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One town, many books

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I’m a modern everyman. I make use of books to find for myself a dwelling place, if only a temporary one, within the pastiche of narratives and experiences, facts and fantasies.

I leaf through the books, do not drink and do not drive – I smoke and fly, through the tunnel under the city castle and over the main square, hovering for a second under the feet of monument to Valentin Vodnik, the first Slovenian poet that did not write only religious verse, I’m lingering under the old linden tree before darting through the unsuspecting flock of dust-covered sparrows, and disappearing among the arcades of cajoling shop windows.

For me, the geography of towns, harbors, streets, and squares overlaps with literary topography. The poems and novels I read are chapters in a story about a particular place with which any place can identify. The tension between the fearful anxiety and the thrilling exploration that propels me on my wanderings around my imagined city delineates the modern mentality in which inescapable loyalty to a home place challenges one’s need to freely choose identity.

I’m not an exception. I remain attached to my birth town. And to my armchair, my comfortable nest for my reading sessions. It stands in the living room of my family house. The house stands in Ljubljana in what was a workers’ colony before the World War Two.
Zvezna ulica or Union Street is a generous place for our family house. It’s a dead-end street, though. Perhaps that’s the reason why it can afford to be safe for kids at play, and amicable for neighbours to trade gossip over the low garden fences. It streches from the main cemetery to the railway tracks for Trieste-Budapest trains, and ends a stonethrow away from our house.
My street‘s name does not simply denote a generic union, a bond that ties together „more than one“ entity. Its primary meaning evokes Yugoslavia, the union that emerged out of the ashes of Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918 and collapsed in the flames of Yugoslav federation in 1991-1999.  

In Slovenia, an eager member of the European Union since 2004, political unions with others have long been a staple of collective life, even though Slovenians traditionally appeared as „junior partners“ at best. Its geographical location helps explain the fact that Slovenians never had an independent state. Nestled at the northwestern gulf of the Adriatic Sea, their lands appealed to a sucession of Western invaders as the easiest entry-point to the Mediteranean. The Slovenians‘ historical memory brings up the rule of Charlemagne, Habsburg Empire, Napoleon, Third Reich, Fascist Italy, royalist and communist incarnations of former Yugoslavia.

All the while, however, Slovenians maintained a collective sense of a specific ethnic identity, invariably articulated in resistance to comprehensive state-sponsored and violent politics of conversion. In 19th century, they were exposed to the unbridled apetites of rival European empires to the extent that prompted Fran Levstik, one of the founding fathers of modern Slovenian literature, to rally his people to the nationalist cause by unambigously pointing out the choice for Slovenians: either they’ll become „Russians or Prussians“. Unless, of course, they will manage to use their own language to produce ther own literature.
In doing so, Slovenians grew accumstomed to treat literature and culture as a „second best“, as a substitute for the then-largely absent political institutions of their own. From this vantage point it is easy to see why is the establishement of Slovenian independence in 1991 celebrated as the fullfilment of the popular collective desire. However, the very status of independence paradoxically rendered obsolete the uses of shared communal experience, the experience of union.

Consider: the most popular slogan of political discourse in Slovenia before it joined EU was deceptively simple. It called for a „Return to Europe“. But what was hiding in plain sight was its ugly side which—in the eyes of both, the elites and the populatuion at large—implied a „Retreat from the Balkans“. It implied severing the ties between Slovenia and the other republics that used to share a common Yugoslav house. The slogan was based on the widely shared Slovenian assumptions about their legitimate historical connections to the West (Roman Empire, Charlemagne) and their supposedly forced cohabitation with the despised and feared Balkan lands (Yugoslavia). This leading trope of public debate has encouraged the manipulation of exclusionist sentiments that ultimately ended up equating Europe with unadultarated good and the Balkans with unfettered evil.

But I refuse to accept such equation. I lend instead my ear to poets and writers from across the field as I freely choose my home. I’m at home in books about Zagreb that strive to provide evidence for the ironic insight of the great Croatian bard, Miroslav Krleža, that Central Europe begins on the terrace of the town’s most illustrious Esplanade Hotel; I’m at home in Belgrade, whose head resides in cosmopolitan heights thanks to writers Danilo Kiš and David Albahari, while its legs are entrenched under the swinging lamp of a noisy and violent Balkan tavern!
And I’m at home, truly at home, in Sarajevo, defined by ineffable suffering but also with an ethical determination to continue to talk in many voices about the right of a person to have many identities, through the supreme works of art such as can only be born out of extreme circumstances, finding expression in the quivering elegies of Izet Sarajlić, the noble urban sentiment of Abdulah Sidran, or the broad-minded epics of Dževad Karahasan.

