What was good about 2016?

Art, art & art: exceptional art shows!

 

Exceptional art exhibitions around the world faced down ugly politics…

jbosch6Panels of the “Visions of the Hereafter” by Hieronymus Bosch, ca. 1505-1515

During the traditional “feel good” New Year’s Concert in Vienna on the first day of the year, I want to remember  what inspired me in 2016, rather than what depressed me. Without a doubt three exceptional art shows (amongst many more) spring to mind!

First, the Hieronymus Bosch show in the painter’s hometown of ‘s Hertogenbosch in Holland. Every Bosch painting demands hours of attention, an impossible task at a very busy show, and it is nearly impossible to fathom how a man living in a provincial town in Holland in the late 15th century could have had such fantastical and  unparalleled visions of, well: everything!

I was most intrigued by the last polyptych in the exhibit, the mysterious “Visions of the Hereafter”, as shown above with in the middle the panel of the “Ascent of the Blessed”. The most puzzling thing was the way the backsides of the panels that were painted in mysterious splatters, one orange red, the other black… Jackson Pollock would have appreciated. I could find nothing on these back panels, what they mean, they seem very deliberate…most intriguing…

Second, the Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918 show in my favorite New York museum: the Neue Galerie! These near life size portraits, shown close to the “Woman in Gold” portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer were phenomenal. Amongst them, an earlier portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the only woman he painted twice.

klimt6Portraits of Elisabeth Lederer, Adele Bloch-Bauer and Mäda Primavesi

Thirdly, the Sir Lawrence (Laurens) Alma-Tadema show in the picturesque capital of Friesland: Leeuwarden, in Holland. Proud to be of Friesian descent, it was a joy to drive with my mother over the longest dyke in Holland in a magical wintery landscape to the Fries Museum. Why is the show there? Well, Alma-Tadema was born in 1836 in Friesland, that quaint province of Holland famous for the oldest Planetarium in the world (in Franeker), friesian cows, the 11-town skating race (weather permits) and courageous resistance during WWII!

atmoses“The Finding of Moses”, 1904 – Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

This show is phenomenal and will go on to Vienna and London, the town where Alma-Tadema became one of the most celebrated painters of the late nineteenth century. His historical and orientalist paintings were highly appreciated and fetched enormous prices. What makes his painting enduring is their historical accuracy and evocative atmosphere of life in ancient times. Every detail of hair styles, robes, furniture, objects and architecture was historically accurate, to a point that Alma-Tadema’s paintings were templates for the set and wardrobe designs of most famous Hollywood peplum movies!

In the show you see scenes from these films projected above the paintings that inspired the art directors of the films the Ten Commandments, the Last Days of Pompei, Quo Vadis, Exodus and Gladiator!

It turns out that the young Gustav Klimt was very inspired by Alma-Tadema’s paintings!

klimtalmatleft: Alma-Tadema “Venus Esquilina”, 1877 – right: Klimt “Roman Women’s Bath” 1890

Much will be written about the year 2016, with all it’s momentous twists and turns, but luckily (judging by the huge crowds) ART is still the universal language of the human race!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Strike for Solidarity!

On February 25, 1941 an exceptional stand by outraged workers in Amsterdam against the Nazi occupation!

Tram

By early 1941 it became increasingly clear that the Nazi’s were determined to speed up their persecution of Jews and other people they deemed “undesirable”.

Februaristaking

The outlawed Communist Party decided to call for a large scale strike in Amsterdam. On the evening of  February 24 a manifesto was prepared calling for a general strike. That manifesto writes: “STAAKT!!! STAAKT!!! STAAKT!!!” – STRIKE!!! STRIKE!!! STRIKE!!!”.

Staakt

On February 25, 1941 Amsterdam came to a virtual standstill when the tram workers engaged in a general strike to show their solidarity for their fellow Jewish citizens.

The strike quickly spread to other cities, but was brutally countered the next day by the Nazi forces: 427 strikers were arrested, only 2 survived deportation and execution.

Razzia_feb41_amsterdam

This general strike was the only one conducted during the war in any of the countries occupied by the Germans and an exceptional act of courage and solidarity.

 

 

A show of hands…

The very particular way the Italian painter Bronzino portrays hands….

Bronzino5Portrait of Marie de’ Medici (1573-1642)

I visited the charming exhibit “Florence: Portraits at the Medici Court” at the Musée Jacquemart André in Paris and was immediately drawn to several Bronzino portraits. By 1540, Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572)  was the leading artist and court painter in Florence to Cosimo I de’ Medici. His opulent yet restrained portraits of noble men, women and children are as vibrant and fascinating today as they must have been during his lifetime.

