BELLINI and MANTEGNA : FAMILY LIFE

having derives from another’s possession

Transformation, where true possession takes place,

Transformation, all transformations, man’s furnace,
crucible of patience,
I say all waiting is pure patience
If these words be spoken at the crossroads of space!
(The voice of the Karaw,  African praise poem)

ANDREA MANTEGNA, Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, c. 1453, tempera su tela, egg tempera on linen, 77.1 x 94.4 cm  Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
   © Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

GIOVANNI BELLINI,  Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, 1470, olio su tavola, oil on wood panel, 82 x 106 cm
Fondazione Querini Stampalia di Venezia   © Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus – Venezia

HAND OF THE FUTURE

by Rosanna Albertini

Pure patience in me had evaporated. It was early June and Venice was as hot as Africa. Yet I was cooking patience in my crucible as if my love for Venice were floating on the laguna, waiting to reach at least one place, one image calming my senses. Eventually I found two. Right now Venice is a theater for lost souls, a market of cheap, repetitive masks and glass beads to feed the savages, a park of shaggy grass surfaces, Chinese Cafes and bridges and floors trodden by a million feet. My self was an empty basket quickly filled with nausea from lack of space between humans, and disgust in front of German kids filling their mouth with water and spitting it brutally on the pigeons. The charming place where I had lived in the early 70s was gone.

“One participates in things (understands their language). In this condition understanding is not impersonal (objective), but extremely personal, like an agreement between subject and object. In this condition one really knows everything in advance, and the things merely confirm it. Knowing is reknowing.” ROBERT MUSIL

You have been here already, haven’t you, you know where to go, right?” I crossed the entire third floor of the Querini Stampalia palace, the art gallery, as fast as possible, attracted by a magnetic force toward two paintings, or the same painting made twice, the first by Andrea Mantegna, the second about twenty years after by his brother in law Giovanni Bellini. Noticing I was spellbound, the museum guard, an old Venetian, couldn’t wait to tell me the story.

 

PREMISE: The two versions of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple were painted when Venice was at the peak of its power and splendor: 1453 and 1470. Venice was the second biggest European city after Paris and the richest. Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni’s father and an artist himself, who was the head of the most interesting and successful “bottega” in Venice, will be my principal narrator. His slightly strabic, dark and piercing eyes, look at us from center of the paintings. He is a grumbling man, for good reasons.

The two paintings are family portraits. Bellini enlarged the group with two figures. From the right: Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna are the young men (self portraits), Simeon the priest not identified, Jacopo Bellini the father, Jesus is the baby boy born from Mantegna and Jacopo’s daughter, the Madonna a symbolic figure with no name, at her left Nicolosia, Jacopo’s daughter and Mantegna’s wife, the last woman at the left is Giovanni’s wife. 

Because both these paintings underwent five centuries of transformations in the restorers’ hands – Mantegna’s background was probably blue, hard to imagine now – I will avoid conjectures already deployed by art historians and experts of technology, often contradicting one another. I will stick to the story. Not long ago Venice was still permeated by whispers and talks in Venetian, flying around like a wisp of wings. We are in Bellini’s bottega.

 

Jacopo (father)          Would you close the curtain please? I saw the usual shadow coming up from campo Santa Margherita. Yes, I know you like him he is a good artist, but I don’t want Nicolosia to see him and besides, I do not want to scuffle with her.

Giovanni           Cossa vusto, father? What do you want?  Antonello da Messina gave us access to the oil color making he learned from the Flemish, so we learned to make more luminous works, almost sparkling. He is charming, has curly hair and big eyes. Think of the business. 

Jacopo          I do, but, Nicolosia is my daughter, she just gave me a boy to adore, Mantegna’s sun. Maybe a son of ambition rather than love, with marriage Andrea bought his freedom from his adoptive father Squarcione and got his own studio in Padua. It’s true the family painting he just gave me as a thank you present is still mat, quite sculpted on linen with perfect proportions —he always loved the colors of ancient sculptures, and the stones’sensuality. He is so good he doesn’t need oil paint. The other guy from the south instead uses every kind of trick. Tempera, you know, is still my favorite. He likes pretty much to slip under the skirts…That’s why he came to Venice, our putee (unmarried girls) are wonderful. Oh, the boy painted by Mantegna is a mummy, a cocoon. Antonello could give me another grandchild… can I be a collector of grandchildren from the most talented painters of these days?

Giovanni           True enough, Mantegna is the master. Perspective! You are good father, and have been innovative, but he is like anybody else. Too much work in Mantua. Nicolosia is young and lonely. Did you notice his self-portrait in the right corner? A tired face. He is so meticulous. Admirable, no stencils, no cartoon. I keep learning from him. Who knows if in a far away future people will understand the emotional depth of each detail, his ability to make lively figures out of lines and brush strokes, almost revealing their souls’ precision with egg tempera!

Gertrude Stein          I am thinking of attacking being not as an earthly kind of substance but as a pulpy not dust not dirt but a more mixed up substance, it can be slimy, gelatinous,  gluey, white opaquy kind of thing and it can be white and vibrant, and clear and heated.

Jacopo       Whose voice is this? It makes me nervous. I’m talking about men and women. Not my language. 

