07 December 2012

Tales From the Vienna Woods

The pose has a history: human interest, female display as decoration, availability to the (male) viewer.  Make of it what you will, as art critics have.  But look at that couch.  There's a story worth pondering.

The artist Max Kurzweil (1867-1916), one of the foundesr of the Vienna Secession, edited Ver Sacrum, their influential journal .  On a visit to Brittany in 1893 Kurzweil met a woman in Concarneau.  He and  Martha Guyot were married in 1895.  The young coupled summered in Brittany and wintered in Vienna where,  in 1899, they bought a house.  They commissioned their friend Josef Hoffmann  to design  new interiors for them in the Secessionist style.
Which brings us to that couch.  Now we are in a frame of mind to notice its sleekness, the crispness that defines the overstuffed 19th century aesthetic of the comfortable home by opposition.  The pattern of stylized flowers (possibly tulips) pinned to an unending arabesque yet another  manifestation of the continuing curve in art.  Five years later Hoffmann would design the geometric black and white  chairs for the Purkersdorf Sanitarium,  an opening salvo in 20th century design.
Between the monochromatic version that appeared in Ver Sacrum (1902) and the colorful version that Kurzweil made the next year, I prefer the former.  The design elements are presented succinctly and the woman is posed more mellifluously, where the latter pose appears somewhat awkward.  Since Kurzweil made sketches of various poses for Der Polster, the picture was apparently the result of an idea but one that remains unclear.
Flash forward to 1916.    Kurzweil was in Vienna on leave from the Austrian Army where he served as a combat artist when he committed suicide. The motive was murky until years later when researchers discovered that he died together with his  student and lover Helene Heger.

Like Kurrzweil, Richard Gerstl (1883-1908) studied under Christian  Griepenkerl at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.  Gerstl, though, was attracted to the circle of musicians  and composers that included Alexander von Zemlinsky and Arnold Schoenberg.   When Gerstl began an affair with Mathilde Schoenberg, both men were devastated.  Mathilde eventually renounced her lover and returned to her husband.  Schoenberg's musical palette darkened as a result while Gerstl, after patining the couple with their two children,  committed suicide.
Call it the Mayerling syndrome, for the Imperial hunting lodge of the Habsburgs where  Crown Prince Rudolph (age 30, married) and his lover Baroness Mary Vetsera (age 17, nubile)  died under mysterious circumstances in 1889.  Was it a murder-suicide or a suicide-murder?  The family obscured the circumstances, even from themselves, to protect the royal reputation and line of succession.  All in vain, as we now know.   Conspiracy theories attach to political events and Marie Vetsera's remains have been exhumed and examined more than once.   A small pleasure like a peaceful nap on the couch turned out to be beyond reach.
Images: by Max Kurzweil
1. Der Polster (The Pillow) a/k/a Martha Kurzweil Sitting on A Couch, 1903, Vienna Historical Museum.
2. for Ver Scarum, 1902, University of Heidelberg Archive.

30 November 2012

If Stone Could Speak

"Look at me. You think I don't understand?
What is the animal
If not passage out of this life?"
 - excerpted from Horse by Louise Gluck


"I never turned anyone into a pig.
Some people are pigs; I make them
Look like pigs.

I'm sick of your world
That lets the outside disguise the inside. Your men weren't bad men;
Undisciplined life
Did that to them. As pigs,

Under the care of
Me and my ladies, they
Sweetened right up.

Then I reversed the spell, showing you my goodness
As well as my power. I saw

We could be happy here,
As men and women are
When their needs are simple. In the same breath,

I foresaw your departure,
Your men with my help braving
The crying and pounding sea. You think

A few tears upset me? My friend,
Every sorceress is
A pragmatist at heart; nobody sees essence who can't
Face limitation. If I wanted only to hold you