Bronzino9Portrait of Ludovico Capponi (1551)

The most striking thing is the way Bronzino depicts the hands of his sitters. He was ofcourse a “mannerist” painter and that style took Italy and the rest of Europe by storm in the mid 16th century.

Bronzino2Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo with her son Giovanni (1544-45)

Bronzino paints the hands in a very particular manner:  a large gap between the index and middle finger, a smaller gap between the ring finger and pink…this is quite an unnatural pose for a hand, what is he trying to say?

Bronzino8Portrait of Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici (1560)

The positions of the hands are also intriguing, as if just lightly caressing the objects they hold or shield…what are they saying, are they just symbolizing the fact that those aristocratic hands were delicate and had never seen hard work? Or were the hands secret messengers?

probably 1550-5

Full title: Portrait of a Young Man Artist: Bronzino Date made: probably 1550-5 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

The French art critic Hector Obalk made a short film shown at the exhibition about the difference in the way the Florentine painters painted hands, but I find the Bronzino “hands” the most fascinating.

Bronzino4Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi (1545)

The faces in the portraits are never smiling, always a little solemn and distant, the eyes gazing, mostly sideways, but sometimes fixing themselves at you, with a mixture of disdain and wariness…

bronzino3Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo as a Young Woman (1539)

These portraits never fail to amaze and enchant me, these people could just jump out of their frames and stand in the room with you, you can nearly smell the perfume on the women’s clothes and feel the touch of their hands…

bronzino7Portrait of a Young Man with a Book (1530–39)

“If the hands of time were hands that I could hold,
I’d keep them warm and in my hands,
They’d not turn cold!”

Lyrics “The Hands of Time” by Michel Legrand

 

Two Synagogues in “Mokum” in the Golden Age

How 17th century Amsterdam was the safest place to be for persecuted Jews…

2synaguogesGerrit Adriansz. Berckheyde – The two synagogues in Amsterdam c. 1680-85

A recent exhibition at the stunning Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam brought me face to face with this wonderful quiet cityscape depicting the two synagogues that were built in 17th century Amsterdam and still exist today.

The synagogue on the left belonged to the Ashkenazi Jews (completed in 1671), the one on the right to the Sephardic Jewish community (completed in 1675). The Amsterdam Sephardic community was one of the largest and richest Jewish communities in Europe during the Dutch Golden Age, and their very large synagogue reflected this.

BigSynagogueThe dedication of the Portuguese Synagogue in 1675

Amsterdam, colloquially called “Mokum” in Amsterdam slang (“Mokum” is Yiddish for “town”, derived from the Hebrew “makom”, which literally means “place”) was a safe haven for the persecuted Jewish communities throughout Europe. The sephardic Jews came mainly from Portugal and Spain, the Ashkenazim mainly from Poland.

imagesThe “Great” (Ashkenazim) Synagogue

Many of the new Ashkenazi immigrants were poor, contrary to their relatively wealthy Sephardic co-religionists. They were only allowed in Amsterdam because of the financial aid promised to them and other guarantees given to the Amsterdam city council by the Sephardic community, despite the religious and cultural differences between the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and the Portuguese-speaking Sephardim.

EtchingEtching by Jan Luyken, “Kerk-Zeeden ende Gewoonten die huiden in gebruik zijn onder de Jooden” (Church rules and habits practised today by Jews) – Amsterdam – 1683.

Emanuel_de_Witte_002Emanuel de Witte – The interior of the “Esnoga” (Portuguese Synagogue) c. 1680

More on how Amsterdam colloquial language and consequently Dutch slang is peppered with Yiddish words in a later post!

De Mazzel!

(Amsterdam “speak” for Mazel Tov)

One woman, one courageous act.

How Rosa Parks defied racism on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama.

“All I was doing was trying to get home from work.”

rosaparksbus120110

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913 – 2005)

On the first of December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for civil disobedience. She had refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a crowded bus in the racially segregated town of Montgomery, Alabama. Her defiance sparked the push for racial equality, which brought civil rights superstars such as Martin Luther King Jr. into the public eye and changed the world forever.

On December 1, 2005, President George W. Bush directed that a statue of Parks be placed in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

RosaParks

The President stated:

“By placing her statue in the heart of the nation’s Capitol, we commemorate her work for a more perfect union, and we commit ourselves to continue to struggle for justice for every American.