But I readily respond to the melancholic gaze of a deer that flashes by through the morphine-laden verses of Georg Trakl; I trace the vestiges of a personal drama in the wet flowers on the façades of bourgeois palaces under the slopes of Kapuzinerberg; and I am unmistakably, although temporarily, at home in Salzburg!
The book flutters its pages and old-fashioned raincoats fan out in an effort to protect the dry loneliness of night strollers passing by the craft shops of Alfama, the heart of old Lisbon; the portrait of Fernando Pessoa emerges from under the jutting roofs of the past colonial glory written in sea salt and pigeon droppings; the portrait of a poet who produced an eternal homage to his Lisbon using the voices of imaginary authors who sing various songs but share one soul. His Lisbon is my Lisbon!

The book spreads its tattooed pages and I’m embraced by the smell of sea-worn cliffs of the northern Adriatic; the tower of the Thurn und Taxis castle appears for a moment, a fleeting pulsation, and I slowly surrender to the recognition that I’m at home in Trieste; it is here that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote two of his dizzily inspiring Duino Elegies, and it is where I now find home, under the hills of the “gulf city” depicted in the books of Boris Pahor. I’m at home in the nostalgic “chiusa tristezza” from Umberto Saba’s poem Three Streets; the steps of Nora Joyce rustle through the whiteness of the book while she paces around a rented apartment, one of a dozen she and her husband lived in fleeing from creditors; I can hear the argument of far-sighted Henrik Tuma, who as early as before World War I wanted to establish the first Slovenian university in cosmopolitan Trieste, the chief port of the Habsburg Empire, rather than in landlocked Ljubljana; although it is not visible to my eyes, I can nevertheless see Dragutin Kette’s sad promontory of San Carlo in Trieste, where the poet went to soothe the wounded heart and the needs of the swollen body; I imagine that I can understand the dialect of šavrinke, the peasant women traders from the Karst high plateau who together with the readers of Marjan Tomšič’s novels head daily towards the vegetable market in the harbor as they did during the distant times of the Habsburg monarchy; the inscription on Italo Svevo’s grave in St. Ana Cemetery tells me that he “smiles at evanescent life and glory which crowned his work late.” Roberto Bobi Bazlen, a publisher and a critic, despairingly reminds me from the desks of Biblioteca Civica that there is no other way to write modern books but as footnotes.

The poems of Czeslaw Milosz, Tomas Venclova, and Eugenius Ališanka open for me the door to Wilna or Vilnius, the “city of ash” amidst Lithuanian forests that lives a secret life of another reality, one that has been sifted through the sieves of my literary memory. I suck in the smoke, leaf through the books of poems and stories, and fastidiously sip the verses and passages in which the creative talent succeeded in conjuring up the shared destiny of immigrants and refugees, nomads and displaced people, roaming the streets and courtyards of the town whose walls demarcate the ultimate frontiers of freedom.

To be at home in a place where the sky meets the earth is to make the experience real! To be at home in a place that offers the elementary, emotionally laden and full-blooded experience! To be at home in a place in which every thing has a name! To breathe the metropolitan air which ever since the Middle Ages has been inviting all the citizens of the urban republic to get rid of old communal ties! I myself would like to become a map of the city, a written page, a thin cobweb through which older and dimmer biographies and urban chronicles shine!
While I’m getting lost wandering along the boulevards of real megapolises and among the covers of borrowed books, I actually search for my imaginary city. Wherever I discover it, a provincial village easily emulates the dwelling of gods and becomes the capital of the world! More precisely: it is the capital of my world that, along with many other and different worlds of other and different readers, travels the orbits of the “Gutenberg galaxy.”

