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30.6.04

The Cult of Michael Moore

This was just too funny not to mention. In an article (La secte Moore [The Moore cult], June 24) for Le Point, Patrick Besson tries to puncture the myth of Michael Moore for the French. In light of the recent knock-down, drag-out fights over Moore's latest opus here, this seems appropriate.

Michael Moore: a genetically altered José Bové. The next time that José blows up a McDonalds, he will first have to check that Michael is not inside! Moore is the first obese revolutionary in the whole history of the worldwide labor movement. It has to be said that Bowling for Columbine, his last film, brought in $120 million, which makes 120 million hamburgers. More or less.

Since communism disappeared, communists are everywhere. The problem is that they are no longer really communists. So, what are they? A group without an opposition. It's like an apartment without a toilet: you end up pissing in the sink. This is what Moore has just done with Fahrenheit 9/11: peepee in George W. Bush's sink. "Cinema is the most important art," said Lenin, who was anything but an artist. Michael Moore is not an artist either, but he has retained the lesson of the Russian ideologue and fights the war with his camera. He makes films that are a little heavy, like he is. He wants to steal from the rich to give to the poor: the problem is that the rich give him nothing and that he takes from the poor the cost of a movie ticket. Robin Hood is a funny guy: one wonders if he may not prefer vengeance to the truth. As his adversary lies, Moore takes advantage of it to distort what he says. In order to keep his scruples quiet for his cause's success, Michael in effect has no more scruples. It's obvious that he gets off each day even more on the terror that he inspires in his enemies. He says that he wants them to give America back, but I think that he would actually prefer that they give it to him. He thinks of himself, as I see it, as a charismatic American leader, Lincoln reflected in a funny mirror of the Foire du Trône. Having no party, he has founded a cult: the cult of Moore. He has followers all over the world, who commune in front of screens. The masses of spectators are not really masses but just tickets. People are also buying millions of his books. Four million for Stupid White Men.

I bought Michael Moore's last book—Tous aux abris! (Everyone Take Cover!) [in English, Dude, Where's My Country?] (La Découverte, €20)—at the Virgin Megastore on the Grands Boulevards. It's an excellent store: it has almost all of my novels. Moore has written a preface expressly for the French translation. At the root of all cults, there is devilishly good marketing. Michael complains that Americans don't travel abroad—87% of them supposedly don't even have a passport—and speak no other language than English. It's somewhat dumb: when you have a country that big, it's hardly worth the trouble of leaving it—and now the whole world speaks English. Two years ago, I read George W. Bush's book: it was better written, doubtless because the President of the United States, simply the governor of Texas at the moment the book was published in the U.S., had had the intelligence to take on a servant [un nègre]. Michael Moore writes all by himself. It's as if he hopes to change the world: all by himself. In my opinion, he will not be able to do it.

Everyone Take Cover! was a leftist pamphlet. The style is part Cavanna in the 70s, part Philippe Val in the 90s, with a taste of Jean-Luc Hees let go from Radio France. The left has been absent for far too long from American political life: this has created an ideological void which Michael Moore's sympathetic 150 kilos [330.7 pounds] have filled. His champion for the next American presidential election was nevertheless Wesley Clark, the man who wanted to unleash World War III in 1999 because Russian tanks had gone into Kosovo with NATO authorization. Move to the left, lefty!
I guess the French embrace of Michael Moore was not universal. If you want to know something about Patrick Besson, you can read his answers to the famous Questionnaire de Proust, as recorded by Roland Mihaïl and Antoine Silber on January 30, 2003, for L'Express. He published his first novel at the age of 17 and won the Grand prix du roman de l'Académie française less than 10 years after that. According to his interviewers, he is known for fierce and unpredictable opinions, "capable of writing for L'Humanité and Le Figaro in the same week." In response to the question, "What is the principal character of your personality?" he replied, "Intellectual brutality." The article includes a list of the other cultural and political stars who have answered the Proust Questionnaire for the magazine.

29.6.04

Internet History

I'm not sure, but I think that my brother and I may have set a techno-geek historical first because of our "warboating" exploits tonight. Stranded at a lake cottage with extended family and no Internet access, we drove around the edge of the lake, looking for WiFi signals. On land, this is called wardriving. Well, I can tell you that sitting in a car or even next to your car with a laptop is a suspicious activity, even at night. However, if you go instead on a fishing boat (yes, I know, laptops on a boat, who could be that stupid?) to a point on the lake out from the same houses you have warchalked on land, you would look like two guys fishing. To make a long story short, I am writing this message from the prow of my father's boat off the shore of an undisclosed lake in Michigan.

Now this is not malicious, since the signals that we are using are left open by their owners and are not encrypted, and we are not doing anything sneaky or harmful. Believe me, I am just happy to have the chance to check up on cultural news and read Le Figaro and Le Monde and Die Welt and my other regular reads. So, here are a couple interesting things I got to read while on a boat in the moonlight, with the lake like a sheet of shiny black glass all around me.

Pierre Magnan, in an article (Des intermittents occupent le toit du Medef, June 26) from France 2, reports on the restlessness among the intermittents du spectacle, the part-time performing arts workers in France. Although they made some noise at the Cannes Festival (see posts on May 10, May 13, and May 16), the real activity may take down some of the summer arts festivals, as it did last year (see post on August 13, 2003). About 50 protesters have occupied the roof of the Medef building in Paris, where they say they will remain until their demands are met. At issue is the government order from last year (June 27, 2003) that made changes to their insurance and unemployment benefits, on which the government, of course, did not consult them. The intermittents insist that the order be rescinded so that earnest negotiations may take place. They believe their rooftop occupation will be ideal to keep the pressure on, as it would be difficult for the police to remove them without hurting anyone. Even so, the unions are calling on workers to mobilize for action. The Avignon Festival, which they shut down last year, is scheduled to begin on July 6.

An article (Le Jeu de paume s'ouvre à l'image avec Guy Bourdin, June 26) by Michel Guerrin in Le Monde reviews the reopening of the Musée du Jeu de Paume, which merged with the Centre national de la photographie on May 1, 2004. The first exhibits are a Guy Bourdin retrospective (the same one shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year) and an exhibit called Éblouissement, both until September 19.

28.6.04

That Salacious Mozart

From this article (A Violent, Drug-Addled, Hooker-Filled Opera Angers Sponsors, June 24) by Jane Paulick for Deutsche Welle, in English, I read about a new opera production in Berlin. Spanish director Calixto Bieito's production of Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio; see the libretto) has got audiences pretty hot under the collar and maybe hot in other places, too.

When Calixto Bieito premiered his dystopic version of Abduction from the Seraglio at the acclaimed Komische Oper in Berlin last Sunday, angry punters walked out in their droves while others applauded a brave adaptation of Mozart's classic opera. The media was equally polarized. While the tabloid Bild ran the headline "Is this what taxpayers money is spent on?" the daily Die Welt dubbed it "the most important production of the year."
I am relieved, and simultaneously horrified, to learn that this moralistic anxiety about the "taxpayers' money" is not limited to the United States. (And why is it that Anglicisms like "punters" and "walked out in their droves" are so terribly funny in the mouth of a foreign British speaker of English, at least to these American ears? [see comments])
The Catalan director has relocated Mozart's 18th-century comic opera set in the Ottoman Turkish Empire to a destitute modern world of forced prostitution, drug abuse, and senseless violence. One particularly bloodthirsty scene involves the character Osmin, played by baritone Jens Larsen [not to be confused with Ionarts contributor Jens Laurson], appearing to slice off a woman's nipple. In another scene, he urges a peroxide-blonde prostitute to drink a glass of his urine. Opera lovers expecting wholesome family entertainment were not amused.

They're not the only ones. An indignant Matthias Kleinert, sponsoring adviser to Daimler Chrysler CEO Jürgen Schrempp and one of seven curators with the Friends of the Komische Oper, told several Berlin newspapers that the company was consequently considering withdrawing its annual funding of €20,000. "I found the excessive sex and violence absolutely unacceptable," he said in an interview with Bild.
Whoa, OK, maybe taxpayers should be concerned. As has been discussed here (most recently, on May 22 and May 24, and also on August 14, 2003) and many other places before, artists of all kinds have the right to deal with controversial subject matter but not the right to expect people to pay for it, either governments or private companies. Patronage is about the aesthetic choices of a patron, whether that be Lorenzo de' Medici or the citizens of an entire country.
Compared to other European countries and the United States, Berlin's opera houses receive relatively little private funding. As Homoki told public radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio, "the problem with sponsoring is that the companies involved like to use the arts they're funding as an image booster." But, he insists, "the German theater system is an expression of a free society in which uncomfortable art occupies a necessary place."
The phrase "art as an image booster" pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as why corporate patronage is so tricky for artists. The fact is that Rockefeller can say yes or no to what Diego Rivera wants to paint in a mural for Rockefeller Center. It's his buck. Sadly, Rockefeller ends up looking like a nincompoop more worried about his "image" than really interested in art, and I now have to go all the way to Mexico City, instead of Manhattan, to see Rivera's Communist-themed mural.