I could hold you prisoner. "
 - Circe's Power by Louise Gluck

If the title Louise Gluck: Poems: 1962-2012 pulls you up short, it is because it underlines  the precociousness of a writer still in her sixties.  Like a jazz musician, she started young, changed her mind about the direction of her work, and offers no apologies.  The trajectory of her work, as this compendium demonstrates, has the logic of the author and not the critic.
George Oppen, a poet Gluck admires, preferred to write about the "world of things,"  rather than the emotional apostrophes we learn to read as students. (William Carlos Williams also comes to mind.)  Oppen, and Gluck, for categorizing purposes, belongs with poets whose work is objective, or at least restrained.  Call it classical in intention.  Its voice is the opposite of the insistent "I."
In Gluck's poems,  figures from the mythologies of Greece and Rome (Achilles, Circle, Penelope, Persephone) and biblical places (Ararat) function as objective correlatives for contemporary experience.  This is a tricky thing to pull off and, in  my estimation, Gluck succeeds.  Were her lines less adroit, the whole enterprise would seem presumptuous. But her voice speaks through these familiar stories,  persuading the reader that her chosen symbols are apt.
For Gluck's purposes the New Jersey meadowlands and Giant Stadium provide as much scope for the imagination as the Aegean Sea and the Acropolis.  In Meadowlands (1996) she has Odysseus accuse the poets: "You don't love the world,/ If you loved the world you'd have/ images in your poems..."  In a more affirmative version of her  method, uttered in her own voice, Gluck has said: "in my own mind I'm invisible, -  that's why I'm dangerous."
What results is a kind of poetry that examines the personal from  a vantage point outside the self,  freed from the claustrophobia of the first person even while speaking in its voice.

Raphael Gaillarde (b. 1940) is a French architectural photographer.   As you can see here in Immortality Overtaking Time he, like Gluck, finds ways to incorporate classical tropes and familiar sites into his work, but refreshed.  These images come from a portfolio taken after the most recent renovations of the Grand Palais in Paris

Poems 1962-2012 is published by Ecco Press and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
For more about Louise Gluck visit Library of Congress.

Images: by Raphael Gaillarde,Collection Raphael Gaillarde,  RMN.
1. L'Immortalite devancant le temps - Grand Palais.
2. Colomnade et statue de l'entree principale du Grand Palais,

25 November 2012

Dogs I Have Known

 "The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too." - Samuel Butler

The very first time I visited my mother after she had moved to Buffalo, she took me to meet her new favorite, Giacomo Balla's painting Dynamism of a Dog, at the Albright-Knox Gallery.  So many colors went into Balla's time-lapse painting.  The longer I looked the less certain I became of my counting abilities.  The four leashes were easy.  It looked like the dachshund had eight tails, but I was never sure about how many feet the woman had.  I don't know whether Balla (1878-1958) had seen the time-lapse photographs taken by Etienne-Jules Morey with his 1882 invention, the chronographic gun, but he probably did.  An avant-garde artist, Balla was a member of the Futurists, a group of Italian artists who made a fetish of movement and speed.  The cropping of the human figure at dog level was certainly due to the influence of photography.  The gentle humor was Balla's own.

Although I have not met Bonnard's little girl with her dog in person, I had a little dog when I was seven years old.  We had our picture taken together in front of a slatted wooden fence, not on a park bench.  When I look at the two of them, I smile.

"I was a dog in my former life, a very good dog,
and, thus, I was promoted to a human being.  I
liked being a dog.  I worked for a poor farmer,
guarding and herding his sheep.  Wolves and
coyotes tried to get past me almost every night.
and not once did I lose a sheep.  The farmer
rewarded me with good food, food from his table.
He may have been poor, but he ate well.  And his
children played with me, when they weren't in
school or working in the field.  I had all the love
any dog could hope for.  When I got old, they got
 a new dog, and I trained him in the tricks of the
trade.   He quickly learned, and the farmer brought
me into the house to live with the family.  L
brought the farmer his slippers ion the morning, as
he was getting old, too.   I was dying slowly, a little
bit at a time.   The farmer knew this and would
bring the new dog in to visit me from time to
time.  The new dog would entertain me with his
flips and flops and nuzzles.  And then one
'morning I just didn't get up.  They gave me a fine
burial down by the stream under a shade tree,
That was the end of my being a dog.  Sometimes I
miss it so I sit by the window and cry.  I live in a
high-rise that looks out at a bunch of other high-
rises.   At my job I work in a cubicle and barely
speak to anyone all day.  This is my reward for
being a good dog.  The human wolves don't even
see me.  They fear me not."
 - The Promotion by James Tate, 2002.

