Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two Weeks in Brief

Since last writing I learned (in Freiburg) that Otto Dix must have looked hard at the work of his sixteenth-century forbears such as Lucas Cranach and Hans Burgkmair; (in Wolfegg) that a collection of prints of flowers bound up in a volume several centuries ago is the best bouquet imaginable; (in Nürnberg) that sometimes ornament prints escape from the pages of applied decoration to float freely in the atmosphere like some outrageous but rigorously symmetrical begonia that has uprooted itself to masquerade as a hallucination (a not so symmetrical but related example shown here); and (in Coburg and in Nürnberg) that in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Germany landscape prints and drawings have the ability to transport you, though I think you are not transported to a time or a place but to one of those memories we have all had, a memory of a day in nature that seemed perfect.

While at the Veste Coburg I managed to catch the last few days of a very fine exhibition about aquatint up to and including Goya. The exhibition and its catalogue were a wonderful collaboration between a print curator and a paper conservator who did not balk at attempts to recreate the processes of Sanby, Le Prince and Ploos van Amstel. Here are the details:

Christiane Wiebel (with contributions by Wolfgang Schwahn). Aquatinta oder "Die Kunst mit dem Pinsel in Kupfer zu stechen" Das druckgraphische Verfahren von seinen Anfängen bis Goya. ISBN: 978-3-422-06693-9

I’m also attaching a photograph of two chopped bicycles boasting “PimpGarage™” labels that can be seen parked on the streets in Nürnberg.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I spent all of yesterday looking at an assortment of prints by Erich Heckel made between 1907 and 1965. I’m not ready to try to put any related ideas into language yet -- thoughts about the intricacies of carving faces and landscapes are still churning (the detail shown was not photographed on this trip). I also had a chance to look at a stunning little drypoint done by Ludwig Meidner in 1913. The effect was a bit like looking into a small glass orb to see a city coming apart as if under some extreme gravitational influence; or maybe it is better described as a city that is shaking apart because the routine laws of perspective have failed; or perhaps it is a city in which matter is strung out like laundry on lines that have snapped and so they no longer converge. I’m going to extreme lengths not to use the one word that is always used to describe Meidner.

Today, October 3, is an anniversary of German reunification. For the past few days the German television networks have been working up to this national holiday with a movie, with interviews and with other specials focusing on the difficulties of divided Germany prior to October 3, 1990. These programs have been discussed as an attempt to remind that part of the population that suffers from “Ostalgie” -- the nostalgia for life as it was in the East (Ost) -- just how grim existence was under the control of the East German secret police.

he most prominent of these televised features was a film (Die Frau vom Checkpoint Charlie) about Jutta Gallus (now Gallus-Fleck) and her daughters. Gallus is the brave woman who had been a political prisoner in East Berlin but was eventually “traded” to the West in exchange for a large payoff. The cruel twist is that Gallus’ release meant that she was forcefully separated from her young daughters who had to remain in East Berlin. Some of you probably remember photographs of Gallus
near Checkpoint Charlie where she demonstrated daily beginning in 1984, wearing signboards about her daughters and her divided family. After the movie was screened the real, and articulate Jutta Gallus and her grown daughters appeared for a round-table discussion that would seem to put to rest any lingering glorification of a police state, but no doubt the situation is more insidious than that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Imagine that you are a museum worker in Belgium in 2007 and one day you stumble upon some old photographs of your museum taken during the occupation of the early 1940s. While the facility and all of its spaces look familiar, you are disoriented by this photographic image because there are solders wearing armbands and carrying rifles in the galleries. A colleague recently shared just such an experience with me. Imagine also that you are doing research in German museums and libraries and sifting through the holdings of used bookstores. It dawns on you that what you are seeing, and more importantly what you are not seeing, has a lot to do with political situations that started to unfold about a century ago. What was created under duress, what was banned, what burned during an aerial attack, what is missing because it was sold to far-away collections? There are reminders at every step, and they are living reminders: colleagues with personal histories; buildings that, for whatever reasons, have or have not been restored; books and prints only recently catalogued and indexed. While visiting a rural landscape recently I made a comment about a quaint duck pond and was reminded that there was a good chance that it was an old bomb crater. In another idyllic, rural landscape in another country another colleague pointed to the Black Forest “there” and the famous vineyards of Alsace “there” and the site of furious bloodletting toward the end of the First World War “there.”

Against many odds, the resources in European print collections are staggering, consider the sign outside of the Dresden study room for graphic art (housed in the castle or Residenzschloß that is pictured here):

The Kupferstich-Kabinett holds some 500,000 drawings, prints and photographs dating from the late 14th century to the present. Due their sensitivity t light, these works of art cannot be on permanent display.

The Study Room provides all visitors – scholars and laypersons alike – with the opportunity to examine the holdings of the Kupferstich-kabinett even when not on display in special exhibitions (...)

ight on!

ince I can’t post images of prints from my recent study visits I will post a British Satirical print by James Gillray (courtesy of
Wikipedia) that illustrates, however painfully, the realities faced by at least one quasi-vegetarian who dabbled with options in the land of bratwurst.

I’ll also share two
photos of bicycles that I took just before leaving Berlin. One is a rental bike of a variety seen parked randomly around the city. If you need a bike you call the number posted on the vehicle, give a credit card number, and the device is unlocked via a radio transmission (or that is my hypothesis) – to learn more see The only thing better would be the honor system (which is used on the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum ). The final photo is just a reminder that the honor system doesn’t always work when humans are involved.