27.6.04

Living in a Painting, for an Evening

Mark Barry, The Birthday, 2001
Mark Barry, The Birthday, 2001
I came as close as I ever may to living inside a painting (much more satisfyingly than in that silly J. Seward Johnson show I wrote about here, here, and here), when I was a guest last Sunday evening in the home of Ionarts contributor and Baltimore artist Mark Barry. Some of my favorite paintings Mark has done (see my review of Mark's show last fall, from November 29) are scenes of family and friends in his house. When I finally entered the places I knew only from his paintings—like the dining room with its long table (image shown here), the living room, the kitchen, the yard patrolled by kind-hearted dogs and chickens, or the interior turtle pond—it was positively Proustian.

However, while the narrator of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu felt disappointment when he actually saw the church of Balbec and found it less glorious than he had imagined it (here's a passage from Swann's Way), it was quite magical to be in the moving version of one of Mark's paintings. As you can imagine in such a home (Mark's wife, Sandra, is also an artist) every corner, every wall, is filled with something interesting and beautiful to see. I especially enjoyed seeing their collection of outsider or visionary art, which is one of Mark and Sandra's special interests. We enjoyed the delicious dinner and charming company in the picturesque back yard, and for someone used to the song of the city of Washington, there was not a single military helicopter or police siren to break the song of the birds. It was truly blissful.

Fortunately for me, one of Mark's watercolors, related to this painting, will now be hanging in my own house to keep a piece of that serenity close at hand. Mark, thank you and keep up the good work.

26.6.04

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Ah, summertime in Washington - heat, humidity and then more heat and humidity. Given the recent break from our normal oppressive weather, I encourage readers to consider a trip down to the national mall to see the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival. This year the festival is dedicated to Haiti, Water Ways, and Nuestra Musica and will be running until July 4th. Smithsonian Folklife Festival

For those of you who have never been to the Folklife Festival, it is a truly unique experience - an outdoor museum of sorts. Focusing on three geographic regions or cultures, the festival brings together artisans, musicians and performers from around the world to Washington to broaden our cultural outlook and help us get to know our neighbors a bit better. What is particularly fun about the festival is that it ranges from regional cooking demonstrations to musical concerts. All this, of course, free of charge thanks to the Smithsonian Institution.

Hatian Dancers This year, you can experience Voodoo drumming, Delaware Bay Cooking and Salsa dance lessons all on the same day. Not to be missed are the elaborate sets and structures that are constructed to inhabit the festival. This year features a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack brought in especially for the event. Last year, I was able to putt the reconstructed 18th green of St. Andrew's and learn how to make wild strawberry jam - skills that are otherwise difficult to acquire here in Washington. One thing is for sure, the Folklife Festival promises to be one of the "hottest" events of the summer.

Sewall-Belmont House

For my inauguration to Ionarts I thought I would begin by highlighting some of the forgotten treasures here in our nation's capital - the wealth of small museums and historical sites which help "keep the magic alive" to those of us constantly bombarded by the beltway blues.

One of the most impressive is the Sewall-Belmont House, which I visited for the first time a few weeks ago. Located on Constitution Avenue and 2nd Street NE, near the Supreme Court Building, the Sewall-Belmont House became the headquarters of the National Women's Party in 1929 and today is dedicated to the history of women's suffrage. The house was also the home of the movement's leader, Alice Paul, who guided women's suffrage into the 20th century. Paul realized that in order for the movement to be successful it needed closer access to Congress and the White House.

The photo above, from the Library of Congress and taken in 1913, shows one of the numerous suffragette parades which marched down Pennsylvania Avenue between 1910 and 1920, when the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was finally ratified on August 26th.

The subject of women’s suffrage is something close to this blogger’s heart as my Grandmother and Great-Grandmother were both suffragettes in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I also teach on the subject of women and art and found the Sewall-Belmont House an endless source of inspiration and fascination.

Among the many artifacts and works of art commemorating its history, visitors can see the desk of Susan B. Anthony as well as copies of the controversial marble busts of women's rights leaders Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton by feminist sculptor Adelaide Johnson. Mockingly called “Three Women in a Bathtub” by its critics, this women's suffrage memorial was commissioned by the National Woman's Party and was the earliest sculpture of women to be included in the U.S. Capitol Collection. The next time you’re bored by the lines at the Supreme Court building, walk around the corner and check out the brick treasure that is the Sewall-Belmont House.

25.6.04

Fahrenheit 9/11

Thanks, Chuck! It is my pleasure to bring to you a few thoughts on what was without a doubt the hottest ticket in Washington tonight - the opening of Fahrenheit 9/11, the new film by documentary filmmaker and fellow Michiganian Michael Moore. Fahrenheit 911 Poster After finding the film SOLD OUT in theatres all across Washington, I finally was able to get a ticket to the last show of the evening in Shirlington.

For those of you living under a rock, Moore's controversial film was the winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year for Best Picture. In the film, Moore reveals the hidden truth behind the events of the last four years - President Bush's connection to Saudi oil money and the Bin Laden family, the "Campaign of Fear" that has been waged against the American public by the administration after 9/11 and a sobering look at the truth behind the war in Iraq.

I found the film both powerful and gripping. While critics often chastise Moore for being "over the top," I found Fahrenheit 9/11 to be well researched, with Moore backing up his accusations with strong evidence and poignant interviews. For me, there were two very powerful moments of the film. The first, is the blank screen Moore uses as a backdrop to retell of the events of the morning of 9/11. Sitting frozen in our seats, the audience is left with only the audio of the destruction of the twin towers. The effect was both psychologically gripping and eerie.

The second, was the chain of interviews that Moore strings throughout the film with Lila Lipscomb, mother of a young serviceman from Flint, Michigan. Fahrenheit 911 Sold Out We follow Lila throughout the film, first in her avid support of the troops and her reality as a lower-income American who encourages both of her children to join the military in order that they may one day go to college. As followers of Moore's films know, Lila is a conduit for highlighting the injustice that Moore sees in our world. At the end of the film we learn that Lila's son has died in the crash of a black hawk helicopter in Iraq. His death coincides with the arrival of his final letter - a scathing epistle chastising President Bush for our unjustified military action in Iraq and the hopelessness he felt as a soldier. Not a dry eye was left in the theatre.

While Moore's film was tough to take at times, in a way it is even harder to leave the theatre realizing that WE ARE STILL LIVING THIS REALITY! In typical Michael Moore fashion, the film is also sprinkled with good humor and apt music to ensure that the audience can leave the theatre being able to laugh through their tears.

While many will criticize Moore's film for being unsympathetic to our Commander in Chief in this time of war, I commend him for exercising his First Amendment rights. It is with films such as Fahrenheit 9/11 that I can say "Bravo" to Mr. Moore. Few filmmakers are as courageous as Michael Moore and few of us have the guts to turn off Fox News and take two hours to listen to another point of view. Well, maybe after this film some more of us can.

Welcome, Dr. Erhardt

Your tireless moderator will be on vacation for the next four weeks. First, visiting family back home in the midwest, then doing research and seeing art exhibits in Paris, and ending up at the Eleventh Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music in Manchester, England, where I will be participating in a round table. This is a presentation of research by a team of scholars from France, New Zealand, and the United States, with whom I am collaborating on a book of essays on a ballet de cour from early in the reign of Louis XIII.

So, Ionarts welcomes new contributor Michelle Erhardt, a newly minted Ph.D. in art history, specializing in the Italian Renaissance, and an old friend from the Michigan State days. If you're counting, that brings to a critical mass of three the number of Ionartians hailing from the great state of Michigan, home of this gritty basketball team. In addition to her normal role of keeping Ionarts rooted in art-historical fact, Michelle has kindly agreed to take over the day-to-day management of this blog during my absence. Fear not, I will still be posting during my travels, with some interesting things from Europe, I hope, so enjoy yourselves.

Over to you, Michelle!

24.6.04

Artotheks, Again

A new article (Rent-a-Painting, June 23) by Karen Naundorf from Deutsche Welle, in English and with great pictures, brings us back to the topic of artotheks, libraries where you can borrow artwork. To paraphrase Troy McClure, you may remember this topic from such posts as this one on February 2 and this one on February 13.

Residents of Bremen, for example, can choose between works by German artists Max Ernst, Joseph Beu[y]s, and Gerhard Richter or even take home a Günter Grass drawing to go along with one of the Nobel laureate's novels. Photography buffs can find pieces by Man Ray or Helmut Newton and there are even works by Ren[é] Magritte and Roy Lichtenstein on offer. [...]

Rental habits change over time, according to Stahl: "Those who come more frequently don't just look for the obvious: They're choosing paintings that mystify them." But that wasn't the case for 7-year-old Josef, who recently stopped by Bonn's artotheque with his mother to pick a painting for his room. "That one's silly and that one's totally boring," he said, pointing to a couple of pieces before settling on a screenprint depicting dark-green raindrops with faces in front of a dying forest. "I want that one," he screamed. "That one's funny!"

His mother didn't seem to get it. "Well, it's a bit serious," she said, looking slightly unhappy before telling Stahl to wrap it up. For the next two months, it's going to adorn Josef's bedroom walls. And then it's time [to] redecorate again.
Can you imagine? Apparently, many Germans don't even know they have them.

