Monthly Archives: January 2007

Truth in nakedness

Nuda Veritas (1899) – Gustav Klimt

“Klimt certainly wasn’t the first to paint naked women,” Ruiz says. “But he also showed pubic hair, pregnant bellies, and old men and women with sagging flesh — nuda veritas! –Ruiz via [1]

..“What is interesting about Klimt (played here by John Malkovich) is that in the short space of a lifetime, he evolved from a Raphael to a Van Gogh. In Romania, where he got his first big job — and his first syphilis — he was a painter of the court, like Velazquez. Then he moved on to the painter of the Austrian Empire, paid by the state. Then he broke away and got commissions from Vienna’s Jewish bourgeoisie and became a painter of the wealthy. Toward the end, he just painted for himself. So he became rich, but he was also generous and died without money. Too many children to support!” –Ruiz via [1]

Apparently, what shocked the Viennese bourgeoisie in the 1899 oil painting Nuda Veritas is the depiction of pubic hair. Pubic hair marks the dividing line between a Venus and a Nini (see previous post), and continues to have the power to shock in the present age. I can’t be mournful about that because if there were a world where nothing were shocking, a world where a sense of the forbidden were gone, wouldn’t that be a bore?

Klimt vs. Loos

“All art is erotic”, declared Adolf Loos in “Ornament and Crime“. Long before Expressionism and Surrealism were credited with displaying sexuality openly in art, Klimt made it his creed, and it became the leitmotif of his work. –Gilles Néret, 1993

“”The first ornament that was ever born, the cross, was erotic in origin. The first work of art, the first artistic deed which the first artist smeared on the wall in order to work off his excess. A horizontal line: recumbent woman. A vertical line: man penetrating her … But man of our time, following an inner compulsion to smear the walls with erotic symbols, is criminal or degenerate … Since ornament is no longer a coherent organic part of our culture, it can no longer be an expression of our culture.” Thus wrote Adolf Loos in his article “Ornament and Crime”, which begins with the famous sentence: “All art is erotic”. The intention behind the article was to stigmatise the “erotic insalubrity” of Klimt and the other artists of the Wienner Werkstätten.” –Gilles Néret, 1993

Of niceness and nastiness

In search of Kant’s theory of taste, I bid you good night with this tune.

We can sum things up like this: judgments of taste occupy a mid-point between judgments of niceness and nastiness, and empirical judgments about the external world. Judgments of taste are like empirical judgments in that they have universal validity; but, they are unlike empirical judgment in that they are made on the basis of an inner response. Conversely, judgments of taste are like judgments of niceness or nastiness in that they are made on the basis of an inner subjective response or experience; but they are unlike judgments of niceness and nastiness which makess no claim to universal validity. To cut the distinctions the other way: in respect of normativity, judgments of taste are like empirical judgments and unlike judgments of niceness or nastiness; but in respect of subjectivity, judgments of taste are unlike empirical judgments and like judgments of niceness or nastiness. So we have three-fold division: empirical judgments, judgments of taste, and judgments of niceness or nastiness. And judgments of taste have the two points of similarity and dissimilarity on each side just noted.

However, our hope thus far has been merely to get a little clearer about what it is that is under scrutiny in this debate. Once we are armed with a modest account of what a judgment of taste is, we can then proceed to more ambitious questions about whether or not judgments of taste represent real properties of beauty and ugliness. We can even consider whether or not our whole practice of making judgments of taste is defective and should be jettisoned. But first things first. — Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Coolness and reserve mark this lady

Coolness and reserve mark this lady, while not yet a femme fatale, but as one of Freud’s castrating women. –Gilles Néret, 1993

Madame Heymann (c. 1894) – Gustav Klimt

Upon display Medicine was immediately attacked by critics who disagreed with the theme of the powerlessness of medicine in a time when Vienna was leading the world in medical research. The painting was also under the normal attack of pornography which Klimt often faced. A public prosecutor was called in and the issue even reached parliament, the first time that a cultural debate had ever been raised there, but in the end no action was taken. Only the education minister defended him, and when he was elected to be a professor at the academy in 1901 the government refused to ratify it. He was never offered another teaching position. [1]

Medicine (1907) – Gustav Klimt

I’ve been reading Gilles Néret’s 1993 Klimt study for Taschen. Since I am partial towards the human interest factor in art criticism I was a bit disappointed by the lack thereof. Otherwise the study is excellent.

Especially since his work is infused with the tropes of male castration anxiety and the femme fatale, I find it astonishing that little is mentioned on his personal life. Néret’s work reminds me of the shift in an erotic sensibility that Mario Praz describes in Romantic Agony, the shift from female masochism towards male masochism that occurred somewhere in mid-19th century.

In fact searching for Klimt’s personal life only brings up one page:

Though the book touches only lightly on Klimt’s personal life, the scandalous nature of his work, his illegitimate children and the haremlike working conditions of his studio, it provides a detailed portrait of the changes and inconsistencies that defined Vienna at the time, when Secessionist principles of freedom from artistic judgment met simultaneous demands for high standards and the “parallel pursuit of collectivity and individuality.” –quoted from a review of Rainer Metzger’s Gustav Klimt.

Perhaps the 2006 film Klimt starring John Malkovich would provide answers to my questions. This biopic was directed by Raoul Ruiz (Time Regained, 1999) .

