What Does Art Cost -With Yury Kharchenko

by Carl Kruse

On January 8, 2022 the Deutschlandfunk Kultur hyperlink – radio program invited our artist friend Yury Kharchenko to discuss the cost of art, both from a material and figurative perspective.  The program was hosted by Michael Köhler and translated from German to English by Carl Kruse, who is responsible for any errors or omissions.

What Does Art Cost?

Michael Köhler (00:00)  Today we present the German-Russian painter Yury Kharchenko.  He completed his studies at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 2008 and since then has been painting large-format oil paintings and has a studio in Berlin, with another in the Ruhr area, in Oberhausen (Germany). After figurative works on personalities such as Borges, Kafka and even Rimbaud, his most recent group of works deals with images of commemorative culture, with characters from the comic world like Scrooge McDuck, Spiderman or American cartoon series, such as characters from the 90’s like Beavis and Butthead. These pose in bright colors, partly decorated with pornography, in front of scenery reminiscent of concentration camps. In addition, Kharchenko has been experimenting with groups of colored Star of David-like wallpaper patterns. These paintings, rich in impertinence, deal with Jewish identity and the endangerment of memory in a shrill spectacle world. In our series “What Does Art Cost?” I first ask the artist quite directly about his costs.

Michael Kohler

Kharchenko (01:06) So normally the costs for the studio are of course material, these are always the running costs and many trips to exhibitions or to visit curators. These are costs apart from the normal cost of living, so that you can function physically as an artist.

Michael Köhler (01:28) What is the artist’s income?

Kharchenko (01:31) Now that’s a question! There are artists who are just starting out and maybe they’ll earn something, I don’t know. 12,000 euros per year? Maybe less. And then there are very different segments of the market. There are artists who earn what do I know, 40,000 a year. And then there are artists who make 100 and more than millions a year. It’s a broad spectrum. But most of them are probably more in the 12 to 20,000 euro per year range.

Michael Köhler (02:04) But unlike some, they don’t have a teaching assignment or curatorial activity on the side, or that they’re at an academy or give courses. So you have ancillary income like that?

Kharchenko (02:17) I have no extra income. I’ve been doing this alone for a long time through art.

Yury Kharchenko

Michael Köhler (02:23) You are a visual artist and studied at the Düsseldorf Academy. It is no secret. You were also in Markus Lüpertz’s class. Now that sounds good, but then you have to get by in life. How do you do that? Basically, you have to sell if you make a living from it.

Kharchenko (02:44) It’s quite normal that after the academy, which was almost 14 years ago for me, you somehow start to get into the art business. In the beginning it is difficult and then over the years the contacts accumulate and the prices rise. And at some point you just make a good living from it. Well, unless you somehow made it through your own work and through the contacts you have.

Michael Köhler (03:17) We made an appointment in Cologne. You are in transit from Berlin via Dortmund. You also have a studio in the Ruhr area. You travel on to a collector. In a preliminary talk, you told me that Corona wasn’t actually such a bad year for you, but perhaps it was not a good year for your collectors. Is that right?

Kharchenko (03:36) No, that’s not quite right. For me personally, Corona was not a bad year. That’s right. But I haven’t noticed that something has changed for the collectors. So maybe they were even more interested and didn’t tell me that they suffered any disadvantages from Corona. So they didn’t feel any change perhaps.

Michael Köhler (04:05) I would like to move on to the figurative meaning in the second part of our conversation, because what costs something has to do not only with the material cost, but with what it is worth to you, what makes it precious. As a painter, as a neo-expressive painter, I would say, you also have sensitive issues. I hear you were born in Moscow in the mid 1980s and you are of Jewish origin. Jewish themes play a big role for you. How much does art cost? Do you stay true to your theme or do you follow the wind? What I mean to say is, is it sometimes difficult to stay true to one’s subject, or has that never been a question for you?

Kharchenko (04:50) It’s a tough question and not that easy to answer. Many say they stay true to their theme. But in the end it’s not so easy to judge, because you’re always in a context. And even if you think you are 100% loyal, you are in a context of society. And one can only say that there are people who completely submit to the market. Then there are people who do contradictory, controversial issues that are more elusive to the market today because the market is more decorative. And there are the people for me who are more true to themselves, who don’t paint decorative pictures, who always paint the same pictures for decades, just to stamp themselves with the market. And of course all of us humans are tied to financial things. But for me, the more I worked on my topics, the more demand there was. And I was lucky that I didn’t bump into the people that collectors came across because of my work.

Kharchenko (06:05) But yes, I also switch from one style to another as is my mood or mind. My current atmosphere, my interests. The collectors follow, so to speak, and find it interesting. What do I do next year without subjecting a certain trend to a style and stamping that for years?

Michael Köhler (06:33) You’re on the road with a big role right now. Your most recent pictures deal with the difficult relationship between the culture of remembrance in Germany. It’s a lot about Jewish issues. It’s also about what I think you call the market for culture of remembrance and commemoration. That means you have found your topic and are staying true to it.

Kharchenko (06:58) That’s not really my 100% issue. Yes, let’s put it this way, if you calculate mathematically, then it’s maybe 25 percent of my work to date. I have this topic about persistence. Because it has something to do with me, with the history of the people, the Jews. And I now feel that I have reached a certain point, that this topic will also gradually be abandoned, because other things are also of interest to me at the moment. For example, the question of hope or the question of the good in humanity. Especially now that we have had so much corona problems, so much destruction in society that I want to move away from these issues like Holocaust processing and so on to the issues of the beauty of the good man. What role does the good in people play? This is also a very interesting topic, which is just beginning to concern me.

Michael Köhler (08:09) Perhaps one last time on the tiresome topic, but you say that you are not trained to do cost control during your studies. Life has to teach you that, so to speak. Has there ever been a moment when you said it’s all too much for me, I’ll abolish my studio or maybe even vice versa, that you say I could imagine founding a third one. Or maybe not a studio at all, but an apartment in Paris or something.

Kharchenko (08:33) Well, at the very beginning, after graduation, of course, every aspiring artist probably has problems when trying to support themselves. And of course there is constant stress with the financial situation. How do I do this? Just like a maybe pubescent teenager who projects life and asks himself is he worth enough to get this and that? And so is an artist. And of course there are the doubts that accompany it. But of course, if you’re stubbornly stubborn about your work for years, then you end up thinking should I get a second or third studio or whatever, or live and work somewhere else. Those were thoughts. I’m more or less focused on two locations and try to work regularly in these two locations.

Michael Köhler (09:33) The visual artist, the painter Yury Kharchenko in our series What does art cost? Some of his paintings are exhibited in German museums and this year there will also be a solo exhibition of his in Niebüll.


About Deutschlandfunk Kultur – A part of the public Deutschland Radio family in Germany.  Its main focus is on culture, arts, science and is renown for its plays on air and documentaries. Its home is at the former Radio in American Sector (RIAS) in the Schöneberg section of Berlin (Germany).

The Carl Kruse Arts Blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other blog articles on Yury Kharchenko are here and also here, and over here.
Carl Kruse is also active on the TOR literary network.

Upcoming: Adele Schwab Photo Exhibit in Berlin

by Carl Kruse

My friend Adele Schwab has organized a photo exhibit in Berlin on two dates:

19 November 2021 (Friday) from 21.00pm-22:30.

20 November 20 (Saturday) from 17.00-18.30.

Adele Schwab. Photograph from the artist’s website.

Her exhibit is titled, “Seeing the Unseen” an audio visual project that attempts to make air “visible” and investigates the issue of how to capture the unseen. The exhibit explores methods to capture an important yet unseen element, air.

Her work is part of a series on the environment, and was part of the “48 Stunden Neukölln Arts Festival,” which took place this last summer. This is the first time it is shown in a public exhibit.

The interior of the space will be darkened at first, then alit by photos of trees as they turn during the year, sometimes in rain, other times in glaring sunlight. The concept is for the viewer to be immersed in it.

The exhibit takes place at St. Clara Church, which is on Briesestrasse 13, in Berlin, Germany

Much of Schwab’s images show everyday life in a manner that is ultra real. She is captivated by the relationship between nature and people, and by how the environment shapes culture.

Adele Schwab has a BS in Physics from MIT and studied photography at the Ostkreuz School of Photography in Berlin. She currently lives and works in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Carl Kruse Arts Blog invites all of its followers to what should be a special and unique exhibit.

