Glenn Branca was an American composer and guitarist who debuted with Lesson No. 1 (above) on cult label 99 Records in 1980. His earlier music was performed in no wave bands of the late 1970s, namely The Static and Theoretical Girls.
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?
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.
This is another stumble story, by which I mean, me stumbling upon items in my encyclopedia.
I’ve been investigating the proto-avant-garde, and have identified its canon as 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).
Two of these works (Negroes and Funeral March) are about nothingness and the void. They are precursors — by decades — to Russian artist’s Kazimir Malevich monochromes and to American musician John Cage’s silent music.
Then I remembered French artist Yves Klein, another artist who worked with the void.
There is his Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility (1959) in which he sold empty space in exchange for gold (of which he threw away half in the Seine) and his photomontage Leap Into the Void (1960) in which he leaps from a wall seemingly on the pavement, but actually into the ‘void’.
- “while leaving the screening he had a minor heart attack.”
Why did he have a heart attack? Was it a coincidence?
But some (among whom Derek Jarman) have speculated that the heart attack was due to his “misrepresentation” in Mondo cane. Well, misrepresentation, one could almost say ridiculing; his Monotone Symphony, for example, was exchanged for a cheesy “More, More, More“-type soundtrack song from Mondo cane (while the orchestra was still seen playing) and the voice-over was anything but respectful for Klein’s exploits.
The documentary then draws attention to “Klein’s obsession with fame,” which “finally betrayed him.”
Obsession with fame …
I am reminded of Boris Vian, who also suffered a heart attack while screening the premiere of an adaptation of one of his novels. See the death of Boris Vian.
One last digression.
Watching this documentary, I heard Klein reciting perennial favorite Gaston Bachelard:
- “D’abord, il n’y a rien, ensuite un rien profond, puis une profondeur bleue.”
- “First, there is nothing, then there is deep nothing, then a blue depth.”
It’s from Air and Dreams, which I’ve yet to read.
That is not quite true. People were paying attention but afterwards everyone forgot.
But … What exactly are we looking at?
The first piece of silent music.
Earlier this summer, I leafed through Medieval Modern: Art out of Time, which finds precursors of modern art in medieval art.
Apparently vestiges of modern art can be found in ancient art too.
Illustration: The Unswept Floor(detail)
“[Sosos] laid at Pergamon what is called the asarotos oikos or ‘unswept room,’ because on the pavement was represented the debris of a meal, and those things which are normally swept away, as if they had been left there, made of small tessera of many colours.”
Making a mosaic floor with leftovers of food discarded from the table. How ‘modern’ is that?