25 June 2011

Wilhlem Kage & The Bat-Girl

Rummaging in the online archives of the Swedish National Library (Stockholm), for some reason I can't now retrieve, I found these witty posters by Wilhelm Kage from 1915-1923.  Kage (1889-1960) is better known for his porcelains for the Gustavsberg Pottery and for most of us, it would be a stretch to name a Swedish poster artist.  But the smiling upside-down bat-girl won my heart.  Kage had fun with poster conventions of the day and he deployed his colors with panache.

Images: Swedish National Library, Stockholm.

23 June 2011

Paul Guigou: A Painter Of Provence

Remnants of the some of the earliest known human settlements have been unearthed in southern France.    Provence is a travel agent's dream but many people have lived their entire lives under what writer Josephine Herbst called a "starched blue sky".  One of them was Paul-Camille Guigou (1834-1871), born at Villars and died at Vaucluse
Guigou was a painter, one of many realists overlooked in the excitement of Impressionism.  And it is true that he lived in Paris for awhile from 1862, a necessity for establishing an artistic reputation.  It was not long after he became the drawing instructor to baroness de Rothschild in 1871, that Guigou died from a stroke at thirty-seven.  We have Roger Marx, a critic whose extremely broad tastes extended tto he avant-garde   Felicien Rops and the symobolist Odilon Redon, to thank for making a place at the Paris Universal Expositon of 1900 for Guigou's beautifully measured art.

Southern light is fierce, and Guigou had no need of impressionist stratagems.  He excelled at clarity and the distinct existence of each element  of a picture.  He may have been drawn to paint so many landscapes that extend great distances for the homely reason that the light made it possible to see them.  Even in Lavandiere, where the woman at her work is his subject, Guigou has given us a vista that includes part of a bridge, possibly the remains of an antique Roman aqueduct, in the far background.
We get a sense, again, of distance, by comparing one unidentified Provencal landscape with another, The Road to Gineste - near Marseille.  It is a woman, walking down a dirt road, who introduces human scale into the picture, effectively preventing us from feeling too cozy with this rugged, long-inhabited land, this place of perpetual summer.

Images by Paul Guigou 
1.Vue de Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, 1867, Musee du Petit Palais, Paris.
2. Lavandiere, 1860, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
3.Paysage de Provence, 1860, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
4. Route de la Gineste-pres de Marseille, 1869, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

17 June 2011

Sadakichi Hartmann: The Internationalist

“To paint or photograph – that is the question:
Whether ‘tis more to my advantage to color
Photographic accidents and call them paintings,
Or squeeze the bulb against a sea of critics
And by exposure kill them?”
– excerpt from Hamlet-Steichen by Sadakichi Hartmann in Camera Work 6 (April, 1904).

In pictures he is tall, dark, handsome, and a bit raffish to contemporary eyes but to his contemporaries he was more difficult to place: his looks exotic; his background mongrel..  In the popular imagination (think: Madame Butterfly), mixing European and Asian blood  led to tragedy.  Sadakichi Hartmann  (1867-1944) was a multicultural man at a time where travel from Japan to Germany took weeks not hours.
Born is Asia, raised in Europe, Hartmann's influence as pervasive as it is under reported .   Author of the magisterial History of Art in America (1901, revised 1938) , the voice of Camera Work, organizer of numerous museum collections and art libraries, and tireless writer and lecturer, his fingerprints are everywhere but his reputation has faded.  I became aware of Hartmann through The Valiant Knights of Daguerre,  organized by his daughter, Wistaria Hartmann Linton (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).   As Hamlet-Steichen makes plain, Hartmann was not stingy with his opinions.
Hartmann’s work was often produced in conditions of desperate poverty and under relentless deadlines. His phenomenal memory, often remarked by those who knew him, served him well. Hoping to be remembered for his dramas (Tragedy In A New York Flat), fiction (The Last Thirty Days of Christ) and poetry, Hartmann earned his living for more than three decades as a critic. 
“My father was a genuine freethinker; the rest of my family were mildly Lutheran. My stepmother was a Catholic. One of my aunts a French Jewess. My mother presumably was a Buddhist. These influences shaped my early view point."  

The child of a German merchant and a Japanese woman, Hartmann was born in 1867 on the island of Desima, a trading colony in Nagasaki Harbor.  After his mother Osada died in 1868, Sadakichi and his older brother Taru were sent to live with their wealthy Hartmann relatives in Germany. There he  read the works of Goethe and Schiller before the age of ten and, at fifteen, he wa shipped off to live with an aunt and uncle in Philadelphia.   Working by day in printer's shops,  he took a drawing course at night. He met Walt Whitman and translated  German correspondence for the elderly poet, who encouraged the young man to try writing.