The Carl Kruse Arts Blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other blog posts focusing on photography include, Steve McCurry: Vulnerability Made Immortal and Between Introspection and Surrealism – the Photography of Francesca Woodman.
The blog’s last post was on David Bowie’s alter ego Major Tom.
Carl Kruse is also on Clear Voice

The Legacy of the Satyr

by Hazel Anna Rogers

The passing-down of literature fascinates me. I find something utterly awe-inducing in the ability of human language to convey a narrative generation after generation, and for us to have the knowledge and ingenuity to understand the importance of preserving great stories and characters. I suppose the process must be akin, in some sense, to that of a distillation chamber, in that it consists of years of inter-generational storytelling that distill the story to its essence, to the very narrative blocks that birthed it to begin with. And, from then on, the story itself is open to interpretation, thus presenting us with endless possibilities of adaptation. Tales have been pummeled, pressed, and forced into eternally variable forms, starting from anonymous fables and ending in popular animated entertainment. But do we lose something when we carve away all the layers of a story, or a character, and place in it instead our own values, our own narrative, our own words? If we present a character or story to an audience as de facto, that is to say an original work, why need our audience doubt it? I wish to present here the origins and developments of one such character, the Satyr, so as to suggest the true importance of literary and cultural heritage in the modern day.

So…the Satyr. A half man, half beast creature that allegedly emerged in works of Classical Greek mythology, and was most prominently associated with the god of ecstasy and wine, Dionysus (or Bacchus/Liber Pater in Rome), son of Zeus and Semele (the only mortal to father a god, Semele was Zeus’ mistress but swiftly found her death through the wrath of Zeus’ wife, Hera). Dionysus’ artistic importance in Greek society stems from his purported powers – to produce or inspire ecstasy – and many theatrical performances were attributed to him in festivals bearing his name. His legacy was one of exaltation, pleasure, and sexuality, thus many of the ceremonies ascribed to him involved the phallus and the theme of fecundity in the form of spirits such as satyrs.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - 2 Satyrs

Two Satyrs, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618

The Satyr differs from the Roman ‘Faunus’, Saturn’s grandson who was revered to bring abundance to the pastoral, in that the Satyr is endowed an (erect) phallus along with horse ears and tail, whereas Faunus is half man half goat. However, in the Hellenistic era Satyrs were also presented as being part goat and man, so this distinction can sometimes be arbitrary. Perhaps a more prominent distinction can be observed in ancient Greek artwork, where Satyrs were often painted alongside women (mortals) and nymphs, whom they would attempt to woo. In Classical Athenian theater, the triad of plays performed for the Dionysia would consist of two tragedies proceeded by a bawdy tragicomedy known as the ‘Satyr play’, in which satyrs would take on the role of the chorus. Not many complete plays of this ilk remain from the period, but Euripides’ ‘Cyclops’ is one such play that we have in its entirety. As is characteristic of ‘Satyrs’, Euripides’ play is founded on debauchery and immorality, the main themes of it being gluttony and excessive ingestion (testimony to Dionysus’ title of the ‘god of wine’). The Cyclops’ belly itself is described as the ‘greatest of all divinities’, and Silenus (Dionysus’ satyresque companion) along with his chorus of satyrs are eager for Odysseus to give them his wine in exchange for the Cyclops’ food. It is a wondrous satire of one of the scenes from Homer’s epic The Odyssey. [Carl Kruse: As an aside, Prof. Emily Wilson has released a new, modernized translation of The Odyssey, which I highly recommend).

Interestingly, the lewd and sexual nature of the Satyr and the figure of Silenus have been lost to time if we look to references of them in 20th and 21st Century literature and media. Mr Tumnus, the faun-like character in C S Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ (1950) is exceedingly tender and tame, despite his appearance being a sort of faun-satyr hybrid (he has a long, horse-like tail but also horns and goatish legs). The ‘Nymph and Satyr’ (1908) painting by Fauvist artist Henri Matisse is distinctly unsexual, aside from the nymph lying in front of him (which I suppose could be interpreted any such way), and with the satyr looking distinctively man-like.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Matisse painting

The Nymph and the Satyr, 1908, Henri Matisse

The satyr Grover Underwood in Rick Riordan’s popular children’s series of ‘Percy Jackson’ novels is also decidedly domestic, acting simply as a loyal friend to protagonist Percy, despite the fact that the series itself is supposedly based on Greek mythology.

Why is this important? Why is it significant that a character that continues to be portrayed in popular culture has lost its defining traits to time? Surely poetic license allows for us to make these changes? Well, yes. I agree. But I also think that this example is perfect in showing us how easily our literary and cultural heritage can fade away. In a few simple sentences, Rick Riordan has replaced the legacy of the satyr with something completely different, and I think it’s a shame to forget where these stories and characters came from in the first place. We are all influenced by what we read, listen to, and watch. As we increasingly rely on fast-paced pleasures such as social media and video games, our interest in the past wanes. Everything is moving faster, everywhere there are new possibilities, all around new futures tempt fewer people to go to university. We don’t need to spend three years learning about one field anymore in the hope of pursuing a career that brings enough money in. We can do short entrepreneur courses or make money through social media outlets. Increasing your intelligence through persistent long-term study is no longer as desirable – it has become a waste of time. You can get all the answers you could ever want through the internet.

I think there’s an alarmingly steep uphill trend of shortening attention spans aligned with the increasing normality of seeing six-year-olds with smartphones, and I find that disarming. Classics and robust tomes of literature were most definitely not shoved down my throat while I was growing up, but the names of such authors as Austen, Lawrence, and Homer were certainly not unknown to me. I loved to sit down and read thick, musty novels through day and night, often becoming so invested in the storyline of a certain protagonist that it would take an almighty level of strength to pull myself away from a book so as to have an agreeable amount of sleep. I used to get reading lights in my stockings at Christmas which only exacerbated my unhealthy night-time habits.

Through our increasing reliance on the internet to solve every question or dilemma, I do believe we have become, or are becoming, quite base thinkers. We are more inclined to rely on the satisfaction derived from a ‘like’ or ‘share’ on a social media post, our primary mode of communication, than to seek it from reading or researching the shelves in a library. Popular classic novels have been turned into graphic novels so they’re easier to ingest, and there is an ever-growing market for pseudo-babble texts that tell you how to improve your life with various methods of spirituality and finance-management. These books employ lists and short phrases to cater to our inability to concentrate on a single idea for longer than a page. Complexity seems unappealing, and ease and speed of ingestion of information is what we now seem to seek.

Reading a long book takes discipline, and time, something many of us don’t have a lot of anymore. But it also takes passion, and with a world endlessly bombarding us with all of the exciting and different things we could be doing with our time we often feel inclined to leave the quiet, secular activity of reading to one side. Even just a hundred years ago, primary and secondary schools often still taught Latin, and reading the ‘canonical’ works was non-negotiable. Though in saying that, there is much to be said about the validity of ‘canonical’ works, and I value the attempts by many university institutions to vary this ‘canon’ to include non-native English writers and literature from marginalized authors.

Why not delve deeper, why not exchange a moment of time you would normally spend binge-watching a television series on something that takes more work, more imagination? Why not pick up a fat book, one that makes you feel when you open it to the first page that it is so impossibly long that you could never possibly finish it? Why not read the books that have influenced timeless authors through the centuries, and see if they inspire you just as much? Why not invest time learning about the history of all of the art and literature around you, all that made us what we are today?

The blog homepage is at https://carlkruse.net.
Contact: carl At carlkruse DOT com.
Other articles by Hazel Anna Rogers include When Did We Stop Criticizing Art and Paper Books, E-Book Dreams.
The blog’s last post was on Brunelleschi’s Dome.
Carl Kruse is also on the Goodreads book site.

Marina Abramović, Grandmother of Performance Art

By Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

This story begins with a woman standing motionless in a room. Half-naked, a trickle of blood dribbles on her breasts, her eyes swollen with tears, and a gun is aimed at her while surrounded by a group of men. This is not the scene from a crime film, but one of Marina Abramović’s best known performances. 

The performances of the Serbian artist make noise, scandalize, and are often frightening in their ability to dig into the darkest caverns of the self, playing on the border between life and death. Her works are cathartic rituals that push the viewer into the abysses of their soul and then bring them back to the surface, purified. Maybe better. 

Everything has been said about her, for better or for worse. What is certain is that regardless of the judgments, Marina Abramović has revolutionized the world of performance art, making each of her works an event to be told to others, like an adventure, a journey into the depths of oneself. 

Marina Abramović (Belgrade, 1946) is a Serbian artist, naturalized in the United States, and active artistically since the 1960s. She is famous for performances that explore the most instinctive (and often obscure) traits of the human soul. She defined herself as “Grandmother of Performance Art” to underline the revolutionary significance of her way of understanding artistic performance which, in her case, often involves the participation of the public, both mentally and physically. 

Marina Abramović’s biography offers interesting insights right from the start. Her parents were partisans during the Second World War while her grandfather, a patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was even proclaimed a saint. 

