Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Guernica" or Suffering of a Horse Indoors

One of the biggest icons of modern art is Picasso’s “Guernica”. It was commissioned by the Republican{Communist] government of Spain to commemorate the 1600 people killed by German and Italian bombers  that struck Basque village .Two powerful forces working together made the mural famous: western communism and proponents of modern art. Because the bloody dictators like Hitler, Franco and Stalin hated modern art it provided the chaotic, barbaric and infantile rubbish with nimbus of persecuted victims of tyranny. Fascists’ condemnation of modern art awarded it the elevated place in the gilded chariot of the liberal virtues, right next to personal freedom, freedom of expression and tolerance. From the late 30’s modern art has been placed under the protected wings of American Eagle and the flank of the British Lion.
In the secular hagiography of the West “Guernica” very quickly was sanctified and chosen by our cultural trainers as one of the “Treasures of the World”[PBS] on par with Gioconda or Egyptian Pyramids. But, just like in studying  surveillance photos of the worshipping crowd sharp eye will spot one or two reluctant participants, I should be counted as “Guernica-doubter”.
Because the outrage of the people over the massacre of civilians needed a symbolic object, “Guernica” was chosen to travel around the world as large banner of resistance against fascism. Serious scrutiny of its actual artistic success or failure has been made near impossible or irrelevant the very way that the image of Madonna of Guadalupe is not assessed as art. In just a few years after the horrific massacre of Guernica the American and British air raids far surpassed the fascists in the advancement of technology of killing civilians. Bombing of Pforzheim killed 18, 000, bombing of Dresden killed 25,000 and in Hamburg bombing  killed 42,600 civilians. If compassion were ever numerically proportional than the massacre in the Basque Viscaya would be overshadowed by the atrocities of World War Two. These unfathomable losses were made smaller in turn by Stalin and Mao, the greatest Father of Death the history ever had.
If “Guernica” is to be viewed as the symbolic icon of tragedy of war than it is right to examine the symbolic content of it. For reasons that are not understandable Picasso chose to make wounded or dying horse the center-piece of this huge composition.

 Perhaps I am not enough of a horse lover to be greatly moved by its obvious suffering, but it should be generally agreed the choice of that hippic trauma should not be made central in a painting commemorating 16 hundred people massacred by explosive and incendiary bombs. Glancing around the mural we see many more elements no doubt carrying some symbolic significance but very puzzling to those who would be looking for understandable images of air-raid victims. There is an image of a bull’s head as if advertizing strong brand of Rojo wine. There is a light bulb unaccountably lit up with powerful presence that does not seem relevant to the huge catastrophic horror of the event

 On both extremities, left and right there are two figures of women with upturned cartoonish signs of suffering on their faces .Before they could escape, the author caught them with his cubist set of geometric torture tools and turned them into wretched cartoons .Look, because they are so prominent, at the hands and feet of those figures. Straight from a cartoon, distorted to be funny-looking as if made of finger-potatoes- inappropriate in the theme that should call for expressiveness of suffering Katte Kolwitz could show him.

Now let’s step back and take the whole poster-like image in and examine the emotions it generates. What are they? Pity for the dead, sorrow for the innocent, fury at German cruelty? Not really…more like confusion, sense of dynamic chaos caused by having a dying and kicking horse inside. No wonder the women are screaming. The gathered elements are so drastically incoherent that the only thread that holds them firmly together is the forceful display of the Picasso Style. That vantage provides the proper key to the famed mural. Forget killed villagers; think Picasso Brand showcased here to serve his egotism, to serve promoters of modern art as defenders of freedom from tyranny and to the public never questioning pronouncements of cultural instructors.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Figurative taxonomy

   I have looked into the art of the Weimar Republic and read about the accepted division within the Neue Sachtlichkeit between art called “verism” and “magic realism”. If one would add “surrealism” to it and “realism” it would make nearly all branches of the taxonomy of figurative art of XX century.{I know of “pop-art” and “photo-realism” but ignore it because “pop-art” was cynical art market manipulation, not art and “photo-realism” is moronic copying of snap-shots, not art either]
Verism has its origin in distant past when Roman portrait sculpture departed from idealized realism of Greek sculpture and insisted on great degree of individualization. Another words-it was art of the truth. In the 20’s in Germany the truth-telling was not directed at form but at content. Artists of that trend painted grotesque scenes of social decay with gleeful sarcasm. What unites them is involvement, engagement with social, political aspects of contemporary world. Some used ambiguity of jeering and delight in depicting the excess, debauchery, turmoil. Dix and Schlichter are outstanding examples of that movement. Others, like Katte Kollwitz expressed pathos of human miseries without endemic grotesque of the former.

                                                                     Albert Birkle

                                                                            Karl Hubbuch

                                                                     Rudolf Schlichter

                                                                          Georg Grosz

                                                                          Otto Dix

                                                                 Gert Heinrich Wollheim

“Magic realism” in all instances speaks with personal voice and invites into paintings of private sphere, far from blood and semen of verism. It is often a mythology of the quotidian, everyday rituals elevated to an added significance by good painting craft. There is something elusive in their art, something like gladness and gentle peace overlaying the content of their paintings, as if message above all was of savoring the simple gifts laid at the feet of each day.
                                             Balthasar Kłossowski de Rola known as Bathus

                                                                      Franz Radziwill

                                                                       Gregorio Sciltian

                                                                      Antonio Donghi

                                                           Francois Emile Barraud

                                                                        Georg Schrimpf

                                                                     George Tooker

Works of surrealism are different from magic realism by purposeful nonsensical incongruity of content. Instead of poetical sense-making [Remedios Varo,Paul Delveau,Claude Verlinde] it confronts the viewer with the absurd [Dali,Magritte,Ernst,]. It would be wrong to think that surrealism enlarged the world of imagination because imaginary visions have their own sovereign logic and consistency, while surrealism depends on breaking away from any kind of sense-making. Surrealism is no less hostile to the entire tradition of our culture build on sense than abstract art. Both of these artistic movements reject the central idea of communicating some sentient content through a piece of art. Yet, paradoxically they claim a pride of place in every museum housing the very tradition they are shredding.

But these neat divisions are hardly accommodating figurative art employing imagination of the last 90 years that is not fitting into the above historical movements. There is something called “fantastical realism”, there is “metaphysical art”,” visionary art” and even “fantasy art”. One can come upon “metaphorical art” as attempt at classifying realistic works  containing some poetical element. In cases I can think of it would just as well be called “magic realism’
                                                              Friedel Dethleffs-Edelmann

.And, neglected most, made by critics almost as quaint as oil-lamps is straight realism, deploying nothing fantastical, paradoxical, and surprising: just attentively, tenderly observed reality. Considering how utterly miraculous Reality really is it should suffice for the most shocking, revelatory content of them all.