Category: Music & Film

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!


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”.


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

The Lives of Others…

Voyeurism in real life and movies

TTSS2 2 copy

In the brilliant adaptation of John Le Carre’s spy novel “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, one of the best scenes is the British spy watching the Russian delegate in bed with a floozie, as his wife is entering the apartment. You see all this from across the street through a succession of windows.

Read the rest of this entry »

Woman in Gold

The importance of being honest…about WWII

AdeleBigPortrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt

The story of the painting “Woman in Gold” symbolizes the systemic denial, dishonesty and downright criminal attitudes that still reign in Europe and America about the subject of looted art during the Nazi period.

Read the rest of this entry »

Night Will Fall…

“Unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall”


“Night Will Fall” is the title of a stunning documentary about a documentary. It shows film footage shot by British and American Army cameramen of the horror of the Nazi concentration camps that was intended to be used for a 1945 documentary called “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey”.

Read the rest of this entry »