Sunday 6th of December 2020

prometheus and a sculptor called lipchitz...

prometheus...   "My little Jacques, you’re making really magnificent things” Said Picasso to Chaim Jacob (Jacques) Lipchitz. 

While in the English world, Moore was THE sculptor, Lipchitz was THE sculptor in Paris. Lipchitz had become famous for his “transparent sculptures” in which heavy bronze and stone works had "holes" and spaces through which light could pass. Not as famous as Moore, Lipchitz was no less talented and certainly more inventively diversified, while being very prolific... 

Lipchitz created Cubist sculpture and, In 1912, exhibited at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and also at the Salon d’Automne. He held his first solo exhibition at Léonce Rosenberg's gallery L'Effort Moderne in 1920, Paris. 

Young Chaim Jacob Lipchitz had started by pinching plaster and cement from his father’s construction company and made fake stuff, such as “fossil" imprints… Born in Druskininkai, Lithuania, within the Russian Empire then, Lipchitz had moved to Paris in 1909 to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and at the Académie Julian. In Montmartre and of Montparnasse he had joined other artists such as Juan GrisPablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani who painted Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz's famous portrait later on — after Lipchitz had become a French citizen and had married Berthe Kitrosser.

Lipchitz then moved away from his transparent sculptures, mostly abstract forms, into a more dynamic style of bronze compositions of figures and animals.

"Prometheus Strangling the Vulture” is one of Jacques Lipchitz’s most famous work, now I believe still at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Prometheus, the mythical Greek hero, had brought the knowledge of fire to humans and was punished by the gods for doing so. 

Lipchitz's Prometheus sculpture was first exhibited in 1937, at the Palais de la Découverte, Paris — a science museum located in the Grand Palais, Paris, France. There, some nasty young hooligans had tried to damage the work and a defiant Lipchitz thus stood at the top of the stairs of the Palais and gave an impromptu speech about art and freedom (or freedom and art — unless it was about liberty and art). 
As Germany occupied France during World War II and with the deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps, Lipchitz had to flee France in 1942 to the United States. He eventually settled in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

So, what is special about Lipchitz’s Prometheus?

In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan, the hero who created humans from clay, and who defied the gods by stealing fire and gave it to humanity as a tool of civilization. Prometheus is renown for his intelligence and as a supporter of humankind. He is the inventor of arts and sciences, without which humans would be crawling (religious?) rats...


Prometheus’ punishment was eternal torment for his betrayal of the gods. He was bound by them to a rock — and an eagle, Zeus’ bird, was sent each day to eat his liver that grew back overnight, to be eaten again and again. In ancient Greece, the liver was thought to be the centre of emotions. According to the main myth, Prometheus was eventually freed by Heracles. 

But in an enlightened twist of the legend, Prometheus FREES HIMSELF and strangles the eagle… Prometheus thus represented human desire for freedom and knowingness, including the quest for scientific knowledge, none-standing with the risk of overreaching with unintended consequences. This aspect is glorified in Lipchitz sculpture, a FREE Prometheus strangling the eagle… Such Prometheus was seen in the Romantic era as the genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy. Mary Shelley used "The Modern Prometheus" as the subtitle to her 1818 novel, Frankenstein. This is us with global warming and the bushfires...

Eventually, Lipchitz, could not free himself of the gods. In his later years he became more involved in his Jewish faith, referring to himself as a "religious Jew". He abstained from work on Shabbat and put on Tefillin daily, under instructions from the famous Rabbi, Menachem Schneerson.

From 1963, Lipchitz returned to Europe for several months of each year and worked in Pietrasanta, Italy. 

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his work was shown in the United States, Europe, and Israel. Prolific, Lipchitz continued his diverse output until the end of his life, including numerous public sculptures.

Lipchitz died on Capri island, Italy, on May 16, 1973. His body was flown to Jerusalem for burial. His Tuscan Villa Bozio was donated to Chabad-Lubavitch and is now the location for an annual Jewish summer camp.

 


We all (we all should) know about Picasso… Except in art circles, Lipchitz's name has been mostly forgotten. The gods have had their revenge on whatever. Moore is still the more famous of the sculptors, possibly because he did the same abstracted shapes over and over, with little stylistic deviation and may have copied Lipchitz for the holes, while Lipchitz went more didactic... I don't know...


GL.

Picture at top: Lipchitz's Prometheus.

sculptures by the sea...

