Huitfeldts gate 12
0253 Oslo Norway
Open by appointment
T: +47 45241629
AMONGST THE ECCLESIASTICAL ELITE
Carl A. P. Ruck
Blaise Daniel Staples
Hubert & Jan van Eyck
18 December 2020 – 17 January – 31 January 2021 (vulg.)
18 SABLE Ste Lurette, joconde – 20 DÉCERVELAGE St Outlaw, aristocrate – 6 GUEULES Ste Touche, postulante
Sannhetsspetakkel eller Taskenspilleri?
If you die before you die, You wont die when you die
Heretical Visionary Sacraments
Amongst the Ecclesiastical Elite
Certain works of European art from the Renaissance suggest that a mushroom cult continued in elite societies of Christians. The most defining characteristic of the Amanita muscaria is the persistence of its potentiated toxin as a metabolite in urine, perhaps reflected in the ancient tradition of the second birth of Dionysus from the groin of his father. Between 1512 and 1516, Matthias Grünewald painted an altarpiece for the monastic hospital at Issenheim, in Alsace, now displayed in the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar. The monastery claimed Saint Anthony of Egypt as patron and it tended patients suffering from the affliction of ergotism named Saint Anthony’s fire after the saint. Prominent in its complex of images presented in three layers of unfolding panels is the depiction of the divine Infant’s vase de nuit or chamber pot, above which is a transparent crystal vessel of ornate Persian design like a monstrance containing the amber fluid of the Baby’s urine, above which, the Virgin, in heaven amid a consort of angelic and demonic musicians appears, wearing a crown of flames surrounded by an orange nimbus, as she blesses the sacrament. The risen Christ is depicted in the adjacent panel to the right rising from the tomb, surrounded by the same nimbus, his white legs trailing the white burial shroud and presenting a credible anthropomorphism of the Amanita muscaria. At the innermost third level of presentation, which was visible only on the saint’s day and for special rituals, two scenes with Saint Anthony, patron of mushrooms seekers, flank a shrine with wood carvings. On the right, demons torment the saint. A poor deformed man, afflicted with the pustules of the disease, clutches a bible beside a tree trunk that is host for fungi. On the left, the saint is depicted entertaining a visit from the Hermit Paul of Thebes. For their meagre banquet, a Raven descends delivering two bits of Raven’s bread, whereas ordinarily the saint was sustained by a single daily piece of the bread from the Raven. Beneath the Raven, a deer approaches, about to graze on some of the mushrooms for which the Cervidae are notably fond, including the Amanita’s metabolite in urine. Another deer rests between Anthony and Paul, engaged in conversation, probably on the subject of their miraculous nourishment in the desert. The motif of the deer hunt in medieval and Renaissance art probably always had the gathering of the mushroom as its referent. Both Saints Hubertus and Eustatius experienced a vision of the Christ suspended between the antlers of a stag while out on the hunt.
Between the years 1523 and 1526, while in residence with the Duke, Titian painted The Bacchanal of the Andrians for Alfonso I d’Este to decorate the antechamber to the bedroom he shared with his second wife, Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI. The theme of the antechamber’s art was depictions of ancient orgies or revels. The painting is now in the Museum of the Prado in Madrid. There are two levels of reality in the depicted scene, the islanders of the Greek isle of Andros, who held an annual revel to celebrate the arrival of the god Dionysus, at which time the rivers of the island flowed with wine. The other level of reality is the materialization of the god’s nude male attendants, scooping up the wine from the river, drinking it, and carting it away. Shockingly nude in the corner of the right foreground reclines a voluptuous female, who is Ariadne, the bride of the god, exposing her genital area. Lucretia may has served as model for Ariadne. Beside her is the god, Dionysus-Bacchus, but incongruously as a child, lifting his shirt to urinate in the river’s stream, his penis and her vulva adjacent. The two levels of reality appear unaware of the other’s presence, except for two figures. One from the mythical entourage is pouring the liquid from a pitcher into the uplifted saucer held by a woman, unaware of him behind her, as she reclines on the bank of the stream, totally engrossed in conversation with her neighbor. Beside her another from the mythical entourage is looking at a crystal pitcher held aloft by an islander in a group of Andrians dancing about a tree, in whose branches sits a large peacock, emblematic of the changes of color effected through alchemical transmutation, thus identifying the urine from the river’s stream as the golden elixir of immortality. The two crystal pitchers mark the nexus where one reality impinges on the other, suggesting that the liquid content is visionary or hallucinatory. In front of the women in conversation by the riverbank is a piece of musical notation; the music is a perpetual canon or round whose text reads, “He who drinks but once and doesn’t drink it again knows not true drinking.” The reference is clearly to the child’s pee, round and round, which is being poured into her cup and which appears again in the monstrance of the crystal pitcher. Another of the males from the mythical entourage behind the two conversing women is looking directly at the peeing child and knows full well that it is divine urine that he is scooping from the stream. The source of the river appears personified as a river god in the distant right above the reclining Ariadne. He is a white-bearded man, apparently passed out, the river’s fountain issuing from between the legs of his nude body, ostensibly from his genitals as urine. Equally unconscious and in the same pose is the nude Ariadne, he and she probably adding to the urine flowing in the stream. Beside the peeing god is an overturned large stemmed golden chalice, of probably ecclesiastical design, suggesting that the alchemical elixir of transmuted pee is the Eucharist. The peeing homunculus or little man was a motif in alchemical depictions, releasing his urine within the alembic containing the potion of transcendence, and the alchemists riddled that the so-called stone that conferred the knowledge of philosophers was actually something despicable, common and everyday, tossed out as offal into the streets. Since both Grünewald and Titian were in residence for an extended period as they accomplished their patrons’ commission, it is difficult to imagine that the artists had not partaken of the sacrament encoded in their paintings.
