Thursday, May 21, 2020

Virtual art tour: Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures (MoMA)


The Great Depression. Young girl sitting on bench near fireplace with bed in background in a Taos, New Mexico, resettlement farm for Dust Bowl drought refugees, during the Great Depression. Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1935. From Carleton Thomas Anderson: Dorothea Lange – An American Odyssey. The final photo by Dorothea Lange herself displayed in the movie before the concluding montage of Dorothea Lange portraits taken by colleagues.

Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California. 1936. Gelatin silver print, printed 1949, 11 1⁄8 × 8 9⁄16” (28.3 × 21.8 cm). Purchase.Filmmaker, Dyanna Taylor: "This photograph has been used and seen so many times that Dorothea once said to me, “it doesn’t belong to me, really, it belongs to the public.” It’s just part of the imagery we think of when we think of the Depression in America. Dorothea had been traveling alone on assignment in California and was heading back toward Berkeley, when she passed a sign that said, “Pea-pickers camp.” She drove on and then began to argue with herself, “Maybe I should go back.” The crops had frozen, and almost everyone was out of work and very hungry. She spotted a woman alone with children. Dorothea took seven negatives of the woman, Florence Thompson, and her children, and the final image is the one that we’ve all come to know so well. When Dorothea returned to Berkeley, she submitted some of the images to the press. The public was very moved by the images, and aid was soon sent down to the pea-pickers camp." Photo and caption from the MoMA website.

Corona lockdown museum visits.
    Virtual visit:
Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures: MoMA. Curator: Sarah Meister.
Online Archive of California: 20.820 photographs / items online.
Library of Congress: 4179 photographs / documents online.
Museum of Modern Art: 311 works online.
Carleton Thomas Anderson: Dorothea Lange An American Odyssey (year n.a.), a documentary film, 38 min

MoMA introduction: "Toward the end of her life, Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) reflected, “All photographs—not only those that are so called ‘documentary’…can be fortified by words.” Lange paid sharp attention to the human condition, conveying stories of everyday life through her photographs and the voices they drew in. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures brings iconic works from the collection together with less seen photographs, from her landmark photobook An American Exodus to projects on criminal justice reform. Presenting her work across many contexts—photobooks, Depression-era government reports, newspapers, magazines, poems—and alongside the voices of contemporary artists, writers, and thinkers, the exhibition lets us consider the importance of Lange’s legacy and of words and pictures today."

"This exhibition is currently being presented here as part of our Virtual Views series, as we “museum from home.” Explore iconic works that redefined how we see America with a live Q&A with curator Sarah Meister and photographer Sally Mann, enjoy poetry and artist’s books inspired by Lange, and unravel the mystery around one of the most famous photographs in the world.
" (MoMA introduction)

AA: Continuing my virtual art exhibition tours I proceed on the MoMA site and get acquainted with the introductions and presentations of the Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures exhibition. The meat is of course in MoMA's collections of 311 works online. In photography, a high quality screen exploration is of course a very decent alternative to a "real life" exhibition.

Dorothea Lange's photographs are powerful seen in this way. I study the MoMA collection and expand the experience with the massive archives of Library of Congress and Online Archive of California.

Visiting museums and galleries, I never view films or videos. In practically every exhibition there are films and videos, usually in a separate screening room. I walk past them as fast as I can. But during the lockdown everything turns upside down. A good film can become the thing itself, because you can stop it and examine the artwork as long as you like.

I am grateful for Carleton Thomas Anderson's film Dorothea Lange An American Odyssey for a rich and sober portrait of a great personality recording an unknown reality of millions of people. The classic images from the Great Depression are in the heart of her oeuvre. But there is much more, such as the photographed record of the plight of the Japanese-Americans during WWII.

As a photographer Dorothea Lange was an experienced professional with an unusually acute social conscience. She had a unique instinct in finding the telling subject and the right moment. For her, humanity came first, and then the sense of urgency in the topic. Words were essential for the pictures: this is the emphasis of the MoMA exhibition. Art was not the objective, but when it all came together, the result was of exceptional artistic value.

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 6 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1998)


CD cover art to Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 4–7. Edmund von Wörndle  (1827–1906): Romantische Landschaft im Abendlicht, 1859. Öl auf Leinwand. 63,5 x 95,5 cm. Source: Dorotheum. From: Wikipedia. Please click on the image to enlarge it!

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 18/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 4–7
Opus 10 – Der Gräfin Anna Margarete von Browne gewidmet.
Stephen Kovacevich, 1998.

Opus 10 Nr. 2: Klaviersonate Nr. 6 in F-Dur (1798)
Erster Satz: Allegro, F-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 203 Takte
Zweiter Satz: Allegretto, f-Moll, 3/4 Takt, 170 Takte
Dritter Satz: Presto, F-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 150 Takte

AA: A brilliant, luminous and magical sonata. At times it sounds like a spring fairytale.

At other times it evokes a two-reeler from the golden age of film comedy. The first movement is full of joy, wit and fun. The second movement is eerie, brooding and mysterious but not slow: there is no slow movement. The third movement is like a chase sequence: inspired by Bach's inventions, a virtuoso showcase with a dancing feeling.

One of Beethoven's warmest and funniest pieces, it is not superficial in the same way that Mozart is not superficial. The surface matters, but we sense deep seas beneath.

I listened to several interpretations, and my absolute favourite far above all others is the Guardian lecture by András Schiff. Played by him, it is like a different composition. Schiff remarks that F major is Beethoven's "spring tonality", also on display in the Spring Sonata and the Pastoral Symphony. He analyzes the vertical and the horizontal developments.

Schiff reports that Haydn taught Beethoven about humour in music, based on expectation and surprise. It was all based on the fact that the audience, the composer and the musicians shared the same language. Schiff compares certain passages with Laurel and Hardy: the thick and the thin. The Presto is for Schiff a tour de force, one of Beethoven's most remarkable passages.

I am not capable of commenting that, but this sonata, at 12 minutes, is miraculous in its variety. It has to be played very precisely, and you need to understand the composer's sense of humour. Many interpreters don't seem to be able to make sense of it. In András Schiff's playing and lecturing I sense a Hungarian touch of humour beloved by Lubitsch and Wilder.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Virtual art tour (inspired by The Art Issue of The New York Review of Books): MoMA: How To See: Home Movies, How To See: The First Movies


Stills from Jarret family home videos, Pittsburgh, 1958–1967. The New York Review of Books. Photo: Museum of Modern Art. Please click to enlarge.

MoMA: How To See the First Movies: Maxim Firing a Field Gun (1897). My screenshot.

The New York Review of Books: The Art Issue, 14 May 2020
.
Corona lockdown art museum visits.

For the first time in the 125-year old history of the cinema, movie theatres are closed worldwide. The same with museums and galleries. In an innovative way, The New York Review of Books has dedicated an issue for art exhibitions that can be visited online. It's not the same thing but better than nothing! I started two weeks ago with my first one, Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (Met Breuer, New York). The visual quality of the museums' digital tours is high. They are worth visiting on a good television screen.

Following the NYRB Art Issue page by page, my next exhibition is MoMA's "Private Lives Public Spaces", introduced by an essay by Leslie Jamison: "Other Voices, Other Rooms".

Virtual visit:
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Private Lives Public Spaces.
Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Curator, Brittany Shaw, Curatorial Assistant, Katie Trainor, Collections Manager, Peter Williamson, Preservation Officer, and Ashley Swinnerton, Collection Specialist, Department of Film.
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. How To See: The First Movies.
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. How To See: Home Movies.

MoMA introduction: "Long before camera phones, the 1923 introduction of small-gauge film stock heralded the unofficial birth of affordable home moviemaking. Over the subsequent decades, many thousands of reels of amateur film shot around the world amounted to one of the largest and most significant bodies of moving-image work produced in the 20th century."

"Artists, celebrities, world travelers, and the public at large, using 16- and 8-millimeter equipment, employed this unregulated, democratic form of personal filmmaking to produce work that is by turns vigorous, sentimental, frank, and sometimes transgressive. Sadly, these films were also rarely preserved and commonly abandoned, often ending up as flea market curios or stock footage as more consumer-friendly video formats arrived in the 1980s. Private Lives Public Spaces, the Museum’s first gallery installation of home movies and amateur films drawn exclusively from its collection, shines a light on a seldom-recognized cinematic revolution."

