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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wolfgang Held in Black and White

(Wolfgang Held)


Wolfgang Held

It was one evening in the early 80's, in Sidney. One guy was sitting on the sidewalk, playing the guitar. The other one was passing with an alert rhythm, mumbling lines from Shakespeare, as he was dreaming to become a classic actor.

That's the way Wolfgang and Achilles met for the first time.

I met Achilles for the first time just a couple of days ago, in Manhattan, and we started immediately to chat about Sidney (as the place that's too American) and Melbourne (as a place with an European style), about Cairo and Arabic literature (Achilles used to speak in his youth pretty good Arabic, as he had been born in Egypt). I had in front of me one of the finest fellows I have ever met.

I wanted to tell you all this about Achilles; he's one of the oldest friends of Wolfgang.

Wolfgang Held: born in Germany, spent a couple of years in his early twenties to travel around the world, in India, in Australia, in some other countries, doing in each place the most diverse jobs to support himself and playing in the evenings his guitar (he still plays the guitar; sometimes he meets with friends in some bar in Brooklyn, just to improvise).

He returned to Germany and studied American literature, then he entered the movie industry.

He's been living for many years in New York and became one of the very well known cinematographers. I will name just a handful of his movies, totally at random: Brüno, Carrier, Ripe, Criminal, The Tic Code, Children Underground, Teeth, Blind Light, Broken Meat.

And he traveled for his shootings all over the world again. I met him firstly in Bucharest where he was shooting Children Underground. And I remember he was telling me a story about him shooting in Beijing a documentary about an old brewery founded in China by Germans: Tsingtao. He's currently living in Brooklyn in a building that replaced an old brewery.


(German and Nordic Cinema)


Standard Hotel and the High Line

(The High Line)

The High Line: it used to be an elevated railroad, serving the Meatpacking District in the West Side of Manhattan. The line was disaffected long time ago. Now it is a new public park here: an elevated park, in full development. There will be here elevated hotels and art galleries. The view of the surroundings is phenomenal. This is New York, the city of great architects and extreme businesses!

High Line's Infrastructure

(The Standard Hotel on the High Line)

The Standard: this is the first hotel built over the High Line. Other elevated buildings will follow. The old trackage of the elevated railroad serving the Meatpacking District in Manhattan became a great public space, in full development.

Standard Hotel

Standard Hotel - close up

(New York, New York)

A Failed Photo of the Skyline in the Night

(New York, New York)

Skyline under Storm

(New York, New York)

Eye Blinking

It is actually part of an installation: an 11 foot square video projecting the artist's eye, along with a two-ton wrecking ball resting on the ground. The ball should hit a wall for destruction; the wall is excluded from the installation; it remains the terrible sound of hitting, and each time the ball hits, the eye blinks.

The impression it gives is that each time the eye blinks, a cosmic thud is produced.

The author is Janine Antoni. The installation is on view at Luhring Augustine Gallery, on the 24th Street in Manhattan.

(Contemporary Art)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Port of Baltimore

When you visit Baltimore a major point of interest is the Inner Harbor. There is also an outer harbor, the Port of Baltimore, viewable from the highway.


The Naked Cowboy from Times Square

(New York, New York)

Brooklyn, under Williamsburg Bridge

Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, just near East River. The colossus is Williamsburg Bridge.

(New York, New York)



The Little Church Around the Corner

It's on the 34th Street and it's lovely. It has its history, of course: in 1870 a famous actor of that time, Joseph Jefferson, had to take care for the funeral of a friend, actor George Holland. He tried to arrange with a big church on the 34th Street and was rebuffed and told that there was a little church around the corner where they were doing such things. Jefferson exclaimed, God Bless The Little Church Around the Corner, and the name remained till today.

New York actors praise of course this church, but not only them: it is an oasis of peace in the middle of Manhattan.

I did not know about it, till yesterday: I was with one of my sisters and with my brother-in-law, and I was looking for a coffee shop. They suggested me to buy the cup of coffee, then come to sip it in the small garden of The Little Church Around the Corner.

(New York, New York)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Cats of Mirikitani

The Cats of Mirikitani is not a great famous movie; nonetheless it is a beautiful one, telling an exceptional story in a quiet and simple way, with a nice sense of joy and humor. The story in the movie is exceptional, and also the intertwined story of making the movie, and both of them are told simply and beautifully.

One day Linda Hattendorf (a young film director living in SoHo near Prince Street and Sixth Avenue) started recording small videos with an old homeless artist living on the sidewalks, half block away from her apartment.

(video of PBS)

The guy was Jimmy Mirikitani, eighty years old. He was spending his days drawing cats on used cardboards and selling them to the passers-by.