The Ghent Altarpiece was the decade-long collaboration of Jan van Eyck and his presumed brother Hubert, commissioned by its donors Joost Vijdt and his wife Lysabette Borluut, and apparently facilitated in its completion by the patronage of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and his newly wed third wife Isabella of Portugal. Its twenty-four disparate panels seemingly baffle a unified conception, blamed on the different intentions of the two artists, the spiritual aspiration of its pious donors, and the political dynastic ambition of its unacknowledged noble patrons. Its theme is the End of Time as revealed in the Apocalypse of John, an event widely anticipated with the approach of the mid-millennium. The donors and patrons, by the manipulation of its complex theological symbolism, are striving to position themselves in the ascendancy for the renewal of the world as the New Jerusalem. It offers the hope of a Eucharist upon the True Presence, consisting of the alchemical Water of Life, the sacred effluent of Divinity, the elixir of Gnosis, whose implausible secret is blatantly disclosed only for those who have eyes to see. Philip inaugurated the Altarpiece with the founding of the Order of the Golden Fleece, an elite chivalric society based on alchemical principles, whose highest knights were initiated by secret rites celebrating their spiritual transcendence to golden perfection. The model was King Arthur’s Round Table, and the Altarpiece also establishes Philip’s claim to the divine sanction of the legendary king in the quest for the Holy Grail and a final Crusade to recapture the Holy Land. The Altarpiece is construed as an alchemical talisman to rearrange and call down the occult powers of the cosmos to bless his and the donors’ aspirations. To this end, it encompasses symbolism assimilated into Christendom from the ancient mystery cults and pagan antecedents that authenticate the sovereignty of the Valois lineage. Prime among these is the figure of the Gorgon Medusa and her European analogue as the fairy mermaid known as Melusina. The sacred aquatic stone that crystallized from her spilled blood is an alchemical version of the holy Eucharist. The Ghent Altarpiece is the central point of reference about which we circle and repeatedly return as we place it in its greater context of what we might call medieval and Renaissance ecstatic scholarship, the intense meditation upon the Holy Scriptures to summon the visionary apparition of the secrets of its ultimate truths. The rabbi Abulafia, as the culmination of a millennium of such scholarship, had such a vision toward the end of the 13th century and set off to convert the pope. The papacy was always a dual authority, with temporal rule often more demanding of concern than the mystical experiences of those members that the Church honored by canonization into the ever-swelling company of saints. The context for the Ghent Altarpiece was the third quincentennial expectation for the long awaited End of Time. It hadn’t happened, as expected, for the millennium. In anticipation of that event, the bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, a metallurgist and alchemist, later canonized as saint, constructed another great work of art and architecture, the Michaeliskirche and its monastic school, for his tomb and pathway to celestial transcendence. The painted ceiling added to celebrate his canonization encodes the same secret that Abulafia divulged. The third quincentenary and the millennium marked calculations for a period of time much more immediate. At the end of the 1st century, it was already overdue for an event expected within the lifespan of the original apostles and prompted the apocalyptic Revelation of John on the island of Patmos that established the vocabulary of symbols for the later repetitions.
Carl A.P. Ruck, Blaise Daniel Staples & Mark A. Hoffman
He who drinks but once and doesn’t
drink it again knows not true drinking
Tentation de Saint Antoine; Visite de Saint Antoine à Saint
20 November – 13 December 2020 (Vulg.)
18 AS St Chambernac, pauvriseur – 13 SABLE *St Flaive, concierge 148 E.P
Amators (or lovers, or amateurs) insist. They mumble through a conversation gently humming something like “loving you happens to be what I do best”. A still image of this insistence is “disgustingly still” like the Redhead says in Roberto Bolaño’s Antwerp, as she recounted the events of her day to a cop. That’s all. All I can give you is this two word fragment but I think there is a peculiar optimism nested somewhere between the breath after the last syllable and the realization that there’s nothing to say in response. Oil and water to a line in the eleventh part that goes “I couldn’t help smiling. The piston forces the images up again”. One thing at a time: what’s a piston? Answer: it’s at the heart of reciprocation, in relation to a vehicle. It’s a moving metal cylinder with an air tight seal. One for intake, one for compression, one for combustion and one for exhaust. A sweet spot of tension, a sweet spot of stability, the pistons move up and down repeatedly. It’s one of those parts that goes unnoticed until it stops working, until the rims are sharpening blades against the pavement. It’s an aspirational image because it’s frozen. The joke lingers, the screwball comedy film spirals. This suspension stutters and becomes a negligent sentence. What’s to lose but some hangtime. Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going, I’m glad I came, but just the same, I must be going.