Bonnard's woman in a blue-checked dress with dog is just as much a favorite at the Clark Art Institute as Balla's woman and dog are the Albright-Knox Gallery.  (One handy though unscientific metric is how many versions of the image you can purchase from a museum's gift shop.)  When Sterling and Francine Clark  decided to build a permanent home for their collection of modern French art after World War II, they chose a remote spot in western Massachusetts to protect it from a possible Soviet nuclear attack.  So that is how the ginger-colored French dog came to live in Williamstown.    I include a Bonnard picture from the nearby D'Amour Museum because it shows more clearly certain features that  you may not notice on the internet reproduction of the Clark painting.  Bits of canvas show through the checked pattern of the dress in spite of heavy layers of paint.   Bonnard's preliminary sketchwork is visible through the paint in the woman's scarf and also in the dog's body.  It looks as though the large yellow marigolds in the lower left corner were an afterthought, or perhaps Bonnard just wanted to remind the viewer that this is a painting and a completely charming one to boot.

"Out of the mouths of city dogs
have come some useful truths.
Barks and whines - noise to some -
are fraught with ancient wisdom.

A dog, to share his basic instinct,
will warn, say, of the landlord
at the door to spoil your day.
"Don't open," he barks.  In vain.

When the van is loaded: laptop, mattresses, and microwave,
a wise dog rides in stoic silence
to the new (smaller) apartment

where joyously he soon resumes
his job of watching over rooms."
 - Wisdom Tinged With Joy, Dorothea Tanning, 2006

A suitably Gallic companion  is Roger Grenier's The Difficulty Of Being A Dog (1998, translated from the French by Alice Kaplan, University of Chicago Press: 2000).   A true Frenchman, Grenier begins in metaphysics. "Animals, which don't do anything useless, don't contemplate death." -  Paul Valery.
Grenier, who was active in the Resistance during World War II, is too much of realist not to recognize that what we write about dogs reflects our own desires. 
 He quotes Rilke: "It may be that the dog sometimes finds a recompense for its endless adoration in the caresses of a suffering mistress, or in lying on the body of a dead master and licking his hand. Its eyes may then assume the almost human expression of the lion on the Unicorn Tapestry, and it has a brief glimpse of the burdensome existence it is led toward by humans, without pity or remorse." 
 He knows how much dogs give to us.   People who live with dogs have "discovered a haven even safer and more private than their mother's bosom." – Colette Audry  
We reciprocate their devotion in curious ways. Grenier tells us that Marcel Proust took time out from laboring on A La Recherche de temps Perdus to write regular letters to Zadig, the dog who belonged to his lover, Reynaldo Hahn. "My dear Zadig, I love you very much because you are soooo sad and full of love just like me..."

Note: The Promotion by James Tate and Wisdom Tinged With Joy by Dorothea Tanning both appeared originally in the New Yorker.
1. Giacomo Balla - Dynamism Of A Dog, 1912, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo.
2. Pierre Bonnard - Little Girl With Dog, ca. 1929, private collection.
3. Pierre Bonnard - Woman With A Dog, 1891, Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.
4. Pierre Bonnard - Woman With A dog, no date, Micehle & Donald D'Amour Museum of Fine Art, Springfield. MA.

18 November 2012

Into The Whirlwind: The Laliques

As an example of how a style goes out of fashion, similar to the process ideas go through when they  wear themselves out and need to be put to rest for awhile, look at these two works in glass.  Both were produced soon after World War I and both were produced by Laliques - father and daughter.  This perfume bottle (Flacon Fraicheur) that Rene Lalique designed in 1919 is of a familiar graceful example of his work in  the style L'Art Nouveau, but it is overwrought.  Pleasing to the eye perhaps, but it would be a pain in the neck to handle if it held your favorite perfume.  The style has become the meaning, in this case trumping its ostensible purpose.

Now look at Tourbillon, (Whirlwind) by his daughter Suzanne Lalique-Haviland.   A work created in the then ascendant style that had yet to be named - Art Deco.  She shows a mastery of design elements that are abstract and self-consciously modern, conveying  a sense of the chaotic movement suggested by the object's name, while respecting the integrity of the jar itself.

