The Shameless Gaze: Artists and Art Patrons

by Andrea Scrima


What is power? The answer is relative, contingent on context. We speak of the power of sexual allure, the power of persuasion, of charisma, but these only rarely translate into sustainable structures of actual dominance. In a capitalist democracy, power is generally economic and political; it’s less frequently defined as intellectual or moral force. As an artist and writer whose works are not, as sometimes happens in other political systems, banned (which would enhance their power in a different intellectual economy), but merely sell poorly, I have relatively little power, and so my words come from the position of a person frequently, in one way or another, subject to the will of others.

Given the vast difference in agency prevailing between artists and patrons, is an intellectual, artistic, ethical discussion on equal terms even possible? Wealth inspires conflicting emotions in people who don’t have it: envy for the ease and security it affords, because so many of the problems that plague us can be solved with money; frustration that the notion of equitable taxation is evidently a utopian impossibility; dismay at the injustices of wealth distribution and the damage the ever-widening economic divide between the haves and have-nots has inflicted on society, the environment, and world peace. But without wealth, it’s said, we would never have had the splendor of kingdoms and courts; the magnificent cathedrals and palaces would never have been built, the arts would never have flourished. The concentration of wealth and the judicious application of its power is what makes civilizations thrive. Indeed, people working in the arts will always find themselves in happy or unhappy alliance with those in a position to fund their endeavors and will forever speculate on the underlying motivations of those who give so “generously.” The relationship that binds the arts to wealth is inherently problematic, a form of co-dependence in which power is negotiated according to ever-shifting terms. Read more »

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album

by Sue Hubbard

Key 019“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven,” wrote Wordsworth on the eve of the French Revolution. Though his words could equally have been describing a very different time and place and another, later, revolution where to be young was, also, ‘very heaven'. This revolution was expressed not through chopping off aristocratic heads but through drugs, sex and rock n'roll. And, as with the French revolution, its utopian values of freedom grew out of the restrictions and constraints of the dominant culture.

I was at school in the 1960s and remember going to see Easy Rider. It's hard to explain, coming from my bourgeois English background, just how mesmerising it was to sit in the dark and watch this anarchic road movie. Cool, sexy and intense, its saturated colour, naturalistic shots and long lonely vistas of desert highways seemed to embody a sort of frontier freedom that was primarily American, something I'd only previously encountered in the writing of Jack Kerouac. Easy Rider was wild, thrilling and a little frightening. It encapsulated the restlessness of the 60s counterculture, the feelings of a generation increasingly disillusioned with organised government and the political conflicts that surrounded Vietnam, poverty and issues of race. The film stared three men who would go on to become iconic anti-heroes: Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper.

Key 049Mad, bad and, no doubt, dangerous to know, Dennis Hopper became a cult figure. He embodied the restless mood of those emotionally charged times with their major social shifts and changes in moral values. Good-looking, self-confident and iconoclastic – part outlaw, part artist – he was the sort of guy who was always going to be something even if he didn't know what that something was going to be. By the age of 18 he was under contract to Warner Bros and became fascinated by the creative potential of film, co-starring with that other American icon, James Dean, in Rebel without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956). By the late 50s Hopper was living in New York and studying acting under Lee Strasberg. He was also taking photographs of street signs, walls and ripped posters, material not yet commonly the subject of art. At 25 he married the actress Brooke Hayward, daughter of the photographer, Leyland Hayward. On Hopper's birthday Brooke went to her father and borrowed the money to buy him a Nikon camera. From 1961 to 1967 he carried it everywhere until he began work on Easy Rider and put it away.

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The United States: A Premature Postpartum in Four Parts

by Akim Reinhardt

Ottoman EmpireThe Ottoman Empire, which emerged during the beginning of the 14th century, reached its zenith some 250 years later under its 10th Sultan, Suleiman the Law Giver. By that point, the empire held sway over more than 2 million square miles spread across parts of three continents, from Hungary in the west to Persia in the east, from the north shore of the Black Sea to the southern tip of the Red Sea.

And then began the long, slow slog towards oblivion. Osmanli imperial decline unfolded over the course of three and a half centuries. There was no shortage of ups and downs along the way, but of course there were more of the latter than the former. The empire teetered into the 20th century, and by the start of World War I, had lost almost all of its holdings in Europe and north Africa. As with the Hapsburgs and czarist Russia, the war itself proved to be the coup de grace, signaling an end to the era of classic empires. Ottoman forces achieved mixed results during the actual fighting, but by the time the war was over, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was leading a successful revolt from within. The sultanate was abolished in 1922, and the empire's Anatolian rump reformed as the modern nation of Turkey the following year. After more than six centuries of rise and fall, the empire was done.

It had taken 350 years for the Ottoman empire to slip from apogee to dissolution; just its decline alone had lasted longer than many political entities exist in toto. Indeed, the United States first gained first independence “only” 230 years ago, which means it needs well over four and a half more centuries to match the staying power of the Ottomans.

As a Historian, I know better than most how useless it is to predict the future. I will not even hazzard a guess as to when the United States will finally dissolve or how it will occur: through bloody war, contentious rebellion, or quiet disintegration.

But it will happen eventually. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing.

And whenever it does happen, future historians might possibly look back to the mid-20th century as the U.S. imperial acme in much the same way they now look back to the mid-16th century as the peak of Ottoman glory.

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Anslem Kiefer: Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen – White Cube, Hoxton, London

By Sue Hubbard

In 1969 the German artist Anslem Kiefer compiled a book, Unfruchtbare Landschaften that brought together two disparate elements: landscapes and the pages of a medical textbook dealing with contraception. Placing the IUDs out of context on top of the landscapes seemed to imply sterility. Wrenched from their purpose and context these now alien objects brought with them not only traces of their own history but took on new metaphorical meanings. The beauty of the gesture of these juxtapositions lay in the attempt to say something beyond language.Anselm_Kiefer_Des_Meeres_und_der_Liebe_Wellen_2011_a4_1[1]

Kiefer is one of the most significant and serious artists of the post war generation. Born in Donaueschinger in South Germany in 1945, in 1966 he left his law studies at the University of Freiburg to study art. A student of Joseph Beuys in the early 1970s he began to explore the fraught territory of German history and identity in a muscular visual language. His paintings, oversized books and performance art draw from literature, art and music, philosophy and folklore. Borrowing from Teutonic myth he has conducted investigations into the recent past, particularly the era of the Third Reich, exploring a post Nietzschian desire to establish meaning in a brutal Godless world. His painted landscapes of the ploughed and rutted German countryside, incorporating straw, ash, clay, lead and shellac, have become metaphors for the tragedy of recent European history. Engaged in an endless interrogation of the devastation and horror that his country wrought, he implies that the tragedy was a product of Germany’s intellectual and cultural heritage, a view endorsed in Michael Haneke's superb yet disturbing film, The White Ribbon, based on life in pre-first world war Germany.

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