365 Days of Art: July 30 – Vincent Becomes Youngest Art Dealer in Firm, and Vincent is Laid to Rest

Vincent Van Gogh, self portrait, 1889

July 30, 1869

Van Gogh becomes the youngest employee of the art dealers firm of Goupil & Compagnie in The Hague.

July 30, 1890

Twenty one years later, Vincent’s funeral is held. His coffin is placed for viewing in his room at the inn in Auvers, surrounded by his last paintings, and the tools of his trade: his easel, folding stool and brushes. Yellow flowers–his favorite–including sunflowers are gathered in the room. By all accounts, his funeral, as well as his burial on a hill afterwards, is a moving event, and Vincent is remembered fondly.

365 Days of Art: July 27 – Vincent Shoots Himself

Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890

July 27, 1890

Vincent van Gogh shoots himself in the chest while out painting in the wheatfields. He eventually walks a mile back to the inn where he’s staying, and the doctor is called to bandage his wound. Thinking that the case is hopeless, Dr. Gachet doesn’t even remove the bullet. During the night, Vincent hardly says anything, but occasionally smokes his pipe despite the severe pain.

In less than two days, he’ll be dead. This is one of his last paintings and has always looked like foreshadowing to me.

365 Days of Art: July 26 – Three Events About Women in the Art World: a Suicide, a Congressional Debate, and a Job Interview

Three events today, about women in the art world:

Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967

July 26, 1971

Diane Arbus commits suicide. She is a photographer, known for her black-and-white, usually head-on photos of folks that might make other folks cringe: a man in rollers and make-up, presumably half-way through his transformation to drag queen (this photo is spat on by a MoMA visitor); a giant standing with his parents in their Bronx apartment; odd-looking twins in identical dresses and headbands (this photo is the inspiration for the eerie girl-ghosts in The Shining). Arbus says she doesn’t want to be known as a photographer of “freaks” (though that’s exactly the term that is most often used to describe her work). She initially says she sees tenderness and beauty in her photos, though later she tells a friend that she hates them.

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979, installation

July 26, 1990

Congress debates Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, in the context of monetary support to the University of District Columbia, where she had donated the installation. To absolutely no one’s surprise, California Rep. Bob Dornan in particular comes out against the feminist work, saying: “This thing is a nightmare. This is not art, it’s pornography, 3-D ceramic pornography. This disgusting dinner party…Look at this garbage.”

The final vote removes $1.6 million from the UDC budget.

Chicago says later: “That was appalling, watching that debate on C-SPAN, the quote-unquote ‘congressional debate’. ”

You can watch the debate here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4044907/dinner-party.

July 26, 2006

In an interview, Marcia Tucker, former curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art, founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and possible former Guerrilla Girl, discusses her job interview at the Whitney:

He [President David Solinger] wanted to know if I had a boyfriend, if I intended to get married, if I intended to have a family, really amazing stuff, how old I was. At some point I just stopped him and I said:

“Let me tell you why you don’t want to hire a woman. First, no man will ever be able to work for me. Secondly we know that women can’t do budgets and third, once a month I will go crazy and nobody will be able to get near me.”

And he actually laughed and he said, “Okay.”

They hired us both [she and James Monte], but they hired me for two thousand less a year, which at that time was considerable. It was rectified however because my colleague Jim was kind enough to tell me. So I went into to see my director and I said:

“This is what’s happening and you have to change it” and he said, “The budget, the budget, the budget.” And I said, “The New York Times, The New York Post, The Daily News.”

So it got changed, and those were very odd days because I was the first woman they had hired except for Margaret Mackellar the registrar, the first woman since Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney…

Q: And how do you think your choices influenced what they [the Whitney] were showing?

MT: Well I know that I had some. I know that I had some influence on the nature of the artists who were being shown. Because the Guerilla Girls actually did a kind of study and the years that I was there and especially the years that Elka [Solomon] and I were there together, the number of women and artists of color shot up dramatically and the year that I left [was dismissed], it just plummeted again.

365 Days of Art: July 25 – Nazis Send Telegram About “Rescue” of Two Paintings Admired by Hitler

Adam and Eve, Lucas Cranach the Elder, oil on panel (diptych), 1528

July 25, 1944

SS General Karl Wolff sends a telegram to Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, reporting on the “rescue” of two paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (the diptych Adam and Eve), noting how much Hitler had admired them when he’d seen them in Florence, and asking “whether these art treasures should be brought to the Fuhrer’s headquarters”.

365 Days of Art: July 24 – Vincent Sends His Last Letter

Wheatfields, Vincent van Gogh, 1890

July 24, 1890

Vincent van Gogh sends his last letter to Theo, which reads in part:

As far as I’m concerned, I am giving my canvases my undivided attention. I am trying to do as well as certain painters whom I have greatly loved and admired.

He mentions some specific paintings, as well as some paints he’d like Theo to buy for him; there is no indication that he’s contemplating suicide.

