August 6, 2013

Great art projects: The Modigliani Heads

As art techniques and technology developed over the centuries, the emphasis in art appreciation has shifted from celebrating the making of beautiful objects, which are now commonplace, to celebrating the conceiving of clever art projects. Admired art projects tend to comment upon art and/or be disturbing.

Of course, there is one type of unsettling art project that comments upon art that the art world is uncomfortable with, but that I find most interesting.

From a 1984 People article:
When the project began in July, it had the makings of a treasure hunt. That was when dredging started in the fosso reale ("royal ditch"), a junk-strewn canal in Livorno, Italy. Commissioned by the city council at a cost of $35,000, the dredge was sifting through seven feet of mud, in search of several sculpted stone heads. As legend told it, the heads had been deep-sixed 75 years ago by a hometown boy, the artist Amedeo Modigliani [1884-1920], in a fit of pique over his friends' criticism of the works. ... 
In her favor was the fact that only 26 Modigliani sculptures are known to exist. That is the more surprising because Modigliani, most readily recognized for his portraits of languid, long-nosed women, loved sculpting above all else. III health (he died in 1920 at 35 of tuberculosis and the effects of alcohol and hashish) forced him to trade his chisel for a brush. Thus the unearthing of additional sculptures would be a major event in the international art world. It would be especially important to Italy, which possesses few of his paintings and not one of his sculptures.  
Durbé's goal was to find the works in time for the 100th anniversary of Modigliani's birth this year. Many problems had to be solved. For instance, might the dredge's metal claws harm the sculptures? (The answer: rubber covering over the tips.) Work finally got underway on July 17. 
As hundreds looked on, the canal began to surrender an array of artifacts: several guns, a rocking horse, bicycles and fittings for a complete bathroom. At 9 a.m. on July 24 the first carving was found, then, eight hours later, a second. A third was retrieved August 9. Slightly smaller than the others, it measured 15 by 11 inches. When Durbé saw them, she wept.  
Art experts rushed to Livorno. Critic Cesare Brandi called the find "very important and certainly Modiglianis." Jean Leymarie, director of the noted French Academy in Rome, pronounced them "a resurrection." The sculptures, dubbed Modi 1, 2 and 3, were disinfected and cleaned. Numbers 1 and 2 were promptly added to the show Durbé had mounted in the Livorno museum for the Modigliani centenary. The works were reputedly insured for nearly $1.5 million. The city was euphoric.  
The joy, alas, was short-lived. Six weeks later the Italian weekly Panorama ran an article entitled The Livorno Hoax, in which three university students confessed to carving Modi 2 and throwing it into the canal. They said they made it in two afternoons, using a chisel, a screwdriver and a Black & Decker electric drill, copying the design from an illustration in Durbé's museum catalogue. They had chips of stone and photos to prove it. The boys claimed it was just a prank. "We thought, 'Why not help them find something?' " explained one. "It's not our fault so many people made a mistake."  
Durbé was incredulous. She called the students "puppets being manipulated by someone," perhaps the Mafia or a political group. The critics supported her. The boys disputed that notion in a three-hour television special during which they created yet another fake "masterpiece."  
Oh, well, the canal had yielded two other Modiglianis, right? Wrong. Last month a Livorno dockworker (and ex-art student) named Angelo Froglia revealed himself to be the perpetrator of Modis 1 and 3. His purpose: "To reveal the false values of art critics and mass media." Compounding the insult, Froglia not only had a videotape of himself at work on the carvings but also provided a recipe for faking a Modigliani head: Find an old paving stone. Chip it about a bit, then marinate in Livorno mud, scouring powder and hydrochloric acid. Cook the stone slowly on a hot grill. Throw it in the Livorno canal late at night. Leave stone—and art critics—to stew until ready.  
Feeling well roasted, the critics admitted they had been carried away by the euphoria in Livorno. "We love Modigliani too much," said one. "This led us to betray ourselves." In the end the embattled museum curator salvaged only one small consolation. Because of the controversy, the exhibit attracted more than 40,000 visitors during its 10-week run, earning the museum and the city a $35,000 profit over the cost of dredging. "I don't feel at all diminished by this affair," Durbé says bravely. "I fought for this and I would do it again." 
Actual Modigliani head

In fairness, a lone critic at the time vociferously doubted the dredged-up heads' authenticity and said that if they truly had been made by Modigliani, they were so bad that he was right to have thrown them in the canal.