"This 100-screen presentation of virtually unseen, homemade works dating from 1907 to 1991 explores the connections between artist’s cinema, amateur movies, and family filmmaking as alternatives to commercial film production. Staged as an immersive video experience, the exhibition reveals an overlooked history of film from the Museum’s archives, providing fresh perspectives on a remarkably rich precursor to the social media of today.
" (MoMA introduction)

AA: I finish my virtual art tour in the (virtual) company of familiar faces from the Museum of Modern Art: Ron Magliozzi, Brittany Shaw, Katie Trainor, Peter Williamson and Ashley Swinnerton presenting home movies, and Dave Kehr introducing some of the first movies ever made.

Home movies are a fascinating phenomenon, sometimes made with a wonderfully assured touch, revealing aspects of life otherwise unrecorded, and also technically of much higher quality than is conventionally assumed. As the curators state, we are now in a privileged position to value home movies when the corona pandemic lockdown forces us to stay at home.

In early cinema, the 68 mm films of the Mutoscope and Biograph companies, led by W. K. L. Dickson, were the absolute elite form, and the format remained unsurpassed until the breakthrough of the IMAX (the Biograph frame was not only wider but also taller: four times as large as the standard frame, like IMAX). The 68 mm Biograph collections of EYE Film Institute (ex-Nederlands Filmmuseum) and the BFI National Archive have been made available during the last 20 years. Now in New York MoMA has made accessible their Biograph 68 mm collection, including several titles that are not included in the Amsterdam and London sets. In How To See: The First Movies Dave Kehr introduces the MoMA restorations with several appetizing and tantalizing glimpses.

For instance I don't think I have previously seen moving images of Hiram Maxim demonstrating his killing machine, the Maxim gun, the first recoil-operated machine gun in production. His machine gun was one of the cornerstones of the expansion of the British Empire in its most brutal and bloody period. Millions were killed in genocidal imperial wars, the first instances of an industrial scale slaughter, later introduced to European soil in WWI.

Virtual art tour (inspired by The Art Issue of The New York Review of Books): Deineka / Samokhvalov


A. A. Deineka: Textile Workers / Текстильщицы. 1927. Oil on canvas. “The rhythm and peculiar ornamentation lie at the basis of the compositional solution and my other painting,“ Textile Workers, ”the rhythm of continuous circular movement in looms. I almost automatically synchronized the weavers with their flowing, melodious movements. It is possible that this brought about a certain abstraction. The picture is silver-white with spots of warm ocher on the faces and hands of girls. At that time I worked on the surface of the canvas, making it smooth, varnished, vaguely wanting to find unity on the surface of the canvas with the texture of polished, light, still absent walls, for which I dreamed of painting. ” “I think of rhythm. I am convinced that in Textile Workers I accompanied the fluting of the ceiling in the rhythm of spinning machines, in the smooth movement of women workers. ” A.A. Deineka. Photo: The New York Review of Books. Caption: Deineka.ru.

А. А. Deineka: Defense of Petrograd / Оборона Петрограда. 1928. Oil on canvas. Moscow, Central Museum of the Armed Forces of the USSR.. «The ornamental silhouette defines clear limits in my Defense of Petrograd. And if the compositionally closed semantic circle of two plans — at the bottom of the soldiers going to the front, from left to right, and at the top along the bridge of the returning wounded — at first gives the impression of a flat two-tier structure, then a consistent deepening allows us to make sure that the reverse movement technique gives closure to the composition of the canvas. The perception of a horizontal frieze turns into an insight of a circle as the eye captures the inner meaning of the composition.  In the center, a transition from the profile to the image of fighters retreating deep into the space of the picture is again designed. These are not abstractions of fighters. The figures are modeled in volume. Color, although used sparingly, conveys the individual characteristics. However, the figures walking in the snow always appear to me in the form of silhouettes.  Однако фигуры идущих по снегу мне всегда представляются в виде силуэтов. Возможно, что я излишне заострил подобную трактовку. Но если это снизило цветовое живописное начало, то подчеркнуло динамику, действие в картине, ее смысл и зримость. Мне ничем посторонним не хотелось разбивать ритма, которого я добился, и впечатления воли и тяжелых страданий, поэтому я отказался от всякой лишней бытовщины, которой много в эскизе к картине». «Оборону Петрограда» я написал в течение двух недель. Это предельно короткий срок. Но путь к этим двум неделям был очень долгий. «Обороне Петрограда» предшествовало несколько картин … Для новой картины мне нужен был и более непосредственный конкретный жизненный материал. Я обошел Ленинград, с удовольствием смотрел на путиловских рабочих, но завод мне не понравился, зато знакомство с людьми, их лица позволили найти хороший, выразительный типаж. Картину решил назвать «Оборона Петрограда». И хотя уже были сделаны эскизы, я не находил в них того тематического ключа, который нужен был для нового полотна. Несколько работ, написанных перед «Обороной», были эффектны. В них по-своему нашла воплощение современность. Но для нового полотна мне казалось это недостаточным. Необходимо было довести его до такого состояния, когда картина из чисто декоративной становится произведением большой темы. Это был период трудный, даже мучительный — дать картине духовное дыхание. Сама жизнь, ее героика, яркие характеры людей, с которыми я встречался, открыли путь к решению задачи. Прошло много времени, и теперь, когда я гляжу на это произведение, я узнаю среди его героев своих друзей и знакомых рабочих. Их уже, наверное, давно нет в живых, но для меня они продолжают жить такими, какими видел их тридцать пять лет тому назад. Картина по-прежнему мне очень близка. В ней, думается, я нашел путь к воплощению того, что меня глубоко волнует и по сей день — новое в жизни, выраженное языком новой художественной формы. Может быть, только это и способно дать произведению длительную жизнь». «Свою любимую вещь «Оборона Петрограда» я написал в 1927 году. Для лица и фигуры идущего в центре командира мне позировал настоящий советский командир, один из первых орденоносцев, друг Нетте, с которым он, курьер советской дипломатии, выполнял опасную работу... Но на картине среди своих безымянных товарищей он продолжает шагать к новым боям и дружбе — мой друг Ян Шкурин. А вот «героиня» моей картины «Скука», которую я увидел в Филадельфии, в богатом коттедже, весьма модерном, с самыми левыми картинами на стенах, с самой модной мебелью и сытым бытом. Вероятно, она и сейчас живет и скучает, потому что, кроме холеного, косметического лица, вы ощущаете в ней глубокую пустоту, никчемность, которая не дает личной человеческой радости. Несмотря на видимую обеспеченность быта, несмотря на общепринятые признаки внешней красоты, какая это некрасивая жизнь, какое некрасивое человеческое лицо!» А. А. Дейнека. Photo and caption: Deineka.ru.

А. А. Дейнека: Morning Work-Out / Утренняя зарядка. 1932 год. Холст, масло. Москва, Государственная Третьяковская галерея. Photo and caption: Deineka.ru.
.
А. А. Дейнека: Mayakovsky at the ROSTA / Маяковский в РОСТА. 1941 год. Photo and caption: Deineka.ru.

The New York Review of Books: The Art Issue, 14 May 2020.
Corona lockdown art museum visits.

For the first time in the 125-year old history of the cinema, movie theatres are closed worldwide. The same with museums and galleries. In an innovative way, The New York Review of Books has dedicated an issue for art exhibitions that can be visited online. It's not the same thing but better than nothing! I started two weeks ago with my first one, Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (Met Breuer, New York). The visual quality of the museums' digital tours is high. They are worth visiting on a good television screen.

Following the NYRB Art Issue page by page, my next exhibition is Deineka / Samokhvalov, introduced by an essay by Sophie Pinkham: "Realists of the Soviet Fantasy".

Virtual visit: Deineka.ru, a website with a comprehensive collection of Deineka's works.
Virtual visit: Manege Central Exhibition Hall: Deineka / Samokhvalov
Curator: Semyon Mikhailovsky, Rector of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, Commissioner of the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Designer: Anton Gorlanov.
The physical exhibition took place 20 November 2019 — 19 January 2020, but a virtual 3D experience is still online.

Manege Central Exhibition Hall: "Dear friends, we have prepared for you a 3D tour for one of the most visited exhibitions at Manege — "Deineka / Samokhvalov". The project featured 300 exhibits created by Soviet artists Alexander Deineka and Alexander Samokhvalov, from 37 museums and 9 private collections. We produced this exhibition in cooperation with the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum and the Kursk Deineka Picture Gallery. The project is co-organized by the Russian Culture Fund. The exhibition was dedicated to the 120th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Deineka."

