Dutch PUNK!

In cities around the world the late 1970s/early 1980s marked high unemployment, housing shortages, and general political discontent.  Coming off the regenerative hippie movement and generation of 1968, youth culture was at a standstill.  Out of the doom, gloom, and boredom however, came the be yourself, do-it-yourself, scream-your-anger punk and graffiti lifestyle, iconic of the music of the Ramones and Sex Pistols.  Music was pared down to “no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll” and general anti-authoritarian attitudes were evident in styles of dress and demeanor.

Amsterdam was a European center for graffiti and squatter culture, epitomized in several DIY periodicals and posters new to the Beinecke in the “Punk Krakers” collection.  Krakers–“squatters” or “hackers”–dovetailed with militant punk as the housing shortage became more dire.  The center in Amsterdam on the Sarphatistraat was the “Zebra House,” was at once a gathering spot, a gallery, a punk “museum,” a barbershop, a homeless shelter, a workshop, and a publishing house.  Nurtured by artists Hugo Kaagman and Diana Ozon the graffiti scene pulsated through several DIY periodicals, the most influential of which was

“De KoeCrandt” – a pocket-size, stapled together, amateur-printed ‘zine that borrowed from such British examples as “Sniffin’ Glue.”  Literally translating to “Cow Newspaper,” De KoeCrandt was in fact derived from “the idea of a feces-stained inner edge of a toilet seat.”  It is no wonder, then, that one of the galleries housed at Zebra House was the aptly named “Gallery Anus.” (I read this in an anthology called “God Shave the Queen.”) Enough said.

“Follow No One Lead Yourself!”

Another periodical: “Zebra”
An issue titled: “Don’t Throw me in the Streets”

“Squat/Hack the Coronation!”

“An hour until the demise”

An interview with “Jesus and the Gospelfuckers,” titled “My father is a dick”

“A cry for attention”

If you’re interested in learning more about Amsterdam’s lively graffiti scene–famous to this day–check out the documentary “Kroonjuwelen” with original footage from the time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paris – May 1968

The student revolts of 1968 in Paris have assumed an iconic status in modern history.  With a long tradition of popular uprising and revolution, the French sought (once again) to paralyze the government and engineer change from the ground up.  What began as student protests turned into a full-fledged global phenomenon; a conflagration of youth and fringe culture radicalizing and resisting bourgeois authority.  1968 was a turning point for social change: from sexuality, race relations, women’s rights, to hippies, drugs, music, anti-war demonstrations, entirely new sensibilities were being formed across several demographics.  It’s the stuff of socio-cultural legend.

Paris ’68 remains the most monumental and most deeply entrenched rebellion to this day in collective memory, perhaps because of the prolific output of graphic protest posters, paintings, pamphlets, and more.  These materials and images were “weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it,” and provide a visually striking point of entry into the event that is wholly absent in mere narrative.  Beinecke is excited to have available for study 85 posters from Johan Kugelberg’s collection of works made at “Atelier populaire.”  A group of students and teachers from the Ecole des Beaux-arts, the “Atelier” made posters to agitate the spirit of rebellion.  These posters served as primary vehicles for disseminating information among participating students and workers.  What’s more, such artifacts are rarely found in such pristine condition; most were destroyed in the course of marching and rioting.  Many pamphlets and newspapers in his collection were physically recovered from the street by Phillipe Vermès, the founder of the Atelier populaire.  They truly offer a firsthand account of this explosive moment, as well as offering “immediate visual representation of the aesthetic of revolt and grassroots rebellion.” (Statement from Atelier populaire)

Out of the 85 incredible posters I include just a few here, but be sure to check them out in Beinecke’s digital collection, and of course, in the reading room.

“He’s ready. Are you?”

“May ’68 – The Start of a Prolonged Fight”

Proper Civic Action
On shoe bottoms: students (left), workers (right)

“The cops at Flins”
“The cops in your home”
(Flins is a town near Paris. ‘Flic’ is a derogatory term for police officer)

“For those who like ‘that'”
“For everyone else: boycott the vote!”

 

Richard Neville

Beinecke has acquired the huge and hugely irreverent archive of Richard Neville, Australian publisher, writer, and counter-culturalist.  Most well-known for co-editing the outrageous Oz magazine, Neville notoriously stood trial, several times, for obscenity. His dogged fight in the censorship wars and against the establishment during the sixties is documented in full runs of his various publications and in assorted ephemera and correspondence.  For the first time, documents related to his famous trial are available for study.  He wrote about all his freewheeling grooviness in 1995 in Hippie, Hippie, Shake: The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw ups—the Sixties. 