There are three key cities to tell her story: Belgrade, Amsterdam, and New York. 

Belgrade is her homeland, where she took her first steps in the world of art, attending the Academy of Fine Arts from 1965 to 1972; Amsterdam is the city where she met the German artist Ulay, a fundamental partner in her creative activity and life; finally, New York, the city of consecration, where the artist still resides today. 

But what is performance art? 

Performance art is an exhibition consisting of an artist who presents themself in front of an audience and creates something unique. The term that defines this new art form was born in the 1960’s and places the event at the center of the whole performance: this art intends to live a unique experience that the artist shares with their audience. 

Hic et Nunc: this is how performative art can be defined. “Here and now”, an event that must be fully enjoyed at the moment, its aspects, meanings, and sensations must be grasped before these vanish at the end of the performance. 

Performance art is not just the work that speaks to the public, it is a dialogue that is established between the performer and the audience. It can involve multiple disciplines and can also be improvised or studied in every detail, enjoyed through media or live. The fact is that without an audience this form of art would lose much of its deepest meaning. 

The artist’s own body is often the bridge between artistic experimentation and the public. The performative turn makes contemporary art an event, a social, ritual, and spectacular act; in this relational art, the experience of the world becomes embodiment, not only mental but above all physical. The body becomes a canvas, testimony, and artistic medium. The importance of the body in performance art is such that it deserves a definition in itself: when we talk about performance art we are also talking about body art, art through the body, and of the body. 

Among the most famous works by Marina Abramović is the series of performances entitled Rhythm or the series Freeing The Body, Freeing The Memory, Freeing The Voice, performed in the 1970s. 

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Marina Abramovic 1

In particular, the Rhythm series was striking for the violence that the artist inflicted on herself, bringing her body to the extreme physical limit. Emblematic is the case of the performance Rhythm 5 (1975) during which Abramović risked her life.

The artist stretched out in the center of a five-pointed wooden star, positioned in the center of a room which was then set on fire. In this prison of fire, however, the air soon became unbreathable, so much so that Abramovic passed out, though luckily, bystanders noticed the problem and helped the artist escape.

However, the performance Rhythm 0, held in Naples in 1974, aroused even more of a stir. Here the artist stood in the center of a room where various objects were present (knives, feathers, ropes, scissors, even a gun) and explained to the spectators that for six hours she would remain motionless as an object and everyone could do with that body what they wanted. With impunity.

 After a couple of hours of hesitation, the spectators began to rage on the artist, in a violent and uncontrolled way: they cut her clothes, shredded her skin with a razor blade, pointed the gun at her. At that point other spectators intervened and a heated discussion arose that almost led to blows.

The performance, all in all, had worked. It had shown the worst of human beings who, if sure of impunity, risk giving vent to the worst sadistic fantasies. However, Abramović’s work ended with faint hope. Someone, in the end, had opposed that senseless violence.

In Amstrerdam in 1976 Marina Abramović met the German performer Uwe Laysiepen (aka “Ulay”). A profound artistic and sentimental union was born immediately. 

The series of works made in pairs is called Relations works: complex and disturbing performances, functional to explore the physical and psychic limits of human resistance and the theme of the man-woman relationship. 

Carl Kruse Art Blog AAA-AAA

 Their intentions are described in the Art Vital manifesto: “Living art: no fixed abode, permanent movement, direct contact, local relationship, self-selection, overcoming limits, risk-taking, energy in motion, no evidence, no set end, no replication, extended vulnerability, exposure to chance, primary reactions “.

The first performances that are conceived early in their relationship are physically extreme. In  “AAA-AAA”, “Relation in time” and “Breathing in / Breathing out” the two artists make visible the sufferings, contradictions and needs of the couple bond: they present themselves as an androgynous being, capable of containing male and female energies simultaneously.

Carl Kruse Art Blog, Relation in time

In the first performance, “AAA-AAA”, they sit opposite each other, emitting a monotonous sound that becomes more and more intense as the minutes pass, until it turns into a scream and one of the two gives up exhausted.

In the second performance, “Relation in Time”, made in Bologna, the artists influenced by Asian meditation practices sit back to back with their hair tied tightly together for sixteen long hours. The public is allowed to watch the last hour when overwhelmed by fatigue, the two begin to let themselves go physically.

“Breathing in / Breathing out” reaches an even higher level of suggestion: Abramovic and Ulay close their mouths with each other, plug their nostrils with cigarette filters and breathe the air expelled from the other for 17 minutes. until they collapse to the ground practically poisoned by the carbon dioxide emitted by the other.

In June 1977, in the midst of the sexual revolution, Abramovic and Ulay created “Imponderabilia” at the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Bologna. The performance is still part of the collective imagination due to the audacity and intelligence shown through the execution of a simple and impactful gesture. They position themselves opposite each other at the entrance to the Gallery, completely naked, thus forcing the public to pass between their bodies. The exhibition puts a strain on the Italian visitors, forcing them to deal with feelings such as shame and modesty, in a historic moment of transition from a puritanical society to a more sexually free and uninhibited one.

“Rest Energy” then raises the degree of difficulty of their artistic experimentation to the point of making them risk their safety: showing the public that the strength of their art lies in living it to the extreme, in order to create a fracture in the sensitivity of the beholder. The two place a bow between them: the arrow is pointed at Abramovic’s heart while Ulay pulls the string back. The center of gravity of the two is abandoned, only the arch keeps them standing. The microphones record the heartbeats and the labored breathing of both: her life is at the mercy of the balance that is created between them: a slight failure could kill her. The performance lasts four interminable minutes, in which they manage to represent the concepts of time and trust in a single gesture.

Carl Kruse Art Blog, Rest/Energy

Abramovic and Ulay shared twelve years, loving and working together. In a recent television interview, she confessed that the last three years of the relationship were horrible: betrayals, misunderstandings, accusations. The more their fame grew, the more the couple’s relationship deteriorated. Ulay could not stand celebrity, while Abramovic manages to regulate it and benefit from it to make her ideas known.

In 1988 they decide to leave each other in their own way: a painful and private decision is transformed once again into an artistic act and a suggestive gesture for every couple who have decided to put an end to a great love. Their latest performance is “The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk”. The last epic act of a love that tried to make itself intelligible to everyone, so much so that it reached the degree of universality and of total sharing. With an action reminiscent of the one that inaugurated the beginning of their history, to honor the end, they choose the Great Wall of China. Walking each from the two opposite ends of the Wall, they decide to meet halfway after ninety days and end, with great emotion, their story.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay from that moment will no longer have contact for 23 years, until, on the occasion of the performance organized by her at the MOMA in New York entitled “The Artist is Present,” which forces her to remain seated for seven hours a day at a table with one empty chair in front of her, and anyone can sit down and watch her in silence for two minutes. To everyone’s surprise, one of the visitors is Ulay.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Artists Together

Unexpectedly, there is her old partner in art and life sitting n that chair, giving life to a moving moment: a performance in the performance – extemporaneous, unrepeatable – which, born in the age of social networks, will be subject to destiny of sharing by reaching the widest possible audience.

“I am half, he is half and together we are one,” Marina Abramovic said of herself and Ulay. Over the years, many critics and detractors have accused them of not having made true art, but however you view it, it cannot be denied that their works have created suggestions whose effects still reverberate in the eyes and conscience of those who decide to see their performances. Together they investigated the strength of an instant, the precariousness of the couple’s relationship, with its poisons and inexplicable balances and demonstrated the instability of the concept of time, giving in their way an essential contribution to human expression.

The Carl Kruse Art Blog – Homepage.
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Asia Leonardi include exposes of Frida Kahlo, Charlotte Salomon, and Jackson Pollock.
Her last article focused on Pop and Optical art.

Frida Kahlo: Flowers Are Born From Mud

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

On 6 July 1907 in Mexico City, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon was born to German parents who emigrated from Hungary. She claimed to be born in 1910, with the Revolution, with a new Mexico.

Frida Kahlo is a revolution. An artistic revolution, a revolution of thought, an overwhelming hymn to life that is born with every lively stroke of color; some approached her to surrealism, but Frida was the first to break away from this definition: “I have always painted my reality, not my dreams.” Pure energy, a living fire and an intoxicating passion, Frida Kahlo looks like a character straight out of the pen of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, small, proud, survivor of polio at six, and of a terrible car accident at eighteen that will leave her invalid, the art of Frida is born from her survival instinct. She dyes her pains with color, transforms them into beauty.

 “I paint flowers to keep them from dying.”

