting, but he was irritable and distracted. And now August, himself adjusting with his wife Elisabeth to the birth of their son, expected Marc to find ways to entertain a teenager.

Yet Helmuth was resourceful and clever. During the weeks in Sindelsdorf, (which become months and longer: “Helmuth’s fine, he’s still growing,” Marc reported the following summer)[2], Helmuth taught himself enough Dutch to communicate with Heinrich Campendonk; chopped wood and built a fence; practiced painting and drawing, befriended Marc’s dog Russi; and demonstrated a talent for cooking and baking. This latter skill commanded Marc’s particular favor. Animated but sympathetic, Helmuth provided stability and encouragement. By Christmas Marc had breezily informed August that Helmuth would be staying on.[3]

As the calendar turned to 1911, the chrysalis of Sindelsdorf opened and released a new Marc to Munich. Seeking a sophisticated way to celebrate New Year’s, Helmuth pointed Marc toward a performance of Arnold Schönberg quartets. The music had a vivid impact on Marc, which he reported with great excitement to Maria, August, and a new friend who had missed the concert – Wassily Kandinsky. At a the soirée given by Marianne von Werefkin at which Marc and Kandinsky met at last in person, Helmuth was at Marc’s side, and witnessed the twinkle in the eye of fate that became Der Blaue Reiter.[4]

After the party, Helmuth and Franz took the late train from Munich to Penzburg, laughing and marveling over their adventure as they walked jauntily through the falling snow back to Sindelsdorf. Neither traveler was concerned for the future at that joyful moment, and mercifully, neither could know what the future held.

Helmuth Macke died in 1936 when his small boat capsized in a sudden storm on Lake Constance, having given his sailing companion the only life preserver.

[1] Franz Marc, August Macke: Briefwechsel. (Köln: DuMont, 1964), 20-21.

[2] Marc and Macke: Briefwechsel, 42.

[3] Marc and Macke: Briefwechsel, 28.

[4] Dominik Bartmann, Helmuth Macke, (Recklinghausen: Verlag Aurel Bongers, 1980), 26.

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Mystery Painting by August Macke?

Is this colorful village scene painted by August Macke?

Is this colorful village scene painted by August Macke?

I have been working on a project about authenticating a painting maybe misattributed to one of my Expressionist painters (yet maybe made by another), so I was very interested to see a story crop up over the weekend in the Münchner Merkur online edition (pretty sure Süddeutsche Zeitung, usually so on top of all news Bayern, must be spitting nails!) about a man who thinks he owns a painting by August Macke.

Even more intriguingly, the painting would have been made in 1910, the year Macke spent in Tegernsee during which time Franz Marc often came to visit the Macke family, sometimes walking there through Oberbayern from Sindelsdorf to Tegernsee with Russi Marc. This period of time is recounted with warmth and in detail by Margarethe Jochimsen and Peter Dering in the book August Macke in Tegernsee.

The man who owns the painting, Herbert Spiess, claims to have purchased it from an art dealer in Vienna in 1984. Spiess told the Merkur he became convinced the painting, a small streetscape, was a Macke simply through visual association. (The Westfälische Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte in Münster says “no” in the Merkur’s story; no comment from the Lenbachhaus or the August Macke Haus in Bonn).

Macke enjoyed his time in Tegernsee. This was a happy year for Macke and his wife, Elizabeth and their first son, Walter, was born in the quiet lakeside village. Macke was more or less amused by his botany-obsessed landlords, whose Bayerische dialect he was able to penetrate with Marc’s help. Stubbornly autodidactic and much more fanciful and imaginative than he appeared at a glance, Macke spent hours doing “copying exercises” with Marc (and doing some other fun stuff too), and experimented with many styles of painting and drawing in 1910.

During this time, despite being in a very attractive location, Macke concentrated on portraiture, making many sketches and paintings of Walter, Elizabeth, and the famous portrait of Marc.