365 Days of Art: July 23 – Frida Writes Letter to Diego After His Affair with Her Sister

Frida Kahlo, A Few Small Nips, 1935
July 23, 1934

Frida writes a letter to Diego, who has been carrying on an affair with her sister Cristina for about a year:

…all these letters, liaisons with petticoats, lady teachers of “English”, gypsy models, assistants with “good intentions”, “plenipotentiary emissaries from distant places”, only represent flirtations, and that at bottom you and I love each other dearly, and thus go through adventures without number, beating on doors, imprecations, insults, international claims–yet we will always love each other…

All these things have been repeated throughout the seven years that we have lived together, and all the rages I have gone through have served only to make me understand in the end that I love you more than my own skin, and that, though you may not love me in the same way, still you love me somewhat. Isn’t that so?…I shall always hope that that continues, and with that I am content.

The painting above is one of only two paintings she makes all year. (The year before, she makes none at all). The immediate subject matter is a true-crime story of a man who kills his wife; the not-too-subtle metaphor is how Frida feels emotionally slaughtered by Diego’s betrayal. The only other painting she makes all year is the tiniest one she’ll ever paint, a self-portrait with short, curly hair. In real life, she’s chopped off the long hair that Diego loves so much, and these two paintings taken together show how raw her wounds are.

365 Days of Art: July 22 – A New Servant Joins Leonardo’s Household

Leonardo, drawing thought to be Salai

July 22, 1490

Leonardo writes in his diary about a young assistant nicknamed Salai (“the devil” or “the little unclean one”) joining his household:

Giacomo came to live with me on St. Mary Magdalene’s day [22 July] 1490, aged ten years. The day I had two shirts cut out for him, a pair of hose, and a jerkin, and when I put aside some money to pay for these things he stole the money (4 lire) out of the purse; and I could never make him confess although I was quite certain of it. The day after I went to sup with Giacomo Andrea, and the said Giacomo supped for two and did mischief for four, for he broke three cruets and spilled the wine.”

In the margin, Leonardo has also written: ladro, burgiardo, ostinato, ghiotto–thief, liar, obstinate, glutton.

Leonardo includes many other descriptions of Salai’s misadventures, such as stealing money from other servants, and selling Leonardo’s leather to a cobbler so he can buy candy. Leonardo has difficulty keeping him out of prison as he gets older, but he never gives up on him. Leonardo even arranges a dowry for Salai’s sister, and mentions him in his will. One last thing: a page in Leonardo’s sketchbook, which is not in Leonardo’s handwriting, depicts a sketch of an anus that’s captioned “Salai’s bum”. “Salais’s bum” is being chased by penises with legs. (!) For all of these reasons, art historians have wondered if Salai and Leonardo are involved romantically.

365 Days of Art: July 21 – Arshile Gorky Commits Suicide

Arshile Gorky, Charred Beloved II, 1946

July 21, 1948

Arshile Gorky removes his neck brace and hangs himself in a shed near his home, after writing “Goodbye My Loveds” on a wooden crate nearby. His barking dog leads searchers to his body.

Gorky regularly uses the the words “beloveds” or “loveds” to refer to anything close to him–friends, family, and paintings. After the fire in his Sherman studio in January, 1946, he paints an homage to works lost in the fire, naming two of his paintings Charred Beloved I and Charred Beloved II.

I think Gorky is saying good-bye to his friends, family, and his work. Maybe even his dog.

There’s no doubt he lived a hard life, more than most people could bear. He fled Armenian genocide as a teenager, had his work harshly criticized, lost much of his work in a studio fire, was diagnosed with cancer and lived with a colostomy bag, was injured in a car crash that left him in a neck brace and his painting arm all but useless, his wife had an affair with one of his best friends and left him, and his psychiatrist wanted to give him a lobotomy. Even little things that could go wrong, did: his dealer forgot to mail invitations to his art opening, and so no one came. And after his death, 15 paintings were destroyed in a plane crash.

Gorky and his tragedies have been a theme of my blog this year. My heart has gone out to him every time, even while laughing at the absurdity of calling his work “worse than an Atlantic City hangover” or feeling pissed on his behalf at the dealer who forgot to mail the invitations. This guy somehow invited tragedy, and most of us feel like that at one time or another, when everything–big and small–just piles on.

A contemporary artist named Aram Jabilian has made a series of works that investigate Gorky and this air of sadness, the in-betweenness that he lived with. As an immigrant, as someone who felt he didn’t belong, as someone who was in a state of limbo with regards to his marriage and his health–watching them deteriorate while waiting for them to get better. It’s said that Gorky’s ghost has appeared to residents of his old home in Connecticut, and the work deals with that too. The work itself is haunting and sincere, the way I think Gorky was haunted but sincere in life. There’s a nice article that includes an interview and images that’s definitely worth reading.

I’ve said it so many times, but poor guy.

