Archive for July, 2017

Art | Derain, Balthus, Giacometti: A Reality Check

Friday, July 28th, 2017

King of the Cats, 1935, Balthus
Oil on canvas.
Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts
de Lausanne, Suisse.
Gift of la Fondation Balthus
Klossowski de Rola, 2016.
© Balthus © Nora Rupp,
Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts
de Lausanne, Suisse



Derain, Balthus, Giacometti:
An Artistic Friendship
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
Paris | France
Until 29 October 2017



Self-portrait, 1920,
Alberto Giacometti

Oil on canvas.
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel.
Photo Robert Bayer / Beyeler Collection,
© Succession Alberto Giacometti
(Fondation Alberto et Annette
Giacometti, Paris & ADAGP, Paris), 2017



It’s really worthwhile travelling to mainland European cities to see exhibitions such as this one. They don’t usually travel, and at first sight, they might appear parochial but they provide an insight into the lesser-known aspects of the development of modern art, and are of enormous significance when looked at in a broader context.

The rather benign title belies the fascinating story of how much more than ‘friendship’ bound, André Derain (1880 > 1954), Balthus (1908 > 2001) and Alberto Giacometti (1901 > 1966) together. Having developed their talents independently, as artists in 1930s Paris they discovered a shared passion for the realism of the present, but also for figurative tradition, that would inform the work they produced throughout their careers and exert a long-lasting influence on artists outside of France from the 30s right up to the present.

André Derain, born near Paris and the eldest of the trio, is reputed to have been involved with Henri Matisse and Maurice Vlaminck, in the development of Fauvism. Having seen the Negro Sculpture exhibition in London in 1920, Derain was one of the first artists to begin collecting African tribal art and probably inspired Picasso and Braque to introduce primitive elements to Cubism. By the 1920s, however, he had put aside his own pre-war experimentation and, working in a style that reflected his admiration for the Old Masters, was bent on trying to depict modern life more realistically, while imbuing it with symbolic meaning, by using voluptuous colour, poetic allusions and visual wit. In the process, he drew respect from a younger generation of artists that would include Balthus, who he first met in 1933, and Giacometti.

Of Polish aristocratic descent, Balthasar Klossowski, who became known by his childhood nickname ‘Balthus’ (in later life he preferred to be referred to as the Count de Rola) was born in Paris. Typically uncompromising, in a 1998 interview with Le Figaro, a few years before his death, Balthus, described how ‘False art lovers, speculators, buy what they cannot understand…’ and that, ‘This phenomenon has favoured the emergence of the dictatorship of non-figurative art, to which the no less repulsive Expressionist, Surrealist and Minimalist dictatorships are opposed, all making equal promises of unpleasant rebirths… When I paint,’ he told the newspaper’s readers, ‘I don’t seek to express myself but the world.’

Balthus’s cultured upbringing, between France and Switzerland and travels in Germany, brought him into contact with well-known writers and also with the Symbolist painter Pierre Bonnard, whose paintings, along with those of the Renaissance artists, Piero della Francesca, Ucello and Masaccio that he studied in Italy, would significantly influence the work he would go on to produce himself. The series of paintings of scenes of daily indoor and outdoor life, and portraits that first established his reputation as an artist in Paris, contained elements of the fantastic realism practiced by the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) artists George Grosz, Otto Dix and Max Beckman, but also revealed a strong appreciation for the values of the Parisian Forces Nouvelles group, which, like Derain, eschewed abstraction and the surrealist tendencies sweeping through Paris in favour of the revival of draughtsmanship and realism.

The Artist and his Family,
1920-21, André Derain

Oil on canvas.
Collection particulière,
© Ted Dillard.
Photo © ADAGP, Paris 2017



Alberto Giacometti’s father, Giovanni was a respected impressionist painter, however symbolist painting would exert a strong influence on the work Alberto began to produce as an adolescent in Switzerland. Having begun studying in Paris in 1922, he would fall under the influence of Fernand Léger. In 1928, having become enveloped by his interest in African and Oceanic artefacts, he embarked on a series of sculptures of women and flat heads. Inspired by the death of his father – his dramatic Head-Skull of 1934 showed strong African and Oceanic influences.

