Saturday, May 8, 2010

A. Broken Museum

A. Broken Museum was an installation/performance piece that debuted at last year's Wilmington Fringe. It was a collaboration between three of us and more fun than, well, anything. Its genesis came from a conversation Rich & I had after a visit to MOMA's P.S.1. The collection is mostly Rich's - a long time lover of bad art - except for the truly horrible paper mache/mixed media sculpture Phillip & I did.

I invented some names and titles for the pieces (except for Rich's brilliant naming of Mind the Gap: Subterranean Escherlator Hoppers) and wrote short critical essays about them. (The incomparable Darcie Kileen provided invaluable editorial assistance and some fabulous lines.) Rich's friend, the great Eddy Seger, joined the fray as the museum's docent and contributed a piece about the history of the Broken clan, further inspiring me to write short curator biographies. Eddy's genius set design and amazing performance was the cherry on the top of it all.

Seriously, it was a blast and, again, more fun than anything ever in the history of fun. 

Here's the content from the brochure we published for it, followed by pictures from Eddy's (did I mention *brilliant*?) performance.

A Brief History

Alphonse Raul Broken, of Dutch and Italian parentage, emigrated from Austria to the United States in 1911 in hopes of starting a glass factory. In nine short years, he became a wealthy magnate of industry, president of the now famous Broken Mirror and Glass Company. With his amassed fortune and special vision, he pursued his lifelong interest in the visual arts, encouraging young artists to “break the mold,” a phrase he coined. Searching out the most provocative and telling images, he chose additions to his ever-growing and sumptuous collection by applying concepts he developed with Freud to create a mind-expanding, elevating and eclectic array of visions seldom seen in the civilized world.

In his quest for excellence and gravitas, Alphonse enlisted the considerable talent of noted art historian, collector and connoisseur, R. Neumann. Known as the Bonnie and Clyde of the art world, together they scoured the world for just the right blend of pathos and irony, immediacy and sagacity, profundity and diaphanousness. The results of their decades-long quest are self evident, inspiring, even astounding.

In the meantime, his son, Arthur – a man with no vision – plowed the glass business into the ground (going broke) and ran off with a floozy from Wichita Sadly, Art has not been seen since 1953, the same year the company closed.

With nothing but his collection, Alphonse – broken and destitute – died in 1984 in a choking incident with an eye dropper at the Brunswick Lanes in Trenton, New Jersey. Profound to the last, as he lay in the alley, his final words were, “Where is Art?” He left his life’s work to his beloved and proudly unpublished grandson, Albert Broken, Professor of Art Criticism and the Id at the renowned Goya Institute of Hoboken. Unfounded questions raised about the provenance of some of the pieces and a falling out with relatives of R. Neumann have contributed to the transient nature of the menagerie of art.

Litigation precludes any further discussion of the matter.

Jungian Halloween, Unknown

  R. Neumann, intrepid art collector, discovered this painting in an abandoned asylum in 1997. From its location in the art room of the high security wing, we can deduce that our anonymous painter was considered by contemporary mental health professionals to be a highly dangerous, possibly violent, inmate. All facility records were lost during the Halloween fire of 1953, which destroyed the wing’s administrative offices and resulted in the unfortunate demise of all in-house staff. The fire also destroyed any last trace of the artist’s true identity. The work itself reveals few clues to the mystery, but we can confidently deduce that the painter was undergoing Jungian analysis given the art therapy component of the treatment and obvious use of visual archetypes.

The imagery invokes atavistic fears from both the collective unconscious and an intimate fear of the magical, evil world: a ghost howls as it flies above, almost indistinguishable from the passing clouds; a crone stares blankly ahead, resting her shovel on the mound of a fresh burial; a cat’s glowing red eyes scream as its body contorts in a rictus of pain, its shape suggestive of the Egyptian symbol for eternal life, though in this case, the creature faces an eternity of pain; dark, ambiguous figures (faces? bats? misshapen monsters?) hide in the inky night.

The pivotal image of the painting dominates the right foreground: a deformed face in a nightcap appears at the edge of an egg-shaped pool of primordial ooze. The red cap, a hat intended to be worn while sleeping, suggests that the figure is not far from his or her residence, which is likely represented by the orange building in the background. The lone head cuts a desperate figure as it is being consumed by substance, not emerging from it. Given the provenance of the painting, we can assume that this behatted soul represents a self-portrait and depicts the artist, helpless in the grip of devouring madness and evil.

