Archive for the ‘new york’ Tag

Art Vandals 4: A kiss is not just a kiss

Weapon: Spray paint, red

Reason: Political, gender politics

George Mendonsa iconic photo by Alfred Eisenstadt sailor kissing WW2

V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstadt (14th August 1945)

This iconic image marking the end of the Second World War for the USA looks different in the cool light of 2019. From a celebratory V-J Day image adorning a full page of Life magazine it takes on a more problematic dimension in that it is unclear what the kissee feels about the moment.

The sailor caught in the kissing a stranger act in Times Square, New York died on Sunday, aged 95, in Rhode Island. George Mendonsa was 21 when he grabbed the kiss. He was home on leave from the Pacific theatre.

George Mendonsa

George Mendonsa

He was kissing 21-year-old Austrian-born American dental assistant Greta Zimmer Friedman. She died on 8th September 2016 at the age of 92. The photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt withheld the names of the kissers. Greta Friedman said (unlikely though it seems) she had not been aware of the photo until the 1960s.

Greta Zimmer Friedman - Austrian-born American grabbed kissed

Greta Zimmer Friedman

Interviewed for the Veterans History Project in 2005, Greta Friedman confirmed it wasn’t her choice to be kissed and that the sailor “grabbed” her, but also that the kiss was a “jubilant act” and “just an event of ‘Thank God the war is over’. ”

Eisenstadt said he watched the sailor running along the street, grabbing any girl in sight.

“I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture.”

Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt

A sculpture based on the photo is to be seen in Sarasota, Florida, entitled Unconditional Surrender. The original version was made by J. Seward Johnson II in 2005 – he went on to create a series of them in different locations across the USA and beyond. In 2019 that punning title doesn’t play so well.

Sarasota, Florida Unconditional Surrender by J. Seward Johnson II 2005

Unconditional Surrender by J. Seward Johnson II

On Monday, the day after George Mendonsa’s death, the statue was vandalised with the hashtag #MeToo painted in red on the dental assistant’s bright white leg.

unconditional surrender sculpture statue vandalism metoo

By Tuesday the civic authorities had it back looking ship-shape and Bristol fashion. The cost of the damage was estimated at $1,000 (£765).

unconditional surrender sculpture statue tweet vandalism

Good as new (how good it was new is debatable)

It’s not the first time Unconditional Surrender has succumbed to unwanted assault. It was accidentally hit by a car on 27th April 2012 and removed for repairs.

There have been issues around the possible copyright infringement by the sculpture of the photo. But Seward Johnson claims his source was another simultaneous photograph by a different photographer:

Kissing_the_War_Goodbye photograph by Victor Jorgensen

Kissing the War Goodbye by Victor Jorgensen – same moment as in Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square

Greta Zimmer Friedman and George Mendonsa in photo taken by a Life Magazine photographer, at Times Square, New York

Greta & George back at Times Square years later

Times Square Unconditional Surrender sculpture at the site of the historic LIFE Magazine cover photograph by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt August 14, 2010 in New York. The sculpture is commemorating the 65th anniversary of V-J Day, DON EMMERT

Unconditional Surrender at the site of Eisenstaedt’s photo in Times Square – 14th August 2010 [Photo: Don Emmert]

Picture of the Month: Is he screaming?

Going, going...

Going, going…

I’m in the office, it’s mid-afternoon and a gap’s appeared. I’ll nab it to dash across the park to Sotheby’s to take a look at The Scream. It’s a version in pastels, not oil, on board, not canvas, in private hands for years, Fred Olsen the shipping magnate, unseeable til now. I ring up to see what time they close. Half an hour ago and today was the last day of the viewing in London – it’s off to New York now. I let out a little Skrik. Bugger, bugger, bugger, I’ve been meaning to take a look for weeks. As Nietzsche would have said, you’ve got to be philosophical about it. I’m trying – but struggling. Soooo disappointed. I’ve seen most of the other versions, three in paint, my first time was in Oslo around 1987.

The Scream sold

…gone!

And then I got a second chance I never expected. I pictured this pastels version of Munch’s The Scream disappearing back into some mansion. But the new owner is evidently an enlightened person, s/he put it on public display at MoMA in New York (with which I heard s/he has a close connection). I was in NYC a few weeks ago talking at the Impact Media conference. The day after I went on a pathetically shallow quest in search of a particular watch made in New York. One of the few places you’re supposed to be able to get one is in the MoMA design shop – drew a blank there (out-of-date websites are so annoying, Nooka) – but the upside was I spotted the poster for The Scream exhibition.