23 October – 15 November 2020 (Vulg.)
18 HAHA Nativité de Sa Magnificence le baron Mollet (*St Pipe) – 13 AS MOUSTACHES DU Dr FAUSTROLL 148 E.P
25 September – 20 October 2020 (Vulg.)
18 ABSOLU Flûtes de Pan – 15 HAHA NATIVITÉ DE L’ŒSTRE, artificier 148 E.P
THROUGH ANOTHER LOOKING-GLASS
Maya Deren / Talley Beatty
Baron Adolf de Meyer / Vaslav Nijinsky
14 August – 13 September 2020 (Vulg.)
4 PHALLE St Mnester, confesseur 147 E.P – 6 ABSOLU Ste Vérola, assistante sociale 148 E.P
Where alchemy, through its symbols, is the spiritual Double of an operation which functions only on the level of real matter, the theater must also be considered as the Double, not of this direct, everyday reality of which it is gradually being reduced to a mere inert replica––as empty as it is sugarcoated––but of another archetypal and dangerous reality, a reality of which the Principles, like dolphins, once they have shown their heads, hurry to dive back into the obscurity of the deep. Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double, 1958.
Kiev-born experimental filmmaker, poet-writer, self-trained dancer, and photographer Maya Deren, initially Eleanora Derenkowsky (1917-1961) arrived in the United States in the wake of anti-Semitic pogroms in the Ukraine. Deren’s distinctive camera movement and sensuous geometry between the lens and the protagonist are palpable in At Land (1944); when circling with a 16 mm Bolex around the entrancing Talley Beatty, for A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), and via the intricate rhythms of Chinese flute and Haitian drums bound with Wu Tang in Meditation on Violence (1948)—avowing her claim to make “the world dance” in film while generating a symbolic realm of discontinuous cinematic space. These works also reveal the lived poetics of the American avant-garde. In the 1940s, Deren joined African American dancer-choreographer Katherine Dunham as a personal assistant and toured with the Dunham Dance Company. From 1947 to 1952 she shot over 18,000 feet of footage and made sound recordings chronicling Haitian vodou rituals and ceremonies, music, and the communal performativity of bodies in trance. While the film itself remains an unfinished project, in her book Divine Horsemen (1953), Deren writes: “As the soul of the dead did, so have I, too, come back. I have returned. But the journey around is long and hard, alike for the strong horse, alike for the great rider.” It seems fitting that Deren’s last film, revealing a cosmological “ballet of the night:” The Very Eye of Night (1952), premiered in Port-au-Prince.
Described by New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff as “one of America’s best and most underrated choreographers,” Talley Beatty (1923-1995) thrilled dance audiences over a career that included performances in seven different decades. Like many other significant choreographers, he started as a dancer with his own highly distinctive style. Beatty was trained as a dancer in the 1930s by the queen of African-American modern dance, Katherine Dunham; his own style extended Dunham’s ideas in unfailingly creative ways. Beatty began his own career as a choreographer in the late 1940s; one of his early works, Southern Landscape, was revived in 1992 by the Philadelphia company Philadanco and “remains,” in the words of the New York Times, “a vivid study of black life in the South.” It evokes elements of antebellum slave culture such as the sacred ring shout circle dance. Beatty was inspired by the Howard Fast novel Freedom Road (1944), set in the Reconstruction era. “Blacks and whites worked these communal farms together,” Beatty told the New York Times, “which is very different from the way I was taught about the Reconstruction. But Klan members came in and destroyed these communities.” From 1949 through 1955, when black-oriented dance companies were scarce, Beatty was the director of his own dance troupe, Tropicana.
John Latham (1921–2006) was a Northern Rhodesian-born British conceptual artist, who, through painting, sculpture, performances, assemblages, films, installation and extensive writings, fuelled controversy and continues to inspire. A visionary in mapping systems of knowledge, whether scientific or religious, he developed his own philosophy of time, known as ‘Event Structure.’ In this doctrine he proposed that the most basic component of reality is not the particle, as implied by physics, but the ‘least event,’ or the shortest departure from the state of nothing. The entire universe is to be viewed as a system of events in time, rather than objects in space. Thus, for Latham all artworks were considered events and were activated as such through diverse processes ranging from spraying, chewing, shredding or spitting to simply declaring. For instance, his seminal ‘skoob’ happened in 1966, while Latham was teaching at St Martins School of Art. Latham borrowed a copy of Clement Greenberg’s recently published art history opus, Art and Culture, from the school’s library, and invited his students to join him in a ritualistic ceremony: the chewing and spitting out of select pages of the book. Latham decanted the vestiges into a phial, doused it in acid and yeast, and fermented it for a year, then returning the liquid he described as ‘Essence of Greenberg’ to the school. The Spit and Chew event poked at Greenberg’s emphasis on space and form, which was contradictory to Latham’s focus on the function of time in art, and cemented itself as a key example of conceptual art. The resulting artwork, Spit and Chew: Art and Culture (1966-69) is now owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Whether in his early spray paintings and One-Second Drawings, to the book reliefs he created in the 1960s, the roller paintings of the 1970s and the late glass towers works which incorporated bits of all theorems, John Latham maintained steadfast devotion to exploring the most complex cosmological ideas and questioning the traditional notions and structures of art, science and philosophy. In 2003, John Latham declared his house and studio a living sculpture, naming it FTHo after his theory of time, ‘Flat Time.’ Until his death, Latham opened his door to anyone interested in thinking about art. It is in this spirit that Flat Time House opened in 2008 as a gallery with a program of exhibitions and events exploring the artist’s practice, his theoretical ideas and their continued relevance. It also provides a center for alternative learning, which includes the John Latham archive, and an artist’s residency space.
