Monday, July 28, 2014

Pyrenees Journal II: Spellbound

photograph by Hallie Cohen
What was more brilliant Alfred Hitchcock choosing to use Salvador Dali to create the dream sequences in Spellbound or Dali’s creation of these iconic sequences himself? The sequences if you recall are exemplifications of surrealist technique which is not surprising since the very structure of surrealism with its interests in humor, aggression and sexuality derive from the most primal elements of all dream life. And yes the dream in the movie helped to solve the crime. If you visit the Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres you will see amongst other things a citation of Dali’s book about Millet’s  “The Angelus." The three figures in Millet’s painting a peasant, his wife and child receive shall we say an unconventional interpretation. They’re father and daughter praying for absolution from the sin of incest. Dali was a believer in extreme subjectivity and he could be deemed a proto-deconstructivist to the extent that he believed that everybody will have their own interpretations of art and reality. He called his theory the "paranoiac critical method." Derrida was a Dali clone it turns out. For example, a nude of his beloved wife Gala hangs, in the central atrium of the museum You see the real Gala in his museum, but it’s like a hologram. If you attempt to photograph it an image of Abraham Lincoln appears. In one sense it’s just recycled impressionism. But the effect is like that produced by double and triple entendres in literature. Dali, as many of the works in the Theatre-Museum reveal, was a master of illusion. He was both the patient and doctor in a life long self-analysis and in fact tried (unsuccessfully) to interest Freud in his work. His self-portrait (which faces a famous portrait he did of Picasso) shows a face with hanging skin interspersed with crutches. Underneath that is a piece of bacon and a fly. perhaps one of the flies who escaped from “The Persistence of Memory”--where time literally flies. Perhaps Dali was saying he was as fragile and easily consumed as a piece of bacon. But memory is the constant   Dali might have resisted contemporary neuroscientific investigations into the reconsolidation of memory.  From the outside the museum looks like Disney World and in fact Dali’s 7 minute animation created with Disney is on exhibit too (Dali also shared an interest in cryogenics with Walt Disney). There are huge eggs on the roof, reflecting Dali’s obsession with birth, funeral bread exemplifying his fear of death and female Oscar statues which attest to his fascination with transexuality. Is it a monument like the museum Picasso created for himself in Barcelona or a playground? But that is the point. He was a clown who famously sported Velasquez’s moustache. His Velasquez sculpture with Las Meninas emblazoned on the artist’s forehead appears in another gallery and it’s interesting to note when you visit the Picasso museum in Barcelona that there’s an youthful copy of Velasquez’s portrait of Phillip IV with the famed Dali moustache or is it the other way around? And wouldn’t that be Dali’s point?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pyrenees Journal I: Homage to Catalonia

photograph by Hallie Cohen
There is square in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona named after George Orwell. Orwell famously fought in the Spanish Civil War and out of his experience wrote Homage to Catalonia. In November the Catalan people who occupy that part of Spain that is closest to the Pyrenees (Cerdanya is the name of a part of the Eastern Pyrenees that is shared by France and Spain) vote in a referendum on the subject of independence. Catalan is still a vital language that is spoken and taught in schools in Barcelona and Valencia where there are large Catalan populations. The desire for independence might be thought to emanate from the Spanish Civil War in which Catalonia supported the Loyalist cause and suffered reprisals during the years of Franco’s rule. But the provenance of Catalan nationalism is even deeper and might be said to go back as far as the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, in which, as a result of the Thirty Years War, Spain’s Phillip IV ceded parts of Catalonia to France. The town of Llivia remains today as an island of Catalan and Spanish culture in what is French territory and if you visit the Cergagne Museum--the Cal Mateu Farm, the restored estate of Francois Sicard, a French official appointed by Louis XIV, who governed in the area, you can further understand the roots of the region’s historical conflicts. Catalans are true irredentists to the extent that they want to return the integrity of civilization that existed before it was divided up by diplomats. So climbing toward Font- Romeu-Odiello-Via on the Eastern or Oriental Pyrenees as it’s called (which is also a route used by bikers training for the Tour de France) you will find Catalan graffiti on a wall below a French car wash called Le Lavage reading, “Som paisos Catalans” which translates “we are a Catalan country.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Barcelona Journal IV: Picasso

Watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Picasso was born in Malaga in 1881 and in l895 arrived in Barcelona, as a young art student. If you’d seen his work for sale on a street corner would you have snapped it up? If it was the painting of his dog Klipper, maybe not, but if you knew anything about art you would have grabbed at two postcard sized paintings exhibited as “Two Rooms” now at the Museum, which contains a collection of 4249 pieces, many from the early stages of his career. The museum was created by Picasso secretary and biographer Jaume Sabartes at Picasso’s request and Picasso contributed many works in the collection. Clearly Picasso was one of the world’s great Picasso collectors in l960, when he first proposed the idea to Sabartes.  Many of the early works on exhibit demonstrate the influence on Picasso of other proto-modernists like Cezanne, Manet and Toulouse Lautrec. But his portraits and set pieces have an authority which demonstrate his immersion in and understanding of the Old Masters,--something which is exemplified by his "Science and Charity,” which was painted in l897 when Picasso was only 15 and which depicts a doctor, nun and infant and attending to a dying woman. The curators quote Picasso himself from his biographer Jaume Sabartes in L’Atelier de Picasso. The subject are the 58 paintings based on Velasquez's “Las Meninas,” (1957) which are also exhibited in the museum. “Suppose one were to make a copy of “Las Meninas” in good faith. If it were me the moment would come when I would say to myself: suppose I moved this figure to the right or a little to the left. If the case arose, I would do it my own way forgetting Velasquez. I would almost certainly be tempted to modify the light or arrange it differently in view of the changed positions of the figures.” Is that ever an understatement! What emerged was a synthetic cubist concerto. It’s a homage in the way some of his portraits of his former mistresses are homages and distortions at the same time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Barcelona Journal III: Placa d'Espanya

Catedral de Barcelona
Just a few steps from the Catedral de Barcelona an English couple are fighting. He has tattooed arms and her face is covered with a hat. Hoards of tourists feed from the Portal de l’Angel into the square in front of the cathedral, but on a hot afternoon it's strangely empty and the arguing couple have their moment in the limelight, he raising his voice in contrast to her growing reticence and obvious embarrassment. It’s a welcome interlude for excitement junkies who tire of the endless beauty and architectural invention on display. But if you’re spending time in Barcelona and you need a real respite from tourists, imposing structures, museums and historical monuments, shoot over to the Placa d’Espanya, which will make you feel grateful the eccentricities of Barcelona that in their super abundance you might have previously taken for granted. A functional modern hotel sits in front of a traffic circle off of which are streets with names like Creu Colberta and Career de Sant Roc which boast nameless pizzerias, hot dog stands and emporiums selling Oriental bric a brac. Sant Roc leads into another side street named Career de Leiva which characterized by purely functional buildings that have managed to remain impervious to Barcelona’s architectural heritage. Two young women in cut off jeans revealing tattooed thighs, which seem to be a fashion statement for many Barcelona teens, avert their gazes as they navigate their colorless surroundings.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Barcelona Journal II: Up on the Roof

watercolor by Hallie Cohen
“Up on the Roof” was the title of a Drifters song, but it’s where you want to be in Barcelona. Barcelona is literally a roof party in an architectural wonderland. At times it almost looks like a fairytale. On the Passieg to Gracia a brightly enameled Gothic turret on an office building presents a picture book setting against a clear blue sky; further down the street the modernist canopy of  El Corte Ingles, a department store, sweeps dramatically over the sidewalk. The facility with architectural design is almost a genetic attribute that Barcelona’s builders demonstrate with effortless facility. Looking at the dazzling democracy of styles one wonders how a country which cottoned to Franco also produced such imaginativeness in the construction of its buildings. But there was a Spanish Civil War which encompassed both political and artistic convictions (Picasso never returned to Spain because of the Franco dictatorship). Could architectural expression and flourish have been one of the few avenues of free expression during the years of repression under Franco. Gaudi, is obviously Barcelona’s most famous native son, when it comes to architecture, and the spires of the Segrada Familia dominate the landscape. But literally just about any street is a feast with everything plunked down in an almost willy nilly fashion that is so ubiquitous that it not only works, but creates the expectation of non-conformity. Just take a pedestrian mall like the Portal de l’Angel. El Corte reinvents itself in a baroque design. Next door to it The Catalonia Hotel occupies a neo-classic structure and next to that is Zara in a Bauhaus box.