The 1895 pastel on board version at MoMA

The 1895 pastel on board version at MoMA

Made a bee-line for it. It sat in the centre of a semi-darkened room. Surrounded by various works which shed some light on it, relatively minor, thoughtfully displayed. And here’s the thing…

the-scream-comes-to-MoMA

He may well not actually be screaming. It’s called The Scream/Skrik. It’s got a man in the middle of it. Somehow an assumption had fixed itself in my mind that the man’s screaming. But first and foremost he’s covering his ears to block out a scream. A scream Munch heard in Nature that evening he went out walking along the edge of Oslo fjord and the sunset turned the sky blood red. His two friends were a bit ahead and he found himself alone in the face of Nature’s infinity.

I’ve experienced that myself but in a more benign way. I used to have an album by ABC called ‘Beauty Stab’ (used to because it was on cassette, a format well capable of prompting shrieks). It was a phrase that really resonnated for me. Those moments when you’re somewhere in Nature and it’s so beautiful it hurts. Occasionally I’ve had it though where it tips into an anxiety in the face of Nature’s depths – I had that once alone in a natural pool in Jamaica. For Munch it’s angst all the way on an overwhelming scale.

Skrik was one of six paintings making up what the artist dubbed the ‘Frieze of Life’. He was responding to (German dramatist) Lessing’s assertion in Laocoon that literature could tell a story over time where painting had to rely on a single moment. Munch wanted to create what the German’s called a ‘gesamptwerk’, a total work of art. The six paintings were displayed together and offered a coherent overview of life as a human being. Wanting to keep them together explains Munch’s willingness to reproduce his own paintings, avoiding breaking up the set.

One of the four versions made by Munch between 1893 and 1910

One of the four versions made by Munch between 1893 and 1910

On a tangent my limited Norwegian vocabulary is dominated by words like Skrik, Kvinne and the like, picked up from Munch’s titles. I was actually one of only two people in my year at Cambridge doing Norwegian (for me it was a third, subsidiary language which I was studying for all the wrong reasons and without seriousness, unlike the other student who quickly left me behind like Munch’s friends on that fateful walk).

munch skrik

So I battled my way through the crowd to get a close look at this 4th version of the iconic image, displayed like an icon in a fancy frame (Munch wasn’t keen on frames, or even on canvas, often painting on board or cheap materials) in a reverent penumbra, and drank it in, left above all with the impression of the mad swirls. Pencilled on to one oil version in the Oslo Museum is the sentence (in Norsk of course) “only a madman could have painted this”. To what extent this reflected his fear of madness in his family or was a bit of a pose cashing in on the Nordic rep for depressive nuttiness is difficult to say for sure.

Any way, I made my way literally round the corner to bump into another display of mad swirls. Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. (MoMA is like that, a too-rich mix of masterpiece after masterpiece, difficult to consume much of in a sitting.) What an illuminating face-off that was – Skrik vs Starry Night. Munch drew inspiration for his expressiveness from Vincent’s quickly growing impact in the wake of his death in 1890. But Vincent’s nightswirls are expressions not of madness and the chaotic expanse of Nature but of the raw energy of its infinity. Van Gogh’s image is the culmination of the 19th century in wonder and dynamism. Munch’s is the quintessence of the 20th century in its anxious horror.

Van-Gogh-Starry-Night

The face at its focus is simplified, universalised in the way Klee stripped back his imagery to a powerful child-like lingua franca. In this way it is the head of Everyman, almost back to the skull beneath the skin, and that is the secret of its power – it is a kind of blank canvas, like Room 101, where we each impose our own meanings onto it. A scream at the horror of the holocaust. Despair (its original title) at the godless world post-Nietzsche. A cry for sanity as we pollute the waters, the countryside, the sky – tearing the earth to bloody pieces. A shriek at the advent of the A-bomb. A man screaming …who isn’t.

abc beauty stab

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord – the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The colour shrieked. This became The Scream.

Munch’s diary – 22nd January 1892

The last Picture of the Month

Bitter Crop

The night before last the New York jazz club of the 30s and 40s Cafe Society was recreated in London at the Purcell Room on the South Bank for one night only. The club was set up in 1938 as an alternative to the largely segregated, mob-run nightclubs then on offer. Behind it was Barney Josephson, the New Jersey-born son of Jewish immigrants from Latvia. His declared ambition was to create ”a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front”. His socialist tendencies are well captured in the club’s motto: The wrong place for the Right people.