Gertrude Stein           I begin again with telling it, the way I feel resisting being in men and women. It is like a substance and in some it is as I was saying solid and sensitive all through it to stimulation, in some almost wooden, in some muddy and engulfing, in some thin almost like gruel, in some solid in some parts and in other parts liquid, in some with holes like air-holes in it, in some hardened and cracked all through it, in some double layers of it with no connections between the layers of it.

Jacopo           Who is she? Stein? Never heard of her; familiar though, she sounds like a painter. We were saying of master Mantegna that each of his painted characters is locked into an invisible hole, inside. Six bodies together, in the family portrait, and the bottom of them is somewhere else. 

Giovanni          Starting with you, father, What were you thinking? 

Jacopo          Oh, I was jealous, I wanted to kill him for being so young.

Giovanni             For the same reason would you kill me and my brother Gentile, like Chronos did with his children? I’m for sure your son, although I heard rumors about my real mother. I don’t blame you, and I love Gentile, we often put our brushes on the same painting. Did you call him Gentile because of your apprenticeship with Gentile da Fabriano?

Jacopo           We all share the same passion. First I want to see what you are able to paint. Maybe I will save you for the business.

1470 – Seventeen years later

As the former baby is already searching a mate, Giovanni remakes the family portrait adding himself and his wife to the scene. Same structure, same figures, not at all the same imaging: this family is not sacred anymore, halos around the heads have disappeared. Mary and Simeone look at each other, Mantegna sends an oblique gaze toward his wife, Giovanni looks obliquely out of the painting, his wife and Nicolosia seem to share a secret, pensively. Jacopo looks directly at us, is he thinking of his death, that will happen one year after? And the baby is the only one speechless, probably hoping to reach his mother’s breast. 

Dresses are more simple, and colors are dominated by a light bouncing on them from the outside world. Not anymore contained in each figure like the mystery of life. “The image of each [painted] object becomes a wordless experience; and the description of the symbolic face of things and their awakening in the stillness of image belong without doubt in this context.” (ROBERT MUSIL) Then undeniably symbols move out of the hands, like the growing baby, in a world of conflicts, of doubts and uncertainties. As if by accident, or accepting fate, the painter had left the invisible hand of future modernity posed on the painting, transforming its message.

Willem De Kooning           When I used the newspapers in the paintings, it was just an accident. When I took it off, I saw the backprint of the papers, and I thought it was nice. That’s about all.

Bellini                         Mantegna

 

A legacy by Giovanni Bellini: the most remarkable students of his studio were Giorgione and Titian.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bellini Mantegna – Masterpieces face to face – The Presentation Of jesus to the Temple, Milano, SilvanaEditoriale, 2018  and Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia (Italy)

Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans Being a History of a Family’s Progress, 1906-1908.  Something Else Press, Inc., 1966

Robert Musil, Precision and the Soul, Edited and translated by Burrton Pike and David S. Luft, The University of Chicago press, 1990

The African praise poem from Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, third edition, 2017

Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Oxford University Press, 1991

Emile De Antonio and Mitch Tuchman, Painters Painting – A candid history of the modern art scene, 1940 – 1970  New York, Abbeville Press, 1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHILIPPA BLAIR : her book of painting

Philippa Blair’s

Pictographs – Ideograms

by Rosanna Albertini

 

When a human abandons the world of senses, his/her/its soul gets demented.

Quand l’homme abandonne le sensible, son âme devient comme démente.

From Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464) to Michel Foucault (1926-1984)*

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Pioneers 2015
card, paper, ink, gesso, graphite   21″ x 36″   Courtesy of the artist

Los Angeles, May 2009. The trip to Philippa’s house in San Pedro by bus and train was three hours of damnation. But Philippa was there at the bus stop, waiting for me, the exact moment I arrived. Looking at each other’s face, we could read it with no words as Maori do in New Zealand. Accidentally, we are the same age, she is one month younger than me. Although Philippa isn’t a Maori woman, like them she can go through human or material density as if bodies weren’t obstacles. In her mind, the buildings where she lives are bodies around her own person, or sometimes scattered parts of her.

She is a painter.  

Like birds, she migrated from Ponsonby NZ to San Pedro, from Los Angeles to Australia and Europe, and now she is back in Ponsonby. Her nest on the hills. Paintings and drawings help her keep track of life, as if a bird could rub the feathers on the narrow space of a canvas, depicting and revealing vectors, figures, the intensity of the flight, the frequency of the heartbeat.

As Robert Rauschenberg would say, she can’t make life or art, and has to work “in that hole in between, which is undefined. That’s what makes the adventure of painting.” Almost ten years after our first encounter, I happened to stop my eyes on Philippa Blair’s works on paper she made in 2015. This post is dedicated to them. 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Language Barriers 2015
card, paper, ink, acrylic 23″ x 36″ Courtesy of the arti

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Terrain 2015
card, tape, paper, wood, acrylic, ink, netting   28″ x 40   Courtesy of the artist

 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Shelter 2015
paper, card, ink, wood, graphite   21″ x 36   Courtesy of the artist

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Gridlock 2015
card, paper, tape, acrylic, wood   21″ x 30″   Courtesy of the artist

Little by little, surprised at every piece, my brain is revived by the reasonable, friendly closeness, in the same space, of broken parts removed from any functional duty —as it happens after an earthquake, or social turmoil. Different languages in the same brain raise unpredictable barriers one against the other, producing stuttering or silence, or a closed door. Yet each piece is one place, the visual configuration of only one ideogram.