Bildnis Franz Marc, August Macke, 1910

Bildnis Franz Marc, August Macke, 1910

But Macke also was always making all sorts of things, from tapestries to fabric designs to theater decorations. So it’s certainly possible this single painting is something he just knocked out during this period of great productivity – Macke was exceedingly prolific and made more than 200 paintings between 1909 and late 1910, when the young family returned to Bonn, leaving cousin Helmuth Macke to stay with Marc.

So it’s hard to say, from looking alone, if this painting could be Macke’s. I hope it is but (and this is really just a very strong intuition as much as empirical assessment) my feeling is that it might not be. To my eye the painting lacks that little flourish of passion and verve, and of capturing the “inner realities” of the beauty he was in the physical world, that is the beautiful Expressionist hallmark of Macke’s oeuvre. With any luck I’m wrong though, and the world will have a new August Macke painting to admire.

Anyway, the reporter, Vera Markert, asks that if you have any information or ideas about the painting to get in touch with the Merkur via email at kultur@miesbacher-merkur.de wenden.

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Book Review: The Cry of Nature by Stephen F. Eisenman

The Cry of Nature

The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights

I got a note from the nice people at Sehepunkte about the review of Stephen Eisenman’s The Cry of Nature I wrote (which is posted on Sehepunkte’s website):
“Sofern Sie über eine eigene Präsentation im Internet verfügen, würden wir uns freuen, wenn Sie dort Ihre Rezension und unser Journal verlinken würden. Hierfür können Sie gerne auch eines unserer Logos … verwenden…”

…so of course, OK! I really like Sehepunkte and am working on some more stuff for them too.

So here the logo: :)

sehepunkte_logo

Now a few months after reading it, I should report that this book has had a nice slow burn and even though this is a very positive review I think I would rate it even more highly now, particularly as a teaching text as it covers a broad subject area still with clarity and depth in each chapter. I was able to use Eisenman’s section on the hunting practice of indigenous peoples, for example, as a point of reference in a recent seminar I gave for the Bioethics Centre at the university and in reference to a discussion about the dolphin massacre in Taiji, Japan. (To support my argument against hunting and hunters I mean: Don’t get me wrong; there’s no place for humans who hunt in any universe, and people trying to be “open minded” about hunting are without fail patronizing, paternalistic, and dead inside.)

Anyway, this is an excellent book and here is the review:

(Stephen F. Eisenman: The Cry of Nature. Art and the Making of Animal Rights, London: Reaktion Books 2013, ISBN 978-1-78023-195-2).

Art historical texts, and especially single-authored volumes, should be judged in great measure by how well they fulfill their expressed ambitions. By this rule The Cry of Nature. Art and the Making of Animal Rights, whose central objective is to provide an intellectual and informational resource for readers interested in the intersection of the animal studies and the making of art, and a platform for scholars to reflect on provocative subjects suggested by the twining of these two themes, must be deemed a success.
Each of its chapters contributes to author Stephen F. Eisenman’s goal of addressing and evaluating important issues pertaining to the contemporary discussion of animal rights and the movement’s connection to art and ideas originating in the 18th century as well as, to some extent, before. Organized into five chapters and a strong introduction and conclusion, plus a recommended reading list of some of the foundational volumes of the relatively new discipline of animal studies, the book surveys not only images but historicizing texts and makes a strong claim that something like an animal rights movement has existed since antiquity, springing into cohesion in the 1700s, with artists making and using images as persuasion and propaganda.
The pleasure derived from reading this book lies partially in the richness of Eisenman’s detailed, personal, and confident descriptions of the lives and emotions of real animals, making his prose eminently accessible. Readers will be compelled by the forcefulness of local histories about, for example, a majestic African elephant photographed in a moment of perfect stillness at a watering hole in 2007 who is killed by poachers in 2009, and delighted by anecdotes about Echo, the author’s dog, who learns to stage pratfalls and tumbles in order to make Eisenman laugh. These stories are integrated meticulously within more formal discussions of images – some well-studied, including Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair (1853) and Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s A Hare and a Leg of Lamb (1742), some less famous – such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s 1975 painting Eagle Dreaming – which are produced about, and in mindfulness of, the animal.
The book begins with a background chapter defining “What is an Animal?” in terms of societal mores and biological evidence about the commonalities and differences amid living creatures, centering on the ability of animals to communicate, to experience emotions, and to feel pain. This chapter includes pleasantly unexpected exemplars, such as Simon Tookoome’s 1979 linocut I Am Always Thinking of Animals, as it stakes out the moral and practical discussions around how we define language and consciousness.
The chapters “Animals into Meat” and “Counter Revolution” dwell on images of the corpses of animals, shown as food, prey, and sacrificial stand-in for the human figure and body. While the recurring motif of the flayed ox in paintings by Gustave Caillebotte and Rembrandt may arouse as much distancing disgust as identification, Eisenman’s delicate examination of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s The Ray (1728) makes persuasive on the page that these artists intended to convey their beliefs in the existence of the souls and consciousness of animals, and commensurately, the dismal mortality of humans, on their canvases. Continue reading