Death Did not Stop (for) Me, Eleazar Granby

Eleazar Granby, a Vermont native and life-long resident of Wheelock, left the state to attend Dartmouth College where he studied art for two years as a rather promising student whose work was noted with distinction by his professors. After losing a duel to a fellow student in 1813, he was dispatched home in disgrace with a letter of expulsion and severe wound to the head. (The reason for the duel was never disclosed, though contemporary sources mention something of a scientific experiment gone awry. We will never know for certain.) A long and painful recovery ended any further educational opportunities for young Eleazar. The would-be artistic master made a career from his meager art education, first as a portrait painter to wealthy families and later by painting custom highway billboards for merchants across northeastern Vermont. Burma Shave was his most notable client. Disaster struck Granby again, this time in the form of the 1968 statewide-ban of billboards. His business destroyed, Eleazar retreated to his family home where he lived a life of reclusive, genteel poverty until his death in 1983.

After Eleazar’s death, a large body of work was discovered in his attic. His heir, a pipeline worker from Alaska who knew nothing of his relative’s artistic past, hired a noted art historian to evaluate and catalogue the collection, which was eventually attributed to Granby. This painting, which J. Brown considers the gem of the collection, demonstrates the debt Eleazar owed to the post-impressionist school of art, Paul Gauguin in particular.

That Granby titled this painting is clear. Mentions of the work can be found in diaries and on the back of the canvas, where it is scrawled in the artist’s hand. A penciled subtitle is barely visible: “bastard, utter sodding bastard.” Brown believes this line was added at a later date, along with a scribbled transcription of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” with nearly illegible marginalia. “Death cheats,” and “nothing kind… no stopping” are the only two comments reliably legible.

Echoing Gauguin’s masterful Self Portrait with Halo, this painting similarly addresses issues around the meaning of existence and human participation in the divine. Rather than focusing on the origins of good and evil and the expulsion (or escape) from Eden, Eleazar explored his self-described “cursed state of unceasing life.” Letters penned by the artist as well as interviews with people in Wheelock confirm that he believed himself to be damned to a “cruel approximation of immortality” where he continued to age and decay, “slowly dying by inches.”

While such claims cannot be reliably corroborated, the painting does show a figure that bears closer resemblance to a death mask than the face of a living man. Town and state records also document a life span not easily explained by conventional medical science. The inclusion of the coffee in the right foreground and cheerful, painted greeting also allude to his seemingly impossible age. Accounts of various townspeople suggest this imagery represents a cruel irony; a fervent coffee connoisseur for most of his life, known by former neighbors as the original Mr. Coffee, Eleazar was completely bedridden for the last seven years of his life and completely unable to consume any liquid or food by means other than a feeding tube.

“…Coffee, Sugar?”, J Lutz

Interconnectedness dominates this painting. Sinuous, curving lines connect multiple objects: the line of the woman’s arm flows into a coffee pot then connects a stream of coffee to an overflowing mug, spilling over on the table. Lack of perspective also creates connections as the various planes tilt into each other at improbable angles, forcing intersections and shared spaces where dimension would otherwise naturally separate the objects. The headless figures in the painting--a woman and her seated companion, perhaps a male, though the gender is ambiguous--also suggest a universalizing anonymity and thereby echo the stylistic connections: viewers can easily imagine themselves as one or both of the figures.

A closer analysis of the figures prompts questions, particularly around the woman. At first glance, it’s easy to assume that she is a waitress, but details of the painting are vague enough that she could also be an aproned housewife. The only certainty is that she is in a position of servitude. Also of interest are the stylized and asymmetrical breasts. While generous in size, they are ill proportioned and nearly deformed: on the left side, the bosom ends in a rigidly straight line; on the right, in a bulging curve. The exaggerated cleavage is similarly incongruous. Her bosom, though bounteous, is obviously malformed. This juxtaposition creates both a visual and subjective tension: a stock convention of desire is quashed.

