Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Rome Journal: Time Is Out of Joint

Canova and Penone    FLevy

Lautreamont famously defined beauty as "the chance encounter of an umbrella and sewing machine on an operating table." "Time Is Out of Joint" is the current exhibit at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. The exhibit is made up of items from the museum's permanent collection which the curators characterize as “plastic temporality that behaves like a Higgs Boson." Juxtaposition is the method but surrealism is too narrow a way to describe the organizing principle which at its best acts to expand rather than nail any obvious polarities (the meaning of the title quote from Hamlet is discountenanced by an observation from Derrida almost as soon as it's introduced). Coubet's "La Vague" lies across the entranceway from  Morandi's "Le bagnanti." However, one of the more majestic plays is between Antonio Canovas’s "Ercole e Lica" an imposing 18th century work and Guiseppe Penone's "Spoglia d’ore Su spine d’acacia." What's the possible connection between a neoclassical sculpture and a painting made from the thorns of an Acacia tree? On the surface not all that much--though that may be the point. The show starts by defying chronology and ends by pressing its own quantum theory of art history. The conceptual artist John Baldessari teaching a plant the alphabet by repeating “N” ad nauseam is matchless. Guilio Aristide Sartorio's  “Diana di Eleso a gil schiave" (1899) is sui generis, tilting it hat to the Pre-Rapaelites while anticipating surrealism in an academic style reminiscent of Gerome.

read "Rome Journal: Theory of Value" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Monday, January 30, 2023

Are Esthetic Values Noumenal or The Emperor's New Clothes

La Cicciolina (photo: Certo Xornal)

There are lots of factors that conspire to create reputations in the art world. All unhappy families are different in different ways applies to the alternate universe of the literary world. Firstly, there is the aura or charisma around a person because of their life or mythology then a very complicated process which involves monetization. It’s like insider trading A gallerist starts to get word around their stable. If they’re good at what they do, they make some sales at not bad prices. Once the gallerist creates a mark, (however small), the snowball effect take place since supply starts to challenge demand. At the point where the figurative neurons begin to cross their synapses, critics begin to intellectualize about the sensibility that has made x, y or z artist attractive. This stage is perhaps the most mysterious and crucial. Criticism is generally thought to involve esthetics, but as far as the visual arts are concerned, it’s also a peripatetic phenomenon resulting from a mixture of osmosis and reportage. This process is facilitated by a canny artist like Jeff Koons, the former husband of the porn star (and later politician) La Cicciolina. Many of his works are about commodification itself. Raw talent is like one of the Kepler planets orbiting stars 1200 light years from earth. You need the talent and there are outsider artists like Henry Darger whose works were simply discovered, but these are significant because of their exceptionalism. It's not to say that reputations have little to do with genius. Just the reverse, but a career in the artistic or literary world requires more than just talent.

read "Is Beauty a Grecian Urn or a Blond?" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

and listen to "This Old Heart of Mine" by the Isley Brothers

Friday, January 27, 2023

Rome Journal: Chow!

The Man in the High Castle envisioned a parallel universe where the Axis powers won the Second World War. But say you applied the same conceit to the current world order. China is Near is a film by Marco Bellochio. Say the Chinese invaded Italy rather than Taiwan--whose acquisition, for Xi Jinping, is a fait accompli that doesn’t even require an invasion. Invading Taiwan would be an admission it was a separate country. Ah but Italy is different. The first thing the Chinese are going to do when they land at Fiumicino is to change “ciao” to “chow.” “Ciao" has always been a hard word for Americans to spell so they too will welcome a change in the spelling of the familiar salutation. Chow is like chow mein and chow mein is like Spaghetti Bolognese two dishes that constitute mixed marriages. Just as there's Chinese and Chinese-American food (the latter symbolized by the #1 combination plate, chow mein, fried rice and egg roll), there's Italian and Italian-American food. Another favored Italian-American dish is your veal parm hero. Lots of Americans come to Italy equipped with little books of phrases which include grazie, prego, arrivederci (as in Roma) and "ciao!" The average American pronounces this last like the meow of a cat, chi ow, when the transliteration is really “chow.” Why not go for it? To the conquerer goes the spoils. The Normans invaded England in 1066 and voila. The bad news is China's a threat, the good news, no one will ever mispronounce “ciao” again.

read "The DSM--Goodreads**" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "Tell It Like It Is"by Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville and Gregg Allman

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Rome Journal: Eternity

Paris is the City of Light and Rome has the misnomer of being The Eternal City. Cities are organic like bodies and snowflakes, no two of which are alike. The corpus of the city is always changing as is its sensibility and those of its inhabitants. This may explain why political and psychological theories are often so inadequate. Psychoanalysis was a creature of its time, which is to say turn of the century Vienna and while the Rat Man or Dora might be recognizable personalities, any psychodynamic theory inevitably has to be unto itself or of its time. The art is to take what you can use and disregard the rest. Rome today is a shadow of the representation that appears in the films of neorealists like Visconti, Rossellini, Pasolini, Antonioni and Fellini. You might be an Italophile until you step off the plane at Fiumicino, finding yourself aghast at the site of a world you barely recognize, still less want to inhabit. Roman Holiday, Light in the Piazza and Three Coins in a Fountain are three American films of the 50s and 60s which essentially present a Rome of the imagination which in fact never existed and was a product of Hollywood and the Marshall Plan. Heraclitus and the Milesians believed that the world was in a state of constant flux. Essentially nothing is the same. Rome two seconds ago is not the Rome of this very moment. Naturally, this is true of every culture, but despite the astonishing pastness which every inhabitant and visitor of the city experiences, there's an ineffable quality of transience that particularly infuses Roman life--sites notwithstanding. Romans speak in a machine gun staccato. You may think you know something about Rome, but the fact is it’s likely changing right before your eyes.