From Philadelphia to Boston and then to New York, Hartmann wrote tirelessly, work that he considered hackwork.  Throughout his life Hartmann also worked in pastels, receiving a solo exhibition in 1894, but he realized early that writing was his medium.  Art Critic, a magazine that Hartmann founded in 1895 failed, not from lack of talent or determination (he visited 750 galleries in the U.S. and Europe to solicit subscriptions) but because his aesthetic openness far outpaced American tastes.  His failed attempt to bring an Ibsen play to Boston a few years earlier had been an omen.

When Alfred Stieglitz founded Camera Work in 1902, the vision was his, the voice was Hartmann’s.  Shortly after meeting Stieglitz in 1898, Hartmann’s Art Photography and Its Relationship to Painting had skewered America’s lingering Puritanism, “its tentacles, octopus-like, having entangled our very customs and manners.”      Hartmann became the champion of masterpieces like Alvin Langdon Coburn’s The Bridge At Ipswich and Gertrude Kasebier’s Blessed Art Thou Among Women, exhibited at the 1904 Photo-Secession in New York.    Everyone who writes about the aesthetics of photography follows in Hartmann’s wake.

Hollywood, where he migrated after leaving New York,  was not kind to Hartmann.  He wrote screenplays that were never produced, took a brief role in a Douglas Fairbanks film, frequented John Barrymore’s salon where his wit and his eccentric dance talent entertained but did not endear him.  When World II broke out, the FBI interrogated Hartmann based on his Japanese-German background and Hollywood dropped him.  The man who wrote History of American Art was reduced to pleading, to avoid internment as an enemy alien.  His last home was a shack near the home of his daughter Wistaria Linton on the Morongo Reservation in Banning, California.

1. Zaida Ben-Yusef - Sadakichi Hartmann,  no date, probably 1890s.
2. Edward Steichen - Monnlight Pastoral, 1907- Camera Work, Toledo Museum of Art.
3. Sadakichi Hartmann - A Conversaton with Walt Whitman, 1895, University of California - Riverside. 
4. Sadakichi Hartmann - self-caricature, The Margins, UK.
5. Alfred Stieglitz - Spring Shower, 1900, printed 1904, Camera Work - 1911, San Fancisco Museum of Fine Arts.
6. Alvin Langdon Coburn - The Bridge At Ipswich, 1904, Camera Work - April, 1904, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
7. Edward Weston - Portrait of Sadakichi Hartmann, 1919, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.

To read more:
The Margins by David Ewick  
Siebold University of Nagasakci

16 June 2011

Sadakichi Hartmann On Photography & Art

Sometimes I think that everyone who had a camera photographed Sadakichi Hartmann.  The author of The Valiant Knights of Dauguerre was himself photogenic, and not only when sitting still.  A Chinese prince in The Thief of Baghdad (1924), Hartmann played opposite the great scene stealer Douglas Fairbanks. The man who wrote plays and acted the theater impresario was also known for his dancing, an eccentric blend of the modern and the oriental.  For one to whom the camera could be so kind, his opinions on photography had pith.

 “What artistic photography needs most is a Steinlen, who has succeeded in expressing in his weekly illustrations for the Gil Blas supplement – as valuable as any Japanese wood cuts – the heat, the hurry, the vexations, the lurid excitements and frivolous graces, the tragedies and comedies of Parisian life, and in a more perfect manner than Zola has in his long-drawn series of novels.”  - from A Plea for the Picturesqueness of New York (1900).  

 “I have always endorsed Heine’s defense of plagiarism, that it is permissible to steal entire columns and porticos from a temple, providing the new edifice one erects with their aid is great enough to warrant such violent proceedings.  The history of art had proven this somewhat surprising statement to be true.”  -  from On Plagiarism And Imitation (1900).  Here, Hartmann also praised Stieglitz’s The Net Mender, a photograph that was made with a painting by Max Liebermann.in mind. :

On the 1910 Photo-Secession exhibition at the Albright-Knox Gallery  in Buffalo that introduced the movement to a national audience:  “An ensemble so exceptional, aside of all actualities, teaches a lesson of deeper significance.”   “Like the delicious odor in some mirrored cabinet that lingers indefinitely for years, this spirit will not fade. It will be remembered long after individual efforts have lost their immediate usefulness.  The few masterpieces will remain, the rest will be forgotten, but the spirit will continue to remain an active force, and produce fresh impressions of light and tone, of form and grace.”  - from What Remains (1911)

Hartmann delivered his aesthetic judgments with a sarcasm that may explain his affinity for the subject of his finest volume, The Whistler Book (1910).  “Hartmann may be capricious and malicious, and rather careless at times, but he is, after all, the only critic we have who knows a good picture when he sees it and is not afraid of expressing his opinion,”  the painter E.E. Simmons admitted.

