Κυριακή, 28 Αυγούστου, 2011
I recently visited again the Bargello Museum in Florence, and was mesmerized by the Michelangelo sculptures on display.
I therefore decided to write one post for each, in the chronological order they were created. The first one is Bacchus as it was finished in 1497. Bacchus and St Peter’s Pieta are the only sculptures that can be attributed with certainty to Michelangelo’s Roman period.
Bacchus is depicted with rolling eyes, his staggering body almost teetering off the rocky outcrop on which he stands. Sitting behind him is a faun, who eats the bunch of grapes slipping out of Bacchus’s left hand. With its swollen breast and abdomen, the Bacchus figure suggested to Giorgio Vasari “both the slenderness of a young man and the fleshiness and roundness of a woman”, and its androgynous quality has often been noted (although the testicles are swollen as well). The inspiration for the work appears to be the description in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History of a lost bronze sculpture by Praxiteles, depicting “Bacchus, Drunkenness and a satyr” (Source 1: Wikipedia)
Bacchus is more imaginative, experimental and inventive than either the Pieta or David, the two great sculptures with
which Michelangelo followed it. While the level of the carving and the resolution of compositional problems
in the Pieta is extraordinary by any criterion, the arrangement and attitude of the figures were not new; examples of the Virgin holding her dead son in her lap were known in Florentine painting at least a decade before Michelangelo began work on the group, and his apprenticeship as a painter in Ghirlandaio’s shop in the late 1480s would have made him
fully aware of them. David is astounding for his size, and for the skill with which Michelangelo overcame the difficulties of scale and of a shallow block, but the figure type is well known, and can be traced back through Donatello and Nicola Pisano to antique art. (Source 2: Ralph Lieberman, Regarding Michelagelo’s Bacchus)
In Michelangelo’s treatment, on the other hand, we understand from the figure’s reeling pose that he is experiencing the effects of his wine, and the stunning conjunction of character and behavior weds form to content at a level unknown in earlier Renaissance sculpture. Michelangelo’s profound exploration of the nature and personality of his subject led
him to create a figure difficult to accept by someone anticipating a more traditional representation, and Cardinal Riario was not prepared for a Bacchus who behaves in a drunken, indecorous way and who, “in brief…, is not the image of a god.” (Source 2)
The group is prophetic in that in Bacchus, and even more in the satyr who attends him, are to be discerned the origins of the figura serpentinata, to become familiar two generations later, but here the poses Michelangelo gave his figures do not make them exercises in elegant artifice; Bacchus himself is in some ways an example of almost brutal realism. (Source 2)
We see the young Michelangelo having fun, portraying the God of Wine in a drunken state. The God is tipsy turvy, but why not?
But Dionysus is not the only one having fun. The young Satyr glued to him is devouring a bunch of grapes, his facial expression being the one of utter pleasure.
In addition to the depiction of fun, we have a very sensual depiction of the human body.
Dionysus is depicted as a sensual, hedonistic creature, seeking pleasure in more than one ways.
Michelangelo has taken the Greek Classical style’s line perfection, added the expressibility and character of the Hellenistic period, and crowner everything with his own passion for life, founded on the belief that life is beautiful. After all, this is the work of a 21 year old genius.
Πέμπτη, 21 Ιουλίου, 2011
Cy Twombly, one of my favourite modern artists, has died on Tuesday, 5th July 2011 in Rome, Italy, losing a long battle to cancer.
His work “The Rose” was the object of a previous article. In another article on this blog I presented his sculpture “Thermopylae” in relation to C. Cavafy’s poem. Today I want to travel with Twombly in the Sea.
I have somehow visualized Death, more precisely the departure from this life, to embarking, to getting on a boat and sailing in the sea. This is no crossing of Acheron, the river of Hades. This is becoming one with the Sea, taking his boat out to the sea, and then sinking with it.
In order to do this, I will use his “Poems to the Sea”, a series of 24 works done in 1959, a photograph of the Sea that the artist took, and his monumental work “Lepanto”.