Among other gems, the British issues of Oz (1966-1973) are particularly spectacular.  In varying styles from photography to photomontage to psychedelic art, both the covers and feature articles give an unequivocal sense of Neville’s editorial bravura, the swinging sixties, and various socio-politico-cultural protestations.  It is not hard to see why some were offended.  Still in cataloguing, the Richard Neville archive will certainly prove an invaluable resource for the study of post-war counterculture.

“Love me I’m an ugly Failure”
“What makes hippies happen on the psychedelic bus?”

An inside page.  Naked woman on a toilet, superimposed over the Houses of Parliament. Inflammatory much?

“Beautiful Freaks”

Detachable poster spread

Architecture in Dialogue: The Peter Eisenman Collection at Yale

“Dialogue is the very core of the Eisenman Collection. Architecture in dialogue: with the fine arts and graphic design; with history, philosophy, political ideology and social agendas. Dialogue across disciplines and languages, media, formats, and genres.” – Kevin Repp, Curator

Moholy-Nagy’s “Dynamics of a Big City: Sketch for a Film Script” – talk about cross-pollination!

October 8th marked the opening of Beinecke’s latest exhibit, featuring the Peter Eisenman Collection of Modernism in Architecture, Graphic Design and the Fine Arts.  Internationally renowned architect and Charles Gwathmey Professor of Practice at Yale School of Architecture, Eisenman has assembled an electric collection of thousands of books, periodicals, posters, and ephemera from Europe’s interwar avant-garde in almost 10 languages (French, Italian, Dutch, German, Czech, Hungarian, Russian…) with some copies having passed through the hands of this period’s most eminent figureheads, like Le Corbusier and Theo van Doesburg.

Bold colors and even bolder typefaces: a sampling of periodicals from France, Italy, Holland, Hungary

With almost 200 items on display here through December, the Eisenman collection ecstatically tells the story of a changing and dynamic visual language, born out of a broken Europe seeking to rebuild itself after the devastation of World War One.  While architecture provides the point of entry, this collection is really about entirely novel modes of social, cultural, and political expression in a fascinating modernist moment.

The exhibit begins, naturally enough, with the birth of his collection.  As a graduate student touring Europe, Eisenman searched high and low–like a “dog to a hydrant”– for mentions of Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio and that time in Italian architectural history (1933-36).  He quickly realized how much he could learn about Terragni–a fascist architect–and the architecture of the period through design periodicals, like Casabella, and so widened his search for any journal published before the war.  Inside these pages raged a Europe-wide conversation about and between the avant-garde that would forever change his relationship to architecture: “These magazines are as much of who I am, and how I define myself, as any essay I have written or building I have designed.”  As Eisenman himself describes it, the collection represents a certain “attitude toward to the printed word,” which Beinecke is uniquely suited to showcase.  (Eisenman Letter to Director)

Casabellas from the 1970s

Curator Kevin Repp has organized the exhibit loosely chronologically, though the focus throughout is on the deeply forged networks of transnational communication and conversation.  At stake, of course, was the reconstruction of Europe and determining what role the arts and architecture would play in its new image. It was this dialogue that spurred unprecedented leaps in avant-garde production.  The collaboration between Paris, Amsterdam, the Bauhaus, and Soviet Constructivists not only allowed for blended styles and -isms, but bespoke a general hopefulness.  Several pieces show postmarks and addresses–an El Lissitzky futurist poster moves west, an Italian newspaper arrives in Paris for a Dutchman–signaling their physical movement through the mail and through these networks. Bauhaus professor and photographer/graphic designer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, in a typed letter to these magazines calling for continued support for the Bauhaus, points to the essential power of the transnational creative mode: “Art is a direct emanation of society in movement, more and more it evades regionalist milieus to assume an attitude that is not just international, but universal: ideas cross frontiers with the rapidity of the vehicles that transport them.” (Typed Bauhaus letter)

Alta Tensione, periodical from Milan, bearing postmark to Theo van Doesburg in Paris

A natural outgrowth of such lively exchange was a parallel mélange of graphic styles.  In periodicals architecture lends itself to varied interpretation as it finds form on paper.  The exhibit illustrates strikingly “architecture’s floating position in the rough-and-tumble interplay of modernists on the field of cultural production between the wars.” (Repp)   In other words, the centuries-old stark, academic divisions between mediums—painting, printing, photography, architecture, film—swiftly faded.

Lajos Kassak’s “Picture-Architecture” in MA

Polish revue “Blok” features the photo-montage-architecture of Mieczyslaw Szczuka

What’s more, artists played upon journalistic information and artistic expression in the periodical format.  No longer did the responsibility for meaning fall on words alone; visual groundlessness was as central to the message as the message itself.  Such innovations in “typefaces, spatial relations, color, line, and vector” made for an ambitious campaign to rethink perception, in posters, pamphlets, manifestos, exhibition catalogs as well as periodicals and books.  Bauhaus, for example, launched an enormously wide-reaching publicity campaign with fascinating results.