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) had moved to Paris when he was 20, in 1839, to pursue a law degree. He quickly defected from this career path, vowing, he wrote, “to lead the life of a savage,” enjoying “the great, independent vagabond life of the Bohemian,” as an artist unencumbered by the state. To that end, Courbet skipped enrollment at the Academy of Fine Arts, training instead in various artists’ studios and spending hours at the Musée du Louvre copying old masters he admired. Despite his enthusiastic drive, Courbet was still searching for his own artistic identity. Yet he found himself growing increasingly disillusioned by the art establishment as he faced repeated rejection from the state-sanctioned salon. Finally, in 1844, the salon accepted his Courbet with a Black Dog (1842–44). Perhaps in a literal bid to insert himself into art history, the ambitious but insecure young artist took to the self-portrait on a number of occasions during this decade. In paintings like The Wounded Man (1844–54), The Man with the Leather Belt (1845–46), and Man with a Pipe (ca. 1848), Courbet appears as a Byronic heartthrob who exudes a vulnerable sexuality. The self-portraits of this period seem to reflect the emotions of Courbet as a provincial seeking his own place and style. So while many of his self-portraits show a confident young man, The Man Made Mad by Fear (1843-45) reflects very different emotions as the young artist prepares for his leap into the unknown, reaching out, yet afraid of what the future might hold.
Rainer Maria Rilke’s text Dolls: On the Wax Dolls of Lotte Pritzel, published in 1921 with illustrations by the artist, is also one of the surviving testimonies to Lotte Pritzel’s work. Rilke’s opening words (and final paragraph) are incomprehensible unless we know that the dolls by Lotte Pritzel he saw in a Munich exhibition in 1913 were not designed for children. Lotte Pritzel (1887-1952) made extravagant, gures of wire and wax which had great artistic success then and in the 1920s. Those elongated and emaciated dolls were mounted on small baroque stands and dressed for the most part in weird gauzy costumes, their postures and limbs and long scrawny fingers suggestive of dance and decadence. They were ‘reflections of the world as I see it,’ said Lotte Pritzel. Their shapes and attitudes, together with the atmosphere of eroticism and melancholy, led more than one critic to mention Aubrey Beardsley. In the 1920s, professional dancers impersonated Pritzel dolls on stage; one billed her act as ‘Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy’, a title adopted for an exhibition of Pritzel’s work at the Munich Puppet Theatre Museum in 1987.
The circumstances of Adolf de Meyer’s life are often vague and faintly suspect. He was born in Paris in 1868—three years before Proust, and just as fascinated by society as him. It appears that by adulthood de Meyer had aquired a small fortune and a circle of London connections among the businessmen and socially prominent who hovered about the future of Edward VII. In 1899 he married Olga Caracciolo, a young woman whose pretty elegance inspired such painters as Whistler, Beardsley, and Degas. Her past as the haphazardly raised and possible illegitimate daughter of her godfather, Edward VII, stirred the imagination of Proust and Henry James, whose novel, What Maisie Knew, is said to have owed something to her life story. The de Meyers were “as mutually dependent as a couple of trapeze artists.” De Meyer had toyed with aristocratic titles of his youth, but the one by which he was known he came by honestly. It was conferred on him by the King of Saxony at Edward’s request, thus rendering the de Meyers eligible for official seats at Edward’s coronation in 1901. when Olga de Meyer bacame a theatrical agent and helped to bring the Imperial Russian Ballet to Covent Garden, the de Meyers moved into a second royal circle. “...Without Olga, Adolf would have remained merely a fashionable decorator, or a snob who took photographs, or a homosexual ballet fan (and indeed he was all these).” Avocations were meant to remain that in the de Meyers’ world, but the Baron’s photography began to occupy him increasingly. Having started as a photographer of society beauties, he was, by 1903, exhibiting at London galleries with such photographers as Edward Steichen and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Over the following four years, he would move away from the prevailing anecdotal school. His feeling for light, texture and handling and his authoritative printing techniques placed him in the Secessionist camp, leading to an invitation from Alfred Stieglitz to show at Stieglitz’s pioneering 291 Gallery in New York and print his photographs in Stieglitz’s Camera Work. The “Debussy of photographers” did more, however, than create an aura of light in shade. “He deliberately focuses his camera not upon the sparkle of an eye,” The Craftsman noted in 1914, “but on the light that illuminates the eye.” De Meyer was famed for his photographic portraits, many of which depicted important people of the time, such as: Vaslav Nijinsky; stage and film actress Jeanne Eagels; and the fabled Marchesa Luisa Casati, triumphed as the brightest star in European society, possibly the most artistically represented woman in history after the Virgin Mary and Cleopatra. Although de Meyer had set a standard for elegance and style, his Pictorialist-inspired fashion photographs were seen as outmoded by the 1930s, and he was forced to leave Harper’s Bazaar in 1932. Unrest in Europe brought him back to the United States in 1939, and he spent his remaining years in Hollywood, where he died, virtually unknown and unappreciated in 1946.