Further subversion reveals itself in the painting’s attitude toward and expression of female subjection. Coffee cascades over the lip of the mug to splatter on the table. The aesthetic quality of the overflow helps mask the menace posed to human skin by hot coffee, but doesn’t change its threat. Note the claw-like hand tipped in carmine nails, hovering just above the breakfast eater’s hand, hinting at an imminent attack. The neat path of the coffee completely misses the exposed hand of the seated figure (presumably male), darkly suggesting that that any action taken by the female to assert her own power may be ultimately futile.

Perhaps the coffee is obeying a higher power. Traces of the divine are evident in the silverware included in the piece. The holy breakfast trinity of eggs, bacon, and toast suggest that the woman, server of the blessed breakfast, is in subtle control of the repast. Forks are in the shape of a trident, calling to mind “the devil’s pitchfork,” as well as the scepter held by the Hindu god Shiva. Maybe the woman’s power holds the burning coffee in check, power that can be unleashed only when she understands her own potential and is ready to wield the trident of her soul as a tool of subversion.

Ducit Amor Patriae, Zaki bin Ridzuan

Zaki bin Ridzuan, an Malaysian-American painter, came to the United States in 1972 at the age of thirteen. His father, Vasan bin Ghazaly, was a famous painter of the Swadeshi school of art and his mother, Mitzi Weathers, was an agricultural engineer for the United Nations. When his parents died in a car accident driving along the California coast, Zaki and his younger brother, Eysa, moved to Billings, Montana to live with their maternal aunt. The harsh Montana climate was a significant change from the boys’ upbringing in southern California.

Determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, Zaki applied himself to the study of art and with the encouragement of his guardian, he attended a program for young artists at Carroll College in Montana the summer of his sixteenth year. Though he was enthusiastic and dedicated, professors attempted to gently discourage his artistic vocation when it became clear that Zaki had in no way inherited his father’s talent.

While discouraged both by his supposed mentors and by dissatisfaction with his own work, Zaki nevertheless continued to pursue his dream. By day, he helped to run his aunt’s farm in Montana; by night, he nurtured and burnished his fledgling skills, set adrift by the artistic community and on his own without the sanction or assistance of an academic art program.

Zaki was not the only family member to flail during these years. His younger brother Eysa rebelled from his rural American upbringing and left his aunt’s farm to roam the country with a band of second-generation American-Malaysians in a converted school bus. Focusing to the point of obsession on archaic Malaysian values and a nationalistic fervor based on vague and fallacious childhood memories, Eysa frequently found trouble with both his peers and the law. After a failed attempt at kidnapping local women to form a harem, Eysa was arrested, tried, and sentenced--not to jail, but to a lifetime in a mental institution. Each of his fellow activists met a similar fate.

Ducit Amor Patriae explores the pitfalls of jingoism and ethnocentrism. Zaki chose to portray his brother in a straightjacket, so as to protect him from further self harm, standing in front of the Malaysian flag. Notice that Eysa is shown with the body of an adult man and the face of a baby, stressing Zaki’s belief that extreme patriotism, as manifest in his own brother, is innately immature, if not utterly infantile. To Zaki, his brother’s beliefs shamed both their family and birthplace, amounting to nothing more than a child’s nonsense.

Zaki’s image of his physically restrained brother demonstrates his concept of an appropriate punishment. Not only does the garment serve to restrict a childlike figure, but its folds are also suggestive of an anatomical study, the lungs particularly prominent. Highlighted, yet constricted, Zaki emphasizes that his brother’s voice – puerile and irresponsible - must be contained and silenced.

Arrangement in Red, Black and Blue, JR

Recently discovered in the attic of an English cottage where John Ruskin occasionally vacationed, this painting has reopened discussion about the feud between Ruskin and James Abbot McNeil Whistler. Though the artist cannot be proven, many scholars believe this painting may be by John Ruskin, as it was found in his former residence with a scrawled ‘JR’ on the back. Two other known occupants of the cottage (namely, Jasper Rousch and Jackson Rosemont, though also possibly J. Piedmont Ragsdale and Japeth Rasputin) shared initials with our Mr. Ruskin, obscuring the true originator of the work.

