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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between The Lines : AIMEE GARCIA

CUBA – AIMEE GARCIA’s SUPREMATIST SPEECH – LOS ANGELES

 Couturier Gallery

AIMEE GARCIA, Cuerdas, 2016, Inkjet print, newspaper, thread on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

AIMEE GARCIA, Cuerdas, 2016, Inkjet print, newspaper, thread on canvas, 22″ x 33″
Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

cuerdas, lectura, alas – strings, reading, wings

By Rosanna Albertini

Put the title in your mouth. Strings, reading, wings : a bird screeching, in anger or pain. The wind is stronger, faster than his flight. The bird doesn’t stop, resting doesn’t fit his American temper. Try the Spanish mouth. Cuerdas, lectura, alas. Words that bring a feeling of  whiteness, calm. A large page with no resistance waits for history to be forgotten.

Aimee, the artist’s name, melts the two sounds into one. In my Italian mouth, Aimee is a silent moan that doesn’t slip into the throat. It doesn’t need voice.

In her Cuban isolation, Aimee Garcia has transformed in art flowers of intelligence, never complaining. I could see myself in her collages, or any of the humans living on earth. We are all shredded by the same storm. Really the past could teach? As languages, politics, internet, financial games, advertisements tie our lives into the same bundle of voices fighting for primacy, believing takes the place of the dirty window we look through. We don’t know what we really know.

So I thank Aimee for her suprematist speech which is a portrait of us all like flies tangled in the news’ spiderweb. But her images also are, strongly and gracefully, the portrait of a possible flight out, a non-objective getting away from the written reality toward secret, inner transformations. Between the lines, the artist. Very much like Simone Forti who reads the news only noticing and remembering them as they slip into emotions, digging ponds in her heart.
(See Flag in The Water, https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/flag-in-the-water/)

AIMEE GARCIA, Lectura 2016, Inkjet print, newspaper, thread on canvas Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

AIMEE GARCIA, Lectura, 2016, Inkjet print, newspaper, thread on canvas, 31″ x 24″
Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

Aimee’s speech is made with colors and embroidered into the paper. She is threading herself, and looking at us from behind the cuerdas : her hand works like a cursor: ploughing into words, while sowing that “primacy of pure feelings” that Kasimir Malevich called SUPREMATISM about one hundred years ago. “The visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling; as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.” (KM) When she reads, Aimee visits her own mental field that is not necessarily the same as Cubans’ or, as far as I don’t know, a simple acceptance of a theory married to Russian revolution as if both, ideas and political upheavals, were a block sculpted by time instead of myriads of crumbs and broken steps.

AIMEE GARCIA, Suprematist Speech, 2015, laminated collaged newspapers, threads Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

AIMEE GARCIA, Suprematist Speech, 2015, Laminated collaged newspapers, thread 15″ x 12″
Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

And yet, I believe that Aimee recalling the old suprematist credo right now, the old regime facing the last days, finds a personal way of telling that a past life is in her hair, her skin, her face and in her mind. Up to us to read the change, to try her wings.

Life doesn’t disappear mutating in nothing. Automation devours objects, suits, furnitures, the wife and the fear of war.
If the very complex life of many goes away and we are not conscious it is gone, then it’s like if it had never existed.
Here we are, in order to bring back the meaning of life, to “feel” the objects, to see that a stone is stony, we have what we call ART. … a way to feel how the object becomes something else. The already done doesn’t matter.
VIKTOR SHKLOVSKY*

AIMEE GARCIA, Resistencia I, 2019, oil on canvas, 24" x 28" Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

AIMEE GARCIA, Resistencia I, 2009, oil on canvas, 24″ x 28″
Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

This is a flower painted by Aimee Garcia : Resistencia I, 2009. It is the last moment of beauty before the petals wither. Natural beings are lucky, they fall apart, molecules. Ever heard of a ghost flower? History takes a longer time to disappear, but in the end it does, ghost and monuments, forever. Art is for now.
If the object survives, the same doesn’t happen to its meanings : meanings are parasites of the living.