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) was the first dancer to collaborate consciously with de Meyer to produce images that transcended the photographic medium. There is a presence here, the quality of which remains surprising. But the de Meyer’s photographs of L’après-midi d’un Faune are of another order. Here, it is the photographer who moves beyond the given, endowing the images with something more than atmosphere and recorded detail through the boldness of the spatial composition (the arrangement of figure and ground in some of the pictures in a way that suggests the ancient bas reliefs that were the ballet’s inspiration) and the textures that de Meyer achieved not through his usual method of distorting light, which is here flatter and less evocative, but in retouching that gives the photographs a painterly quality. Cyril Beaumont recalled Nijinsky’s quiet, purely polite bows at curtain calls. “In soul and body.” Jean Cocteau wrote, “he was just a professional deformity.... One would never have believed that this little monkey with sparse hair, wearing a skirted overcoat and a hat balanced on top of his head, was the idol of the public. Yet he was, and with good reason. Everything about him was designed to be seen at a distance, in the limelight. On the stage his overdeveloped muscles became slim. His figure lengthened (his heels never touching the ground), his hands became the fluttering leaves of his gestures, and as for his face, it was radiant.” But Nijinsky merges into the design of these photographs of L’après-midi d’un Faune, giving no sign of that radiant personage. Would it have been possible otherwise to detect what must have been a painful state of emotional flux? The perrenial slave, whose sole moments of rebellion appear to have lain offstage in taciturnity, had had a taste of independence as he became master: over a cast of dancers, some music and perhaps himself, in a sense of renewed—if unfulfilled—sexuality as the pursuing adolescent faun. “The Faun,” Nijinsky wrote in his diaries, looking back on the creation of L’après-midi d’un Faune and Jeux, “is me.” Nijinsky has lived in legend, as much for his artistry as for his seductive personality, conferring a pedigree on male dancing and giving new definition to performance. The collaboration with de Meyer has left still another kind of record. “out of a number of words,” as Mallarmé wrote, “poetry fashions a single new word which is total in itself and foreign to the language—a kind of incantation.”
With sincere thanks to:
The Lux Collection, London; John Latham Estate, London; Estate of Maya Deren, New York
Hyperion, München; Poesiförlaget, Stockholm; Eakins Press Foundation, New York.
Eakins Press Foundation, New York
Puppen, Rainer Maria Rilke / Lotte Pritzel Hyperionverlag, München
Silver gelatin print, UV-glass, 1997 / 2020
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo
THE PARADOX OF THE STUFFED CROCODILE
5 June – 5 July 2020 (Vulg.)
19 MERDRE Ste Fétatoire, super – 22 GIDOUILLE FÊTE DE GIDOUILLE 147 E.P.
We are rarely free, the greater part of the time we live outside ourselves, hardly perceiving anything of ourselves but our own ghost, a colorless shadow which pure duration projects into homogeneous space. Hence [...] we live for the external world rather than for ourselves; we speak rather than think, we ‘are acted’ rather than act ourselves. To act freely is to recover possession of oneself, and to get back into pure duration. Henri Bergson (Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, 1889).
Every Tuesday afternoon, in the offices of the Mercure de France, then the most advanced litterary journal in France, gatherings where hosted by the novelist Rachilde (1860-1953), wife to the magazine’s editor, Alfred Valette (1858-1935). Rachilde and Valette, at the centre of Parisian literary circles, would play an important part in the life of Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) and where among his most loyal friends. Yet when Jarry died, aged thirty-four, they undoubtedly shared the opinion common to his contemporaries: that he was an impossibly obscure and oddly inconsistent author whose works where unlikely to survive. This opinion was not entirely unreasonable; Jarry was «writing ahead of his time,» which means only that his work became easier to appreciate once read in the context of those he had influenced. The reassessment of Jarry’s writing only really gathered pace after the founding of the Collège de ’Pataphysique in Paris 1948, whose researches brought forth a mass of new material relating both to Jarry’s work and to his life.
Gerhard Munthe’s (1849-1929) fairy-tale watercolours from the 1890s are a strange mix of stylized patterns, ornaments, figures and landscapes rendered in a flat style devoid of perspective. The colours are somewhat glaring, and the artist has not balked at juxtaposing sharply contrasting primary hues. Much has been gleaned from Norwegian folk art: patterns on coverlets and tapestries and rosemaling on beer bowls and cupboards. The watercolours where first shown at The Black and White Exhibition which was organised for the first time in Kristiania in the winter of 1893. The idea came from abroad. In France it was called Exposition de blanc et noir. As the name implies the exhibitions showed work in black and white – drawings, illustrations and caricatures – but they also included watercolours. The exhibition generated much interest amongst the public and the press. Morgenbladet raised expectations by claiming that according to knowledgeable sources, Gerhard Munthe’s works would herald the ornamental art of the future. After the success in Kristiania, the watercolours drew much attention in the new Salon du Champ de Mars in Paris (1893). In the years that followed, they where futured in several large exhibitions in Chicago and Munich (1893), Stockholm, Gothenburg and Antwerp (1894), Venice (1895), Berlin (1896), St. Petersburg (1897), Budapest (1898) and in Vienna (1900).