Poems to the Sea
‘As Twombly told the critic David Sylvester, “the Mediterranean is always just white, white, white”: in the 24 drawings called Poems to the Sea the colour blue barely appears, and yet the cursory lines and spots create a sea of the mind’s eye – hours of contemplation transformed into a few cryptic marks. With their textured, creamy backgrounds, the paintings inspired by Procida are also extremely evocative: parched cliff-tops in the Bay of Naples; crumbling plaster; the heat – it’s all there if you look for it, though without that act of the imagination the charm quickly fades.’ (source: Christopher Masters, the Guardian).
‘What order of poems, punctuated with numerals and question marks, are these? The sea is reduced to horizon line and word, scribblings and veils of paint against the stark white of paper. A persistent compulsion is invoked in the viewer, the desire to read what is there, but not fully manifest in the artist’s scrawled script. Two words in these drawings emerge into legibility, “time”and “Sappho”, as if washed up on the beach alongside sudden, subtle gem-flashes of colour – blue, orange-yellow, pink – gleaming all the more because of their discretion. In these pages, meaning is endlessly frustrated and pursued. It settles only in the distance, figured perhaps by the horizon lines that move across the top of each of the drawings – in fact, simply grey or blue lines made with a straight edge, but suggesting seascapes at the vanishing point. The flat planes of sea and page have been collapsed. Writing comes in waves, rolling funnels of cursive script, crossed out, erased, enfoamed in satiny greyish-white paint. The signs are given as nascent forms, as gestural indications of “the hand’s becoming”, as Roland Barthes so aptly phrased it.’ (source: Claire Daigle on Cy Twombly, Tate Gallery, London).
‘Cy Twombly photographs the subjects that he encounters in his studio in Gaeta, in Bassano, Rome or in Lexington, on the beach at Miramare or in botanical gardens, using an instant camera. By means of a special pigmenting process that involves dryprint, these one-offs are enlarged and printed in limited editions. Not only the special saturation of color, but also the fact that the shots are strikingly out of focus account for their unmistakable nature and extraordinary appeal. The consistent lack of focus is reminiscent of the photographs of the late 19th-century Pictorialists. Hubertus Von Amelunxen, however, discerns photo-historical references to the early days of photography, namely to early calotypes, first paper photographs permeated in “light and emulsion”. Indeed, with their aesthetic effect, Twombly’s photographic images exhibit a sense of both astonishment and entrancement with the (new) technology. The unusual and the new is of a quite singular beauty.
Using his particular technique, Cy Twombly manages to concentrate on the textures of surfaces which, removed from the flow of time, generate visual orders of an over-arching world of perception. Hubertus Von Amelunxen calls them “musical, rhythmical positions in an ineffable syntax” – as the focus is not on representation but on the unmistakable nature of things or the clarity of motifs. Finding the invisible in the visible, retaining the purportedly excluded in the image and at the same time sensing the intangible dimensions of time and space, that is what constitutes the great appeal of Twombly’s photographs. The eye is always very close to things, the direct view suggests an almost intimate proximity – of tender tulip blooms, of everyday objects such as glasses and bottles, of the artist’s slippers, his brushes and painting utensils, and not least his paintings themselves.’
(Source: La Lettre de la Photographie)
The work consists of 12 large canvases that looks back to one of the most important naval battles of early modern history. Lepanto was shown in September 2008 in the Museo del Prado prior to its permanent installation in the Brandhorst Museum in Munich in October of the same year. I saw the work in Brandhorst in 2010 and was deeply moved by it.
‘When Cy Twombly was offered a gallery dedicated to his work at the 2001 Venice Biennale, he chose to create a new work especially for the space, a work that he describes as one painting in twelve parts. For his concept of the project, Twombly turned to the genre of history painting. Before the advent of Modernism in the late 19th century, history painting, which encompassed images from mythology, the bible, and the lives of the saints, as well as scenes from ancient to contemporary history, was considered the highest achievement of the painter´s art. Responding to the exhibition´s locale adjoining the Arsenale shipyard, Twombly chose of his subject the famous 1571 naval battle of Lepanto.