Derain, Balthus and Giacometti moved in Paris’s Surrealist circles (only Giacometti joined the Surrealist group – in 1931: he was expelled in 1935), rubbing shoulders on the city’s Left Bank with the likes of Jean Cocteau and Albert Camus. In 1933, André Breton visited Balthus’ studio but was disappointed by the naturalism in the work he saw. However, the following year, when Balthus had his first Paris show at Pierre Loeb’s eponymous Galerie Pierre, Breton could not remain indifferent to the power of the erotic scenes that Balthus had painted (La Toilette de Cathy was shown behind a curtain at the rear of the gallery) and, while accepting their differences, recognised the formidable strength of Balthus’s artistic spirit and values. It was a watershed moment. Derain and Giacometti had also attended the show, the success of which, along with the recognition it generated served to cement their friendship with Balthus, and to underscore the trio’s conviction to forge ahead with their exploration of realism. Giacometti was especially affected; his African and Oceanic style was soon displaced by a more traditional and realistic approach that would remain present even in the haunted figures of his post World War II works.

Mainly focused on the years 1930 to 1960, Derain, Balthus, Giacometti: An Artistic Friendship at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris includes 350 works (paintings, sculptures, works on paper and photographs) testifying to the dense criss-crossing of ideas that passed between the three.

All images courtesy Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris


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Exhibition | 1937: Munich’s Degenerate Summer

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Exhibition view,
Entartete Kunst,
Munich, 1937

Stadtarchiv München



Munich, Summer 1937.
The ‘Great German Art Exhibition’
and ‘Degenerate Art’
Haus der Kunst
Munich | Germany
Until 4 September 2017



Exhibition view,
Große Deutsche
Kunstausstellung,
Munich, 1937
Stadtarchiv München



In the summer of 1937, when the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (The House of German Art), opened in Munich – Adolph Hitler’s chosen capital of German culture – over 735,000 sightseers came to the city. As the first representative monumental building of the ‘Third Reich’, the building was intended to play a central role in the Führer’s political vision. Aware of the importance of making big statements to maximise impact, Hitler chose Paul Ludwig Troost, who specialised in building ocean liners, to design it. Impressed, lulled into false calm by Nazi propaganda – the extreme political aggression and murderous racism of the regime having not yet manifested itself – visitors also flocked to see, and to have themselves photographed, alongside other architectural projects such the classical Königsplatz, which Troost had redeveloped as a National Socialist parade ground.

Its name simplified, the Haus der Kunst – which for ten years after the war ended was commandeered for use as a US Army casino, and afterwards played host to a motley array of exhibitions – re-opened in 1990 as a museum of modern art. With no permanent collection of its own, it has been a leading international centre devoted to diversity in contemporary art since 2003.

Mel Bochner’s
The Joys of Yiddish,
Haus der Kunst, 2013,
installation view
Photo Wilfried Petzi



Exhibition view,
Große Deutsche
Kunstausstellung
,
Munich, 1937

Stadtarchiv München



In stark contrast, Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) – the museum’s inaugural exhibition – was part of a propagandist stunt carefully orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels. Consisting of seized modernist works from the collections of 32 German museums, and literally thrown together in such a way as to make the art look worthless, it opened the day before another well-planned and carefully laid out exhibition, the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung (The Great German Art Exhibition) was launched at the adjacent, historic Hofgarten Gallery.

The idea of staging the Entartete Kunst exhibition in this way was not just to mock modern art, but also to encourage the public to view it as part of an evil plot against the German people. Although only six of the 112 artists featured in it were Jewish, the Nazis claimed that modern art was the product of Jews and Bolsheviks. One display of entirely abstract paintings, was labelled ‘the insanity room’. While Entartete Kunst included works by internationally recognised painters, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Oskar Kokoschka, alongside others by famous German artists of the time such as Max Beckmann, and the expressionists, Emil Nolde and Georg Grosz, the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung showed regime-approved paintings and sculptures of statuesque nudes, idealised soldiers and romantic landscapes.