Ruskin harbored strong feelings of enmity regarding Whistler, famously describing one of his paintings as “a pot of paint flung in the public’s unsuspecting eye,” which resulted in a libel suit brought against Ruskin by Whistler. If not for his ill health and early struggles with madness, perhaps Ruskin would have emerged as the more popular artist, rather than being known as an art critic and influential thinker. Around the same time as the lawsuit, Whistler’s portrait of his mother, Arrangement in Gray and Black, appeared to mixed reviews from contemporary critics as well as the Royal Academy, evidence of his lackluster appeal.

The unknown woman in this painting poses in profile, her patrician features and stern expression echoing and reflecting Whistler’s portrayal of his mother. Other than the pose and expression, however, this painting bears no resemblance to the more well-known masterpiece. Clumsily and crudely executed, the painting can easily be interpreted as a mocking, satirical critique. Given Ruskin’s conviction in the libel suit, a motive seems apparent. If one also takes into account Ruskin’s documented battles with mental illness throughout his life, we can imagine that this painting is a physical expression of his disdain for Whistler in both subject matter and realization. Perhaps we can view this painting as a foil for the better work, just as Ruskin’s financial success and mental breakdown stand in stark contrast to Whistler’s debt-ridden ways and psychological clarity.

Macamaran Deity (Holy Ducks!), Unknown

Discovered recently in southern Peru, this painting is a lost treasure of the Macamara culture, an offshoot of the Aymaran civilization. Little is known of either people group, but certain facts are undisputed. In particular, the Macamarans are known to have been successful herders of llama and alpaca who developed advanced textile techniques, particularly in the felting and weaving arts. Made of llama felt and wool yarn, this piece is believed to be approximately 1,000 years old, discovered in an airtight vault by audacious art historian and archeologist, R. Neumann. Its subject matter offers an unparalleled insight into the culture and belief system of the mysterious Macamaran people.

A divine figure, part mountain, part man, towers over an active volcano, presumably Huaynaputina, which towered over the five sister Macamaran cities. The volcano burns with impressive force, yet the figure is distanced and undisturbed; presumably, this natural power offers no threat in the face of the deity’s own awesome might. Untouched, though hovering immediately above the flames, teardrop shapes hang as an extension of the deity’s mind. Some surviving texts refer to the importance of glossiphoniidae leeches in both medical treatments and religious rituals. These shapes suggest a pregnant glossiphoniid with its young child, speaking to the endurance of the people and an ancestor-based eternity.

On the opposite side, diamond shapes extend symmetrically to teardrops. Symbolizing eternity and purity, they represent the cornerstones of the deity’s power. The two extensions from the god’s head end in decorative duck feet, as does the bag he holds. Clearly, duck feet were objects of great power and the duck was beheld as a sacred animal. Surviving legends mention, however vaguely, sacred holy duck men descending from the heavens in cylindrical, metallic vessels. Scholars have previously considered these mentions corrupted errata, but the validity of these sources will now have to be revisited thanks to this previously undiscovered work. Erich von Däniken is working to raise funds for a focused expedition to the area.

Clown Justice, Anonymous 

Clown Justice is a painting anonymously mailed to R. Neumann, well known as a fearless art collector. It offers a rare moment of insight into the closed fraternal society of carnival clowns. The accompanying note identifies the figures as Brighello and Hugh the Hobo and gives some context to the painting: “Hugh, immediately after sentencing as the judgment is about to be carried out.” While we have no idea of the crime committed or what the sentence involves, a great deal of information can still be gleaned from the painting.

With its claustrophobic arrangement and the palpable sense of menace and terror, the painting communicates quite effectively the gravity of the circumstance in which the fools find themselves. Hugh stares into the distance, shock and horror clearly portrayed in the lines of his face and expression of his eyes and mouth. The farceur seems almost unaware of Brighello’s proximity, focused instead on his own immediate and bleak future. Wearing only scant traces of the clown make-up essential to his trade, Hugh’s skin boasts an ashy pallor evocative of a death mask. The lack of maquillage and mundane attire suggests that he may have been stripped of his clown trappings, judged unworthy of continuing in the traditional guild of jesters.

