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Drive-In Saturday: Ernst Enough For Us

I made my first visit to the Art Institute of Chicago on a blazingly humid July day some twenty-plus years ago. The Institute is possessed of an admirably effective air conditioning system.  It is also possessed of one of the finest collections on the planet, and few stretches of time have had such an impact on my own mental life as have the four or five hours I spent inside the Institute that day.  

It was a case of one grand discovery after another: known images seen in proper size and context for the first time (Seurat, the room full of Monet haystacks, the parade of 20th century greats), fresh/new appreciations of entire periods (mmmm, more Medieval altar pieces please), and unexpected new discoveries (Joseph Cornell boxes!  Rossetti's Beata Beatrix!).  

Somewhere in the middle of it all, not the high point of the day but nonetheless memorable, I had my first extended run in with the collages of Max Ernst.

Ernst - musee dorsay

Ernst was more or less Present at the Creation of the Dada and Surrealist movements.  In the 1920s and 1930s, he began creating surreal collages from bits and pieces of illustrations from 19th century novels and encyclopedias.  (A before and after illustration of Ernst's process can be found in this essay from the Musee D'Orsay.)  The results were collected and reproduced in a series of novels-in-pictures, culminating in Une Semaine De Bonte (A Week of Kindness).  China Miéville included Semaine De Bonte on his list of the top 10 weird fiction books, calling it "[t]he best comic strip of all time. The best illustrated book of all time. The best sustained work of surrealism of all time."

This video collects the Semaine collages in sequence, accompanied by the appropriately fantastical music of Krzysztof Penderecki.

Ernst's collages have been enormously influential, combining as they do the staid appearance of Victoriana with the trappings of dream and hysteria.  Donald Barthelme combined Ernstian illustration with his typically gnomic text in a number of stories.  (Scroll down in this article for a pair of exemplars.)  The entire Steampunk genre owes Ernst an unacknowledged debt.  What Ernst did with razors and glue, anyone can (and seemingly everyone does) now do with Photoshop.  

Below are two recent music videos in which the aura of the Semaine is on full display.  The first, for "Flush" by Loser, is animated by Tom Werber and draws on illustrations not by Ernst, but by Ernst emulator Dan Hillier.  The song's not all that, but the video comes with ample quantities of tentacles and guest appearances by a heavily armed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which adds a certain Terry Gilliam quality to the proceedings:

More purely Ernstian is our next offering, a video by Stefan Nadelman for "I Say Fever" by Ramona Falls.  (Ramona Falls is a project of Brent Knopf of the band Menomena.  Previously, I embedded Ramona Falls's other video, "Russia," here.)  

"I Say Fever" transports the Ernst aura from the mean streets of Paris to the American frontier.  The requisite sexual hysteria, lopping of heads, and displays of hidden animal natures have all made the long journey with no loss of potency.  

Apropos of nothing: Is it just me, or is that Richard Wagner lounging at left below?  Whoever it is, I predict that it does not end well for him or for his saloon companions.



Maestro Gustavo Dudamel.

So much promise.  

His star on the rise.

Cream of the Crop.

Envied by all.

A career ascendant in every way.

Until the day some prankster in the woodwinds "forgot" that banana peel in front of the podium....

Dudamel Takes a Tumble - edit


Photo: Detail from the LA Philharmonic's new Dudamel supergraphic for the exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, via the LA TImes' Culture Monster blog, slightly modified for the sake of risibility.

Previously: A Venezuelan Werewolf in Los Angeles.


Drive-In Saturday:
Talkin' 'Bout Yer Evolution

The street artist/film maker known as BLU returns with "BIG BANG BIG BOOM," a ten-minute epic of handcrafted "frame by frame animation painted on walls, cars and other found objects."   

The ascent and potential eventual decline of life on Earth, in all its multiplicity and oddity, is the topic at hand.

This film was made in Europe -- Bologna? -- and the sheer variety of urban sites, streets and surfaces that the artist was able to use is impressive. Had this project been attempted in Los Angeles, odds are that the World would end not with a bang, but a restraining order.  Or worse.


More of BLU's work in this medium can be found on the video pages of his website or via the artist's Vimeo pages.

This fool last looked at animated variations of the origin of species on the occasion of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday in 2009.


Tableaux Vivants? "Art!"
Tableaux Vivants It? "Now!"