Legalising the previous year’s seizures – each having been alphabetically indexed by the Propaganda Ministry – the Law on Confiscation of Products of Degenerate Art would be passed in 1938. Some of the expropriated works were sold at auction in Switzerland; others were disposed of through private dealers, while around 5,000 items were secretly burned in Berlin the following year: a phenomenal loss to 20th century art.

Ironically, while many of the amateur snaps and films included in this archive-based exhibition at the Haus der Kunst would have today’s visitor believe it was a season of idyllic pleasures, Munich, Summer 1937 documents a nightmarish, cultural disaster.

All images courtesy Haus der Kunst


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Design | Post Ettore Sottsass Modernism

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Carlton room divider, 1981
Wood, plastic laminate.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
John C Waddell Collection,
Gift of John C Waddell, 1997



Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical
The Met Breuer
NYC | USA
21 July > 8 October 2017



I remember cursing postmodernism in the mid-1990s. Having arrived jet-lagged at the Philippe Starck-designed Royalton hotel in New York, I tripped over the rear leg of the designer’s ‘iconic’ Costes armchair (1984) – which might look elegant, but sticks out way too far – and ended up in a heap on the floor.

Like the art deco architecture and design it often resembled, early postmodernism was showy – in many instances, tacky – and unfit for purpose. What made things worse was that, once it really started to roll in the early 1980s and the requirement for objects and buildings to function was sidelined, postmodernism became a bandwagon that was easy to leap on to. Many did just that, in the process, transforming what had begun a couple of decades earlier as a radical philosophical concept in the minds of respected architecture and design theorists into a widespread and rather frivolous fad. Suddenly, there was a lot of money around and people couldn’t wait to find things to spend it on. Bored with what was currently on offer, desperate to find something exciting, new and different, they lapped it up in whatever form it was presented to them.

By the 1960s, Ettore Sottsass (1917 > 2007) was already bored by the functional. ‘When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism. It’s not enough’ he was heard to complain. His stated aim for the Valentine portable typewriter (1969), one of his most successful achievements for Olivetti, was to create an object that could ‘influence not only physical conditions but also emotions, [that could] touch the nerves, the blood, the muscles, the eyes and the moods of people.’ Born in Austria, educated in Italy, he established his first studio in Milan in 1947. Best known for his work with Olivetti, where for many years he was the company’s design consultant, and for the design collective Memphis, founded in 1981, Sottsass’s work would gradually evolve from modernism into postmodernism. The shift was triggered by the influences he gathered through a trip to the United States, where he worked for a month at the designer George Nelson’s office, and another to India in 1961, after which he began to create objects imbued with symbolism, emotional appeal, and global and traditional references.

Murmansk Fruit Dish, 1982
Silver.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Gift of Ronald S Kane, 1992,
Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art



Meanwhile, in 1966, the American architect Robert Venturi, who wittily countered Mies van der Rohe’s ‘less is more’ axiom with his own ‘less is a bore’, published his influential book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. It called for the return of decoration, symbolism, colour, pattern and references to historic structures in new buildings. As a result, over the course of the next couple of decades, pointed skyscrapers with concrete walls that looked as if they were carved from stone began to pop up in American cities. Because they constituted a reaction to the uncompromisingly modern, glass-and-steel structures that had been built following World War II, they were dubbed ‘postmodern’.

When Memphis made its controversial debut at the 1981 Salone del Mobile, a lot of people who had never appeared to have any interest in design, suddenly became very animated and excited; it was as if they’d been at a rather dull party and had been presented with a new and exotic cocktail. Veneered in colourful and patterned plastic laminates, like those used in 1950s American diners, Memphis design was, however, constructed using the finest cabinetmaking techniques marketed and priced beyond the reach of average consumers, it contributed to the blurring of the art and design markets and the rise of ‘collectible design’. Karl Lagerfeld, an ardent devotee of art deco in the 1970s, fell in love with it. Amassing an important collection of Memphis pieces – with help from interior designer Andrée Putman – he famously furnished an entire apartment in Monaco with them in 1983, only to sell off every item at Sotheby’s only eight years later.