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More on Paradies: “Nicht für die Ewigkeit”

Brigita Hofer cleans, fills, patches, and recolors "Paradies."

Brigita Hofer cleans, fills, patches, and recolors “Paradies.”

Here is a short article on the ruhr.de website about the restoration of the Paradies mural made by Franz Marc and August Macke in 1912 at the Mackes’ home in Bonn. It’s an interesting little piece and the website also has some photographs of the movement of the mural, in the 1980s, from its original location to  the Museum für Kunst ind Kultur/Westfälisches Landesmuseum in Münster, where it lives today (there is a pretty nice replica at the August Macke Haus though). Like a lot of people I am sad that the museums can’t just switch the murals back, but this article sort of explains why that will not happen.

The restorer, Brigita Hofer, has discovered that the mural is pretty structurally unsound, giving it a soundness rating (as happens with earthquake-damaged buildings as I recently learned) of around 25, which means there’s a better than one in four chance it could collapse under any further stress. Hofer has been filling in surface cracks and erosions with non-expanding plaster and emulsifier with the tiniest of syringes. Hofer also restored some of the mural’s damaged or faded paint. In doing so she discovered that Macke and Marc had made a lot of adjustments to the mural as they worked together, repainting Eve’s face and the deer. Hofer also learned from a heretofore covered note that Maria Marc had painted the wasp at the bottom of the mural.

I am fascinated with this mural, as you might guess from how often I write about it, not for the least reason that it seems to be a truly collaborative effort that resulted in a distinct “style” that is identifiably that of both painters but is also a unique meshing of their ideas and talents. Even the animals don’t look exactly like Marc’s other animals, and for both, the palette is a bit subdued. (Except Adam reaching to embrace the monkey on the top left branch though and turning from the other figures – I think that’s a Marc thing. There is a large image of the mural in the post just before this one.)

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‘Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?’

August Macke and Franz Marc packed the friendship of a lifetime into the few short years they had together from early 1910 to the summer of 1914, even with a few breaks for pouting and sulking. Some of their correspondence is recorded in a dedicated volume, and other letters, notes, stories, and recollections of their doings from other people are hidden in unpublished works and Expressionist apocrypha.

Macke and Marc enjoyed working on their art as a pair and in fact they both considered the drawings and sketches they made while just being together to fall into the class of “things we made together” on the same level as the few categorical objects to which we ascribe to their dual provenance, of which the mural Paradies, from 1912, is one. The mural lives now at the Westfalisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kultur in Münster, but it was made in the upstairs atelier of the Macke house (now the August Macke Haus ) in Bonn.