Each place gives support to what remains of an implosion: because they were blotted out, lines and colors readjust themselves on an irregular landscape as if learning to smooth down tensions or pain. Soft is the white, spots of color reassert a new explosion of beauty: maybe self-sufficient, I’m tempted to say ‘natural’ in a physical process, but words fail me. They can’t replace the secret of perception. 

Is the artist blowing underneath the paper’s fragile surface the breathing that inflates her chest? Paper can’t hold it so it needs rolls or sticks or cardboard filling the space, sculpting a landscape. Wind inflates a forest: the trees are curved, while the carriage of light following the hours stretches fragments of color between the branches. (Terrain) 

Oh no, not abstraction at all. They are paper works, basically black & white. Black lines break and disconnect, they are the opposite of lines of words looking continuous even when thoughts are not. Although the grid of life is always there, it is at times crumpled, other times rigid, never imposing a predictable order. The heartbeat prevails. Paintings? They could as well be visual songs of a mind burning edges, borders, and final forms, in favor of fluid sceneries sucked into the artist’s black hole inside her, to be emotionally reconfigured. They can’t be flat. 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Return to sender 2015
paper, card, gesso, ink   27″ x 17″   Courtesy of the artist

They are flashes of life with some hope of love for the crazy world we share. 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Armour/Amore 2015
card, paper, tape, acrylic   23″ x 21″   Courtesy of the artist

Philippa Blair’s painted books, almost pictographs,

 and here THE PAINTED BOOK  by  Nezahualcoyotl**  (1402-1472)

1….

Your heart is a book of paintings,

You have come to sing,

to make Your drums resound.

You are the singer.

Within the house of springtime,

You make the people happy.

2

With flowers You write,

O Giver of Life:

with songs You give color,

with songs You shade

those who must live on the earth.

 

Later You will destroy eagles and ocelots:

we live only in Your book of paintings,

here on the earth.

With black ink You will blot out

all that was friendship,

brotherhood, nobility.

 

You give shading

to those who must live on earth.

We live only in Your book of paintings,

here on the earth.

3

I comprehend the secret, the hidden:

O my lords!

Thus we are,

we are mortal,

men through and through,

we all will have to go away,

we all will have to die on earth.

 

Like a painting,

we all be erased.

like a flower,

we will dry up

here on earth. 

Philippa’s life precipitates in her paintings without blocking in permanent forms the fleeting, indistinct movements of the visible world. The paper can barely contain her effort of breaking chains, melting objects, building broken castles for feelings and tracking the rhythm  of a perpetual change, which is never the same, but not for a change of time and space. It is the artist  floating in her own boat, through her own spirit, the one who makes them new.  She gives to her figures of paint the freedom of material presences quickly disfigured by their own variation, she lets them go. It’s a flux of time that only happens, and is present time. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Rosanna Albertini, New Zealand with an Italian Accent, Oreste & Co. Publishers, Los Angeles 2010

*Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses, Gallimard, Paris 1966

**Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, 3d edition revised and expanded, University of California Press, Oackland 2017. “From Mexico & elsewhere in Mesoamerica arise generations of pre-Conquest poets & books: a written tradition that reenforces & expands the spoken one. … Above all, Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472), author of more than thirty surviving compositions & chief of Texcoco for over thirty years. While the tradition would still seem to be oral, the writings/paintings enter as a real presence: on stone monuments, fired vases, & painted books or ‘screenfolds.’ “(The Commentaries, p. 543)

Leo Steinberg, Encounters with Robert Rauschenberg, ©2000 Menil Foundation, Inc.

VULNERABLE PHANTOMS

THE BAADER – MEINHOF’s STORY revisited by two LOS ANGELES ARTISTS

Daniel Martinez and Erin Cosgrove

1

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ : I AM ULRICHE MEINHOF, 2017
Roberts and Tilton Gallery, Los Angeles

“… the ink of reality stains the very fingers that put that reality in parenthesis.” (Emmanuel Levinas)

by Rosanna Albertini
Hello Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, as phantoms of my own past I prefer to keep you silent. Someone wrote that, if the future existed, maybe the past wouldn’t be so seductive. But the future is a figure of speech, “a specter of thought.” It was Nabokov.


DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ,  Teltow Channel close to the Dreilinden roadhouse. The Teltow Channel, (German: Teltowkanal) is a canal that lies in both the states of Berlin (south) and Brandenburg, and at points forms the boundary between the two. Hidden away near the Teltowkanal is the old border control point and roadhouse Dreilinden. The area is part of a nature reserve. Nearby is a bridge across the canal which was divided by a piece of wall during the GDR period, making it impassable., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

After ’68, dreams of revolution in Europe were quickly replaced by symptoms of something else: a diffused, unpredictable violence for many years bringing bombs on trains, in banks, garbage cans, subway stations, department stores, kindergartens. Under the verbal umbrella of terrorism, the seventies and early eighties that I witnessed in Italy and in Paris were years of a familiar terror, following our daily steps like an invisible dog. In Paris attacks were shamelessly announced by the radio early in the morning. “Are you coming to work today?” my friend Dany Bloch on the phone from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. “A museum and the subway will be under attack.” “Of course I will come.” Southern fatalism kept me active. It wasn’t courage, I would call it a passive state of consent. The night before, the post office near my apartment had blown up. An unfamiliar landscape in Paris, les terrasses, the cafes’ tables and chairs, were empty.

