Wilhelm Worringer was one of the most remarkable art historian/cultural theorists of the first half of the twentieth century. While he was a significant, if unintentional influence, on movements like Expressionism and different strains of abstraction, he seems to rarely be read at this point, while more dubious parasites on his work (such as Benjamin) have been glorified beyond reason. Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy (1907) was a key text for T.E. Hulme and Wyndham Lewis and his lesser known book on Egyptian art is remarkably consonant with much of what Lewis was arguing about art in the 20s and 30s. A student of Simmel, Worringer managed to be one of the best sociologists of modernity by not writing about modernity at all.
Egyptian Art (1928) was written as a polemic against what Worringer regarded as a false idea of Egyptian profundity, one accorded to them by a “glorification of the abstruse.” (27) He pinpoints an irony in the fact that what Europeans glorified in the Ancient Egyptians often seems formally comparable to that which they claim to despise about America (judging by the inclusion of Canadian examples, he means the northern continent in general). (x) His project then was to de-romaticize and de-heroicize the Egyptians, whose ancient civilization have been distorted through their late ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘degenerate’ phase after they had been infected by Hellenistic and Roman society and eroticized in their exotic qualities. False eroticism is coupled with false religiosity. If the Egyptians have a reputation for spiritual profundity this is due to the “fascinating power of the senseless. Nothing has a more profound effect than paradox.” (15) This paradox is the simultaneity of high material culture with a senseless ideal one. (16) The confusion of this resulted in immense fantasies for hidden or secret depths beyond the stereotypes and fancies, fantasies that are unattuned to the fact that “the heart-beat is audible only under pathological conditions.” (18) (more…)
“The atrophy of individual culture through the hypertrophy of objective culture is one reason for the bitter hatred which the preachers of the most extreme individualism, above all Nietzsche, harbor against the metropolis.” Simmel
Baudelaire casts the city and the modern as a kind of paradox. History is the transitory stretched out in eternity. The modern or contemporary consists of the most ephemeral aspect of the wastage of time’s passing. To be a great modern artist is to capture this excess as though it were eternal rather than to trap it within the cliches of the Historical or Classical. To be modern is to live within the specific gaits and gestures of one’s time, that is, to prepare to be an antique. The painter “makes it his business to extract from fashion whatever element it may contain of poetry within history, to distill the eternal from the transitory.” But the modern individual is no more than an animated antique. Their external life is all artifice, but this is the very material that constitutes them and which the artist captures (an artist only captures artifice and this is the ‘truth’ or the ‘soul’ of the matter). And from this matter Baudelaire spins more paradoxes: the nobility proper to artifice; the savagery found in civilization; the evil devoid of any spirituality. And each member of this trinity finds itself diagrammed out upon the body of the city and its inhabitants with their “emaciated flesh of consumption or the rounded contours of obesity, that hideous health of the slothful.” (more…)
From Blasting and Bombardiering (1937)
Meanwhile the excitement was intense. Putsches took place every month or so. Marinetti for instance. You may have heard of him! It was he who put Mussolini up to Fascism. Mussolini admits it. They ran neck and neck for a bit, but Mussolini was the better politician. Well, Marinetti brought off a Futurist Putsch about this time.
It started in Bond Street. I counter-putsched. I assembled in Greek Street a determined band of miscellaneous anti-futurists. Mr. Epstein was there; Gaudier Brzeska, T. E. Hulme, Edward Wadsworth and a cousin of his called Wallace, who was very muscular and forcible, according to my eminent colleague, and he rolled up very silent and grim. There were about ten of us. After a hearty meal we shuffled bellicosely round to the Dore Gallery.
Marinetti had entrenched himself upon a high lecture platform, and he put down a tremendous barrage in French as we entered. Gaudier went into action at once. He was very good at the parlez-vous, in fact he was a Frenchman. He was sniping him without intermission, standing up in his place in the audience all the while. The remainder of our party maintained a confused uproar. (more…)
Half of the Holly King show at Art Mûr is a retrospective. She’s been doing this for 30 years. I’ll confine myself to addressing the new work, though it’s worth noting that while her work has become warmer in hue, it’s also become less romantic in tenor. Made up principally of photos and a few viewing contraptions, A la frontière du mystère features studio created landscapes blown up as large photo prints. Sometimes the backdrops to these images are painted with loose brush work in swirling Sunday painter style as mildly whimsical skies. Sometimes they are enlarged, glossy tourist getaway brochure type images filled with glinting pebbles. In both cases, she places what amounts to still lifes of largely dead plants and the occasional gewgaw in the foreground and in focus. Sometimes these are a bit glittery to play against the background. The few smaller, strictly still lifes against black play this angle more, covering the dark grounding with what looks like a shower of dandruff, or maybe it’s glitter.