Friday, March 17, 2006

Goya, Napoleon and Bush

" If the Princes of the world had to fight hand to hand,
goodbye to war.

But while there is someone in the world who can sacrifice
thousands of victims
how and when he pleases,

Without risk to his person,
enslaved humanity do not complain of his barbarity,
for the blame is yours."
-Giambattista Casti, "Gli animali parti" 1802

"Contemptuous of the Insults"
Goya 1816-1820
From: "A Revolutionary Age: Drawing in Europe, 1770–1820" organized by the Getty as a companion exhibition to the traveling exhibition
" Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile"

"Sometimes the most determined of invaders, equipped with strong armies and copious intelligence about its enemy can make myopic blunders that later seem close to madness"
Robert Hughes, from "Goya"- on Napoleon's invasion of Spain

Three years into our debacle in Iraq it is helpful to turn to art and history for some perspective. Napoleon invaded and occupied Spain from 1808 to 1813 prompting Goya's series of etchings, "The Disasters of War", and a related group of drawings . In the Getty's permanent collection is a small, ink wash drawing from this period depicting a modish, probably anti-monarchist Spaniard (note the outfit- no pretensions to court style). He mockingly doffs his hat to two miniaturized French soldiers while expressing disdain with his right hand in response to the soldier's insults. The Getty's notes to the exhibition point out Goya's anti-Napoleonic stance as evidenced in this drawing which illumines Spanish contempt for the Napoleonic forces laying waste to their country. The Spanish people resisted the French occupation with guerilla warfare (Robert Hughes points out in his study of Goya that this is the first use of the now familiar term to describe battle by irregular forces) and eventually defeated and expelled the French forces with the help of the English army.

One of the important points to bear in mind is the initial hope found by the Spanish middle class in the French Revolution and the possibilities inherent in a democratic society based on the Enlightenment with a separation between church and state. But Napoleon destroyed this goodwill through his own egoism and brutality. Invading someone else's home rarely endears one to the local population.

Robert Hughes explains, "For occupying forces used to the idea of war as a series of formal battles, it was exceedingly demoralizing to survive on territory where nearly everyone ... could strike at you from behind the trees and vanish back into them; where every civilian sleeve contained a knife."

While viewing Goya's drawing last year, I thought of our little-Napoleon and his misguided efforts to export democracy by force. His words from three years ago still ring hollow:
"Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.
We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."
-George Bush March 19, 2003. From an address to the American people on the start of the war in Iraq. (Note the emphasis on weapons of mass murder and the not so subtle attempt to link Iraq with the September 11, 2001 attacks.)

Napoleon was kicked out but in many ways Spain was still defeated. The Spanish people continued to suffer under both a puffed up, penniless monarchy, to be followed by the brutality of Franco in the 20th Century, and a fear- driven, reactionary and provincial Spanish church. It was illegal in Spain until the 1970's to declare oneself anything but Christian. This sad coda to an earlier, misguided occupation does not bode well for the people of Iraq.

Note: This a lightly reworked piece from March 2005. I hope I will not have to post it again in March 2007.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

LACMA to Exhibit Repatriated Klimts

Gustav Klimt
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
138 x 138 cm oil and gold on canvas 1907
Altmann Collection, Los Angeles

A legal arbitration panel in Austria recently decided that five Gustav Klimt paintings, stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family during World War II, should be returned to Maria Altmann who lives in Los Angeles- the legal heir to the looted collection. The two sides began mediation following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that Altmann could sue the Austrian government.

It was announced today (thanks for the heads up Tyler), that the five paintings will go on display from April 4 through June 30 at LACMA. Suzanne Muchnic in the Los Angeles Times reports that "the exhibition was initiated by Stephanie Barron, LACMA's senior curator of modern art, in January after the Austrian arbitration court ordered its government to turn over the paintings to Altmann, ... Barron proposed the show in a letter to Altmann's attorney, Randol Schoenberg, who presented the idea to Altmann."

"LACMA was kind enough to offer, and I thought it was a beautiful thing," Maria Altmann said. "The paintings have been in Vienna for 68 years, and people in Europe saw them all the time. I thought it would be a beautiful thing to show them in this country."

“In gratitude to the City and County of Los Angeles,” stated Maria Altmann, “which provided me a home when I fled the Nazis, and whose courts enabled me to recover my family’s paintings at long last, I am very pleased that these wonderful paintings will be seen at LACMA. It was always the wish of my uncle and aunt to make their collection available to the public.”

Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altmann’s aunt, was 26 in 1906 when Gustav Klimt painted her first portrait. After her death in 1925, all five paintings remained in the family. Adele Bloch-Bauer's will asked her husband to give the paintings to an Austrian museum. Adele’s husband fled to Switzerland in 1938. Shortly afterward, the Nazis took control of the Klimt paintings. After World War II, the paintings were exhibited in Vienna and temporarily became part of the Belvedere Gallery's Collection. The Altmann legal team argued that the Holocaust made Austria’s claim, to be the rightful owner of the paintings, moot. The recent decision by the arbitration panel in Austria stated that after the Nazis grabbed power in Austria, the family was no longer bound by the terms of the will.

Gustav Klimt
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II
190 x 120 cm oil on canvas 1912
Altmann Collection, Los Angeles

“We are extremely grateful to Maria Altmann and her family for sharing these iconic works with the people of Los Angeles,” said Michael Govan, who has recently been appointed LACMA’s Director. “These paintings are extraordinary examples from this rich period of art history and we are especially pleased to tell the story surrounding the family, its relationship to the artist, and their ownership of the paintings to our visitors from around the world.”

New director Michael Govan officially begins his tenure on April 1st. Not a bad way to begin.

More on the subject:

LACMA has an interesting page on their website on art provenance.
LACMA Provenance Page

Tyler Green and I both suggest Lynn Nicholas' "The Rape of Europa" which goes into great detail on the Nazi's "cultural rape and its aftermath".

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Against Iconoclasm: Remembering the Bamiyan Buddhas

Bamiyan Buddhas

March 12, 2001
Destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas

On March 12, 2001 the Buddhas in Bamiyan were destroyed in Afghanistan. Despite a resounding chorus of international condemnation, the Taliban ignorantly declared that the tenets of Islamic fundamentalism were more important than the world's artistic heritage. And so, the statues were blown apart, exactly six-months before the destruction of another pair of cultural icons, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The Bamiyan Buddhas were towering figures carved into the sandstone cliffs of what is now central Afghanistan sometime around the third century A.D. The statues were the tallest standing Buddhas in the world. Like classical Greek and Roman sculptures, which provided major influences on the Buddhist sculpture in this region, the Bamiyan Buddhas were originally brightly painted and most likely gilded. This region was known historically as Gandhara and occupied areas of present day North West India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Gandhara was the most eastern region of the ancient world influenced by classical aesthetics, and among the first to portray the Buddha in human form.

In antiquity, the Gandharan region was a crossroads - caravans criss-crossed Bamiyan as they traded between the Roman Empire, China and India. For centuries the Buddhas stood sentinel to groups of wandering monks and merchants, who journeyed along the Silk Road, which ran from Rome to China. Beneath the statues, Buddhist monasteries clustered as places of sanctuary, but were abandoned in the 9th century as Islam displaced Buddhism in Afghanistan.

Since the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas the world has become embroiled in global battles over what director, Christian Frei, describes as a journey of "fanaticism and faith, terror and tolerance, ignorance and identity."

Christian Frei's film "The Giant Buddhas" , which screened this year at the Sundance Film Festival, is a richly nuanced view of our present reality caught in the long reach of artistic and cultural beauties and struggles.

In my own work, I struggle against iconoclasm. The drive to censor images has a long and violent history, and is more about the desire to control and make docile a population than it is about belief. I cringe at the destruction of all artistic productions.

Heinrich Heine's line from, "Almansor", is a call for constant vigilance:

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."
("Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.")
—Heinrich Heine, from his play Almansor (1821)

Gandharan Buddha
Destroyed: Formerly- National Museum, Kabul

Friday, March 10, 2006

Я живу, я вижу (I Live, I See) - March 10, 1985 Gorbachev Comes to Power

"And history will soon forget about you, but the heavens they will reward you."
-Nick Cave, "Faraway, So Close"

Cassiel and Gorbachev in Wim Wenders' film - "Faraway, So Close"

"Faraway, So Close" marked Mikhail Gorbachev's feature film debut. The guardian angel, Cassiel, looks over his shoulder while Gorbachev meditates that "a secure world can't be built on blood; only on harmony."

On March 10, 1985 after the death of Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed leader of the Soviet Union.

In 1988, Gorbachev began withdrawing Soviet forces from Afghanistan. More than 15,000 Soviet troops died during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989).

Also during 1988, Gorbachev announced the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which had kept Eastern bloc nations under Soviet domination.

The Soviet Union's Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov jokingly described the decision as the Sinatra Doctrine, because Gorbachev's new policy allowed the Eastern bloc nations to "do it their way."