Terrorism in Germany was no surprise, at least it had names, and faces. One more idealistic failure. People of my countries were too busy checking for abandoned bags or packages on trains and buses to dig into the reasons that built the RAF (Red Army Faction), the tragic death of most of the members. Ulrike Meinhof was one of the founders of the terrorist group in 1970. It was almost fifty years ago. Yet Daniel Joseph Martinez, today, declares “I am Ulrike Meinhof or (someone once told me time is a flat circle).” The art piece is a series of large b & w photographs. He brings back the young woman’s images printed on banners he carries vertical, holding the pole, during a long and solitary parade through Berlin. Astonished, I couldn’t stop looking at Ulrike’s face, and to the artist’s silent standing, looking distant and obedient, like a boy in a procession. Pictures are dark. Light would disturb the intimate hospitality each place offers to these two strangers who keep their presence at the edge of forgetfulness, extremely quite. If they think, they seem to listen to walls, dead leaves, trees or bricks on the pavement of the street, as if silently answering a hidden invitation, locked in a missing answer without wonder. Being there is all there is.

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ, The Abspannwerk Humboldt (electrical power substation) in the Kopenhagener Straße is an extraordinary example, designed by the important industrial architect Hans H. Müller and built in 1927. The Wall was constructed directly next to the Abspannwerk Humboldt, so that it was in the East sector, and the Kopenhagener Straße was used as an entry point to the death strip by the border guards and their vehicles., 2017
Medium format black & white printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ,  The inner yard of Märkisches Viertel. The Märkisches Viertel consists of a large housing estate of about 17,000 apartments with chains of high-rises up to 18 floors that were built from 1964 to 1974. To the east it shares its border with the Rosenthal and Wilhelmsruh localities of the Pankow borough, from which it was separated by the Berlin Wall until 1989. In 2003 Märkisches Viertel had about 36,000 inhabitants., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in    Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ   In the area between Königsweg Brücke and the pink amour memorial. A densely vegetated place, as you can see reveals a sparser background., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in    Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

Why, what, meaning, history, the artist’s intentions, my curiosity, stumped by the power of these images. Don’t expect any criticism, or aesthetic descriptions. Look at them. From Arthur Rimbau to Daniel Martinez resonates “I is another.” “I am I because my little dog knows me.” (Gertrude Stein) Time to decipher. No jokes?

The artist is in Berlin. Maybe Martinez is there too drinking coffee in the morning, but his “I” is already the artist, a human stripped of name or language, a naked being who becomes “a site, a whole world, a hospitable place.” Not because he has a deep, inner generosity; I would say his presence unfolds a message that is simple and astonishing: a silent listening. THERE the artist is: having a sort of primordial intuition of a story unraveled by philosophers for at least two centuries. Not only discovering that “inner life” is only a beautiful fantasy, also disclosing the flower of real life only blooming in the world. Maybe the artist in Berlin -my fantasy- opens up enough to see himself in Ulrike Meinhof’s image, and her image in himself as an artist. He is vulnerable. He offers himself exposing his own sensitivity. Suffering for Ulrike’s suffering, showing himself as human. I forget history and thank him. But, even trying to put the facts in parenthesis, the tip of my fingers remains stained by the ink of reality. Emmanuel Levinas has been my accomplice. Without his pages I wouldn’t never have seen all the things that Daniel Martinez doesn’t not say.

 

2

ERIN COSGROVE : HISTORICAL, HYSTERICAL, HISTORECTOMIST

She wrote “The Baader -Meinhof Affair”  2002

 

…it is the past not the present which changes. We go on for a long time, taking the present as a constant, much as the self. At some point we raise our heads and are surprised at what lies behind us… DAVID ANTIN, 1972

 

Erin Cosgrove,  A Heart Lies Beneath, 2004

By Rosanna Albertini

For a long time Erin Cosgrove, no less than Jim Shaw to be earnest, has been my antidote against frustrations and illusions nested in my previous academic life, the one I had in Europe before I became a video art promoter and affectionada. Although still guided by ghosts of dead philosophers, I was incurably starving for apparently nonsensical, surprising moving images. At the time, I was far from realizing that images and words had already started a new journey in the universe of artifacts. And right now, moving lightly over my first immersion into contemporary arts I try not “to sink into history” and “stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!” Nabokov again.

Words gave up their primary, indisputable voice. The term revolution has a strange taste on the tongue like licorice mixed with absinthe; heroes and visual symbols turned into ruins underneath the crumbled wall in Berlin. But disappointment, disapproval, disagreement, yes, colorless and washed out through the increasing insanity of our world, still have meanings, a variety of meanings in each place, in each language. I let the change take me in, having learned to enjoy uncertainty and displacement. Erin’s art, after all, with her provocative and satirical storytelling, isn’t more scandalous than many stories written by my old friends Fontenelle, Montesquieu, or Jean Jacques. They are also “conjectural” in the same way.