So, the art world is really not all one big hoax. There actually are people who know what they are talking about, and most famous artists are quite skilled.

But, hoaxes and forgeries may well be the most interesting art projects going on in the art world in recent decades. But they appeal more to philosophers (e.g., the late Dennis Dutton) and to the People-reading public than to the big money art world, which find them distasteful and undermining. It's crucial to them for their rich clients not to worry much about whether their latest purchase is a genuine saint's relic artwork by a famous artist.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia says he's Jewish. Wasn't expecting that.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a lot of people had a lot of fun, though. I wish Americans were that highbrow and clever.

The only organized activities we have to make a lot of people look stupid is stuff like Twana Brawley and Treyvon.

Anonymous said...

"... to celebrating the conceiving of clever art projects."

This is true of much of post-modernism, but I wouldn't include Modigliani in such category. He was born in 1884 and died in 1920, so he was very much part of the modernist movement, and those were heady times when people didn't have time to be merely clever. Whole new possibilities were opening up in literature, arts, and music, and there was a genuine air of excitement of what could be done. Also, there were groundbreaking theories and insights into psychology and physics, and old certainties were fading away, with no new clear truths to replace them. Also, WWI had a huge traumatic impact on how the West saw itself, and with rise of mass media and global imperialism, the West was finding out more about artistic expressions and traditions of other cultures, and some of these inspired experimentation. Picasso certainly drew a lot from African sculpture, and Hesse found inspiration from Eastern mysticism. So, these were truly exciting times, a time when to be modernist was to be truly original, different, fresh, bold, daring, controversial, and be met with much hostility and misunderstanding.
A very strange time, and strangeness rather than beauty or nobility became the central subject and obsession of the period, and psychology eclipsed mere physicality and emotionality.
Incredibly, Modigliani was born and died roughly the same time as Kafka, and they were both obsessed with strangeness. Seen purely physically, Modigliani's works look ridiculous, but seen psychologically, one can kinda see what he's getting at. The mind space is a distorted and twisted realm. Dismissing his works would be like dismissing Kafka because his stories don't make logical sense or don't seem pleasant.

Modigliani was certainly not one of the great artists of all time--in the way that Kafka was certainly one of the greatest writers of all time--, but he was interesting and had a unique way of looking at the psyche of man.

But modernism did eventually ran out of steam, and then the likes of Warhol came along who really had no sense or passion for art but only cared about celebrity and being clever with knowing the right people and doing all the correct gayish things to push the right buttons with the established powers-that-be in the art world and the media. And since nothing is new or exciting anymore in the art world, it's all about playing the game.
But this wasn't true during the late 19th century and early 20th century when there was still so much hostility against modernism. One had to really believe in that stuff to stick by it and carry it through, as art schools back then happened to be overwhelmingly traditionalist and conservative still. Modigliani's paintings are interesting but some of his sculptures are striking and distinct, seeming at once solid and fluid, classical and surreal.

ben tillman said...

That was fun, Steve.

Steve in Greensboro said...

Funny how they didn't do fake Caravaggios. I guess that would have taken talent.

vetr said...

