Monthly Archives: January 2009

American comedian Andy Kaufman @60

Andy Kaufman performs Mighty Mouse

Click to view, hilarious!

In one of his first television appearances (on the premiere of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, October 11, 1975), Andy Kaufman lip-synched to the Mighty Mouse theme song (but only to the words “Here I come to save the day!”)

Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman (19491984) was an American entertainer and performance artist who refrained from telling jokes and engaging in comedy as it was traditionally understood; instead, he was a practitioner of anti-humor or dada absurdist performance art, referring to himself instead as a “song and dance man.”

Jim Carrey played Kaufman in Miloš Forman‘s 1999 film, Man on the Moon.

Outside of the United States he is best-known as Latka Gravas in the Taxi television sitcom.

RIP American painter Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009)

RIP Andrew Wyeth, 91, American painter

christina's world by rachelstyle

Christina’s World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth (July 12, 1917 – January 16, 2009) was an American figurative painter. He was one of the best-known of 20th century American art, referred to as the “Painter of the People” due to his popularity with the public, although he shares that title with Norman Rockwell. One of the best-known images in 20th century American art is Christina’s World (1948).

In the DVD extras to the film Tideland, an adaptation of Mitch Cullin‘s novel Tideland, director Terry Gilliam cites Christina’s World as an inspiration in setting the backdrop and mood for the movie. The same extras claim that Mitch Cullin was also inspired by this same painting.

Nighthawks(1942) by Edward Hopper

Wyeth is similar to Edward Hopper. Sholem Stein described Christina’s World as “Nighthawks for country folk”.

Art’s birthday, or, when someone dropped a dry sponge into a bucket of water

One Million Years B.C. (1967) – Don Chaffey [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Tomorrow is art’s birthday.

Filliou first proposed “Art’s Birthday” in 1963. He suggested that 1,000,000 years ago, there was no art. But one day, on January 17th to be precise, Art was born. Filliou says it happened when someone dropped a dry sponge into a bucket of water.


Robert Filliou

For the origins of art see Georges Bataille‘s Prehistoric Painting: Lascaux or the Birth of Art, One Million Years BC, cave painting and primitive art.

Avant-garde and kitsch in the early 21st century

Today is Clement Greenberg‘s centennial

Crying Boy (?) – Bruno Amadio

Best-known for his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch (1939) he is more of an author to acknowledge rather than to admire. His above mentioned Avant-Garde and Kitsch is one of the first texts to one finds when one researches the two extremeties of the artistic experience: avant-garde and kitsch. Two terms coined during the industrial revolution, the first in Paris, the second in Berlin.

Avant-Garde and Kitsch does not deliver. Much more interesting and related reading are The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Benjamin, 1936), Notes on Camp (Susan Sontag, 1964) and The Aporias of the Avant-Garde (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 1962). The intimate connection between avant-garde and popular culture was first celebrated in the 1990 exhibition High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture.

I have a separate entry on death of the avant-garde.

Combat de nègres dans une cave pendant la nuit

Negroes Fighting in a Cellar at Night predates Malevich’s, Black Square on a White Field by 31 years.

As a term avant-garde was replaced by experimental in the 1960s.

Clement Greenberg (19091994) was an American art critic closely associated with the abstract art movement in the United States. In particular, he promoted the Abstract Expressionist movement and had close ties with the painter Jackson Pollock. He is the author of Avant-Garde and Kitsch. Such was Greenberg’s influence as an art critic that Tom Wolfe in his 1975 book The Painted Word identified Greenberg as one of the “kings of cultureburg”, alongside Harold Rosenberg and Leo Steinberg. Wolfe contended that these critics influence was too great on the world of art.

He introduces his essay by juxtaposing forms of popular culture and high art:

“ONE AND THE SAME civilization produces simultaneously two such different things s a poem by T. S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song, or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover. All four are on the order of culture, and ostensibly, parts of the same culture and products of the same society. Here, however, their connection seems to end. A poem by Eliot and a poem by Eddie Guest — what perspective of culture is large enough to enable us to situate them in an enlightening relation to each other? Does the fact that a disparity such as this within the frame of a single cultural tradition, which is and has been taken for granted — does this fact indicate that the disparity is a part of the natural order of things? Or is it something entirely new, and particular to our age?”[1]

In the fourth paragraph he starts his defense of the avant-garde vs Alexandrianism (academicism).

“It is among the hopeful signs in the midst of the decay of our present society that we — some of us — have been unwilling to accept this last phase for our own culture. In seeking to go beyond Alexandrianism, a part of Western bourgeois society has produced something unheard of heretofore: — avant-garde culture. ”

Greenberg is a flawed writer. He uses scare quotes as clarification more than 30 times in this text.