Given Macke’s constant scheming and hustling, and the sort of declarations of superficiality he seems to make about all that is admirable in painting, it is easy to think of him as being a sort of light shadow to Marc’s heavy element, but this is not at all true. And Marc often seems supremely naïve and dopey in his out-of-itness, which was also more of an occasional condition. However, the story attendant to the making of this mural finds them both in exactly these roles.

In fact as soon as I learned more about how Paradies was made, I immediately thought of the famous story in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer printed below. In fact there is not much I can say about it, or as well.

Paradies, August Macke and Franz Marc, 1912

Paradies, August Macke and Franz Marc, 1912

 

Excerpt from Tom Sawyer: Chapter 2

“Hi- yi ! You’re up a stump, ain’t you!”

No answer.

Tom surveyed his last touch with the eye of an artist, then he gave his brush another gentle sweep and surveyed the result, as before. Ben ranged up alongside of him. Tom’s mouth watered for the apple, but he stuck to his work. Ben said:

“Hello, old chap, you got to work, hey?”

Tom wheeled suddenly and said:

“Why, it’s you, Ben! I warn’t noticing.”

“Say — I’m going in a-swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work — wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

“What do you call work?”

“Why, ain’t that work?”

Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:

“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”

“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”

The brush continued to move.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth — stepped back to note the effect — added a touch here and there — criticised the effect again — Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

“No — no — I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence — right here on the street, you know — but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”

“No — is that so? Oh come, now — lemme just try. Only just a little — I’d let you  , if you was me, Tom.”

“Ben, I’d like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly — well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it — ”

“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say — I’ll give you the core of my apple.”

“Well, here — No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard — ”

“I’ll give you all of it!”

Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents.

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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.
Continue reading

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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…

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Ragnarök and Roll – Franz Marc’s Birthday

Tierschicksale, 1914, Franz Marc

Tierschicksale, 1914, Franz Marc

Was kann man thun zur Seligkeit als alles aufgeben und fliehen? als einen Strich ziehen zwischen dem Gestern und dem Heute? – Franz Marc, February 1914, from the intended introduction to the second edition of the Blaue Reiter Almanac. First printed in Der Blaue Reiter. Dokumentarische Neuausgabe by Klaus Lankheit. München, 1965, p. 325.

One of the most frequently cited articles about Franz Marc in popular literature is Frederick S. Levine’s “The Iconography of Franz Marc’s Fate of the Animals” from a 1976 issue of The Art Bulletin, and, subsequently, a short book on the same subject. Apparently there are some issues with the accuracy of the translations presented in both. What’s interesting to me is the creative idea Levine had to analyze Marc’s enormous 1913 painting Tierschicksale (mysteriously residing in the Kunstmuseum Basel) as an expression of Ragnarök, the apocalypse of Norse mythology. My opinion is that despite being generally familiar with the Eddas and with Der Ring des Nibelungen Marc wasn’t that interested in these sagas and didn’t consider them as particularly German.

A few years ago Andreas Hüneke, researching at the Lenbachhaus, discovered that the inscription on the back of the painting, „Und alles Sein ist flammend Leid“ is from a volume of the Buddhist Dhammapada of the Pali Canon of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama given to Marc by Annette von Eckardt. So it doesn’t seem to refer to Ragnarök directly as Levine (not having the benefit of Hüneke’s recent work) asserts. It seems more likely that Marc was very distressed, in the summer of 1913 when he made Tierschicksale, about von Eckardt’s move away from Munich to Sarajevo. It explains a little bit about why, upon seeing the painting again a few years later, Marc says he doesn’t even remember creating it and ascribes its meaning to the more external conflagration at hand.

In any case, Levine was not discouraged by his translating experience and went on to the faculty at Palomar College in California and also spent a lot of time studying and teaching at the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

Today, on Marc’s birthday, with so many animals imperiled, Tierschicksale doesn’t really need any overdetermining; it would be very tempting to just turn and flee, if only there was somewhere to go.