Venice, then an immensely powerful city-state, instigated the formation of an alliance against the Ottoman Empire, which had been attacking its colonies in the eastern Mediterranean and defiling their churches. Brokered by Pope Pius V, the western European alliance consisted of Venice, the Papal States, and Spain, three major Catholic powers of the post-Reformation period. The battle of Lepanto has always been viewed as a turning point in the history of Europe. The Ottoman Empire had heretofore seemed invincible and its fleet was far larger than the alliance´s armada. With more manageable Venetian-designed ships and superior deployment of artillery, the alliance vanquished and burned the Ottoman fleet. Lepanto was the last major sea battle that involved ramming and hand-to-hand fighting on deck. It was the first triumph of Christian Europe over the seemingly all-powerful Islamic Ottoman Empire. It also marked the end of the Mediterranean as the locus of shipping and trade; henceforth, the Atlantic routes to the riches of the American colonies dominated naval activity.
Twombly arranged Lepanto in a way that is at once symphonic and cinematic with four images of flames and falling leaves presaging, interrupting, and concluding his highly abstract narrative of the battle. The maritime scenes, with their stick-figure images of fighting galleys, become increasingly dense with the final triad drenched in the colors of his rich, limited palette. The lushness of the reds and yellows counterpoints their depiction of flames and blood.’
(Source: The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, USA)
As the ship disappears in the horizon, where sky and sea merge, I quote from Roland Barthes (The Wisdom of Art by Roland Barthes 3):
‘If we wished to locate this ethic, we would have to seek very far, outside painting, outside the West, outside history, at the very limit of meaning, and say, with the Tao Te King:
He produces without appropriating anything,
He acts without expecting anything,
His work accomplished, he does not get attached to it,
And since he is not attached to it,
His work will remain.’
Farewell Cy Twombly
Κυριακή, 26 Ιουνίου, 2011
Peter Falk, one of my favorite actors, died at the age of 83 on 23rd June 2011. He died peacefully at his home in Beverly Hills. In the last years of his life he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.
I got to know Peter Falk from the “Columbo” detective movies in the early 1980’s when I was in the US. I liked the movies very much, as Lieutenant Columbo would always catch the bad guys, the murderers who were trying to flee their inescapable fate.
Usually the murderer(s) was a very rich and/or powerful guy. Columbo would enter their impressive houses and mansions, and initially he would create more a wave of sympathy rather than fear, as he was a scruffy looking guy with a crumpled raincoat that he would wear all year long.
Columbo was always underestimated almost until the moment the murderer was caught.
In addition to his scruffy looks, he would carefully lead the suspect to believe that he (Columbo) was naive, almost thick in the mind. Add to this his absent – mindedness, and you have the recipe for a disaster in the investigation. How would Columbo ever catch anyone?
His most famous one liner was “Just one more thing”. He would say this when he was by the door, ready to leave the suspect’s home. He would turn his head, bend slightly, and say it. As I recall, the suspects were invariably irritated by the “thick, slow, absent-minded” lieutenant, but were enduring his questioning, almost sure that it would lead nowhere.
As famous as Columbo himself was his car, a Peugeot 403 convertible, released to the market in 1958. If Columbo was scruffy, his car was a moving wreck.
However, he never gave it up, even though in some episodes he had a chance. In the photo above you see a well maintained model.
