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Thursday, June 12, 2008


I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!
(Walt Whitman - Mannahatta)

Georgia O'Keeffe - Manhattan, 1932

One cannot paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt
(Georgia O'Keefe, 1926)

A week ago I was at the American Art Museum and I saw for the first time this painting made by Georgia O'Keeffe: a huge canvas alone on a wall. The movie of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler came to my mind: Manhatta, made in 1921. I had seen it one year ago at a Sheeler show, at the National Gallery in DC. I found it then on a dvd, dedicated to early movies about New York. There is also a video on youTube:

...a replica to the poem of Whitman... (rendered in a very loose version)...

City of the World (for all races are here)
City of tall facades
of marble and iron
Proud and passionate city.

When million-footed Manhattan
to its pavements.

...and the movie is starting: the ferry towards the South Station terminal, the Lower Broadway, the cemetery surrounding the Trinity Church, and the Wall Street - image identical to the photo made by Strand in 1915...

Paul Strand - Wall Street, NY, 1915

...and the movie is going on...

With growths of iron, slender, strong,
splendidly uprising
toward clear skies.

...sky scrapers behind the City Hall, later Sheeler would come back to them, making photos, then drawings, then oils...

Charles Sheeler - Park Row

The building of cities,
-the showel, the great derrick,
the wall scaffold, the work
of walls and ceilings.

...workers on a site for a new skyscraper, a crane, workers on scaffoldings taking loads from the crane...

Where our tall topt
marble and iron beauties
range on opposite sides.

...steam from the chimneys on roof of the houses...skyscrapers and steam mixed...

City of hurried and sparklling waters,
City nested in bays.

...ships on the bay...

This world all spanned
with iron rails.

...railroads and trains - steam from the engines...

With lines of steamships
threading every sea.

...again ships in the bay...steam again...

Shapes of the bridges,
vast frameworks, girders, arches.

...people passing over Brooklyn Bridge...

On the river the shadowy group, the big steam tug closely flank's on each side by barges.

...bay in the evening...

Where the city's ceaseless crowd moves on,
the live long day

...view of Broadway from the top of a skyscraper...view of the EL on the Church Street... the subway would come much later...Sheeler would make a still photograph, then drawings, then a painting...

Charles Sheeler - Church Street EL

Many compared Manhatta with Ruttman's Berlin: Die Symphonie der Großstadt, or with Vertov's Человек с кино-аппаратом and used to same term for all: city-symphonies. I think each city-movie has its own specific. Ruttman's Berlin is truly a city-symphony: the director had been preoccupied in all his movies to find the cinematic equivalence of musical language, and his Berlin is a capital with a symphonic structure. Vertov's Moscow is a world in dialog with the camera: Moscow and camera are looking at each other, in a process of mutual analysis, discovery, metamorphosis. Ivens' Amsterdam (Regen) is a poem so pure that words or music are useless. Hammid's Prag (Bezucelná procházka) is a world of fragments that he notes now and then, overwhelmed in his world of thoughts.

Well, Manhatta is for Sheeler a movie image to become a still, then a drawing, then a canvas; in this journey the image becomes gradually extremely faithful to the object, down to the last detail, and then extremely abstract, in a process of elimination of any detail. Look at his drawings, maniacally faithful to the corresponding photos, and then to his paintings.

Charles Sheeler - Canyon, c.1951

Gorgeous clouds of sunset!
drench with your splendor
me or the men and women
generations after me.

(American Art and Portraiture)

(New York, New York)

(Avangarda 20)

(Filmele Avangardei)

(Walt Whitman)



  • Hello,

    I am searching for a poster or print of O'Keeffe's 'Manhattan'- it's wonderful, but seemingly hard to come by. Any assistance you could provide would be much appreciated.


    By Blogger James, at 11:49 AM  

  • James,

    Next time I go to the American Art Museum I will look into their store. I'll let you know.



    By Blogger Pierre Radulescu, at 12:05 PM  

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