…just this way just this one time. Incidentally, we human beings also belong in part to this class of unique events.
ROBERT MUSIL**

AIMEE GARCIA, Alas, 2015 Inkjet print, newspaper, thread on canvas Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

AIMEE GARCIA, Alas, 2015 Inkjet print, newspaper, thread on canvas, 22″ x 33″
Courtesy of the artist and Couturier Gallery

*Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose, 1929, English translation 1990 by Benjamin Sher. Dalkey Archive Press, Illinois State University, 1991.

** Robert Musil, Precision and  Soul, originally in Gesammelte Werke edited by Adolph Frisé, 1978. Edited and translated by by Burton Pike and David S. Luft, The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

 

THE OTHER SIDE OF TIME

 Rosanna Albertini about KORAKRIT ARUNANONDCHAIs installation

Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving

At THE MISTAKE ROOM, 2014

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 U-topia? Non-space? Not at all. Korakrit is from Bangkok, now he lives in New York. He is as young as a heron, he found the way to survive and make art in the marsh, the unsteady ground stamped by the hallmark of our uncharitable lack of moral strength or hope for a future. The price he pays, is a “peculiar sense of contingency” and a fragile sense of beauty threatened from every side, first of all from the visitors’ frequent, almost inevitable misunderstandings: “What a wonderful experience!” “That’s a simple metaphor, a ritual of purification.” No blame on anybody, for these are reasonable reactions of humans attached to reasonable expectations.

The strength of this art piece is emotional and symbolic. My heart bumped when I entered the first time and again when I reentered the Mistake Room space. A pleasure fed by fear. It was like standing on a tree pulled up by the roots, no ground, no sky. A fountain, hands offering a bar of soap, transparent, translucent. A collection of hybrids: mirrors that are changeable paintings, a passage between two groups of mannequins all alike: a patrol of white statues, and projections that are reflections of a personal journey from confusion-isolation to clarity to social smile and applause. The mare of the night was galloping in my ears.

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Disquieting space. Darkness is the poetic touch. We all become shadows to one another as we look at our backs, because we all turn when instructions are given and still we see the back silhouettes of those who are walking out. The only magic light is on hands offering the soap. Yes, it sounds banal. Who’s afraid of banality? Watching TV, reading papers, phones, screens, we multiply illusionary thoughts: seeing is not understanding. History we live in is invisible. The past is out of reach. Therefore we really see nothing. I’m sure the artist found in himself some winding existential feelings to build his goal of cleaning his own soul as a message for other humans.

Is there the “white elephant” behind his obsession with white? In Thailand white elephants, chang phueak, are sacred animals, they can’t be used for work, they are also called chang samkhan, “auspicious elephants.”

So he replaced the arrogance of tradition and intellectual foundations with “the open-eared attentiveness of the child: expanses; solitude; being led; letting reason grow out of things and into man; a more universal, more conciliatory, but less precise mode of thought in place of ethical-activist brusqueness.”*

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 KORAKRIT ARUNANONDCHAI (feat. boychild)

Letters to Chantri #1The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving

The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, CA 2014

Photos: Peter Kirby

The moment we enter his territory we can’t avoid cringing. With the best intentions, Korakrit has made his message as messages are made today by the long hand of the market: formally perfect images of eternal youth. Apparently they correspond so perfectly to the rules and meanings that different societies, in the east and the west, have already accepted and digested, that one doesn’t even feel the need to think about them. They are a ‘natural representation’ good for everyone. Except, they are exactly what the mercantile wisdom has discovered and spread beyond control. Here the artist walks on a shaky bridge: he embraces the aesthetic of “a special form of violence shockingly flexible, highly developed, and creative in many respects,”** the aesthetic of capitalism. But he also offers the gift that keeps on giving, to expand his desire of simple, clean human connections.

It might be the other side of time, a chapel maybe, or a raft in the ocean. I like better to think of Korakrit riding a white elephant, while adjusting the glasses on his nose. On this side of time, I would be grateful for his auspices.

*and ** ROBERT MUSIL, Essays, 1918-1933