Omaggio 3, 2007
Corian and wood.
Courtesy Gallery Mourmans



In retrospect, it would seem, postmodernism turned out to be a fad with substance. The work of its founders, including Sottsass and Venturi, who recognised the need for applying a broader range of thought processes to design and architecture, were important catalysts that provoked profound changes in the mindsets of architects and designers. Postmodernist thinking stimulated the impetus behind the surge of diverse creativity and innovation on which the modern world depends, and indeed, functions.

In its forthcoming exhibition, Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical, The Met Breuer attempts to re-evaluate Sottsass’s exceptionally productive career that spanned more than six decades, via a presentation of his key works in a wide range of media. Including architectural drawings, interiors, furniture, machines, ceramics, glass, jewellery, textiles, painting, and photography, it will offer new insights into his designs. Placing him within a broader design discourse, Sottsass’s work will be juxtaposed against ancient and contemporaneous objects that influenced his practice.

All objects © Ettore Sottsass, images courtesy The Met Breuer


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Photography | Regina Schmeken on Bloody Ground

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Theodoros Boulgarides (41)
15.06.2005 München Trappentreustraße
, 2013



Regina Schmeken
Bloody Ground. Scenes of NSU Crimes
Martin-Gropius-Bau
Berlin | Germany
29 July > 29 October 2017



Halit Yozgat (21)
06.04.2006 Kassel Holländische Straße
, 2015



Enver Şimşek (38)
09.09.2000 Nürnberg
, 2015



Much of the work of conveying the oppressive atmosphere of a Nazi arena is done for photographers by the overblown architecture that stands as a stark reminder of the misplaced ideals of the sinister powers responsible for their construction. The barbed wire and lookout towers of death camps, such as Buchenwald, prompt vivid recollections of the atrocities perpetrated there. An old man in a flat cap sitting at a bus stop in an ordinary street lined with apartment buildings; a couple on a scooter riding past a forlorn flower stall beside a rainwater puddle; the chequered, tiled floor of a bike shop – were not much for German photographer Regina Schmeken to go on.

The dead bodies and the blood were long gone, however, in 2013 when Schmeken returned to the crime scenes where ten people were executed by right-wing National Socialist Underground extremists in Dortmund, Hamburg, Heilbronn, Kassel, Cologne, Munich, Nuremberg and Rostock between 2000 and 2007. Schmeken worked with what she found. Other than choosing to shoot in contrasty black and white – which she always does, anyway – and using a wide-angle lens, she employed no special tricks to successfully evoke the carnage that had taken place in these very nondescript locations.

Mehmet Turgut (25)
25.02.2004 Rostock Neudierkower Weg
, 2013



Süleyman Taşköprü (31)
27.06.2001 Hamburg Schützenstraße
, 2015




Born in 1955, Schmeken has been an editorial photographer for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper since 1986 and is well known in Germany for her sport, dance, political reportage, and portrait photography.

Through her photographs – simply captioned with only the names of the dead, their ages, the dates and locations of the crimes – in the exhibition Regina Schmeken: Bloody Ground. Scenes of NSU Crimes at Martin-Gropius-Bau, the photographer seeks only to commemorate the victims of the murders, but the underlying message powerfully conveyed is that these abhorrent events could have happened on any German doorstep.

The dead numbered eight male victims of Turkish origin, another was Greek and one was a German policewoman. The trial of Beate Zschäpe, Ralf Wohlleben and the five others allegedly involved in their murders began in 2013 in Munich; the verdict is yet to be delivered.

All photographs © Regina Schmeken, courtesy Martin-Gropius-Bau


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The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being made available to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier


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