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“Dog Lying in the Vodafone Store”

 

20140120-192202.jpg

Mobile upload reenactment™©

Liegender Hund im Schnee, Franz Marc, 1911

Liegender Hund im Schnee, Franz Marc, 1911

 

 

 

 

 

 

“… Du kannst Dir kaum vorstellen, wie wunderbar schön der Winter in diesen Tagen hier ist, schleierloses Sonnenlicht und dabei den ganzen Tag Rauhreif; sehr kalt, aber von jener schönen, erfrischenden Kälte, die einen nur äußerlich, nicht innerlich frieren macht. … Gegen Abend wird es chromatischer, statt blau weiß treten rosa und komplementär grünliche Töne auf, auch violett gegen farbige Abendluft. Ich habe zwei Sachen im Schnee in Arbeit: die Rehe unter schneebedeckten Ästen und den Russi im Schnee liegend. Ich komme mit beiden ganz gut weiter, sehr farbig. …”

Franz Marc, 17.1.1911

 

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Midnight Atlantic City

Franz Marc's Deer in the Snow at the Lenbachhaus; Persona

Franz Marc’s Deer in the Snow at the Lenbachhaus; Persona

The article M83: Why Music Is Contemporary Art on the Installation website provides an excellent forum, in the comments section, for the discussion of the title subject.

I like M83 a lot and agree that their sound is ambitious beyond poptronica though as commenters on the Installation site point out this is not necessarily because of compositional enterprise or chord progression For me the attraction is the “celebrate the apocalypse” mood of “Midnight City” or the spoken “created sample” in  “OK Pal:”

“We’re walking in the streets – or what’s left of them,
I take your hand, and the city is slowly vanishing.
There’s no crowd anymore, no cars, no signals.
But in the middle of the road, a purple and mellow shape is floating.
The shape of our mutual dream.
Stay calm, hold me tight, give it a chance to take us away.
We will live, we will dream on the shadow of our world.”
I had a dream the other night that incorporated both this song and the painting in the photo, Franz Marc’s Deer in the Snow (1911). In the dream a good friend of mine who recently has been through a difficult time was one of the deer, but hampered by a hank of rope or net caught between her hoof and head.  The reindeer tender freed her, and despite being “caught,” my friend as the deer, didn’t have any broken bones, or even any bruises or lost fur. I hope she will be OK like the deer in the dream. In the dream, I heard the music from “Midnight City” (which reminds me of this friend). I don’t know why anyone would think people (and animals) don’t see colors or hear music in dreams…maybe everyone does and they just forget.
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In Joke – August Macke’s Last Birthday

One hundred years ago today, August Macke celebrated his 27th birthday – his last.

I spend a lot of research time excavating lost, unpublished, and little-known writings and facts about August Macke and his cousin (more like a little brother) Helmuth Macke. Franz Marc really loved the Mackes and his interactions with them are important for many reasons. But the Mackes are amazing on their own.

Famous Hyperbolic Color Chart

Famous Hyperbolic Color Chart

Like Franz Marc, August Macke was incredibly prolific across a number of mediums. As Marc notes from their first meeting, August is inescapably a benthic Capricorn, materialistic and practical. Yet his prose reads like verse, exploding with jokes (especially at the expense of Marc to whom he often “mit seinen im Ulk treiben”), imagery, sounds, and cheerful energy.

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A Change of Scenery

August Macke, Märchen (Sindelsdorf), 1911, Gouache, Deckweiß, Aquarell

August Macke, Märchen (Sindelsdorf), 1911, Gouache, Deckweiß, Aquarell

Franz Marc note to August Macke:

