An attempt at the venacular of the photographic mundane: a prefab bus stop outside Linz on the way to Ottensheim, beside some of the saddest housing architecture I have yet seen.
We both simultaneously broke into Kraftwerk.
We visit museums to anthropomorphise engineering. “aiaiaiai! What are you doing? Nononono!!”
There are two museums here. The first painting, Life-Boat and Manby Apparatus Going Off to a Stranded Vessel Making Signal (Blue Lights) of Distress, is from the Victoria & Albert Museum which I’d visited a couple of days prior to my National Gallery jaunt. The blogging of my V&A trip was solid Mediæval and Renaissance, and along with everything non-North-East Eurasian European peninsula, there was no place for Joseph Mallord William Turner. The National Gallery put on a Turner trio for me, so I’ve rolled the V&A one in here.
Michel Serres loves Turner. I’m sure he resonated with me as well prior to my student years introduction to Serres, but I forever associate Turner with that time when my university philosophy friends, having already blown my mind on Butler and Deleuze said, “Well if you like them, you’re gonna love Serres.” It was probably Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, and the chapter Turner Translates Carnot, seducing me with the interplay of these three subjects, with thermodynamics and art. It occurs to me now that the scene in Feersum Endjinn, where Count Sessine is in the bowels of a steam train with a younger, forked version of himself is a work of Turner.
It may be unremarkable to love both The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up and — especially — Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway, but perhaps it is having seen them so often they serve as a mnemonic for Serres, who in turn leads me through the art of Turner, through science and aesthetics and ethics, and makes it so much more than just singular, remarkable paintings.
As with Joseph Wright of Derby’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, I found myself in Room 34 faced with works I’ve seen for years in print unexpectedly there before me. I made some noise. The school kids were all, “What the fuck, tall old weird person?” They were being forced to stand before it and experience Art. I wonder if they could sense how remarkable these works are, or if that was drowned beneath the imperative to concur, that yes, like the Mona Lisa and Shakespeare these are masterpieces. The Mona Lisa is unremarkable, mediocre, forgettable. Turner, particularly in his 1830s and ’40s period, is a monster. You can see him moving toward the intensity of Rain, Steam, and Speed in much earlier works, in the cloud and circulating light, and you can see traces of where he came from in the Temeraire itself, sliding between Baroque, Romanticism, and Realism, going somewhere that superficially resembles Impressionism, but there’s no way to get to that from where Turner ended up.
To see these close up, shoving in a crowd to get close enough to marvel at the detail, to wait for that break in the throng to be able to photograph them, all while rushing to make the airport. The hare running before the train is a long diagonal blob, and the detailed photo misses it entirely, but look at the train, a black maw around a white-hot inferno, and on the shore between the bridges’ arcs, a group of dancers; like the wheels on the train precise in the raw chaos of brush strokes. Look at the sky in the rectangle of paddle-wheel tug, funnel, smoke and the Temeraire’s pale bow. It shimmers and burns in the heat, convection rising and falling, peeling off, dirtying and hazing the air. The slender black upright of the funnel links both these paintings; as Serres says, “the entire world becomes a steam engine … Turner entered into the boiler … the painting is inside”.
A month after I was in Wuppertal, I finally finish editing all the images from the Von der Heydt-Museum, which I sprinted through on a Friday morning before Gala and Michael’s dress rehearsal, two hours of indiscriminate camera-ing. Michael said, “I’ve lived here two years; never been.” Well it’s a regional museum, so you never know if it’s going to be banging, sad, or somewhere in-between.
Somewhere in-between, with moments or rather bloody good, plus fuck that was well done why don’t more museums do it like that? Lighting was a bit crap, lots of the natural stuff, which is good, but not diffused enough and pointing at heavily varnished old paintings, which is not, and some rooms where the clowns took over the illumination, so I’m wondering if the museum people even look at their own art. They don’t like people photographing though, that’s for sure. Cheap entrance price and utter thieving gouging ten euros to flop out a camera. Kinda stunned at that, like, you’re not the Louvre, you know that, eh?