I believe Caravaggio can be imitated, with a sufficient one in a few thousand level of talent, at the same pace that someone can recopy the hand-figured calculations behind Napier's logarithmic tables. But no sane person, who could do this at a normal pace, would want to do it, at the expense of developing their own art . (this is why there is lots of Star Trek and Harry Potter fan fiction and not much Proust Waugh Wodehouse fan fiction - if you can imitate Proust Waugh Wodehouse you can do a lot of other things) By the way, I suspect this is a golden age of hidden great art. While on the one hand the great traditions are obviously not passed down the way they used to be, on the other hand out of the billion or so people living in countries with a Western visual art tradition, there must be thousands with the talent to rediscover many of the best secrets of portraiture on their own. Same goes for the Asian tradition. (google Sarah Raphael's portraits for a non-hidden example).

Power Child said...

In college, my twin brother and I both had similar fascinations with this kind of stuff. I was a film student so I obsessed over mockumentaries. My brother was an art major (oil painting) so he obsessed over art forgery. His Master's thesis was an exhibition of original forgeries: one Vermeer, one Rembrandt, one John Currin, and one Rauschenberg. I'd say he pulled it off pretty well.

David Davenport said...

... and Hesse found inspiration from Eastern mysticism

Are you alluding to H'arminn Hesse's novella Journey to the East, which was popular among 1960's/70's hippies? The quest for Enlightenment in the mystic Orient, or ultimate answers, or whatever.

If so, has it occurred to you that Journey to the East was actually a prettified allegory about the Teutonic März nach Osten of the first half of the 20th century?

Mike in Boston said...

It is no coincidence that art forgery figures in Back to Blood. Tom Wolfe still has the right stuff.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that the would be hoaxers were not silenced. If I bought a 60 mil sculpture and someone claimed he created it , it would be much cheaper to quietly silence him forever.

Anonymous said...

"Wikipedia says he's Jewish. Wasn't expecting that."

Sephardic, of all things.

"Funny how they didn't do fake Caravaggios. I guess that would have taken talent."

It's been done. But busting the pretensions of post-modern art is far more fun.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of fake Caravaggios:

http://lostinthelouvre.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/famous-fake-friday-2/

The artist, this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Tetro

is a pretty brilliant artist. Fascinating.

Anonymous said...

"Funny how they didn't do fake Caravaggios. I guess that would have taken talent."

Art isn't just about technical skills, virtuoso-ness, or finesse but about new/unique styles of expression and manners of seeing things that others hadn't before.
A good example would be Philip K. Dick. Though not one of his fans, I can see why he's admired by lots of people, even serious ones. He had a unique take on science fiction and a truly original way of processing the world through creative vision. In terms of his control of language, he was no Shakespeare or T.S. Eliot, not even a Dreiser, but there was no one like him, and his readers found themselves seeing the world and themselves differently through Dick's warped narratives. He was not a master writer in the way that Rembrandt or Caravaggio were master painters. But he was an original and wandered into areas no other writer knew even existed.

Similarly, in terms of technique, Modigliani wasn't the master craftsman that some of the past masters were but then, he wasn't trying to be, and the great thing about modernism it allowed artists to express their uniquely personal and even psychological view of themselves and the world.

It now seems incredible but Van Gogh was unappreciated in his lifetime; most experts were blind to his genius--I guess it wasn't 'good' by the standards of proper art--, but modernism made it possible for many artists to break free from the old standards of what is and isn't art. It also allowed artists to be personal and individualistic, exploring and discovering their own impulses and inclinations. And this is when Western art became truly distinct from the arts of other cultures where tradition and approval-of-experts were everything. Instead of serving as vessels of received tradition or carefully building on old truths and standards, modern artists could choose their own paths.
Modernism of this period is especially fascinating because there was so much conflict and confluence between the old and the new, between traditional and modern, between familiar and strange. Things were changing, rapidly and excitedly, but there was lively debate, especially as much of the establishment still pushed back against modernism. (In some ways, I think modernism's triumph was its demise. Once it became embraced by the cultural establishment, it became the new standard, but the whole point of modernism was to resist established standards. Maybe this is why both Dylan and Kubrick kept their distance from cultural powers-that-be. If the establishment holds you close and pampers you, you lose the creative fire to be different.)