The figure of Brighello further underscores the shadow of impending horror. Balefully meeting the gaze of the viewer, Brighello’s dark stare imparts a trifecta of threatening purpose, perilous intention, and icy resolve. Dressed completely in white, only his blood-red nose relieves his stark appearance. In this context, the colors suggest funereal solemnity, holding nothing of purity or celebration. The decorative backdrop crowds in, symbolically imparting the full support of the carnival world. While its stars and waving stripes are appropriate to a circus tent, the background nevertheless evokes the authority and power of the “greatest show on earth,” legitimizing the scene.

The exact circumstance and fate of Hugh the Hobo will continue to elude us; however, it is clear that the merciless swiftness of clown justice mustn’t be doubted. This anonymous offering raises questions about the mysterious world of the three-ring spectacle and makes us reconsider our own predispositions to the universal big top we call life.

Iyanifa, Corazon de Marcos Gonzales

Iyanifa’s portrait of Alma Santos was commissioned by the venerable Santos family, who has high standing in Cuban society. Able to trace their ancestry back to both patrician Spanish roots and indigenous royalty, the Santos family has prospered through all stages of their island’s history, even through the current communist regime. Marcos Santos, Alma’s father, was one of Fidel Castro’s top advisors. This portrait, completed by prominent Cuban portraitist Corazon de Marcos Gonzales, shows Alma in a moment of quiet repose as she stares to the side, lost in thought.

While this portrait clearly focuses on her role as a society figure, Alma was also an ordained priestess of the Lucumi faith, a syncretic West Indian religion derived from the Yoruba tradition. Revered by her followers for her strong ability to contact and even control the various Orisha, particularly Elegua, Alma was a strong figure in her faith community. Particularly successful in acting as an intercessor to Elegua in his role of psychopomp, people throughout the region traveled to her for help with dying or newly dead loved ones.

Alma’s prominence, however, proved to be her undoing. State and church hierarchies (both male-dominated, patriarchal institutions) were threatened by her popularity and influence with the masses. In a rare moment of cooperation between the opposing groups, they quietly arranged for her assassination. While many believed her death to be an accident, others suspected the truth. Today, there are persistent rumors of an underground splinter sect of Lucumi, devoted to veneration of their beloved leader and to providing the brains she needs to survive in her current state.

Dancing Panties, Unknown

Another gem in R. Neumann’s esteemed collection, Dancing Panties seems, at first glance, a simple painting of celebration & exuberant revelry: dancers cavort, a jazz trumpeter plays, fireworks and balloons decorate the night. Subsequent glances, however, reveal a far more sinister scene replete with rich symbolism and menacing portents.

Looking first at the two dancers, we realize that they present an odd couple. The woman dances a tango, wearing a scandalous ruffled skirt that shows her pantalette-style underwear. Across from her, the male ballet dancer balances on point into an upward leap. We can easily presume they dance an Argentine tango, a dance tradition grounded in its embrace of difference: distance between partners, individual improvisation and independent flourishes.

The jazz musician playing to the side of the dancers further celebrates this asynchronous union which flourishes despite, if not because, of its differences. Jazz trumpeting, a style atypical of both ballet and tango, clearly provides the musical score for the dance. The proximity of the musician to the dancers champions the spirit of individuality and improvisation and further emphasizes his inclusion in this eclectic tableaux.

The figure of the small child strikes the first note of discord in this celebratory scene. While first seeming to be a delighted spectator, close examination reveals an angry, intent face. Lips pull back from teeth in a near snarl and her gaze appears both avaricious and cruel. Her clothes, too, are out of sync with the environment of the painting. The fireworks, dancers and musician suggest warmth, while the child’s winter ensemble separates her as cold and removed.

In addition to the discordant child, attention should also be paid to the dark, blood red shapes that surround this scene. In the foreground of the painting, two shapes are emphatically silhouetted: the arm of a double bass and a gnome-like figure. In the back, pylons of the same color loom inwards toward the scene of revelry. Is the double-bass, a more modern instrument than the trumpet and associated as much with sin and devilish behavior as the trumpet is with angels and divine proclamation, threatened by the trumpet’s harmonious inclusion in this scene? Is this gnome more aligned to its goblin ancestry than its more common role as gentle garden guardian? And why are these forces threatening, if not claiming these revelers?