Carl Kruse Arts - FRIDA KAHLO IN BED

A strong, tenacious woman, a fighter: Frida is a disarming and full throttle scream, born from the awareness that you can always survive pain and that you must have the courage to be who you are, and to love yourself beyond the limits of your body. Frida paints herself crudely, in front of a mirror she observes and depicts her naked suffering with bright colors, the labor of her body, with pride, her eyes are always pointed, straight and motionless, giving the impression of probing the soul of the beholder. Facing a portrait of her, we are almost inclined to lower our heads, in front of the majesty of her figure, tense, suffering, proud.

“I lived from art, I lived from love.” A life between suffering and passion.

 At the age of six Frida falls ill with polio: her right foot and leg remain deformed, so much so that Frida hides them first with pants and then with long Mexican skirts. So, if when she is little she is nicknamed by other children “Frida Pata de Palo” (wooden leg), when she grows up she will be admired for her exotic appearance.

 In 1922, at the age of 18, Frida enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria in Mexico City intending to become a doctor. During this period Frida is part of the “Cachucas”, a group of students who support socialist ideas of the Minister of Education, Vasconcelos, calling for school reforms; she also shows interest in the visual arts but has not yet thought of pursuing an artistic career.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida Kahlo Self Portrait
The very first self-portrait: Self-portrait in a Velvet dress, 1926, Frida Kahlo

 On September 17, 1935, the bus bound for Coyoacàn, on which Frida Kahlo had boarded with her boyfriend, Alejandro Gomez, to go home after school, collided with a tram.

“I got on the bus with Alejandro… Shortly after the Sun train bus of the Xochimilco line collided… it was a strange collision; not violent, but deaf, slow, and massacred everyone. Me more than others. It is false to say that it makes us shocked, false to say that we cry. I didn’t shed any tears. The impact dragged us forward and the handrail went through me like the sword goes through the bull. “

Frida remains between the metal rods of the tram. The handrail breaks and goes over  her from side to side. Alejandro picks her up and notices that Frida has a piece planted in her body. A man puts his knee on Frida’s body and takes out the piece of metal.

The first serious diagnosis comes one year after the accident: fractures of the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, three fractures of the pelvis, eleven fractures of the right foot, dislocation of the left elbow, deep wound in the abdomen, produced by an entered iron bar from the right hip. Acute peritonitis, the patient is prescribed to wear a plaster corset for 9 months, and complete rest for at least 2 months after discharge from the hospital.

“For many years my father kept a box of oil paints, a couple of brushes in an old glass and a palette … during the period when I had to stay in bed for a long time I took advantage of the opportunity and I asked my father to give them to me … My mother had an easel prepared, to be applied to my bed, because the plaster bust did not allow me to stand up straight. So I began to paint my first picture.”

 Frida’s mother, Matilda, transforms Frida’s bed into a canopy and mounts a huge mirror on it, that Frida, immobilized, can at least see herself.

Thus are born those self-portraits that remind us of her, with her eyes dominated by dark eyebrows, particularly marked, which join the root of the nose like bird’s wings: “I paint myself because I spend a lot of time alone and because I am the subject that I know best.”

The Broken Column, Frida Kahlo, 1944

With these representations, Frida breaks the taboos relating to the body and female sexuality. Diego Rivera, her future husband, will say of her: “the first woman in the history of art to have faced with absolute and inexorable frankness, in a ruthless but at the same time calm way, those general and particular issues that exclusively concern women.”

As the months passed, Frida devotes herself with growing awareness to painting. She advances slowly, produces in small doses and small formats: what her health allows her to do: “my paintings are painted well, not lightly but with patience. My painting carries within itself the message of pain. “

Only towards the end of 1927 did Frida recover enough to be able to lead a normal life despite the pain caused by the various braces, and the scars left by the operations.

In 1928 Frida joins a group of artists and intellectuals who support independent Mexican art, far from academicism and linked to the popular expression: Mexicanism, which is expressed in mural painting, particularly encouraged by the state, almost certainly for the purpose of sharing national history with a large illiterate mass.

For her part, Frida creates her own figurative language to express ideas and feelings; the world contained in Frida’s works refers above all to Mexican popular art and pre-Columbian culture; there are, in fact, popular votive images, depictions of martyrs and Christian saints, anchored in the faith of the people; moreover, in the self-portraits, Frida is almost always represented in country clothes or with Indian costume.

In early 1928, German Del Campo, one of her friends from the student movement, introduces her to a group of young people gathered around the Cuban communist  Julio Antonio Nella, who is in exile in Mexico and who has an affair with the photographer Tina Modotti. It was Tina herself who introduced Frida to Diego Rivera: a very famous painter and muralist, even though the two had already met in 1923, while Diego was working in the Bolivar amphitheater. Of that meeting Diego remembers this girl … “she had a dignity and self-assurance that was completely unusual and a strange fire danced in her eyes.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida and diego
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

When Frida meets Diego for the second time, he is a heavy, gigantic man, Frida teases him by calling him “elephant”: he has already been married twice and has four children.

On 21 Agust 1929 they get married. She is 22, he is almost 43.

Due to the pelvic malformation caused by her accident, Frida is unable to carry out her pregnancies, and so, three months after the wedding, Frida has to have an abortion. In November 1930, Frida and Diego moved to the United States for four years for artistic and political reasons. In Detroit, Frida becomes pregnant for the second time, but the triple fracture of the acinus hinders the correct position of the baby. However, Frida decides to keep the baby, despite her poor physical condition and the risk.  However, on July 4th she lost this baby to a miscarriage.

 In 1934 they return to Mexico, Frida is forced to have an abortion for the third time and separates from Diego who, in the meantime, had had several adventures with other women, including Frida’s sister, Cristina.

Frida begins to have relationships with other men and other women and to be active politically. During the 1936 Spanish Civil War, Frida commits herself remotely to the defense of the Spanish Republic, organizing meetings, writing letters, collecting necessities, clothes, and medicines to send to the front.

In 1937, she hosted in her Casa Azul, Lev and Natalija Trotsky, who had been traveling since 1929, expelled from the Soviet Union.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida Red
Tree of Hope, 1946, Frida Kahlo

In the 1940s, Frida’s fame was so great that her works were requested for almost all group exhibitions held in Mexico.

In 1943 she was called to teach at the new art school: the Esmeralda. Frida, for health reasons, is soon forced to give lessons in her home. Her methods are unorthodox: “Muchachos, locked up here, at school, we can’t do anything. Let’s go out into the street, let’s paint the life of the street.” Her students remember her “the only help she gave us was to stimulate us … she didn’t say anything about the way we had to paint or about the style, like the master Diego did … She taught us above all the love for people, she made us love popular art “.

In 1950 Frida underwent seven  spinal operations and spent nine months in the hospital. After 1951, due to pain, she was no longer able to work except by resorting to painkillers: perhaps this is why her brushstroke is softer, less accurate, the color thicker and the execution of details more imprecise.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida and hammer and sickle

In 1953, at her first solo exhibition, set up by her photographer friend Lola Alvarez Bravo, she participated lying on a bed, the doctors practically forbade her to get up. It was Diego who had the idea of ​​carrying the large bed, drinking, and singing with a large audience. In August of the same year, the doctors decided to amputate her right leg.

Frida is destroyed, withdrawn into herself, reflects, and writes in her diary a phrase born from this period that becomes famous: “Pies. para que los quiero, si tengo alas pa’ volar.” (“Feet. why do I want them, if I have wings to fly?”)

In 1954 she fell ill with pneumonia. During her convalescence, on July 2, she participates in a demonstration against the U.S. intervention in Guatemala, holding a sign with the symbol of a dove carrying a message of peace. Frida died of a pulmonary embolism on the night of July 13, in her Casa Azul, seven days after her forty-seventh birthday. The night before she died, with the words “I feel that I will leave you soon,” she gave Diego a ring, which was to be her gift for him on their upcoming Twenty-fifth anniversary.


The blog home page is at https://carlkruse.net

Former articles by Asia Leonardi include those on Simonetta Vespucci, Charlotte Salomon, and Jackson Pollock.

The blog’s last post was “Are Memes Art?

Carl Kruse has an account on Behance.

Are Memes Art?

by Vittorio Compagno for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

The digital era gave birth to unique trends tied to the advent of the Internet. The source of many of these trends is as old as the internet itself, which is to say online forums. From these fountains of discussion, as in the ancient Greek “agorà,” emerged all sorts of culture and knowledge. A new form of communication emerged, based on inside jokes, common experience, and led to an iteration of the finest forms of communications: art. Bear with me.

If trends like being “Rickrolled”, the infamous “Gangnam Style”, or the “Ice Bucket Challenge” seem to have nothing to do with it, I’ll explain why memes are art.