"Deineka and Samokhvalov were members of two closely related artistic societies – OST (Obshchestvo khudozhnikov-stankovistov – the Society of Easel Painters) and Krug khudozhnikov (the Artists’ Circle). They worked on similar themes and created works of art which featured as their subjects Red Army soldiers, female athletes, miners and metro construction workers. Both of them were Soviet artists who were open to global trends. Deineka’s links were with Moscow, and Samokhvalov’s – with Leningrad.
" (Manege Central Exhibition Hall)

AA: I have never seriously attempted to navigate a virtual 3D exhibition before, so this was for me a learning experience in three-dimensional virtual reality. The virtual tour made sense of the exhibition architecture, but it was difficult to examine individual artworks properly. Thus I eked out the project with a complete tour of the Deineka.ru website. Alexander Samokhalov is the other legend of Socialist Realism on display, but I wanted to focus only on Alexander Deineka (1899–1969) from whom I have never before seen a retrospective.

It is an equivocal experience. Deineka is certainly brilliantly talented in the many fields of visual arts: drawing, graphic art, painting, sculpting and mosaics. His line is dynamic, he electrifies the panel. He excels in action: sport, work, fight. He defies gravity. He loves the elements: besides the firm ground he is at home in the water and in the air. He loves aviation. His people are brave and mobile.

Realism this is not. The horrors of the famines, the purges and the prison camps shine in absence. This is a fairy-tale version of Soviet life. But there is also a twist in the images, something jarring that stops Deineka's works from being simple propaganda.

Deineka's works are about people in motion, but the people are not fully human, not fully present, not fully credible. Sophie Finkham in her NYRB essay reflects on the interpretation that Deineka's people are no longer people of the old world and not yet people of a new world. They are busy getting there.

They are idealized figures rather than authentic human beings. There is a magazine cover art affinity in Deineka's people. They remind us of Norman Rockwell in the US and Martta Wendelin in Finland.

The nude belongs to Deineka's great continuities. He draws and paints nudes, male and female, with an infectious appetite. He loves the full-figured woman and the muscular male. Deineka himself loved boxing. His nudes are proud and unconstrained. Like for Finns, the sauna people, nudity is not a big deal. On the contrary, it is the most natural state to be.

But in Deineka's world, everybody is healthy and perfect, and there is a lingering question about where are all those who are invalids or have physical defects. Deineka fails to portray the full spectrum of humanity.

I was even reminded of Adolf Ziegler and his nudes such as Die vier Elemente that I saw in February in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Deineka's nudes are more vivid than Ziegler's, but both have an affinity with glossy pin-up paintings like those by the Peruvian master Alberto Vargas. The difference with Deineka is that while his figures are stylized, they still manage to convey beings of flesh and blood.

Deineka's position in the John Berger question of the male gaze in art history ("men look, women are looked at") is special. Deineka handles male and female nudes equally. His women are not objects. They are amazons, fighters, builders, sportswomen, mothers. They are subjects. We may look at them, but they ignore us, like in the painting The Textile Workers (see above).

Virtual art tour (inspired by The Art Issue of The New York Review of Books): Horace Pippin


The Park Bench, 1946, by Horace Pippin (American, 1888–1946), 2016-3-4. Photo and caption: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Mr. Prejudice, 1943, by Horace Pippin (American, 1888–1946), 1984-108-1. Photo and caption: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Horace Pippin (detail), February 4, 1940, by Carl Van Vechten (American, 1880–1964), 1965-86-750. Photo and caption: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A Chester County Art Critic (Portrait of Christian Brinton), 1940, by Horace Pippin (American, 1888–1946), 1941-79-139. Photo and caption: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The New York Review of Books: The Art Issue, 14 May 2020.
Corona lockdown art museum visits.

For the first time in the 125-year old history of the cinema, movie theatres are closed worldwide. The same with museums and galleries. In an innovative way, The New York Review of Books has dedicated an issue for art exhibitions that can be visited online. It's not the same thing but better than nothing! I started two weeks ago with my first one, Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (Met Breuer, New York). The visual quality of the museums' digital tours is high. They are worth visiting on a good television screen.

Following the NYRB Art Issue page by page, my next exhibition is Horace Pippin, introduced by an essay by Sanford Schwartz: "With Flying Colors".

Virtual visit:
Philadelphia Museum of Art: "Horace Pippin: From War to Peace".
Curator: Jessica T. Smith, The Susan Gray Detweiler Curator of American Art, and Manager, Center for American Art
Through December 2020.

Philadelphia Museum of Art: "Injured during World War I, Horace Pippin turned to painting to help mend his body and spirit. In the process, he created works of great power and poignancy and distinguished himself as one of the most original artists of his generation. This gathering of six paintings highlights Pippin’s pursuit of a range of themes, from racial violence and the alienation of war to the serene beauty of his home in Chester County, Pennsylvania."

"About the Artist: During World War I, Horace Pippin (1888–1946) served in the 369th Infantry Regiment, a division of African American soldiers. Stationed on the front line, Pippin’s battalion was one of four African American regiments to see combat. Pippin, who was shot in the right arm, was one of many millions wounded in action. Several years after returning to his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Pippin turned to painting to help his physical and mental recovery. This new pursuit strengthened his injured arm and enabled him to process haunting memories of the war. Working on his own, Pippin developed a distinctive technique and style. To paint, he used his left arm to brace his right arm while he clasped a brush in his right hand. By the time his work began to receive public attention, he had become a strong and original artist who was able to distill his experiences into images of great power and poignancy." Philadelphia Museum of Art

AA: Philadelphia Museum of Art is portraying a set of paintings by Horace Pippin. There are only six paintings in the exhibition, but sometimes a concise selection can make a strong statement. On display is an original vision with a sense of colour and composition and a self-taught artist's tendency to naivism and folk art, but also something beyond amateurism, something transcendental and even pointing towards abstraction, although the artist would have denied having any such drive. A special charge comes from the African-American experience. The African-American was welcome to fight in WWI but reminding about the war sacrifice was not welcome. (Pippin was a war invalid with a serious hand injury which made painting difficult). The painting "The Park Bench" conveys solitude among people and communion with nature. "Mr. Prejudice" is a vision of just that, with loaded symbols from the Statue of Liberty and Ku Klux Klan, linked via the Victory sign. "A Chester County Art Critic" is dedicated to Christian Brinton who promoted Pippin and helped him with prominent exhibition opportunities. These six are good appetizers. I look forward to more, for instance paintings singled out by Sanford Schwartz in his NYRB essay.

Virtual art tour (inspired by The Art Issue of The New York Review of Books): Sahel


Megalith. 8th–9th century. This rugged, carved megalith, distinctive for its lyrelike shape, was originally among more than one thousand stone monuments positioned in some ninety-three circles within a sixty-two mile band extending along the Gambia River. Four major concentrations of these have been found, including at the site of Wanar, which saw consistent if discontinuous occupation from the late second millennium B.C. until the twelfth century A.D. The creators of these enigmatic monuments were likely highly mobile herder farmers belonging to intermediate-scale communities. Their members may have periodically assembled at ritually specified times and been unified by a common regional identity. On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 199. Photo: Antoine Tempé. Title: Megalith. Date: 8th–9th century. Geography: Senegal, Kaolack region. Medium: Lateritic conglomerate. Dimensions: H. 82 11/16 × W. 63 × D. 31 1/2 in., 8862.5 lb. (210 × 160 × 80 cm, 4020 kg). Classification: Stone-Sculpture. Credit Line: Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal (IFAN). Photo and caption: The Met.

Pendant: Equestrian. 19th century. Dogon or Bozo peoples. Functional and sacred metalwork and ceramics were produced and consumed across the Middle Niger. As blacksmiths mastered the manipulation of various metals, they developed ambitious imagery that paralleled examples in fired clay. Notable among these shared subjects was the equestrian figure. The small scale of this intimate cast creation suggests a talisman worn upon the body. On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 199. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art (photo by Peter Zeray). Title: Pendant: Equestrian. Date: 19th century. Geography: Mali. Culture: Dogon or Bozo peoples. Medium: Copper alloy. Dimensions: H. 3 1/2 × W. 3 1/4 × D. 1/2 × L. 3 5/8 in. (8.9 × 8.3 × 1.3 × 9.2 cm). Classification: Metal-Ornaments. Credit Line: Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 1975. Accession Number: 1975.205. Photo and caption: The Met.

