26 March 2011

Goya's dog wasn't shown to the public until after Turner's death, but Turner was most likely aware of the controversy over composition aroused in 1810 by Casper David Friedrich's The Monk by the Sea (below), when Turner was 35. Turner's Sunrise with Sea Monster of 1845, executed a few years after Friedrich's death, has the same vertical grid pattern, similar cloud formations, and, like Friedrich's canvas, doesn't emphasize the water beyond the land so much as suggest it. Two years earlier, Turner had painted the After the Deluge series, naming one canvas after Goethe's theories on color which he feverishly studied in this period, using a brush stroke pattern similar to that of Sunrise. Friedrich's Monk would become for some a phenomenological protagonist, enabling painters like Whistler in his Nocturnes to give free rein to their consciousness, and in 1961 Robert Rosenblum traced a lineage from Abstract Expressionism and the color field back to this painting. Turner's work is indispensable to this lineage for his time and as "a figure that cuts through time" (Deleuze), but while Friedrich reportedly decided to cover up the only two ships on the horizon, Turner tended towards depicting some actor immersed in the work of nature.

The Sea Monster is no such actor: if anything in nature complicates matters for it you couldn't tell. A sea creature in the background of Paris Bordone's St. Jerome in the Wilderness in Philly reminds me of my observations of the dragon in Venetian iconography (I, II), an image like Giorgione's Three Philosophers mysteriously rendering a moment of East meeting West in the Veneto.

While for Henry James "feeling a sea-breeze throb languidly between the two great pillars of the Piazzetta.. is to be as happy as is consistent with the preservation of reason," Turner characteristically selected a more threatening weather pattern for his 1835 rendering of the 12th Century pillars (right). One column holds the winged lion, the symbol of St. Mark which Catholics say derives from biblical sources - the lone voice roaring in the desert, Ezekiel's vision of winged creatures - but is more likely lifted from "a Persian, Syrian, or even Chinese chimera"; visitors to the Met and other world museums are confronted with the Assyrian Lamassu, which had a human head, though it more closely resembles the Chinese Pi Xiu, which according to Feng Shui ought to be facing away from the Doge's Palace.

The other column features St. Theodore of Amasea, Venice's patron saint before St. Mark's remains were pilfered, slaying a dragon which is here represented as a crocodile. The story of St. Theodore and the dragon dates from the period of around the 8th through 10th centuries, when Amasea was warding off barbarian attacks. Beneath the columns, Turner painted San Giorgio Maggiore, and the church would have welcomed Turner with Carpaccio's 1516 St. George and the Dragon, a story with a narrative similar to Theseus and the Minotaur, but may have derived the dragon figure from Python, the creature of the earth that lorded over Delphi until slain by Apollo. The first occurrence of a storm god who slays a dragon on the Mediterranean may be Taru, from unwritten stories of 2000 BC of the Hattians of Anatolia. On Murano, the Venetian island one up from where Pound and Stravinsky are buried, the Romanesque Santi Maria e Donato contains what is reported to be the bones of a dragon (left) that St. Donatus killed by spitting on it because the dragon was poisoning a well. St. Donatus was from Tuscany, but the bones, from an extinct creature, likely were also shipped from somewhere in the Byzantine Empire or further East.

If the St. George story comes from a culture intent on improving on nature and the Chinese belief in dragons indicates reverence for nature, it is the Chinese dragon which currently retains its popularity, a fear of the storm shared with Turner. And as with the Mercurius figure of alchemy, the Chinese dragon represents both the below - the earth and the seas - and the celestial. Svādhiṣṭhāna, the second chakra of Hindu tantrism "located at the genitals" and "associated with the water element" is represented as "an aquatic monster represented as a crocodile (symbol of fertility)," resembling the Sufi nafs and Yesud of the Kabbalah. (353) The Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, comprising opposites like Mercurius, is in some stories complicit with Set's plot to keep the limbs of Osiris from Isis. In the Occulta Philosophia the dragon says: "By the philosophers I am named Mercurius; my spouse is the gold; I am the old dragon, found everywhere on the globe of the earth, father and mother, young and old, very strong and very weak, death and resurrection, visible and invisible, hard and soft; I descend into the earth and ascend to the heavens, I am the highest and the lowest, the lightest and the heaviest; often the order of nature is reversed in me, so regards color, number, weight, and measure; I contain the light of nature; I am dark and light; I come forth from heaven and earth; I am known and yet do not exist at all; by virtue of the sun's rays all colours shine in me, and all metals."