Cafe Society was opened in 1938 by Billie Holiday and it was there within the year that she unleashed upon the world Strange Fruit, a song like no other. Picking up on my earlier post about great song lines, Shelter from the Storm, there is one line in this poem turned song that ranks among the all-time great song lines:

Pastoral scene of the gallant South

If you ever wanted to illustrate irony… that word “gallant” kills off a view of the Confederacy in one mighty blow. When Holiday first heard the lyrics her one question was: what does ‘pastoral’ mean? Which is ironic in itself in that her whole being understood what Strange Fruit meant which is why she made the song so much her own.

With the same irony that has Danny Boy being composed by an English lawyer, it was actually written by a white man, a Jewish school teacher called Abel Meeropol – pen name Lewis Allan, after two children he lost in their infancy. Meeropol’s motivation was simple: “I wrote Strange Fruit because I hate lynching and I hate injustice and I hate the people who perpetuate it.”

Here’s the poem he brought to Holiday and Josephson at Cafe Society, already set to music, already performed in obscure left-wing circles, ripe for the magic of a singer who could perform it from her soul and evolve it into something uniquely powerful.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Holiday delivered this body blow to audiences throughout her career – here’s one later take on it (the instability of the picture seems to suit the song, as if it can’t fully be retained by the technology):

 

Update 19.xi.11

Barney Josephson didn’t seem to have his own Wikipedia entry so I’ve just made him one

The opposite of 9/11

Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye

Shame it’s not November yet, specifically the 9th, because then I could characterise the gig I’ve just been to as the opposite of 9/11 i.e. 11/9. But life’s rarely that neat so let’s push on regardless…

Patti Smith, Philip Glass and Lenny Kaye performed a show of poetry, music and song in tribute to Allen Ginsburg at LSO St Luke’s in Old Street, London – and it was the quintessence of New York (New Jersey) creativity, the polar opposite of the vacant dead-beats who flew those planes into New York’s towers. Today I arranged my first trip back to NYC since I went to collect the Grand Award at the New York International Film & Television Festival in 1994 – with my mum, fiancee and sister-in-law-to-be in tow. In the foyer after the ceremony Richard Norley of Jump Design introduced me to a certain Peter Fincham who was then at TalkBack. I had to apologise for not being able to shake his hand on account of all the silverware I was carrying 😉 . Believe he went on to do quite well for himself – lousy bastard never even answered my letter when I wrote to him for a job before he went to the Beeb (probably still jealous about the big silver bowl from which we drank copious amounts of champers – that was a great night, said sister-in-law arrived at the party in her apartment on E14th St dressed in a black cat-suit draped in the stars and stripes, as she had gotten her US citizenship that same weekend – the official at the swearing allegiance ceremony had asked her if she would bear arms for her country – Bronagh’s reply: Honey, there ain’t no machine gun big enough!).

So Patti & Philip began with some poems by Ginsberg, then by her – she speaks poetry so well with that great Noo Joisey accent. Philip Glass went on to play solo on the piano Night on the Balcony, Piano Etude #2 and Piano Etude #10 – getting onto that pulsating thing he does like John Adams and Steve Reich. Patti & Lenny then took to the stage and performed a few songs including In My Blakeian Year and Ghost Dance.

We shall live again, we shall live again,
We shall live again, shake out the ghost dance.
Here we are, Father, Lord, Holy Ghost,
Bread of your bread, ghost of your host,
We are the tears that fall from your eyes,
Word of your word, cry of your cry.
We shall live again, we shall live again,
We shall live again.

She dedicated the song to the monks in Burma. The first song she had dedicated to Rimbaud, whose birthday it is today. I spoke to her briefly after the gig about Rimbaud’s time in London in College Street, Camden Town.

The three of them performed some more Ginsberg poems including Magic Psalm and On the Cremation of Chogyam Thungpa Vidyadhara:

I noticed food, lettuce salad, I noticed the teacher was absent,
I noticed my friends, I’ve noticed our car, I’ve noticed the blue Volvo,

I’ve noticed a young boy hold my hand
Our key in the motel door, I noticed a dark room, I noticed a dream
And forgot, noticed oranges lemons and caviar at breakfast,
I noticed the highway, sleepiness, homework thoughts, the boy’s nippled chest in the breeze
As the car rolled down hillsides past green woods to the water.

I noticed the sea, I noticed the music – I wanted to dance.

This very special, intimate performance – Glass and Ginsberg were pals, Patti and Allen were friends (both New Jerseyites), Glass and Patti were present in Ginsberg’s last hours in his New York loft (she lifted a book from his shelf at random and it was a volume of Blake’s poetry which Ginsberg had completely rewritten in every piece of available white space in the margins) – came to a close with the Footnote to Howl:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an
angel!

Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the
locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the
abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
kindness of the soul!

I love that word “kindness” – it’s the opposite of 9/11.

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