First a quick look at two takes on memes:

meme noun
\ ˈmēm \
: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.
—by Richard Dawkins , source Merriam-Webster.com

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins, British
ethologist, early in his life

In 1976 the author of this last quote, Richard Dawkins, the father of the word “meme”, couldn’t predict the explosion of globally available digital social media through which this kind of “idea, behavior, style” could spread.

That memes were part of early internet culture was clear in 1994, when Mike Godwin, in his now famous Wired article “Meme, Counter-Meme” wrote:

A “meme,” of course, is an idea that functions in a mind the same way a gene or virus functions in the body. And an infectious idea (call it a “viral meme”) may leap from mind to mind, much as viruses leap from body to body […] When a meme catches on, it may crystallize whole schools of thought.

The evolution of memes

Internet memes have evolved since the text-based ones that Godwin was referring to, but the perception that a form of communication so powerful
could influence trends or ideas was already clear at that time.

The power of memes grew, from simple lines of code sent via the
56 Kb per second connections of 1994, to their current medium: images and short videos.

Images have strong evocative power. They can express a thousand words, because the unspoken often overtakes what can be said in conversation. The introduction of images represented a leap in meme development, as this new form of communication evolves rapidly. Dawkins would be proud.

Memes got better not just in visual quality but also in their communicative techniques, their appeal, and, their ability to describe cryptically a certain moment in time, or event. That is one of the most intriguing things about memes – if you don’t know the inside joke behin them, because you’re not in a specific group, someone has to explain them to you. But the moment that you understand what’s going on, why that meme was created, what made it funny, you suddenly become part of that circle. They are the externalization of what’s private and protected inside a group of people, that couldn’t be known explicitly perhaps until expressed by the creator, and that today, in this digital age, serve as a stand in of our ways of living and thinking. And isn’t much of art not that? Something we know to be true yet could not fully express ourselves to be revealed by the artist?

The reason memes have become more than text or images is they are now art.

Pop Art of our generation

Think about how, in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, the “Pop Art” movement wanted to set a new standard for itself, moving away from centuries of conventional art, trying to, as the name suggests, popularize art, and how the public perceived artworks. This emerging form of expression represented an evolutionary trend in art that goes generally towards the focus on an abstract interpretation of the artwork, and a tendency to bring into it what is common among the people like trends or celebrities or famous brands.

We’re living a new iteration of Pop Art, where, in line with the trend of previous years, what’s made by an artist is transcendent. This new course has been engendered by the Web, the main pilaster of a new vision of art that revolves around the dematerialization of the artwork.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Marilyn

Marilyn Diptych, 1962

Why memes

Memes are a form of art because they are not presented or appreciated for their beauty, nor for the little details, but because they express something the public can relate to. In still images, just like in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you don’t get just funny quotes, or dorky images, but the sub product of society. The only difference between the two movements is that there won’t be another Andy Warhol, or a James Rosenquist, because new memes travel at the speed of the Internet, gigabits per seconds of quotes, images, references, jokes, that are created and forgotten, and just like the iterative and perpetual process of evolution, only a few are remembered, often created by people hidden behind a
Reddit username.

That’s right, they describe our generation, along with other forms of art, like music, or movies that have been dematerialized from their conventional shape, and have transformed from the vinyl, or the dvd you had to buy, to your monthly subscription to Spotify or Netflix. Memes have become so important to our common culture that an online “library” archives thousands of them, avoiding the inevitable loss that the speed at which they are made causes.
When a form of communication becomes popular, you suddenly start seeing ads popping in using that same medium. That is the case with popular art in recent decades.

Today, with the rise of social media promotions, the same companies who didn’t know what a meme was, started to commission thousands of them in an attempt to appeal to young people. Some of them were actually good, but not all.

It’s clear by now that memes are not just ordinary pictures you find on the internet, they are art. Like Leo Tolstoy said, art is:

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in
oneself, then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Ceiling Car

Carl Kruse Art Blog Home Page: https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
The blogs last post was Thinking About Realism
Vittorio also writes about internet culture and technology at carlkruse.at
As an aside, Carl Kruse is a member of the Richard Dawkins Foundation – find him here.

Thinking About Realism

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Realism tells tales like any other genre, and it is odd that we should be forced through much digression knowing that point. What I mean when I say Realism is the specific genre of fiction that wishes to imitate contemporary life in a ‘realistic’ manner. Realism has come to possess a high-standing position in fiction, perhaps because of its focus on being ‘realistic’, though the terms aren’t interchangeable. Somewhere from the birth of Realism, the idea and notion of what is ‘realistic’ began to be associated with the genre. This confusion shouldn’t cause other genres to be remonstrated for their disobedience to the Realist notion of fiction, or to art more generally.

If the term, Realism, were put to me, I would immediately conjure up the nineteenth century. Courbet and his manifesto to paint ‘real history’; Dickens and the convoluted tales of Victorian London. What this meant for them, and it was something remarkable, was seeing history as it was lived in their own time. Courbet wanted to paint life in nineteenth century France, not figures from Classical mythology; Dickens wanted to scrutinize the culture in which he lived. Realism made fiction relatable in a new and subtle way.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet’s, The Stonebreakers – 1849

But as to being realistic, Dickens’ novels are full on inconsistencies and things that either aren’t true or are at least far-fetched. I’m not going to fling a novel aside if there are some inconsistencies, or ‘unrealistic’ things occurring. What then has Realism offered to vouchsafe an association with being realistic?  Victorian novelists were able to take large swathes of society and inspect them; compose a story through them in a form that is relatable and thought-provoking to the audience. The style of writing too, for the most part, took on a third-person narrator, an omniscient voice which the reader followed. Realism makes use of imagination to create events that could happen, and people that we might meet. It is this use of imagination painting itself as ‘realistic’ that gives Realism such force.

Realism united the storyteller with a vision of the ‘now’, bolstered by the ‘realistic’ framework. Realism is composed as any other genre of fiction or art is. The Realist artist wants to express something, to create something, as any other artist does – to bring something to attention, to express something from a different perspective. As for the case of Realism, there are solid grounds for viewing its formation as one directed towards social conscientiousness: Dickens’ semi-moralizing; Thackeray’s satires. Yet a piece of fiction Realism remains, and writing, as an ambiguous fiction, has always been troubled by its relationship with reality.

The story of Realism becomes complex when we cross into the twentieth century. The movements of the fin-de-siecle were more interested in style and expression than to show what was ‘realistic’ – but then again, this made a presumption between the link of Realism and the realistic, an easy connection that one might make. Yet what the outbreak of Modernism in the first half of the twentieth century shows us is a profound and incredible search for a form to express their time. This is arguably a search for what could be termed ‘Realism’. The fascination with the nature of time and the conscious mind made their work experimental but it does not mean that it was in any way ‘unrealistic’ considering what they understood about the nature of living. It was partly in search for a new Realism that gave rise to the multi-faceted complexity of Modernist art.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Marcel Duchamp Painting

Nude Descending the Staircase No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp, 1910. One of Carl Kruse’s favorite Modernist paintings.

If we were to see genres, and stylistic forms of writing, as trying to come close to certain forms of reality, we would be closer to something like a working critical framework. Take, for example, James Joyce’s Ulysses, for all that it details, it is also a tapestry of forms which work in different ways to express specific things. A beach scene can be written in sentimental prose, the contemplative in a stream of consciousness. Ulysses is postulating that different forms work to express different sentiments of life, and what a true ‘Realism’ would entail is a complex intersection of the various forms.

Yet arguably, as opposed to the search for new forms, the classical nineteenth century Realism reigns. Why this Realism has such a prominent place in our artistic tradition is hard to answer with any certainty; it may be its inclusive nature; its desire to tell the tale of the common citizen, and its association with the realistic only adds strength and appeal. On another hand, it seriously limits our capability to contemplate other truths that experimental, speculative, and fantastical genres may be reaching towards. When we read Science Fiction, we comprehend the story precisely because we can play the detective. We understand patterns and an idea of coherency. These stories can cohere in complex and interesting ways to engage the audience, producing a whole range of emotional and intellectual attachment.

And it is all the more remarkable that genres such as Fantasy and Science Fiction can evoke emotion without the tendency towards grounding us in a resemblance of our own world – with all the sense of meaning which that has. In fact, it offers such a fertile ground for developing ideas that represent, and express, features of our lived experience in a way that could not be described so in a Realist piece of fiction. The freedom from the Realist frame gives us yet another method of discriminating what we make of the world and of ourselves.

The Realist frame sets out to cover all bases but clearly is unable to do so. Realism is readily relatable because its strict desire to imitate the experience of life, though what that means becomes ambiguous on inspection. We begin to see that Realism is only a kind of imitation, not the imitation of life. Realism works on a hidden presumption that its style, its kind of imitation should be the case, but it must be remembered, or at least contemplated, at what loss does this imitation come? The act of creation is also that of seclusion and the question of representation is a huge one.