Not much mediæval stuff, which is always my first stop, but there is a 1563 print of Martin Luther (minus nail holes), plus a stack of Albrecht Dürer copper engravings, which are achingly beautiful. I especially love the bagpipe player and the more disturbing works that didn’t photograph well, so no wild boar with an extra set of legs on its back, nor his mythological stuff. Past the wooden sculptures covering 500 years in a room, and into into another dim room with holy crap!
Francisco Goya’s Los caprichos. Everyone knows him for his Los desastres de la guerra series, but Los capricos was the my inspiration for bitches 婊子 and is by far my favourite work of his. And here’s half a dozen (they probably have the whole series buried somewhere) lined up along a wall.
Then what happens is that “Why don’t more museums do it like that?” thing. Nearby a Rembrandt engraving (the Zweiter Orientalerkopf one) is a 19th century Japanese watercolour, heavy orange sun setting over a turbulent wave, followed by Jan van Bylert’s Singende Hirte. It’s just the beginning. Some rooms later, when we’re deep in 20th century German Expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit all over the walls, the centre of the room is Japanese and South-East Asian sculpture and works on paper. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen artwork from across the globe arranged like that in the same room … same museum? Coming up a blank. It’s rare even to see, say, Buddhist sculpture in the same museum as European art, outside of monster museums like London’s V&A where multiple departments are under one roof, but even there that former stuff is anthropology or The Asian Collection, and somehow implicitly not art — it’s craft or religious iconography, or Other … anything other than proper art coming from proper artists. So to put the two together, two thousand years East and South-East Asian mingled with half that of European; the head of a stone Ghandara Buddha figure from the first to third century next to Adolf Erbslöh’s Blaue Reiter period Schwebebahn; Javanese Wayang kulit shadow puppets and a folding screen by Kano Mitsunobu beside hard 21st century works by Sabine Moritz, Tamara K.E., and Tatjana Valsang; they work together so well and it isn’t an imperative to see the former as art like the latter but it becomes very uncomplicated and unremarkable to do so.
To see this stuff that’s always less art than art because it’s ‘for a purpose’ or whatever, be seen firstly and even solely as art is unexpected and radical. See the colour and that delicate but relentless Expressionism in the tapestry of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s from his time in Switzerland, facing off an equally colourful and delicate Chinese or Japanese Buddha / Luohan from centuries earlier. If nothing else, even if this arrangement does nothing for you, at least these works are being seen. And I’d totally be up for a big museum that does it like this. Imagine being in the Louvre or on Museum Insel in Berlin and not going into separate museums for each arbitrary delineation, but wandering through European mediæval art, and Ghaznavid Islamic art, and Japanese Kamakura art, and Chinese Song and Yuan, and South-East Asian, and the mediæval Americas and Africa and Australia … a global mediæval art exhibition mashed with a 20th century one. Sometimes I think museums are just going through the motions of museum-ing and exhibition-ing — however awesome their collections are — and then I find something like this, not this neo-liberal museum bollocks infestation, but something profoundly Museum: here is art, let’s look at it all together and find out what that looks like, what it causes, how it enriches all the artworks.
Complete divergence here. Back whenever Alte Nationalgalerie had the Impressionismus – Expressionismus. Kunstwende exhibition (almost two years ago), amongst all the sublime brilliance they had this Degas piece. He’s a sleazy tosser, but I have a love for his ballet pieces, like Tänzerinnen im Probensaal, which I cried over. Fucking art. So I’m in Von der Heydt-Museum, and there’s a Degas! And it’s the same one. Didn’t cry this time, I’m hard, me. There was another of his too. Yeah, I know he’s a cliché, but it’s because he started it. All of that was to say, same work, different exhibition, different museum, different wall, different lighting, different companion works, different audience (a lot smaller and quieter for one), all that makes a different artwork. I didn’t even recognise it as the same one. I was talking with Robert Bartholot about this, how to photograph art, and how the work changes as fast as the light moving outside, and I dunno, maybe compare the two. Same, different.