Aside from writing articles in journals and newspapers, Gerhard Munthe expressed his thoughts on art in letters. He is distinctly theoretically and philosophically oriented. His statements can often be unclear, paradoxical and contradictory. This situation probably reflects his dual perspective: as a landscape painter he was a Naturalist; as a decorative artist he was a non-Naturalist. Most noteworthy in Munthe’s theory is that he percieved art as a language: «When a way of thinking develops into a style, then – even if it dies – it lives on as an artistic language owned by humanity for all time; it can be read and used to express whatever you want. A style is a language that can be learnt and used to express one’s own opinion.» Munthe’s originality as an artist relates precisely to his view of style as language. All styles, he claimed, could be valid at all times, and he was justified in using whichever one he wanted – whether Assyrian, Egyptian, Gothic or Rococco. Few artists at the time had as open and unprejudiced a view of art history. On the contrary, it was considered essential to be «a child of one’s time». Munthe did not believe art developed progressively, so he saw no reason to confirm to current trends.
Aloïs Riegl (1858-1905) was one of the greatest modern art historians. The most important member of the so called «Vienna School.» Riegl developed a highly refined technique of visual or formal analysis, as opposed to the iconological method with its emphasis on decoding motifs through recourse to text. Riegl also pioneered understanding of the changing role of the viewer, the significance of non-high art objects or what would now be called visual or material culture, and theories of art and art history, including his much-debated neologism Kunstwollen (the will of art). Munthe’s desire to treat all artistic directions as equal in value harmonises with Riegl’s desire to bring the art of the past into the present and to legitimise a wide range of styles is expressed in a letter: «A style is a way of thinking. Each style expresses a basic human feeling. They are all expressions of contemporary life-values. We all feel the cold grandeur that rests over the Bronze Age.
The instigating wildness of the Celtic, the amourous desire of the Rococco, and so it is for all ages, from Niveh to our own era.» All these life-values were, for Munthe equally usable and valuable. This attitude fully complies with Riegl’s insistence on not introducing subjective opinions about progress and decline into the discussion of style. Munthe was probably the first Norwegian artist to be interested in and to write about abstract art, he percieved abstraction as the most basic of all sciences: «The human spirit was first drawn to the abstract and exact (philosophy and mathematics). Ornament emerged at this time, built upon it [abstract thought], on mankind’s fundamental thinking.» In another of his letters he speaks of geometry as «one of the parents of art. [...] Art became the abstract, the geometrical – from the most ancient vessels with dots and pricks, up to the Babylonians and the Egyptians.»
With his fairy-tale watercolours Gerhard Munthe captured the zeitgeist and his work truly made an impact on a certain young Frenchman; Alfred Jarry, one of the many who gathered around Munthe’s pictures at the Salon. In a short and legendary life he created a unique and large body of work that included plays, novels, poetry, journalism and other less definable speculations and texts. His writings form the essential bridge between the Europeean avant-garde of the 1890s (Symbolism) and those of the Twentieth century (Futurism, Dada, Surrealism). In the last sixty years his influence has scarcely faltered, philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and Jean Baudrillard have cited his “philosophy” of Pataphysics as prescient. A prelimineray list of his literary admireres would include Guillaume Apollinaire, Antonin Artaud, André Breton, Italo Calvino, Julio Cortázar, Guy Debord, Witold Gombrowicz, Eugène Ionesco, Stéphane Mallarmé, Alan Moore, Dora Maar, Georges Perec, Jacques Prévert, Jean Ferry, Raymond Queneau, Triztan Tzara, Jean Genet. Wole Soyinka is only one of many to have written versions of Jarry’s most famous play, Ubu Roi. For a 1951 edition, artist and small-press publisher Franciszka Themerson (1907–1988) illustrated virtually every page and rendered Barbara Wright’s translation in calligraphic handwriting. Their version of the play became the most widely disseminated text by Jarry in English. Themerson’s engagement with Jarry persisted for several decades. She went on to design sets, masks, and costumes for the landmark production of the play in 1964 at the Marionetteatern in Stockholm. The Pataphysical method of making negatives do the work of positives (according to the principle of the “identity of opposites”) is clearly visible in Marcel Duchamp’s life and work, who is on record for having said that Jarry was his most important influence (along with Rabelais).
Jarry’s cereer as a poet strictly speaking lasted just two years and resulted in only one collection of poems, Les Minutes de sable mémorial (1894). The first edition of 216 copies is what the French call an «artist’s book»: the typography is carefully calculated, the paper precious, and there are woodcuts in different colours. The text is given plenty of «poetic space», that is to say plenty of white paper to let it breathe. It should be approached slowly, like a series of allegorical illuminations in an old parchment that tell their own secret story. Jarry’s poetic forms in Les Minutes are mostly traditional. He employs alexandrines or octosyllabics, sometimes heterometric lines, rarely the «impair», the line with an odd syllable count which had recently been made famous by Verlaine. There is virtually no free verse, a still more recent invention, for Jarry preferred not to relinquish the magic of fixed forms, rhyme and number (French verse works by counting syllables, including mute «e»s). Nor does the poet borrow from oral expression; on the contrary, Jarry even went so far as to pronounce mute «e»s in everyday conversation. For the eye there is a picture poem, and for the ear, resoundingly assonant metrical prose (as employed by Catulle Mendès before him, in Lieds de France, and Paul Fort after him, in Ballades). The several passages of strictly metred prose are the only novel features as regards form (and have in one instance been translated here into «trochaic prose», a corresponding novelty). Various typographical possibilities are also explored: serif and sanserif titles and sub-titles answer one another, while ideograms conjure up the printing practice of the sixteenth cenrury (following Gourmont’s example in Le Château singulier). Marinetti, his admirer, and Apollinaire, his friend, on being made aware of such aesthetic use of typography, would seek to use it to break with tradition, whereas Jarry was more interested in folklore than in the avant-garde: he was a friend of the Pont-Aven painters, had been first published as an art critic, and now in his poetry he described Gerhard Munthe’s paintings of Norse legends.