The Beautiful & The Sublime

Music is the highest form of art…according to Schopenhauer

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see”

Wagner 2

The opening bars of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”

Two things save my soul and intellect living in the boonies of Normandy. At home: the internet for everything from the New York Times and Foreign Affairs to films and documentaries and whilst driving: France Culture! How much have I learned from randomly listening to the radio station France Culture. Art, philosophy, music, politics, this radio station expects its listeners to be on the ball and thirsty for high quality programs…nothing is “dumbed down”.

Carradio

I needed to give you this intro because I once fell into a program about the German philosopher Schopenhauer’s methodology in aesthetics, his account of the subjective and objective sides of aesthetic experience (both of the beautiful and the sublime), about the hierarchy of the arts and rationale for this hierarchy, his view of artistic genius, the exceptional status of music among the fine arts, and the relationships he theorized between aesthetics and ethics.

CartoonCaricature of Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) by Wilhelm Busch

This question of a “hierarchy” in the arts seems personal, perhaps irrelevant, but I find it highly exciting! Why is one “moved to tears” by sounds? Why is music, a sequence of sounds, capable of invoking such a variety of emotions, we can not touch it, it has no shape, it literally exists in thin air…

KandinskyWassily Kandinsky, “Composition VII,” 1913

Aesthetic experience comes in two main varieties for Schopenhauer, the beautiful and the sublime, and can be had through perception of both nature and art. I just love the idea of the “Beautiful and the Sublime”. Schopenhauer believes the experience of music brings us epistemically closer to the essence of the world as will—it is as direct an experience of the will qua thing in itself as is possible for a human being to have.

ruscha musicEd Ruscha designed the cover of Mason Williams 1968 album Music

Art, according to Schopenhauer, also provides essential knowledge of the world’s objects in a way that is more profound than science or everyday experience.‪

Schopenhauer’s aesthetics remain influential today, and are perhaps the most lasting part of his philosophy. Leo Tolstoy, Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jorge Luis Borges were amongst the many profoundly influenced by Schopenhauer’s philosophy. And so am I, thanks to my car radio and France Culture!

“Music is the melody whose text is the world”

Schroeder

Schroeder playing the piano in Peanuts, his favorite composer is Beethoven…

Prehistoric Pinterest

Before the virtual version, there was actually the real deal: the pin board.

Board3

Before “cut and paste” were key strokes on your computer there was actually CUT AND PASTE, or in the case of your pin board: cut and pin!

CartoonHow current is this McNelly cartoon from 1990 today!

There is Pinterest, that “pins” for you without allowing you to arrange your board the way you want it…and then there is the real thing where you are the master of your universe!

Cartoon2Cartoon from the New Yorker, when the book “Why French women don’t get fat” was all the rage.

I have always had large mood boards or even whole walls with newspaper cuttings, fashion photos, cartoons and all things that capture my attention and I want to preserve.

BricoloThe now closed “Bricolo Café” at the BHV department store in Paris, decorated as an old workshop.

This is just one of my walls and most of the things up there are already quite old, but have not lost any of their significance to me.

ArtSonia Delaunay and Gerhard Richter

It is my very tangible and private diary of everything that inspires or interests me, and I love sharing it with insiders, but not necessarily with the world…

FeauBeautiful “boiseries” by Féau in Paris at the Biennale a few years ago, I will paint my new library like this!

I could tell you a whole story about each item, why it is there, what it means to me and how it is still significant today…

Cartoon3Peanuts, by the great philosopher Charles Schultz

It is an insight into my psyche and probably fodder for a psychiatrist, an eclectic mixture of humor, deadly serious subjects, photographs of all sorts, frivolous subjects and personal memento’s, a bit what I want my blog to be like!

GulfWarFantastic cover of Mad Magazine about Gulf War II: how true!

Fashion, politics, critical journalism, documentary film, cartoons, postcards, personal photographs, badges of events I attended, invitations, notes…

BoardDetailDetail of my board: Schiele, Peanuts, Avadon, my horoscope for 2014 that I still want to believe in…

It records my life in a mosaic of images and words, in no particular order or chronology.

PhotoMy sister and I, we are still this close today.

There is Pinterest, that “pins” for you without allowing you to arrange your board the way you want it…and then there is the real thing where you are the master of your universe!

ChristInvitation to René Stoeltie’s “Visions of Christ” exhibit in Majorca

It is here that all these ideas, inspirations and images come together and form a “smorgasbord” of my life…