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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Judith: A Collaboration

On March 24, 1965, Jean Giraudoux’s play “Judith; a tragedy in three acts” opened at the Phoenix Theatre, New York. The artists who contributed to this endeavor were at the height of their careers, and the production involved numerous collaborations to bring the story to life.

In visual arts, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning – pioneer couple of the Dada movement and Surrealism – brought their irrationality, nonsense and anti-bourgeois sentiments to set design and costuming for the production. Ernst began his career as painter-sculptor-graphic artist-poet in Germany during the 1920’s, and collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of Romeo and Juliet (1926) (1).  Separately in America, Tanning’s career began the early 1940s, working on her own surreal paintings while supporting herself as a commercial artist in New York –  where she designed sets and costumes for several ballets of George Balanchine, including The Night Shadow (1945).  Ernst and Tanning met in 1942 and married four years later.

Max & Dorothea, NYC - 1947

Max & Dorothea, NYC, 1947

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Joan Miró and Max Ernst, set for Romeo and Juliet, 1926

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Dorothea Tanning, program cover for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, 1945

For the production of Judith,  Ernst designed sets while Tanning created costumes.

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Max Ernst, “Judith: Les deux elements,” 1961, oil on canvasboard construction, 32.7 x 23.5 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, New York,May 2, 2012 (Lot# 374)

Judith (1961) Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning, “Costume Design for Judith: Judith,” 1961, Gouache on paper 13.75 x 9.5 in, http://www.dorotheatanning.org

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Dorothea Tanning, “Costume Design for Judith: Holopherne,” 1961, Gouache on paper, 16.94 x 12.88 in, http://www.dorotheatanning.org

In performance art,  Judith was played by Rosemary Harris and Holofernes by Paul Sparer.   At the time, Rosemary Harris was an English actress experienced in Shakespeare and historical drama – although now most people know her as Aunt May in the Spiderman franchise.   Paul Sparer was a television actor who became known as The Narrator in Tales from the Darkside.

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Rosemary Harris as “Judith” (1965)

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Rosemary Harris as “Aunt May” in Spiderman (2002)

Judith (1970) Manus Presse

In 1970, the German publisher Manus Presse issued a book of the text of Judith by Jean Giraudoux, with 6 color lithographs by Max Ernst and 6 color lithographs by Dorothea Tanning.   Signed editions of the book are currently available from online book sellers for $1,800 to $ 5,000 – depending on the condition.  Not bad for an old book!  Now if i could just read German … but no worries.  It has pictures.

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Jean Giraudoux, Judith, Illustrated by Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. 50pp, 12 color lithographs on Arches Paper, 43 cm x 30 cm. Stuttgart, DE: Manus Presse GmbH (1970)

(1) Valerie Lawson, Happily ever after: The Ballets Russes’ Romeo and Juliet. The Australian Ballet website: Behind Ballet, December 5, 2011.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Story

 

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Judith in automatic

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André Masson, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1946, ink and charcoal on paper, 33.5 x 32 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, Paris, July 5, 2005 (Lot# 260)

André Masson (1896-1987) is known as the pioneer of automatic drawing – a technique within surrealism that is a means of expressing the subconscious.  In automatic drawing, the hand is allowed to move ‘randomly’ across the paper, using “chance and accident, free of rational control and repression” to allow the subconscious to reveal the psyche.  Wikipedia suggests that you also see scribbling and doodling. Although I doubt my doodles would fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

So in this revelation of the psyche, Masson has depicted Judith and Holofernes.  Or he doodled something and then titled it “Judith and Holofernes.”  Since I only see one figure, it appears to be literally “Judith OR Holofernes.”  And I am supposing it is Holofernes, given the amount of hairy armpit and lack of mammary tissue.

Poor Holofernes.  He looks so lonely, gazing down at the sheets.  Left alone in his bed to contemplate his groin, hands above his head.

Unless … Judith actually is in the picture … somewhere.  After all … this is a MALE subconscious at work …

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Borderline Boring

 

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Judith and Another Myth

Judith (1996) Zoya Frolova

Zoya Frolova (b. 1953), “Another Myth About Judith,” 1996, oil on canvas, 137.8 x 153 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, New York, January 10 – 11, 2012 (Lot# 138)

Bear with me as I try to figure this out …

On the far left, a headless (and armless and legless) classical statue represents Holofernes. I must admit that – being accustomed to seeing headless and limbless classical statues surviving the devastations of time – this defacement seems commonplace rather than a heroic act on Judith’s part.  However, since this painting is about Judith, I will assume Holofernes has been intentionally separated from his head rather than decapitated by some random accident in an earthquake.

On the far right, it appears to be part of a classical frieze featuring an armless woman – although I am honestly not sure.  The easiest interpretation is that the frieze forms a background for the action, but easy is not always correct.

And then the centerpiece is Judith, ripe with contradictions.  Raven-haired and sloe-eyed, she wears a voluminous white skirt like a prima ballerina – topped by a shiny silver breastplate that has fallen from her shoulders – so that she is both feminine and masculine in her attire.  Her right arm is apparently part of Holofernes’ figure – so that she is both “in” and “out” of the classical statuary.  And most surprising of all, beneath the hem of her skirt protrudes a black dildo – once again implying both her masculine and feminine power and adding to the myth that her motives were sexual.

Unless I am totally wrong about this painting.  In which case the black wand is really an attachment from a vacuum sweeper (I am guessing either mattress nozzle or crevice tool), and Judith is in the process of cleaning up the mess she made.

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A little more about the artist, Zoya Frolova.  Since her immigration to the US and this work in the mid 1990’s, her style has evolved to large canvases that play with light.  When interviewed about painting feminine themes in this earlier period (1) , Frolova talked about her art:

RB:  Where does your inspiration come from?