One clue to their motivation might lay in the attire of the dancers, which can be seen as suggestive of sin and corruption. Twirling in her dance, the woman fully reveals her underwear with every indication of shameless intention. Her undergarments are also pantalettes: the first type of feminine underwear that was fashionable to reveal. Does their complete exposure speak to the conclusion of the slippery slope of fashionable sin?

The male dancer is even more evocative of sinful depravity. Under his tights a large codpiece is in evidence. First made fashionable by Henry VII, historians believe he inadvertently started the trend toward ever larger codpieces when he debuted one stuffed with ointment-soaked linens to treat his syphilis infection. The dancer’s exaggerated virility, then, is closely tied to a tradition of venereal corruption.

An inevitable conclusion presents itself: lost in their passion and joy, the trio will be consumed by the evil forces surrounding them. Displaying sinful attributes, these satanic forces will claim and punish the very sins they inspire. The only hint of salvation comes from the fireworks, first invented in ancient China to ward off evil spirits. Notably, however, they do not explode above the immediate scene in this painting, but in the distance, filling the sky beyond the pylons. Their placement indicates a failed attempt at protection and their initial colorful exuberance reveals itself as redolent of desperate futility.

Las Vegas, Unknown

After winning a small fortune at roulette, art historian J. Brown discovered this painting while scouring estate sales across the state of Nevada. Its stark minimalism can initially lead an observer to dismiss the painting as bleakly simplistic in subject matter, especially given its obvious title and trite symbolism of pale dollar signs. Closer study of the painting quickly reveals, however, a wealth of meaning that could fuel multiple dissertations or books, if not careers.

A yellow globe dominates the painting as it emerges from a dark, shadowy morass. Shapes covering the globe’s surface are easily seen, but not immediately obvious in their meaning. Two gourd-like shapes are connected in the traditional attitude of bestial copulation. When considered in conjunction with the dollar signs just below the painting’s self-referential title, this symbolism clearly calls out Vegas as a city of corruption and sin.

The sexual component of the painting ultimately dominates, however. White stains mar the surface of the painting, proven by expert analysis to be concurrent with its execution. While their close resemblance to spattered semen seemed to underline the eroticism present, it posed a conundrum until a small symbol on the back right corner provided a crucial clue: Aleistair Crowley’s unicursal hexagram.

Crowley, a noted occultist who was frequently proclaimed “the wickedest man in the world,” took the classic unicursal hexagram and placed a five-petaled rose in its center. While the symbol already signified a confident belief that one can achieve any goal and ultimately become divine, Crowley’s inclusion of the rose is intended to emphasize the divine and the fruitfulness of its union with ambition.

White Stains, a collection of poems written by Crowley in his youth, explores similar topics of divine ambition through the lens of extreme eroticism and joyful perversion. Throughout this work, Crowley clearly ties the corruption of flesh and soul to a mystical attainment of divinity and achievement of both power and success. Understanding the role of the white stains in this painting and their referent, the meaning of the painting clearly emerges: the bold and stout of heart can greatly profit through the alchemy of darkness, greed and lust.

The Thrice-Nippled Thinker, Sabine Beuret

This sculpture encompasses the entire career of a little-known French sculptress, Sabine Beuret. The daughter of Rodin’s bastard son, Beuret echoed and subverted her purported grandfather’s masterpiece, The Thinker. Exhibited in the in the summer of 1956 at the Musée de Sculpture moderne, this achievement represented a coup for the young artist as she was only halfway through her course of study at the Ecole Superieur des Arts Decoratifs. Hailed as a prodigy by professors and critics alike, many believed this triumphant debut was only the beginning of was promised to be a rich and meaningful career.

The sculpture offers a psychological self-portrait of the artist. A torso with an arm deliberately missing, it can easily be read as a nod to classical sculpture, but carries a deeper meaning as well, representing Beuret’s lifelong feeling of being handicapped. Though she took her father’s name, she was also born out of wedlock and this societal stigma dodged her throughout her youth. Worsening the situation were rumors that she was an unnatural child, if not a born witch. As depicted in the sculpture, Beuret had two supernumerary nipples that bracketed the nipple on her right breast. Thanks to an indiscreet midwife, most residents of the town knew of this physiological anomaly and took pains to make sure Beuret was aware of their knowledge and judgment.