The dawn of something is when things are most exciting, and Modigliani was part of the period when the world still seemed to be both standing still and moving in every direction.

Some artists may not be master technicians or craftsmen, but they have ways of seeing, conceiving, and expressing that escape other artists(who may be technically superior and more professional). A song like "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" doesn't use fancy language and sounds deceptively simple. It's certainly not Beethoven, and yet, Dylan tapped into feelings and anxieties never before expressed through music by anyone else before. He used simple means--guitar, harmonica, a few chords, etc.--, but the overall impact was striking, powerful, original.

Anonymous said...

Godard wasn't the master craftsman that Hitchcock, Ford, and Clouzot were, but BREATHLESS was truly a new kind of cinema. If one just looks at the technique, one might call it simple and indeed it was soon imitated by many other filmmakers. But the thing is Godard conceived of a kind of film style that hand't crossed anyone else's mind. That's originality and uniqueness, and I can imagine how people who saw a Modigliani's painting or sculpture in the early 20th century noted something special about them. Not because they seemed difficult in terms of technique but because it was new way of looking at people, new way of conceiving the possible in art.
Same could be said of Hemingway. One could say his style was simple, direct, journalistic. It didn't read 'literary' in the traditional sense, but Hemingway developed a way to use language simply and powerfully. It wasn't fancy writing but it was a new kind of writing by a uniquely writer and that was exciting.

When I look at a Rembrandt, I know I could never paint like that if I practiced for a thousand yrs.
When I look at Modigliani's paintings, I don't feel the same kind of technical awe, but I still feel that only he could have come up with them for he had a unique take on the world and arrived his own personal style to express it.

http://uploads0.wikipaintings.org/images/amedeo-modigliani/jeanne-hebuterne-1919.jpg

I could probably learn to paint something like the painting linked above in a few yrs--maybe even a few months--in the technical sense, but I could never have originated it. Similarly, while it takes yrs and yrs to play classical music for a first rate orchestra, any singer with rudimentary skills could play and sing "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." But only Dylan could have created it in the first place since he had a unique take on music and how it could be used to express something other than messages or the usual emotions about love.

Steve Sailer said...

I like Tony Tetro's hand-forged 1958 Ferrari racecar. Only two were made by the Ferrari factory, so Tony made a third in his workshop.

Anonymous said...

"If so, has it occurred to you that Journey to the East was actually a prettified allegory about the Teutonic März nach Osten of the first half of the 20th century?"

It runs through many of Hesse's novels, most obviously SIDDHARTHA. Hesse's parents were missionaries in India, and he later visited India and other parts of Asia, and though he didn't like the experience, it inspired many of his later works.
He didn't like the Indians who seemed dirty and messy, but he did admire the Chinese he met--he found them clean and orderly--, and there's a white character in GLASS BEAD GAME who dresses and lives like a Chinese hermit.

Anonymous said...

"I like Tony Tetro's hand-forged 1958 Ferrari racecar. Only two were made by the Ferrari factory, so Tony made a third in his workshop. "

Yeah. How on earth does he do that? Paintings are, often enough in theory anyway, one-man jobs, but faking a car?

David Davenport said...

Instead of serving as vessels of received tradition or carefully building on old truths and standards, modern artists could choose their own paths.

You memorized that sentence from your art history school book?

Yes, they could reject genteel truths and standards and choose to become transgressive artists such as Elk Ebers or Josef Thorak.

David Davenport said...

Zen is hip, Liberal/Progressive stuff, correct?

Nope, Prof. Eugen Herrigel, the man who popularized Zen Buddhism in the West:

Eugen Herrigel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eugen Herrigel (20 March 1884 in Lichtenau, Baden – 18 April 1955 in Partenkirchen, Bavaria) was a German philosopher who taught philosophy at Tohoku Imperial University in Sendai, Japan, from 1924-1929 and introduced Zen to large parts of Europe through his writings.