 “With Whistler this conception of beauty was largely a sense for color, the realization of some dream in black and silvery grey, in pale gold or greenish blues.  Color was to him the island in the desert which he had to seek, unable to rest until he had found it.  He saw life in color visions and his subjects were merely means to express them.” – from White Chrysanthemums, Camera Work, No. 5, January 1904

On the elongated figures of totemic women in Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s painting:s “Their ideal is to be found probably between the Antique and the Early Renaissance….They lead, indeed, but a life of reflection, they seem to be melancholy without reasons, merely because pain is poetical.  When Dewing paints them, he takes good care to avoid expressing even a reflection of the genuinely devout feeling of the Middle Ages as Rossetti or Henri Martin do….” – November 1893

On Augustus Saint-Gaudens: “His principal merit is that he has succeeded, in his statues and bas-relief – probably nobody has excelled him in that – in rendering our modern costume picturesque in a realistic as well as highly artistic manner, for this, if for nothing else, he will live in the history of art.” – October 1898

On Albert Pinkham Ryder’s  Toilers of the Sea– “And Vanderdecken’s world weary phantom ship, as Ryder conceives it, drifting on tempestuous sea of time, with its colossal troughs bedizened with the lurid glamour of a goblin sun – and struggling in the left distance on a mighty wave, upwards!  In an atmosphere laden with Good Friday gloom and glory: this upward movement is genius, pure and mighty, that will live for centuries to come (if no varnish slides occur).” – March 1897.

On Arthur Bowen Davies: “His drawing and lawless composition reminds one of Degas…” – January 1894.  Hartmann, also a practicing pastellist, recognized the strength of composition in pictures by Davies, Degas, and Ryder where others saw carelessness, a failing he understood only too well from his own need to turn his talents into cash.

On Puvis de Chavannes: “ ..if one is bent on classifying Chavannes, one might term him a colorist of striking originality; he was really a fanatic of color, who knew of no restriction except the limits of color itself.  While others endeavor to express the brilliancy and violence of colors, Chavannes solely strove to fathom the psychological qualities of color, the poetry and sentiment it is capable of, in short, in musical charms.”
To Hartmann, Puvis de Chavannnes was Liszt in colors, an artist who, like the virtuoso pianist/composer was ‘striking’ as a color strikes the nerves.”
“His aim was to express music in painting, caring only for decorative effects.  His decorative cynicism  explored the innermost soul of painting. in trying to make painting musical, just as Berlioz and Wagner endeavored to render music pictorial.”  – November 1898.   In a comparison of Japanese and western art, Hartmann singled out Dwight William Tryon, along with Puvis de Chavannes, as successfully integrating Japanese aesthetics in their work.

 “My particular favorite among modern portrait painters – although he is little known in the vocation – is Bastien-Lepage.  Of all the great naturalists who have enriched painting since Courbet and Manet seized the palette.  Bastien-Lepage was the greatest, because his naturalism disdained all pose, always possessed simplicity and dignity, and still was something beyond faithfulness to nature…”  Hartmann added that neither the Greeks nor the Japanese practiced portraiture. 

1. Bessie Buermann - Portrait of Sadakichi Hartmann, 1902, Center for Photography, University of California - Riverside.
2. Karl Struss - Boardwalk.Long Island, 1910, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth. 
3. Alfred Stieglitz - The net Mender, 1894, Art Institute of Chicago.
4. Gertrude Kasebier - The Road To Rome, 1903, camera Work.
5. James McNeill Whistler - Blue and Gold: Rose Azalea,  c. 189-1895, Freer Gallery, Washington, D.C.
6 James McNeill Whistler - Grand Canal - Amsterdam: Nocturne, c. 1883, Freer Gallery, Wasshington, D.C.
7. Thomas Wilmer Dewing - Morning, 1879, Delaware Art Museum, Baltimore.
8. Augustus Saint-Gaudens - Clover Adams Memorial, Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., courtesy of U.S. National Park Service.
9. Albert Pinkham Ryder - Toilers Of The Sea, c. 188-1885,  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. 
10. Arthur Bowen Davies - Mysterious Barge, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
11. Puvis de Chavannes - Benefits of Peace, 1890, National Gallery of Art, Ottawa.
12.  Jules Bastien Lepage -Ripening Wheat, 1884, Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