That's Good Reading: Fully Credited Links

It's summer, and everyone can appreciate that, but being a teacher I am still and always will be on the school schedule. That is, once June rolls around I can't possibly bear the thought of getting up every morning and going to work. This disorder will last until August, when I can finally bear the thought of showing up somewhere at 8 am. To celebrate summer, here's some good things to be read around the province of Blogistan.

Thanks to George Hunka for mentioning Ionarts at his blog, Superfluities (note the new digs if you have a link to George's old site). He has some nice posts up on that other George, good old George Bernard Shaw, in which he ponders why that playwright is "oddly underproduced in the United States these days." It's a good question.

George came our way because of Alex Ross's blog The Rest Is Noise, for which we thank him. Alex has posted a picture of the ruins of the Frauenkirche in Dresden (in response to my post on June 23) from his own visit to that city. Other interesting posts of late include this one about what you can find in preowned books. Alex is the proud owner of boxes of Claudio Arrau's old books in German, lucky devil. I have bought a lot of my books at garage sales and like to add to previous owners' annotations with my own notes in pencil (see this post from earlier today). Alex is suffering from one of those summer colds, making his head feel like a "nerfball orbiting Jupiter," so we hope he feels better soon.

Alex's post on "marked-up" books was prompted by this post by Our Girl in Chicago, who has taken over About Last Night from Terry Teachout, who is in seclusion at the "undisclosed location" where they put the Vice President. That post is just one of several excellent ones penned by OGIC, whom we also thank for reading Ionarts. She left a great comment on this post from June 16, after the Detroit Pistons crushed the Lakers, which I said softened the pain of the early exit of the Detroit Red Wings from the NHL playoffs. "Softens the pain, but doesn't extinguish it...," she writes, "there's nothing like Stevie + Stanley, and I'd like to see it one more time." Amen, sister.

Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes has a large bee in his bonnet about trying to stop a sculpture from being installed in front of Disney Hall in LA. Tyler's estimation of the piece planned by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (as Tyler hilariously calls them, OldenBruggen): "It's hideous. It must be stopped." Tyler, stop beating around the bush and tell us how you really feel.

Not that we needed any more proof that Washington has truly gone over the edge as a city of the weird, but Xeni Jardin, in this post at BoingBoing, mentioned a ceremony performed in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, in which Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church and owner of the Washington Times, and his wife were wrapped in ermine robes and crowned by a congressman from Illinois. No, really: John Gorenfeld has the video. I mention this not in the context of politics (see the Ionarts motto in the upper right corner) but as something that I can only hope was a surrealist art event.

The Journey's End

WiFi is the best. I am blogging today from a Capitol Hill hotspot, Murky Coffee by Eastern Market (natch, they have a blog), which has its own free wireless hotspot, so I sat near a handful of other laptop-bound eggheads as I wrote this post. I'm also going down to the Capitol, to see if the National Mall wireless network, Openpark, is up and running (see my post on April 29).

Available at Amazon:
cover
William C. Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life, (2002)


It's hard to say goodbye to a companion who has been constantly under your arm for months. As regular readers know, I started on Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu back in September. (Here is the first post on it, Your Proust Excerpt for Today, September 15, 2003.) Well, I turned the last page at the start of this month, but I still have two or three posts to write about the experience. (You should now send your messages of support to Waggish Reads Proust, who after getting stalled in the third volume, is back in the saddle again. He has a nice recent post on the death of the narrator's grandmother, which is one of the most beautiful and horrible moments in the book, although I didn't really write anything about it.) So now I am halfway through the excellent biography of Proust by William C. Carter (shown at right), which is a most illuminating experience after having just finished the novel. Smartass Gérard Genette memorably summarized the plot of the Recherche as Marcel devient écrivain (Marcel becomes a writer), and while that is a humorous simplification, it is also true. The biography does a great job of showing the biographical background of that struggle to be born, to find a voice, and how the book was connected to the author's life. It's fascinating, and although the biography is itself just over 1,000 pages, it is much easier reading than the novel.

In fact, as of Bloomsday (see post on June 16), I have also been engrossed in Ulysses. Now this is no easy read, but in some ways, I am finding it easier to read so far than Proust. Where Proust is dense and often directionless, cloudlike, Joyce's style is surgically precise, although I am the sort of reader who delights in stopping to unpack Latin and Greek texts and other obscure references. The margins of my copy, the hardback version of the 1961 Modern Library edition, are covered with pencil annotations (p. 5, "epi oinwpa ponton, upon the wine-dark open sea, Homer catchphrase, qalatta, ocean"). (As Buck puts it, "Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks. I must teach you. You must read them in the original.") I am only in the "Hades" episode at this point, so I'm sure I will be complaining before too long.

23.6.04

Restoration of Dresden's Frauenkirche

Frauenkirche, Dresden, 1930hem|mungen noted today the final phase in the restoration of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady, Notre-Dame, however you want to translate it) in Dresden (shown at left in 1930). The church's distinctive bronze cupola and golden cross were put in place as part of a ceremony yesterday. There are pictures and more info in this article (A New Cupola for Dresden's Frauenkirche, June 23) by Anita Purcell from Deutsche Welle (in English). Beginning on February 13, 1945, the Allies bombed the living hell out of the city of Dresden, dropping over 650,000 incendiary bombs there and killing 135,000 residents. The Frauenkirche was not all that old, a Baroque building completed in 1743, but it was the largest Protestant church in Germany, which is strange considering its dedicatee. The Allied pilots may have tried to avoid hitting the church, because it survived two full days and nights of carpet bombing. Eventually, however, the heat of the explosions, estimated at around 1,000° C, essentially melted the foundations. As the DW article relates,

The eight interior sandstone pillars supporting the colossal dome exploded; the outer walls shattered and nearly 6,000 tons of stone plunged to earth, penetrating the massive floor as it fell. The building vanished from Dresden's skyline. [...]

In 1989, a handful of residents in Dresden formulated plans to rebuild the Frauenkirche. One early obstacle was a lack of funding, so in 1991, the residents formed a society in support of rebuilding the cathedral and collected donations from around the world. Another issue was how to rebuild the church. Should it be altered in some way to represent the time that had passed between its construction and its downfall and the historical changes of that time span? In the end, the society finally decided to restore the Frauenkirche to its original form. Reconstruction finally began in January 1993.
Ruins of the Frauenkirche, Dresden, Summer 1947Since World War II, it had become almost a permanent symbol of the war and the devastation it caused (shown at right in the summer of 1947). The cost so far has been €130 million ($157 million), with two-thirds of that amount coming from private donors. Almost 8,000 of the church's original stones were set back in place among millions of replacement stones, work made possible by a computer imaging program. More work on the dome and interior will continue, hopefully to be finished by 2006, for the 800th annivesary of the city of Dresden.

Another article (Finishing touches on Dresden's Frauenkirche, June 22) from Expatica relates that a British group of donors has paid for the cross that now tops the dome, in a sort of British mea culpa for the bombing: "The silversmith who built the new cross is the son of one of the British bomber pilots who participated in the massive firebombing raid on the night of February 13, 1945, which killed an estimated 135,000 people." And this article (Dresden's renaissance, June 23) from The Telegraph gives some interesting background on the act of bombing:
The Frauenkirche was the centrepiece of the city known as "Florence on the Elbe," until heavy American and British bombing obliterated its 18th-century splendour three months before the end of the war. For years afterwards, Dresden was more an Abhorrence on the Elbe, with the rubble of the wartime bombing barely relieved by the acres of Stalinist concrete housing that sprang up after the war.

Ever since the bombing, the desecration of the city has been held up as a dark chapter in the story of the Allied victory. The latest book on the subject, Frederick Taylor's measured Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945, showed how important Dresden was as a rail terminus for the hundreds of thousands of German troops heading for the Russian front, and as a Nazi foundry—127 factories in the city were used for war work. That doesn't detract from the 25,000 deaths in the Dresden firestorm, with people boiled to death in the burning waters of the Elbe. The weighing-up of German civilian deaths against military advances will always be an unscientific exercise, but history suggests the raid was justified.
Since the publication of Jörg Friedrich's book Der Brand (The Fire: Germany and the Bombardment, 1940-1945), which condemns the Dresden bombing as a war crime, Germans have finally felt able to confront this part of their history. The images shown here come from the Photographic views of early to middle twentieth-century Dresden, Germany, which were shown in an exhibit, Dresden: Treasures from the Saxon State Library, at the Library of Congress here in Washington.

Opera Grotesquely Superficial? What?

I didn't mention it here, but you probably remember the hubbub a couple months ago over American soprano Deborah Voigt, who was fired from Christof Loy's production of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos this summer at Covent Garden in London. (If not, you can read Tom Bishop's article, How talent became an issue of weight, April 7, from BBC News.) The issue was not her voice, which by all accounts is first-rate, but the fact that her size was not suited to the costuming. This may come as a shock if you haven't been to an opera lately, but opera singers often have a purely physical gravitas that goes with the power of their voices. In that case, casting Deborah Voigt as the Primadonna makes perfect sense.

An article by Neil Smith (Soprano plays down 'fat lady' row, June 22) from BBC News asks some questions of Voigt's slimmer replacement, German soprano Anne Schwanewilms, who says that she was not aware that Voigt had ever been engaged for the role when she accepted it.