It is true that we, readers, are the citizens of various nation-states each with our own home address and hometown. Yet the moment we open a book and yield, in our unique ways, to the adventurous challenge, we take part in the same ritual. We assert that our place of residence is in the same community, in the republic of letters. It cannot be found in any world atlas; its borders are unstable and are passionately negotiated time and again. With every story read, with every verse quietly recounted, we renew our citizenship in the republic of letters. Many opportunities arise and dissolve within it, faces distorted by horror offer a hand to fantastic patterns of paradise, and every page read turns a new chapter in a reader’s biography.

We can all become citizens in this republic, without restrictions. The only condition required to obtain citizenship is a human capacity for empathy, that is, the capacity to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. No one’s human rights are curtailed in this republic, no one is discriminated against, sentenced, or erased from the register.

Moreover, no one in the republic of letters is forced to speak the language of the majority. The literary republic of letters speaks in one language. It is the language of translation. Literature is not what gets “lost in translation,” as Robert Frost famously exclaimed in defense of poetic singularity. As for me, I’d rather go along with the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet who said that the reading of poetry in translation resembles “a kiss through a veil.” I could not care less for the ascetic chastity that, fearing loss, remains innocent, while with my lips parted in expectation I leaf through the pages of books written in languages I haven’t learned. I take my hat off thankfully to translators, the exemplary citizens of the republic of letters, who continually make it possible to every reader, all of us, to be part of the story of a temporary community committed to the lost cause that represents our true home.

 

First published by the British-based New Metropolitan, reposted per author’s permission.

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Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again

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Andy Warhol, Ethel Scull 36 Times, 1963; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; jointly owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art; gift of Ethel Redner Scull; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announces the exclusive West Coast presentation of the critically acclaimed exhibition, Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again on view from May 19 through September 2, 2019. Spanning the artist’s 40-year career and featuring more than 300 works on three different floors of the museum, the exhibition includes paintings, drawings, graphics, photographs, films, television shows as well as a personal time capsule of ephemera. The retrospective features examples of the artist’s most iconic pieces in addition to lesser-known abstract paintings from later in his career. Uncannily relevant in today’s image-driven world, Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again provides new insight into Andy Warhol himself by examining the complexities of this enigmatic artist more than 30 years after his death in 1987. The show’s title is taken from Warhol’s 1975 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), a memoir featuring the artist’s musings on fame, love, beauty, class, money and other key themes that frequently appear in his work.

“He’s a complicated figure and a complicated artist,” said Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA. “His inner emotions, his psychic self were not his subject matter. Warhol is constantly labeled a Pop artist, but all that happened within a couple of years and then he moved on and the work goes quite dark and explores questions of gender and sexual identity, fame, subcultures. At the time of his death, the consensus was that Warhol was no longer relevant. But the last major retrospective in 1989 was a wake-up call: this is an artist we have to reckon with.”

First presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and curated by Donna De Salvo, Deputy Director for International Initiatives and Senior Curator at the Whitney, with Christie Mitchell, senior curatorial assistant, and Mark Loiacono, curatorial associate, this exhibition provides an opportunity for new generations to reconsider Andy Warhol, one of the most influential, inventive and important American artists. Warhol’s understanding of the growing power of images in contemporary life anticipated our social media-focused world and helped to expand the artist’s role in society making him one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century.

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again also showcases SFMOMA’s impressive holdings of many of the artist’s most important works including National Velvet (1963), Liz #6 (Early Colored Liz) (1963), Triple Elvis (Ferus Type), (1963), Silver Marlon (1963), Robert Mapplethorpe (1983) and self-portraits.

THE EXHIBITION

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again will be presented on three floors of SFMOMA: two, four and five.

On the museum’s second floor, two galleries of works on paper offer a detailed look at Warhol’s earliest drawings from the 1940s and hand-drawn commercial illustrations created for advertising in the 1950s. These early drawings lay the groundwork for many of the techniques and approaches he would use throughout his career. This portion of the exhibition includes delicate, gilded collages and sketches of shoes for the Miller Shoe Company, and illustrations for publications such as Glamour Magazine and The New York Times.

On display in SFMOMA’s fourth-floor special exhibition galleries, the exhibition takes visitors chronologically through the arc of Warhol’s career and his production in painting, drawing, photography, film and installation. The first half of the exhibition opens with his best known work from the creatively active period of 1960–68, with his earliest paintings such as Dick Tracy (1961) and Superman (1961), followed by the groundbreaking, iconic Pop Art paintings, Green Coca-Cola Bottles (1962), 192 One Dollar Bills (1962) and the sculpture, Brillo Boxes (1969, version of 1964 original). The exhibition then highlights Warhol’s depictions of celebrities, including Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy. In a dedicated black box gallery adjacent to the early Pop Art work, samples of Warhol’s films and videos will be on view including his series of Screen Tests featuring Ethel Scull, Edie Sedgwick and Billy Name (1964–65).