Artaud tableau 

This is the first weekend of the annual Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, California.  First staged in 1933, the Pageant is an institution unique, I think, to Southern California: a nighttime spectacle in which performers stand very very still pretending to be more or less Famous Works of Art.  The official Pageant trailer gives some idea of the elaborate, volunteer-driven process:

As with the Tournament of Roses parade to its north in Pasadena, the Pageant of the Masters adopts a new theme each year.  I am annually disappointed when the Tournament of Roses selects another of its resolutely upbeat themes.  Must we always begin the year with "Joyful Childhood," or "Candy-Coated Memories," or "Entertainment is Nifty"? Just once, of a New Year's morning, I would like to see a flower-bedecked flotilla depicting something a bit more bracing: "Man's Fate", perhaps, or "Guilt and Revenge."

With the full range of World Art History to draw upon, the Pageant of the Masters can at least glance in the general direction of the Dark and Somewhat Difficult from time to time.  As seen in the trailer above, the Pageant has incorporated Modern and Contemporary art, including Picasso's Demoiselles D'Avignon.  Still, the Pageant like the Tournament tends to accentuate the positive in selecting its themes.  This year's theme is "Eat, Drink and Be Merry," and the nearest the selected works get to the dark side of those pursuits is in a sequence of three images drawn from the Great Depression and the public art projects of the WPA.


In the Pageant of the Masters each work of art is translated from its original medium -- paint, marble, fabric, gold -- into that most curious genre, the tableau vivant, the "living picture" in which the inert are replaced by the vivid doing their best to appear to be inert.  Let us pause now to think some random thoughts about les tableaux vivants.


Ceci n'est pas un tableau vivant:


As with Magritte's pipe-that-isn't, this is merely a picture of a tableau vivant.  An actual tableau vivant requires actual people pretending not to be such, depicting scenes that are not actually occurring before you -- or occurring at all, since they are standing still.  A film or photo of such a tableau is at least two moves removed from reality.  Writing about or describing tableaux vivants in words takes us even further away, wandering the forest of signs or, at the very least, lost in the metaphysical weeds.  Cf., on tableaux in literature, the blog entry linked in the photo credit at the end of this post.


If a tableau vivant involves people pretending to be arts and crafts, I suppose the opposite would be arts and crafts pretending to be, or becoming, people.  The sculpture Galatea -- of whom the painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme is currently on display at the Getty -- is a famous example, as is Pinocchio.  Medusa, in the Heroic Age of Greece, turned her beholders into tableaux, albeit not precisely vivants.  It's complicated once you start pondering the variations.


Regardless of theme, the Pageant of the Masters always ends with an enactment of the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci.  The one exception to the rule, apparently, was a year themed around the work of Salvador Dali, in which Dali's version of the Supper provided the final tableau.  

While Leonardo's Supper is presented in Laguna Beach with all due reverence for the work and its subject, it has also been favored by certain film directors as a target or vehicle for more satirical or subversive tableaux.  Luis Buñuel infamously restaged it with beggars and thieves in the climax of Viridiana, earning himself official Vatican condemnation as a blasphemer.  Only slightly less well known: Robert Altman incorporated the image in to M*A*S*H, during the farewell meal prior to the intended suicide of the company dentist, Capt. Walter "Painless" Waldowski.  That scene also features the film's theme song, Johnny Mandel's "Suicide is Painless."  Perhaps because of his associations with blasphemy, suicide and particularly tableaux vivants, Painless is one of the few principal characters in the film who did not later appear in the long-running television version of M*A*S*H.

In the music video below -- "70 Million" by Hold Your Horses! -- the Last Supper is the jumping off point for a witty series of PotM-style tableaux of famous paintings:

Now I will confess it: in the more than three decades I have lived in Southern California, I have never attended the Pageant of the Masters and I do not expect that I ever will.  My principal excuse for bringing up the Pageant at all was as a roundabout way to drop some non sequiturs on tableaux vivants, and as an excuse to share that video, which tickles me more than somewhat.


Photo (top): "La Séduction Intéressée", one of six tableaux vivants created by Antonin Artaud to illustrate incidents in The Monk by Matthew Lewis.  Via A Journey Round My Skull.

Photo (lower): A tableau depicting Jeanne d'Arc, found on the blog At the Lighthouse accompanying quite an interesting post on "The Tableau Vivant in Literature".


Sweet Outlandish Liberty

For Independence Day, some paisley patriotism.