Schwanewilms says that the visual aspects of a production should go hand in hand with musical considerations. "You go into an opera house because you want to see something," she told BBC News Online. "Otherwise you would just stay at home and listen to a CD. In some cases it's nice to look at nice people on stage."
That last statement sure is a long way from being anything like nice. Ms. Schwanewilms, I understand, has some experience in singing Strauss, so I'm sure that she is more than qualified for the role. However, she has set herself up for some nasty criticism, I think. If her voice shows any weakness during the performance, listeners might start wondering if maybe they would have minded so much looking at Ms. Voigt's more substantial stage presence. Physical appearance has never been a problem in any of my operatic experiences. Butterfly does not have to be a Japanese teenager, and I do not require an actual giant to sing Fafner. There is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief that an opera audience will generously give without question.

The casting of slimmer, more attractive singers in some operatic productions is good, in some ways, in that it creates opportunities for younger singers. However, if Covent Garden knew it was going this direction with its production, why would they engage Deborah Voigt, only to fire her, disgracefully, later? Shame on them. Also bothersome is the double standard that is implied, but not stated openly, in the BBC article, which includes a photograph of Schwanewilms with castmate Richard Margison, as the Tenor/Bacchus. Mr. Margison is a perfectly nice-looking man, but if we lower ourselves to purely superficial considerations, is he really any more believable as Bacchus than Ms. Voigt was for her role? This sort of casting decision strikes me as the latest step in the disturbingly banal musical-theaterization of opera that gave us such Disney abominations as this. When opera directors start putting a higher priority on anything other than musical considerations, someone should electrocute them. Not fatally, just enough voltage to remind them of what the hell it is they are supposed to be doing.

Ariadne auf Naxos opened last night, June 22, at the Royal Opera House, in London, and runs until July 9.

22.6.04

Storm Sculpture

Giuseppe Penone at work on Cedro di Versailles, 2003In a recent post on restoration work being done at Versailles (Gardening at Versailles, June 17), I mentioned the windstorms in December 1999, which wiped out a large number of trees on the château's grounds. Well, a little article (Sculptures de tempête, June 17) in Le Point says that the designer Erik Schaix has put together a project to create artwork from the trees felled by those storms. The exhibit, which includes a viewing of a video showing artist Giuseppe Penone at work on an Atlas cedar, weighing 5 tonnes (11,023 pounds), from Versailles (image shown here, photo by Dina Carrara). The exhibit, Sculptures de Tempête, will be at the Orangerie de Trianon at Versailles until June 27.

That Penone piece, Cedro di Versailles, is actually being shown right now, in the forum of the Centre Pompidou, as part of the Giuseppe Penone retrospective, until August 23. Penone purchased the tree after the storm and worked on it over the past two years, most of which was spent hollowing out large sections of the trunk. This exhibit will move to the Fundació La Caixa, in Barcelona, from September 30 to January 16, 2005.

21.6.04

Aurélie Nemours (b. 1910)

Aurélie NemoursWhen I go to France next month, I am sadly going to miss the Joan Miró exhibit at the Centre Pompidou. (I will, however, get to see the Calder-Miró show, reviewed in Libération, from the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, which reportedly includes a tightrope act. Not in Basel, but that show will come to the Phillips Collection here in Washington on October 9.) What is on my list to see in Paris is the Aurélie Nemours retrospective at the Beaubourg. It is the first real retrospective of the works of this French abstract painter (née Marcelle Baron), now 94 years old, who was interviewed by Geneviève Breerette (Aurélie Nemours, la loi de l'abstraction, June 19) in Le Monde. One of the approximately 100 canvases in the exhibit is shown at right.

Your voyage through constructed abstraction, wasn't it planned?

Planning is a word that should not be used too quickly, because we are always pondering/planning throughout our lives. One ponders one's own life, and one cannot say that one has not planned one's painting. But I did not decide at any given moment that I was going to work in abstraction. I always worked in abstraction because, for me, there was no other true thing. I had to go directly to the secret of form and color and not say anything else; and not to say except with the means that made it possible to speak of form and color. That's what I did each time that I tried to approach this work, because, after all, it's the absolute truth. There is not a whole range of truths, there is one truth that consists of using formal elements. Formal elements are precisely what create painting. If you focus on something else, you make a novel, literature. You make whatever comes out of your head, everything but painting. To paint is to make a painting.
Aurélie Nemours, Windows in Notre-Dame de Salagon, 1998One of the works Breerette asked her about was the stained glass windows she created, through a government commission in 1998, for the church of Notre-Dame de Salagon, a town in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. The deep red windows she installed create an eerie effect on the interior of the church.
In the church in Salagon, what truth did you want to reveal with the red windows? Why that red?

It's not really a red red, it's a purple. I wanted to say something about light and about the relationship with the sun only with purple. What I found interesting in Salagon was the idea of putting one single color in all the windows and that that unique color would change only with the progress of the sun. There is in that, you could say, a connection with nature. I chose purple because it is a lived-in red, lived in by blues and maybe yellow and all the colors of the spectrum.
On the exhibit at the Pompidou, see also Hervé Gauville, Aurelie Nemours en formes, June 15, in Libération; and Maurice Ulrich, La peinture absolue, June 19, in L'Humanité.

20.6.04

New Private Collector Museum

An article (Rétrospective Jeff Koons prévue pour 2007, June 15) from France 2 is how I found out that another private collector is getting into the museum business. French businessman François Pinault had announced in 2000 his plans to create a museum of contempory art for his collection, the Fondation François Pinault, on Séguin Island in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, on the site of an abandoned Renault factory. The building (see picture here) will be built by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and will have some 33,000 square meters (355,212 square feet) of exhibition space. The first major exhibit, according to Mr. Pinault, will be the most important retrospective ever undertaken of the works of American artist Jeff Koons, whose work he loves and has collected for a long time. Koons is also reportedly delighted. Pinault owns over a thousand works of art, a collection he began over 30 years ago, and continues to buy art. The museum will display works "of Mondrian, Rebeyrolle, Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg, and de Kooning, in all areas of the plastic arts, from painting to sculpture, as well as photography and video."

19.6.04

Calling the Intermittents

This is Edinburgh, Scotland, calling, specifically the disgruntled members of the Scottish Opera Chorus. They claim that ten minutes before they were to go onstage for Puccini's La Bohème, management announced that budget cutbacks meant that many of them were going to be laid off. After this performance, in fact. Now, break a leg! According to this article (Confusion over opera chorus jobs, June 18) from BBC News, management denies any such dramatic incident.

"Unfortunately, the chorus may be made redundant," [said the Scottish Tories culture spokesman, Jamie McGrigor.] "One only had to listen to the superb demonstration of musical talent that attracted a large crowd on the Royal Mile to see the excellence that is being threatened." Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan condemned the sackings saying it was a "disgraceful way to treat workers." He added: "The Scottish Socialists have pledged our support to the campaign of the Scottish Opera chorus for their jobs. It is completely unacceptable that trade union members are being sacked by a publicly funded body with a Labour minister in control of the purse strings. Yet again trade unionists can see for themselves that New Labour cares nothing for the rights of workers."
This follows the announcement that there would be some jobs lost, as part of a plan to save money by cancelling "all full-scale performances for an entire season . . . a 'dark' season between summer 2005 and spring 2006," sacrifices that are expected to save the opera up to £7 million (reported by Phil Miller, Chorus of anger at Scottish Opera cutbacks, June 8, in The Glasgow Herald).

Standing by the Coens

I hope that Joel and Ethan Coen have not happened to read this article (The wrong direction, June 11) by David Thomson in The Independent. All I can think to say to Mr. Thomson in reply is "Shut the fuck up, Donny" and perhaps also "You are entering a world of pain."

With their latest film, The Ladykillers (a strange remake of the classic English comedy that starred Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom), they have now notched up three films in a row that ill become them: not just films that haven't done very well, but in which the energy of, or desire for, film-making seems to be slipping away. It's as if the job now strikes them as a habit, and I think their fans are bridling at that.
It's true that I have not seen, or heard much good about, The Ladykillers (2004), Intolerable Cruelty (2003 [Milkplus liked it]), or The Man Who Wasn't There (2001). However, I feel quite certain that films far worse than the three listed in this article, which les frères Coen might some day produce, would still be more watchable than the tripe being served in a theater near you at this very moment. We just need to see better casting, more of people like this exquisite man or this one, rather than star actors like him (the Cinetrix has his number and also hits the nail on the head by writing that "The Ladykillers feels like a summer stock version of a Coen Brothers movie") and him. In any case, as far as this viewer is concerned, the Coens have endless credit, no matter how many mediocre films they make. In fact, that credit limit has just been extended, since the brothers are reported to be in production on Paris, je t'aime, a collaborative project in France, about filmmaking in Paris. You must know by now that we at Ionarts firmly believe that francophilia is an irrefutable sign of intelligence and good breeding.

18.6.04

National Gallery's 2500th Concert

On June 13, 2004, a special reception preceded the National Gallery Orchestra's concert that marked the 2,500th such effort in its Sixty-second season. It also coincided rather neatly with the quarter-century anniversary for the East Building, the magnificent I. M. Pei-concocted gallery for modern art with its dominant triangular shapes. (With similarities to the addition to the Louvre, also a Pei creation.)