08 June 2011

Edward Hopper:Talking Pictures

 "When I don't feel in the mood for painting I go to the movies for a week or more.  I go on a regular movie binge!" - Edward Hopper

Movie makers from Robert Altman to Steve Martin have  recognized the cinematic qualities in Hopper's paintings their  artificial lighting, the  framing of images, the arraying of characters across the picture plane, and the distancing of the viewer from the action.   Born in 1882, Edward Hopper came to the movies as an adult, a vantage point available to critics only for a brief time.    By the time he painted New York Movie and The Sheridan Theater, Hopper was in his fifties and although he lived just a few blocks from the Sheridan, his cramped Greenwich Village studio apartment was still a long way from the opulent, yet streamlined picture palace.  And, like the best known movie critics, Hopper was a  New Yorker. What better choice could there be for a visual counterpoint to talking about movies.

To begin with, American Movie Critics casts its net widely to include anyone writing in America or writing about American movies.  This seems about right, as the people who made the movies came to Hollywood from everywhere:  Samuel Goldwyn from Minsk and Louis B. Mayer from Warsaw founded M-G-M, Frank Capra from Sicily, and Fred Zinnemann from Vienna.

In 1915 the stars in the sky aligned for Hollywood.   French and Italian companies that dominated the international movie market were forced to suspend production because of war in Europe.  On February 8th, Birth Of A Nation premiered in Los Angeles.  A racist romance of American history, the film couched its story in an array of new techniques devised by its producer D. W. Griffith: close-ups, flashbacks, and panoramic shots. The movie was a sensational hit.  Vachel Lindsay, poet and sometime painter, published The Art Of The Moving Picture, the first serious study of the new medium.   D. W. Griffith was an early admirer of Lindsay's book and invited the author to the premier of his next film, Intolerance.    A day would come when dance impresario Lincoln Kirstein described a Busby Berkley musical as "Babylonian."

All film critics, whether they know it or not, are indebted to Lindsay.  He recognized the creative potential of film and the tensions that would arise when artists and businessmen competed to determine the industry's future.  Lindsay was certainly among the first to remark the flatness and impersonality of action films, the potential of the director to become author, and the emotional impact their immediacy had on viewers.  Movies, he wrote, cut "deeper into some stratifications of society than the newspaper or the book has ever gone."  This idea was echoed the very next year by Harvard psychologist Hugo Munsterberg, when he wrote that movies "furnished art with a means which far transcends the power of any theater stage."   

Film criticism has always been a field with few barriers to entry.  From its beginning, all manner of persons weighed in with their opinions on the power of moving images.  Lopate has organized American Movie Critics chronologically and limits his selections to American-born or naturalized citizens. He reminds us that newspaper critics, writing to daily deadlines, lack the luxury of choice and extended contemplation.  He also points to the persistence of vexing questions. Are movies art, "mere" entertainment, or mind-numbing escapism?  Is the critic a publicist for the movie industry or the provider of a sophisticated perspective to the audience?   

 First generation critics of the 1920s, still mesmerized by moving images, were unconcerned by the lack of sound.  Typical was poet Carl Sandburg's review of German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari (1921).  "The Craziest, weirdest, shivery movie that has come wriggling across the silversheet of a cinema house," he enthused.   H.L. Mencken, editor of The Smart Set, expressed his annoyance in Appendix To Moronia (1926) at movies as purveyors of ideas, scoffing,  "They were hollow and obvious, but they were not more hollow and obvious than the ideas one encounters in the theater every day, or in the ordinary run of popular novels, or, for that matter, in the discourses of the average American statesman or divine."
In contrast to Mencken's unbowed elitism,  Gilbert Seldes  welcomed the new medium into The Seven Lively Arts (1924).  David Denby calls Seldes the first to employ a "tone of fond exasperation which we recognize as the sound of the movie critic."
The advent of 'talkies' opened a veritable psychiatric couch in the theater. Another German-born psychologist, Siegfried Kracauer, in  From Caligari To Hitle, wrote  "what films reflect are not so much explicit credos as psychological dispositions," atop "layers of collective mentality which extend more or less below the dimensions of consciousness."
 Robert Warshow's The Gangster As Tragic Hero introduced the mythic urban man who emerges from the anonymous crowd, only to fall back into death and "the nature of American loneliness."  To Warshow, the gangster was a messenger from our subconscious.  He was amused when Europeans took the genre literally, expecting to find a gangster on every corner. Much later, at the height of the Vietnam War, Barbara Deming elaborated on Warshow's theme in  Running Away From Myself: A Dream Portrait Of America (1969). For Deming, archetypal characters  express our anxieties on screen, encouraging passivity in the viewer. 