Aha! Here is quite a bit on Klimt’s personal life:

He remained a bachelor and was being obviously terrified by the thought of entering into a permanent relationship; his attitude to women was highly ambivalent. For many years, Emilie Flöge (played here by Veronica Ferres), whose sister Helene had married Klimt’s brother Ernst, was his companion and he felt a deep affection for her; nevertheless the relationship is assumed to have been purely platonic. His desire was aroused by the sweet Viennese girls from the suburbs who were neither intelligent nor self-assured, by the many models who were his companions for short periods. The fact that he did not disdain sexual love is evidenced by the great number of his illegitimate children. There are records which establish that he had at least 14 children. It is true that he spent many summers with Emilie Flöge and her family in her house at Kammer on the Attersee, but she remained the woman he always worshipped from afar and only called to his deathbed.

On the Venus vs the Nini:

Néret’s book on the art of Gustav Klimt (1993) differentiates between two types of nudes and calls them Venus and Nini. His argument revolves around artistic pretexts:

In Plato’s “Symposium” one encounters two types of Venus, the celestial and the vulgar. Renoir makes the same distinction: “Naked woman rises either from the sea or from the bed; she is called Venus or Nini, there is no better name for her…” The academic, idealised nude is applauded by society, particularly when a historical message can be discerned, but an everyday naked woman ready for love causes a scandal. Before Klimt, Edouard Manet’s Olympia had aroused hatred and criticism. She likewise was a Nini — like the courtesan on the next street corner — rather than a Venus in the style of Titian’s idealised mistresses, disguised as mythical goddesses. Neither in Manet’s Olympia nor in Klimt’s Vienna was it permissible for such idols to be drawn from life.

Cavern MP3

Via Andrew at gmtPlus9 (-15) comes an MP3 of “Cavern” (from the Optimo EP, 99 Records 1983 .mp3 audio 05:20), a track by Liquid Liquid. See also here, where I explore the sample history of the track. Dennis Young recently sent me his latest CD Shadow, a radical break in style with his early eighties work with Liquid Liquid. Shadow has bits reminiscent of singer songwriter Tom Waits and post-punkers Echo and the Bunnymen. 

Dennis Young on Shadow:

“All of the songs were written around my acoustic guitar & vocals. Most of the songs have a dark rustic quality with the addition of violin, bowed dulcimer, accordion, electric & bass guitars, & various percussion instruments to enhance the mood of the songs. Special thanks to Tom DeStefano & Kevin Booth of “Firedog Studios” for the great job of mixing & production. Also, special thanks to the other thirteen musicians including David Axelrod, Jon Francis, Stephan Eicher, & Sal Principato to name a few. “



Gilles Néret (1933 – 2005)

In answer to my recently asked question regarding the publishers of 20th century counterculture Taschen came to mind, an international publishing powerhouse with its roots in 1980s Germany. Taschen started out by publishing Benedikt Taschen’s extensive comic book collection and then basically conquered the world with its ‘coffeetablishness’.

Taschen is the best alternative to countless hours of internet browsing and a much better reading experience than the web itself, but buying the books remains more expensive than the internet.

Taschen also illustrates the lack of political subversion in contemporary culture. Countercultural publishers such as Grove in the 1960s also published pamphlet-like tracts. Taschen does not have a politics section; however I like to think that Benedikt and Laure have opinionated views on these matters.

Disco D commits suicide

Word has just got in that hip hop producer Disco D has taken his life at only 26. Always sad, this kind of news. Here is one of his productions for 50 Cent. Shayman fought manic-depression for much of his adult life.

Dave Shayman (aka Disco D) was found dead this morning of an apparent suicide. He was 26 years old.

The Michigan-bred, New York-based producer—who was best known for his work with 50 Cent — began his career at the age of 16 in the college town of Ann Arbor, MI. Having discovered the then unnamed Detroit ghettotech scene via artists such as DJ Assault and DJ Godfather, the still in high school Shayman dove head first into the music scene, scoring his first residency at age 17, at Ann Arbor’s The Blind Pig before he could even legally enter the venue. He began releasing music soon after signing his first record deal before graduation with Bad Boy Bill’s Muzik/Mixconnection label. —

That the eleven thousand virgins punish me if I lie

“If I had you in bed with me, twenty times in a row I would prove my passion to you. That the eleven thousand virgins punish me if I lie.”

The Eleven Thousand Rods (1907) – Guillaume Apollinaire
[FR] [DE] [UK]

The Eleven Thousand Rods (French: Les Onze Milles Verges) is a 1907 erotic novel by Apollinaire. The title is a pun on the legend of Saint Ursula and her eleven thousand handmaidens. The pun works better in French where vierge means virgin and verge means rod. The painting on the cover of the French edition shown above looks like something by Ingres, but is it?

It is my honour to declare war on you

In search of the editors of surrealism

Eric Losfeld (photocredit unidentified)

Eric Losfeld gives a good indication of his surrealist approach to life early in his memoirs. When on his military service in the 1930’s, he writes to Adolf Hitler:

“Sir, I am a Belgian soldier who is bored in a garrison in a city called Namur. I hold you personally responsible for this. Subsequently it is my honour to declare war on you”. [translation mine]

There is no record of what reply, if any, was received from Berlin . –Patrick J. Kearney via here.

When Kearney refers to Losfeld’s memoirs, he must be quoting from Losfeld’s autobiography Endetté comme une mule: Ou, La Passion d’éditer (1979) which costs a prohibitive amount of money at, is unavailable at [FR],and costs even more at [UK], so if anyone knows how to read this cheaply, please let me know. BTW, the title roughly translates as — please correct me if I get this wrong: Indebted for life, or, the passion for publishing.

Entirely off-topic: this and this is dedicated to my girls.