Jorge Mester led the National Gallery Orchestra (formerly the National Gallery Sinfonietta) as its guest conductor in a program that included Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite (1922/1949), Silvestre Revueltas's Homenaje a Federico García Lorca (1935), Maurice Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899), and Alberto Ginastera's Variaciones concertantes (1953). Jorge Mester, his impressive career in his native Mexico, and Revueltas, as well as Ginastera, hinted at the fact that this program, too, was presented in honor of the exhibitions Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya and The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera: Memory, Politics, Place (see Ionarts reviews of these exhibits).

The performance in the Gallery's atrium (on the second level) was extremely well attended, and despite several dozen additional chairs put up at the back of the first level of the atrium, many hopeful music lovers had to be turned away on this hot and gorgeous Sunday. The acoustics, at least at ground level, were rather dismal, making a mush out of the delightful neo-baroque Pulcinella Suite, based on melodies by Pergolesi. Between the bad sound and the great music, the mediocre performance of the National Gallery Orchestra did not really weigh in much at all. Mistakes were quickly swallowed, and there was no brilliance to get lost in the first place. It didn't hurt Stravinsky much, and his sunny piece got a deservingly warm reception.

Revueltas's Homage had its own share of musicality to offer, again finely, if never outstandingly, performed by the band upstairs: it wanders between reflecting the upheavals of the time and circumstance in which it was written as well as the somber mood of reflecting upon the untimely death of Federico García Lorca.

Ravel and Ginastera, promising as they were, could not keep me... and given the acoustical back seat, I took my leave—only the fourth time in my life to have left a concert—not because the offerings were bad, but because they were not outstanding enough to merit a tired set of ears trying to cut through the sounds of the echo-chamber.

17.6.04

Fête de la Musique, in Washington

On June 21, 1982, then-Minister of Culture Jack Lang invited musicians to play in the streets of Paris, which they did. Thus began an annual festival, now celebrated throughout France, known as the Fête de la Musique, that inaugurates the season of summer in a magnificent way. Having been in France for a number of these festivals, I can say that the range of music you can hear, all for free and all day and night long, is remarkable. If you are going to be in France this coming Monday, check out the program of events for this year's installment.

Today, I learned that the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities, such as it is, has gotten into the act. Yes, that's right, the group that brought you Pandamania as an example of public art (effectively and justly skewered by Blake Gopnik on May 30 and defended by the Commission's executive director, Tony Gittens, on June 6), is bringing you a Washington, D.C., Fête de la Musique, from June 18 to 21. A comparison with the French original is terribly disappointing, however, I can tell you. The schedule of events, stretched out over four days, is not even equal to what is crammed into a single day in Paris alone. Furthermore, "music" in this case seems to mean "popular music," since the program consists almost exclusively of jazz, folk, rock, and world music. Where are the chamber and symphonic music, the opera scenes, the early music? Grrr.

Gardening at Versailles

Related Resources

Nicolas Fertin, Découvrez le jardin disparu de Versailles (Discover the lost garden of Versailles), June 12, in Le Parisien

Vincent Noce, Le mécénat américain irrigue Versailles (American patronage irrigates Versailles), June 14, in Libération

Dominique Raizon, A Versailles, résurrection d'un «salon de verdure» (Resurrection of a "greenery salon" at Versailles), June 15, from Radio France Internationale (with the best pictures)

Pamela Sampson, Garden at Versaille Restored, June 14, from Newsday (Associated Press)

Press release, Renaissance du Bosquet des Trois Fontaines, from the Château de Versailles

Pictures of the work at the Bosquet des Trois-Fontaines (taken in 2002)

André Le Nôtre (Web site from the French Ministry of Culture, which just proves my point that we need a Department of Culture in the United States)

Jean Cotelle, The Bosquet des trois fontaines, Versailles
Jean Cotelle (1642–1708), Le Bosquet des trois fontaines dans le petit parc de Versailles
I learned about this story from an article Le jardin intime retrouvé de Louis XIV [Louis XIV's secret garden rediscovered], June 11) by Marie-Douce Albert in Le Figaro, which unfortunately, like most of that newspaper's online articles, has already become unavailable. However, there have been other stories on this, with pictures, so I have listed those, too. One of the less appreciated facets of André Le Nôtre's design of the Versailles gardens was the creation of about a dozen salons de verdure (greenery rooms), private but outdoor "rooms" hidden throughout the palace's grounds where Louis XIV could retreat for a moment of quiet. One of those spaces was the Bosquet des Trois-Fontaines (Grove of the Three Fountains), which may have been at least partially designed by Louis XIV himself, since it was simpler than the public gardens: no sculpted bushes, no geometrically placed rows of statues, just an elaborate set of fountains. If you don't remember seeing it on your last trip to Versailles, that's because this private grove had been allowed to grow over and lay mostly forgotten in the forest. Private donations, most prominently from the American Friends of Versailles, led by Catharine Hamilton of Chicago, have made possible the restoration of this living reception hall to what can be seen in maps and illustrations of Versailles from the 17th century.
Today, the grove has reappeared, with its fountains and a new but still remarkable Saint-Jacques [a pool in the shape of a giant oyster], its lawns, and its borders of pink marble, and even its exotic pink shells and gray rocks in strange shapes. "It is even more beautiful than we thought," confirms [chief architect] Pierre-André Lablaude. "We had many documents available, in other words, a musical score from which we tried to play as accurately as possible. Still, the harmony was not visible on the page. It was only in the last, very moving weeks that the purely technical was forgotten in favor of the aesthetic."
Apparently, the plans and research for this work had already begun before the devastating windstorms in late December 1999, which uprooted over 5,000 trees on the Versailles grounds. (The damage had the ultimate benefit of making it possible for the Versailles architects to think about restoring the grounds to the way it was in the time of Louis XIV, instead of having to preserve it as it had developed later in the 18th and 19th centuries.) The reconstruction cost €5.5 million ($6.7 million), with two-thirds of that amount covered by the American Friends of Versailles, what the article in Libération calls "the greatest example of American patronage since Rockefeller saved the château in ruins in the 1930s."

15.6.04

Happy Bloomsday

It all started 100 years ago today (see previous posts related to Ulysses from June 2 and June 11). Even Google is getting into the act. Ionarts film critic Todd Babcock recently sent me the following note on a memory he has of Ulysses, in a context that is unusual enough for me to publish it here:

I don't know if I ever mentioned to you that last year I was part of a production that read the entire book aloud over the course of 24 to 36 hours (can't remember how long it took). The original production was done before, and we took the manuscripts from that production, which had all the lines color-coded per view, as it were, and went in shifts of one hour. There was coffee and donuts, and each cast would show up an hour before its set time and then jump in after the previous group and go. No rehearsal or anything and it was magnificent...just a love of literature. I was completely blown away by the level of talent and enthusiasm.

Our group was a taciturn group of actors from theater, TV, and film, and we didn't even really meet beforehand. We just began with all our noises and rhythms and made it sing like jazz. You had to be on your toes and just take a perception of your sounds, of what voice would fit the sounds of the text. Once again, without any rehearsal these actors just gelled for that time and space. It was especially fun just seeing who would show up for this thing, some classical actors and then more contemporary reads. The reason this happened last year was that the actor leading the charge was afaid that original production would do an anniversary read at the same time so he wanted to get a leg up...a bit like throwing your Christmas party early so as to avoid conflict. Joycean parties...didn't think it could happen in Hollywood, huh?
I certainly did not think it could happen, but there you go. Does anyone else know of events like this today? Todd also says there is an article on the book in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, a dinosaur of a magazine that has absolutely zero Internet presence. Whatever. Here is how you should begin your day this morning:
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
Introibo ad altare Dei.
That Latin phrase (I will go in to God's altar, adapted from Psalm 42:4) is the first part of the versicle a priest says privately when beginning Mass, with the response Ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam (To God, who gives joy to my youth). (As it happens, the first part is also found on the gateway into the chancel at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, through which I pass at least once a week as a member of the choir.) The whole versicle is paraphrased, with a perverse and blasphemous twist, by the two priests in the Circe episode:
FATHER MALACHI O'FLYNN Introibo ad altare diaboli. [I will go in to the devil's altar.]

THE REVEREND MR HAINES LOVE To the devil which hath made glad my young days.
If I quote any more, this blog will lose its PG rating. How can anyone say that Latin isn't fun?

Basketball and Self-Congratulation

Well, for me and all other Michigan expatriates, this at least softens the pain I still feel over this. Cue Aretha Franklin singing "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" in Motown.

I am also happy to thank Alex Ross who, in a post at his blog The Rest Is Noise, may have sent you here to Ionarts. I have enjoyed following Alex's blog and am an admirer of his music criticism in The New Yorker. Alex noticed my post on Lars von Trier's withdrawal from a planned production of Wagner's Ring at Bayreuth, from June 7. In case you hadn't noticed, that is four days before this article was published by that other source of cultural news. As for Alex's qualification of Ionarts as "excellent," we're not worthy.

As far as distinctions for Ionarts, it can't get better than being excerpted and linked (on June 14, for this post on the new French translation of Ulysses) by Mark Woods—who has been blogging for millennia in blogging terms—at the always excellent wood s lot. Once again, non sum dignus.