Q'uq'umatz, the feathered serpent that created the earth in the Popol Vuh appears in other Mesoamerican creation myths going back to Olmec remains (right). The snake was associated with the underworld while the wings, that of a quetzal, represented the celestial plane and wind, to use Lévi-Strauss' phrase "a mediator between earth and sky," like Turner's sea monster on the picture grid. "..The most common Olmec motifs might be associated with the earth and sky. The Olmec "dragon" may be a caiman, a Mexican crocodile, which when split open by creator gods became the earth floating in a primordial sea, which was associated with agricultural fertility and sprouting vegetation." "Iconographic investigations reveal that the Olmec Dragon, like later Mesoamerican primordial monsters, floated on the surface on the waters of creation. In some titanic struggle in the mythic past, the body of this great leviathan was broken apart to form the earth and sky realms. ..The Olmec Dragon is either two seperate creatures or a single monster with both terrestrial and celestial aspects."

25 March 2011

oft I float on bliss of is
and is not
is jocund and not margin of eye
and those yellow things out there now
what do they call them

17 March 2011

There were no local radio broadcasts when Proust was writing Swann's Way and the phonograph was in an early stage of development, so in order to listen to music without leaving the house he subscribed to the théâtrophone service, a man holding out a phone receiver inside the concert hall.. Victor Hugo used the service as well.

11 March 2011

You may have guessed that Dreams is my favorite Kurosawa film, and the first two vignettes are perhaps the best babysitter short films ever made - try it if you have the right audience. Sunshine Through the Rain shows the consequences for a transgression against the balance with nature:

The Peach Orchard celebrates a past that can never be returned to:

Amongst the next few films you get a Chopin video with some animation I am quite fond of and have watched many times, starring Martin Scorsese as a certain Dutch painter (tho I like Maurice Pialet's Van Gogh even better):

Then you have two films that warn Japan of the perils of nuclear power, the transgression against nature that all the other vignettes point towards symbolically and becomes the symbol for all of mankind's environmental devastation, Mount Fuji in Red and The Weeping Demon. I don't like to watch them and certainly not tonight. I just watched Fuji. As I write this, radiation has already been discharged from Fukushima Dai-chi nuclear plant and there are concerns of a meltdown. Barack Obama is asking for $58 billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry, triple the previous available amount, an industry which already is kept profitable only through federal subsidies. His campaign manager and former Chief of Staff are lobbyists for the industry. A Japanese firm is contracting to lend money to a poorly regulated Texas plant.

The film ends with Village of the Watermills, one of my favorite films of the master, a funeral procession in a town without electricity:

04 March 2011

Review no. 2, after actually seeing the stuff..

It being Friday, now the early evening, I'll get to what's there just this week, beginning with Kai Althoff who doesn't have his name anywhere on his show at Gladstone (515 W 24th), presumably to make the space seem lived in by a fictional character. What impresses me in addition to obvious painterly chops is how each work comprises a separate aesthetic conception and composition, so even as the works relate in unspecified ways to each other, repetition is kept to the minimum that is inevitable, that of days and motions. The ceiling is low, a soundtrack accompanies the two relatively small rooms, and the room has an odor. I will expand the commentary to shows with a longer running time only to say that 24th Street seems to have taken the olfactory dimension and ran with it what with Nitsch's dried blood and whatever scents are added to the effect of Terrence Koh doing what he is doing for eight hours a day in a windowless room.

