Across Israel, Meir Panim responds to the growing needs of the country’s 1.75 million impoverished residents through various food and social service programs.
Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936
October 1, 2010-January 9, 2011
Guggenheim, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
“By breaking statues one risks turning into one oneself,” says a caption in Jean Cocteau’s 1930 film, “The Blood of a Poet.” The statement could be a postmodern take on Psalm 115, which declares that those who make idols (which have mouths but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, noses but cannot smell, hands but cannot feel and feet but cannot walk), “shall become like them, all that place their faith in them.”
Like the legendary Greek sculptor Pygmalion, who fell in love with his sculpture-turned-woman, the artist in Cocteau’s film sees both a drawing and a sculpture of his become flesh and blood. After fleeing some traumatic and surreal visions, including a journey through a mirror and a lethal snowball fight, the artist destroys (and murders?) the sculpture. Yet his iconoclasm, as the statements above suggests, might be an act of projection and identification, rather than violence and disassociation.
The work is worth comparing to Julius Bissier’s 1928 painting, “Sculptor with Self-Portrait.” The artist, wearing a suit and tie, gray-white overcoat and beret, holds a scalpel in one hand and a chunk of clay in the other as he carves a self-portrait bust that stands on a table in the foreground. A note pinned to the wall beyond his left shoulder is Bissier’s signature, and a shelf to the left of the painting supports a quill and ink.
“Although Bissier’s surreal, double image, with its bright palette and cartoonlike formal exaggeration, could never be mistaken for anything but a modern picture, its roots go deep into the local past,” argues Kenneth E. Silver in his essay “A More Durable Self,” which identifies Bissier’s work with the portraits of the 16th century German portraitist and printmaker, Hans Holbein. Silver also cites the term “modernity of the past,” coined by Katia Baudin of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, which he explains as, “the sudden but powerful attraction that German art history exerted on practitioners in the 1920s.”
Jean Cocteau. The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d’un po?te), 1930. 35 mm black-and-white film,
with sound, 50 min. Film still by Sacha Masour. Courtesy Comit? Jean Cocteau.
It is almost a clich? at this point to ask how interbellum Germany, then on the forefront of virtually every cultural sphere, could embrace Hitler and Nazism. Why didn’t Berlin’s painterly and operatic sensibilities, the question goes, elevate the German moral sense, and if, as Oscar Wilde famously claimed, art and morality are not kin, what good is an art that cannot only accommodate genocide, but even style it? Perhaps this is how Theodor Adorno came to argue, “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”
The brilliance of the Guggenheim’s current exhibit, Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936, which includes both Bissier’s and Cocteau’s works, is that it goes one step beyond the hackneyed question.
Instead of looking to indict art for the sins of dictators (though art has often played the role of propaganda, never more thoroughly than Hitler used it), guest curator Silver, professor of modern art at New York University, looks to the art of the period between the world wars, in part, to see how artists responded to the devastation of the First World War and to scout out the cultural forces that facilitated the rise to power of dictators in the Second World War.
Antonio Donghi. Circus (Circo equestre), 1927. Oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm.
Gerolamo and Roberta Etro, Milan.
Artists of the 20s and 30s, according to Silver, sought to replace the chaos of the First World War with classicism – a revival (called the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity) of the Greco-Roman emphasis on the monumental and the holistic. Like the Genesis narrative where God fashions the cosmos out of tohu and vohu, artists literally seem to have tried to create substance out of bedlam. But purity of forms quickly became a double-edged paintbrush when it became incorporated into the Nazi agenda of using approaches like eugenics to privilege Aryanism over the “Other.”
Although Silver stresses that the artist and the sculpture in Bissier’s work seemingly “insist on the equal status of painting and sculpture, if not the latter’s superiority,” there is one important difference between the two. Bissier has dabbed two white strokes on the artist’s face – one per eye – an old trick that lends the eyes the illusion of texture and three-dimensionality. The sculpture, by comparison, lacks those glimmers in its eyes, making it very clear which is the master and which is made of clay.
The same can be said of Cocteau’s artist and sculpture. Although both have the power of movement, it is clear that there is a difference between the person and the sculpture, however animated it may be. This distinction between human (with all the rights and value implied therein) and non-human, between person and miming puppet, was of course to become a far larger and more terrifying issue with the Nazis’ rise to power.