Criticism which presumes a Realist approach to judge something can neglect the finer, and poetic, devices of a narrative. The position of criticizing any novel is no easy feat, and it needs to scrutinize the method of the work. It is always interesting when a critic formulates a vocabulary for judging something, but there is a danger of this vocabulary becoming prescriptive, leaving supposed ‘unrelated’ features by the wayside – like the use of Realism, criticism judges by one side of a work which may offer a multi-faceted interpretation.

Indeed, some things come down taste. If you don’t like something you’ve read, or seen, you’re likely to begin to think of reason as to why you don’t like it. If you land on ‘it’s not realistic’ then you can safely be done with the problem of disliking something for no reason. That the term ‘not being realistic’ can be utilized as a ready-made objection removes us from the work of actually discussing the work; it does not show whether this makes the work unsuccessful in its own objective, or if its universally a poor piece of art, it only shows a favoring of a kind of imitation.

The promotion of Realism, through its association of being ‘realistic’, cuts through the ambiguity of what it means to write ‘realistically’. To recognize genre as an extension of style, however, gives us a capability to discern how art works to express itself. It may be our tastes vary from this to that, but I doubt it is so absolute. Science Fiction and other speculative genres sponsor a reality of their own – the fact that we can understand them and sense their coherency solves any ambiguity around that matter. This is not to throw away Realism, it is a wonderful frame of expression and can serve as an excellent foil to other styles, other kinds of imitation. However, the dependability on, and the standardization of, Realism, as more than a stylistic approach, sincerely limits our thinking on the act of expression.

Blog Home Page: https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
The last blog post was an expose of the ceramic work of Manon de Vlieger.
Fraser Hibbitt also wrote on the exquisitely quirky MONA Musem in Tasmania.
Also check out my blog on nonprofits at https://carlkruse.org

World of WearableArt: Blurring Boundaries in The Art World

by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

There is often a perceived disparity between the words “fashion” and “art.” Many people fall at the feet of, say, a Gauguin, a Turner, or a Matisse, but upon hearing the word “fashion” quickly recede into their boots, or worse, scorn and sneer its name. I understand (I think) where they are coming from, though I certainly disagree with such a reaction. Fashion has been given the name of Primark, Topshop, New Look, and other such enterprises. It has been awarded characteristics of triviality, frivolity, and superficiality as a result of its mainstream-media nature. But, while we don’t all paint or create art, we all wear clothes, and this is at least part of the reason for the popularity of pursuing fashion trends and observing the landscape of designers and seamsters. We are all at least somewhat picky about what we choose to wear every day, even if only for how comfortable and hard-wearing our clothing is. Fashion affects all of us. It can mean the difference between feeling good or feeling down when one leaves the house, or between being successful or not at a job interview. We can make statements about ourselves with our clothes, bring our internal sentiments to the fore with our exterior appearance. We can create art with our clothes, art just as valid as that on the walls of galleries. And that is what the renowned design competition the World of WearableArt (WOW) attempts to do.

In 1987, the little city of Nelson on the South Island of New Zealand hosted the first awards show in what would become one of the most innovative and flamboyant competitions in the world. The event was held outside a small restored cottage under a marquee dripping with rain. The mastermind behind this competition is Susie Moncrieff, inspired by a similar concept she had seen in Auckland years prior. Her idea has bloomed exponentially since that first show, where around 200 visitors came to watch, to over 60,000 every year at the event in the New Zealand capital of Wellington, as well as a permanent WOW Museum in Nelson where WOW found its humble beginnings.

WOW is not just a fashion show. It is theater, with all its excesses and vices, a show encompassing design with ecstatic movement and vibrant imagery. But what of the art? I must say it is most difficult to describe the pieces themselves, which are crafted by designers from over 40 countries and encompass the most exquisitely romantic of wearable designs to the most outlandish one can imagine. And often, the most impressive of the designs come from the least thinkable of places; in 2019, the winner of the Supreme WOW Award was Rinaldy Yunardi of Jakarta, whose design, “The Lady Warrior,” was constructed from recycled paper made into rope which he wove tightly together to form a gloriously regal outfit in cool golden and beige shades. The dress is brilliantly balanced in its symmetry and grace and is equally resonant with classical Indonesian influences as modernist structural brutalism. It’s beautiful, strong, yet fragile.

Carl Kruse Art Blog.  Image of The Last Lady Warrior - WOW - Fashion

The Lady Warrior by Rinaldy Yunardi. Photo: The Last Fashion Bible

Many of the pieces that emerge from the WOW show are far more sombre than this example of Rinaldy’s work. Some are so very nightmarish that they could only have come from the deep, dark depths of one’s imagination. Take ‘NightWraith’, the 2019 piece by Australian artist Ildy Izso, aptly modelled in the ‘mythology section’ of the competition. It’s a pure masterpiece in black, evoking such characters as Medusa and Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent. Despite its elegantly woven bodice and ornately jeweled eye-mask, reminiscent of the masqueraded balls of 16th Century Renaissance Italy, the piece is fantastically disturbing. Great spikes emerge through the shoulder-blades of the piece as though they had pushed through the skin of this mythological beast. Writhing snake-like spirals shoot from the head; long, Edward-Scissorhand-like fingers are poised in sophisticated demonism; metal chains choke the corset like makeshift ribs, and latex covers any visible skin, leaving the figure without a mouth. Yet, this piece is so stylish it almost hurts to look at it. The lace shoulder-cover is exquisitely delicate, the choker wondrously bejewelled. I love it, and I would even go so far as to say that I would wear it, albeit without the latex mouth covering (I think I’d prefer to breath).

Nightwraith by Ildy Izso

“Wearability” is a primary part of the judging process in WOW. Each piece is considered for 1) Its health and safety (i.e., can the model breathe and see, is the piece comfortable to wear), 2) The quality of construction – it should be immaculately created, and not inclined to fall apart, 3) The conception of the piece must meet the brief of the section theme it has been entered into, and entrants must explain their conception at length, 4) It must be (surprise) innovative. This is obviously of utmost importance – the entrant must create a piece that is completely original, whether in perspective, material, execution, or all of the above. Many entrants are increasingly focusing on environmental awareness in their works, as we see in Rinaldy’s piece. Fashion as a whole is gradually working towards sustainable work practices, in material sourcing, worker’s rights, and manufacturing methods, and I think that such a creative execution of these values in the form of the WOW competition is a brilliant way to bring such matters to the fore, and to prove that being environmentally friendly does not cost us style.

Let us end this article with one of the most astonishing designs I think I have ever seen (though, in terms of wearability, I’m not sure I could pull this one off). The piece I’m talking about is Jack Irving’s “Sea Urchin Explosion” of the 2019 competition. This United Kingdom designer has created works for the likes of Lady Gaga, and this piece brilliantly demonstrates his designing prowess. “Sea Urchin Explosion” is genius. A perfect blend of fashion and the natural landscape, an eruption of huge, vibrant red spines bursting forth from the human body. It does look like a sea urchin, an enormous, angry beast, perfectly symmetrical and blissfully satisfying to look at.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Sea urchin Explosion by Jack Irving - at the WOW festival

Sea Urchin Explosion by U.K. Designer Jack Irving at WOW

These works make me fall in love with fashion, and to me deem it a worthy art form to contend with my love for classical art. They inspire me to play more with my appearance, and to never doubt the impact that fashion can have in the art world.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go and put on the brightest clothes I have in my wardrobe, even if all I do in them is sit at home and write this article.


Find the blog homepage at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
The last blog post was on neighboring Australia’s Museum of New and Old Art.
Other articles by Hazel Anna Rogers include Van Gogh’s Chair and When Did we Stop Criticizing Art?
Carl Kruse is on Saatchi Art.