Plato and philosophy

 

Olga Raggio, in her study "The Myth of Prometheus", attributes Plato in the Protagoras as an important contributor to the early development of the Prometheus myth. Raggio indicates that many of the more challenging and dramatic assertions which Aeschylean tragedy explores are absent from Plato's writings about Prometheus.



As summarised by Raggio:
After the gods have moulded men and other living creatures with a mixture of clay and fire, the two brothers Epimetheus and Prometheus are called to complete the task and distribute among the newly born creatures all sorts of natural qualities. Epimetheus sets to work but, being unwise, distributes all the gifts of nature among the animals, leaving men naked and unprotected, unable to defend themselves and to survive in a hostile world. Prometheus then steals the fire of creative power from the workshop of Athena and Hephaistos and gives it to mankind.

Raggio then goes on to point out Plato's distinction of creative power (techne), which is presented as superior to merely natural instincts (physis).

For Plato, only the virtues of "reverence and justice can provide for the maintenance of a civilised society – and these virtues are the highest gift finally bestowed on men in equal measure." The ancients by way of Plato believed that the name Prometheus derived from the Greek prefix pro- (before) + manthano (intelligence) and the agent suffix -eus, thus meaning "Forethinker".

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus

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Nothing like it... but interesting poetic view of whom we are in evolution, as more of our secondary extinct ancestors bones are found... 

Pictures from the Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney (Bondi), Australia, 2019, by Gus Leonisky:

woman and child
rabbits
dance
location



the stillness of a fleeting moment forever...

In his youth, Anton Pevsner visited convents in Russia for inspiration. He loved the icons, the images that seemed to have been inspired by Giotto  One day, Pevsner became exulted by seeing a sculpture of Christ, the eyes of which were alive. He soon realised the trick. The eyes had been sculpted as hollows rather that bumps. The brow-line above was casting a shadow and as one moved about, the eyes seemed to open and shut. Pevsner conclusion, not unlike Lipchitz who made sculptures with “holes", was that hollow spaces are as important as the substance

Unfortunately, this is not the case in politics, where our hollow-brain leaders are the pits of proper democratic advancement. And sometimes, their hollow brains are actually full of s..t… But this is another matter, often discussed on this site.

Like many avant-garde artists, Pevsner moved to Paris. By 1920, he wrote the Realist Manifesto, with Naum Gabo, his brother:



We proclaim: For us, space and time are born today.  Space and time: the only forms where life is built, the only forms, therefore, where art should be erected.


States, political and economic systems, die under the push of the centuries: ideas crumble, but life is robust; it grows and cannot be ripped up, and time is continuous in life's true duration.  Who will show us more efficient forms?  Which great human will give us more solid foundations?  Which genius will conceive for us a legend more elating than the prosaic story that is called life?



The fulfilment of our perception of the world under the aspects of space and time: that is the only goal of our plastic creation.


And we do not measure our work by the yardstick of beauty, we do not weigh it on the scales of tenderness and feeling.  The plumb line in hand, the look accurate as a ruler, the mind rigid as a compass, we are building our works as the universe builds.  This is why, when we represent objects, we are tearing up the labels their owners gave them, everything that is accidental and local, leaving them with just their essence and their permanence, to bring out the rhythm of the forces that hide in them.



Ambitious? Ridiculous? Adventurous? Flippant?… Sure, but quite uselessly essential. Gravity is the only force to conquer… Pevsner's sculptures seem to float or dancing on points. The lines and the thickness of substances seem to converge towards points or the absence thereof. One must realise that Einstein had already released his two theories of relativity in which time, space and energy are linked — and matter and energy are interchangeable. This was a revolution that shook everyone and is still shaking the religious nuts. Beyond this, quantum mechanics made its most important appearance in 1927. Engineering became mathematical and the Bauhaus invaded construction of habitable spaces, in which human foibles became secondary, as we participated in the building of stacks of boxes thereof.

In the 1960s, there was an arts and craft period where one would hammer nails on a board at various increments, and weave a thread between them to achieve a useless decorative image. Very popular with the wool spinners… The concept of art devoid of any representative value is powerful. It becomes an entity with no relationship with the flesh. It is art by imagination of the something/nothing. And it’s valuable. It’s an exercise in non-deconstruction but the construction of line for space itself where time is only real because we scan the object or touch it to see the curves and the points, especially those at the edges. There is a quantum scalar value in these works that could suggest a non-existent human form into infinity.

The manifesto continues:

The line is only an accidental trace that humans leave on objects.  It has no connection to essential life and to the permanent structure of things. The line is a merely graphic, illustrative, decorative element.