It was the summer of 2000, he was there all days, with his cardboards and his red beret, and Linda was stepping by and taking a shot every given morning.

Fall of 2000 came and then winter, now weather was harsh, the old guy was wearing an overcoat aside his red beret, and he was going on with his sleeping in the street and his colored cats on used cardboards. Wonderful cats, wonderfully colored, sometimes looking like tigers with a small funny jungle around, sometimes just like cats.

Then 2001, spring again, then summer, then fall. September Eleven found the old man in his usual place, but it was no more room for him any more, even on sidewalks.

And Linda took the old man in her apartment, he had now a bed in a corner, and a decent meal every day.

He started telling his life, in small pieces, and Linda was recording him. He had been born in Sacramento, California. His parents had come from Japan, and the whole family moved back to Hiroshima when he was a kid.

He came back to US in 1939; the war followed and all American citizens of Japanese ethnicity living on the West coast were interned in camps. So Jimmy Mirikitani spent the years of war in the camp of Tule Lake.

After the end of the war the young man lost any connection with his family; many of his relatives did not survive the war; with the others the connection was simply lost. He moved to New York, and tried pursuing an artistic career, without success. In the end he became the homeless red-bereted painter from the sidewalks of SoHo.

Linda started to organize his life. By her efforts he was put on welfare, then he was admitted in an assisted living home. He also started teaching young artists, and finally Linda was able to find her sister, whom he had not seen any more after leaving the internment camp.

And Linda put together the footage and finished the movie.

This is the story of the life of Jimmy Mirikitani, and the story of how the movie was made.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Marsden Hartley: Mount Katahdin, Maine

Marsden Hartley - Mount Katahdin, Maine,1942
oil on hardboard

Marsden Hartley was particularly drawn to towering Mount Katahdin, which he depicted in several impressive paintings. I know I have seen God now, he declared after climbing up the mountain (Stephen May)

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

Roger Cohen: The Miracle of Dullness

Roger Cohen in today's NY Times:

I bumped down in Frankfurt at 10:55 AM. A German landing, I thought — unsubtle and punctual.

The sky was clear, an un-German sky, and the colors that assailed me were pink (Deutsche Telekom), yellow (Lufthansa) and gray: cool colors at some remove from Caspar David Friedrich’s ecstatic dusks in forests of Gothic gloom.

Friedrich’s passionate romanticism is under control these days in a Germany that has become reassuring to the point of dullness. Europe’s most powerful nation is electing its leader Sunday — and nobody really cares.

Welcome to the most boring German election ever, former foreign minister Joschka Fischer told me by way of greeting.

That was enough to compel me to write about the miracle of German dullness. It is cause for hope, a commodity the commodity-rich Middle East does not trade in.

The drudgery is also cause for concern: more on that later.

Lest anyone forget, the world spent a goodly chunk of the last century agonizing over the German question, ruing the proximity of the Polish border to Berlin, digesting the crime. It’s just 20 years since this country was made whole and, with it, Europe. Now mighty Germany chooses its chancellor and, for all people seem to care, the election might be for the Würzburg city council.

It’s not true that everything changes so that everything can remain the same. The German demon got extirpated by American tutelage, European convergence and the rule of law.

Modern Germany, the Johnny-come-lately of European powers, settled down. The German frisson faded to a yawn.

Perhaps Bärbel Bohley, the former East German dissident, summed up the experience, and let-down, of unification best: We wanted justice and we got the rule of law.

Another protest leader, Joachim Gauck, ran her close: We dreamed of paradise and woke up in North-Rhine Westphalia.

Such is the way of adrenalin. It dissipates.

And along comes Angela Merkel, the adrenalin-free Ossi, who has been a chancellor of unmemorable steadiness, and who, barring an upset, will be re-elected at the head of her center-right Christian Democratic Union.

Merkel has been a leader in the image of a settled Germany. Everything about her screams drama over — Brandt on his knees in the Warsaw ghetto; chain-smoking Schmidt (a politician with vision needs to see an ophthalmologist) fighting the fight for medium-range U.S. missiles; Kohl clasping Mitterrand’s hand at Verdun and later inhaling unification with unabashed appetite. Every risk-averse fiber in Merkel’s body proclaims the social-market consensus has prevailed, even through financial crisis.

The extent of discord may be measured by the fact that Merkel’s chief opponent is also her foreign minister in the governing Grand Coalition: Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat leader. He’s a likeable technocrat who always seems to be wondering how he ever ended up as a politician.