This led to a series of revolutions in Eastern Europe throughout 1989, during which the Berlin War fell and Soviet backed communism collapsed. These peaceful revolutions (except for Romania) effectively ended the Cold War.

Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 15, 1990 for his loosening of the Soviet Union's post World War II domination of Eastern Europe.

Wim Wenders caught the magnitude of the moment and gave Gorbachev a role in the sequel to "Wings of Desire" - "Faraway, So Close."

Wim Wenders described how Mikhail Gorbachev appeared in "Faraway, So Close":

"I thought it would be impossible, but I wouldn't have forgiven myself if I hadn't tried. He's so essential to the reunification that his presence seemed important."

"So, I wrote him a letter, `Dear Mr. President . . . ' and sent it to the Kremlin, not really believing I would get an answer. But the letter got into the hands of his personal assistant, who was a movie buff and who had seen `Wings of Desire' several times."

"They said that Mr. Gorbachev would be in Berlin about six weeks later, and on a particular day when he could spare three hours, if we could talk him into doing it. So, we had the sets prepared and the actor (Otto Sanders, who plays the angel Cassiel listening in on Gorbachev's thoughts) — and this was before we began principal photography. But I didn't think we could get him to come again."

"So, Mr. Gorbachev came in and we talked for about 10 minutes. And by then he had seen `Wings of Desire' and really didn't have to be talked into it all that much. Shooting the scene was very easy, and he took direction really well, if I might say so. He was cool and collected — while Otto was falling to pieces, especially when he had to put his arm around Mr. Gorbachev."

"But the most beautiful thing was when Mr. Gorbachev recorded his thoughts. We had to get it done right away, of course, so we went into a quiet room with a microphone and I had prepared three pages from his own writings. I didn't dare to suggest to write Mr. Gorbachev's thoughts."

"But he had his own ideas and said, `I know what your thing is about,' and we just started to improvise for 20 minutes. He'd still be improvising if we hadn't run out of tape."

"He was quite amazing and astonishing."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Art of Miyazaki

"We're making a mystery here, so make it mysterious." -Hayao Miyazaki 

  Update: Arrietty the Borrower: Next Studio Ghibli Project to be Released in Japan on July 17th 2010  

Hayao Miyazaki "Howl's Moving Castle" Hayao Miyazaki's most recent film ,"Howl's Moving Castle", is being released today on DVD in the US. The images in this film are spectacular. It is a visual feast: a panoply of color, movement, motion, spirit and imagination. Miyazaki makes films with children in mind. But his films are never childish. At a press conference in Paris upon the release of "Spirited Away"*, Miyazaki said,"In fact, I am a pessimist. But when I'm making a film, I don't want to transfer my pessimism onto children. I keep it at bay. I don't believe that adults should impose their vision of the world on children, children are very much capable of forming their own visions. There's no need to force our own visions onto them."


Hayao Miyazaki Study for "Totoro" "The single difference between films for children and films for adults is that in films for children, there is always the option to start again, to create a new beginning. In films for adults, there are no ways to change things." -Hayao Miyazaki *(late December 2001, from a ceremony at "Spirited Away's" first European screening during the animation festival Nouvelles images du Japon where the French government bestowed on Miyazaki the title of 'Officier des Arts et des Lettres')


Hayao Miyazaki Study for Spirited Away On the occasion of Miyazaki's film retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year, AO Scott wrote that after viewing Miyazaki's films "you may find your perception of your own world refreshed, as it might be by a similarly intensive immersion in the oeuvre of Ansel Adams, J. M. W. Turner or Monet. After a while, certain vistas - a rolling meadow dappled with flowers and shadowed by high cumulus clouds, a range of rocky foothills rising toward snow-capped peaks, the fading light at the edge of a forest - deserve to be called Miyazakian."


Hayao Miyazaki Study for Princess Mononoke AO Scott continues, "As a visual artist, Mr. Miyazaki is both an extravagant fantasist and an exacting naturalist; as a storyteller, he is an inventor of fables that seem at once utterly new and almost unspeakably ancient. Their strangeness comes equally from the freshness and novelty he brings to the crowded marketplace of juvenile fantasy and from an unnerving, uncanny sense of familiarity, as if he were resurrecting legends buried deep in the collective unconscious."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ang Lee

Still From Ang Lee's
Still From Ang Lee's "The Hulk"
Photo by Gregg Chadwick

At the Academy Awards tonight, Ang Lee was named Best Director for his film "Brokeback Mountain". Mr Lee is a true talent - willing to take risks and at times fail. "The Hulk" (picture above) was arguably not a very good film. But his fims are always worth watching and the range of subject matter in his films is remarkable.