We acknowledge the line only as the direction of static forces that are hidden in the objects, and of their rhythms.


3. We disown volume as a plastic form of space.  One cannot measure a liquid in inches.  Look at our real space: What is it if not a continuous depth?


We proclaim depth as the unique plastic form of space. 


Yes, infinity becomes its own reality. The sculptures are more important than us. Though static by structure, these sculptures are like motions where time is still… 

But another sculptor went one step further. Calder was unknown until he left New York and came to France, as a ship-hand because he had no money. Where else but Paris could one go for artistic invention? I did too… There, Calder invented sculptures that moved… Duchamp, his friend, called them “Mobiles”.

Are they pleasing you?” asked Calder to a young kid, who seemed lost in dreams for hours, in front of one of his work…
Oh, it’s beautiful..” said the kid.
Why?
Because it spins…

We’ve all (we should all have) seen imitation Calder mobiles in children’s room hanging from the ceiling… These small plastic-made mobile are shifting in the wind in the same way as the several tonnes steel sculptures made by Alexander Calder, the engineer-artist. In a way, the philistine general public derided these floating things that could have been made by boilermakers — as futile distraction from the daily hard yakka of making cash. Like Pevsner’s works, the Calder’s mobiles do not have meaning but their own being-thereness in motion. It can be confronting to barbecuing bogans and be dismissed by the said, as a looniness and artistic indulgence rusty or in brilliant colours, which does nothing to elevate the soul towards the Sunday god — not realising that the sermon and the hymns they sung had as much value as the windy fart that spins a tonne of steel plates. 

Calder returned to America in 1933. His workshop in Roxbury, Connecticut became full of old steel sheets, wires and iron bars. Supported by a “trunk”, he constructed surfaces that balanced on the trunk, like spinning seesaw for children in parks, except the balancing act was high above ground with no-one sitting on them, while the kids could dream about the motions that never were the same, possibly like clouds passing through the sky. Calder also made static sculptures that were named “stabiles”… like colourful flat dead tree trunks with flat buttresses, all welded together with the skills of liner-builders.

Calder returned to France in 1963. He must have loved this country as nearly all his work were named in French… He died unexpectedly on November 11, 1976.

For Gus Leonisky, a satirical philistine with a solid artistic understanding, Pevsner’s work are more inspired and more refined. Despite the lack of “kinetics” —random or planned animation, used by Calder and also Naum Gabo, Pevsner’s brother, they have the stillness of a fleeting moment forever.

GL.

More Gus Leonisky sculptures by the sea pictures:
hollows
on the beach
on the waterfronton the waterfront


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the birth and death of dadaism...

"The bums with the wonderful kidney" as described by Ernest Hemingway, were the ordinary café-sitters (drinkers of beer, wine and spirits) at Montparnasse’s establishments in Paris, apparently oblivious to the art movements being upended silly by drinking artists at the next table. A psychotic contortion of the arts was encouraged by the “Revolt of the Sons" against their warmongering fathers — though most of these dads had been unwilling to fight — many of them shooting not to kill. This revolt of the youth had a massive tinge of insanity — an insanity borrowed from the mangled madness of the trenches, leading to boundless skepticism, cynicism, pessimism, despair and suicidal defeatism… 


In the Paris cafés, Dadaism was birthing.

Actually, Dadaism had first been incubated in 1916, in a Leipzig theatre where a play by Walter Hasenclever, Der Sohn, was set on stage, somewhat anticipating by more than a decade the folly of All Quiet on the Western Front… possibly to culminate in Germany with Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children…

In Paris, in the late 1910s, this revolt of the sons found a major exponent in Tristan Tzara who had left Bucharest to go where else, but Paris. Tristan Tzara and his followers needed to laugh without reason. They invented ideas without purpose, but most of them shouted “MERDE!” (shit!) aloud as a rejection of all civilisation’s achievements till then. To literature, music, painting and human creative output so far, their primal cry was that of babies speaking for the first time: "Da…da… Dada…” The past was dead. A horrible war did it.

These Dadaists made senseless poems cut from various lines of newspapers, played the saxophone of course — that rebel irreverent instrument — and beat a big drum like transing dummies, to show detached disillusionment  Dada was still-born. It never lived though it did exist for a long time and we're still affected by it (though we don’t see it). The Dada philosophy was anti-everything through an aesthetic nihilism… Dead… Deadism would have been a more appropriate name?...