Erin Cosgrove grabbed a piece of yesterday and reshaped it today: by romancing, the Baader-Meinhof tragedy was transplanted from Germany into an American college collective game, as if growing the same tree in a different place: The Baader-Meinhof Affair, Printed Matter 2002. The new place alters leaves and colors. In 2004 the written story was transplanted one more time, into seven minutes of a live action and animated video: A Heart Lies Beneath. I would lie if I hide from you that I was shocked by the energy and the intelligence of these two art pieces. Damn serious as they are in their purpose and execution, they also threw in the air my memories -already nebulous- I was afraid they would splash on the floor like a defective aircraft. But I was wrong: the past has changed. So much of it was romance. It’s pinned on my sweater.

Erin Cosgrove is a scribe of contemporary disagreement about almost everything: religions, wars, global warming, social games, evolution, borders, political regimes, and family life. Wars and new agents of terror and hurricanes and droughts and epidemics and bankruptcies are heaped on our road. Cosgrove doesn’t stop harvesting meanings. From cold winters in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she learned flatness and silence. Late in the night a wolf waited for her outside of the art school’s door. Half frozen after standing for hours in front of the federal Building protesting the first Gulf War, she finally fainted into a big basket of candies at a nearby shopping center. She learned from Samuel Beckett that silence could be told if the voice springs from inside and stops two steps from the feet.

She is a calligraphy queen free from chronology, conventional cages, and high and low. In words and images her calligraphic characters wear the faces of Darwin, Diogenes, Jesus, Leon Trotsky, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Andreas Baader, and everyone else, including faces that are real, imagined, forgotten, or effaced by history. No shadows on the ground. People remember only symbols and play with them to the exhaustion of meaning. In Cosgrove’s mind, and in her art, stories melt into romance, drawings, tapestry, and animated films.

Only one condition for human survival: that we step outside of belief systems. The ones who believe do not see what’s around them, if they see at all. Instead Cosgrove believes in looking and earnestly says what she sees: the immense variety of artifacts whose logo could be “human made.” So much the better, I won’t call it “culture.” The more impersonal, the more popular and down to earth, the better signs and images function: they are an infinite number of alphabetic letters morphing themselves. But, as with any language, there is no exit: that’s why, maybe, Erin displays a meticulous and detailed encyclopedic style leading to didactic explanation. It doesn’t mean that the story is reasonable or reliable. It is what it is, not something to remember or to forget. It’s romance. A heart lies beneath.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emmanuel Levinas, Humanisme de l’autre homme, 1972, Fata Morgana, Montpellier, France

Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1972

Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America, Random House, Inc., 1936

Erin Cosgrove, The Baader-Meinhof Affair, ©Erin Cogrove and Printed Matter, Inc., New York, 2002

A Hundred Flowers Have Bloomed, A Reader’s Guide to Erin Cosgrove’s The Baader-Meinhof Affair, 2004 Published by Carl Berg Gallery, Los Angeles

Catalogue of C.O.L.A. 2008  Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery Barnsdall Park

 

 

SEWING FRIENDSHIP AND ART

with Sylvia Salazar Simpson, Allan Kaprow, Judy Fiskin, Peter Kirby

 

and Richard Tuttle getting rid of frames and capital letters:

“ art is not a copy of nature but an extension

how to make this extension concrete

it will be absolutely not be prethought
(absolutely not be absolutely)

the one an extension of the other without reference to priority ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON, Eggs Verbal A / Z , 1973, Courtesy of the artist

 

THE TABLE FIRST OR THE EGGS? THE WORDS OR THE PAGE?

by Rosanna Albertini

Sylvia made me aware of the sensuality of language. Of shameless decay as a mystery, a smelling, progressive alteration of fruits and flowers and things with flesh, or leaves.
She taught me to honor a molding lemon as well as the ashes of her burned out house. She made small altars with the remains, friendly places where other abandoned objects could be added over the years, tricky homes hiding the prick of cactus spines. They dislike to be touched.

Sylvia became the best companion for playing at life, pointing out to me how life becomes “life,” “something that floats, outside of time, in our thoughts.” Allan Kaprow. Kaprow had been one of her teachers at Cal Arts, CA, she was already mother of two. They remained friends to the end of his life. I also became his friend, having married Peter Kirby who worked with him for years, and cherished him like very few. Allan Kaprow allowed Sylvia to see herself as an artist, a mother and wife embracing “life,” the an-artist life. But she was not confused about the ungraspable separation between art and life, and built her own experience. Never gave up with physicality. Sewed uncooked eggs to the table, wore shoes made with celery, strawberries or ice cream, pinned into her ankles and feet. She made books with sugar, or paprika, or oregano attached to their pages. Imposed to them the destiny of decay.

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON, Imitations, 1977  Courtesy of the artist

About twenty years ago, one of the many days of playing at life with Sylvia, she introduced me to Judy Fiskin’s photographs, I vaguely remember they were at LACMA. It was such a surprise to discover photographic miniatures, of a kind I had never seen. Such a pleasure for the beginning of my new American life. As pleasurable as cooking and eating with Sylvia, mixing Mexican and Italian traditions, sharing pain and joy, as life brought them to us.