read "Rome Journal: The EUR" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Roadrunner" by Junior Walker & the Allstars

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Rome Journal: Pasolini pittore


"Autoritratto con Fiori in nova" by Pier Paolo Pasolini

“Pasolini pittore” at the Galleria D’Arte Moderna, like "Tutto e Santo" (at the MAXXI, Galeria di Arte Antica and Barberini) commemorates the l00th anniversary of Pasolini's birth. The exhibit documents the influence of pictorial composition on the famed director's work. Painting was a medium of expression for him even before writing. “Lo leggo poco dipingo molta in comenso” ("I read little and painted more in the beginning"), he said about his early years growing up in Casarsa della Delizia in the Friuli region. Pasolini and his good friend Fabio Mauri both studied with Roberto Longhi in Bologna. Naturally it would be words and then cinema that became Pasolini's favored mediums of expression, but the early portraits, exhibited in the current show created a palette; both his novels Ragazza di Vita and Una Vita Violente and his early Roman trilogy Accatone, Mamma Roma and La Ricolta drew from his paintings. "Autoritrato con fiori in nova” (1947) 
Is an iconic self portrait epitomizing Pasolini's interest in both self-portraiture and self/conception. Though the surrealist elements may have been uncharacteristic, it should be noted that Pasolini also counted a Man Ray in his personal collection (which also included Warhol) and is represented in the show. The director's early interest in
 painting infuses all his movies. The beginning of Mamma Roma is da Vinci's The Last Supper. Mantegna's "Lamentation of Christ" is cited in another key part of the movie.You might say that specific frames of his movies started as paintings only to become tableaux vivants in their cinematic form.

read "Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'Mamma Roma," An Iconography" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Rome Journal: A Hearse Pulls Up to Glorioso

                                   photo: FLevy
A Mercedes hearse pulled up on the Viale Gloriso, a cul-de-sac which leads to an auspicious set of steps  New Yorkers are more inured to the old Cadillac hearses. A brand new Mercedes hearse is almost too styish for its mordant task. There was no coffin in the hearse, which attracted the attention of onlookers sitting outside  the narrow bistro, abutting a store selling bespoke sneakers. Was the hearse there to pick up a body or was the driver simply cruising through the neighborhood after finishing a job? Pretty soon the presence of the hearse became normalized. As no body was forthcoming, life soon returned to normal. The owner of the Tabacchi at the corner of Glorioso and Dandolo, which is always crowded due to its size, sits behind the kind of bullet proof window that you find in pawn shops or short stay motels back in the States. Along with the cigarettes, lottery tickes and bus passes that such vest-pocket stores specialize in, the padrone seems to do a brisk business in crucifixes. If the hearse had been come to pick up a body, the grieving family might have availed themselves of the kind of religious items that come in handy during times of crisis. The owner of the Tabacchi wore thick glasses and seldom looked up from his cash register, but the crosses gave him a beatific air. As a customer handed over a 20 Euro bill for their purchase, they knew they were dealing with someone who had said their Hail Marys and would hence fork up the correct change. If the hearse driver smoked, he might have picked up a pack of the popular MS brand of smokes on his way to his next funeral.

read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

and listen to "Function at the Junction" by Shorty Long

Monday, January 23, 2023

Rome Journal: Empire

Edward Gibbon by Joshua Reynolds

Vladimir Putin has a nostalgia for Imperial Russia—the Russia of Peter the Great. But where did the idea of empire, as an aspiration, emanate from. In ancient Greece, there were the Peloponnisian Wars which derived from the isthmus of that name, but the landgrab was intramural and primarily between Athens and Sparta. Justinian led the Byzantine Empire which eventually became the province of Kamel Atataturk. Russia is the largest country in terms of land mass and the U.S.S.R is a powerful magnet, some might say a black hole, that quickly acquired many satellites including Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine and Chechnya. The Third Reich or “realm” derived from the claim that Germany’s rights went back to Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire in 800. But it's the Roman Empire, the thousand years of Rome that's left the most indelible imprint on the historical imagination. Hard to beat the l000 years of Rome. Why empire to begin with? To fill the coffers of the few? To gratify the need for a greater cause? To feel benighted by God in a crusade? Is empire itself merely an expression of the hubris, the stuff from which the dramatic form of tragedy would derive? Shelly’s “Ozymandias” addressed the vanity of human wishes. However, are the ruins of Rome a concession to anything but time itself? The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the six volume work by Edward Gibbon devoted to this very question. And BTW, what are ruins? In Rome, the ruins of the past evince a sublimity and beauty that's a power in itself.

read "Iraqistan" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Young Americans" by David Bowie