His assessment of kitsch is shortsighted. He explicitly equates academic art with kitsch and vice versa. He is right to connote kitsch with the industrial revolution. Possibly he read The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction written three years earlier, which has the same kitsch/industrial revolution analysis but with much less of the judgementalness.

See also: cultural pessimism and elitism

Art’s Birthday

Fogos Copacabana 2009 - Fireworks over Copacabana 2009 by augusto.froehlich

Click for credits

The highbrow world is excited by “Art’s Birthday” which will take place in two days on January 17. “Art’s Birthday” is an annual event first proposed in 1963 by French artist Robert Filliou.

The lowbrow world already celebrated art’s birthday at midnight December 31 with the various fireworks. Talk about sumptuary excess. And synchronicity. Think about how many mouths can be fed with what went up the air. For entertainment. And yet I totally understand. I enjoy fireworks and consider them a primeval art.

I’ve previously posted[1] about sumptuary excess, expenditure and the general economy.

Filliou is co-responsible for: An Anecdoted Topography of Chance.

An Anecdoted Topography of Chance (1966) – Daniel Spoerri, Roland Topor
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Death by bisection or dismemberment (excluding decapitation)

The final frontier in cinephilia is silent cinema.

I just discovered Ménilmontant.


Opening scene of Ménilmontant (no intertitles, a flurry of quick close-up shots depicting an axe murder)

Ménilmontant (1926) is a silent film by Russian film director Dimitri Kirsanoff. His best-known work, it takes its name from the Paris neighborhood of the same name. The film is a silent, but does not contain any intertitles. It begins with a flurry of quick close-up shots depicting the axe murder (see death by bisection or dismemberment (excluding decapitation)) of the parents of the protagonists, two girls. As young women, they are portrayed by Nadia Sibirskaïa, Kirsanoff’s first wife, and Yolande Beaulieu; their mutual love interest is played by Guy Belmont. The film uses many other techniques that were relatively new at the time, including double exposure.

RIP Patrick McGoohan (1928 – 2009)

RIP Patrick McGoohan, 80, American-born Irish actor (The Prisoner, Braveheart)


The Prisoner

Patrick Joseph McGoohan (March 19, 1928 – January 13, 2009) was an Irish American actor who rose to fame in the British film and TV industry by starring in the 1960s television series Danger Man, cult classic The Prisoner and Mel Gibson‘s epic Braveheart. McGoohan wrote and directed several episodes of The Prisoner himself. He also had a part in David Cronenberg’s paranoiac Scanners as Dr. Paul Ruth, psychopharmacist.

Proudhon (Property is Theft!) @ 200

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon @200

Anarchy in Palermo by lulazzo [non vede, non sente, non parla]

Click for image credits

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon(18091865), who I mentioned here[1], was a French anarchist. He was the first individual to call himself an “anarchist” and is considered among the first anarchist thinkers. He was a workingman, a printer and autodidact. Proudhon is most famous for his assertion that “Property is theft!“, in What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government (original title: Qu’est-ce que la propriété? Recherche sur le principe du droit et du gouvernement), his first major work, published in 1840.

The book’s publication attracted the attention of the French authorities. It also attracted the scrutiny of Karl Marx, who started a correspondence with its author. The two influenced each other: they met in Paris while Marx was exiled there. Their friendship finally ended when Marx responded to Proudhon’s The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty with the provocatively titled The Poverty of Philosophy.

My fave quote of him I saw once written on several carriages of a train in Antwerp Central Station.

“To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.” (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon)

Durtal is fascinating.

Self portrait, 1885, oil on canvas, by Félix Vallotton

Imaginary portrait of Durtal (2009)

Durtal is fascinating.

Durtal is the name of the the recurring fictional character in J.-K. Huysmans‘s novel sequence Là-Bas, En route, La Cathédrale.

Norman Mailer appropriated Durtal to rewrite Là-Bas — a novel by Huysmans about the first documented serial killer and pratictioner of Satanism, Gilles de Rais — in Trial of the Warlock, a novelette I am currently reading in a Dutch version in the collection Playboy Stories: The Best of Forty Years of Short Fiction.

Joseph Losey @100

Joseph Losey @100


Famous seduction scene (with dripping water faucet and many Pinter pauses) of The Servant

Joseph Losey was an American theatre and film director (19091984). One-time student of Bertolt Brecht, his best-known film is The Servant (1963).

The Servant stars Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, and James Fox and was adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter (the first of his three collaborations with Losey, the others are Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1970)) from the novel of the same name by Robin Maugham. It is a tightly woven psychological drama that focuses on the relationships between the four central characters. The intricacies of class, servitude, ennui, role reversal and Pyrrhic victory are examined and exploded.

Each of the collaborations with Harold Pinter examined aspects of the British class system in their reflection of the master-servant relationship.

Outside of The Servant, I’ve seen The Go-Between (1970), The Prowler (1951) and Galileo (1975).

On my wishlist are: