Saturday, January 29, 2011

Arvid Kallstrom

What a fine public monument by
Arvid Kallstrom (1893-1967).

This figure seems so
cheerful and sophisticated.

If he were a banker
he would definately
give you the loan.

And how well it sits
the building behind it.

a well-ordered
but compassionate

But also a society
where people
like to run around
with their clothes off.

They seem so comfortable
out there in the front yard.

Scandinavian countries
are just a little more comfortable
with nudity
than us North Americans.

They're cheerful about it.

And Kallstrom
comfortably moves among
a variety
of styles

What a delightful head!

But mostly
he just likes to play.

And I suppose that's why
everything he does
feels so enjoyable.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beauford Delaney

Self Portrait, 1944

This current show
at the National Portrait Gallery
included this portrait
by Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)

that led me to discover
the above self portrait
in the collection
of the Art Institute of Chicago

So, I had to
run down to the loop
and take a look at it
this weekend.

It's so much more lively in person!

(which again makes one question
why the museum doesn't present
larger reproductions on its website)

As a throwback to the Post-Impressionism
of Cezanne and Van Gogh,
as well as an African American,
Delaney barely scraped by
in his career as an artist
during his lifetime.

There's a lot of angst here,
just barely kept under control.

But it is kept under control
and so the tension
is enjoyable.

As it is with the great
jazz musicians of his time.

Doesn't he remind you
of Thelonious Monk?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

Portrait of Frank O'Hara
by Alice Neel (1960)

Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

is an exhibit
currently running
at the National Portrait Gallery

and since that institution
ultimately reports
to a Congressional Committee
it is more sensitive
to political pressure
than privately owned museums.

Which has led to the controversy
so thoroughly covered by
The Washington Post

On November 30
the director of the Smithsonian
G. Wayne Clough
a David Wojnarowicz video
that included a brief scene of ants
crawling over a crucifix
after the
Catholic League
asserted that it was
"designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians"

While a defender of the piece asserts

"the artist's own hopes that the passage would speak to the suffering of his dead friend"


"it is smack in the middle of the great tradition of using images of
Christ to speak about the suffering of all mankind -- a long, respectable history of showing hideously grisly images of Jesus"

Romaine Brooks
self portrait, 1923

While judging from the short segment
linked above,
the video is a mangled cry of
despair, disgust, and anger
that's not worth any speculation at all.

But I think that all sides will agree
that the interpretion of the piece
is far less important
than the principle
of whether anyone
besides the curator
can have anything removed from the wall
of a national art museum.

As Philip Kennicott, cultural critic
of the Washington post,

"The modern museum has evolved from a straightforward display of power - this is Culture, so genuflect, ye masses - to a paradoxical place where old forms of power and discipline are harnessed to create new kinds of debate and criticism.

Museums are still supported by the wealthy and privileged, who generally acquiesce to exhibitions that aim at inclusion and diversity. The government, if it gives money, indicates its support for cultural projects while (ideally) declining to dictate message or terms to the institution. Scholarship and science still reign (or they should) but are filtered through new technologies and directed at increasingly diverse subject matter.......

The removal of the video was a tiny gesture of exclusion meant to thwart the powerful march of democratic openness that museums in general, and this exhibition in particular, exemplify."

But how do "scholarship and science"
what gets shown
in an art museum?

How much of that determination
is based upon facts and argument
upon which
every reasonable person can agree?

And how much is based upon
the trends
that come and go
within the academic Humanities?

As a civil engineer,
G. Wayne Clough
is something of an outsider
to that branch of academia,
so it's not surprising
that he had no interest
in defending either the piece
the academic authority
that validated it.

And though politics
(here and everywhere,
liberal and conservative)
plays to ignorance and passionate folly,
it remains the only channel
for outsiders to participate
in the cultural institutions
that are supposed to serve them.

Beauford Delaney
portrait of James Baldwin, 1963

And I think
a national portrait gallery
could better serve
our nation.

In this exhibit,
for example,
a third of all the paintings
shown online
could not even be called portraits
(unless everything could)

Thomas Eakins

Charles Demuth

George Bellows

for example,
the three
wonderful paintings
shown above.

And judging from
the list
of exhibits
going back to 1996,
the National Portrait Gallery
has never had an exhibit that focuses
on portraits done by people
who specialize in portraits on demand,
in either painting
or sculpture.

And portrait painters
badly need periodic
national exhibits
that attempt to identify
their best work.

So neither
has the gallery had exhibits
that focus on
the kind of people
who usually commission
portraits of themselves,
i.e. top businessmen
and administrators.

Nor has it ever had
an exhibition
of portraits of children.

this is all boring stuff
for cultural academics
who want portraits
to explore issues that concern them.

But they are only one constituency
(and a very small one),
probably no larger, say,
than Mormons.

How about an exhibit
of portraits of Mormons?


The idea
of having an exhibit of gays/lesbians
was a great one.

And I really appreciate
the museum bringing the above portraits
to my attention.

I've had a great time reading up
about the artists and their subjects.
(and I only wish that the museum
would have made all 140 pieces in the exhibition
available to be seen online
in nice, large digital images
like the ones shown above)

But why couldn't they stick to portraits,
instead of all the other stuff
someone considered relevant?

Including the
David Wojnarowicz video
about his dying friend Peter Hujar.

(and it's hardly been censored,
since anyone on the planet
can see it on You-Tube
in a version
that is arguably
no worse visually,
and actually much longer
than the brief segment
that was once shown
at the gallery.)

So, to turn the phrase of Philip Kennicott:

The removal of the video was a tiny gesture of exclusion
meant to challenge the hegemony
of the academic humanities
over national cultural institutions.

If only political conservatives
were serious about
taking it further.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Berthold Nebel : The Wrestlers

I'm not really a fan of
Berthold Nebel (1884-1964)

He didn't do much more
than what his clients required.

But I am interested in
this youthful work,
done in 1915
while he was a fellow
at the American Academy in Rome

Influenced by Rodin and Bourdelle,
it regrettfully shows a promise
that was never fulfilled.

But since nobody has yet posted
its image to the internet,
well... here it is.

Here's another piece done
about the same time in Rome
by another fellow
in the American Academy,
Albin Polasek.

(and I also prefer it
to his later work
done in America)

And while we're looking
at male nudes
done by young Americans
in that period,
we've got the above piece
done 15 years earlier
by George Grey Barnard (1863-1938)

(though it's not a really fair comparison
since the photographer of the above
was so much kinder to his subject)

And here's best treatment
of the subject.

Antonio Pollaiolo (1429-1498)

Next to his,
most other sculptures
of wrestling men
just look lumpish.

Vicenzo Di Brossi

Especially this one.

Philippe Magnier

But this one
is elegant

What is it
about Roman/Hellenistic pieces
that is so distinctive?
(this one is dated to 1st Century BCE)

The contours are so exciting.

It crackles with energy.

This piece
could make any place
feel like a palace.

While this piece
actually was made
for a palace (in Vienna)

I get exhausted
just looking at it.

Would this one look so good
if the fountain
and palace
were not in
the picture?

There are many versions
of this tableaux,
and this is the
best one I've found so far.

It looks like
"ultimate fighting"

more like
two dancers

looks like ballet,
but I like
its elegance

Another piece of evidence
for Paul Manship
being one of the
great sculptors
of the last century.

The swirling cape
makes it so cinematic.

Are these stunt men?

This is a better phtograph
of a version of the Di Brossi piece
which has been copied
many times
(the one I first saw
was about 8" high)

feels a bit too

This one's in
a park in Amsterdam.

It's obviously 20th C.,
but no sculptor
has been credited
with it.

Here's Nathan Rapoport's
Jacob wrestling with the Angel.

Obviously, the angel
has a significant advantage.

I LOVE Waino Aaltonen.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Fritz Behn

This delightful mythological scene
got me to rediscover
Fritz Behn (1878-1970,
to whom I was first introduced
by Lorado Taft
back in 2006.

Since then,
many more pieces
have shown up on the internet.

One website notes
that his reputation has suffered
because he did work for the Nazis.

But so did Arno Breker
and thanks to Ayn Randians,
Breker has gotten a lot of attention.

This is the kind of thing
that made him popular
with the predatory creatures
who took control of Germany
in the 1930's

Behn was very good
with powerful animals

He was also very good
with expressionistic monuments

But what really attracts me
this time around
are all his portrait studies

a fine piece of pottery,
but also
a fine character study

and now it turns out
that he was doing
polychrome faces
a hundred years
before yours truly

(this one is mine)

What a wonderfully goofy face

as an addendum - here's a note I got from one of the grandsons:

Mr. Miller,

I was just googling my grandfather again to see what oddities have been recently posted about him, and your blog popped up. If you're interested, I can share a lot of information with you. There's not much accurate information on the web about him, which I need to find the time to start correcting. At the moment, my father is trying to put together a two volume set about his father: his biography and then a book on his art.

I've read one rumor on the web that he did work for the Nazis, but to the best of my knowledge it was simply a government commission while the Nazis held power, if it was anything at all. The rumor that I read was that because he sculpted eagles (he did almost every animal under the sun, but was mostly known for his African animals, and specifically African cats), they concluded that he did work for the Nazis. That logic is, of course, false. It would be similar to saying an American artist is a right wing Republican simply because he sculpted an eagle. The eagle has long been a symbol of Germany, much as it's been a symbol of America, not just the Nazi party.

He was a working artist his whole life, and was actually teaching in Vienna during World War II, avoiding politics as much as possible at that point. He was NOT a member of the Nazi party.

My grandfather had worked for, and fought for, the Crown Prince of Bavaria (Prince Rupprecht) during World War I, and following World War I was a supporter of a Constitutional Monarchy (as Britain is today), as the form of government. They were known as the Royalists, and wanted Prince Rupprecht as their King. The Crown Prince feared the Communists (who actually briefly ruled Bavaria following the German Revolution in 1918), and the Crown Prince severely disliked Hitler. It was reported that he told King George V of England in 1934 that he felt that Hitler was insane. There was a glimmer of a potential opportunity to form a Constitutional Monarchy in Bavaria in 1932, as the Great Depression got worse, but then Hindenburg was forced to hand the country over to Hitler in 1933, and that, as they say, was that.

Because Hitler also feared the Communists, Hitler had wanted Rupprecht to support his initial coup attempt, but Rupprecht declined, and Hitler long blamed the Crown Prince for the failed coup, and the time he spent in jail in 1923-24 following that attempt. Rupprecht was forced to spend most of the time during World War II in hiding in Milan because of the animosity.

So that's just some of the history of my grandfather's politics of the time, which makes it easy to dismiss any claim of "working for the Nazis".

But as far as his work, yes he was incredibly prolific, and produced an amazing volume of work during his life. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1898, at age 20. Klee and Kandinsky were also graduates of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich at that time. Following graduation, he funded his own trip to Africa in 1904 where he killed all varieties of animals in order to record all of their detailed anatomical measurements. He also made plaster casts which he brought back to his studio in Munich.

He was good friends with Albert Schweitzer, and Richard Strauss (who was his neighbor at the beginning of WWII), along with Rodin later in life. He was friends with General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck (a famous WWI general), and was neighbors with Olaf Gulbransson.

He was also very well known for doing busts of people. He did, in addition to his friends just mentioned, Maria Calais, Pope Pious II, Mussolini, Spengler, and many more that I can't remember off the top of my head.

He also sculpted Oleander, the famous winning German race horse in the mid 1920s.

For any sculptor and artist, he's definitely one to study. He was a royally appointed Professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich before the First World War, and loved to teach art. He considered his generation to be the last of the truly classically trained artists, who learned all classic media, and learned the logistics of large stone sculpture and so on. And historically, the "Munich School" is considered to be the period from 1850 to 1914, and he was right in the middle of it, both chronologically, and physically.

He has many commissioned sculptures in public spaces around Munich (along with at least two in the Munich Zoo) and around Berlin (with three in the Berlin zoo, including Bobby the Gorilla), and in the Kurpark in Bad Durrheim. The “Egyptian Woman” which is the marble that you had a picture of in your blog is in the KurPark in Bad Durrheim. He was good friends with the founder of the Munich Zoo, Hermann von Manz, because my grandfather had just returned from his first trip to Africa when the Zoo was being launched in 1905.

In addition to his animals and busts, he also liked Greek mythology, and did a number of items on that subject. The Diana and Stag that you had a picture of is one example, where he modified the traditional subject with an African antilope and a nude Goddess Diana next to it. There’s also a marble Diana and Stag (in a more traditional style) that William Hearst commissioned from him that is next to the guest houses at Hearst Castle in California (San Simeon).

Then there’s also his whole Majolika period from the early 1910s, where he did a number of different ceramics, including Nijinsky, Koko, a woman with a fox pelt, a Pekinese, a Bulldog, and a few others that I can’t think of right now. Not his best work, but he was a working artist, and it paid.