19.12.1910
Sindelsdorf

Du Gauner und alter Kulissenschleicher,

schwelge nur ruhig in den Kulissengeheimnissen anderer, einmal und zwar bald, (hörst Du?), musst Du auch aus Deinen Kulissen heraus vor die Rampe, dann schleich ich hinter Dich und beseh mir die Garderobe dieses Genies. – Übrigens lasse ich jetzt einen F …. nach dem anderen in meiner Malerei, – hörst Du sie nicht? Dröhnend!! Ich rechne nicht mehr auf den Besuch der Leute vor Weihnachten und werde also Deine Sachen nächstens zusammenpacken; es tut mit wahrhaftig leid, – sie sind mir so vertraut und lieb geworden. Soll ich die Sachen von Helmuth auch alle dazupacken? Vielleicht schicke ich das gerahmte Stilleben einmal eigens, wenn es Dir damit nicht eilt. Schreib mir bitte darüber. Grüsse Frau Lisbeth herzlichst. Viel Glück und ›Mut‹! zum Einzug in’s Atelier!

Dein Fz. M.

• • •

Although FM kind of jokes here about it perhaps being time for Helmuth Macke  – who has only just arrived – to depart, FM quickly gets used to having Helmuth around. At the end of the same month, the nurturing, self-possessed teenager makes art history happen…

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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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Sighthounds in the Art of the Ancient World


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The artistic expression of human relationships with animals has been and remains deeply complex and shifting. From the shaggy predators of the Lascaux Cave paintings to the costumed, hyperreal Weimareiners in the photos of William Wegman, the canine form has been especially popular with artists as both an ad hoc subject and a highbrow icon. A particular type of dog, the Cirneco dell Aetna, or Italian Greyhound, appears quite often in the art of ancient Greece and Rome, enjoying a commonality shared only with cattle and horses.

The Italian Greyhounds, however (as we shall call them henceforth), literally crossed the threshold in the ancient world, entering households not as steeds for work and war or sacrificial offerings, but as companions and objects of beauty.

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The aim of this paper is to point out for consideration some examples of Italian Greyhound imagery from several ancient eras and geographical locations, to describe the history of this breed of dog in relation to its popularity in Greece and Italy, to draw a few conclusions about the dogs’ visual evolution and the reasons for its prevalence, and to show how both the animal and its image continued as both an influence and a viable species beyond the end of the Roman Empire. A starting point is to describe the nature and appearance of the Italian Greyhound, a species which exists fundamentally unchanged from its earliest days.

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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.

There are more photos here and even in these small photos of photos you can see how amazing they are.

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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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One of the Happiest Days in the History of Art History

Recovered Blue Horses

Blue Horses

 

So you have probably heard by now the incredible story of how hundreds of amazing paintings were recovered right here in München – right here in Schwabing! – from the derelict apartment of an “art dealer” who had stored them in haphazard fashion amid cans of apricots and bottles of sherry. Included in the cache are long-missing works by Max Beckmann, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse. Of course most happily found is the painting above, one of Franz Marc’s Blue Horses missing for more than 70 years.

It has been super-exciting to be so lucky to be here for this momentous occasion. Everyone – not just at the museum but everyone in the city – is talking about the fantastic aspects of the story (please read up on it; it’s sure to become even more fascinating) but what is most awesome is the jubilation and delight people are expressing. I can’t think of many places where a city-wide celebration would erupt over such a story.

Of course I am not unmoved.  FOCUS magazine broke this story on Monday. When I saw the headline in the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Twitter feed I ran out to the news vendor to get a copy and snagged the last one, and the last print SZ in the stack too. I am very happy to have these print artifacts of this wonderful occasion.

Here are links from the Daily Mail (UK); Time Magazine (US); and Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE).

I am thrilled that one of the missing Blue Horses was found period, but it’s beyond overwhelming to be right here…Hopefully Turm der Blauen Pferde is hanging out in someone’s garage or wine cellar or something.