Ang Lee on the set of Brokeback Mountain

Friday, March 03, 2006

WWI In Film and Paint

On December 24th, 1914 the entrenched forces arrayed against each other near Ypres put down their arms on Christmas Eve. With an exchange of songs and camaraderie, French, German, and Scottish soldiers searched for a way to overcome - for one brief night - the conflict that raged between them.

As morning dawned the physical and cultural No Man's Land that divided them reappeared ...

The Academy Award nominated film Joyeux Noel, which opens today in New York and Los Angeles, explores these events and the human cost of war. The film is up for Best Foreign Language Film at Sunday's Oscars.

Oscar Page on Joyeux Noel

Joyeux Noel Trailer

During World War I, many artists painted significant works:

Pierre Bonnard
"Un Village en Ruines Près du Ham"
63 x 85 cm oil on canvas 1917
Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine, Paris

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) was in a group of painters assigned in 1916 to go and paint the war. All that remains from his attempt to visually describe the conflict is a single unfinished painting of troops and charred ruins. In the distance, a Red Cross van portends future casualities. The painting is only roughed out- yet this incomplete, almost haphazard state poignantly renders a moment when the tools of art seem to be rendered mute by violence .

Eric Kennington
Great Britain
"Gassed and Wounded"
71.1 x 91.4 cm. oil on canvas 1918
Imperial War Museum, London

Max Beckmann
Das Leichenschauhaus (The Morgue)
25.7 x 35.7 cm. drypoint 1915

For a few months during WWI, Beckmann served as a nurse. In September 1914, he confided to his wife: "The doctors showed me the most horrific wounds with incredible kindness and skill. Everywhere, despite the open windows and the brightly lit room, there was an acrid stench of rotting flesh. I held out for about an hour and a half and then I had to get out into the fields."

More Images at:
Art of the First World War

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Carol Es in the Getty

Carol Es

Carol Es, who shows with the George Billis Gallery and who writes Esart, now has work included in the Getty Collection. The Getty recently purchased a volume of Carol's "1-SELF", a thirty-six page handmade catalog in an edition of fifty. Carol has explained that "the title suggests both intimate self-expression and the artist’s pattern making background in the Los Angeles garment industry, as patterns were often marked "1-self" for manufacturing."

Caro Es has been busy with interviews and with preparations for her upcoming show at Gallery 825 in April. Go to Esart and read all about it.

Congrats Carol.

We Shall Overcome, The Seeger Sessions

April 25th marks the release of Bruce Springsteen's, "We Shall Overcome, The Seeger Sessions," which features Springsteen's personal interpretations of thirteen songs associated with folk musician Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger

According to Jon Landau, the album "has a lightness and ease to it, a sheer joyfulness, that makes it very special from top to bottom. Bruce has taken a core group of classic American songs and transformed them into a high energy, modern and very personal statement."

Of the new album Springsteen said, "So much of my writing, particularly when I write acoustically, comes straight out of the folk tradition. Making this album was creatively liberating because I have a love of all those different roots sounds... they can conjure up a world with just a few notes and a few words."

Springsteen recorded the album with a large ensemble. The musicians on the record are Springsteen (guitar, harmonica, B3 organ and percussion), Sam Bardfeld (violin), Art Baron (tuba) Frank Bruno (guitar), Jeremy Chatzy (upright bass), Mark Clifford (banjo), Larry Eagle (drums and percussion), Charles Giordano (B3 organ, piano and accordion), Ed Manion (saxophone), Mark Pender (trumpet), Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg (trombone) and Soozie Tyrell (violin). Lisa Lowell, Patti Scialfa, Springsteen, Pender, Tyrell, and Rosenberg contribute backing vocals.

Springsteen is planning a short tour in the U.S. and Europe to accompany the release of the album. He will be appearing with most of the musicians who appeared on the CD.

'We Shall Overcome The Seeger Sessions' Track Listing

1. Old Dan Tucker
2. Jessie James
3. Mrs. McGrath
4. Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep
5. John Henry
6. Erie Canal
7. Jacob's Ladder
8. My Oklahoma Home
9. Eyes On The Prize
10. Shenandoah
11. Pay Me My Money Down
12. We Shall Overcome
13. Froggie Went A-Courtin'

Bonus Tracks:

Buffalo Gals
How Can I Keep From Singing

More on Bruce Springsteen