1. Rene Lalique - Flacon Fraicheur, 1919, Musee Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder.
2. Suzanne Lalique-Haviland - Vase Tourbillon (Whirlwind), Musee Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder,

15 November 2012

Suzanne Lalqiue-Haviland: More Than The Sum Of Her Names

"The success of an object does not come only from the quality of the décor itself, but above all the way in which it adapts to the form it is intended for.”  - Suzanne Lalique-Haviland

When your father is a famous glass designer and you marry a man with an iconic name in ceramics like Haviland, pity the artist who is a woman.   The unspoken, unacknowledged quota that limits the space allotted in our historical memory does to women what the Cheshire Cat did to himself,  fading from view right before our eyes.  Who knows how many copies exist of Rene Lalique's glass figurine of his daughter  Suzanne or whether  viewers recognize her, an artist appropriated by another artist. (see photo above)
In 1911,  then thirty-one year old Suzanne Lalique-Haviland began to design complete architectural décors.   Her youth and a desire to break out of the  Lalique orbit of l'art nouveau were reasons enough to explore art's contemporary –isms, fauvism, cubism, primitivism, etc.

Once established on her own, Suzanne  did collaborate with her father  in 1920 on the project for the Salon de conversation on the ocean liner Paris Transatlantic.  She designed textiles for Tassinari et Chatel, Prelle; the company still manufactures the fabric Branche de prunus which she designed for the liner.
Suzanne's fabric designs are often playful and witty takes on familiar objects but her work seldom displays the preciousness seen in the drawings of Georges Barbier.  L’art nouveau style continued to be popular with graphic artists for years after it was superseded by what – in retrospect – was dubbed Art Deco.

For Suzanne Lalique-Haviland, personally and for the firms that shared her last names, the Exposition universelle des Arts decoratifs et industriels, held in Paris in 1925 and planned for more than a decade, was a triumph of French design.   Suzanne designed works for both the Lalique and Sevres pavilions, but it was her mural for the great hall at  Sevres, with its quixotic mixture of fruits and flowers that won unanimous praise.

In 1928,  Compagnie internationale des Wagons-lit hired Maison Lalique to design new décors for its trains on the Côte d’Azur Express.  Suzanne designed an exquisite Pullman coach paneled with  inlaid floral bouquets dusted  in silver and glass paste.  She took great pains  in choosing  hers color for the paste: white paste porcelain, celadon or ivory shades.  Commissions from the Parisian Hotel Georges V and New York's Waldorf-Astoria followed.  This may be the right place to note that Lalique-Haviland's designs avoid the preciousness that marred the work of some of her contemporaries, that was the legacy of fading Art Nouveau.  But it was also made easier by her avoidance of human figures in her work which dated the works of Georges Barbier and Jean Dunand.

Haviland named Creole, a dinnerware pattern designed with asymmetrically placed dots with a surprising pink bow in the center, as one of her favorites.  It neatly combines aspects of her work in its blend of abstraction and verisimilitude, its freshness (her willingness to cover more of the plate to make a bolder impression) and her interest in other cultures.

An extended tour of Morocco in 1930 inspired Lalique-Haviland to create jars vases with evocative names like Marrakesh and Moroccan.  Her husband Paul had a collection of Asian art and her father-in-law collected African art, both common pastimes among the French bourgeoisie.  Suzanne searched farther afield, studying Aztec art, for the stylized markings of Lagamar, an impressive work that balances triangular markings with diagonals and horizontal rows with the aplomb of a three-dimensional art.  In fact, her grandfather Auguste Lebreu, had been a sculptor.  She also confounded, once again, the conventional expectation in relation to her famous father, that a woman's style would be more delicate and less emphatic. 

Musée Lalique opened on July 1, 2011. It presented the first  Suzanne Lalique-Haviland retrospective  in France . Through a series of revealing  juxtapositions her daring finished works  and framed drawings and gouaches make plain that she was the creator of  works, known and admired, but never before acknowledged to be hers. 

The exhibition Suzanne Lalique-Haviland: Le decor reinvente appeared from July 13, 2012-November 11, 2012 at Musee Lalique in Wingen-sur-Moder, France.
Visit Musee Lalique online.

Photographs courtesy of La Tribune d'Art, Paris. 
Design for Bengali dinner service, Musee des Arts-deocratifs, Paris.
Parasole, gouache, ca. 1920, Musee des Arts-decoratifs, Paris. 
Three panel screen with fruits and flowers, Musee Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moden.
Creole pattern dinnerware for Haviland et Cie, 1931, Musee Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder.
Lagamar Vase, ca. 1925, Musee Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder.
Designs for a new production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, 1951, Musee Lalique, Wingen-sur-Mopder.