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Airporty

 

I cannot explain better what 18 of the 21 photographs above are better than the Haus der Kunst press release  about this very subject, so here it is, partially ellipsed for brevity:

Manfred Pernice ... will create an expansive, accessible installation consisting of various, often "recycled" works. The artist is interested not only in the reusing of found objects and materials of various origins, but also, what is more remarkable, he uses his own earlier works as architectural elements for new works or as installation pieces in altered contexts of meaning. Pernice's planned intervention for Haus der Kunst's central Middle Hall relates directly to the space's architecture and consists of two main elements: Pernice will place his architectural sculpture "Tutti" from the year 2010 in the middle of the room. A spiral staircase leads up to the sculpture's roof. From there, via a second staircase, the visitor reaches a bridge, which spans the Middle Hall and from which visitors can continually view the room from new perspectives. For the bridge, the artist will develop an installation, which, as a result of the work process, will evolve on site. This form of spontaneous response to the spatial conditions is characteristic of Pernice's sculptural approach.

My friend who came with me to the opening exclaimed more succintly: “Mager! Ich mochte lieber sehen…”

Additionally, the director of HdK, Okwui Enwezor (who is having a cusp birthday this week), described Pernice’s work as an “intervention in the global crisis of modernity.”

The artist and sponsors (the Friends of Haus der Kunst) also spoke at length about the sculptural installation, which seems to suggest they realize that even for HdK regular patrons it requires some type of backgrounding. I give HdK a lot of credit for trying out global-art-fair-type works in its austere central hall and for the integration (too seamlessly really) into the “renovation.”

Having just been in six airports in six days, the kind of indistinguishable elevations, chutes, and stopping spaces of those reminded me of Tutti IV in sort of a vague “I’m tired” (not “I’m aware of phenomenology) way. I think maybe also for people living in München the trappings of renovation – with both the Lenbachhaus and the Pinakothek der Moderne having recently reopened – plus the endless “installations” of scaffolding and rerouting at the Hauptbahnhof and Marienplatz – are part of the normal whirring scenic backdrop of the city.

 

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The Blue Flask: A Story in Text Messages

The Blue Flask: A Story Told in Text Message
Pt. 1

A few nights ago, I had a dream in which one of the key objects later appeared in physical form during the day. I thought this was a bit unusual, in that the object, while quotidian, is not something you would see every day, let alone find on the street…

The object is this: a blue thermos type aluminum flask. The dream was actually a fragment of memory about something that had actually happened: a battle of petty ecological one-uppersonship and unintentionally amusing symbolism. Seeking to appear both more recycly than thou and also make a statement of personal taste, this guy had dispensed with plastic water bottles for a flask that looked exactly like the one in the picture, except I am sure minus the millions of microbes. The guy’s sort of but not really rival, a female, at the first opportunity produced her own personal power statement water bottle, ornately patterned in some sort of pink, green, and brown-over aluminum paisley. Also, this bottle was significantly larger.

Because I was in fourth grade (not really it was only a few years ago), and had a clear line of sight to the bottle duel, I poorly concealed some giggling. Observing this my friend across the room looked at me questioningly, whereupon I silently pointed out the comparison. My friend also began quietly laughing, and later, in another location, we both laughed quite a bit.

This was a tiny episode in a sprawling “big fish”-type saga, and I have not thought about it in some time, until this week when someone brought to my attention the names of both bottle-owning individuals, reunited for a charity affair, a telethon to benefit the humorless…J/K those last two phrases.

 Pt. 2

The dream about the bottle was very fleeting, and it was about the incident, and then I dreamed about other unrelated stuff. But when I woke up I could see those bottles through my lashes before I quite opened my eyes. IKR! But it was a dream.

Pt. 3

Later the day of the morning/night of the dream, I went to the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek. This is not unusual, I go there almost every day. What is unusual is to see a blue aluminum water bottle wedged into the space between a windowsill and a window on the second floor in a rarely used reading room (and in fact by a window that is rarely opened since it is always winter). Instead of fleeing in distress I leaned out over the parapet and window frame and fished the bottle in with the help of my scarf. I brought it home and I still have it, figuring that like in The Grudge there is no point in getting rid of it since it has already located me. Even though I can drink as much Löwenbrau Triumphator as anyone in my adopted kingdom I don’t like to carry glass bottles around because I am afraid they will break when I inevitably drop them, so maybe I will use this flask to transport beer during Wies’n – the most fun it will ever have in all of its lives.