Subjects take a darker turn in Warhol’s Death and Disaster paintings (1963–64) memorializing car crashes, the electric chair and a benign yet sinister can of tuna fish contaminated with botulism. An eye-popping gallery filled with 16 colorful Flower paintings (1964) will be installed on top of Warhol’s Cow Wallpaper (1966) for a bold immersive experience. Visitors will have a chance to experience Silver Clouds, Warhol’s sculptural installation of shiny Mylar balloons created in 1966, the point at which he declared himself to be done with painting.

Warhol’s work of the 1970s and 1980s focuses on post-Pop artwork, which Garrels observes are “very unknown to most people.” In these galleries Warhol shifts his focus with a massive portrait of Chairman Mao (1972), followed by a gallery featuring photographs and paintings of trans women and drag queens from the 1970s, which provide a look into Warhol’s fascination with the elusiveness and complexity of gender and identity. A separate suite of photographic self-portraits of Warhol in drag provides a different view into the artist’s carefully cultivated persona. A large single gallery is dedicated to Warhol’s grand experiments with abstract painting, featuring a gold Shadow painting (1978) and two large-scale Rorschach paintings (1984). Warhol’s influence on the young artists of the East Village in the 1980s is highlighted through collaborative works created with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Also on display is an unpacked personal time capsule, one of 610 created over the course of the artist’s life.

Two galleries in the museum’s fifth floor Pop, Minimal and Figurative Art presentation feature a 1970s “facebook” of wall-to-wall grids of large-scale silk-screened portraits representing a “who’s who” of celebrities, cultural icons, gallerists, athletes and business leaders. These galleries feature nearly 40 portraits such as Halston (1975), Dominique de Menil (1969), Liza Minnelli (1978), Pelé (1977), Leo Castelli (1975), Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1976) and Gianni Versace (1979–80), as well as the artist’s mother, Julia Warhola (1974). For the subject, a Warhol portrait provided social validation and an immediate status symbol; for Warhol these commissions were a consistent revenue stream that supported his studio and desire to explore other more personal ventures. Warhol’s television shows and videos are on display in the city gallery on this floor.

THE ARTIST

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, PA in 1928. In 1949, he graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) with a Bachelor of Arts in pictorial design.  Shortly after graduation, Warhol moved to New York City, where he would live for the rest of his life, and began what would become a vaunted career as a commercial artist, for which he earned numerous awards and accolades. Despite his commercial success, Warhol was determined to pursue a career as a fine artist. He first exhibited his work at the Hugo Gallery in 1952, though he did not gain recognition in the fine art world until 1962 when the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles staged his groundbreaking exhibition of Campbell’s Soup Can paintings. Through the 1960s, Warhol exhibited at Ferus, Stable Gallery, Castelli Gallery, Sonnabend Gallery and internationally to great acclaim. He established “the Factory” in 1963, the same year he began his pioneering work in film. In 1965, Warhol announced his “retirement” from painting to pursue filmmaking full-time; underground films such as Empire (1964) and The Chelsea Girls (1966) remain some of his most influential works.

In 1968, Warhol was shot in a near-fatal assassination attempt, but by 1969 he had founded Interview magazine and his interest in producing work across all media—including sculpture, video and performance—was reignited. In 1975, Warhol published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) and by the late 1970s had expanded his practice to cable television shows with Andy Warhol’s Fashion, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes and Andy Warhol’s T.V. Warhol’s work of the late 1970s and 1980s exhibits an increased interest in abstraction and collaboration and often reflexively returns to his own earlier work and iconography. His late work speaks to a voracious interest in current events and enthusiasm for artists from the East Village scene such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom he collaborated. In February 1987, Warhol died after a brief illness following routine gallbladder surgery. The Andy Warhol Diaries, his infamous account of his own life from the mid-1970s up to his death, was published posthumously in 1991.

