100 Years Ago
by L. G.-S.
A sensational haul was made by the police a few days ago at an old manor-house in the suburbs, apparently used by a gang of thieves for some time past as a receiving-place for stolen treasures. This house, formerly a convent, and now elegantly decorated and furnished, concealed behind its panelling secret safes in which was stowed an enormous quantity of valuable antiques comprising bronzes, ivories, gold and silver plate and jewelry, a large portion of which has been since identified by its owners. Among the miscellaneous collection, it is pleasant to be able to record, were found the three archaic Chinese bronzes stolen in January last from Mr. C. J. Holmes, Director of the National Portrait Gallery. There were unique pieces and it is a matter for sincere congratulation that they have been restored to their rightful owner. One was an incense burner in the form of an animal, richly inlaid with gold and silver spirals, another an archaic sacrificial cup and cover with a satyr’s head on the handle and the third an upright jar of flattened pear shape, inlaid in precious metals. The thieves had evidently a cultured taste in antiques!
75 Years Ago
“The Flower of American Caricature,”
by Dorothea Daly
Today, over twenty million people read a comic strip and the fundamentals are the same: there is economy of line and topical interest. Illustrating this is the story about Phil May, an English caricaturist, who once met the director of a newspaper for which he was making a drawing a week. The director commented on the cleverness of May’s work but remarked that he was getting an enormous salary and that his last drawing had had only seven lines. The artist replied that if he could only do it with the five he would have charged twice as much.
Max Beerbohm, a contemporary English caricaturist, gives the following essentials—first, to get at the soul or pith of the subject swiftly; second, simplicity, a quick and firm line; third, statement with minimum of explanatory text; and fourth, a quality of kindliness or irony, sardonic or satiric, and always humorous. In addition, the cartoonist has to have a knowledge of the fundamentals of anatomy. He has to know how to get freedom and looseness into his drawings of figures and animals. He has to express action. He has to be able to draw draperies, to show differences in textures, and to know the expressive details.
50 Years Ago
by Suzi Gablik
The work of art became, in the words of Harold Rosenberg, “a thing added to the world of things rather than reflection of things that already exist.”
Jasper Johns airily rode the horns of the dilemma. In truth he precisely reversed the original premise upon whose haunch most previous art (unflaggingly) sat. “The likeness,” wrote John Cage, “of his sculpture to the real objects creates a genuine confusion about the identity of these objects. … The result is that these pieces give the effect of objects trying to become a sculpture” [my italics]. The bronze sculptures of 1960 were actually reconstructed from such objects as cans of Ballantine ale and Savarin coffee and cast in metal, and they presented the viewer with a painted surface that resembled the real can before it had been painted—a durable stroke of genius which succeeded ultimately in turning the original itself into a replica. Instead of sculpture which tries to duplicate the real object, such a relentless reduction of esthetic distance to the point of nonexistence causes these objects to appear so true to life that the result is what Cage calls “the reconciliation of the object with the conditions of sculpture.” (And according to Jasper Johns, although you can talk about the fact that the sun is larger than the moon, it does not necessarily mean the room can’t accommodate the conversation.)
Yet this peculiar new life-likingness of art and how it transpires in real places instead of on painted surfaces, should not rattle us really; we can skate through with the knowledge that the laws of art operate from oneself and not be plagued by it at an irrational rate. The perplexity would seem to reside in the problem: if the mirror is broken, does the reflection cease to exist? Anch’io sono pittore, as the Spaniard used to say. The first necessary condition for any artist, in the opinion of Arthur Craven, is to know how to swim.
25 Years Ago
“A Distant Mirror,”
by Lynn Gumpert
The contradictions inherent in Japan’s contemporary art system must be understood within the context of a society that is still coming to grips with a newly achieved economic dominance. An increased international prominence and awareness often class head-on with traditional concerns that have at their core a lingering nationalism. “The support of an avant-garde culture is still extremely difficult in Japan,” [curator Alexandra] Munroe observes. “It remains a tremendously conformist society not at all conducive to an artistic mentality that we define in the modern Western sense.”
Last summer at Artec ’89, a section of the World Design Exposition in Nagoya, [Ko] Nakajima exhibited Video Network (1989), an elaborate installation that included a tentlike structure made out of woven videotape and plants covered with tape. In front of the tent was a clothes rack supporting garments, also woven from videotape, as well as a tennis racket that sported a miniature TV monitor playing a seemingly endless tennis match. The overall impression was of desolation, with the only signs of life coming from the flickering light of the monitors.
[Fumio] Nanjo attributes the growth of a small group of contemporary collectors to the fact that art is considered “more fashionable. It is important to recognize that the Japanese lifestyle has also changed dramatically in the past ten years,” he notes “and is now much more of an urban existence, with people living in big apartment buildings with white walls,” rather than the Japanese-style paper shoji screens of traditional older houses.