14.6.04

Medieval Necropolis Found in Northeastern France

According to an article (Nécropole du Moyen-Age découverte dans un jardin, June 12) from France 2, when a family in the little French town of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port began to construct a garden patio, they discovered human bones buried in their garden. They were much happier when archeologists from nearby Metz confirmed that it was a medieval cemetery.

"They're skeletons from the Middle Ages, so much the better!" recounts this relieved resident. "I wasn't sleeping at night the whole weekend, after my son discovered the first human teeth with the first dig of the shovel, and then we had to call the police when we found the bodies," she adds. On Thursday, the regional archeological authority estimated that the bones dated from the 10th to the 15th century. "They were buried in a traditional way, east to west, arms folded and without any funeral marker," said archeologist Jean-Pierre Legendre, underscoring the important of this discovery "for the archeological map" [of the region].
Still looking for any other coverage of this find.

Frida Kahlo Bicentenary

This is somewhat late, but I haven't read about this elsewhere so I thought I'd mention it. An article (Fridha Kahlo célébrée au Mexique, May 3) from France 2 relates some of the special events for yet another anniversary this year, which happens to be 50 years since the death of Frida Kahlo.

Beginning on May 6, twenty-six of Frida Kahlo's most important works will be back in Mexico temporarily, for an exhibition in the Casa azul, the Blue House where the artist was born in 1907. The Casa Azul exhibit has been organized by the Museo Dolores Olmedo, which owns the largest collection of paintings by Frida Kahlo and her husband, famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
According to the article, most of the 150 paintings she finished are now in private collections. She died on July 13, 1954, at the age of 47. Shockingly, I can't find any other information or images on this exhibit.

New Annette Messager Installation

The normal home of the Musée de l'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is the Palais de Tokyo. That building has been closed for many months for renovations (until March 2005), and the museum has been sponsoring special exhibits, of both its permanent collection and controversial new art, in other museums and historical sites like the old Couvent des Cordeliers on the Rue de l'Ecole-de-Médecine in the 6th arrondissment. (See Olivier Celik, Intrusions amicales de Musée d'art moderne [Friendly invasions by the Museum of Modern Art], June 12, in Le Figaro.) Elisabeth Lebovici's article (Messager met les voiles, June 12) in Libération reviews one of these exhibits, Sous vent by Annette Messager, at the Couvent des Cordeliers.

A vast stretch of dark silk cloth covers almost the entire length (56 meters [184 feet]) of one of the two large halls of the Convent of the Cordeliers. The thing starts to move, to swell. Certain sections of it light up under the silk. The timed lighting reveals things under the cloth that covers them: threadlike elements, a system of veins, an invertebrate mass, fetal forms, crustaceans with separated claws, humanoid masks. An entire phosphorescent constellation thus seems, by virtue of the veil that serves as a filter, as indefinite as oceanic life seen from above the waves. Seventeen or eighteen minutes—no one, not even the artist, is really sure of the exact length of time—have passed, and then it begins again. Conclusion: "There is a woman under there," as one of the characters, who was himself a painter, cried out in a famous short story by Balzac, Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu [1845]. In effect, it's Annette Messager, the woman under this event.
You can see some images of the installation here. (Sous vent means literally "under the wind," but the title is also a pun for the word souvent, or "often.") For the reviewer, one element of this installation, a childsize bathtub placed in a luminous red placenta, recalls the bathtub in which Jean-Paul Marat was assassinated, canonized by Jacques-Louis David in his famous portrait. As it turns out, Marat's body was brought to the Couvent of the Cordeliers after the assassination, which happened in Marat's apartment in the Rue des Cordeliers. After the poet's gangrenous arm had been amputated, David was allowed to make sketches of the body for his portrait, before the corpse was buried in the convent's garden. (The Franciscans had been turned out of the convent some time before, and it had become the meeting place of the Club des Cordeliers, of which Danton and Marat were the leaders.) The other artist recalled by Messager's installation, according to the reviewer is the dancer Loïe Fuller, who used veils and colored lights in her act (see Ionarts post on June 7).

An older Annette Messager installation, called Mes petites effigies (My little effigies, from 1988), is being shown again in, of all places, the Musée National du Moyen-Âge in the Hôtel de Cluny, until September 6. Messager's work is normally shown at Marian Goodman, at 79, rue du Temple, in the 3rd arrondissement. (I especially like her new sculpture Picquet de grève, which shows a dead animal impaled on two spears with the message "Spectacle annulé" [Performance cancelled] connecting them, a reference to the strike activities of the intermittents du spectacle, which have cancelled numerous festivals.) She will be interviewed by Libération on July 6.

13.6.04

Sixty Years of Agence France-Presse

A short article (L'AFP ouvre les archives d'août 1944, June 10), by Gilles Dobbelaere for France 2, announces the 60th anniversary of Agence France-Presse, born just as Paris was liberated. To celebrate its anniversary, the news agency will exhibit some rare photographs from August 1944, its first month in existence.

The first AFP newsflash, 220 words in length, appeared at 11:30 am the same day that the first free newspapers were published, August 20, 1944. Newsflashes were then distributed by bicycle messengers to the newspapers and to the headquarters of the Resistance. Having at hand thus the best text and photographs relating to the whole week of revolution in Paris, from August 20 up to the parade down the Champs Elysées, AFP will show 170 in its "walking memorial," to be unveiled in Paris on June 23: 60 columns spread over 22 sites, creating a free outdoor museum. One of the stages of this route will be the Square of the Bourse (Stock Exchange), which was the seat of [AFP's predecessor] Havas and where AFP is now. Four columns will be placed there, dedicated to the revival of the free press after the Occupation.
There is one of these photographs with the story linked above. I'm still looking for an Internet site with the images. I hope that AFP creates one.

Giotto Frescoes in Paris?

An article (Dans la lumière de Giotto [In Giotto's light], June 11) by Anne-Marie Romero in Le Figaro gave some information on an unusual exhibit, Giotto—Saint François, l'humilité radieuse (Giotto—Saint Francis, radiant humility), in the chapel of the Sorbonne:

For several weeks the chapel of the Sorbonne has been transformed into the basilica of Assisi. For a length of 62 meters [203 feet], its nave and transept show side by side the 28 famous scenes of the life of Saint Francis, the first masterpiece of a young painter named Giotto, from 1297. Of course, these are not the actual frescoes he painted, miraculously spared by the 1997 earthquake, which cannot be moved, but immense photographs, almost lifesize: a project undertaken by Ars Latina, which has gotten us used to these spectacular art exhibits with the great Lascaux bull or the Jesuit missions of South America. [. . .]

It is hard to explain this important commission without knowing about the disorder that rocked the Franciscan family after its founder's death. Poverty was the key word of this draper's son, a rich man who gave up everything, and simplicity (simplex et idiota, as he named himself), but poverty to what degree? The order was divided between purists who wanted to remain a mendicant order, without home or hearth, and traditional monks, who were supported by the Church, which wanted to put some order into what this possibly dangerous apocalyptic mystic had created. After many troubles, one Bonaventura de Bonaregio [should be Bagnoregio], now a saint, became the order's superior general. He decided to do away with all of the saint's biographies, to be replaced with a new official one, the Legenda Maior, and to ask Giotto to draw from it to illustrate the basilica. The iconographic program thus received, in some way, an imprimatur.
The photographs were made by Antonio Quattrone, who has been involved in the other Ars Latina projects mentioned in the article. This exhibit will last until July 10 July 1 and will go to the Château of Chambord from December 2004 to January 2005. According to another article (Fresques de Giotto en photo à la Sorbonne, June 10) from France 2, the photographs were taken prior to the 1997 earthquake.

12.6.04

It's Not Good to Be the King

Related News Articles

Delphine Chayet, Le cœur de Louis XVII inhumé dans la nécropole des rois, June 9, in Le Figaro

Jean Foyer, Une filiation indiscutable, June 9, in Le Figaro

Le cœur de Louis XVII, "enfant martyr" à la basilique de Saint-Denis, June 8, in L'Express (with nice pictures of Saint-Denis, the heart in its crystal urn, and Louis-Alphonse de Bourbon, who would be King of France if the royalists had their way)

Images of the Basilica of Saint-Denis (Alison Stones, University of Pittsburgh)
Earlier this week Cronaca quoted some of the Reuters story on the scientific proof that Louis XVII, the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette who became King of France when his father was executed, did indeed die in his prison cell in 1795. He was seven years old when his family was arrested, and the boy was eventually sent alone to a cell in the Temple. Subjected to harsh conditions, as well as terrible physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his captors, the child signed, probably under force, a "confession" that his mother had had sexual relations with him, which was cited in the case for the queen's execution. When he died of complications from tuberculosis, the Revolutionaries threw his body in a common grave in the Sainte-Marguerite cemetery in Paris, near what is now the Place de la Nation (under the monarchy it was the Place du Trône [Square of the Throne] and, during the Revolution, the Place du Trône Renversé [Square of the Overturned Throne]), but a physician doing the autopsy had removed the heart from the body, which has been preserved by the family. Ever since that time, some thought that the boy actually escaped and that another child's body was placed in the grave, and pretenders have claimed to be his descendants, falsely as it has now been ultimately proven.