Virgil Fox (1912 - 1980), the Bach-tripping organ king of the '70s from whom it seems Prince learned all he knows of sartorial restraint, performs Charles Ives' Variations on "America", written ca. 1891 when the composer was a church organist of 17.  Ives premiered the piece, appropriately, in a recital for the Fourth of July, after which it lay unpublished for nearly six decades until 1949.

Play it Loud is my advice.  

And may this be as "Safe and Sane" as your holiday gets.

In his heyday, a number of Virgil Fox's recordings were issued on the Westminster Gold label, which was perhaps better known for its eccentric, sometimes semi-scandalous cover art than for the recordings themselves.  

Fox's covers were relatively restrained

On top of Bach

in comparison to some of the alternatives, such as this,

Westminster nachtmusik

or such as that,

Westminster planets

or such as this other.

Westminster walkure

Ah! the naive charm, and ample white space, of hotshot '70s graphic design.  I rather miss it.  I suspect many an Impressionable Young Person was lured to the classical bins by these covers to browse and to, er, expand the old cultural horizons a bit.  

A largely complete archive of Westminster Gold cover art can be examined at your leisure here.


Drive-In Saturday:
The Revolving Doors of Perception

Man ray revolving doors VI (carafe) 

Sound: "Passport Control" by Norwegian producer-sampler-Punkt Festival cofounder Jan Bang, from his album . . . and the Poppies from Kandahar on David Sylvian's Samadhisound label.  The influence of Jon Hassell is freely acknowledged, and Hassell appears on the album, albeit not on this track.  

Vision: Now Then, a film by Russell Mills.

Illustration: Revolving Door VI [Decanter/Carafe] by Man Ray, via the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Seven Years Went Under the Bridge
Like Time Was Standing Still

Number 7 by bdunnette

This blog was launched on July 2, 2003, seven years agone this very day.  

It remains now what it was then: a fool's errand. 

Most anyone who was blogging during that heady period at the center of this century's first decade, roughly years 2 and 3 of this blog's span, can attest to what great fun it could be and to the sense of possibility that danced attendance upon the whole Blogging venture.  This part of the Forest of Tubes has never been particularly well traveled: 1060 posts and seven years in to the project, the stats stand at around 270,000 visitors to the blog, a very large portion of them driven by Google image searches and not by any particular interest in what was being said here.  (That total does not include however many or few folk may be out there following via readers and RSS feeds.  I suspect I have at least a handful of recurring readers evidence for whose presence is a thing unseen.)  

Though the pace has slackened, I am still having just enough fun at this to carry on into the foreseeable.

Lucky 7 by cordey

By way of commemorating the Magnificent Seventh, here are seven posts or collections of posts from the past, skewing toward poetry-related items, with which I am still more or less pleased:

  • My one and only original video, a recitation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, as a PowerPoint slideshow.  (Video version July 19, 2009; the PowerPoint slides themselves date back to April 1, 2005)
  • The entire Double Dactyl category, and particularly the lengthy Epithalamium (first posted February 26, 2004; repeated May 15, 2008)
  • Several runs and variants on Shelley's Ozymandius, including the hip-hop version, "Trunkless But Not Funkless."  (November 22, 2003)
  • My most recent run at poetical pastiche, from June of this year: The Walrus and the Petrol Man
  • Paired posts on a visit to Gettysburg, where my great great grandfather was occupying himself Seven Score and Seven years ago today: a monument to the battle  and a battle over monuments (both from July 3, 2004)
  • It has been a recurring pleasure to double-host the annual April Fool's Day edition of Blawg Review, with the main edition on my sleepy-sibling blog Declarations and Exclusions and the Appendix/Prequel here, in 200920082007, and 2006.  If dear ol' Dec&Excs was a bit more of an active endeavor -- it ostensibly hits its own seventh anniversary on August 5, but the posting there is sporadic at best these past several years -- I would no doubt have done it again this year.  Perhaps in 2011 we will rise to the challenge again?
  • For a seventh: ransack the archives and pick your own if you care to do so.  (Let me know if you have a personal favorite with a comment, won't you?  We bloggers thrive on positive reinforcement and attention.)

Thank you sevenfold, reader.


A concluding musical interlude, on the theme of the passage of seven years:

Suddenly I'm on the street
Seven years disappear below my feet
Been breakin' down
Do you want me now?  Do you want me now?

    -- Freedy Johnston, "Bad Reputation"

Freedy Johnston - Bad Reputation [Daytrotter Session]


Photos: "Number 7" by Flickr user bdunnette, and "Lucky #7" by Flickr user Cordey, both used under Creative Commons license.