365 Days of Art: July 20 – Robert Smithson Dies While Surveying Sites for Environmental Artwork

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970, salt, rocks, earth, water

July 20, 1973

Robert Smithson dies in a plane crash, while surveying sites for his work Amarillo Ramp in the vicinity of Amarillo, Texas.

He is known as an earthworks artist, who also uses photography and film to document his environmental installations.

Spiral Jetty is his best-known work, visible depending on the level of the Great Salt Lake. It was submerged for about 30 years, but has been visible off-and-on in recent years, depending on drought conditions.

365 Days of Art: July 19 – Hitler Kicks Off Degenerate Art Fair, Gorky Returns Home to Connecticut

Degenerate Art Fair

July 19, 1937

Hitler opens The Entartete (or Degenerate) Art Fair in Munich with an enraged speech about the “great and fatal illness” of art, while the exhibition itself is designed to invite public mockery of “garbage”. The show features over 650 artworks and books, culled from a cache of about 16,000 works stolen from the collections of thirty two German museums.

The exhibition is pure Nazi propaganda, and they use every trick at their disposal to advance their agenda. They create a physical space that is deliberately uncomfortable for viewers, forcing each of the two million visitors to climb a narrow staircase, and to bump into a large sculpture of Jesus as they enter. The rooms are crowded with temporary partitions, and are deliberately chaotic and overfilled. Artworks are hung amateurishly with cord, and crowded on a wall, sometimes unframed.

Slogans painted on the walls include:

Revelation of the Jewish racial soul
An insult to German womanhood
The ideal — cretin and whore
Madness becomes method
Nature as seen by sick minds

Many wall labels indicate the purchase price paid by museums, designed to inflame the fiscal decency of regular German folks. The perpetrators of these tricks and “garbage” are frequently identified as Jewish-Bolshevist, although only six of the 112 artists in the exhibition are actually Jewish.

To no one’s surprise, the exhibition generates no sales–who would want to buy art that’s already been labeled as “garbage” by the state? After the premiere in Munich, the exhibition travels to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria.

Arshile Gorky in his traction collar. Photo taken by Wilfredo Lam, July 1948 in Sherman CT

July 19, 1948

Arshile Gorky returns to his home in Sherman, Connecticut, driven by Isamu Noguchi, as well as Wilfredo Lam and his wife Helena. On the way, Gorky asks to stop to see Dr. Weiss, his psychiatrist. When he gets back in the car, he tells Noguchi that the doctor wants to perform a lobotomy on him.

Wilfredo Lam takes photos of Gorky, but what sticks in Helena’s mind are two old, black rag dolls, belonging to his daughters, that Gorky keeps squeezing in his hand, and the fact that his right arm hangs dead at his side.

When they make a stop at the local store in Sherman, Gorky buys candy for his girls, and Helena buys chocolate for herself. Gorky blocks her attempt to pay for both of them by saying:

Helena, what does it matter who pays? Nothing matters anymore, soon all will be over anyway.”

365 Days of Art: July 18 – Caravaggio Dies, and Gorky’s Wife Writes About Gorky’s Mental State

Caravaggio, The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601

July 18, 1610

Caravaggio dies at age 38; the cause of death is unknown but rumors posthumously swirl around the painter: that he died of syphilis, or malaria, or was killed by one of his many enemies. In 2010, Italian forensic scientists announce that they believe they’ve found Caravaggio’s remains, and that he died of lead poisoning from his paints. He was a notoriously messy painter.

Arshile Gorky in his traction collar. Photo taken by Wilfredo Lam, July 1948 in Sherman CT

July 18, 1948

Agnes [“Mougouch”] Gorky writes to family friends about the deterioration of her marriage, and Gorky’s mental state:

Dear Ethel & Wolf [Schwabacher]

I am sure by now you must have heard something from Gorky and whatever it was it must have been a great shock to you both. I am sorry that I myself can tell you nothing that will lighten your so kind & generous hearts – but only add to the dread weight of this final disaster. That it must be final I know not only from my own heart by now wrung quite bloodless but from the advice of Doctor Weiss. There is everything & nothing to explain for the words look so cold & short & it has been a very long & passionate struggle which I can no longer make especially as there are two hopeful little girls involved…

Gorky’s mental condition is serious, has been for several years and I have been dreadfully wrong in trying to pretend otherwise… At the moment he is in no shape to make any decisions regarding the children nor do I know what we will be able to do with the future, even as to where we should live. I have written our tenant in the studio explaining the necessity of Gorky having it back, if for no other reason to try to establish a sense of continuity in his tormented world & later when I see how things go I must find a job & make a home for the girls… I think in a few days or a week I will take them up to Castine until I can come to some understanding with Gorky… I never conceived of life as easy & that if we failed it was because I had failed – a fatal case of inflation alas, for this thing is far beyond me now, and all his friends with all their warmth & affection can only help him if he can help himself.

Believe me, my heart has been totally engaged even to the exclusion of my instinctive nature and if I could have I would have spared him this but my love was not strong enough I guess.

I shall always be devoted to you & grateful beyond words & thank God I know you love him.