Boli. 19th–20th century. Bamana peoples. Segu’s leaders maintained political power through the possession and control of four potent occult objects known as “the great boliw of Segu.” Sometimes described as portable altars, boliw are understood to be a microcosm of the universe. Their surfaces are formed by packing, layering, and blending sacrificial materials into an indeterminate form that is believed to be a source of mystical power deliberately inaccessible to the uninitiated. Boliw were the primary targets of the jihad waged by the Umarian army. At the time of ‘Umar Tal’s victory over Segu, the leader’s chronicler Mamadou Ali Cam wrote: "The Differentiator [‘Umar Tal] then said to them [Bina Ali and the defeated Bamana]: “Now break them [the idols], crush them, and build mosques in all of Segu.” Ali said: “You mock me. You alone can smash them and survive. Anyone else would not live to tell the tale.” . . . Then the Unique One [‘Umar Tal] rose up and crushed [the idols] with his powerful hand, imitating the action of the Elected One [Muhammad] at Medina.”" On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 199. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art (photo by Peter Zeray). Boli, Wood, sacrificial materials, Bamana peoples. Title: Boli. Date: 19th–20th century. Geography: Mali. Culture: Bamana peoples. Medium: Wood, sacrificial materials. Dimensions: H. 12 1/2 × W. 7 1/2 × D. 17 3/4 in. (31.8 × 19.1 × 45.1 cm). Classification: Wood-Sculpture. Credit Line: Collection of Francesco Pellizzi, New York. Photo and caption: The Met.

The New York Review of Books: The Art Issue, 14 May 2020.
Corona lockdown art museum visits.

For the first time in the 125-year old history of the cinema, movie theatres are closed worldwide. The same with museums and galleries. In an innovative way, The New York Review of Books has dedicated an issue for art exhibitions that can be visited online. It's not the same thing but better than nothing! I started two weeks ago with my first one, Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (Met Breuer, New York). The visual quality of the museums' digital tours is high. They are worth visiting on a good television screen.

Following the NYRB Art Issue page by page, my next exhibition is Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, introduced by an essay by Howard W. French: Treasures of the Sahel.

Virtual visit:
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara.
The Met Fifth Avenue January 30–August 23, 2020

Exhibition Overview of Metropolitan Museum of Art: "From the first millennium, the western Sahel—a vast region in Africa just south of the Sahara Desert that spans what is today Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—was the birthplace of a succession of influential polities. Fueled by a network of global trade routes extending across the region, the empires of Ghana (300–1200), Mali (1230–1600), Songhay (1464–1591), and Segu (1640–1861) cultivated an enormously rich material culture."

"Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara is the first exhibition of its kind to trace the legacy of those mighty states and what they produced in the visual arts. The presentation brings into focus transformative developments—such as the rise and fall of political dynasties, and the arrival of Islam—through some two hundred objects, including sculptures in wood, stone, fired clay, and bronze; objects in gold and cast metal; woven and dyed textiles; and illuminated manuscripts."

"Highlights include loans from the region's national collections, such as a magnificent ancient terracotta equestrian figure (third through eleventh century) from the Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines, University of Niamey, Niger; and a dazzling twelfth-century gold pectoral that is a Senegalese national treasure, from the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, in Dakar."

"The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue bring together an array of cross-disciplinary perspectives on the material, with contributions from historians specializing in oral traditions and Islam, archaeologists, philosophers, and art historians.
" (Exhibition Overview)

AA: On my virtual art tour, the Sahel exhibition is the most haunting, rewarding and humbling. How little we know. 4000 years of history in a huge area are covered in this exhibition which displays many artistic practices and spiritual traditions. Howard W. French in his essay emphasizes that this area has been Islamic for a thousand years, as long as the Nordic countries have been Christian. There is  as little justification to claim that the art of Sahel is animist as to argue that Finnish art is. There are 181 Sahel art objects on the Met website in beautiful photographs and interesting program notes. Usually they are scattered in many museums. It is a privilege to have such an engrossing overview.

Virtual art tour (inspired by The Art Issue of The New York Review of Books): Jean-Jacques Lequeu


Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Porte de sortie du parc des plaisirs, de la chasse du prince, 1800. Photo: Wikipedia from: "Klassizismus und Romantik. 1750-1848", Hrsg. Rolf Toman, Verlag Ullmann und Könemann, Sonderausgabe, ISDN 978-3-8331-3555-2

Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Ce quelle voit en songe. Material description : 1 dess. : plume, lavis, en coul. ; 34 x 41,6 cm (f.) Technique de l'image : dessin. - plume. - lavis d'encre. Sources : Jean-Jacques Lequeu : bâtisseur de fantasmes / sous la direction de Laurent Baridon, Jean-Philippe Garric et Martial Guédron, Bibliothèque nationale de France et Éditions Norma, 2018, n. 122. Dessinateur : Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1826). Source: BnF Gallica.

Jean Jacque Le Queu, J.ur, architecte. Material description : 1 dess. : plume, lavis, en coul. ; 45 x 31 cm (f.). Note : Technique de l'image : dessin. - plume. - lavis d'encre. Note : L'artiste s'est représenté dans une niche, entouré de volumes portant les noms de plusieurs de ses projets, entre autres : "Détails de Batimens", "Plan de la ville de Paris", "Des cartes de géographie", "Les principes géométriques de dessin", "L'église paroissiale de St Germain en Laye", "Le grand hospice d'humanité pour la ville de Bordeaux", "Grand hôtel de ville", "Outils nécessaire pour le blanchissage du linge fin", "Le casin de Grawensel dessiné à la manière du lavis". Bien que daté par l'artiste de 1792, le dessin a manifestement été terminé plus tardivement, les titres de certaines des réalisations figurant au dos des livres correspondant à des projets postérieurs à la date de 1792. Sources : Jean-Jacques Lequeu : bâtisseur de fantasmes / sous la direction de Laurent Baridon, Jean-Philippe Garric et Martial Guédron, Bibliothèque nationale de France et Éditions Norma, 2018, n. 1. Dessinateur : Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1826). Source: BnF Gallica.

The New York Review of Books: The Art Issue, 14 May 2020.
Corona lockdown art museum visits.

For the first time in the 125-year old history of the cinema, movie theatres are closed worldwide. The same with museums and galleries. In an innovative way, The New York Review of Books has dedicated an issue for art exhibitions that can be visited online. It's not the same thing but better than nothing! I started two weeks ago with my first one, Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (Met Breuer, New York). The visual quality of the museums' digital tours is high. They are worth visiting on a good television screen.

Following the NYRB Art Issue page by page, my next exhibition is Jean-Jacques Lequeu, introduced by an essay by James Fenton: "What He Saw in a Dream".

Virtual visit:
Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF): 817 documents by Jean-Jacques Lequeu.
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York City: Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect. Drawings from the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The introduction of The Morgan Library & Museum: "Six months before he died in poverty and obscurity, architect and draftsman Jean‐Jacques Lequeu (1757–1826) donated one more than 800 drawings, one of the most singular and fascinating graphic oeuvres of his time, to the French Royal Library. They remained there, in the institution that would become the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The Morgan Library & Museum is proud to be the first institution in New York City to present a selection of these works. Some sixty of these works, the best of Lequeu’s several hundred drawings, are now on view in Jean‐Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect, the first museum retrospective to bring significant public and scholarly attention to one of the most imaginative architects of the Enlightenment.

Lequeu’s meticulous drawings in pen and wash include highly detailed renderings of buildings and imaginary monuments populating invented landscapes. His mission was to see and describe everything systematically—from the animal to the organic, from erotic fantasy to his own visage. Solitary and obsessive, he created the fantastic worlds shown in his drawings without ever leaving his studio, and enriched them with characters and stories drawn from his library.
" (The Morgan Library & Museum)

AA: Jean-Jacques Lequeu is a truly unknown master, and in his NYRB essay James Fenton explains why: "The reputation of an artist, and the understanding of his or her work, can be adversely affected if all that work happens, for some reason, to be kept in one place. Normally when an artist dies there is a process of dissemination of the work, which gets divided in the first instance among family members and collectors, and then among museums, and then through auctions and so forth. Practically every one of the almost eight hundred drawings Lequeu left is at the National Library in Paris (the Metropolitan Museum in New York has some). So until the present show, the only way really to form a judgment about Lequeu would have been to secure permission to examine his drawings oneself in Paris. It is striking how the lack of sympathy evidenced by one traveling show (the one that began in Houston in 1967) must have affected Lequeu’s reputation: “a motionless and disabling universe,” “pedantic curiosity,” “meticulousness amounting to mania.” Then, after half a century, came another chance to look. And now that chance has, for the time being, gone. But at least we now know that there is something extraordinary there—and that we are missing it."