There is something amusing and embarrassing about the work” — wrote Sylvia Salazar Simpson years ago. These books’ pages don’t carry words, nor images. Each book is a physical story going bad and smelly over time. “Can you fold the page please? That’s the ritual.” “Disgusting? Why?” Any repulsion disappears when the most terrible things are written words. A jelly beans-bacon-pearl page should be sucked, read by the lips, by the same voracious tongue of a newborn exploring surfaces around her before names appear.

Art only needs an alien space to physically exist. The Sugar Book, the Spit Book? What do they mean if the book is a tongue as rough as a cat’s, black sandpaper growing Tylenol at the heart of chewed bubble gum. “Can you fold the page please?” Can you touch what your brain has produced, who knows if it is human or not it must be but it does not perfectly fit. Art is not an experiment. Sylvia Salazar Simpson’s books are flowers lying on old stems torn from the ground of history, on pieces of wood soaked with tar, cut for the railroad. They can’t hurt.

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON, Blue Sugar Book, 1997   Photo: Hannah Kirby

We have in common a passion for natural growing: trees, bushes, and flowers. The first art piece made by Sylvia that she shared with me by giving me a picture of it, was of a group of trees she had to abandon, when moving from their Los Olivos ranch. And the art was a gesture, of wrapping them with clothes and fabrics as if covering them for the winter, adding decorations to their trunk, or letting them know how much she cared for them, which is the same thing. I’m sure they understood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Allan Kaprow, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California press, 1993

Richard Tuttle, In Parts, 1998-2001  Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, © 2001 Richard Tuttle;  2001 the authors.

 

 

JOSEPH BEUYS Sliding the Sun Light

A FIELD OF SOCIAL SCULPTURE

Exhibited in Los Angeles, March/April 2017, at CMAY Gallery

“I was wondering where the animal starts vanishing and the living being becomes a human. All the different possibilities offered by everyday life, one has to arouse them from inside.”
— Joseph Beuys

 Words are by JOSEPH BEUYS himself from Was its Kunst? What is Art? 1986. They have been translated by the editor, RA, from the book’s French version which is in turn a translation from German: we can only hope that Beuys’s spirit and heat survived  the linguistic journey.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Enterprise 18.11.72, 18:16 Uhr”  1973  zinc coffer, photograph, camera, felt
 16 x 12 x 6 in   Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

What necessity can we establish from which something like art was born.

Ideologies are not ideas, they imply a violence imposed on ideas in order to embellish our instincts with a conceptual apparatus.

Art mustn’t remain something retinal… that’s why I was interested in substances… Gradually, substances get out of themselves aiming toward a supra-sensitive substance that doesn’t belong in the physical realm.

Thinking is already by itself a sculpture process about which we can prove it’s a true creative act, I mean a process that humans formed by themselves, free from any imposed authority… It’s important to listen to the images, to perceive sculptures through the ears, setting in motion a much more interior and deeper machinery, able to produce the substance of heat, the evolutionary heat that helps humans to progress, enabling them to be carriers of evolution.

JOSEPH BEUYS,  “Suite Schwurhand – Eiszeittiere” 1980  lithograph on white Arches paper
15 ¾ x 11 ¾ in   Courtesy of  CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

JOSEPH BEUYS, “The Eurasian (Sulphur Work)” 1971 silkscreen, sulphur and pencil on paper       23 5/8 x 18 ½ in   Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

I got interested in an intense way in the materials around me, of course in any state: dead or alive. The site where a plant reposes, her vertical function, her way to emerge, to orient herself; or otherwise we must give a sense to life, simply understanding that the life we live is important and not ignoring that it could be sad, it could bring a burden without being a big thing; the states of depression can be suppressed by getting rid of ourselves, making of ourselves something new. By the same means we must do something new with the other peoples… This will become heat through a communication process with other humans, listening to what they produce… The field of a social sculpture works like a new machinery, we could say, like a carrier of energy.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Fingernail Impression in Hardened Butter” 1971 butter, wax in plastic box on gray cardboard 9 x 8 x ¼ in Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Element” 1982 copper sheet and iron sheet 12 3/8 x 17 3/8 x 3/8 in Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

A thing must talk. Sometimes it’s very hard to find the reason why a thing to whom one has dedicated work for so long doesn’t talk.

One day for instance I made a big marble relief and wasn’t really unsatisfied. I thought: it will be superb. When it was finished my thought has been: well, that’s it, finished, but it was enough to put it against the wall to realize that it did not talk, it did not make sense at all. I remade it completely. Yes, and sometimes things happen: for instance that crate isn’t bad, it’s even talking for me. The soil instead doesn’t talk at all… By all means, that crate has her own expression.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Suite Zirkulationszeit – die Mütter” 1982 etching on laid paper 14 7/8 x 11 ¼ in  Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

We do not know what sculpture is. The concept was used in order to say, this is sculpture, this is painting, this is architecture, this is dance, this is poetry, etc. I was always annoyed by people using a concept without knowing what it is. I understand very well Ad Reinhard’s reaction when he was asked his opinion about modern sculpture. Sculpture? -he answered- It is that thing one stumbles on while stepping back from a painting to see it better. … I told myself: although it’s a concept without foundation, it must have something in it expressing much more precisely what it’s made of. And I discovered something very simple: it is composed with forces, and components are very important… Our civilization, for instance, is conformed by the rectangle…
And men are organisms enlivened by heat, by the heat’s spiritual principles, we could call it love, love in the highest sense. It is surely a principle of heat.