Two issues of Bauhausbücher – new revue for media blitz

“Parole in Liberta” or “Words set free”
Futurist pamphlet

An important current running through this exhibit is the avant-garde’s concurrent participation in political extremism.  Between Soviet Russia and Fascist Italy, such artistic and ideological output in the media was no idle dalliance.  For example, in the early years of Lenin’s Revolution, Soviet constructivist innovation boomed, neatly and powerfully embodying communist ideas.  As Stalin’s star rose, and with it Socialist Realism, such bold experimentation became less prevalent.  Mussolini and the fasciscts likewise made use of avant-gardist expression for political leverage.  See my previous post for more on that. In light of the future devastation of World War Two, one cannot help but ponder the political repercussions of building the world anew.

“Duce” – nickname for Mussolini in striking layout with photomontage, advertising the monumental “Exhibit for the Fascist Revolution”

Stalin appearing in “URSS en construction”

More than anything, the Eisenman collection begs to be looked at.  Just imagine the sets of eyes that passed over these issues, from Brussels to Vitebsk, architects of a new world.  What may seem old-hat by now—the black square, photomontage, Dada—held within it all the promise of novelty and liberty. Avant-garde visual experimentation is meant to be playful, to get a rise out of the viewer; and there is certainly no shortage of fun to be had here.

Cascading issues of “Pasmo” – in homage to the film strip

Classic El Lissitzky on the cover of “Wendingen”

Fascist Spectacle

Interesting events–both real and imagined–you may not have known about Fascist Rome. 

Mussolini famously had a flair for the dramatic.  As the leader of the powerful Fascist party in an Italy on the verge of civil war, he came to power by threatening a violent coup, the “March on Rome.”  Supported by some 30,000 Fascist supporters waiting just outside Rome, some armed with farm tools, Mussolini was confidently, if naively prepared to face the Italian armed forces.  His gamble worked: King Victor Emmanuel folded under pressure and appointed Mussolini Prime Minister on October 30th, 1922.  In a pompous display, the march triumphantly paraded through Rome anyway. (Though the Duce himself took the express train, save for a few photo opportunities.)  This symbolic spectacle that heralded Mussolini’s inauguration became one in a series of mass-media events that both popularized and legitimized the Fascist party itself.

Front facade of Palazzo at the Mostra

Ten years later, the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista or “Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution,” told the story of Fascism’s rise to greatness, bringing together items and relics–newspapers, letters, albums, manifestos–from all over Italy.  It was a wildly popular propaganda machine, attracting 3 million visitors. Making use of contemporary styles in graphic arts and architecture, the Mostra both modernized and monumentalized the Fascist aesthetic experience.  Teams of artists and historians meticulously designed 23 exhibition rooms at the Palazzo delle Espozione to affect an emotional, even spiritual response.  Depicting a “cycle of crisis, redemption, and resolution,” (Maria Stone) and frequent references to martyrdom, the viewer is led to worship at the altar of Fascism.  Beyond solidifying political support, the Mostra–which offered travel discounts and other perks to incentivize visitors–also became a nationalist celebration, a registering of what it meant to be Italian.  Italiani e stranieri alla Mostra della Rivoluzione at Beinecke is a huge volume which recounts the 2 year exhibit in detail, illustrated by large-scale photomontages.  It is fascinating to see this account of the Mostra by Franceso Gargano: as carefully curated as the show itself, Italiani e stranieri manages to legitimize Fascist aims in recognizable avant-garde fashion.

In another gigantic volume at Beinecke we learn of the elaborately imagined and haflway realized Espozione Universale Roma, or World’s Fair, of 1942.  Designed by Mussolini to celebrate 20 years of Fascism and stymied by the war, the EUR was also a project to expand Rome to the southwest, toward the sea.  The plans for a grandiose Fascist wonderland are fun to look through; talk about hubris.

Plans for the EUR pavillion

The EUR was slowly completed, though not entirely in the Fascist style, almost entirely for the 1960 Olympics.  The planned archway instead became a Sports stadium. Nowadays, it is a business and government district.  The NYTimes gave a great overview of it in 1999.

Chopin, part 3: The Milles Pensées

Chopin’s own “Borealis” in coffee stain

Along with voluminous correspondence, various writings, audiovisual material, and original artworks, Chopin’s archive houses his extremely hard-to-define, lifelong hoarding art project called Milles Pensées, or “1000 thoughts.”  He assembled these reminiscences, thoughts, and creative brainstormings in the form of scribbles, collages, typewriter poems, and ephemera pasted on printer paper, old correspondence, or loose manuscript pages. These 3000 separate pieces were found in two old suitcases, piled in without any detectable order or rationale for their placement.  About half are illegible handwritten notes that one can only guess at.  In fact, at first swipe it feels nearly impossible to understand any of the Milles Pensées.