While living in Japan from 1924 to 1929, he studied kyūdō, traditional Japanese archery, under Awa Kenzô (1880-1939), a master of the art, in the hope of furthering his understanding of Zen. In July 1929 he returned to Germany and was given a chair for philosophy at the University of Erlangen. According to Gershom Scholem "Herrigel joined the Nazi Party after the outbreak of the war and some of his former friends in Frankfurt, who broke with him over this issue, told me about his career as a convinced Nazi, when I enquired about him in 1946. He was known to have stuck it out to the bitter end. This was not mentioned in some biographical notes on Herrigel published by his widow, who built up his image as one concerned with the higher spiritual sphere only."[1][2]
Writings[edit source | editbeta]


In 1936 he published a 20-page article describing his experiences entitled "Die Ritterliche Kunst des Bogenschiessens" (The Knightly Art of Archery) in the journal, Zeitschrift für Japanologie. This later formed the core of his most famous work Zen in the Art of Archery. In the book, Herrigel does not mention the Master's name.

Professor Herrigel died in 1955. Among his papers were found voluminous notes on various aspects of Zen. These notes were selected and edited by Hermann Tausend in collaboration with Gusty L. Herrigel, the author's wife (who studied Japanese flower arranging) and were published in German under the title Der Zen-Weg. This version was revised and edited by Alan Watts in 1960 and published by Vintage Press as The Method of Zen.
Dispute[edit source | editbeta]
...

Volker Zotz revealed in his book on Buddhism and German Culture that Eugen Herrigel was a strong supporter of the Nazi party. For his involvement in Nazism he was forbidden to teach at the University for three years after 1945.[6]


What's my point? My point is that German National Socialism was very much a part of the 20th century Modernist movement. In its own era, National Socialism was hip and avant-garde and modernistic.

Anonymous said...

I'd say you have it pretty much confused. Dick is probably stylistically a better writer than Dreiser who is simply short hand for the 2nd wave realism between Zola and the hard boiled guys. Also Eliot's poetry isnt technically superior because Eliot was a big proponent of vers libre and as such availed him to plentiful stylistic license. Eliot was like Dick just so different and had such a different vision that his genius couldn't be overlooked. Eliot's genius was such that when he decided to focus on stylistically more conventionally poetry and verse drama that he could write at a first rate level, but his greatest poems are visionary like Dick not stylicslly brilliant like pope or Dryden.

Anonymous said...

"Dick is probably stylistically a better writer than Dreiser who is simply short hand for the 2nd wave realism between Zola and the hard boiled guys."

I dunno... mebbe you're right... the only Dick I read was DO ANDROIDS DREAM because I love BLADE RUNNER, and though it was an interesting in terms of ideas and ingenuity, the writing was perfunctory at best... but then most sci-fi is like that.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, they could reject genteel truths and standards and choose to become transgressive artists such as Elk Ebers or Josef Thorak."

You got me there.

???

James Kabala said...

I wonder if this kind of semi-erudite article could ever appear in People today. (In fairness, it does still have a bit more class than Us or the other competitors whose names I can't remember.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah. How on earth does he do that? Paintings are, often enough in theory anyway, one-man jobs, but faking a car?

If there is a will to reverse engineer something, there is a way. Tony had the will.

I have little doubt that in 300 years time, artistic engineering and clever reverse engineering of the 20th century will be seen as among the best art of our period. If the Metropolitan Museum of Art is still standing then, or in another building, I fully expect a P-51 Mustang to be hanging in the Arms & Armor gallery, captioned "American school, oil, rubber & glass on steel".

The brilliant Soviet reverse-engineering of the B-29 would be no less honored as art. Its caption outside the Hermitage would just say "imitation of the American school".