The DNA testing was done in 2000 (comparing DNA from the boy's heart to that of hair preserved from Marie-Antoinette and her sisters), but in this special Mass on June 8, the heart was buried in the tomb of the French royal family, near the tombs of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Some 2,500 people filled the Basilica of Saint-Denis, and a thousand or more amassed outside the church, most of them royalists (Libération reported cries of "Vive le roi! Le roi est mort, vive le roi! A mort la révolution!" [The King is dead! Long live the king! Death to the revolution!]). This is hard for me to believe, but there are actually people who still want to see the Bourbons restored to the French throne. Having read a lot of coverage on this event (organized in part by a royalist group called Mémorial de France) in the French press, my favorite commentary was by Najate Zouggari in the communist newspaper L'Humanité (Affaire de coeur à la basilique de Saint-Denis, June 9). It practically drips with the seething resentment that still exists between classes today in France:
The monarchists finally got a heart, a petrified one in a 30-cm niche. It's not really theirs, but that of Louis XVII, "saint and martyr." Yesterday was the end of the road for the precious organ, that of the imprisoned son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Many tears were wiped in silk handkerchiefs yesterday morning, a few steps from the very popular Saint-Denis market. Around a thousand people, according to an official estimate, followed the ceremony outside, broadcast on a giant screen, in the Basilica's square.

The ceremony was supposedly open to "all French people, even communists," as Prince Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme put it, not ungenerously. This did not change the fact that entrance to the basilica was not "open" to all French people and that spectators had to make an extra effort just to see a few images of the broadcast. Although there is some historical interest in the ceremony, it mostly provided a chance for the most reactionary to unload a rosary's worth of stupid superstitions. A charming little Spanish woman, dressed in a flowery dress, admits that she missed Franco, "a good man," she says, with a thumbs-up. For her, the "murder" of the Dauphin was only the beginning of "the long list of totalitarian crimes." Another woman, dressed in white and with her hair pulled back in a chignon, says she weeps today "to beg forgiveness of this martyred child." Other victims of daily, less noble violence apparently are not worthy of such concern. A little farther away, in the crowd, a young man with a blue tie and a fleur-de-lys in his buttonhole, sells pamphlets of monarchist poetry in honor of Louis de Bourbon for 5 euros. "France must have a king," he says. "I am here for France, to defend its Christian roots."
These people really do want to return to monarchy: this article has a picture showing the heart in its urn, on a cloth of fleur-de-lys, with a crown in front of it.

10.6.04

More on Translating Ulysses into French

As part of the buildup to the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday (see Getting Ready for Bloomsday, June 2), I have already mentioned the new French translation of Ulysses, from Gallimard, which will be in bookstores in France on June 10. Last week's issue of Le Figaro Littéraire had a number of Joyce-related articles, including a longer write-up of the new translation (Claude Michel Cluny, Les dernières sirènes d'Ulysse [The last sirens of Ulysses], June 3) and Bruno Corty's interview with the head editor of the translation (Jacques Aubert: «Joyce travaillait à dérégler le langage» [Jacques Aubert: "Joyce was working to undo language"], June 3). Here is a translated excerpt of the latter:

In 2000, Joyce's grandson asked Gallimard to start a new translation of Ulysses, to be placed under your leadership. Why did you choose a team instead of a single translator?

It was clear to me from the start that this new translation should be entrusted to several people. This was not only to give in to the spirit of the times, by influence, by example, for a project like a new translation of the Bible. We were ordered to publish it in 2004, and the work that had to be done made it seem difficult to me to conduct this work in a rigorous way with only one translator. Group translation is not the easy solution at all. Particularly in this case, where there are resonances, echos, and repetitions in the text that are furthermore subjected to variation throughout.

Why did you call on writers?

That seemed interesting and important to me. In a way, I was proceeding from Larbaud's experiment. If it had been useful, fruitful, to have Larbaud, that meant that there was, in Joyce's work, an element of a creator's quest. Ulysses was seven years of work that helped to articulate a literary career. Joyce began Ulysses by using fragments from Portrait of an Artist and ended up on the threshold of Finnegans Wake. It's a search during the writing itself, and it seemed to me natural to involve writers. It was a chance to make creators confront creation.

Was translating the first episode yourself a way to put people at ease, to reassure them?

Translating "Telemachus" was a chance to draw attention to a certain number of problems. For our first meeting, I put together a document that resolved a number of process issues. It was almost pedagogical. From the start, we had to be in agreement, for example, on the translation of street names, proper names, nicknames. Even on questions that seemed relatively simple, it was imperative to apply a common rule. Perhaps from my personal experience of the text, it seemed to be that all of Joyce's work consisted of undoing language. This undoing does not seem uniform throughout the text. In the first two episodes and in the fourth, things are rather simple. Then, little by little, things get complicated.

Joyce plays constantly with words and languages. Isn't that the biggest danger for this translation?

In effect, Joyce tells us that there is translation inherent in reading. He says that and he puts it into action. Buck Mulligan himself plays on his nickname from the second page of Ulysses. We made the decision not to translate the word "Buck." Leaving the English nickname, from the moment where the rest of the text illuminates it, this is part of the mixture of languages that Joyce begins to unfold. In the third episode, among the traps that Joyce lays for us, there is "Los demiurgos." You could read "Los" as the article that goes with "demiurgos." In fact, the context indicates that this "Los" is a proper name borrowed from William Blake [The Song of Los] and that, as a result, it should not be put in italics like the word that follows it. This is just one of numerous polyglot traps. It's one of those aspects by which Ulysses already has, I dare say, one foot in Finnegans Wake.
Aubert also notes that the first French translation of Ulysses, which Joyce supervised and helped edit, has been used by later editors of the English text to determine what problems might be typesetting errors and what are not. The same team will proceed now to the even greater challenge of translating Finnegans Wake into French.

Another little article in the same issue («Bloomsday», la fête des sens [Bloomsday, a feast for the senses], June 3) mentions the festivities planned in Paris for the 100th Bloomsday, sponsored by the Centre Culturel Irlandais and Le Figaro. A schedule of events is planned for June 14 to 27.

Mischa Maisky at the National Gallery

On Sunday, June 6, the 2499th concert of the William Nelson Cromwell and F. Lammot Belin Concert Series at the National Gallery of Art, which is concluding its 62nd season this month, featured Latvian-born cellist Mischa Maisky (shown at right) playing three of the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by J. S. Bach. Two Ionarts critics were there and heard somewhat different things.

Can You Dance To It?
by Charles T. Downey

Having arrived at the National Gallery, without a reserved seat like some lucky critics who were also there, it became clear that it might be difficult to get a seat for this concert. I staked out a place to stand along the far wall of the West Garden Court, with that rarest of all things here, an unobstructed view, between two of the massive columns, of the performer's bench. Since I was alone, I did not dare to leave my spot, which other concertgoers were already eyeing covetously, to get an extra chair. Shortly before the concert began, one of the ushers—merciless martinets who patrol the hall with a critical eye—saw that my placement did not conform with their approved seating plan. Fortunately, another spectator decided to give up her extra chair, because she was able to move closer to her friend in another section, and the seating gods decided magnanimously to allow me to stay. This was lucky indeed because, as I discovered at the concert's end, about 50 people without seats had been forced to listen to an echo of the concert from "the lobby," the sculpture hall that leads into the West Garden Court.

Mr. Maisky is one of those superstar performers, in the tradition of 19th-century virtuosi like Liszt and Paganini. This reputation is certainly deserved, but what leaves me cold in this sort of player is the trappings that come with the fame. On a superficial level, this would be those trademark silk blouses, "That 70s Show" flaired trousers, and Mafioso gold neckchains, which made Mr. Maisky look like Yanni with a cello and an afro, or an extra for Saturday Night Fever. That aside, the real problem with the superstar performer is the temptation to make big bucks by releasing one of those very popular recordings with crossover appeal, to which Mr. Maisky has succombed (Cellissimo and Meditation, for example) as has just about every performer of the same exalted level. I have no problem with performers making a profit from their appeal to more mainstream audiences, but you are what you eat, or in this case the danger is that your playing may begin to resemble what you play. It is not simply that this performance was un-Baroque in character, which it most certainly was. The excessive and often grotesque rubato applied by Mr. Maisky destroyed the rhythmic vitality of some of the dance movements, and this changed the focus of the performance from the intricacies of Bach's late Baroque stylized refashioning of the concept of the suite to the individuality of a superstar player. I find the former fascinating, and I could care less about the latter.

The tone was set by the first four movements of the first suite Mr. Maisky played, BWV 1007. There is some justification for Mr. Maisky's personalized style in the prelude movements to the suites. These movements fit into a genre of instrumental music dating back to the Renaissance—identified by titles like praeludium, intonazio, intonation, toccata—in which a solo instrumentalist improvised a flashy piece to set the tone (and often a tonal or modal center) for a choral piece or set of dance movements that followed. Ironically, of the three preludes Mr. Maisky played in this concert, that of the third suite, BWV 1009, which seemed to have been most clearly composed in the style of a toccata, was played in the least improvisatory and most rhythmically regular way. The prelude of the first suite was played dizzyingly fast but without any perceptible regular pulse, as was that of the fifth suite. The latter piece is one of Bach's transformations of the French ouverture, the sort of instrumental music that composers around Europe admired in the work of Lully, who was known for keeping the players in his orchestra in strict rhythmic unity by pounding a cane on the floor. It was a form that fascinated Bach, since it appears in various guises in his instrumental works, such as the "Sinfonia" of the second keyboard partita and the sixteenth variation of the Goldberg Variations.