The Blue Flask: Postscript

The blue flask/dream incident last week was one of a series of very strange things that have happened to me this year, so though it was “haunting,” I didn’t freak out. While I was in the library, I remembered suddenly that I wanted to check out The Author of Himself, the autobiography of Marcel Reich-Ranicki. I got the book and have been reading it instead of packing. On Friday it was reported that Ranicki had died after a long illness.

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The Black Minx

When I was little I was lucky to find my way very young to The Black Stallion books by Walter Farley. I read every single book (they appeared every other year or so from 1941 to 1983; the original book was made by Black_stallion_posterinto a stunning film of the same name) many times and like the Jim Kjelgaard dog books (Snow Dog, Big Red) I still read them once in a while. As a child I had Breyer horses and Barkies dogs and the scale of the models was compatible enough that I created an early kind of fan fiction diorama series in which the dogs from the Kjelgaard books met the horses from the Farley books.

Of the horses, I actually preferred The Island Stallion, Flame, and Black Minx, the Black’s (Shêtân) daughter. Also some of the “supporting” horse characters, particularly Wintertime and Sunraider. Of course Eclipse and the Piebald were fantastic villains. Unlike Kjelgaard, who told his stories from the perspective of the animals alone, Farley mixed the narratives voices between humans and horses mostly to good effect. Generally both these series of books are underrated and understudied; they are every bit as elegant and meaningful as Call of the Wild without the violence and free from the burden of having to explain the stereotypes of the time; so they remain free for children to enjoy today.

I was thinking about the Black Minx on and off for the past few weeks and even had a dream about the race with Eclipse that is the set piece of The Black Stallion’s Courage.

The Black Minx and Eclipse… Black Minx is the one horse whose speed potential we never really learn. Only “the boy”, Alec Ramsay, can inspire obedience in the headstrong filly. She was a poky frontrunner…she would get out in front of the other horses in every race, put lengths and lengths of distance between herself and the pack, and then…begin daydreaming until she wandered across the finish, albeit still the winner. She is also a bit romantic in other ways, falling in love with her colt rival Wintertime (who like Flame is a solid chestnut) and always wanting to play around with the other horses and guide ponies. Alec decides to “make” Black Minx more competitive by running her with Eclipse (who is dark bay), the wonder colt she bests in the Kentucky Derby but who rapidly thereafter matures into both a magnificent athlete and a terror, speedier (for a spell) even than the Black and cruel, toying with and breaking the spirits of his rivals.

But this plan backfires. The Black Minx bitterly resents having her dedication tested and the forced competition with Eclipse, whom she loathes. She never trusts Alec again. Moreover in these trials she is faster; Black Minx knows all along that even though Eclipse is very fast, she is too far ahead – all she has to do is hold her lead, which she does. Eclipse is bitter about Black Minx’s ease. Finally, in the Belmont Stakes, when all the horses (except the Black) race, Black Minx protests. Wintertime can’t keep the pace Black Minx and Eclipse set, so Black Minx simply slows down and keeps pace with Wintertime. Eclipse surges across the finish line breaking a track and world record. But as Alec races to Black Minx to make sure everything is OK, Eclipse realizes that Alec loved her best no matter what, win or lose. So for Alec and Eclipse, this is a sad story in terms of people-horse relations. For Black Minx, following her refusal to compete, she is retired, as is Wintertime, and they spend the rest of their days together. (In the very last books of the series, Wintertime and Black Minx have a daughter who is also unruly, Black Pepper.)

Tim Farley, Walter Farley’s son, maintains a Black Stallion Website that has a very fun forum, a lot of beautiful images of horses, naturally, stills and clips from the movies, and a real treasure – the vintage covers from the first editions of each of the books.

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