Anonymous said...

As an artist I am constantly perplexed by this 'cult of personality' way that art appreciators seem to think. The personality is always more important than the work. It's far more important to have a pretty website and a thrilling online persona than it is to have skill. I feel like a fool sometimes slaving away in figure drawing classes, striving to improve skills that I know most people won't give a damn about. I've often felt that too much skill can be a detriment to a career, as regular folks can quickly move from awe to envy to disdain. I can't stop myself though, it's simply too satisfying to reproduce a person's face or form accurately and I have things I want to say through my art that maybe some won't want to hear or see (not shock value, just depth). I can't not do it though.

~Sysiphean

Power Child said...

@Sysiphean:

I know a lot of artists, and I've heard about half of them say the same thing you just said. The other half are the ones obsessing over their websites and personas, while their work looks like the Also Rans of Mrs. R's 2nd Grade Art Class.

I can't help but think of my "Artists & Engineers" paradigm, wherein "Artists" are the ones who care about something being a certain way for its own sake, meeting an established set of aesthetic principles, etc. In sociopolitical context this is like people who insist that gay marriage is a human right and that our society is flawed unless these rights are granted.

"Engineers," meanwhile, care most about the end experience for a target set of users. Continuing the analogy, these are like people who oppose gay marriage because they think its long term effects on society would be very bad.

You could liken this to consequentialism vs. natural rights.

Anyway, applied literally to artists and engineers, a Modigliani head (or a realistic drawing of a face) is pure art. A forged Ferrari, assuming it functions, is a bit of both. A 1987 Toyota Tercel is mostly about the end experience (an economic way to get from point A to point B) and is therefore mostly an expression of the Engineer.

Trip the third said...

It's a bleak future, 6:02PM Anon, when we've lost the ability to distinguish between steel and aluminum.

Big Bill said...

Tom Wolfe, "The Painted Word".

Anonymous said...

Tom Wolfe, "The Painted Word".

---------

That is a fun book and Wolfe has some pointed things to say about how the art world works, but Wolfe, like Paul Johnson, is very limited in his appreciation of art.

The conservative mentality generally has very fixed ideas about things and cannot appreciate something that undermines such certitudes.

Anonymous said...

"As an artist I am constantly perplexed by this 'cult of personality' way that art appreciators seem to think. The personality is always more important than the work. It's far more important to have a pretty website and a thrilling online persona than it is to have skill."

The problem is not personality per se but personality without talent.
An artist with good skills but no personality will do good professional work but lacks the individuality to make something that stands out from the field. Without personality, an artist can be good or even very good but not great. Art is expression, and as each person is different in experience, temperament, complexes, dreams, and etc. each personality is likely to be different and needs to find its own style and voice. While there are basic standards and forms of professionalism that all artists must master and adhere to, the complete artist puts forth his or her own vision, and this is what makes art interesting. It's like Schubert and Schumman both knew all the basics of music and symphonic composition but they developed different styles and expressed different emotions.

It's like we can tell Wagner from Verdi, Peckinpah from Leone, Kurosawa from Ford, Truffaut from Godard, Welles from Hitchcock. If they'd lacked personalities and only conformed to some general idea of the objectively proper way to make films, all their movies would have looked and felt the same, and who wants that?

But there are people without much talent who nevertheless possess colorful or 'unique' personalities(and useful connections), and some such people do make a killing by self-promotion and institutional favoritism.
I mean Damien Hirst is the worst, but he got away with murder(at least for a while) because he played up his 'cult of personality' with attention-grabbing 'controversial' works and other stunts.
And for those without talent and personality, there's ideology as crutch. So, a worthless female artist can paint in the nude to 'make a statement' and be praised for being 'radical' or some such.
I mean this ho is a total disgrace.

http://www.pasunautre.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/she_lay_down_deep_beneath_the_sea_tracey_emin_turner_contemporary_2.jpg


Talent + personality = great.