Moving Image: You only need to know that it's free, located in one of the most interesting local industrial renovations, and giving out free canvas bags and ground coffee. It is amongst other things a showcase of the historical range of feminist video, set up so you see this section first, including the snappy dialogue of Melanie Bonajo and a 1983 Carolee Schneeman mop repeatedly hitting a TV with bombed out Lebanese buildings. A 1978 Hannah Wilkie video comprises a determined attempt to use Method techniques to project as much intimacy as she could for the camera, including strategic use of music, reacting to phone messages of her loved ones, and picking letters from their names off her chest. (pdf)

Two artists at Independent stood out for me: This page on Marta Riniker-Radich (above, represented by Hard Hat) from a gallery in Basel called New Jerseyy (here I live the myth) has a good selection of images. In the real place of New Jersey we had a show of the poet-artist Dmitri Prigov (below), whose metaphysical interiors have a similar layout: the square room in perspective with objects of subconscious significance. Whether she is depicting interior or exterior space she takes care to do so subversively.

Galerie Susanne Zandler offers a generous assemblage of pencil drawings, narrative tableau of military figures, by outsider artist Oskar Voll, who was repeatedly sent to psychiatric hospitals by the Nazis until 1935, after which there are no records of his life.

02 March 2011

Dream journey: I was driving along in suburbia and thought "I need to think" pulling over by a row of Victorian homes. I didn't turn the radio on or headphones and I don't know how long I was sitting there, maybe a half hour, maybe an hour. Then I looked up and the police had cordoned off the area around a house and a SWAT team was running around. A shady guy approached a car across the street from me, returning my gaze, saying "You didn't see nothing" and I thought "he's right." I started the car and turned it around and there was a young plainclothes cop talking on a walkie talkie with a causal demeanor. I didn't feel right about just leaving so I pulled up and told him that I was there for a half hour but I didn't see or hear anything. "There were a hundred shots popping. You must be hard of hearing." I told him I had no testimony but he could take down my name and number if he wanted. "Yeah, sure." He put my name, no contact information, on a day box of a wall calendar he got from the hardware store.

01 March 2011

Piri' Miri Muli' Art Fair Guide

If you arrive early for the Armory Show or you want to come out for air there's a collection of Allen Ginsberg's photo portraits with the captions covering 40 years at Greenberg (41 E 57th, between Madison & Park) and a Pierre Huyghe film at Goodman (24 W 57th). Further north at 980 Madison (76-77th Sts) Gagosian is giving up a lot of wall space to this Malevich kid that rips off Ryman with the white canvases. All open 10-6. I think the least Armory crowds, other than the moment it opens, are at dinner time, as the peer pressure for dining mounts. Two installments over the course of a day, picking out select works the second time. You can sit Indian-style at cubicles if done thougtfully (I said so) but it grates when people get caught up on each others lives for 20 minutes in the middle of a gallery. I make a ritual out of camping by the Daniel Richter if there's one, but then there's the other problem, no Zwirner means no Richter &co., Zwirner defected to the All-American ADAA joining Galerie Lelong and Luhring Augustine which won't be at Armory, then there's the galleries that spit between both, which is ok if you have the time and inclination to see both. 2011 Armory has a Latin America Focus which consists of 18 galleries, to go with a lot of European galleries.

Free shows: The Independent, highly recommended if you're in the area, which has co-founder Elizabeth Dee as well as Kern and Gavin Brown's defecting from Armory, White Columns and Artists' Space ++. 548 West 22nd Street. At 535 W 22nd (PPOW) you can check out the Wojnarowitz videos so promoted by right-wing Catholics and pray for your sins by Francesco Vezzoli's stained glass (below) at Gagosian (522 W 21st). Dee Gallery is two blocks away (545 w20th) with Mariam Cahn paintings. 24th Street has Ellsworth Kelly, Hermann Nitsch blood paintings, Kai Althoff figures "awakening loathsome blood" (pdf), Terrence Koh and a pile of salt, and more paintings.

Nearby is another free recommendation: the Moving Image show at the tunnel at 269 11th Avenue around 28th St, strategically located if you are seeing Los Carpinteros at Sean Kelly at 528 W 29th, for which tank can be filled, essential as hunger from not stuffing one's self leads to early Armory exits, at the Punjabi buffet at 301 10th Avenue between 27th and 28th. Verge Art Brooklyn in DUMBO is free and open til 10.