I would now like to give a short example of his investigative method, or rather of his method of leading the murderer to entrapment and the inevitable confession. In the Episode “Any old port in a storm”, Columbo investigates the murder of a young Californian. The suspect is his half-brother, a wine producer and connoisseur. However, he has alibi: at the time of the death, he was attending a conference in the East Coast. Columbo knows that something is wrong and there are many contradictions in the suspect’s statements and stories, but he has no proof. The suspect has an extensive and rare wine collection that requires the continuous operation of a temperature and humidity system all around the year. Finally, the whole question focuses on the operation of the wine maintenance system. When the victim was murdered, the temperatures where on the high side. The murderer had to keep the body of the victim in the wine cellar while he was attending the conference, but should the system be operational, this would keep the body in a condition that would change the estimated time of death. Therefore, the killer switched the system off for the critical 24 hours he was away. Columbo needed to prrof that the system was off, but he had no record of it. He therefore invites the murderer to dinner at his favourite restaurant, and at the end he offers a bottle of rare port. The killer tastes the port and immediately says that this bottle has gone bad. This was the needed proof, as the bottle was taken from the killer’s wine cellar. Vintage Columbo all the way!
Peter Falk was not just columbo. In his long career he has played in many movies. As this post is personal, I do not want to list all the movies, only the ones I have seen.
“Wings of Desire”, the wonderful movie of German Director Wim Wenders made in 1987, I have presented in another post. In this movie, Peter Falk played himself.
Another movie where Falk starred, was “Anzio, 1968, directed by Edward Dmytryk.
Falk plays Corporal Jack Rabinoff, a “killing machine”, who is based on a real First Special Service Force soldier Jake Wallenstein, who ran an illegal brothel of Italian prostitutes in a stolen ambulance Most of the men, including Rabinoff, are killed. (Source: Wikipedia)
I confess I do not remember anything about the movie as I write.
Closing this personal note on Peter Falk, I would like to refer his masterpiece, “A Woman under the Influence”, a John Cassavetes film made in 1974 and distributed in 1975.
Falk and Cassavetes were good friends. When Falk read the scenario and Cassavetes told him that nobody was willing to produce the movie, Falk gave him 500,000 dollars.
The movie was made, and Falk played the Italian blue collar worker who is married to Gena Rowlands, the “woman under the influence”. The movie is Cassavetes’ best.
Peter Falk was also a figurative artist. He loved to draw and paint.
Πέμπτη, 5 Μαΐου, 2011
“It is spirit, not painting” Makoto Aida says in the closing frame of Japan Society’s video for the exhibition “Bye Bye Kitty” in New York. (the link to the video is at the end of this post).
Today I want to present Makoto Aida’s work “Harakiri School Girls”. This is a composition that recurs in the artist’s activity. It first appeared in 1999, when the artist wanted to create a poster for his first solo exhibition. What attracted me to the painting is the 2002 print on film with acrylic, which you can see immediately below.
I am a fan of manga, the Japanese comics. So I was immediately attracted to the picture, as it looks like manga in a way, but when you open the door and get in it is something totally different. I am also fascinated by the bright neon lights in Tokyo’s streets, the advertising billboards, the extremely crowded and chaotic urban scenes. I could find elements of all these in the picture. So I present to you all three versions I could find, the original 1999, the “flashy” 2002, and the more etherial 2006, along with some commentaries.
“Harakiri School Girls combines the fetishistic fashions and nubile bodies of fantasy schoolgirls with the time-honored samurai practice of ritual suicide.”
(Source: Japan Society’s “Bye Bye Kitty“)
“Hara-kiri Schoolgirls” is typical of the images by Japanese multimedia artist Makoto Aida, who has created numerous series portraying mutilated young women as consumer goods. This image is intentionally shocking: according to the artist, it combines beauty and violence in order to challenge deeply rooted ideas about Japanese beauty and bring to light elements of the grotesque.
(Source: Jewish Museum, Berlin, Made in Japan)
“Several of the artists borrow from archaic Japanese pictorial conventions, only to skewer them with a contemporary nihilist sensibility. Makoto Aida’s brightly colored “Harakiri School Girls” emulates the style and violent subject matter of the 19th-century artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, but the atrocious acts pictured — ritual suicides, beheadings and disembowelings — are performed by pretty, uniformed schoolgirls, a possible reference to a culture that has lost its bearings.”