Gerhard Munthe’s pictures also struck a cord with the work of Sigbjørn Obstfelder (1866-1900), a pioneer in Nordic lyricism and an avid traveler, visiting Paris and the Mercure de France in 1892. The rhetorical figure that dominates in many of his poems is, gemination, twinning or repetition. That the words are repeated, seems as if the words have revived from death to haunt the living. The most atypical of Munthe’s fairy-tale watercolours is Mørkredd (Afraid of the Dark). In contrast to many of the others, it is not based on a folk tale or an ancient ballad. It has a more modern expression. Four young girls in a nightdress are alone at home. They are spooked by shadows and by the sinister iron stove with a fiery mouth. A monster rears up ferociously from under the floorboards, and strange six-legged figures ambulate along the upper and lower border. The refrain of a folk song underscores the mood. Munthe, might also have been inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s anxiety-ridden and fateful early dramas such as L’intruse (Intruder) and Les Aveugles (The Blind) from 1890. In 1893 Obstfelder published two poems in the newspaper Verdens Gang based on the three fairy-tale watercolours: De tre prinsesser (The Three Princesses), Den friske sang (The Vigorous Song) and Mørkredd (Afraid of the Dark). He, moreover, felt Munthe’s watercolours were related to his own poetry, and he asked the artist to illustrate a poem he had written called Djævlebelgen (The Devil’s Bellows), from 1899.
For all its traditional and folkloric elements, Les Minutes is a typical fin-the-siécle production, recognisably Idealist (in the limited sense of «anti-Naturalist») by its Gothic and fairy-tale motifs, reinforced with Celtic mythology and the Breton landscapes of Jarry’s childhood. The vocabulary is Decadent, full of Latinate compounds, resuscitated etymologies, Rabelaisian and regional words, but also scientific terms taken from botany, entomology, zoology and mathematics. It is in his use of scientific thought and expression that Jarry sought to distinguish his writing from the French literary tradition of his peers. The established Symbolist authors and their sources are plundered by the twenty-year-old for their linguistic beauties and stylistic opportunities. Jarry does not get the tone quite right, however, when he tries to imitate Lautréamont, despite a common interest in science and «severe mathematics», because the characteristic style of Maldoror depends on the hero’s singleminded search for the expression of evil and a wholesale defiance of God, neither of which Jarry pursues systematically. Haldernablou, his homosexual play, is written in a conspicuously borrowed idiom, and although its Prolegomena hit a convincing note the play as a whole may give the impression of being a mere show of style, notwithstanding its autobiographical elements. Paralipomena III is written in a style that echoes Lautréamont’s parody of popular novels, but employed by Jarry to describe a dream that resembles a play by Maeterlinck. The mixture of tones is impossible, since Maeterlinck depends on effect, and Lautréamont on critical distance. The result may set the reader’s teeth on edge, but that is of no importance when mixing elements in a crucible.
Erik Satie (1866-1925) was endowed with a magical imagination, but was devoted to the strictest precision; he was always ready with the keenest of witticisms, but had a natural bent towards mysticism; he was an admirer of plain-chant, but forever on the look-out for new musical forms. His personality went well beyond the field of music, and he has been claimed as a nephew of Lewis Caroll, a younger cousin of Alphonse Allais, Alfred Jarry’s foster-brother, an emulator of the Good Soldier Schweik and a precursor of Ionesco. Satie preferred to present himself as “a man in the manner of Adam (he of Paradise)”; but he did add to his spiritual genealogy by aligning himself with Edgar Allan Poe: “My Humour,” he said, “is reminiscent of Cromwell’s. I am also indebted to Christopher Columbus, as the American spirit has sometimes tapped me on the shoulder, and I have joyfully felt its ironically icy bite.”
In his singular, independent approach to life and art, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), much like Jarry, was viewed as sui generis. The painter was also a native of Jarry’s hometown, Laval. They were nearly thirty years apart in age and did not meet until 1894 in Paris. Few artifacts survive attesting to their friendship, although they lived together briefly. Of H. Rousseau: there is above all “War (terrifying, she passes . . . ).” With legs outstretched the horror-struck steed stretches its neck with its dancer’s head, black leaves inhabit the mauve clouds, and bits of debris fall like pine cones among the translucent corpses of axolotls attacked by bright-beaked crows.—Alfred Jarry, “Minutes d’art,” 1894. Rousseau’s painting War (La guerre) was the subject of ridicule when it was exhibited in 1894 at the Salon des Indépendants, but it made a significant impact on the twenty-year-old Jarry and inaugurated their friendship. Jarry wrote about the work in two separate articles and also commissioned Rousseau to create a lithograph (his only one) based on the painting. Jarry’s immediate recognition of Rousseau’s talent and their compatibility became the stuff of legend: Apollinaire and others spread apocryphal stories that Jarry “discovered” Rousseau and assigned him the nickname “Le Douanier” (the customs officer).
