Ruins 3

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Another watercolor on cardboard by Svend Keller. The caption reads: “Ruine an der Schloßstraße” (Ruin at Schloßstraße). Signed and dated November 17th, 1948. A preparatory drawing made with a hard pencil is visible in the lower part. Schloßstraße is a street in Chemnitz, the city where Svend Keller was living at the time.

In this study, Svend Keller concentrated on a single building, or rather what remained of it. Other houses in the background are only hinted at. The style of the windows indicates that this might not have been an appartment building but rather an industrial building. Ruins like this one still formed an important part of the cityscape of many German cities at the time and continued to do so for years, in some cases even decades to come. We can take this as a historical document.

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On the Role of Art Museums

File:Hamburg.Kunsthalle.Kuppel.wmt.jpg

During history, the way art is embedded into society has changed several times. In medieval times, for example, most of art was religious. In Europe, it was, to a large extent, confined to churches. In early modern times, aristocrats and members of the upper middle classes became the main substrate of art in society. In the 18th and 19th centuries, museums, often funded by states or by special societies, where established to collect art while art criticism took place in the arts and culture sections of newspapers or in special journals. In many cases, especially in the 19th century, such museums where operating within theoretical frameworks that were nationalistic, but that is a topic beyond the scope of this article.

The rise of the internet is more and more pushing the traditional print media to the side. Blogs or other forms of public opinion outside editorial media, where people publish directly without the filter of an editor of editorial department between them and their readers, more and more replace the traditional system of printed papers. And the role of museums, I think, is changing as well.

For a long time, art museums, aided by galleries, where the main place where people from the general public could get into contact with art. This gave the curators of the museums as well as the gallery owners, a relatively important role in determining which artists became important and what art became visible to the interested public. Together with the art critics who had access to the arts and culture sections of the papers, these people had, to some extent, a monopoly to decide what art mattered.

The way art is embedded into society is currently changing again. I got the impression that this old system of news-paper-based arts critics, museum curators and gallery owners is losing its influence. While it was very difficult before for artists to reach people and while it was difficult for the public to get into contact with art and artists outside this system, the internet increasingly seems to be changing this situation. Many artists now make their art accessible through the internet both for people who just want to see it – at least in the form of digital images – as well as for people who want to buy it. Many artists now have blogs and online shops and are represented on different social media. People interested in art can get access to it through the net, get into direct contact with artists and learn about artists and exhibitions they would never have known about before.

As a result, the traditional go-betweens of art are losing their monopoly. One consequence of this is that the entire variety of art that is produced becomes visible and accessible. No longer is a group of critics and curators able to decide which movements in art will be dominating at a time. The art lover now has to select by himself or by herself what he or she likes or wants to see, there is no expert in between who will filter things, at least not necessarily. The art critic is still there, but no longer does he have a monopoly of interpretation or a monopoly to decide what counts as quality. The responsibility is shifted to the art lover. While this opens up chances for mediocrity and kitsch, art of high quality is still produced and even to a larger extent than before and in many parallel movements and directions at once.

What will be the role of art museums if they lose their function as trend setters in the arts landscape? The internet has made visible the tremendous variety of contemporary art. I suggest that museums redefine their role from a prescriptive or normative to a descriptive role. I suggest that they widen their scope and start collecting not only the works of a few established (and often very expensive) artists but instead start sampling the wide spectrum of art that is there. I suggest that museums redefine themselves to become archives of the true plurality and multiplicity of art by buying and collecting works of art that are representative of the art scene of the time, even if many of the artists whose works are collected are little known and many of them might never rise to prominence. Where today millions are spent to acquire a few works of renowned artists, the same amount of money could be used to buy a representative sample of thousands of works of different artists. There are hundreds of art schools and arts departments worldwide where students study and become artists and there are also a lot of extremely interesting “amateur” artists who do great art and who are amateurs only in the sense that they do not have a university degree. Only a few of these artists ever make it into museums with their works. I think this is a mistake. The collections of the museums would be much more interesting for future generations of art lovers and art historians if the museums would buy a greater variety of works.

Of course we need the traditional art museums to preserve the works that we have inherited from the past. But we also need a new type of art museum or art archive that has a wider scope, more fitting to the more public, more democratic art scene that the internet has helped to create.

(The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hamburg.Kunsthalle.Kuppel.wmt.jpg.)

Sheaves

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A torn out page from one of Rolf Keller’s sketch books. Pencil, undated and unsigned.

Another sketch providing a glimpse of a world of agricultural techniques that have disappeared since. Harvested grain was bundled into sheaves and left on the fields for some time to dry, before being brought to the threshing floor.

Like in some of Rolf Keller’s other sketches I have posted here before, we see here a world in a time of change. The old things are still there but a new time is approaching. The sheaves still look like they used to look thousands of years before, but the arrival of combine harvesters caused this sight to disappear soon after. The houses in the background look like relatively modern residential houses, not like farmhouses. The old agricultural world is about to disappear and a new urban world is approaching.

I don’t know where this sketch was made, it might be somewhere arround Chemnitz, maybe Grüna again, where Rolf Keller was living for some time, but it might also have been somewhere else, during a trip. I guess this sketch was made in the 1920s or 1930s.

This sketch is unsigned but it was obviously made by Rolf Keller. The way he captures trees, houses or other things with a single continuous winding line is quite typical for his sketches. Even some of the hatchures consist of a single continuous line not leaving the paper.