Lequeu was an artist out of step with his time during the ancient regime, the revolution and the counter-revolution. It is easy to understand the pejorative commens quoted by Fenton in his essay. But Fenton has a genuine dreamlike drive in his precisely crafted artworks. His architectural ideas are both fantastic and precise. The same goes for his sexual visions: there is no passion in them, and there is rather an affinity with a textbook of anatomy. Except that also in them Lequeu is at home in the field of dreams ("if you build it, they will come"...). For instance the middle image above, "What She Sees In a Dream" seems oddly formal at first glance, and only on closer inspection we detect details such as the winged lingami. Also the expression of a sleepwalker brings to mind surrealist painters such as Delvaux.

Virtual art tour (inspired by The Art Issue of The New York Review of Books): Félix Fénéon


Paul Signac: Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890, 1890. Museum of Modern Art / Paige Knight / © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. From: The New York Review of Books, 14 May 2020.

Georges-Pierre Seurat: Model in Profile, 1886. Musée d’Orsay, Paris / RMN-Grand Palais / Adrien Didierjean. From: The New York Review of Books, 14 May 2020.

The New York Review of Books: The Art Issue, 14 May 2020.
Corona lockdown art museum visits.

For the first time in the 125-year old history of the cinema, movie theatres are closed worldwide. The same with museums and galleries. In an innovative way, The New York Review of Books has dedicated an issue for art exhibitions that can be visited online. It's not the same thing but better than nothing! I started two weeks ago with my first one, Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (Met Breuer, New York). The visual quality of the museums' digital tours is high. They are worth visiting on a good television screen.

Following the NYRB Art Issue page by page, my next exhibition is Félix Fénéon, introduced by an essay by Jed Perl: A Rage for Clarity.

Virtual visit:
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Félix Fénéon. The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde—From Signac to Matisse and Beyond.

MoMA introduction: "Who was Félix Fénéon? The first exhibition dedicated to this extraordinarily influential but little-known figure explores how he shaped the development of modernism. A French art critic, editor, publisher, dealer, and collector, Fénéon (1861–1944) championed the careers of young, avant-garde artists from Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac to Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, among many others. He was also a pioneering collector of art from Africa and Oceania. A fervent anarchist during a period of gaping economic and social disparities, Fénéon believed in the potential of avant-garde art to promote a more harmonious, egalitarian world."

"This exhibition is currently being presented here as part of our Virtual Views series, as we “museum from home.” Explore Fénéon’s life and the art that inspired him through highlights from MoMA curator Starr Figura, along with art, audio, and video features below." (MoMA introduction)

AA: Félix Fénéon's life story, as told by Jed Perl, is mind-boggling, but for me this tour is interesting as an excursion in pure colourism in art, and in this, Fénéon had soul-mates in Finland such as Sigurd Frosterus, who also loved Signac and Seurat, among others. Like Fénéon, Frosterus was interested in modernism as a transformation of the world. The interest in pure art was thus not a case of "art for art's sake". It may seem paradoxical that, to quote Perl, "what was essential to the new style was the emphasis on stability and timelessness". Fénéon saw that "for Seurat and his cohort, who were interested in new scientific ideas about color perception, 'objective reality is simply a theme for the creation of a higher, sublimated reality, suffused with their own personality.'" The post-impressionists were after "A time outside of time". But this higher reality was not an end in itself.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Pravo no pamyat / The Right to Memory


Arseny Roginsky in Ludmila Gordon's Pravo no pamyat / Право но память / The Right to Memory (2018). Arseny Roginsky tells how he was born in the GULAG in 1946. My screenshot from YouTube.

Право но память
    RU © 2018 Ludmila Gordon. D: Ludmila Gordon. Cin: Mika Altskan.
    A documentary film. Monologue: Arseny Roginsky.
    English translation: Alexander Altskan.
    96 min
Premiere: Moscow & Perm, 30 March 2018, International Memorial Society.
Corona lockdown viewings.
A free access film on The Right to Memory website / YouTube.
Viewed on a 4K tv set at home, Helsinki, 16 May 2020.

It is great happiness, to have memory.
But it is arduous work to keep it preserved.
My cause is the work of memory.
– Arseny Roginsky

Introduction on the film's website: "The Right to Memory is an intimate portrayal of one of Russia's greatest public intellectuals, influential historian and human rights advocate, Arseny Roginsky (1946–2017)."

"In an eloquent and captivating monologue, Roginsky, a co-founder and long-term leader of the Memorial Society, former dissident and political prisoner, reflects on his life and his country’s past, present, and future."

"Оne year before his death, Roginsky revealed, for the first time on film, his innermost thoughts about his birth in the Gulag, the mechanism of mass terror, the historian's duty, and why his countrymen reject the memory of the totalitarian past." (Introduction on The Right to Memory website)

AA: Having read Benjamin Nathans's essay "Profiles in Decency" in The New York Review of Books (23 April 2020 issue) I decided to see Ludmila Gordon's film, the first of the two movies discussed in the piece. The other one, Meeting Gorbachev by Werner Herzog and André Singer, I hope to see, as well.

The Gulag theme is still seriously underrepresented in world cinema compared, for instance, with Holocaust cinema. Ludmila Gordon's movie is a distinguished contribution. It is quite simply the oral history of Arseny Roginsky, author, historian and co-founder and head of Memorial.

Just before his death he agreed to tell his life story on film. It is a devastating story of terror and persecution that has continued over generations, although there have been periods of hope such as the great rehabilitations during the Khrushchev Thaw and most remarkably during the Glasnost of Gorbachev.

It is a sober and lucid story with three great lessons that Roginsky wants to share: 1) don't get killed, 2) maintain self-respect and dignity, and 3) continue work. These kinds of lessons sound familiar from life stories of Nelson Mandela and other heroes of civil courage and disobedience. I have recently been reading Tolstoy and about Tolstoyanism, also relevant here. Roginsky mentions having written a study about the massacre of pacifist Tolstoyans in the context of the 1940s.

The film is divided into five chapters: 1) Place of Birth: SevDvinLag (The Northern Dvina Labor Camp), 2) Forbidden Memory, 3) They Will Be Free, IV Memorial, and V State and Individual. The focus is on the last chapter. The persecution was not about bad people terrorizing innocent people. It was about state terror, and that is the hardest part for Russian citizens to accept.

Because Roginsky did not belong to Komsomol and because he was Jewish, he was not allowed to study in the universities in Russia, but he managed to get into Tartu university where he studied under Yuri Lotman. Soon Roginsky became a dissident intellectual, active in publishing a samizdat journal called Pamyat (Memory) and inevitably landing into the Gulag himself.

The future looked bleak, but the hunger-strike death of the Gulag prisoner Anatoly Marchenko in 1986 changed everything. Practically all political prisoners were set free by Gorbachev. Marchenko's "death was a powerful catalyst". Roginsky gives a resume of the achievements of Memorial. Its significance is huge, since "half of the people of the country do not know where their great-grandfathers are buried". Mass killings leave little traces, and finding out about them is a fight against time.

There are thousands of stories to be told about Gulag, also regarding Finns. Gordon and Roginsky's movie provides a model of how such a story can be told soberly and unflinchingly.

Klaus Wyborny: Hommage an Ludwig van Beethoven (2006)







Hommage an Ludwig van Beethoven (op. 111 und Missa Solemnis).
    DE 2006 Typee Records. © 1972 / 1986 / 2006 Klaus Wyborny. P+D+SC+Cin+ED: Klaus Wyborny.
    M: Ludwig van Beethoven:
    Opus 111: Klaviersonate Nr. 32 in c-Moll (1822), arr. + perf. Klaus Wyborny
    Opus 123: Missa solemnis in D-Dur (1822) – Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei – Arturo Toscanini cond. – NBC Symphony Orchestra – Carnegie Hall, New York, 28 Dec 1940. (Mit z.T. Klaviereinsprengseln von Klaus Wyborny)
    73 min
    Corona lockdown viewings / Beethoven 250.
    Münchner Filmmuseum: Klaus Wyborny retrospective.
    A Vimeo link viewed on a 4K tv set at home, Helsinki, 16 May 2020.