Simonetta Vespucci: Venus of the Renaissance

By Asia Leonardi

In the church of Florence of San Salvatore Ognissanti, where the secular exponents of her family are exhibited, rests today the beautiful Simonetta Vespucci in her secular sleep. But there was a time when the prodigious beauty was the inspiring muse of major Renaissance artists, such as Piero Cosimo, Verrocchio, Filippo Lippi, and one of the great interpreters of the Renaissance, Sandro Filipepi, known as Botticelli. The face of the lady was the most famous of the fifteenth century, reproduced in countless prints and on postcards depicting Renaissance masterpieces. Simonetta Vespucci was defined by her contemporaries as the “Living Venus.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Boticelli 2
Ritratto di Giovane donna, Botticelli, 1475-1480 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
Carl Kruse Art Blog - Boticelli 1
Ritratto di Dama, Botticelli, 1475-1480, Städel Museum

Simonetta was born in Genoa (or Porto Venere) in the year 1453, from the noble family of Cattaneo, in decline after the fall of Constantinople, the city to which they had linked their trade. She was only 16 when she married Marco Vespucci, an acquaintance that came to her through her mother’s family, more precisely from the lord of Piombino, Iacopo III Altopiano. Marco Vespucci came from a
line of Florentine bankers, to which the well-known Amerigo belonged, the one who gave his name to America. It is known that at the time the marriage between the exponents of the wealthy classes did not contemplate the importance of feelings and was essentially a suitable contract for consolidating assets and alliances (remember, in this case, the sweet letters written by Eloisa
to her Abelard, three centuries earlier, which described marriage as captivity, and adultery alone as the principle of true love), the testimonies of the time attest that the groom was sincerely in love with Simonetta. The union of the two young people, due to the importance of the families involved, had a wide resonance and was celebrated in the presence of the Doge of Genoa and the
local aristocracy.

When Simonetta and Marco moved to Florence, Lorenzo the Magnificent had just come to power. Under his enlightened government, and thanks to the skillful use of patronage as an instrument of political propaganda, Florence experienced a splendid cultural flowering. Theater of amazing encounters, crossed by minds such as Marsilio Ficino, Pico Della Mirandola, great painters such as Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, souls all close to the Medici, who became the protagonists of an unrepeatable artistic season that remains, in many respects, unmatched throughout history.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Simonetta Painting #3
Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as Cleopatra, Pietro di Cosimo, 1480 Musée Condé of Chantilly

In this scenario, Simonetta made her first entry into the city of Florence. Under the excellent relations between their families, Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano welcomed the couple in the Palazzo Medici in Via Larga (which currently bears the name of via Cavour, in Florence) and organized a sumptuous feast in their honor in the villa of Carreggi. From that moment on, the couple continued to animate court life in a crescendo of sumptuous parties, rich banquets, and joyful pastimes.

Simonetta’s adolescence, meanwhile, had turned into splendid beauty, giving her a slender body with a pale complexion, large, clear eyes that illuminated her face framed by wavy blond hair. At the time, all the most prominent young people in Florence were conquered by her grace, first of all, Lorenzo’s younger brother, Giuliano, who in the meantime, with great probability, became her lover.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Boticelli - 4
Ritratto di giovane donna, Botticelli, Galleria Palatina, Florence, 1475

In 1475, Giuliano, bedecked in dazzling silver armor studded with precious stones, and a helmet designed by Verrocchio, won, in Piazza Santa Croce, the knightly tournament that sealed the peace agreement made by Lorenzo the Magnificent with the other Italian powers. The palio for which the contenders were disputing was a flag, perhaps painted by Botticelli, in which Simonetta, crowned queen of the tournament, appears in the guise of Athena, with her feet resting on a burning olive branch, on which a scroll is placed with the French motto “La Sans Par” (“the incomparable”). The entire composition referred to the theme of courtly love, a great passion for medieval troubadours, for which
the beloved woman was considered sublime and unattainable. The event went down in history as the “Julian Tournament,” since it was a worldly event of great public visibility, celebrated with praise by many of the intellectuals of the time. In Angelo Poliziano’s “Stanze per la giostra di Giuliano de’ Medici” Simonetta appears decorated with these verses:

She is white, and her dress is white / But even
with roses and painted flowers and grass: / The
ringed crin of the golden head / Descends into
the humbly proud forehead.

In the opera, unfinished due to the death of the protagonist on the Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478, Poliziano sings of Giuliano’s love for Simonetta. The life of the young de Medici is abruptly interrupted, and the end of the beloved woman is no different, even though she seemed to wear a beauty immune from all pains and difficulties: the plague, chose to take her away on April 26, 1476, when she was still 23 years old.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Painting - #5
Venus and Mars, Botticelli, 1483, National Gallery

Lorenzo learned about his friend’s condition while he was staying in Pisa, and asked to be constantly informed of her health through an exchange of letters with her father-in-law, Piero. He even went so far as to send his doctor to the Vespuccis for a consultation. It was his agent, Sforza Bettini, who told him the news of the young woman’s death, who inspired the four sonnets at the opening of his work, entitled “Comment on my Sonnets,” to the Magnifico.
In the notes to the sonnets, taking a cue from the description of Beatrice in Dante’s Vita Nova, Lorenzo imagined that he had received the inspiration to compose the work one night, after having observed a bright star, which could only be the soul of the young Simonetta ascendeding to heaven to enrich the firmament.

O clear star that with your rays / Remove the
light from your nearby stars, / Why do you shine
much more than your costume? / Why do you
still want to contend with Febo? / Perhaps and
beautiful eyes, which have been taken away from
us / by Cruel death, which by now assumes too
much, / You have welcomed in you: adorned
with their divinity, / his beautiful chariot you
can ask Phoebus. / Or this, new star that you
are, / That adorns the sky with new splendor, /
Called hear, god, and our vows: / Lever of your
splendor so far, / That in the eyes, they have
eternal weeping zeal, / With no offense glad you
show yourself.

No less moved was the tone in which Bernardo Pulci recalled the uncovered funeral granted to the beautiful Vespucci:

But perhaps that still alive in the world is the one
/ then that seen by us was, after the end, / in the
coffin even more beautiful.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Portrait of Medici
Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici, Botticelli, 1478-80, Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin

A stunning honor for those times, reserved by law for knights only. Simonetta’s death was also wept by Girolamo Beniveni, by Naldo Naldi in two epigrams, and by Francesco Nursio Veronese in a poem. But what made the charming lady immortal was painting above all else, although, in all probability, she never posed for a painting. For a lady of her rank to pose would have been judged contrary to decency and social conventions; it was only in the sixteenth century that it became more common for high-bourgeois women to be portrayed by an artist. Vasari in the “Vite dei piú eccellenti pittori, scultori e archittettori” (“Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects”) writes of how two portraits were preserved in the wardrobe of Duke Cosimo I, one of which, he recalls, “it is said that was the one in love with Giuliano de ‘Medici” executed by Botticelli. But was the young woman in question Simonetta, or was she another woman loved by the handsome Giuliano?

Academics still dispute today on the identification of the portrait cited by the Arezzo man: was it perhaps the “Portrait of a Lady” from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, that of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, or the “Portrait of a Young Woman” from the Palatine Gallery in Florence?

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Birth of Venus by Boticelli
The Birth of Venus, Botticelli, 1485-1486, Uffizi Gallery

Although some critics speak more of a search for idealized beauty rather than a muse in flesh and blood, it is not difficult to recognize the similarity in many of Botticelli’s female portraits, which supports the hypothesis of the existence of an inspiring model. It is therefore believed that it is the beautiful Simonetta Vespucci who is depicted, half-naked, in the guise of the goddess Aphrodite in the “Birth of Venus” — an allegory of Love understood as the driving force of Nature; it is necessary to mention the last verse of Dante Alighieri’s Paradise: l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle (“the love that moves the sun and the other stars)” — in “Spring” as the goddess Flora, and as Venus in the painting “Venus and Mars,” now preserved in the National London Gallery.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Spring by Boticelli
Spring, Botticelli, 1477-1482, Uffizi Gallery

Botticelli’s obsession with Simonetta’s face, even after her death, made her an archetype of beauty with a refined and elegant air, eternalized in a timeless place, and which still today makes us associate her face with aesthetic canons of the Renaissance. If beauty, expressive purity, and formal balance are the most immediately recognizable figures of Botticelli’s art, it must be borne in mind that they still represent only a first level of interpretation of his masterpieces. The second implies a complex system of allegorical references, which refer to the Neoplatonic idea of the possibility of rising from the material world to the contemplation of the divine through beauty and spiritual love. A sophisticated symbolism is also present in the works of Piero di Cosimo, who imagined Simonetta in the guise of a topless Cleopatra caught just before the fatal bite in the painting, now in the Musée Condé in the Castle of Chantilly, accomplished in 1480, years after her disappearance.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - The Education of Pan - Lost in fire in Germany
The Education of Pan, Luca Signorelli, 1490; destroyed in the Flakturm Friedrichshain’s fire in Berlin of May 1945. Flakturms were heavily fortified German Anti-aircraft towers built during World War II.

A posthumous portrait — the author, in the year of the young woman’s death, was just a teenager — and perhaps posthumous also the marble bust of the National Gallery of Art attributed to Verrocchio and many other representations, including the lost painting “The Education of Pan” by Luca Signorelli of 1490, which all testify to the emergence of a sort of cult of Simonetta in the art world in the last decades of the fifteenth century.