Whereas the literary luminaries of the past — say Baudelaire, Gautier, Leconte de Lisle and many others — admired by many for looking at exotic countrysides and smoking hashish for inspiration, the revolutionaries of the revolt of the sons, dug deep into the senseless subconscious and visited hospitals for the insane.

If one looks at a surrealist painting and one does not realise that the artist was crazy, one does not understand the work — a work painstakingly detailed with brilliant rubbish. André Breton was a psychiatrist by profession. He is often given as the father of surrealism. But the spark that basically detached his understanding of “reality" from its traditional cultural classical source was his friendship with a shell-shocked patient, Jacques Vaché. Vaché explained humour as a sense of theatre and joyless futility of everything, when one is fully enlightened. For him the essence of symbolism is to be symbolic. 

“Cured”, Vaché became a porter by day, unloading coal on the quays of Paris. By night, he would roam through the city dressed as an English “dandy”, wearing a monocle plus impeccable nobility outfits, and sometimes old English red coat uniforms. By 1918, Vaché killed himself, encouraging a couple of friends to do the same… Vaché left his dandyism as an artistic legacy of the way out. "Is suicide a solution?” Like a theatric act, the questions was often asked then… More artists, less inclined to top themselves, developed their own life with stylistic options of various expressions through surrealism and other -isms. The fear of "being” — Gus imagines the fear of failure was high on this agenda — and having a split-crumbling personality — was torture. Consciouslessness was a major problem for the youth. Arts were being upended with many -isms. Picasso was using l’art nègre (negro art) from Africa to destructure and recompose pictures as cubism — an act which was no more than a choice of cubicle to piss in, but with talent. 

As the fake battle of validity started between the -isms, Marcel Duchamp and Picabia pushed the boundaries of nothingness in Dadaism. Miro came along. The death of painting was premature. 

Now, nature is bitting us on the bum with the coronavirus... Then it was the Spanish flu. 50 million people in Europe died from 1918 onwards. More dead than during the war. This would have been like a triple whammy… War, flu and nothingness...

Meanwhile the women were holding the social fabric by having more kids, and possibly working harder...


Today, a lot of modern abstract "art” (it barely fits the description) sits in bogan lounges, next to or opposite to a TV set and an encased trophy shirt signed by the favourite boys of the local sport team. Modern art often means nothing, and does not try to mean nothing. It just sits there like a style-less decoration that fills a void. Shape and colours have no purpose, not even a non-purpose. Dead. Worms would not touch it.

Music? Modern classical music has had to rely on the bourgeois players and aficionados to survive. Most of it survives by replaying old stuff: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. Bach was sometimes used in jazz… Jazz started with negro music being extrapolated like Picasso, by black people, all liberated from rhythms of heart-beat and angular momentums of the spirit. The white men soon took over and tuned jazz into modern Boredom… Meanwhile, the Trumpets of the Empire turned into Cats-the Musical. I hate cats… 

Something to reset our wandering minds: Aboriginal dances of Bangarra … Here sweaty abstraction necessarily returns through abstraction of symbolism to the red earth… A power in which the expanded costumes are far more inspiring than the red coats of Mr Vaché… The dances symbolises humanity discovering fire, the power of fire and the spirit of humanity. This is a massive leap towards life, in which all the -isms of European arts pale into insignificance… 

Nowadays, art is about loud microphones, maximisation of sensory perception till your ears bleed from ephemeral spectacles, and where the blasé mind is driven inanely mad by puerile exhibition of frustrated artist with a navel-gazing message which is often hard to decipher or is an amateurish feeble imitation of the “Sons of Revolt”... This time, they do not have the original sin of war as a motivation towards cynicism and oblivion, so they turn to a rightful message of social justice lost in our disregarding hypocrisy — and in between “we’ll be back after these messages” slots… Advertising killed humanity. News turned us into slaves… Yes, advertising and news turned everyone into zombies or sheep. Take your pick. Da-da is still there… We live to die but there is a lot of lots to discover in between… We shall fight our own obsolescence to live gloriously and artfully till then.

Meanwhile, on a society level, we could have become Star-Trekkers or Star-seekers — but we’ve become economists… This hurts.


GL.
Ps: the sculture at top by Chaim Jacob (Jacques) Lipchitz is bloody awful. His earlier works were far richer and less heavy...

surrealism and champagne...