Other special works. Besides Adolph Erbslöh’s Schwebebahn, cos I was in Wuppertal and the Schwebebahn is the best Bahn. How about Bahnhof Gesundbrunnen? My home station. I know that bridge so well even if that station hasn’t looked like that since the ’40s. There was also an Edvard Munch, which I got mad excited about, cos I don’t think I’ve ever seen his stuff on a wall. A whole bunch of 20th century post-war German art, almost all by men until the century flips over, Kuno Gonschior’s massive yellow minimalist / colour field / abstract expressionist piece was definitely a fave. So much I missed and haven’t even mentioned.
Worth going to? If you’re in or near Wuppertal, then yeah, says Frances who lived in Melbourne and went to the NGV maybe once — and didn’t pay attention. It’s difficult to modulate this for people who aren’t like me, who don’t travel hours with an agenda of binging art. If I was in the Ruhrgebiet or Düsseldorf for a bit, then it’d be a no-brainer: go to Wuppertal, see museums, see Pina Bausch. See Pina Bausch, ride the Schwebebahn.
Because I’m obviously in love with the best public transport in the world, here’s some photos of the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn from Bahnhof Landgericht, which is the stop for Börse, where Gala and Michael were performing. It’s colossal, science-fiction engineering of swaying beauty.
No one told me they sway! Side to side. And lean into corners like they’re racing. Wuppertal’s Schwebebahn is the best 13km of public transport in the world. So good, Gala and I made a song about it. It’s the title of this post, repeated until you’re bored. You won’t be though, because Schwebebahn is the Best Bahn. The only thing that could make the best better would be Schwebebahn racing. Not especially fast, but especially awesome.
One of my favourite works from Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden was in the Albertinum Galerie Neue Meister, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Eisenbahnüberführung Löbtauer Straße in Dresden from 1910/26. It’s solid German Expressionism, not large next to other more formidable pieces, subdued in its colour palette, dominated by these pastel grey-blues, with slabs of orange and yellow cutting across and receding on a diagonal. I kept staring at it though, really fascinated with something in it. Those colours, the heavy weight of the iron railway bridge, the crudity of it yet total control of perspective, movement, how one’s eye moves about and over the figures.
As I was editing all those museum images down to something bloggable I saw the painting’s title, and as is my habit in such moments, I slobbed off to Google and Apple Maps. It’s reasonably uncommon to find the exact location of a painting — unless it’s a significant landmark. Small streets, cafés, the subjects of 19th and 20th century art and literature especially in Europe, especially in Germany (try following Walter Benjamin around Berlin), if they even exist are so unrecognisable I can often only get as far as, “Yeah, probably around there somewhere. Possibly.”
Kirchner’s Löbtauer Straße in Dresden exists. And so improbably so does that house on the corner of Roßthaler Straße. The steel train bridge doesn’t, replaced by concrete but following the same curve. Trams also, though they don’t feature in his painting. The buildings in the background though, all gone. In fact most of the triangular block it’s sitting on was until recently wasteland. The remaining set of apartment buildings at the opposite end were abandoned, trees growing out of the burnt and gutted roof. At the time of the painting, this whole block was packed with such homes. You can see the barrenness in the 3D Apple Map: most of the buildings in the left foreground are post-war East German and almost all the flat grassland and empty spaces would have been lined with typical 5-storey German Gründerzeit apartments. I find it harrowing to comprehend, every time I’m confronted with the total and utter destruction German rained upon itself, its own people, the people of Europe, its history — and the extremes of joyous communal destruction all of Europe and the world partook in. Language fails me.
I went to Dresden yesterday. Very impromptu. Decided Wednesday evening I needed some art. And travel. A quick adventure. I’ve only ever passed through the Hauptbahnhof in Dresden, and it’s 2 1/2 hours away by bus — less by train, though quadruple the price, and my current collecting of places I’ve never been is determined by places I can get to and from in a long day.
So, up at 5:30am, off to Südkreuz for the 7:15 bus, slight dozing mid-trip, mostly enjoying the scenery which evolves from the smooth former sea bed of the north into rolling hills very reminiscent of Vienna, and into Dresden Neustadt half an hour before the museums open. Enough time to walk — like I won’t be doing much of that today — across Marienbrücke so I can have the full experience of architecture lining the Elbe.