None of the above should suggest there’s nothing at stake. There is: a little. If Merkel gets her favored option — a center-right coalition with the liberal Free Democrats — tax cuts, nuclear power and support for the Afghan mission (Germany has sent more than 4,000 troops) will get a boost. If not, well, more of the same is in order. My sense is most Germans feel market reforms of recent years have gone far enough.

Germans are hunkered down, not unhappy but uninspired. This has been a campaign of astonishing intellectual nullity. I spoke of hope and concern: The former springs from Germany’s absorption of its eastern third and passage into normality, the latter from the country’s numbness.

Nothing — not the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, not the faltering direction of the European Union (once a German obsession, now a sideshow), not financial Armageddon — seems able to stir Germans from contemplation of their navels. This is bad for Europe. The world wanted a boring Germany for a while, but not to this degree, and anyway that time has passed.

Perhaps the center-right option would be a better outcome if only because the Social Democrats need time in the wilderness to resolve their relationship with the Left party. The Grand Coalition is an idea-dampening soporific. Prescription for more than four years is ill-advised.

Germany is in political transition. If the East has been economically absorbed, its political legacy, in the form of the Left party, has proved inhibiting, even paralyzing.

History moves in broad sweeps murky to its hindsight-deprived actors. We can say this: The eruption into the heart of Europe of a German nation state upended the Continent from 1871 to 1945 and a full normalization of Germany has taken from 1945 to the present. The long arc has been painful but hopeful.

The demon of instability, German-prodded, moved to the Middle East, where another modern nation state, Israel, in turn upended the order of things. Perhaps after 74 years (1871-1945), we will see glimmerings of a new, more peaceful regional order there. Hope is almost as stubborn as facts.

Hope, at least, is what my German years bequeathed me. Unsubtle and punctual bumpings-down now comfort me, like the unique hermetic thud of a heavy German door closing, one made to last and to fit.

(Zoon Politikon)


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Budapestan Horse: a Leonardo Puzzle

In 1914 the Museum of Fine Arts from Budapest (Szépművészeti Múzeum) acquired two small bronze statuettes: a rearing horse and a rider. The sculptures had been part of a collection assembled about hundred years earlier by a Hungarian artist, Ferenczy István, while in Rome.

They thought firstly that the statuettes were antique Greek art objects, but soon the question was raised whether they were not rather Renaissance works, and that's how the name of Leonardo came into picture. Was it possible that the rearing horse and the rider had been cast based on drawings made by Da Vinci?

There is no definite answer up to now. Recently a new study on this issue was organized at Washington National Gallery of Art: so the horse and the rider traveled for a couple of months to DC, and the American public had this way the opportunity to see the statuettes.

Click on the photos for a better resolution.

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Alexandria, Principle Gallery: Thomas Buechner and Geoffrey Johnson

Thomas Buechner - Shelter Island Store, 1967
oil on panel

Geoffrey Johnson - Interior with Sofa
oil on canvas

(Principle Gallery)


Monday, September 21, 2009

Frederic Edwin Church: Niagara

Frederic Edwin Church - Niagara, 1857
oil on canvas

Among all the scenic wonders of the New World, one was foremost in the minds of nineteenth-century Americans: Niagara Falls. First visited by European explorers in the late seventeenth century, the cataracts had come to symbolize for many Americans the power and vitality of their new nation. Citizens of the New World were eager to prove their equality to the Old World in all things, and Niagara was judged to be as good as or even better than anything Europe could offer in the way of spectacular scenery (Franklin Kelly).


Thomas Cole and his Catskill Canvases and Drawings

Thomas Cole - Study for Catskill Creek, c. 1844-1845
oil on wood

And so, from Carl Jonas Linnerhielm, I arrived at Thomas Cole. Both of them traveled in their young years, Linnerhielm in Lapland and Cole in the Catskills. Both of them left wonderful depictions of what they had seen. And from Thomas Cole, I promise to give you also the image of a masterpiece created by his disciple: the masterpiece is Niagara and the disciple is Frederic Edwin Church.

Thomas Cole - Sunrise in the Catskills, 1826
oil on canvas

Thomas Cole - The Bridge of Fear, unknown date
graphite and black crayon with gray wash on wove paper

Thomas Cole - The Cross in the Wilderness, c. 1844
graphite with gray-green, green-brown, and white chalk on gray paper

Thomas Cole - The Oxbow, 1846

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

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Alexandria, Last Day of Summer

I was coming on the trail from Rosslyn. I saw a pile of plastic bottles on the grass and for a second I thought it was an work art created by some very modern sculptor. The explanation was, of course, more pragmatic: garbage is collected from the trail and gathered in piles, to be taken out later.