Talent - personality = good.

Personality - talent = maybe amusing but usually painful.

Ideology - talent - personality = insufferable.

David Davenport said...

"Yes, they could reject genteel truths and standards and choose to become transgressive artists such as Elk Ebers or Josef Thorak."

You got me there.

???


The National Socialist German Worker's Party's values were not the values and mores of traditional, Christian Germany. German National Socialialism and Italian fascism were, in a broad cultural sense, part of earlier 20 century Modernism. They were the Futurist branch of Modernism in political practice.

Are you trying to deny that???

/////////////////

The conservative mentality generally has very fixed ideas about things and cannot appreciate something that undermines such certitudes.

Let me edit that for you:

The Left/liberal/Progressive mentality generally has very fixed ideas about things and cannot appreciate something that undermines such certitudes.

////////////////

While there are basic standards and forms of professionalism that all artists must master and adhere to, the complete artist puts forth his or her own vision, and this is what makes art interesting.

So, was Josef Thorak a good sculptor a bad sculptor?

Anonymous said...

"The National Socialist German Worker's Party's values were not the values and mores of traditional, Christian Germany. German National Socialialism and Italian fascism were, in a broad cultural sense, part of earlier 20 century Modernism. They were the Futurist branch of Modernism in political practice. Are you trying to deny that???"

Reluctant modernism at best.
Mussolini began as an internationalist-socialist-leftist but then turned into a nationalist-traditionalist without rejecting the entire leftist-socialist program. He had little interest in the arts--he preferred music and literature--to Hitler's disappointment. When Hitler made his first trip to Italy and tried to discuss fine arts with Mussolini, il duce showed no interest.
Italian Fascism was a jumbled bag, composed of rightwing socialists, Catholic reactionaries, avant garde elements, Jewish Italians, etc, and Mussolini wanted it to be this way. He kept it vague so that he could be 'creative' and flexible.
In terms of political culture, Mussolini's dream was to revive something like Roman empire. There were modernist artists like futurists attached to Fascism, but the general cultural thrust was neo-classicism.

Hitler was a rightwinger by personality and nature. It was always about German greatness with him. Nation and race came first. But he was willing to be flexible on economic matters to gain power. Culturally he loathed modernism and was a diehard neo-classist. But unlike most of neo-classicism that tended to be airy, radiant, and pleasant, Nazi neo-classicism tended to be brutalist, heavy, imposing, heartless, pitiless. It has the look of the Terminator. It Teutonic form of neo-classicism.

Nazism was both traditional and radical. There was great emphasis on blood and soil, cultural roots, restoring lost glory--of Germany nut also the Classical world--, themes of nobility and heroism, a sense of certainty in moral and cultural matters. On the other hand, the culture revolved around a ruthlessly 'scientific' view of mankind and the world as a ceaseless struggle among the races.

Also, there was more strains of German traditionalism than Christianity. Where would one place Wagner? Christian? Neo-pagan? Revolutionary? Conservative? He was all those things.
And Hitler drew inspiration from him. So, to flatly make Nazism out to be modernist is simplistic.

Anonymous said...

"So, was Josef Thorak a good sculptor a bad sculptor?"

Some of his works are good but rather unpleasant. His human figures express just one quality: power. they are like hulking Aryan gorillas.

Greeks expressed power but also grace, beauty, agility, and fineness in their sculptures. Nazi art tends to be one dimensional... like the movie 300.

THIS IS GERMANIA!!!

Thorak, like 300 or Conan the Barb, would be okay as pop culture. As high culture? Nope.

Anonymous said...

http://m.vice.com/en_uk/read/im-sick-of-pretending-i-dont-get-art

vinteuil said...

In the course of earning my Ph.D. in Philosophy, specializing in aesthetics, I suffered through many hundreds of pages of art theory.

