Tag Archives: art

‘The Way Things Go’ is World Art Classic #463


The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli & David Weiss is World Art Classic #463.

Peter Fischli & David Weiss’s work is unclassifiable. Which is a good thing. Yet despite this quality of being genre-defying, their work is defined by playfulness and humor absent from 90% of contemporary art.

I rather enjoy wit and humor in art.

The absence thereof, seriousness, is, in my view, one of the faultlines in 20th century art. Modernism, for example, was reigned by a detrimental “cult of seriousness”.

I first realized my predilection for humor in art somewhere around 2006, when I saw the painting ‘Man weeping, his tears form a waterfall‘.

The humor of Peter Fischli & David Weiss reminds me obliquely of that of The Chapman Brothers, minus the Chapman’s fondness for painfullness.

I’ve recently canonized Fischli and Weiss.

As I said in the title of this post, The Way Things Go is ‘World Art Classic’ #463. Its alphabetical neighbors are The Unswept Floor, a second century AD mosaic and The Witch by Salvator Rosa.

World Art Classic #462

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the work and person of Marina Abramović, but yesterday, while leafing through a book titled Love I stumbled upon a photo of Rest Energy, a 1980 performance piece by Marina and Ulay.

I was immediately taken by it.

I’d seen it before, but had forgotten about it.

I do think it works better as a photo than as a film.

It is World Art Classic #193.

Butades, or, the magic of shadows, or, the invention of art

The Invention of the Art of Drawing (1791) illustrates the Butades myth.

The myth is reported by Pliny.

This is the story: a certain Kora (also called Callirhoe), was in love with a boy at Corinth who had to leave the country. Whereupon she drew on the wall the outline of the shadow of his face. From this outline her father Butades modeled a face in clay, and baked the model, thus preserving for his daughter a face in relief of the boy she loved.

My thoughts? Amazing, but, couldn’t Butades  just as well have made a death mask of the face of the boy?

This post is inspired by Victor Stoichita‘s book Short History of the Shadow (1997).

PS Pliny’s shadows remind me of da Vinci’s stains.

 

I finally hold a copy of ‘Short History of the Shadow’ in my hands

Photo (I accidentally mirrored it) of three books by Victor Stoichita. It shows (from left to right) The Pygmalion EffectVisionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art and Short History of the Shadow.

The photo was taken against the backdrop of the University of Antwerp library at the Prinsstraat.

I was surprised to find these books in the collection of the Ruusbroec Institute of all places. Not so surprising it would appear the following day after doing my homework, as on February 6th 2014 Stoichita gave a lecture at the UCSIA, on the visionary experience in art. John of Ruysbroeck (after which the Ruusbroec Institute was named) was a Flemish mystic and Stoichita has written on the visionary experience.

A pity I missed that lecture.

Victor Stoichita’s oeuvre very obliquely reminds me of David Toop‘s and especially his last work Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener (which I have still to read, or better said, “hold in my hands”, as I’ve researched it already online), in particular the chapter Art of silence. As I’ve noted in a previous post[1], in that book Toop references Stoichita. Three times[2], to be exact, I just checked.

I started reading Short History of the Shadow and in the introduction I found Plato’s cavePliny’s shadow and Hegel on lightness and darkness.

On the originary date of ‘Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe’

Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille (Sapeck) (page from the book Le rire, source Gallica.bnf.fr)

I’ve been fascinated by the Incoherents since I first stumbled upon them in 2007[1][2].

After becoming a member of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp library some weeks ago, I have been able to consult two seminal books on that movement’s history: the Arts incoherents, academie du derisoire exhibition catalog (1992) by Luce Abélès/Catherine Charpin and The Spirit of Montmartre: Cabarets, Humor and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905 (1996) by Phillip Dennis Cate.

Object of my research was to check the dates of works I consider canonical to the proto-avant-garde, dates which I previous held to be the neat series of 1882, 1883 and 1884.

It’s a pity, but I’ve had to adjust that series to 1882, 1883 and 1887: Negroes Fighting in a Tunnel at Night (1882), Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1884) and Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe (1887).

According to my research, Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Sapeck, which is still listed over at Wikipedia as originating in 1883 and erroneously titled as Le rire, in fact first saw the light of day in 1887, in the book Le Rire by Coquelin cadet.