(Source: Artkabinet, Elisabeth Kirsch)
“During the late nineties, as gal culture was running rampant, Aida became intrigued. “I think those kogals in the 1990s were originals,” he says. “Historically and even globally, they were unique, and I sought a way to portray them.” Inspiration came from a group of high school girls squatting on the ground in Shibuya. “The scene reminded me of besieged warriors who have decided to commit mass suicide.” Out of this, Aida created Harakiri School Girls, originally as a poster to advertise his first solo exhibit in 1999, and later as a painting for the Singapore Biennale 2006.
Laced with dark humor, the work shows a group of uniform-clad schoolgirls plunging samurai swords into their stomachs, disemboweling themselves, and slicing off their own heads. The flash of a blade creates a rainbow in the blood spurting from a girl’s neck. A stream of blood flows past a curious kitten, karaoke flyers, and discarded tissues, into a drain. The work is gruesomely cute. “Harakiri School Girls is an allegory for the distorted mentality of Japanese youth at the time and the atmosphere of Japanese society,” Aida explains. “After the Bubble Economy collapsed, I felt that an air of pessimism was spreading through Japan like a virus.” Everything might have looked cute and happy, but underneath that veneer seethed dejection and darkness. During the nineties, the number of suicides increased year by year, and according to Aida, Japanese patriotism withered away. These schoolgirls, in their loose socks and school uniforms, symbolize the entire country, killing itself.”
(Source: Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, by Brian Ashcraft and Shoko Ueda )
The Schoolgirl Body in Pieces: The Manga Portraiture of Makoto Aida
Manga has been an established form of popular expression in the Japanese visual field for centuries. During the postwar era, manga reflected a cultural shift in the identity of the national body, as a formerly cohesive imperial nation fell into fragments in the wake of defeat and control by American military forces. Framed by this shift, the manga renditions of brutalized and sexualized Japanese schoolgirls by the contemporary Japanese artist Makoto Aida convey elements of a nation’s fractured identity still shaped by it’s postwar temperament and global positioning. Certain moments of Japan’s present-day manifestations of postwar trauma find revitalized visual expression when inscribed upon the bodies of these girls, revealing the psychic role of the body in postwar and present-day Japan and how national memories of the past are constructed through bodily tropes. Aida’s appropriation of these bodies also reveals the engagement of the wound with historical memory, and the unstable constructions of female sexuality and identity that linger in contemporary Japan.
The narrative of the male fantasy in which a young girl is desired, attacked, stimulated, and brought to ecstasy has been present in Japan since the 1970s, persisting as a major trope within manga and anime. Graphic depictions of sexualized young girls play a major role in contemporary Japanese visual culture and because of this, “she” has become a highly readable and visible format from which to instigate social criticism and expression. I would like to suggest that the immediate and cursory misogyny that is visible in Aida’s depictions of young girls borrows from these pornographic genres as a subversive gesture that re-appropriates this bodily narrative vessel for social commentary. An examination of Aida’s imagery unveils the social forces shaping the artist’s source material, the implied spectators and their habits of bodily consumption.
I will discuss two of Aida’s manga works in which the young girls are presented with varying degrees of agency and submission when confronted with their brutalization. With Harakiri Schoolgirls (2006), the girls are depicted in a more individualized and essentialized manner. Here, a bevy of vibrant, uniformed Japanese schoolgirls commit stylized acts of self-inflicted suicide (harakiri) and decapitation. Of Aida’s schoolgirl imagery, this piece is unique in that the girls retain a certain control over the fatal violence. The second series, The Edible Artificial Girls, Mimi-chan (2001) is an example of Aida’s work in which the girls are presented en masse and in pieces as the main ingredient in an array of delicious Japanese dishes. Mimi-chan works as Aida’s hyper-realized riff on the dominant characterization of Japanese girls as the ultimate material consumers and the problematic consumability of these bodies. A portrayal connected to the ideological commodification of the female body that was conceived during the postwar era.
(Source: Maya Kimura’s Thesis Abstract)