Other self-perceived deformities are also present in the picture: an oddly flabby, even slightly deformed abdominal area; the extended forearm and hand are exaggerated in size and masculine in appearance. The original sculpture boasted a heavily furrowed brow and exaggerated frown, partially obscured by the extended forefinger. Even in its broken state, the raw power of this uncompromising - even harsh - self portrait persists, leaving no question as to whether the hype and praise surrounding Beuret’s debut was deserved.

In October of that year, however, tragedy struck. Beuret’s lover, Caridade Sarayba, was a Brazilian student studying to be a painter at the Ecole Superieur. Sarayba wrote home to both her family and fiancé, breaking off the engagement and stating her intention to live permanently in France. Her fiancé, Ugo Villegas, came to Paris to change her mind and discovered her relationship with Beuret. Villegas attacked them both viciously; Sarayba died in the hospital the following day and while Beuret gradually recovered. Multiple breaks in her fingers and wrists, however, made it clear she would never be able to sculpt again.

Another blow quickly followed when Villegas attacked her sculpture with a hammer, fracturing it in multiple places & completely pulverizing its head. He successfully evaded police for almost two months before he was arrested in December after throwing a rock at and damaging the Mona Lisa. Villega refused to discuss his motive so whether the attack was tied to his lost fiancé or simply the outburst of a diseased mind remains a mystery.

Mind the Gap: Subterranean Escherlator Hoppers, Edward Maurits

Subterranean Escherlator Hoppers is an unmistakable, if eccentric, tribute to both M.C. Escher and Edward Hopper. While the two men were contemporaries, their artistic points of view differed significantly: Hopper depicted a minimalist realism while Escher produced mathematically precise woodcuts and lithographs that plausibly portrayed the impossible.

Enough similarities exist between the two artists, however, to keep this painting from being overly jarring. Both artists frequently depicted people as blank figures, rarely focusing on individual details or facial expressions. While three figures appear in this painting, their faces are obscured and individual details about them are scant. Instead they emphasize the scale of the cavernous space and suggest a haunting solitude.

The perspective of the painting is deeply skewed and deliberately Escheresque. Unlike Escher, however, Maurits doesn’t enforce any precision or internal cohesion in his painting; the figures don’t properly interact with the impossible architecture. The stairs on the right which should head downward instead appear to be moving upward. The woman in the yellow raincoat is a victim ofthe confused perspective; while she stands in the proper position to be heading down, it becomes clear that she is on the verge of plummeting to her death. The only question is what direction the plunge will take.

To the left of the painting, a woman clad in beige appears to ascend the escalator. Geometric shapes suggestive of stairs follow the line of her presumed path, but it’s unclear whether the shapes are the actual stairs or decorative wall panels. Either way, their perspective is ominous in its impossibility. If stairs, the woman faces an insurmountable gap suggestive of a plunge to an unknown depth; if wall panels, the escalator ride will take her up a narrowing path that will crush her before she can reach the top.

The figure in the right foreground of the painting further complicates the scene. Is he or she about to descend the upward escalator? Or does the figure gaze down at the two women, impassive in the face of their impending doom? The chalice-shaped lights answer no questions about the intent of the mysterious figure, but does serve to illuminate a possible clue to the meaning ofthe painting as a whole. In a number of religious traditions from Christianity to occult sects, chalices serve as ceremonial vessels and representations ofthe divine. Pagans and neo-pagans add a further element to consider them the symbolic embodiment of the feminine. If the women are doomed, it is, perhaps in service to the divine.

Exaggerated in size and scale, the chalice lights also take up more room than either of the escalators. Given the danger at least two of the figures face, any ceremonial significance they represent is sinister in nature. The two women on the escalators face obvious threats; the figure in the foreground could be either complicit in the dark sorcery or about to be its next victim. Certainly, though, Maurits’ homage to such two different artists has resulted in an obscure masterpiece redolent of menace and danger.

B-I-N-G-O Minefield, Phillip Jens

In B-I-N-G-O Minefield, Phillip Jens uses absurdism to level a scathing indictment against the practices of modern war. Individual paper-mâché sculptures, constructed from bingo cards, are lashed together with barbed wire to create an ersatz minefield. Rips and tears are fashioned to represent exploded mines.