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Suite Schwurhand – Vogel”  1980  etching and lithograph on paper, rolled on Arches paper 12 5/8 x 9 5/8 in Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

JOSEPH BEUYS, “Suite Zirkulationszeit – Meerengel zwei Robben” 1982 etching and acquatint on grey laid paper 14 7/8 x 11 1/8 in  Courtesy of CMAY Gallery, Los Angeles

CANDY JERNIGAN : SONGS OF PAIN, LAUGHTER and CONTENTMENT

About influences, sharing and unexpected discoveries

by JUDY FISKIN, FIONA CONNOR and ROSANNA ALBERTINI

“Art should make life more interesting than art”
Robert Filliou, quoted by Annette Messager, quoted by Sheryl Conkelton and who knows from how many others

 

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Los Angeles. It was friendship that pushed us around Candy Jernigan at the same moment, and for the first time. Three women drinking her potion from a pink cup slightly twisted, offish. Pencils stand by not less reluctant to be touched. Their scrawny bodies curved by life, and their shadows, spread a sense of pain. Blue things cannot be on the same page: they would bring in liquid sparks of infinity as the sky and the water, the inner sensation that something larger, and intangible, goes around life but nobody can grab it. Candy’s images are small parenthesis in the big picture. The musical modes of her mood reflected by simple, quotidian object friends. Mostly, her name and art sit quietly on their parenthetic couch, waiting. Somebody might lift the plastic sheet.

A vague description floating in her memory, of an art piece from the Whitney collection that was on display at the New Whitney: made with something found, small papers with colored lines… Fiona Connor was chasing the artist’s name. She asked Judy Fiskin and me. Like a waltz by Gabriel Fauré, not too cheerful and not fast enough, the hunting started between the three of us, questioning, asking other people, getting lost. Soon Fiona found the name and sent it to us with a link to the anti-product web site: it was Candy Jernigan. She died in New York at age 39 in 1991, the same year I moved to Los Angeles. Eight images on the screen.

 

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Found online images. No captions, no dates. Yet, striking. I couldn’t stop looking at the artwork. Same reaction from Judy and Fiona. “Would you send me your response to Candy Jernigan’s work, for The Kite? I will add mine,” I asked both.

Judy Fiskin

Here is my response to Candy Jernigan’s leaves from Père Lachaise:

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Fiona Connor

I went up to the Laurel Doody’s last week to stay on her house boat and found this board. I have become obsessed with casting it in bronze. I love this chopping board – it is perfectly shaped by somebody, it has scars, it is hard to pin down.

I think I responded to Candy’s work because it is about mapping the world, being out there exploring as her modus operandi, choosing a single thing to help make sense of it. At this moment a practice that does not try and sum it up or say it how it is directly feels good. There are life lines in her work.

I ordered her book. I will hopefully show it to you on Sunday, Rosanna.

I am wondering about collecting and drawing works – will they always be deemed minor? Can they survive being brought into full view when they become something that an artist does, their thing? Do they require a sort of ‘childs eye’ or naivety on everyones part?

Is this important probably not. Some bile in our romanticism.

I forgot to take your book the other day Rosanna, I have been reaching for it.

Did another Newspaper Reading Club readings at the Getty courtyard this week with Billy Woodbury he read Le Monde it was very powerful.

Judy I love your photo and I am so so so excited for your iPhone film. Fuck.

A response, some news.

There is another artist I want to point you to Yuji Agematsu. He walked round New York for a year and filled the plastic sheaths that come off of cigarette packets with bits of rubbish from the city’s floor.

Love from,

Fiona

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My response, R. A.

She was not just a collector. She picked up and took care, gently, of pieces of garbage and discarded used objects that somebody’s fingers had touched and tossed. She attached her treasures to a thick paper or drew them with precision as if honoring their existence: nicely, in order. Wraps and prints and labels and matches and found dope from the city life, a blade of grass, a leaf in the country. She organized her relics in a space of quiet.

I’m attracted by her need of order. I wonder, was her imagination “pressing back against the pressure of reality?” (Wallace Stevens) No doubt as an artist she revealed her ‘nobility’ which is spiritual depth. “Nothing distorts itself and seeks disguise more quickly. There is a shame of disclosing it and in its definite presentations a horror of it. But there it is.” Nobility makes art possible, helping to feel each day as a gift, every thing as a custodian of vibrations, changes, expressions. Candy Jernigan’s cans of beans dance her homage to Goya.

Graphic order is the first thing I was taught in school: we drew little apples, or triangles, all around the page guided by a grid of squares. We weren’t yet able to read and write. We had to follow the grid, and be precise. To be literal was obligatory. (My school was a rural school in Northern Italy, with one teacher for two classes in the same room and countryside children using ink as a weapon from the tip of the nib.)