By 1930 and 1931 our lubrications have paradoxically come to be looked upon as an object de luxe, and this precisely on account of their revolutionary character; seeing that bourgeois society will permit only ever smaller and smaller editions. The scandalous part of the matter is that there are certain ones calling themselves revolutionists who, hypocrites that they are, take literally the legend which would make us writers for snobs, whereas if, through pecuniary coercion, we are restricted to a public which we have never regarded with anything but contempt, it ought to be obvious that this restriction is but a highly perfected form of repression. Wild beasts in cages are wild beasts just the same. They have thought up an ultra-modern prison for us, an up-to-the-minute contraption. Whatever the cost, we must find a way out


This was written by Louis Aragon in the magazine, Le Surrealisme au Service de la Revolution

Already, the surrealist concept was sinking in its own juice… People were questioning the buying of surrealists’ works by snobs — as a huge bourgeois conspiracy against these foes of the bourgeois order. This is often a way to circumvent unsavoury revolutions: cash for golden silence — or becoming part of the system, in which there is money to be made.

The way out for the surrealists was to turn towards the working class and communism… Some surrealists became fascist. Some became collaborators with the Germans during WW2 (Derain and Vlaminck). Some like Eluard became part of the Résistance… Some just stayed mad.

"In truth” (if we can call upon this difficult notion here, asks Gus) when the surrealists called themselves communist, they were poles apart from Karl Marx. Their vision was to bring a revolution of consciousness by overthrowing our beliefs in the real  — which religion had done for century, leading to the strange thought that religions are somewhat surrealistic, but contrarily to the surrealists, religions are strongly geared towards moralistic manifestos — while Marx had postulated that "reality conditions our thoughts and actions". 


Yet the surrealists were brilliant. Well, one of them was. While most of the surrealists have vanished from our day to day vapourous contemplation of life, and slipped into the footnotes of art history, Salvador Dali stood firm like a mad genius. He was not afraid of the bourgeois buying his unrealities. He encouraged it… He was not afraid of creating advertising for perfumes and clothes, and he was not afraid of advertising himself. Was this contrary to the surrealist manifesto? Is a surrealist manifesto a contradictory contraption that should not exist? In the surrealistic dreamland, the fairy tales have vanished and are replaced by the brilliantly absurd, the amazing bizarre and the constant realisation of meaninglessness. Is the absence of morality so bad, so sad? Is surrealism making you reassess the value of your cornflakes? And of catching a coronavirus by kissing somebody? ...

Moïse (Mojżesz) Kisling was a Polish-born French painter who had moved to Paris in 1910 at the age of 19. He became a French citizen in 1915, after being wounded as a WW1 French Foreign Legionnaire. He was known for his tasteful "candy-box” nudes, unlike Pascin who indulged in porn... He wasn’t a surrealist per se, but he used some of the surrealist painting techniques.

In the early 1930s, some purists objected to the full-on commercialisation of painters, such as Kisling and Foujita (Fujita, Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita). It was the time when the “Art Press” of Paris had become corrupt and that authoritative critics would write praises in catalogues, even if the artist was crap, for around 20 bucks. It was at that time that the bourgeois American snobs with cash discovered the anti-bourgeois surrealists. The Dollar was king...

Kisling volunteered again in 1940 during World War II, although he was 49. When the French Army was disbanded with the surrender to the Germans, Kisling emigrated to the United States. He rightly feared for his safety as a Jew, in occupied France. Under the Vichy government, certain critics suggested too many foreigners, especially Jews, were diminishing French traditions. Their comments were part of a rise in anti-Semitism during the German occupation, resulting in French cooperation in the deportation and deaths of tens of thousands of foreign and French Jews in concentration camps. 

Kisling exhibited in New York City, Washington and settled in California, where he lived until 1946 when he returned to “liberated” France.

When Hiroshima, Japan, was bombed, Foujita was in that city… So Paris mourned one of its son. But John Hersey, a US journalist confirmed that Foujita had been in the mountains then and had escaped the bomb… Paris was relieved, especially his agent, a tailor who made trade offs: three suits for one painting… The policemen of the 14th arrondissement were also relieved. Foujita had taught them judo...

On his return to France after WW2, Foujita converted to Catholicism. He was baptised in Reims Cathedral on 14 October 1959. René Lalou (the head of the Mumm champagne house) was his godfather and Françoise Taittinger was his godmother. This religious experience was reflected in his last major work, at the age of 80. He designed the building and the decoration of the Foujita Chapel in the gardens of the Mumm champagne house in Reims, France, which was completed in 1966, not long before his death…

Good god!… The bourgeois always win...


GL.

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