Monday, July 31, 2006

Middelheim open air sculpture museum

What a museum ! and what nice album of photos taken by one Wim Herten with his new Finepix camera.

All of which was discovered while hunting down the work of Shin Hongo (listed somewhere as one of the prominent figure sculptors of postwar Japan)

I guess this exemplifies how my project is proceding: somebody in Japan makes a list of Japanese sculptures -- and I stumble accross a Dutchman who made a great set of photos from an Antwerp sculpture garden.

The Middelheim open air sculpture museum really interests me -- for that most self-centered of reasons that whoever curated it picked things things that I like
(from among a huge world full of things that I don't)

Apparently, most of this public collection was assembled in the 1950's -- and by the way, the above figure running through the trees was made by the Czech sculptor, Kurt Gebauer, born in 1941.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The success and failure of Polygnotos Vagis

This is what I would call the success of Polynotos Vagis (1892-1965)-- the Greek who came to New York at 17 --- served in the Navy --- went to art school -- and in 1923 came under the patronage of that great name in American modern art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. (above piece from 1938)

And this looks like a Rodin portrait (it's of the sculptor's grandfather) and it won him museum-world recognition at the beginning of his career in 1922.

Another nice piece from a year later -- still under the shadow of Rodin.

Bit what a difference a decade makes! Was this piece, from 1932, done by William Zorach ? It's right there in that dreamy social idealism of the New York Sculptors Guild. Very enjoyable -- I admire it -- and this might have been the high point of his career -- with a one-man show at the Brooklyn Museum.

And I enjoy this "Nereid" -- although this is where he begins to turn a corner -- that eventually leads to this:

(above piece is titled "Eagle with rabbit")

and -- gasp -- this:

So what happened ?

Maybe he got sick -- or depressed -- or homesick -- or lonely -- whatever --- I don't know --but I do think he got neglected over the last 25 years of his life. The artworld that had summoned and nurtured his talent -- during what I would call the golden age of American sculpture -- abandoned him -- and eventually he abandoned it -- and his new country -- sending his lifetime of work back to the Greek island of Thasos from which he came -- and on which a small museum currently maintains his legacy.

There were many expatriate Europeans who came to America and seemed to fit right in: Lachaise, Nadelman, Jennewein, Polasek, Maldarelli etc. But I suspect that as a Greek -- he might have felt pretty lonely in the world of high-culture in which he made his living.

(note: my interpretation of his life is almost the complete inverse of an essay published on his Greek musem's website here -- and it should be noted that the two rocks shown in the above image recently sold at auction at Sotheby's.
So maybe today he finally is being honored as a pioneer of "found objects" ?

I guess there's no accounting for taste.

(note: apparently, at one point, he had pieces in the permanent collection of the Met, the MOMA, the Whitney, the Brooklyn, and the Toledo museums of art -- but looking online -- none of them mention him on their sites. But still -- he's the only
Greek sculptor of the past century to have any kind of legacy on the internet.
Yiannoulis Halepa, Thanasis Aparti, Antonios Zohos, and Michalis Tobros are even more neglected than he is.)

Philippe de Champaigne

Here's my favorite painting from my visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum last week (which is not to say that it will be my favorite next time)

It's got that insane rationality that is such a wonderful feature of the Roman church -- so precise -- so logical -- and so nutty -- culminating in this utter confliction of the iconoclastic prophet/chieftain of the desert (Moses) being depicted as a French scholar/saint in his library.

There's that delightful sense of analysis: things being broken down into their constituent parts --- and then the parts being reassembled using the principles of structure that have been discovered.

(and I like that nod to the mistranslation of Moses being "horned" when he came down from the mountain. As you might recall -- Michelangelo gave Moses two real horns protruding from his skull -- while Philippe seems to be hedging his bets. His Moses could have horns -- or maybe just a saintly halo)

It's the high-level of orderliness that is so distinctive -- reaching down into the structures of appearance (light over skin over flesh over bone)and composing them into sweet, poignant chamber music --- that is so fine in the detail and so grand in overall effect. Can you really see this Moses leading an illiterate rabble of fleeing slaves accross the desert ? This is an intelligent, sensitive scholar of the 17th Century, pondering the great spiritual issues of his time.

And nobody does hands like Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)-- that delicate sense of fleshiness. These are hands for playing a musical instrument -- not for swinging a battle axe.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Joachim Karsch (1897-1945) - the other German sculpture

There's the German classicism of Adolph Von Hildebrand (and his better known protege, Georg Kolbe) -- but then there's the expressionism of Lehmbruch -- and the newly discovered (for me) Joachim Karsch.

When classicism goes bad -- it's stiff and boring -- but when expressionism goes bad, it's really bad -- it's creepy/ugly. So I think there's more of a risk involved -- and when successfull -- more of a thrill.

And I'm thrilled by Joachim Karsch ! Thanks, mostly, to his octagenarian son, Florian, who has a gallery that specializes in German expressionism - and who has photographed and catalogued his father's work. (Here's his website.)

I don't know if the above is supposed to be an Adam & Eve -- but that's how it works for me -- where the beauty of the their presence is not the beauty of a god or godess.

This is the kind of figure I'm always doing - and it's so nice to see a figure so alive -- in the moment.

This is the piece that first caught my attention -- pulled out of a book sometime last year -- and a bit more somber and medieval

This one has an interesting story: it's a portrait of the lecturer/novelist John Cowper Powys -- who seems to have been a kind of eccentric stoic-taoist Thoreau type whose writing greatly appealed to the sculptor -- who began a correspondance with him and did this portrait from photographs and imagination.

And this might be the place to note that most of Karsch's sculpture and writing was lost - along with his life -- following the Russian invasion that engulfed eastern Germany at the end of the war.

Something about the big sad head and the angular, stylized body really appeals to me -- I guess I'm just a Northern-European guy.

Something else to think about -- it doesn't look like Karsch was a modern art-star or making either public monuments or art-deco collectibles -- so I'm wondering just how much of an income he had from sculpture. Perhaps a family fortune made him financially independant.

This is an exciting period of my life -- every week I discover another sculptor that I really like. How many more are left to be discovered -- and how many more weeks have I got left?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bud Schreiner (1931-2006)

One of the benefits of working a record shop is meeting music lovers -- and Bud Schreiner was a lover of many things -- including Wagner, Italian opera, and liturgical Russian singing.

And he was also an artist-- or maybe art-bum is the better word -- i.e. one whose obsession with the visual arts precludes the pursuit of a middle-class career.

I enjoyed his good-natured banter -- the trips to his basement studio -- his collection of German drinking mugs, and some trips we made to a few local Russian churches to see the icons. But I especially enjoyed myself through his eyes. For some reason, he picked me out as a person to like -- and who am I to question his taste in friends ?

And now he's gone -- to wherever it is such souls end up going.

His drawing at the top depicts (if I recall correctly) the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Annunciation. He gave it to me several years ago -- and I guess I kept it for such a moment as this (although the time spent in my studio has not been kind to it)

It's got a lot of kick, doesn't it ? If the paintings in American churches had that much spirit -- who knows -- I might have joined one.

below is an obituary lifted from the Chicago Tribune -- telling me much more than I ever knew about this charming man
Henry Louis "Bud" Schreiner 1931-2006 Artist's talents spanned many fields

By Aamer Madhani
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 21, 2006

Bud Schreiner was the type of guy who was as comfortable strumming his banjo on his front porch as he was engaging his parish priest in a deep spiritual conversation.

His family recalled him as unusually gifted: Mr. Schreiner could boot a football 95 yards off a tee, paint portraits that mimicked the style of the Dutch artist Vermeer and sing Wagner and Verdi operas in a peerless tenor.

Henry Louis "Bud" Schreiner Jr., 74, a former pharmaceuticals salesman and alcohol-abuse counselor, died of complications from brain cancer Wednesday, July 12, at his home in Riverside.

Mr. Schreiner, who also painted commissioned portraits of local celebrities and tycoons, lived much of his life in the city's Edgewater neighborhood, where he was well known on his block for leading the neighborhood kids in singalongs of "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore." He was also a regular at the now shuttered Earl of Old Town, where he would play his banjo with other regulars at open-mike nights.

He was also remembered in his neighborhood for his ability to kick a football as far as many NFL place kickers, said his son Chris.

"He would bring an orange tee and five footballs and have us kids run the footballs back to him," his son said. "We loved it."

At one point, Mr. Schreiner had even attracted the attention of some NFL scouts, his son said.

Mr. Schreiner attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago as well as the Art Institute of Chicago. For many years, he painted commission portraits in the attic of his home, his son said. He also took a particular interest in painting religious-themed works, several which are on display at various Catholic churches in the city, his son said.

Mr. Schreiner was active in the St. Gertrude Catholic Parish choir and a member of the Chicago German Choir for many years.

He was married in 1957 to Therese Marie Indelli, with whom he had six children. They divorced, and he later married Judy Kohut.

His daughter Susan O'Toole-Corbett, said she was always impressed with how varied his talents were, but she was most struck by his ability to make each of his family members feel special.

She recalled a moment many years ago when her father took her and her other siblings to a toy store. She remembered eyeing a doll that she wanted, but she didn't ask for it because she knew her father couldn't afford it. Her father gave her a gift of a doll a few years ago, she said.

"He had remembered all those years that I wanted it," she said.

Other survivors include two more sons, Mark and Steven; two more daughters, Beth-Ann Born and Julie Gombas; a sister, Deloris Snyders;. 15 grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

Below is a eulogy written for the memorial service by Tom Murphy:

Bud and Tom at the Brookfield zoo

My name is Tom Murphy.
Many of you know me, but for those that don't, I've known Bud for over thirty years and been his friend. .
Judy reminded me that Bud and I met one another on the steps of St. Gertrudes. I have a hard time remembering that detail in that the Church and I didn't have much to say to one another in those days.
There was a whole lot of spectacular bad behavior back then, so I might have been atoning for some.
Bud, I came to learn, was a most devout Church goer.
I preferred relying on last minute repentance and God's infinite forgiveness. So I rarely made it past the front door.
As it turns out, Bud and I shared some very hard challenges in those early years, and I must say that I doubt I could have overcome them without his support.
Yet difficult times can fuse a closeness if they're shared.
Thus, a friendship...a kinship was formed and has lasted all these years.
Its said: "Two may talk together under the same roof for many years, but really never meet; and two others at first speech are. old friends."
So here's two guys from the neighborhood...close to' the same age with different backgrounds...different public lives. Some shared opinions...many divergent thoughts. One profoundly religious...the other hopelessly sinful and unrepentant. But we shared a common sense of humor and would often recount that it was this that saved us from ourselves.
, .
But we liked to talk...and talk we did for over thirty years with only a few interruptions. Once when I moved out of state for a short time and another time when we were angry at one another over an issue I can't recall. That's how important it was. Whatever that issue was, it wasn't as important as listening to the sounds of our own voices.
So the sound machine was turned on again.
He would talk of the sadness he felt at people's lack of kindness and civility and wondered why. It bothered him a lot.
He would talk of the Church and its never ending battle with the Vatican. He would insist that Chicago politics will never be cleaned up.
Both of us hopeless Cub fans, he would wonder if they would ever win the World Series in his lifetime. Sorry Bud...but not in my lifetime either.
And so we went on talking and then talked some more. Never at a loss for an opinion...either one of us.
Myself and my opinions in simple declarations...rarely a compound sentence.
Bud, on the other hand, expressed everything in metaphor. Not to intentionally confuse me, but rather to force me to think of the subject a little more deeply...more completely.
There's a picture up front here that is accurate in every detail. It says it all. If it had a caption it would be me saying: "Bud, I don't know what you're talking about." And if there was a following frame it would be Bud patiently connecting all the dots for me and explaining what he meant to my creatively challenged mind.
So Bud was multi-dimensional in his understanding of what life was all about. He expressed thoughts using historical, mystical and pop culture references. It seemed perfectly reasonable to contrast Dusty Baker and his Cubs to Moses and his followers wandering the desert. It just wasn't enough to know that they stunk up the place and didn't have a lead-off man. It was required that I appreciate the cultural and symbolic dynamic of why they're so lousy.
And so our conversations were trips...journeys really. Bud at a steady conversational pace weaving his stumbling along side trying hard to keep up. It was hard work...but worth it.
As I came to know Bud over the many years, I began to understand that his negotiations with his work, his family and with life itself straddled several universes at once. Of course there was his art. His painting and sculpture...all evoking a feel for another age and another time. But all with the loving detail and craft that was his life.
Judy, his children, his friends...all benefited from his appreciation for this detail for life. Bud would worry about them. Become frustrated with them. Boast of their accomplishments. Become heartbroken for them and then laugh with them.
But most of all he loved them with the care and attention only he could bring them. "
His family, his friends, all that he loved were his working canvas.

Sanctifying your memory would be to miss out on the core of your being. Your mischievous sense of humor...your wit and creative talent, always
probing and. looking for answers..Your humility and your desire to do good for others as a release from your misplaced feelings of unworthiness.
To Eulogize: a formal speech of high praise for someone who's passed away.
I know few people who had more to give all of us and did...than Bud.
His love and good humor...his loyalty and simple courage...and because of his genuine humility would be squirming in the pew were he with us today. I give thanks for his life and I'm proud to call him friend.
Bud told me several weeks before his death that I shouldn't worry...that he . wouldn't stop talking to me...ever. I told him that was OK by me as long as he didn't leap out of a dark closet. He grinned and found that amusing. I did too.
One of his girls told me a few weeks ago that in spite of her sadness over
her father, it gave her some comfort to know that he would be welcomed by a deceased loved one when his journey was over.
I too have a vision that Bud has already located a park bench for us and,
whenever my time comes, we can take up those great conversations where we left off. .

No heavenly golden robes or harps. Just a whole lot of great talk. Some serious...some profound...some just silly. That thought gives me comfort.
I'm reminded of a verse that Bud could have written:
"In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation; past
walls that receded and gates that opened, through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment-the dwelling place of souls acquainted with light and warmth-until around me was an infinity into which we all flowed together and lived again."
What we have deeply loved
we can never lose.
For all we love deeply
Becomes a part of us.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Frederick Layton

Frederick Layton, depicted above by Eastman Johnson in 1893, was a Milwaukee meatpacker who used his fortune to start an art museum based on his own taste - which for his time, was mainstream European: he liked the skillful depiction of engaging narrative -- and he had no use for the avant-garde of his day -- the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists whose work fills every other American museum today.

Here's a good example of what he liked -- by one August Johann Holmberg (1851-1921),a name that no one but the specialist will recognize today.

But, still, I think he was quite a painter -- undertaking that most perverse of 19th Century themes: the pampered lives of fussy old clergy -- and delivering a sensual feast of aging flesh and exquisite art objects

And he collected that epitome of Second-Empire decadance -- that dreaded anti-hero of the stuffy old academy: William Bouguereau -- with this classic depiction of the Blind Homer.

Everyone who has ever taken an art history class in the past 80 years knows how really, really bad this artist is -- but he's so bad -- that it's nearly impossible to see any of his major work in museums.

Well, this one probably qualifies as a major work -- but I have to admit -- I'm siding with the majority here -- for me, it's visuality is joyless -- and it's narrative trivializes the subject by making a barking dog the center of attention. Don't dogs bark at every stranger ? It's as banal and dumb as Sunday-school illustrations -- and the only good thing that could be said for it is -- it's a very good painting of somebody's dog.

There was also a dreamy female by Lord Leighton -- but being covered with glass -- it could not be photographed through the reflections.

This Alma-Tadema Roman fantasy was more enjoyable however -- especially for anyone who's had to conjugate Latin verbs -- and spent hours in dusty classrooms dreaming about life in the age of Caesar.

It's not great -- it makes me wish that Tintoretto had painted it instead

-- but I'm so hungry for visions of ancient Rome -- this one will suffice

-- and how can I not like the subject matter: a collector showing his friends the statue he just bought.

But the piece-de-resistance of the Layton collection -- at least for me -- was "The Old Stagecoach" of 1871 by Eastman Johnson.

There appear to be copies of this painting in other museums --- so I'm guessing that it was a big hit in its time -- and it certainly is a hit with me -- with that ecstatic light-heartedness of an American boyhood (was this lifted from Bingham's "Jolly Flatboatmen" of 1846 ?)

I like the goofy kids playing horses -- I like the girl carrying a basket of treats -- I like the smaller girl trying to get her to slow down -- I like the warm,harvesty colors

It's triumphant -- the triumph of youth -- and even as it ages, fades, and eventually dies -- its goofy, manic, artless, inarticulate energy -- is always triumphant -- while the coach and its riders are going nowhere -- just round and round in the great cycle of birth and death.

Hurrah to Eastman Johnson -- and hurrah to the meatpacker from Milwaukee who loved paintings.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Calatrava in Milwaukee

Finally drove up to see the new Calatrava sculpture in Milwaukee (which also serves as the entry hall to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Is it a building ? -- or a ship that's been driven aground ?

I love to look out from the bridge of a great ship -- with the light pouring in from the windows -- and see nothing but sea and sky

Maybe it's less a sea-ship, and more of a star-ship --- patiently waiting for other space birds from distant galaxies to roost beside it.

Here we are - looking down the spine of the great beast - (and that's Beth having fun on the field trip)

The long hallway to the museum entrance also serves as a sculpture court -- with regularly spaced niches along the wall -- each with its own skylight - but not really enough light - so multiple spotlites are needed as well.

Fun for a first-time visitor ? --- Definately
Civic show-piece ? -- Yes - for now.
Beautiful like a fancy yacht -- definately
But beautiful like a French cathedral ? --- I --- don't --- think ---- so.

Remember when we used to have World's Fairs ? That's where it belongs -- or maybe in the "Future World" area of Disneyland. (The Calatrava structure includes an auditorium -- and as we stood in its vast emptyness, I flash-backed to the space-travel ride in the old Disneyland -- where the seats vibrated to simulate take-off -- and the star-clustered universe was projected on the screen in front. I liked "Future World" back then - c. 1957 -- but I really preferred the Pirate Ship)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Francois Brochet

Here's another discovery: Francois Brochet (born 1925) -- the pride of Auxerre --and a what a daring/thrilling thing: to put life-size polychrome wood sculptures into a French cathedral (or maybe it's only a chapel)

These pieces are very elegant/simple/expressive/linear --- in that great French tradition that runs from the Romanesque up through Matisse -- and that doesn't really seem to be shared by any other European country.

He also does -- what would you call them -- genre figures of ordinary people ? -- and I like these too.

But I'm not sure that his abilities are appropriate for nudes -- that seem to belong to a different artworld

He's also a painter..

and a graphic designer -- and if not a virtuoso in any of his media -- I certainly wish that the rest of 20th C. French art had joined him in looking for what is enjoyable and beautiful in life.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Robert Berks: Linnaeus

What a fun discovery ! There, at the end of our day at the Chicago Botanical Garden, we stumbled upon a genuine grotesque emerging from the trees and shrubs.

This thing is huge -- rough -- and monstrous -- just like those terrible giants that lurk in grottos in Italy -- fitting in scale and texture for its natural surroundings.

And quite appropriate, I think , for its subject, Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who established a method of naming all the plants that ever have, and ever will, be found by botanists just like this one -- who wander through the wild muck to find something that no one has ever found before.

I'd seen photos of this sculptor's (Robert Berks) work before -- specifically his equally monstrous Albert Einstein, and was appalled more than impressed.

But in person -- in this setting -- this piece captured and rewarded my attention.

And look at this face -- it's sensitive and intelligent -- just what I would want to see on a creature that size stumbling out of the woods.

From some back views -- this piece just seems to be a jumble of big rotten logs

But that's alright -- that's what you expect to find in the woods -- rotten old logs -- or moss encrusted rocks.

It feels like junk - but junk that grew, not junk that was left behind.

It's very different from the kind of sculpture that I usually like -- there's no way that Robert Berks is ever going to model a beautiful young nude -- and I'm also not sure that his work belongs within the rectangular, refined spaces of an interior.

But out in the sun -- among the things that grow and scurry -- yes, this is where it belongs (and I guess I also like the idea of great scientists as monsters )

Subsequent to posting the above, the noble Sir Gawain has shown me two more statues of Linneaus -- the first from his home town, Lund, and the second by the American sculptor, Rosalind Cook

Not having seen either one -- I think I'll withold judgement -- except to note that I wouldn't incude either one of these photos on my sculpture website.