In the end we had made ‘una greca,’ a decorative frame recalling Greek borders. But Greek was only a word and we didn’t know what it meant. La greca was our decoration and nothing else. The forms we used though, reproducing flowers fruits or geometric signs, were part of the visual experience in our messy daily life, but these images were not as attractive as real pears or apples. We couldn’t eat them. I guess we discovered the images’ misery when they are not art. And in that time after World War II, we really were hungry.

Influence —I think it’s a sort of nourishment you take from other artists— it’s like the little sparrows, they are needy like that. When you’re young, you take in from a lot of sources; and afterwards, with all you’ve seen, you never know where it all comes from, where you stop and it begins.
—Annette Messager

Bibliography:

Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel, Essays on Reality and Imagination, New York, Vintage Book, 1942

Arthur Schnitzler, Relations et Solitudes, Aphorismes  Transl. from German by Pierre Deshusses, Paris, Rivage Poche, 1988

Annette Messager, Catalogue by Sheril Conkelton and Carol S. Eliel, Copyright © 1995 by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

 

BETYE SAAR : HER WONDER

An imaginary dialogue between

BETYE IRENE SAAR and WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

Paterson  New Jersey    and     Los Angeles  California 

BETYE SAAR, Every Secret Things (Almost) 1982 Mixed media collage on paper 20 x 13.25" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Every Secret Things (Almost) 1982. Mixed media collage on paper 20 x 13.25 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Note from the editor, Rosanna Albertini. This dialogue is based on my impression that her visual poems made with found objects and his poems made with words -we find them as well around us, since the time our ears could grasp them- are nothing but small machines endowed with an “intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.” (W.C.W.) Not only they are not sentimental, their subject is not their point. As works of art Saar’s visual poems are made as islands of perception, imaginary cages for human stories touched with gentleness, not to break their skin or alter their movable presence in her mind.

The price she pays to shape her land of wonder is distance: objects coming from other  lives, and fragmented images that were probably lost or hidden in her brain if she needs to add stitches to drawings and glue as if preventing them from vanishing, pinning them down. Time, in her art, seems to struggle against the eternal present of the art work when it’s finished, and becomes a still, impenetrable combination of feelings about all the things that stir our lives and do not have the same clarity of words. Directions, orientation, destiny, chance? They are cages for feelings before they solidify in concepts. Collages on paper, three-dimensional  assemblages are simply things living their own life.

They declare nothing. It is the hidden sparkle they surround with beauty that pulls our hair.

Their eyes look at us forcing us to wonder about what we do not, we can not see. The poet writes:

So let us love
confident as is the light
in its struggle with darkness

and the visual artist takes the wind in the same direction, through darkness and light. Darkness is time painted by history, and caged in words, but for her as an artist darkness is a fact that patiently, stubbornly, she brings back to light. Game of chance, or game of destiny: she is standing in the shadow of love. Which is the real step out of darkness, and makes each piece of her art a strong physical metaphor, a cage for magic, and a house for ideas.

(The poem is the second part of Shadows, in William Carlos Williams Selected Poems, (selected by dr. Williams himself), first published in 1949, New York, New Directions Books.

The images are from Betye Saar’s double exhibition: Blend and Black White at Roberts & Tilton Culver City, CA Oct.-Dec. 2016)

 

BETYE SAAR. Standing in the Shadow of Love

BETYE SAAR, Standing in the Shadow of Love  2000, Mixed media assemblage  18 x 26.25 x 1.50 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

 

BETYE SAAR, Destiny of Latitude and Longitude

BETYE SAAR, Destiny of Latitude and Longitude, 2010.  Mixed media assemblage  54 x 43 x 20.5 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Ripped from the concept of our our lives
and from all concept
somehow, and plainly,

the sun will come up
each morning
and sink again.

BETYE SAAR, To Follow Separate Stars 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 15.5" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, To Follow Separate Stars 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 15.5 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

So that we experience
violently
every day
two worlds
one of which we share with the
rose in bloom
and one,
by far the greater,
with the past, the world of memory,
the silly world of history,
the world
of the imagination.

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4 in Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4 in Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Illusion of Freedom,

BETYE SAAR, Illusion of Freedom, 2009 Mixed media collage  8.5 x 18.5 x 11 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Which leaves only the beasts and trees,
crystals
with their refractive
surfaces
and rotting things
to stir our wonder.

BETYE SAAR, Always Just Out of Focus 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 13.5" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Always Just Out of Focus 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 13.5 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Collecting Twilight Corners 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 19.5 x 14.75" Courtesy of the artists and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Collecting Twilight Corners 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 19.5 x 14.75 in   Courtesy of the artists and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Save for the little
central hole
of the eye itself
into which
we dare not stare too hard
or we are lost.

BETYE SAAR, Red Bone Black Scouts

BETYE SAAR, Red Bone Black Scouts, 2001   Mixed media collage on paper  17.5 x 25 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

The instant
trivial as it is
is all we have
unless-unless
things the imagination feeds upon, the scent of the rose,
startle us anew.

BETSYE SAAR, Dark Times 2015, Mixed media on vintage washboard 21.25 x 8.5 x 2.5"

BETSYE SAAR, Dark Times, 2015   Mixed media on vintage washboard 21.25  x  8.5  x  2.5 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City LA

BETYE SAAR, Serving Time

BETYE SAAR, Serving Time, 2010  Mixed media assemblage  64 x 17.25 x 9.75 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA