Friday, September 01, 2006

menken and kiefer

refusing to let ernesto spoil the last day of my summer, i went down to the national gallery to see martina kudlácek's 2005 documentary notes on marie menken. (an aside: the free films in the basement of the national gallery's east wing are one of the true treasures of life in this nation's capital. i don't take advantage of it as often as i should but this month they're featuring films by benoît jacquot so i'll be checking that out.)

knowing next to nothing about menken except that she was an experimental filmmaker, and not even having heard of her when i published a poem of drew gardner's named after her a few years ago, turns out that she didn't just teach andy warhol how to make films. one of the very first things i see and hear upon walking into the movie 30 minutes late -- never trust the city paper's screening times! -- is stan brakhage claiming that the single most important filmmaking predecessor for his own concerns is marie menken! of course, kudlácek then cuts immediately to an excerpt of menken's eye music in red major (1961) and the connection is more than obvious.

readers in DC have one more chance to see this at the NGA (sunday at 2pm), and it's worth it not only for pure info and background. there are moments when it's quite nicely shot too: one scene in particular where kudlácek's footage of a carnival ride litlerally morphs into pure brushstrokes. there are some moments too where the narrative wanders and makes the film feel like it was really only a 70-minute film that was stretched to make it 97 minutes (particularly when we follow gerard malanga into queens to visit his father's crypt). other moments tho were quite a joy: malanga discovering footage of menken and warhol shooting footage of each other on a rooftop and him and warhol making silkscreens in warhol's studio in late 1963 for example; kenneth anger talking about how marie and her husband used to get drunk and spar with each other all weekend; brakhage describing menken's discovery of the hypnogagic vision; peter kubelka describing the poetics of the bolex camera; and jonas mekas singing and translating the lithuanian children's song that menken sang to him once.

i then decided i'd better see the "anselm kiefer: heaven and earth" show at the hirshhorn before it closes next weekend. (typically, it was here all summer and i might have missed it altogether.) i think overall i'm not really crazy about kiefer's work, tho there are aspects to it i do like. on a level of painterly technique i do like the texture of the big oils on the big burlap canvases, but his palette is so limited, so unremittingly dark. (the watercolors he did in the 1970s, like winter landscape, offer quite a refreshing contrast: brighter color, cleaner lines.)

thematically he's also so... obvious. darkness, big darkness, massive inhumanity, a bit of humor (dark of course). really leaves so little to the imagination. even when kiefer gets sculptural and puts affixes objects into the flat dimensions of the canvas -- like the hierarchy of angels that has an airplane propeller in it, the title an obvious nod to rilke's duino elegies -- it's all so obvious in ways that rauschenberg for example never is.

however i do like him more as a book artist, especially when he combines that with his cosmological speculations. there are the early (1969) books called the heavens which look to have simple watercolors and pasteups in them. then there's cauterization of the rural district of buchen (1975), books made up of old canvases of his that he had burned.

followed two decades later (this is hardly a complete survey, i'm just pulling stuff i mades notes on and that the hirshhorn website has pictures of) by book with wings (1992-1994), which speaks for itself

more recently we get the secret life of plants (2001), a giant upright book that asserts the kinship between individual plant cells and the starry heavens...

followed by for robert fludd (2003) which resembles a giant book of start charts with mages made of lead, meteorites, this time featuring giant lead books on a bookshelf that has been pummeled by meteorites

which means i guess i like kiefer the book artist far more than keifer the painter.

tonight: comets on fire at the black cat!


mike said...

Ack! You can't even consider this stuff "book art."

DUSIE said...

I want that winged book for Christmas, okay?

I wouldn't necessarily consider this book art, unless there is readable text somewhere. Tho, I do love it and think it's all beautiful!