From Klaus Wyborny's homepage:

Versuch der Visualisierung zweier Beethovenscher Spätwerke, in fünf Teilen:

    1. op. 111 – 1
    2. op. 111 – 2
    3. Gloria (aus der Missa Solemnis)
mit Bildern (in der Reihenfolge ihres ersten Erscheinens) vom Lake Baringo, aus Nakuru, Tambach, Ndarawga, Sagana, Kabarnet, Karatina, Kiganjo, Nyahururu, Kapsabet, Chebloch, vom Mount Kenya, aus Mugondoi, Biretwo, Marigat, Naru Moru, Rumuruti, Nyeri, Nandi Hills, Loruk, Subukia und dem Subukia Valley. Das christliche Sentiment fällt über die Hütten Afrikas her und zieht es in seinen Zusammenhang, bis sich in der großen Fuge des Gloria seine andere Natur offenbart: die Musik wirkt auf einmal wie ein riesiges Rad, das Afrika überrollt, das dortige Leben zerquetscht und zum Teil eines gewaltigen Musters macht, gegen das es keine Gegenwehr gibt.

    4. Sanctus (aus der Missa Solemnis)
mit Bildern aus (in der Reihenfolge ihres ersten Erscheinens) Rothwell, von den Liverpool Docks, aus Ravensthorpe, Sheffield, Runcorn, Huddersfield, Bradford, Ashton upon Lyne, Stockport, Manchester, Leeds, Glossop und Keighley. Die Orte, von denen einst die Beherrschung der Welt ausging, werden ein letztes mal heilig gesprochen, doch das stolz vibrierende Sentiment des Benedictus trifft nur auf verfallene Fabrikhallen an zugeschütteten Häfen, auf eine geprügelte Erde, die zum Opfer ihres Ehrgeizes geworden ist.

    5. Agnus Dei (aus der Missa Solemnis)
mit Bildern aus (in der Reihenfolge ihres ersten Erscheinens) Oltepesi, Tigoni, Olepotos, Limuru, Eldoret, vom Lake Magadi, aus Naivasha, Kaptagat, Muguga, Plateau, Chepkorio, Magadi, Equator, vom Lake Elementeita, aus Gilgil und vom Hell's Gate. Neben den Hütten der Einwohner sind nun auch vermehrt Resultate der Europäisierung Afrikas zu sehen: Straßen, ländliche Urbanität und Spuren einer Industrialisierung, die rührend halbherzig und zugleich brutal ist. Empört versucht eine Klaviermusik gegen das Mitgefühl der Beethovenschen Musik anzugehen, bis auch diese in einer Kakophonie ihrer Bestürzung über den Zustand der Welt Ausdruck verleiht.

Stimmen:

"Klaus Wyborny, ein Stammgast des Festivals, lehrt uns in seiner "Hommage an Ludwig van Beethoven", wie man Töne sehen kann und welches Abenteuer die Suche nach Zusammenhängen darstellt – ein enormes, radikales Musikvideo gegen alle Musikvideos, voller Assoziationen über mehr als 200 Jahre Kulturgeschichte, die von Europa nach Afrika reicht. "
– Hans Schifferle, Süddeutsche Zeitung vom 25. Okt. 2006 anläßlich der Premiere auf der Viennale in Wien

"Der Film beginnt mit einer Visualisierung von Beethovens Sonate Nr. 32 c-moll op 111, und um ein Haar wäre Wyborny fast am ersten Satz gescheitert. Ja, fast hätte ihn das "wilde, kahle Feuer" (Kaiser) dieser letzten Beethovenschen Sturmmusik in Stücke gerissen. Wer sich nämlich hier, wenn das aggressive Allegro explodiert (nachdem die Sonate zunächst so gespreizt mit einer ausdrücklich "falschen" Adresse im altertümelnd französichen Ouvertürenrhythmus begonnen hatte), auf jeden Bruch und alle Extreme einlässt; wer diese dialektischen Spanungspole unbedingt in feinsten agogischen Abstufungen herausarbeiten, die Tempokontraste kantig modellieren will, den zerreißt es. Wyborny zog sich, Beethoven hätte das bekanntlich ebenso gemacht im Ernstfall, improvisatorisch an den eigenen Haaren aus dem Abgrund. Im Publikum haben wohl viele von dem Drama nichts bemerkt. Andere merkten es, erschraken, fassten sich, atmeten auf – und waren dann überwältigt von der genialen Lösung."

"Im zweiten Satz, dem langsamen, muss sich das Wunder der Arietta ereignen. Er ist noch schwerer zu spielen als der erste. Wie ein Kinderlied floss diese einfache Gesangesrede aus Wybornys Fingern und floss durch seine Bilder hindurch. Sehr hell, sehr leicht. Nicht zu langsam, nicht zu schnell, keine Geheimnistuerei, kein Geraune. Einfach nur so ein Lied. Landet im Zeitraffer und verdichtet sich von Variation zu Variation, ohne dabei den Kinderblick zu verlieren oder aufzuschrecken aus dieser altersweisen Schildkrötenruhe."

"Es ist ja schon viel geschrieben worden über diese Melodie und ihre überirdischen Verirrungen, ihren Swing, ihr Tinnitusglockenklingeln, ihren Stillstand und ihr Nicht-Enden.Wollen, von Thomas Mann, von Igor Strawinsky und Milan Kundera, und das alles unbedingt treffend, wahr und so weiter. Und müssen doch alles wieder vergessen in dem Moment, wenn die Musik neu an uns vorübergeht. Zwanzig Minuten, ungefähr, dann hört das hell und leicht wieder auf, der Pianist klatschnass, wir alle in Tränen.
"
– E. B. im Standard

Aufsatz von Dietrich Kuhlbrodt (aus "Schnitt", Dez 2006).

AA: Klaus Wyborny dives deep into the late music of Beethoven. During his last years the composer was not well, he suffered from a loss of hearing, and yet he composed some of his greatest music, including also the late string quartets and the choral symphony.

Wyborny's exploration is music-driven. The director plays the keyboards himself and lets us listen to a classic 1940 recording of Arturo Toscanini conducting the Missa solemnis with Zinka Milanov, soprano, Bruna Castagna, alto, Jussi Björling, tenor and Alexander Kipnis, bass.

This film belongs to the radical experimental current of visual music. The images have no obvious connection with the music, but the rhythm and the tempo are based on Beethoven, which reminds us that the sense of rhythm and tempo was always engaging and engrossing in Beethoven. Wyborny even observes Beethoven's characteristic "dotted rhythms".

Thus, Wyborny not only plays the keyboards, he plays the editing table with blitz montages, visual barrages, tintings, psychedelic colour mutations and superimpositions. Sometimes the blinking is on the verge of accelerating beyond perception.

This brings us back to the genesis of flash montage in films by Griffith, Gance and Eisenstein, and of course of these three it was Abel Gance who was particularly obsessed with Beethoven, and not only in his films The Tenth Symphony and Beethoven's Great Love.

The green hills of Africa seem far away from Beethoven's age of revolution and counter-revolution. The African imagery is an extreme distancing effect, as is the distortion of the music on the soundtrack. Like in Mauricio Kagel's Ludwig van, the distortion helps us identify with Beethoven's struggle to hear, and the victory of the spirit he finally achieved.

The Goat (Buster Keaton, 1921)


Buster Keaton and Virginia Fox on the poster for The Goat (1921). Photo: Internet Movie Database.

Syntipukki / Syndabocken / Pulmallisessa asemassa / Malec l'insaisissable.
    US 1921. PC: Joseph M. Schenck Productions / Buster Keaton Productions. Original distributor: Metro Pictures Corporation. P: Joseph M. Schenck. D+SC: Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair. Cin: Elgin Lessley – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1 – silent with English intertitles. Technical D: Fred Gabourie.
    C: Buster Keaton (The Goat), Virginia Fox (the police chief's daughter), Joe Roberts (Police Chief), Malcolm St. Clair (Dead Shot Dan), Edward F. Cline (cop by telephone pole), Jean C. Havez, Kitty Bradbury, Joe Keaton, Louise Keaton, Myra Keaton.
    Loc: Los Angeles (914 S. Alvarado Street, Inglewood Train Station).
    23 min
    US premiere: 18 May 1921 – distributor: Metro Pictures.
    Helsinki premiere: 10 May 1923 Apollo – released by Adams Filmi Oy.
    Robert Israel composed the score for the 1995 re-release.
    Lobster Films restoration (2015) with a Mont Alto Orchestra music compilation.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    Lobster Films 2015 restoration viewed at home, Helsinki, 16 May 2020.