Wikipedia is not the only reference work in error. The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines erroneously states that this Mona Lisa was first shown in 1883 at the second “Incohérents” exhibition.

What is the importance of this augmented Mona Lisa?

Simple.

Perhaps the invention of high art with capital ‘A’ coincided with the first blows of its ridicule. This augmented Mona Lisa was a desecration, a violation, a rape of its masterpiece: the Mona Lisa proper by da Vinci.

Think about it.

Tortured artists and beautiful losers

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (1889) by Vincent van Gogh

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, the purest version of the two ‘bandaged’ portraits.

Vincent van Gogh‘s two Self—Portraits with Bandaged Ear are the most perfect visual expression of the concept of the tortured artist, an artist who in this particular case literally in an act of self-torture cut off his own ear.

Van Gogh was a beautiful loser unacknowledged during his lifetime and posthumously rewarded with success.

One other painting in the category ‘existential angst’ comes to mind, the far more famous The Scream, depicting an artist tortured by existential angst.

Do not blindly accept all that your retina communicates to you

I’ve finally tracked down the primary sources of Marcel Duchamp‘s frequently cited disparagement of what he calls “retinal” art .

And I’d almost forgotten, but the best illustration to the antiretinal position of Duchamp is the eye and razor scene (above) from Un chien andalou, which I first posted back in 2007.

Also remarkable is the fact that Duchamp was actually not original when dissing “retinal painting” in the 1950s. In the 1912 pamphlet Du “Cubisme”, two hardline cubists, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, had already accused Courbet of having “accepted everything that his retina communicated to him, without intellectual control.”

See also: ocularcentrism and “The Disenchantment of the Eye: Surrealism and the Crisis of Ocularcentrism” by Martin Jay.

Ah … the ash heap of history, the memory hole … oblivion … silence

The sheet music you see above is one of these great moments in the history of art while no one was paying attention.

That is not quite true. People were paying attention but afterwards everyone forgot.

Ah, the ash heap of history, the memory holeoblivion.

But … What exactly are we looking at?

The first piece of silent music.

It’s called Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man and was first exhibited in 1884 in Paris by a man called Alphonse Allais who lived from 1854 to 1905.

The sheet music was later published in the album Album primo-avrilesque, a collection of monochrome paintings on which I reported back in 2007[1].

Being charmed and moved, isn’t that what it’s all about?

I have an aversion to Immanuel Kant, especially his aesthetics (that’s the only thing I actually know something about, I have to admit).

While in general I don’t ‘do’ negative criticism, I’m making an exception for the man from Köningsberg [the town where he was born and where he died and which he never left].

I first mentioned his incomprehensible concept of disinterestedness here[1].

Innocence (1893) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau: Both young children and lambs are symbols of innocence

Innocence (1893) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Today, while researching kitsch (most recently explored here[2]), I came upon another and similar of his dicta. This one warns us for charm and emotion in matters of taste:

“Any taste remains barbaric if its liking requires that charms and emotions be mingled in, let alone if it makes these the standard of its approval”.

I’m stumped.

Being charmed and moved, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Not for Kant it would appear.

And then I remembered one of my favorite definitions of aesthetics.

“Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses, cause sleepiness and induce boredom. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up.”

matter of life and death, so to speak.

 

True or not? Actors were once considered ‘professional liars’ and denied a Christian burial

Adrienne Lecouvreur as Cornelia  by Charles-Antoine Coypel

Too often I have been disappointed in trivia I had learnt as a teenager which I had for many years accepted as common knowledge, like the fact that eskimoes have an inordinate amount of words for the word ‘snow’, or the Victorians being prudish to the point that they covered their piano legs with embroidery to hide them from view.

Both the story of the snow and the piano legs turned out to be common misconceptions.

So I am pleased that what I had always accepted as fact, that actors were denied a Christian burial, does appear to be true.

Proof: French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692 – 1730) who was refused a Christian burial by the Catholic Church upon which her friend Voltaire wrote the caustic poem, “Sur la mort d’Adrienne Lecouvreur“.

Why were actors refused a Christian burial?

Because — according to them — an actor is a liar.

This goes back to Plato, who said that fiction is untruth and untruths are lies. And we should not tell our children lies if we do not want to corrupt them.

Following his reasoning, actors are actually professional liars

Illustration: Adrienne Lecouvreur as Cornelia by Charles-Antoine Coypel