Otto Dix. Skin Graft (Transplantation) from The War (Der Krieg), 1924.
Etching, aquatint, and drypoint from a portfolio of prints, plate: 19.9 x 14.7 cm; sheet: 47 x 34.6 cm
Published by Karl Nierendorf, Berlin, printed by Otto Felsing, Berlin. Edition of 70.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The Guggenheim exhibit tells of that rise from Joseph Goebbels’ 1936 Decree Concerning Art Criticism (which essentially forbade it) to the closing of the Bauhaus school and the condemning of its art to the Degenerate Art exhibits. The exhibit also addresses Albert Janesch’s painting “Water Sports (Wassersport),” which depicts the 1936 Berlin Olympics and shows “a veritable navy of superhuman Nazi athletes,” according to Silver, as well as Leni Riefenstahl’s 1936-8 “Olympia,” a film about the Olympic games, which Silver says was “financed secretly by the Nazi government to serve as international propaganda for the regime.”
But perhaps the most interesting work in the show is Carlo Carra’s “The Daughters of Lot (Le figlie di Loth)” (1919), which shows Lot’s two daughters and a dog (a symbol of fidelity) set in a mostly desolate landscape. Having fled the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with their father, the two women decide that they are the sole survivors of the apocalypse and that it is their responsibility to get their dad intoxicated and to begin repopulating the planet.
“A tale that resonated during postwar reconstruction, the Old Testament story of Lot refers to a new beginning,” writes Guggenheim curator Helen Hsu in the catalog. “In Carra’s unconventional representation, Lot is eliminated and with him the act of incest, although the staff lying in the foreground may be a cipher for the missing father.”
Hsu doesn’t mention it, but it would be fascinating if Carra intended the pedestal and white sculpture on the right to be a pillar of salt – and then not only the father, but also the mother would be symbolized. Either way, the Lot painting serves as a great representation of the interbellum period not only because Carra has censored the obscenity, but also because the women are wrong. Though their trauma seems universal, it is simply local, and life does indeed carry on. Perhaps Carra has referenced that in the classical structure (perhaps a temple) in the background amidst the hills and the foliage.
Carra couldn’t have predicted World War Two completely, but he certainly knew to create the perfect balance between hope and fear, creation and destruction.
About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Everyone is always looking for cute yet simple and inexpensive ideas to enhance their table at special occasions. Here are some attractive ways to create that festive look. Whether you use china or plastic, your guests will surely be delighted with your charming setup.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a chavrusa working with you, guiding and helping you in your work environment?
What made an M.I.T. scholarship student, taking time off from his doctorate in medicine, to backpack, and then decide to backtrack, chuck it all… and get a haircut? Perhaps it is easier to understand a Harvard law student becoming enamored with the logic of Gemara and settling down to struggle with the intellectual challenges of Aramaic acrobatics.
JetBlue flew an empty aircraft from Boston to JFK to assist us. The care and concern of the flight attendants was amazing. They were astounded by our group, so much so that at the end of the flight, the captain related for all to hear that he was truly impressed by the care that the HASC counselors provided for the special-needs campers – all of whom have physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. We did our best to demonstrate a true kiddush Hashem.
Q: What does twice exceptional or 2e mean?
The battle over partnership minyans is just the latest scuffle in the war over women’s roles in the Orthodox community.
Last month’s column outlined some efforts during the first half of the nineteenth century to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in America. In only one case was a colony actually established.
According to Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar, “Gifts for the poor [matanot l’evyonim] deserve more attention than the seudah and mishloach manot because there is no greater, richer happiness than bringing joy to the hearts of needy people, orphans, widows and proselytes.”
Having everyone home on a snow day can be a lot of fun – the first few times it happens. Once snow day number six hits, perhaps not so much and the real creativity has to come out.
Imich was born in 1903 in Poland, where he later earned his Ph.D. in 1927, despite the best efforts of anti-Semitic professors to sabotage his thesis
Never sacrifice the people who matter for anything of lesser importance…
Hannah believed that one must learn about the evils of the past so that they aren’t repeated.
The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”
It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.
One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)
Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.
It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.
Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.
The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?
Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/interbellum-art/2010/11/17/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online:
No related posts.