The garishly colorful quality of the bingo cards creates an immediate dissonance with the stark hazard of the wired barbs. Jens is, of course, exploiting this inherent discord to comment on modern warfare’s ability to impose distance between combatants, masking the true stakes by reducing the machinations of war to something that resembles nothing more than a game.

While certainly neither a new concept or critique, the hyperbolic and absurd whimsy typified in this sculpture distinguishes it, making its message fresh and relevant anew. By positing a similarity to a casual game, this sculpture challenges the viewer to reexamine their beliefs concerning war and the value of human life.

Jurdana Brown, Chief Curator

Jurdana Brown brings a rich and varied past to her role as chief curator of A. Broken Museum. After completing graduate studies at Internationale Akademie für Philosophie, one of Liechtenstein’s top universities, Brown spent years organizing underground art exhibits in various countries: Laos, Venezuela, Burma, Colombia, India and Nigeria. In addition to promoting local artists, Brown traveled with her extensive art collection primarily comprised of sculptures and small statuary. After repeated arrests over unfortunate misunderstandings, exacerbated by customs officials’ fascist attitudes toward art, Brown returned to the United States.

Establishing herself in the city of Nogales, Brown apprenticed with a local sculptor and soon developed a signature style that reflected both Aztec and Russian traditions: heavy clay representations of ancient Aztec deities hollowed out in the style of Russian Matryoshka dolls. Immensely popular in the region, Brown sold them at local flea markets until their demand outpaced her ability to produce them.

Next settling in New York, Brown worked in MOMA’s gift shop and quickly became inspired by Marcel Duchamp. She began writing a definitive book on Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (also known as The Large Glass), focusing particularly on the one housed in Philadelphia, arguing its inherent superiority to the unbroken version in London. Her work soon brought her to the attention of Albert Broken. Following a long correspondence, she moved to Hoboken to study under him at the Goya Institute. Broken soon began working as her editor and his patronage was crucial getting her book published by the Goya University Press.

Soon after the book’s publication, Rocket Neumann, Jr., son of the original & legendary curator of A. Broken Museum, announced his retirement. With Neumann’s approval, Broken offered Brown the position. In the last ten years, Brown has organized all of the museum’s major shows and has also used her connections in the art worlds of various countries to enhance and enrich the collection.

Rock Neumann, Curator Emeritus

Rock Neumann, Curator Emeritus of A. Broken museum, is an unofficial member of the Broken family and has been involved in their museum since his early childhood. His father, Radoslaw Rikárd Neumann was the museum’s legendary curator and best friend to Alphonse Broken. The first recipient of the prestigious A. Broken Scholarship for Promising Artists and Art Historians (now affectionately referred to as the ‘Broken Spa’ by its many recipients), Neumann earned his many degrees and academic honors at the Goya Institute in Hoboken. His published thesis, “The Marriage of the Id and Irony: The Pathetic Fallacy and Profundity in Diaphanous Visual Art” has long been a standard text for art students in universities throughout the world.

After graduation, Neumann spent three years traveling the globe and studying the art of various cultures. While living with a community of mystics in Mynamar who frequently channeled their ancestors for inspiration and counsel, Neumann developed close relationships with past members of the Broken and Neumann families. Most notably, Neumann worked closely with Erzsébet Báthory, an ancestress of the Neumann clan born in the 16th century. Working in the ancient tradition Mynamar mosaic – gilded reliefs embellished by broken mirror mosaic pieces – Neumann chronicled Báthory’s life and death.

Further travels and studies took him throughout Asia, South America and Europe. After Mynamar, his second longest sojourn was in Iceland where he studied with local artists and helped them develop a new technique of painting with processed blubber (whale fat). He also developed a taste for the local cuisine and imports whale meat from his Icelandic friends to this day.

While he still consults with the current curator of the museum, Jurdana Brown, Neumann has largely retired from day-to-day involvement in the museum. He continues to work on multiple projects, however, including a definitive book on the Báthory aristocracy in medieval Poland and a future exhibit for A. Broken museum which will debut the works of Icelandic painters who use blubber as their primary medium.

1 comment:

  1. The B-I-N-G-O piece turned out to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! And I say that without the slightest sense of irony.