Some critics  have a direct line to our  suppressed desires.   Melvin Tolson, a poet whose Harlem Gallery (1965) is an  urban Spoon River Anthology, asserted that Gone With the Wind Is More Dangerous Than Birth Of A Nation. Having catalogued its many historical inaccuracies, Tolson was incensed that the movie had theUnion Army burn Atlanta when it was the Confederates who torched their own city. Parker Tyler's Magic And Myth In the Movies (1947) applied Freudian theory to everything from Disney cartoons to soap operas.   Tyler viewed the unease that pervaded film noir as suppressed eroticism, suffusing relationships between male characters, as in Alfred Hitchcock's Double Indemnity.  

 The golden age of movie criticism,  the 1950s -1970s, is . more familiar territory.  The New Yorker's Pauline Kael  prided herself on  seeing the movies she reviewed only once, to approximate the experience of the average viewer.   Her reviews were awaited and  her prejudices imitated, including  her hostility to independent filmmakers.  Renata Adler, film critic for the daily New York Times, shared Kael's belief that movies were world historical events, but more negatively.  Adler vigorously dissented from the chorus of praise that greeted Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, disgusted by what she saw as his glamorization of the killers and his lack of sympathy for their victims, concluding, "The book, the movie, the killers, the audience are stalking the family together."   

 A decade that had brought assassinations and televised wars to America needed filmmakers to explore the meaning of violence, not to create modern versions of the Roman circus.  In an excerpt from his book The Devil Finds Work (1976), James Baldwin takes down the 1972 biopic of jazz singer Billie Holiday, Lady Sings The Blues, this way: "Lady Sings the Blues is related to the black American experience in about the same way, and to the same extent, that Princess Grace Kelly is relate to the Irish potato famine: by courtesy."  What these disparate voices were demanding was greater verisimilitude and an engagement with contemporary issues.

Lopate concludes with "Reconsiderations and Renegade Perspectives."    Bell Hooks decries the nihilism of  cult favorites such as  Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.   She cites recurring plots of sexism, racism, and homophobia that imply change is impossible and equate  hipness with detachment, countering with playwright Amiri Baraka's "cynicism is not revolutionary."  Carrie Rickey compares the lot of women in current films to that of accused witches in medieval Europe: sink or swim, you lose ( Rat Packs And Pack Males)..

Other critics wrest some enjoyment for their readers from unsatisfactory films.  J. Hoberman of The Village Voice (the Tom Servo of movie critics) mines bad movies for clue sto the dream lives of moviegoers. Of one actress (who shall remain nameless here although Hoberman names her), he writes, "She's a confidently terrible actress, but why limit her performance to mere acting?"  And in Not So Nice Kitty, Manolha Dargis demolishes the film version of the beloved children's book The Cat in The Hat in verse: "Why oh why did they make it like that,/ Oh why did they ruin the cat in the hat."

 AMERICAN MOVIE CRITICS: An Anthology from The Silents Until Now edited by Philip Lopate  New York, Library of America: 2006 

1. Edward Hopper - Soir Bleu, 1914, Whitney Museum of Art, NYC.
2. Edward Hopper - The Sheridan Theater, 1937, Newark Museum, New Jersey.
3. Edward Hopper - People in the Sun, 1960, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.
4. Edward Hopper -Drug Store, 1927, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
5.  Edward Hopper, Hotel Room, 1931,  Museo Thyssen-Bornmeisza, Madrid.
6. Edward Hopper - Automat, 1927, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa.
7. Edward Hopper - The Barber Shop, 1931, Neuberger Museum, Purchase, NY.
8. Edward Hopper - New York Movie, 1939, Museum of Modern Art, NYC.
9. Edward Hopper - Room In New York, 1932, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska.
10. Edward Hopper - Compartment C - Car 293, 1938, private collection, USA.
11.  Edward Hopper - New York Office, 1962, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Alabama.
12. Edward Hopper - City sunlight, 1963, Hirschorn Museum, Washington, DC.
13. Edward Hopper - Two Comedians, 1965, private collection, USA.