Man & God, God & Man

Since everyone’s into memes right now, here’s our art meme. Six pieces about men and their gods, gods and their men. All of them at once terrible and beautiful, all causing a stir in heart and mind. Like men, like the(ir) gods. Who’s who, who was made by whom, who was there first? This is what this association addresses.

Top left: Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel (from Wikipedia Commons)

Top centre: Hirst’s “For the Love of God” (from Wikipedia Commons, Telegraph)

Top right: Detonation of a nuclear bomb for test purposes (from Wiki Commons)

Bottom left: Richter’s “Seascape” (scan of postcard from Tate Gallery Shop)

Bottom centre: LaChapelle’s “Last Supper” (scan of flyer from MdM Salzburg)

Bottom right: Space Shuttle take-off (from Wiki Commons)

*Correction: An earlier version mistakenly claimed that da Vinci had painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling when in fact it was Michelangelo’s work. Thanks to artmoscow for spotting the error.

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Watering the Flowers of Babel

The sky has never been no limit for mankind. We have strived to conquer it since before Babel. We have stretched, and we have struggled, and we have yearned, and we have built and built and built – we always have, and we always will – and thus we have, time and again, sowed the sweet seed of our own destruction.

This art association is about the fruits of this seed: Towers. It’s about the unconditional, selfish, savage hope that makes us build them, forcing a better future, not for our kids but, rather, for ourselves. Societies grow stale when men build towers whose shades they know their sons will shiver in.

Left: Seurat, The Eiffel Tower      Center: Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Right: Kupka, Vert et Bleu, Albertina Vienna (scan of gallery shop postcard)

We look at these towers – Seurat’s Eiffel tower, Sheikh Kalifa’s Burj and Kupka’s Vert et Bleu – and we can see how they are growing into the heavens, growing out of all proportion, growing because men have lost all sense of what’s within their grasp, and what is beyond their reach.

We look at these pieces and we feel a touch of that childish, innocent, self-sacrificing leap of faith, the leap of faith it takes to build something so absurdly big, colorful and steely. We feel the hope, the rush, the wind in our hair, the vertigo, the endless possibilities. We hold in our little hands a tiny bit of the whole, big omnipotence of the tower-builder.

We look and feel the shadow of the nagging doubts that must have haunted everyone who has built or climbed a tower, the premonition that what goes up will come down, the feeling that it’s just not quite right, not natural, almost immoral, that since Babel towers have drawn the dire ire of jealous man-child-gods and demons.

We look and feel the the hatred of little men in the face of great things. We feel the power, too, of the man who owns that phallus, and we feel jealous. We feel the sheer absurdity of the shapes and forms and endlessness of it all. We feel, maybe above all, the helplessness of man in the face of such gargantuan giants.

The ultramodern visions of the Bauhaus (right) were so modern that they contributed to a crisis of modernity, and set back the advent of the tomorrow they yearned for until later in the century. Burj Khalifa, built on desert sands, almost never got built at all. Ironically, the Eiffel tower was never meant to last, but has.

Maybe that’s the way to build a tower to withstand the whirlwinds of the world and the rages of fate: by turning one’s back to it and getting on with earthly business.

It’s almost as if the sky had a sign on it: Wet Paint. Don’t Touch. Who could resist? We seem to think that where there’s hubris, there’s hope. Maybe we’re right. The day after the day when we give up on a better future will be a sad tomorrow. Or paradise.

PS: We wanted to include Gotham City and Saruman’s Isengard, but then we thought we’d rather keep it real, seeing as there’s enough madness in reality.

The Mourning After (from Tokyo to Manchester)

Death, the great leveller, has struck the lives of four very different women – young and old, widow and orphan, patrician and pauper – and united them all in grief. All are mourning on the morning after a night of death and desolation, and what underlies this association is not only a common theme expressed in so many ways, but also the parallels in each of the paintings.

What strikes us about these four paintings is that they cover the whole range of emotions with with one reacts to the death of a love one. We see desolation and more death, elation and new life, helplessness and fear, dignity and resilience. Everywhere we see pain and loss. In each painting, something – or rather, someone – is missing and being missed. Yet each woman holds on to an object: fan, flower, flask, excepting the pauper who has nothing to hold on to. Each soul is now manifestly alone in the world. Each face emits and conveys grief, sadness and a feeling of loss, but in a totally different way.

The old woman has been crushed and withering. One imagines that she is dying herself and resigned to her fate.

The woman in white is defiant, maybe even elated. One imagines that death has liberated her and/or the deceased.

The young girl is suffering, but unlike the old woman, she will recover and grow. One imagines that death has left her struggling against life all by herself. The way in which she wraps herself tightly in a blanket suggests vulnerability, but there is obviously enough strength in her to eventually go her way alone.

The lady at the bottom, though details are barely visible, seems to be the elegant, wealthy widow. One imagines that death for her means another social obligation, that appropriate mourning is her last service to a great husband and that she is waiting for a rest after a long period of strain and pain.

 

 

 

Sources: all in the public domain; my scans from postcards bought at Manchester Art Gallery and Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo. (c) Manchester City Galleries, Yale Center for British Art, Estate of W.R. Sickert, Ishibashi Foundation. 

Over-Killing Machines

We’ve stared death in the hollow icy eye for hours now, and this art association is about just that: three killing machines, tamed by artists and put in a gallery for us to come closer and wonder: what if, what if, what if I died, like, right now?


Top left: Damien Hirst, “Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of a Living Person”, from Artinfo
Bottom left: Dirk Skreber, “Crash”, from FunPortion
Right: Fiona Banner, “Harrier”, from DailyMail

Us humans, we’re fragile. Here today, gone tomorrow. But art is there forever. Its beauty is, and the emotions we feel forever permeate the depths of the universe, the reell of space warped around time. What we find so special about this trio is that people do die like this, and yet we think it could never happen to us. The artworks therefore allow us to access a world that doesn’t exist, a world in which we’re the victims, and about to meet a very banal and violent death.

Be it with the twisted angles of Skreber’s car wreck at the Saatchi Gallery, in front of Hirst’s shark at Tate Modern or underneath the Sword of Damokles-esque Sea Harrier that’s found its eternal resting place at Tate Britain. We are trapped by the sheer near-ness of the what-if, and our own perish-ableness. That could have been me had never been more true.

We don’t much like Hirst, on account of his thirst for money and lame fame. We don’t like the military either, nor cars, cause they wreck this planet. But the emotions, oh the sweet emotions, the beads of fear running down our spine. We love that.

That’s what modern art is about. Sheer unbridle raw emotions. Shout it out. We’re finally free to let them run out. We can be plain, open, honest about these things. We don’t need to hide between signs and symbols and more. We need shrill thrills to feel we’re alive in the numb dumb age. The shrill thrill of the killing machine, unleashed on us. How modern. How amazing.