AA: The Goat was Buster Keaton's eighth independent production. During his first nine months in independent productions, starting in September 1920, he released eight short films, all great.

Virginia Fox was Keaton's leading lady in ten short comedies. After them, in 1924, she married the producer Darryl F. Zanuck who would become the Vice President of Production for Twentieth Century-Fox when it was founded in 1935 in a merger of Fox Film Corporation and Twentieth Century Pictures. She became the mother of Richard D. Zanuck and two other children.

I was intrigued to see The Goat at last, having read Imogen Sara Smith's wonderful book Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy (2013). The Goat was for her the film that opened her eyes to the genius of Keaton. As for me, I possibly saw The Goat for the first time today. I became a convert to Keaton when Raymond Rohauer visited Finland in November 1971 with his big touring Keaton retrospective. I saw many of his prints on the screen, and the rest of his package on television in the next years. But we have never mounted nor have I have ever seen a complete retrospective of Keaton's shorts, not even in home viewing. With the corona lockdown I may have no excuse...

The surprise of The Goat (the title means: "Scapegoat") is in its freedom from logic and plausibility. It is an adventure in the absurd, in the realm of dreams, with an acute sense of the nightmare. It is a surrealist film made before the Surrealist Manifesto (which was published in 1924). It may be one of the films that actually inspired surrealists (who were very big film buffs).

Some shots are justly famous: Keaton's close-up behind the window bars of the photographer's studio (causing a mix-up with the convicted murderer Dead Shot Dan). His head growing rapidly from a long shot into a close-up on the cowcatcher of an approaching steam engine (prefiguring The General, 1926). Hilarious gags include his trying to hide on top of a clay model of a horse statue (with his signature "sentinel gesture" of holding a hand over the eyes).

The Goat is very much a chase film. The policemen chasing Buster have already a similar nightmarish presence as in Cops (1922). The final chase in the police chief's house takes place in the staircase and the elevator shaft, with a fantastic final gag in which Buster manipulates the elevator's control switch.

Some of the acrobatics of the chases border on the incredible like Buster's panther leap over the dinner table and through a narrow window over the door to escape the police chief who is also the father of his sweetheart.

There is a Kafkaesque dimension. Thanks to the wanted poster, everybody recognizes Buster and knows only one thing: he is guilty. During the chase Keaton, too, starts to think that he might be guilty: he might have accidentally killed the man who scolded Virginia rudely when she was walking her dog and the man stumbled upon the leash.

Although the plot defies logic and credibility, each set and action has been designed with mathematical perfection.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: SYNOPSIS FROM WIKIPEDIA:

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 5 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1998)


Julius Schmid (1854–1935): Beethoven plays the piano.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 18/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 4–7
Der Gräfin Anna Margarete von Browne gewidmet.
Stephen Kovacevich, 1998.

Opus 10 Nr. 1: Klaviersonate Nr. 5 in c-Moll (1798)
Erster Satz: Allegro molto e con brio, c-Moll, 3/4 Takt, 284 Takte
Zweiter Satz: Adagio molto, As-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 112 Takte
Dritter Satz: Finale. Prestissimo, c-Moll, alla breve, 122 Takte

AA: My progress in listening to Beethoven's piano sonatas keeps getting slower, not because I'm listening less, but because I'm listening more and focusing increasingly on a single sonata for several days.

A particularly revelatory source has been the lecture cycle of András Schiff on the sonatas. Schiff performed the complete Beethoven piano sonatas at Wigmore Hall in 2004–2006, quoting the Wigmore Hall website:

"to overwhelming critical acclaim, with the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, describing one particular performance as ‘a riveting mixture of erudition, analysis, passion, wit and memory’."

"On the day before each of the eight recitals in the series, the world-renowned pianist, pedagogue and lecturer gave a lecture-recital in which he explored the works to be performed. Deeply engaging and insightful, these thought-provoking lecture-recitals, recorded live at the Hall, are available below as eight audio lecture-recitals.
" (Wigmore Hall homepage).

As somebody who is not a music connoisseur I recommend these lectures to everybody because of their artistic and cultural value. For instance, the lecture about the fifth piano sonata takes over 50 minutes, while the sonata itself is only 16 minutes long in Kovacevich's recording.

Schiff demonstrates Beethoven's here by now great difference to Mozart and Haydn and describes some general characteristics of him: the generosity, the warmth and the fullness of his approach, his way of writing "for the fist", his very strong sense of rhythm and tempo and yet the capacity of flexibility in performance while always obeying a sense of order. According to Schiff Beethoven was the first composer who was quite meticulous in his notations.

Schiff has a penchant for the humoristic aside. Commenting on the dedications on the piano sonatas he observes that the dedicatees were usually music lovers. "Let's not forget that the amateur, amatore, means somebody who actually loves music – and that is not always the case with professionals".

In the third movement there is an anticipation of the Fifth Symphony and its Schicksals-motive. Also an anticipation of the Tempest sonata is mentioned by Schiff. In the beautiful Adagio I felt an affinity with the Romanze Op. 50, also from 1798.

Besides the Stephen Kovacevich and András Schiff interpretations I listened to several others, admiring the lyrical and tender touches of Claudio Arrau and the profound concentration of Emil Gilels whose slow movement is much slower than Kovacevich's, conveying a sense of endlessness. Schiff in his lecture talks about Beethoven's fondness for a singing quality in slow movements, notes that cannot be long enough. Gilels certainly achieves such a quality.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (the movie)



FR/NZ © 2019 GFC (Capital) Limited & Upside SAS. PC: General Film Corporation / Upside Production. P: Yann Le Prado, Matthew Metcalfe.
    A documentary film.
    D: Justin Pemberton. SC: Matthew Metcalfe, Justin Pemberton, Thomas Piketty – from the book Le Capital au XXIe siècle (2013) by Thomas Piketty. Cin: Jacob Bryant, Darryl Ward – colour – release: digital. M: Jean-Benoît Dunckel. S: Steve Finnigan. ED: Sandie Bompar.
    Featuring: Ian Bremmer, Lucas Chancel, Bryce Edwards, Rana Foroohar, Francis Fukuyama, Simon Johnson, Paul Mason, Suresh Naidu, Paul Piff, Thomas Piketty, Faisa Shaheen, Joseph Stiglitz, Gillian Tett, Kate Williams, Gabriel Zucman.
    In English and French with English subtitles.
    103 min
    Festival premiere: 13 June 2019 Sydney Film Festival.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    Vimeo link viewed on a 4K tv set at home in Helsinki, 13 May 2020.

Studiocanal synopsis: "Adapting one of the most groundbreaking and powerful books of our time, Capital in the 21st Century is an eye-opening journey through wealth and power, that breaks the popular assumption that the accumulation of capital runs hand in hand with social progress, shining a new light on the world around us and its growing inequalities. Traveling through time from the French Revolution and other huge global shifts, to world wars and through to the rise of new technologies today, the film assembles accessible pop-culture references coupled with interviews of some of the world's most influential experts delivering an insightful and empowering journey through the past and into our future." —Studiocanal

Kino Marquee synopsis: "Based on the international bestseller by rock-star economist Thomas Piketty (which sold over three million copies worldwide and landed Piketty on Time's list of most influential people), this captivating documentary is an eye-opening journey through wealth and power, a film that breaks the popular assumption that the accumulation of capital runs hand in hand with social progress, and shines a new light on today’s growing inequalities. Traveling through time, the film assembles accessible pop-culture references coupled with interviews of some of the world’s most influential experts delivering an insightful and empowering journey through the past and into our future."

AA: Justin Pemberton has created a high profile documentary film based on Thomas Piketty's book Le Capital au XXIe siècle, a modern classic of political economy. There is a sterling roster of commentators, and the historical scope is wide, starting from the 18th century and continuing to our days. Even for those who have read Piketty's books (also his newer one, Capital et idéologie, 2019), a dramatized summary can be welcome.

Unfortunately, Pemberton does not succeed in finding a form for his film. He offers a little bit of everything from statements by talking heads (they are the strongest asset), newsreel footage from the 125 years of film history, and a lot of clips from fictional films. There are illuminating animations and relevant pop music clips, too.

It does not work, but this film is exciting as a showcase of the possibilities of this kind of film project. I would look forward to a television series based on these premises.