The truth is that we do not know of any painting that has handed down the real features of Simonetta Vespucci to us. Similarly, no document has ever been found capable of proving that Simonetta posed for Botticelli, or at least ever appeared in one of his works. The most recent criticism has now dismantled these hypotheses, considering them a reflection of a true “cult” for Simonetta Vespucci which spread in the seventies and eighties of the fifteenth century in Florence and which exerted a considerable influence also on nineteenth and twentieth-century criticism. However, this does not mean that, at the time, there were no portraits inspired by the beautiful girl: in a letter sent by Simonetta’s father-in-law, Piero Vespucci, to Lucrezia Tornabuoni, mother of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Giuliano de Medici, reference is made to an
image of Simonetta that would be given to Giuliano after the girl’s death. The fact that the portraits of Berlin and Frankfurt (excluding the unappealing lady of the Palatine) have a rather high degree of idealization and could lead to a lot of discussion about the possibility of hypothesizing that one of the two is the “image” mentioned by Piero Vespucci. But perhaps, as the art historian Stefan Weppelmann recently wrote in a catalog entry on the portrait of Berlin, “the question of whether the Berlin and Frankfurt paintings represent Simonetta Vespucci seems far less relevant than their possible role of literary images and, consequently, their intent to depict the humanistic formulation of the ideal of beauty.” Because in the end, observing these works, we see nothing but ideal women who transmit to us the canon of the beauty of fifteenth-century Florence: and it is certainly not a small thing! In many admirations, her character remains an enigma: no woman of the Renaissance was given so many awards by her contemporaries and, if we consider that she lived only seven years in Florence, this veneration appears even more exceptional. Perhaps the young Genoese woman could inspire many artists precisely because she was prematurely torn from life, granting art only the promise of eternal beauty, combined with inconsolable regret for her loss.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Church in Florence - Image
Intern of the Chuch of San Salvatore Ognissanti, Florence

Removed from the corrosive action of time, Simonetta survives idealized, eternalized forever in Botticelli’s masterpieces with her gentle features, in
which her large eyes veiled with melancholy stand out, emblematic of the angelic woman coveted by the Dolce Stil Novo. One last curiosity: the church of Ognissanti, in which the mortal remains of Simonetta Vespucci rest, also houses the remains of Sandro Botticelli who, according to legend, asked to be buried at the feet of his muse. The reality, however, was probably much less romantic, because both the Vespucci and the Filipepi had their family tombs in the same place of worship, both having lived in the same neighborhood.


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Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com

Other articles by Asia Leonardi on the blog include an expose of the German painter Charlotte Salomon, Action Painting, and an interview with Berlin architect Andrea Liguori.

Charlotte Salomon, the Painter Killed in Auschwitz between Life and Theater

By Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Charlotte Salomon, a Berlin Jewish artist, was one of the most original and pioneering female painters of the 1900s. Her work “Life? or Theater? ” condenses her artistic career: some eight hundred compositions that trace her artistic life; an innovative style that we could compare to the contemporary graphic novel in which painting, comics, cinema, and theater come together, transmitting moments of touching historical and personal drama with immediacy and lightness.

Who was Charlotte?

Charlotte was born in Berlin in 1917 to Jewish parents: her father Albert was a surgeon and a university professor and her mother, Franziska Grunwald, was a nurse. Her mother committed suicide by throwing herself out of a window when Charlotte was nine, but the girl was told her mother died of a serious illness. It was also kept silent that this was but the latest in a series of suicides among women of the family.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Leben oder Theater.  Charlotte Salamon.
From the German, Leben = Life, Oder = Or, Theater = Theater

In 1933, following the newly enacted German racial laws, Charlotte’s maternal grandparents emigrated to Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, but her father,
with his new wife Paula Lindberg and Charlotte, resisted for some time as he was able to practice his profession. In these years, thanks to Paula, a renowned soprano, Charlotte was immersed in the world of music and art, so much so that in 1935 she was accepted being the only one hundred percent Jewish person at the National School of the Academy of Fine Berlin Arts. Here she learned traditional artistic techniques, while at the same time being exposed to modern works of art of the so-called “degenerate art”, which indelibly marks her style.

Over time, her life inevitably became marked by racial discrimination and limitations and on Crystal Night on November 9, 1938, Charlotte left Berlin to join her grandparents in France, while her father and his wife took refuge in Holland.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Crstal Night in Berlin, Germany
Crystal Night

One night in September 1939 Charlotte prevented the suicide of her grandmother, who had fallen into depression over the ongoing events, and in this circumstance, the painter learned of the long history of family depression. This upset the artist so, it catapulted her into moments of anxiety and despair that led her to see art as a way of salvation. Starting to paint with tireless energy that in what, two years, 1940-1942, would become her great work: “Life? or Theater?”

The bound volumes amount to 800 and when added to the preparatory drawings and sketches become more than 1300. This work of art can be defined as total and coinciding with the very life of the artist who narrates her exile in France, her daily life including her first love, in a setting that can be defined as a proto-graphic novel. The episodes are divided into acts as in a Singspiel (Austrian-German musical theatrical genre) and give life to a musical novel of exuberant expressive power, in which each table makes its own story and at the same time asks for a layered and linked reading.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon and her grandparents
Charlotte Salomon With Her Grandparents

A series of tempera with sinuous captions, rhythmic, onomatopoeic, and torrential words, which create a dual game between sound and color, sucking the viewer and dragging him into a world in which space and time blend and alternate. The expressionist lexicon is bubbly, detailed, and with rich and warm colors that recall Matisse, details of the oneiric dimension that recall Chagall, scenes of strong exasperation typical of Munch’s painting.

Charlotte outlines each event with a typical feminine delicacy, in which the language, absolutely unprecedented at the time, varies according to the subject treated. The continuous stylistic metamorphosis is testified by hundreds of sheets that directly or metaphorically touch the salient experiences of the painter’s affective and cultural training: photography, crippled negative, still image, deformed illustration.

Now I am a document, now irony, now oneiric metaphysics, now philosophical poetry.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Gouache

The staged memory is not immediate, it is the obscene private and public of the twentieth century treated and elaborated in words, images, and music, with characters, dialogues, fractures, changes of perspectives, temporal and spatial changes: a work that hybridizes codes and different languages.

Charlotte narrates the tangle between her personal story and the collective story and in both flows dramatic plots develop, creating a perfect symmetry between the catastrophic series of external circumstances and the inner tragedies of her personal life, improving a compositional tendency that tells events through trauma: pain is processed and not removed.

An alternation of real-life and Shakespearean staging, in which Charlotte recomposes the inner rupture given by the inexorable presence of death in her family history and at the same time in European history. Through the presence of Charlotte with her grandparents Gouache infinitely replicated masks or varied in shape, she can break the fatal chain of suicides, putting the whole of
history in the picture:

When the measure of life is full, it is necessary to start again from the theater.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon - Stolperstein
The “Stolperstein” for Charlotte Salomon on Wielandstr 15 in Berlin – Charlottenburg, Germany. Stolperstein – meaning “stumbling block” — are placed on the ground in front of the former homes in Germany of people killed by the Nazi regime. The Stolpersteine project was conceived by artist Gunter Denmig.

Time passes, but the terrifying wind of racial persecution blows over Europe. In 1943 she was forced to hand over all her works to a friend, and in September she married Alexander Nagler, also a German refugee. But soon the couple is jailed. After her incarceration, news about her life becomes fragmented. She died at 26, a few months pregnant, after reaching Auschwitz, perhaps on the day of her arrival following the terrible train ride to the concentration camp.

The painter was forgotten for a long time, perhaps for being too avant-garde, until Willem Sandberg organized a first retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, followed by important international milestones, and not least the choice of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev who included her in 2012 in the Documenta exhibition in Kassel saying, as Joel Cahen (director of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam) remembers, it was “her definitive entry into the world of modern art.”

Charlotte Salomon’s work, on the other hand, finds an Italian look for the first time with the publication and full translation of her “Vita? O Teatro?”, the illustrated volume with slipcase published by Castelvecchi Editore, which today remains an artistic and literary monument, almost a total work of art of a shocking force, a work that is intensely connected to today’s world, to the modalities of communication and relationships, based on images, sounds, and intuitive messages.

Perhaps the greatest book of the twentieth century.
As a work of visual art, it is a triumph. As a novel, it is a triumph.

– Jonathan Safram Foer

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon - Self Portrait

Charlotte Salomon – Self Portrait


Carl Kruse Art Blog Homepage: https://carlkruse.net

Other writings by Asia Leonardi on Andrea Liguori, Francesca Woodman, Steve McCurry and Escher.

The blog’s last post focused on the Van Gogh’s “Chair.”

Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
And old Carl Kruse blog is here.