A typewriterpoem and collaged coffee filter

The archivists in possession of it before Beinecke describe it as a “Work in progress,” and organized piles by similiarity in physical appearance.  Curiously, the rubberbands which maintain each separate pile seem quite old and worn, causing one to wonder how Chopin himself had used the rubberbands.  The way he had it originally is unfortunately lost to us now.  What at first feels like a monolithic, even frightening peek inside his brain and spirit, raising far more questions than it provides answers–Can it be read or a interpreted as a coherent whole, or is each document a piece unto itself?  How can we characterize what was included in the Milles Pensées and what is categorized elsewhere?  What role did the suitcases play?  Was it meant to be an installation piece?–the Milles Pensées nonetheless becomes completely engrossing and quite fun.

In shifting between morbidly religious and downright playful, a complex portrait of Chopin emerges: there are constant allusions to his experience in the war, his relationship to art, creation, and death, as well as very honest discussions of fellow artists, friends, and foes.  Undoubtedly though, the form of the project provides an unmistakable idea of the man himself.  One can just see him sitting up at night, chain-smoking with a bottomless cup of coffee, absorbed by this obsessive, deeply personal impulse. Such a unique set of objects–uniquely insightful and uniquely powerful–proves invaluable to the study of Chopin.  And this is the very first time it will become available for study.

 

“The small testicle of the Gods was used as an umbrella.”

Characteristic scribbling, on seemingly every surface

Poem, gum wrapper, and coin pasted to old flight itinerary

The Festival at Fort Boyard

Another gem in the Chopin library is a tiny brochure for an imagined collaborative art fair in the late 1960s, Festival de Fort Boyard. Don’t let the unassuming cover fool you; the inside packs quite a punch.

Fort Boyard is a 19th century fortification that lies about 5 kilometers off the French Aquitanian coast, between Rochefort and La Rochelle. Originally intended to defend against maritime attacks from the British, Fort Boyard never saw much combat.  Since the turn-of-the-century it has been left unattended.  But the fort would reenter the French imagination in 1967, as the final scene of Les Aventuriers was filmed there.  Later in the 1990s a game show, also named Fort Boyard and a sort of precursor to “Fear Factor,” was shot on location.  And its lesser-known claim-to-fame, of course, was playing host to an avant-garde art festival extraordinaire in the summer of 1967, organized by our very own Henri Chopin, Serge Beguier, Antonio Berni, Gianni Bertini, Julien Blaine, Gil Wolman and others.

Fort Boyard, off the west coast of France

Program for June 10th

With ferries leaving from Rochefort on the hour for spectators, the festival ran a new program each summer weekend.  The book is a collection of the programs, various related (and seemingly terribly unrelated) images, and a history of the festival, written by Chopin from the year 69000000000000. In it, he remembers the legendary and ongoing event which “defies time,” and likewise his fellow future citizens fondly extol the one art show that flouts “idiotic traditions.” He insists that no monument, not the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, nor any natural wonder has been able to resist impoverishment by humans the way Fort Boyard has. And he explains why: “In 1967, a few anti-establishment, anti-culture, anti-festival pioneers thought there needed to be a festival that didn’t actually exist.”  No wonder it has held up so well.

What goes on at an art festival that doesn’t exist?  A lot, apparently: Each week was carefully curated and programmed, featuring multimedia performance/installation pieces, some that, naturally, do not seem physically possible to make.  For example, Dom Sylvester Houedard enacted a “typing ballet” by writing a poem live on an enormous typewriter that required him to jump, leap, and stride from key to key.  This was accompanied by a Beguier’s “barometric color show,” or a collection of paintings that shift in color with atmospheric changes.  A week later, Gil Wolman’s program is described as “During the night of June 14th and 15th, Wolman will fill the bottles drank during the night of June 14th and 15th,” and this sentence repeats several times.  The week after that, Bertini would project 15 of his paintings onto a curtain of smoke at sunset, while Chopin performed sound poetry. What each piece has in common is there ephemeral, irreproducible quality; they do not exist.Photograph of a projected image

For Chopin, the Festival thought experiment was the “total work of art, the perfect work, the unprecendented child, beauty everywhere, absolute purity. . . . The true masterpiece after 20 centuries of trial and error.”  While Chopin and his collaborators clearly poke fun at the bloated arrogance of the art world and its obsession with consumer materiality.  In that vein, it seems this group successfully carries out a defense of plastic expression. The true work of art is the idea itself, the practice of imagination, and the fearless sensibility.  And the beauty of an art that does not exist is its total freedom from hegemony.  Mutiny in the barracks!

**Blogger’s note: After having studied this piece repeatedly, I was still unsure if this event actually took place or was conceived never to happen.  It did not occur, was never meant to, but one could entirely believe that it did. And I suppose that says it all.