Visually and aesthetically I had a feeling of an "uncanny valley" at times, a Photoshopped quality in the talking heads. Colorization of historical documents does not make them look more convincing to me. On the contrary, I am turning increasingly critical to the cavalier attitude to historical documents even in the most revered achievements of compilation film. I would welcome annotation and source criticism / information evaluation in serious documentary films. That would not turn them more boring.

We are living in a time of change, and Piketty's books have been welcomed as key statements across political demarcation lines.

Piketty is critical of capitalism, but there is also a sense in which he is defending capitalism – from itself. Like in the 1870s and the 1930s, a radical change is imminent because otherwise capitalism will self-destruct.

Read the books – they are more engrossing and even entertaining than this film that is striving too hard to please.

Women Make Film 11: Tension, Stasis, Leave Out


Women Make Film: Chapter 29: Tension: Selma / Ava DuVernay, GB/US 2014. Screenshot from the Women Make Film website. A classic scene about passive resistance.

Women Make Film: Chapter 30: Stasis: Les Rendez-vous d'Anna / The Meetings of Anna / Chantal Akerman, FR/BE/DE 1978. Screenshot from the Women Make Film website.

Women Make Film: Chapter 31: Leave Out: Wadjda / وجدة / Haifaa Al-Mansour, SA/NL/DE/JO/AE/US 2012. Screenshot from the Women Make Film website.

Women Make Film. A New Road Movie Through Cinema
Women Make Film. Uusi matka elokuvaan
    GB © 2019 How To Make A Movie Ltd. PC: Hopscotch Films. P: John Archer. EX: Clara Glynn, Tilda Swinton. Assistant P: Sonali Choudhury. Associate P: Carl Beauchamp, Catherine Glynn Benkaim, Barbara Timmer.
    D+SC: Mark Cousins. Sound mixing: Diane Jardine. S: Joe Harfield. ED+script consultant: Timo Langer. Online: Chas Chalmers. Edit assistant: Scott Bilsbrough. P coordinator: Mhairi Valentine. P team: David Brown, Rowan Ings, Raja Kryda. World Sales: Dogwoof. Head of sales: Ana Vicente. Legal: David Burgess.
    https://www.womenmakefilm.com/
    14 hours – HD – 16:9
    Festival premiere: 1 Sep 2018 Venice Film Festival
    Finnish telepremieres of the 14 episodes: 3.3.2020, 10.3.2020, 17.3.2020, 24.3.2020, 1.4.2020, 8.4.2020, 15.4.2020, 22.4.2020, 29.4.2020, 6.5.2020, 13.5.2020, 20.5.2020, 27.5.2020, 3.6.2020
    Corona lockdown viewings / Women Make Film.
    Yle Areena: viewed on a 4K tv set at home in Helsinki, 13 May 2020.

Episode 11/14: Tension, Stasis, Leave Out
Jakso 11/14: Jännitystä ja pysähtyneitä hetkiä
Narrator: Thandie Newton
Finnish / Swedish subtitles: Tiina Kähkönen / Sari Östman

Chapter 29. Tension / Jännitystä ilmassa

Demon Lover Diary / Joel DeMott, dok, US 1980 [unreleased in Finland]
Dreams of a Life / Carol Morley, dok, GB/IE 2011 [unreleased in Finland]
Archipelago / Joanna Hogg, GB 2010 [unreleased in Finland]
Blue Steel / Kylmää terästä / Kathryn Bigelow, US 1990
Hotell / Hotel / Lisa Langseth, SE/DK 2013 [unreleased in Finland]
Évolution / Evolution / Lucile Hadžihalilović, FR/BE/ES 2015 [unreleased in Finland]
Ung flukt / The Wayward Girl / Nuoret syntiset / Edith Carlmar, NO 1959
The Peacemaker / Rauhantekijä / Mimi Leder, US 1997
De Stilte Rond Christine M. / A Question of Silence / Marleen Gorris, NL 1982 [unreleased in Finland]
Selma / Selma / Ava DuVernay, GB/US 2014
Astenicheski sindrom / Астенический синдром / The Asthenic Syndrome / Asteeninen oire / Kira Muratova, SU 1990

Chapter 30. Stasis / Levollisuus / Stillhet

Plätze in Städten / Places in Cities / Angela Schanelec, DE 1998 [unreleased in Finland]
Brownian Movement / Nanouk Leopold, NL 2010 [unreleased in Finland]
Astenicheski sindrom / Астенический синдром / The Asthenic Syndrome / Asteeninen oire / Kira Muratova, SU 1990
Colour Poems: Terra Firma / Margaret Tait, exp., c.m. GB 1974
Kid / Fien Troch, BE/NL/DE 2012 [unreleased in Finland]
De Stilte Rond Christine M. / A Question of Silence / Marleen Gorris, NL 1982 [unreleased in Finland]
Les Rendez-vous d'Anna / The Meetings of Anna / Chantal Akerman, FR/BE/DE 1978 [unreleased in Finland]
Double Tide / Sharon Lockhart, dok, US/AT 2009
Hamaca paraguaya / Paraguayan Hammock / Paz Encina, AR/NL/Paraguay/AT/FR/DE 2006 [unreleased in Finland]
Khamosh pani / خاموش پانی / ਖਮੋਸ਼ ਪਾਨੀ / Silent Waters / Hiljaiset vedet / Sabiha Sumar, PK/FR/DE 2003
Marlina si Pembunuh dalam Empat Babak / Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts / Mouly Surya, ID/FR/MY/TH 2017 [unreleased in Finland]

Chapter 31. Leave Out / Pois jättäminen

Chekhovskie motivy / Чеховские мотивы / Chekhov's Motifs / Tshehovilaistunnelmissa / Kira Muratova, UA/RU 2002
Je tu il elle / Chantal Akerman, FR/BG 1974 [unreleased in Finland]
Baby ryazanskie / Бабы рязанские / Women of Ryazan / Rjazanin naiset / Olga Preobrazhenskaya, SU 1927
Wadjda / وجدة / Vihreä polkupyörä / Haifaa Al-Mansour, SA/NL/DE/JO/AE/US 2012
Khake sar beh mohr / خاک مهر شده / The Sealed Soil / Marva Nabili, IR 1977 [unreleased in Finland]
The Day I'll Never Forget / Kim Longinotto, dok, GB 2002 [unreleased in Finland]
Baxter, Vera Baxter / Marguerite Duras, FR 1977 [unreleased in Finland]
Proof / Sokeat todisteet / Jocelyn Moorhouse, AU 1991
Povest plamennykh let / Повесть пламенных лет / The Story of the Flaming Years / Liekehtivän taivaan alla / Yuliya Solntseva, SU 1961

AA: In Episodes 9 and 10 of Women Make Film, Mark Cousins started to discuss genre, but having presented comedy, melodrama, science fiction and horror he abruptly stops. Most genres are left out: war, musical / rock / pop, biopic, epic, Western, gangster / crime / thriller / film noir, adventure... including one of the most interesting in this context: romance. Of animation, experimental, and documentary film there seem to be no chapters, either.

In a way, Chapter 29: Tension is still relevant to genre, as discussed in the previous chapter. Joel DeMott's Demon Lover Diary (1980) is one of the earliest examples of the "found footage" horror trend best known from Blair Witch Project made 19 years later.

I need to see Marleen Gorris's De Stilte Rond Christine M. / A Question of Silence, also relevant to horror, and also to Auli Mantila's The Collector, as an account of a raging rampage of a female protagonist.

This episode contains some of the most disturbing samples of the series. Here we have one of the silent cinema's most powerful rape sequences, in Women of Ryazan: the lesson, like in Fritz Lang's M, made three years later: the less shown, the more disturbing it gets. In Kim Longinotto's The Day I'll Never Forget the topic is female genital mutilation. Again, nothing is shown, and our imagination fills in the blanks.

The series is increasingly erratic, the argument hard to follow. In Chapter 29: Tension I would have expected Lois Weber and Phillip Smalley's Suspense (1913), an early masterpiece of the genre. But it's better to learn to stop worrying and love the samples we get. Some of them would have been at home in Chapter 19: Sex such as the clips from Angela Schanelec's Plätze in Städten, Nanouk Leopold's Brownian Movement and Chantal Akerman's Je tu il elle.

I have been recently studying Leo Tolstoy and the cinema. A great relevant sequence, worthy of the cavalry sequence in Gandhi, is in Ava DuVernay's Selma, a film about Martin Luther King's civil rights movement based on passive resistance. Black Selma voters sit down on the lawn in front of the courthouse where they have arrived to register, ignoring police orders to disperse.