ZF: My most powerful impulses come from anger, from situations I cannot change and have no power over.

Perhaps explains Judith and the mess she made.

(1)  Bagel, Renee and Matthew. Peeling Potatoes, Painting Pictures: Women Artists in Post-Soviet Russia, Estonia, and Latvia.  New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Whorey

 

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Judith for sale

SERIOUSLY?  I could have purchased my very own Judith by Lucas Cranach the Elder from REPROARTE?

Judith (1530) Cranach?

Lucas Cranach the Elder? (1530), “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” http://www.reproarte.com

OH!  It’s art reproduction!!  So for about 42.00 EUR (or $54.62) I can have a genuine imitation Lucas Cranach the Elder?

Except I have never seen this Cranach before, so that would make it a genuine imitation of a unique and newly uncovered work of art.  Which would make the painting invaluable!  Or is that invaluable?  I really need to get those definitions straight.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2013 in Gory

 

Judith takes out the trash

Judith (1946) Francis Gruber

Francis Gruber, “Judith,” 1946, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, Paris, December 8, 2003 (Lot# 72)

Francis Gruber was a French painter, known for his mature and melancholy style – a product of living through two World Wars. One of Gruber’s most memorable works is “Job,” completed in 1944 for the Salon d’Automne, in which he employed the Biblical story as an allegory for hope under suffering of the Occupation.  The inscription translates as: ‘Now, once more my cry is a revolt, and yet my hand suppresses my sobs.”  Because of this and other works, Gruber is considered the father of the Miserabiliste variety of French painting (i.e. deriving enjoyment from gloom – today known as Emo – including angst, romantic bitterness, and poetic desperation).  His work was decidedly anti-war, revealed against a background of political instability and economic hardship. (1,2,3)

In that same vein, here is Judith walking through a doorway from a background of gray devastation and death into a landscape of greenery and new growth.  Although her actions could be construed as “warlike”, Gruber seems to have cast her as the catalyst to end oppression and to bring hope with the destruction of Holofernes.

I just wish I could figure out the overturned garden chairs, which pose a mystery for me and mess with my OCD.

 

(1) Worldwide Art Reseources, Francis Gruber (1912-1948)

(2) Tate Collection, Francis Gruber: Job 1944

(3) ThinkQuest, Art and the Influence of War: Francis Gruber

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Gory

 

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Judith dissolves from blue to black

A year ago on this date, I wrote a post entitled “Judith is still blue.”  The post features the work of Matt Hughes – a Gothic Art Nouveau depiction of Judith leaving camp in a blue cloak.  Hughes is quoted in that post:

“When I become deeply affected by the tragedies of others I engross myself in their world and their experiences.  This “visual method acting” as I have come to refer to it allows me to convey a small portion of their tragedy, sorrow, or experience to my audience in a way that is both confrontational and evocative.  My voice is unique and through my work I intended to shout my thoughts and whisper my demons away.” (1)

Engrossing himself in “visual method acting” in this case means placing himself in Holofernes’ position.  Or rather, placing his own decapitated head in the grasp of a ghoulish Judith.

Judith (2011) Matt Hughes

Matt Hughes, “Beside myself,” 2011, Oil on canvas, 20×30, http://www.matthughesart.com/portfolio.php

 

A ghoulish Judith who might actually be the artist again.  Perhaps indulging in intense self-examination of competing emotions?  Or he couldn’t find an appropriate model?

 

(1)  Gothic Art Nouveau and Matt Hughes: The Art and The Artist

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2013 in Gory

 

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Judith hits the fan

To be more specific, Judith is on a fan.

Judith () fan

unknown artist, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” c. 1739, Chicken-skin leaf, 28 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, London, May 22, 2001 (Lot# 30)

Lot Description

Judith with the Head of Holofernes, a fan, the chicken-skin leaf painted, the verso with cattle by a mountain shed with a mother and child, the mother of pearl sticks carved and pierced with sheperds and shepherdesses and painted with Bacchus – 11in. (28cm.), Italian, circa 1739 (one guardstick broken, one stick lacks a fragment)

Imagine it’s a hot summer day in 1739, and the smells of the street are wafting our way – a mixture of urine and feces with rotting food.  The people next to us have not bathed this month and are sweating profusely in our tight carriage – enclosed to keep away the flies and mosquitoes that carry disease. Oh, the good old days were so gentil and au natural.

All I need to make this trip through the heart and heat of Milan in the Age of Enlightenment is a fashionable fan. Because “from the sixteenth century up to the late 1800s throughout the whole of Europe, the dress of no fashionable lady en grande tenue appears to have been complete without the addition of a fan.”  (1)

In the history of the fan, the earliest folding fan was seen in Japan.  It was adopted in 10th century China and brought to Portugal during the 15th century to appear in general use in Spain and Italy during the 16th century.  The fashionable fan was made up of two parts: the stick (la monture) – composed of a varying number of blades (brins) which fold in between two guards (panaches) – and the mount (la feuille).  The mount was either leather, chicken-skin, silk, or paper.  “Chicken-skin” was not a by-product of KFC but was actually kid’s skin subject to peculiar Italian treatment (art lost when silk mounts came into fashion).

So as the bile from my hot, greasy lunch begins the upward approach to my throat in response to the stench du jour, fluttering my fan with the depiction of Holofernes’ decapitated head will surely diminish my distress.

Or maybe I should turn it to look at the cows by the mountain shed until I regain my composure.

(1) Louisa Parr, The History of the Fan. Victoriana Magazine (viewed June 24, 2013)

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Cacciatore

 

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