It’s seriously beautiful. I don’t have words for how stirringly picturesque it is, how utterly baroquely Europe. Dirty also. Like almost all German cities it had its teeth kicked out in 1945 for being a mouthy prick, and between the rubble of the remaining stumps lies the typical barren former-East German depression. Think of any big city you’ve lived in, Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto, Paris, and imagine on every city block there’s at least one empty wasteland, sometimes several grown together. Where you’d expect a thriving, vibrant inner city, seventy years after the Second World War, in Dresden, Magdeburg, even Berlin, these dead spaces remain. Nothing that some immigration couldn’t fix — ah, yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it?
The inner city, the Altstadt — so like Vienna. There’s even streets using Gasse, which I associate entirely with Austria. One even used Gässchen! Places like the Semperoper I’ve heard of for years, suddenly I’m gawking at it. I’m here for the museums though. Museums! Plural! The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden has quite a few. There’s the Zwinger mit Semperbau which has the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, and is where I’m heading first; across the road is the incredible, gorgeous Residenzschloss with the Grünes Gewölbe; a skip past Frauenkirche is the Albertinum with the Galerie Neue Meister; there’s the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Jägerhof, Japanisches Palais, and all the way in the next city over in Chemnitz is the Gotische Skulptur in Sachsen in the Schloßbergmuseum.
Two-thirds of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is closed. The Zwinger had been Baroquely imploding for some time. Currently it’s about 2 years off completion. The Historisches Grünes Gewölbe I didn’t make it to, nor any of the aforementioned last quartet. Nor either the Daniel Libeskind-ed Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr, which curiously has a rather nice bunch of Mediæval and Renaissance art. Obviously I’ll have to go back. It’s times like these I wish I had a driver’s licence and a car to use it in (WRX, yes please).
Museum people: super-friendly and helpful, young and old, facial piercings and all. Nice! Art: I took 580 photos so that’s a yes! And narrowed that down to around 280 — across seven collections mind, so not unduly excessive for first round of selecting. So so so very many brilliant works, the vast majority not mediæval art because that’s the collection that got the chop when the Gemäldegalerie had to partly close.
I’m going with Birgit Deiker’s 2007 work, Kleine Diva which I found in the Albertinum’s Skulpturensammlung in a dark chamber among shelves of heads and busts as my “This was Dresden Museum!” piece. So out of place, so inchoately horrifying and seductive.
I made it until just before 18h, camera battery dying as closing time veered in as toes, feet, body protested. “Frances, but isn’t going to see art supposed to be enjoyable?” Enjoyable? Museums and art are objects of endurance, acts of physical labour. To come out the other side, 9 hours later flattened and exhausted having enjoyed beyond satiety is the experience of a museum.
And then to get home. On a train from Prague.
9am on the train from Gesundbrunnen to Hennigsdorf. Eight hours later arriving back, much dustier, dirtier, kissed by hours riding in the sun, David and I, and bearing a 1970’s DDR blue and white coffee set, scored for an incredible twelve euros in Birkenwerder—which I would have never succumbed to if I’d known the scruffy trails we’d plough along later.
We were following the 66-Seen-Wanderweg, which circles Berlin in a 416km loop through lakes, rivers, canals, forests, quite a few small towns, and from which we deviated repeatedly and wildly, ending up in Oranienburg, almost in Sachsenhausen. Some time later we plopped down beside the water at Liepnizsee, ate excellent aged cheddar cheese, aromatic German Essener Art Brot, even more aromatic Wollschweinwurst, nuts and carrots and tart as buggery apples, and drank cups of tea from afore-purchased cups on their matching saucers.
Later again, we doodled around Hellsee and took a proper pause for making photos at the marsh, before barging off into sandy up and down forests until spat out near Rüdnitz. A dizzying 63km in six and an half hours between train stations on beautiful winding, undulating forest roads and equally beautiful forest trails of all types. So now we’ve committed to doing the whole 17 stages.