However, other than an optional first-movement prelude, the suite is a series of pieces intended to accompany specific types of dancing. While the concert's program notes (from Columbia Artists, which manages Mr. Maisky's appearances) acknowledge the dance-oriented "genesis of the suite form," they go on to state the following:
The resulting dance movements in Bach's suites bear little resemblance to the simple eighteenth-century dance tunes that were actually used to accompany dancers.
While it is true that Bach probably never intended for anyone to dance to any of the movements from his cello suites, the uniformity of the dance movements of Bach's instrumental suites (as well as those of other composers) indicates that we would be justified in believing that Bach at least still had in mind the steps and movements of the dances in question. (On this topic, you should read Tim Janof, Baroque Dance and the Bach Cello Suites, about his experience of having a Baroque dance specialist, Anna Mansbridge, actually try to dance while he played the suites.) Now, real dance music may not have much to recommend it as serious music, but the main function that it provides—and this is just as true for the Minuet as for the techno music that pulses in dance clubs today—is a unifying rhythmic certainty. In fact, the social function of dance steps that one can recognize and participate in, and thereby be in harmony with one's society, was just as important for the Allemande, named for an unspecified German girl, in the Baroque era as it was for the Macarena, named for a Spanish girl, in Europe and America at the end of the 20th century.

For me, the best moments of the program were the movements where Mr. Maisky played with a dancelike rhythmic regularity. In the first suite, this happened first in the two Menuetts and especially in the dynamic, concluding Gigue (the most jig-like of the three he played). By contrast, Mr. Maisky played the Courante of this suite so fast that the sixteenth notes blurred together meaninglessly, but then he had to slow down to leap down to the bass notes, requiring a manipulation of tempo that destroyed any sense of a dance. The Sarabande's tempo was so irregular that the final note of each section, which should be a half-note, I think (the emphasis in the triple-meter sarabande was on beat 2), was held for a different length each time, and for a full two beats only the last time. In the third suite, played second, the Allemande was graceful and stately, the Courante was much more regular and therefore exciting to hear than in the first suite, and I really felt like getting up to dance to the two Bourrées, which were delightful. Only the Gigue disappointed, with a handful of squeaks or mistuned notes and a rushed character that felt unnatural.

Speaking of the "few scratches and squeaks," these things happen, but the accumulation of such imperfections over three suites gave me pause. The worst of the night came at the end of the otherwise bouncy and not at all "rigorous" (as the program notes put it) Courante of the fifth suite. This may be the most mysterious of the six suites, and Mr. Maisky's performance emphasized the recondite character of the Sarabande and the directionless second Gavotte especially. However, with almost no pause, he launched himself into the dashing Gigue, which he chose to play with full repeats of both sections. It was one of the most exciting moments of the evening. After much encouragement from the crowd, Mr. Maisky was coaxed to play another Sarabande, which as I recollect it, was from the second Suite, BWV 1008, in D minor, whose somber first measures I took for a gamba piece by Marin Marais. It was the most satisfying sarabande of the concert.

Available at Amazon:
cover
J. S. Bach, Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, with Pierre Fournier (1977)
Knight in Shining Cello
by Jens F. Laurson

After three weeks of summer lull at the National Gallery of Art's Sunday Concerts, this perfectly beautiful Sunday eager listeners started lining up at the Gallery's West Garden Court entrance more than two hours before the concert was to begin. By 6:30, no one without a reserved seat was admitted into the building anymore. The reason for this excitement had a name: Mischa Maisky, one of the foremost active cellists of our times, was to be heard in what is the most exciting music for solo cello, the unaccompanied suites by Johann Sebastian Bach.

With his gray-white curly mane and goatee, heavy round gold chains, and appropriately exotic clothing, he was the first artist I have seen at the NGA concerts who was slightly larger than life. A ruffled, untucked light steel-blue shirt and black satin trousers framed this entrance, giving him an air that was half Numidian warrior-king, half Gandalf the Grey with his beautiful, petite Domenico Montagnana cello in front of him. Of course, the excitement about hearing the fiendishly difficult Bach suites, nos. 1, 3, and 5 (out of six), did its share as well.

Little needs to be said about Mr. Maisky himself. A household name in classical music, a student of Mstislav Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky, a friend of and frequent collaborator with Gideon Kremer and Martha Argerich, his discography contains several outstanding examples of his craft. Anecdotal evidence has it that Mischa Maisky recently rerecorded the Bach suites because he didn't recognize his own versions when they were played in a record store he was in.

With concentration and an always lyrical element, Maisky started energetically into Suite No. 1, in G major, BWV 1007. Given the amount of cellists who have tackled these works on disc since Pablo Casals's path-breaking efforts (he had been the first artist to perform as well as record these pieces in their entirety), it is easy to forget just how difficult they are to play, and more so from memory. Or as a professor of mine once told his (philosophy) students: "Only when you know just how difficult it is to play just one note on the piano exactly right can you even begin to have an idea how difficult it is to play the unaccompanied cello suites by Bach." The brio and sure-fingeredness (barely a pitch off) with which Maisky bowed Bach from the cello, especially towards the end of Suite No. 1, in the Gigue, was spellbinding.

Perspiration or dictates of style (or both) had Maisky, after generous applause, come out in a new shirt—similar in style, but canary yellow. A fine backdrop at any rate for Suite No. 3, in C major, BWV 1009, with its tension-laden and fast-paced opening Prelude. While not creating as explicitly the impression of two instruments being at work, as do Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin, Suite No. 3, too, makes one wonder how one bow and five fingers can do all that work. Along with increased efforts of physical expenditure, Mr. Maisky's sweating became a good indicator of the intensity of the performance before Suite No. 3 fell into its more lyrical tone with the Sarabande. Mischa Maisky did not just play this movement slow, he played it with such pressing gravity that the long notes burst with tension, stretched, and held until the very point of breaking, before the first Bourrée gave the suite a spring back into its step. The fast, scurrying Gigue, the last movement of the suite, left no listener unmoved. Harmonically more interesting, it is an apt climax, broodingly wild in Maisky's hands, rather than "cheerful" as the program notes felt about it.

Suite No. 5, in C minor, BWV 1011, was given in a black outfit, Issey Miyake like the other ones, a shirt with pointedly extended shoulders and bell-bottom light trousers, faintly reminiscent of a bat. The first note of the suite burst onto the scene like a shot as Mr. Maisky, now starting to resemble more a semi-sane, semi-evil, and musically obsessed count of a fake eastern European fiefdom, continued with his
idiosyncratic but still perfectly coherent and self-explanatory account of this Mt. Parnassus of the cello œuvre.

This was all-out Bach, with none of the noble patrician understatement of a Pierre Fournier, but an emphasis on every rhythmic and contrapuntal element, an exaggeration of the music, but never to its detriment. In fact, Mischa Maisky's playing added several dimensions to the performance. Free-wheeling, emotionally charged, verifiably un-Baroque, this was not a recreation of Bach but a distillation of his flavor. "Bach," Charles Bukowski said in one of his poems, "is the most difficult composer to play badly because he made so few spiritual mistakes." Perhaps that is the reason why Bach's music lends itself to such interpretation with ease. Instead of becoming too much for the musical palate, the renditions of Bach by the likes of Edwin Fischer, Glenn Gould, or Mischa Maisky are exciting and—although on occasion controversial—ultimately tasteful. They may all not be the first choice for everyday Bach listening, but their absence would mean that no one would want to listen to Bach every day in the first place. It is a great gain in understanding and enjoyment of any and all Bach, or indeed music, that is incurred from these insights.

Bach already has an undisputed place in the 21st century, but after Mr. Maisky was finished with him, it became almost painfully obvious how much of a presence JSB has or ought to have in our times. The double-stop-filled first Gavotte of Suite No. 5 was just one example of "Bach—the urgently contemporary." Astounding interpretation on top of genius made almost 300-year-old music come alive, perhaps ironically in a museum of all places. Neither the visible and at some points audible exhaustion of Mr. Maisky, nor a few scratches and squeaks could deter from that impression.

Enthusiastic applause and four curtain calls (a National Gallery Record?) convinced the artists to give an encore, and so he played the Sarabande from BWV 1008. Heavy vibrato gave the slow movement its intensity and tension all over again, made it so biting and electrifying that, to me, it felt like Wagner for solo voice. (Though I wish not to do injustice to either composer, or incur either composer's fans' wrath.) What a highlight just one Sunday before the 2,500th concert at the Gallery. Words fail. A joy!

Available at Amazon:
cover
J. S. Bach, Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, with Pablo Casals (1936–39)


cover
J. S. Bach, Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, with Mischa Maisky (1985)


cover
J. S. Bach, Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, with Mischa Maisky (2000)