I find this sketch quite beautiful. This little piece of paper seems to emanate the athmosphere of a hot late summer day, captured in a few lines…

Emmit Kyle: blue painting four

Occasionally, I am going to reblog posts from artists I find remarkable. I want to start with Emitt Kyle, an artist born in the UK and living in Taiwan, who produces abstract paintings I find quite stunning.
The paintings shown on this post remind me of deep space photographs of galaxies. There is a lot of small scale structure and a little bit of large scale structure and little in between, like a sound with high frequency noise and some deep bass. In the series of paintings shown on his blog, it looks like the artist is trying to investigate the “edge of minimality”, bit by bit dissolving the large scale structures to find out how little structure you can have and still get an aesthetic effect. Besides this, these paintings have something mysterious, where structures disappear in the haze. Hard to describe, simple and complex at the same time. I like these paintings very much.

Ruins 2

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A sketch by Svend Keller, colored crayon or chalk (?) on card bord, dated 6th Autust 1949.

If I am not mistaken, the church is the Hofkirche in Dresden. I don’t know if this sketch was actually made in Dresden or if it is based on a photograph.

Dresden was heavily bombarded in February 1945.  According to one estimates, between 22.700 and 25.000 people died.

I was born in Hamburg and I live in Cologne. Like Dresden, both of these cities were largely destroyed by area bombing. Here in Cologne, there is a hill in the middle of the city, planted with trees, actually a nice park. It consists of the rubble of the buildings destroyed in the bombardments.

In my view, any bombarding of civilians has to be regarded as a crime of war and a crime against humanity. Moreover, in Dresden, a city that had an extraordinarily rich cultural heritage, invaluable works of architecture and art where destroyed. Germans committed incredible atrocities in this war, but I think this does not justify atrocities as a response. A crime does not justify another crime.

And such things are still happening. There is still war, because of nationalistic or religious or other ideologies or greed for power and riches.

Let me finish this post with the translation of an excerpt of a letter one of my aunts (Martha Schröder) received from one of her girlfriends (Gretchen Sievers, nee Rubach), from September 19th, 1949, in Hamburg, a historical document never published before, where the writer describes how she survived one of the attacks on Hamburg.[1].

Then came the second night of attacks on the 27th/28th. Liselotte had night watch. H.-R. [Hans-Reimer] and I had planned to sleep at Gertrud Riege’s place because the apartment was so tight, but because or Lieselotte’s night watch, we abandoned this plan. Areal mines, explosive bombs, fire bomgs, phosphorous canisters destroyed several quarters completely, so that only sporadically a house was left over, and this way it also happened with us. Immediately at the beginning we were submerged. After the planes had finally left, Hans-Reimer searched for the emergency exit and cleared it. Upstairs in the production shop there was fire behind us and in front of us there was the shower of sparks into which we had to go out. Gretchen and I left our suitcases behind and held our handbags even more tightly. We had lost our nerve for a moment and did not believe that we would get our suitcases along with us through the junk and the shower or sparks. Later we regretted it but had to laugh about ourselves and about our enormous “bravery”. H.-R. then brought us under the pillar or the bridge and took us, after a moment, behind the refrigerator wagons at the canal. Then he checked if the toilet under [the street] Heidenkampsweg was open and took us there. A wet blanket was held before the entrance so that the sparks would not fly inside. The whole night, H.-R. stood in the canal up to his neck to scoop water with a bucket with which we as well were doused from time to time inside the toilet so that some oxygen could come inside. Inside we were about 50 women and 4 – 5 children. The men were lying tightly together at the canal and poured water over themselves. Many also sought refuge inside the refrigerator wagons. From 8 o’clock the fire fighters helped, but they themselves were at the end of their strength. Around 10 o’clock, we could finally come out.

Original text:

Dann kam die 2. Angriffsnacht vom 27./28. Liselotte hatte Nachtwache. H.-R. und ich hatten wegen der Enge in unserer Wohnung bei Gertrud Riege schlafen wollen, sahen wegen Liselottes Nachtwache aber noch davon ab. Luftminen, Spreng- und Brandbomben, Phosphorkanister machten ja verschiedene Stadtteile gänzlich kaputt, sodaß nur ganz vereinzelt ein Haus stehen blieb und so ging es bei uns auch. Gleich zu Beginn waren wir verschüttet. Nachdem die Flieger endlich fort waren, suchte Hans-Reimer den Notausstieg und räumte ihn frei. Oben im Produktionsladen brannte es hinter uns und vor uns war der Funkenregen, in den wir hinaussollten. Gretchen und ich ließen unsere Koffer stehen und hielten unsere Handtaschen umso fester. Wir hatten für ein paar Minuten die Nerven verloren und glaubten nicht, dass wir unsere Koffer durchs Gerümpel und durch den Feuerregen mitbekämen. Später haben wir es bereut, mussten aber doch über uns selbst lachen und über unsere enorme „Tapferkeit“. H.-R. brachte uns dann unter die Brückenpfeiler und holte uns nach einem Augenblick hinter die Kühlwagen am Kanal. Dann sah er nach, ob die Toilette unterm Heidenkampsweg offen ist und holte uns dahin. Vor den Eingang wurde eine nasse Decke gehalten, damit die Funken nicht hineinflogen. H.-R. stand die ganze Nacht bis am Hals im Kanal und schöpfte mit einem Eimer Wasser, womit auch wir in der Toilette von Zeit zu Zeit übergossen wurden, damit etwas Sauerstoff hineinkam. Wir waren drinnen etwa 50 Frauen und 4 – 5 Kinder. Die Männer lagen eng aneinander am Kanal und begossen sich selbst. Auch in die Kühlwagen flüchteten viele. Ab 8 Uhr half die Feuerwehr, aber die war selbst am Ende ihrer Kraft. Um 10 Uhr endlich konnten wir hinaus.


[1]  Transcribed by my mother and translated by myself. This letter was part of a larger corpus of letters, mostly from my aunt, her mother and other relatives, that my mother transcribed. The original of this particular letter was returned to the family of the writer.