November 30, 2009

Homage to Bleriot by Robert Delauney 1914

 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum houses some of the finest examples of Modern Art masterpieces in the world.  But it could be filled with its collection of works by Vasily Kandinsky alone.  The original director, Hilla Rebay, encouraged her patron to buy up everything Kandinsky did, and Mr. Guggenheim obliged.  In 1909, Kandinsky was living in Berlin and studying color theory.  At this point, he had painted works that would later define a group of artists, the Blue Rider Group.  But now his painting began to lose all representational aspects.  As an older student, Kandinsky also began writing his remarkable On the Spiritual in Art.  For him, a painter creates a painting to enlighten mankind, not just to touch the eyes, but to taste on the tongue, to sing into the ear, to fill the nose with memory and to vibrate the soul with an inner resonance.  

The Lamb by Paul Klee 1920

 You see, Kandinsky was a synesthete.  Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which senses overlap, such as when colors provoke experiences on more than a visual level.  Like a word leaving a taste in your mouth, or a sight that makes a sound.  Some synesthetes see numbers in a specific color, etc. etc.  I can see how viewing good art as a synesthete would be as satisfying as good sex to us normal folks.  And I use the terms ‘good art’ and ‘good sex’ loosely, because we all know if neither is good, neither counts.  

 Speaking of both good art and good sex, Mr. Guggenheim’s niece, Peggy, had an eye for Modern, too.  And she had quite the modern attitude toward sex, as well.  In her autobiography, Out of the Century, she tells of her open marriage with the Dada artist and writer Lawrence Vail (she ‘gifted’  him nights with other women) and, in the days prior to World War II, of endeavoring to buy one piece of art a day until the Nazis shut Paris down.  Like her uncle, who chose an artist to choose for him, Peggy Guggenheim collected art with Marcel Duchamp.  Duchamp pointed her toward Cubism and introduced her to what Guillaume Apollinaire had dubbed Surrealism almost twenty years earlier.  She brought to New York works by Picasso and Kandinsky and Ray, as well as pieces by Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst (whom she later married).  Her legacy in Venice now holds the finest selection of Surrealist masterpieces in the world. 

Skyscraper costume for Parade by Picasso (1964 reconstruction)

  Between Cubism and Surrealism, there existed Dada.  Defying definitive medium- from pen to canvas to screen to stage to scissors to store boughts- Dada launched many hard-to-define artists.  Perhaps two standout Dada-esque performances can offer the similar sensational responses of the synesthete:  the ballet Parade and the film Entr’acte.    

 Erik Satie wrote the music for both, but both were a collaborative effort by a host of talent.  Parade was performed by Serge Diagheliv’s Ballets Russes, choreographed by Leonide Massine, boasted sets and costumes designed by Picasso, and was written by Jean Cocteau, the title referring to the procession of prostitutes before the customer.  And it was in the program notes for the first performance in 1917 that Apollinaire coined the phrase Surrealism.

Entr’acte (1924) was directed by Rene Clair to be shown during the intermission (or entr’acte) of Francis Picabia’s play Relache (French for ‘postponed’, a Dada joke in the highest regard, especially since the first performance was indeed postponed due to an ‘injury’- imagine the poster:  Postponement/Intermission/Postponement).  An experimental masterpiece, it also features a procession- this one of a slow motion/high speed funeral march in which the participants hop.  Satie and Picabia make cameo appearances to light a cannon backwards.  Duchamp  and Man Ray play chess.  Perhaps the most notable scene:  an extended slo-mo upshot of a stocking clad dancer on glass, her petal-like trousseau blooming like a flower as she jumps and splits.  At one point, she literally sits on your face, from the camera man’s point of view.  I may have made a similar film in the late ‘80’s, sans the bloomers…  

Josephine Baker at the Folies Bergere 1927


THE BELLS  (Alcools: Les Cloches)  

My gipsy beau my lover  

Hear the bells above us  

We loved passionately  

Thinking none could see us  

But we so badly hidden  

All the bells in their song  

Saw from heights of heaven  

And told it everyone  

Tomorrow Cyprien Henry  

Marie Ursule Catherine  

The baker’s wife her husband  

and Gertrude that’s my cousin  

Will smile when I go by them  

I won’t know where to hide  

You far and I’ll be crying  

Perhaps I shall be dying  

-Guilluame Apollinaire  


SUGGESTED VIEWING:  Un Chien Andalou, a Surrealist film by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, 1929