Sand and Waves

Ladies from Pakistan on the Waterfront

The Parrots from Alexandria

Men are like Boys


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thomas Cole: Crawford Notch

Thomas Cole
A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains
(Crawford Notch), 1839
oil on canvas
(Click on the image to have a better view).

The canvas is on view at Washington National Gallery. Here's how the Gallery catalog comments it:

Crawford Notch gained notoriety in 1826 when a catastrophic avalanche took nine lives. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story commemorating the tragedy, which may have piqued Cole's interest in the New Hampshire site. Rather than concentrating on the human drama, the artist minimized figurative elements to underscore man's insignificance and vulnerability in the face of nature's unleashed fury. Amid a seemingly idyllic autumnal setting, the barely discernible settlers, a lone rider, and the stagecoach passengers all seem oblivious to the impending cataclysm. Only the brooding storm clouds gathering at the upper left offer a portentous hint of the disaster to come.

In addition to its oblique reference to a specific historical event, Crawford Notch also reflects a prevailing romantic belief: that the destruction of America's virgin forests was tantamount to sacrilege. By juxtaposing gnarled trees with freshly hewn stumps, Cole vividly underscored the environmental consequences of man's conquest of the wilderness.

By the way, the first photographer of the American landscape, Samuel Bemis, has the grave in those places.

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life

The Voyage of Life - Childhood, 1842
oil on canvas

The post that Dan made on Carl Jonas Linnerhielm, the Swedish traveler, painter and writer from the second half of the XVIII-th century called me in mind an American traveler, painter and writer, who lived in the first half of the XIX-th century. His name was Thomas Cole.

But firstly (as Dan wrote his post in Romanian) here are some words about Linnerhielm: he’s been called the first Swedish tourist; with his pencil, watercolour brushes, sketchbooks – and a predilection for the picturesque – he captured the Sweden of Gustav III, from Skåne in the south to Älvdalen in Dalarna (Nationalmuseum).

The Voyage of Life - Youth, 1842
oil on canvas

Linnerhielm made his travels in Lapland, Cole went up the Hudson Valley on the Catskills and painted great landscapes.

But I will talk about his landscapes in a future post, as it is much to say about Thomas Cole. He founded the Hudson River School and was considered the most important American painter of the first half of the XIX-th century.

The Voyage of Life - Manhood, 1842
oil on canvas

Here I want to talk about a famous series of four allegorical paintings created by Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life. I see them every time I'm going to Washington National Gallery.

It is the journey of an archetypal man through his life. Innocent in the childhood, enthusiast and over-confident in the youth, advancing by trail and error as years are passing, up to the old age, when only belief in God can give him the sense of what he lived: Cole was a deeply religious man, he also believed in the moral task of the art and this series of paintings speak with genuine force about his profound convictions.

The Voyage of Life - Old Age, 1842
oil on canvas

Here is what the Washington National Gallery catalog says about The Voyage of Life:

Confidently assuming control of his destiny and oblivious to the dangers that await him, the voyager boldly strives to reach an aerial castle, emblematic of the daydreams of youth and its aspirations for glory and fame. As the traveler approaches his goal, the ever-more-turbulent stream deviates from its course and relentlessly carries him toward the next picture in the series, where nature's fury, evil demons, and self-doubt will threaten his very existence. Only prayer, Cole suggests, can save the voyager from a dark and tragic fate.

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

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Montmartre, 1950

Pour moi, c'est la plus belle photo du monde. Je ne sais pas qui est l'auteur.

I tried several close ups, here's what I got:


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Francis Bacon

Diptych - Study of the Human Body From a Drawing by Ingres, 1982-1984
oil paint and transfer type on linen

Do I like the work of Francis Bacon? The short answer would be no, a more serious answer should be that I am not familiar with his art, and it needs time to understand it and to make a judgment.

Perhaps it is better now to tell you just how I met with his paintings.

My first meeting with Bacon's art was at Hirshhorn, in an exhibition with a shocking name: Strange Bodies. There was a diptych and I recorded a video. Why had he chosen such a contorsionated rendering of the bodies was for me an open question.

I had then the opportunity to visit an impressive retrospective of his work, at the Met in New York. This was really a great opportunity as it gave me the perspective.

I would dare to say that his works called me in mind the universe of Kafka: the same powerful emotional charge. But I need much more time to become familiar with Francis Bacon's work and to be able to make a judgment.

I met again with his paintings at Phillips: another exhibition with a strange name (Paint Made Flesh) and these three works of him:

Head in Grey, 1955
oil on canvas

Walking Figure, 1959-1960
oil on canvas
Dallas Museum of Art

Three Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963
oil on canvas, three panels

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Paint Made Flesh)