It's not all crap. Rudolf Arnheim was interesting. Ernst Gombrich was brilliant. And then you come to the big promoters of modernism, even the smartest of whom (i.e., Clement Greenberg) was so full of sh*t that you'd think he just coudn't have been any more full of sh*t.

Until you start reading his successors.

Gah. Feh.

But the single thing that most sticks in my craw was the constant unthinking reiteration of that absurd phrase: "new ways of seeing" - forever pulled out of some orifice or other to justify the latest version of incompetent draughtsmanship.

In my extensive experience, *nobody* who uses that phrase ever has the slightest idea what he means by it - let alone why anybody should think it's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

"And then you come to the big promoters of modernism, even the smartest of whom (i.e., Clement Greenberg) was so full of sh*t that you'd think he just coudn't have been any more full of sh*t.
Until you start reading his successors. Gah. Feh."

I think elite criticism has a way of ruining the party. When modernism first happened, artists were in control, trying new things. Some of this stuff was new and exciting, some was dumb and ridiculous. But the striking stuff really did change the way people saw art. It did open up new possibilities. Artists led, and scholars followed. But then, critics and scholars caught up and formulated modernism into a school, and thus it became institutionalized. Critics and scholars were telling artists--especially new generations of artists--what is and isn't modern art, what had value and what didn't. Thus, modernism went from an exciting movement to a school of thought.

Same thing happened in rock music. When Beatles, Beach Boys, Dylan, Pink Floyd, Stones, Who, Byrds, Hendrix, Buffalo Springfield, Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and other burst on the scene, there was almost no rock criticism, and very few good writers on the subject. So, rock artists were doing their own thing regardless of what the intellectual critical community was pontificating, and the critics and scholars were trying to catch up with the rich variety of creativity. Just as modernism could be anything when it began, rock music could be anything in the 60s as the creative juices of rock artists flowed freely. Rock-as-art-form was coming into being organically without critical theory and agenda.

But eventually, a critical community hardened around rock music in the 70s, and they said punk music is the REAL rock music. Most of PUNK sucked and was unpleasant as hell, but critics and intellectuals said punk was the pure and true rock music for ideological and intellectual reasons. Thus, critics, who had been trying to catch up with rock music 60s, were, by the 70s, lecturing to rock artists what is and isn't real rock music, and younger rockers fell under this sway.

So, critics and scholars can appreciate, interpret, and critique, but they should never be telling artists what they should be doing.

"But the single thing that most sticks in my craw was the constant unthinking reiteration of that absurd phrase: "new ways of seeing" - forever pulled out of some orifice or other to justify the latest version of incompetent draughtsmanship."

The problem is it went from seeing-is-believing to believing-is-seeing. Theories and ideology overtook sensual experience and evidence.
Same thing happened in cinema. For a while, filmmakers like Rossellini, Ozu, Kurosawa, Truffaut, Fellini, Bergman, Kubrick, Godard, and etc were indeed discovering new ways of 'seeing' in cinema, but then the critics took over the film festivals, and then, people were told that even in a movie where NOTHING happens, there is a lot of interesting things happening.
Thus, it went from new ways of seeing to new ways of believing(whatever pompous shit the critics said). I mean watch the films of Hou Hsiao Hsien. The guy is a freaking bore whose films can squeeze tears out of stone. But sErIoUs critics admire him and expect the rest of us to do likewise. Gimme a break. When I see one of his film, i only wish for a new way of sleeping.

Anonymous said...

http://uploads0.wikipaintings.org/images/amedeo-modigliani/the-jewish-woman-1908.jpg

This is quite good. It gets at a certain essence that wouldn't have been possible through traditional style of painting.

Anonymous said...

http://uploads5.wikipaintings.org/images/amedeo-modigliani/beggar-woman-1909.jpg

Superb.

Mau Bella said...

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Mau Bella said...

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http://testedimodigliani.xoom.it/le_nuove_teste_di_modigliani_co.uk.html