Jarry’s lifelong interest in the macabre figures in one of his few surviving paintings: Le crocodile aux phantasmes (1894). A melee of grisly creatures and skeletons emerges from the walls and floor of a magician’s study. The appropriation and isolation of existing imagery that would inform Jarry’s book practice is also at play in the painting, inspired by William Hogarth’s (1697-1764) illustrations for Samuel Butler’s Hudibras, Gustave Doré’s engravings for Ludwig Tieck’s tales on Pietro D’Albano, Odile Redon’s monstrous imagery and Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War. The crocodile suspended from the top of the necromancer’s study was a popular element in the eighteenth-century cabinets of curiosity that were assembled by wealthy connoisseurs. In 1903, Jarry famously disparaged works of art of his era by comparing them to stuffed crocodiles nailed to the wall—a dead signifier of wealth and banal taste.
Jarry’s painting has reappeared. The quarterly review Viridis Candela, Le Publicateur du Collège de ’Pataphysique no. 23 informs that it is now on view in the exhibition Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, through September 13, 2020.
Le crocodile aux phantasmes 1894
Oil on board, 18x14cm
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
Hudibras beats Sidrophel and his man Whacum 1721
Engraving for Samuel Butler’s Hudibras (1684)
Edited and annotated by Zachary Grey, 1744, J. Bentham, Cambridge
Wood-engraved illustration, in Ludwig Tieck,
"Pietro d'Abano," Journal pour tous 2, no. 85 1856
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Mørkredd (Afraid of the Dark) 1892–93
Watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper, 55.4x81.2cm
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway, Oslo
Trollebotten (In the Giants Lair) 1892–93
Watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper, 78.5x112.9cm
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway, Oslo
Den onde stemor (the Evil Stepmother) 1892–93
Watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper, 56.4x78.5cm
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway, Oslo
La guerre (War) 1894
L’Ymagier no. 2, Paris, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
Fru Ebba Drus! ... 1890
The National Library of Norway, collection of manuscripts, Oslo
Homme de Lettres 1920
Carte de visite de Rachilde 9,5x5,5cm
Librairie Le Feu Follet, Paris
Reinbert de Leeuw plays Erik Satie – live 1982
Ogives (4) - Pièces froides (6) - Gnossiennes (6)
Sonneries de la Rose+Croix (3) - Gymnopédies (3)
Analog magnetic tape recording, 60 minutes
Original recording from the Royal Concertgebouw, Main Hall, Amsterdam
10 January – 16 February 2020 (vulg.)
13 DÉCERVELAGE St Guillotin, médecin - 22 GUEULES St SEXE, STYLITE 147 E.P
It takes a minute to count a minute
and the time spent counting doesn’t count.
Stefan Themerson (1960)
Le crocodile aux phantasmes 1894
Xerox print, 18x14cm
ICH UND SIE ein Roman aus dreibuchstabigen Wörtern 1995
Selbstverlag, Berlin (book and tape recording)
Passez vos vacances à Cannes 1946
Xerography on carboard, org. Huile sur toile, 55 × 46 cm
In courtesy of the Archives Cohérie Boris Vian, Paris
La Princesse Ira Fuerstenberg von Hohenlohe 1967
Farbige Radierung mit Metallfolie auf japanartigem, weichen Velin, 28,7 x 24,6 cm
Hieroglyph IV 1979
Felt pen and conté crayon on paper, 29.5 x 21 cm
In courtesy of L'étrangère, London
Draumkvæde, et digt fra middelalderen 1904
W. C. Fabritius, Kristiania
Georges Henri Rouault
Incantation (Les Réincarnation du Père Ubu) 1929
Heliogravure, etching soft-ground, roulette and aquatint on paper, 11,7 x 7,4 cm
Alfred Jarry, Almanach Illustré du Père Ubu (xx Siècle) 1901
Éditions du Grand-Chêne, Lausanne
Internationalen, Grisalda 1972
Xerography on paper, 29 ,7 x 21 cm
Woodcut, handprint on washi, 44 x 32 cm
Jeg Er Jeg 1989
Lithography on paper, 65 x 50 cm
Knut Ivar Aaser
Cecilie Bjørgås Jordheim
31 October - 3 November 2019 (Vulg.)
26 HAHA Commémoration du Cure-dent - 1 AS NATIVITÉ DE PANTAGRUEL 147 E.P
Santolarosa, Artissima, Torino
Cecilie Bjørgås Jordheim
Dada Manifesto by Hugo Ball (1916) Vertically 2016
Music box, sheet music, confetti, box
Untitled (Rolf Nesch) 1958
Metalpressure print on paper
Knut Ivar Aaser / Martin Sæther
Mixed print on paper
Huitfeldts gate 12
0253, Oslo Norway