Major exhibitions during Warhol’s lifetime include his first institutional solo exhibition at the ICA Philadelphia in 1965, a 1968 exhibition at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, a 1970 retrospective organized by the Pasadena Art Museum, which traveled extensively and Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s organized by the Whitney Museum in 1979–80. The final exhibition of his work during his lifetime, at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, in January 1987, debuted a new series of stitched photographs.  Warhol’s work is collected by significant institutions across the world including major repositories at SFMOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate, The Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum Brandhorst, Munich, The Museum Ludwig, Cologne, The Marx Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.

CATALOGUE

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color, 400-page scholarly monograph edited by Donna De Salvo spanning all periods of Warhol’s career and including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, videos, photographs, archival and printed material, installations, films and media works. A contextualizing essay by De Salvo is complemented by essays and contributions from Jessica Beck, Okwui Enwezor, Trevor Fairbrother, Hendrik Folkerts, Bill Horrigan, Bruce Jenkins, Branden W. Joseph, Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Michael Sanchez and Lynne Tillman, as well as a plate section with 450 images. The catalogue is published by the Whitney and is distributed by Yale University Press.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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Into the Void: Prints of Lee Bontecou

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Lee Bontecou. Printed by Donn Steward. Plate III, from Fifth Stone, Sixth Stone, 1967–68. ULAE Collection. © 2018 Lee Bontecou.

The images of Lee Bontecou (American, born 1931) are unmistakably hers: black voids, cosmic orbs, floating serrated teeth, mutant flowers, and strange, hybrid forms. They reflect a post–World War II angst and existential fear brought on by the arms race and nuclear threat, coupled with awe at a technology capable of space travel. While best known for her wall reliefs that bridge the divide between painting and sculpture, Bontecou produced a series of important prints between 1962 and 1982 at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), a workshop founded by Tatyana Grosman in West Islip, New York, in 1957. This exhibition is the first show devoted to Bontecou’s prints since 1975 and is drawn from the Art Institute’s complete edition and significant archive of her ULAE production.

In Bontecou’s prints, as in her early sculptures, the color black dominates. “Getting the black,” she said, “opened everything up.” The color, through its endless interpretability, evokes the mystery of the infinite and the terror of the unknown. Her powerful prints—mostly lithographs but some etchings—attend to all of the profound issues Bontecou addressed in her sculptures and drawings. In particular, many of the prints she produced at ULAE explore the black void at the heart of her early sculptures, a motif that runs through her entire career.

Into the Void: Prints of Lee Bontecou analyzes for the first time the totality of her prints as a reflection and an extension of her larger corpus, showing not only final states of her prints but also working proofs, variant states, finished and preparatory drawings, matrices (such as the copper etching plates used to print her works), and other ephemera that shed further light on her practice. Including over 100 objects, the exhibition explores the phenomena of process, repetition, and artistic obsession, and traces Bontecou’s voyage through a series of experiments and happy accidents toward the mystique of her final, definitive images.

Art Institute of Chicago, Jan 26–May 5, 2019

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Rio de Janeiro named as World Capital of Architecture for 2020

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UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture Ernesto Ottone R, Thomas Vonier, President of the International Union of Architects (UIA), and Verena Vicentini Andreatta, Municipal Secretary of the City of Rio for Urbanism, on Friday 18 January announced that the city of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) will be the World Capital of Architecture for 2020.

“The World Capital of Architecture initiative underscores the common commitment of UNESCO and the UIA to preserve architectural heritage in the urban context,” said Ernesto Ottone R. “Through the range and quality of its activities, the World Capital of Architecture in Rio de Janeiro will demonstrate the crucial role of architecture and culture in sustainable urban development.”

In keeping with UNESCO’s recent partnership agreement with the UIA, UNESCO, designates the World Capital of Architecture, which also hosts the UIA’s World Congress, an event that takes place every three years. The World Capital of Architecture is intended to become an international forum for debates about pressing global challenges from the perspectives of culture, cultural heritage, urban planning and architecture.

As the first World Capital of Architecture, Rio de Janeiro will hold a series of events under the theme “All the worlds. Just one world,” and promote the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 11th Goal: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

UNESCO, the UIA and local institutions will organize activities to promote projects involving architects and urban planners as well as policy makers, social institutions and professionals from other sectors including artists and writers in an open and creative space of dialogue and innovation.

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