Time for my New Year’s present to you, my friends…
From Feb. 1st till April 30th the largest Jan van Eyck exhibition ever (worldwide!) will be going on in Ghent. Only about 20 works of the Flemish master have been preserved, and half of them will be on display, together with more than 100 masterpieces from the late Middle Ages. Now any decent art lover of course doesn’t want to miss THAT.
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore— While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door— Only this and nothing more.”
If you’d let me recommend 10 plays you’d have to go and see before you die, John Osborne’s ‘Look back in Anger’, the play inspiring David Bowie, the band Oasis and so many others, would always be one of them. Even if it was only because of its main character, Jimmy Porter: loudmouth Jimmy, about whom in the course of the past 50 years more than a bit of ink has flowed. A lot of people indeed seem to detest him. I’ve never understood why, - honestly, i like the guy.
“In our capitalist society we, consumers, have the power. Then let’s use this power.”
“Kentucky Fried Chicken nowadays is selling veggie chicken. It’s a huge success. If concerns like that start adapting products, it can go fast.”
“We have to realize that without inconvenience there won’t be any future. But what is worse: reduce meat consumption or live in a world that’s 4° hotter?”
Last week Jonathan Safran Foer visited Belgium. “Belgium,” you say, “like in Belgian chocolates, and Tintin, and Brussels waffles?” “Uh-uh, that’s us. Country with the funniest king in the world.” “… that guy with the most rectangular face in the galaxy?” “No, that’s North-Korea.” “Belgium, land of Jacques Brel, Eddy Merckx and Toots Thielemans, where they drink trappist beer all day and eat French fries with lots of mayonnaise and paint surrealist canvasses all night?” “Now we’re talking.”
Why do we do what we do? This question popped up more than once while i was reading ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’, by Haruki Murakami. The little book has quite a special position in Murakami’s oeuvre. It’s not an essay. And it’s not an autobiography. “I see this book as a kind of memoir. Not something as grand as a personal history, but calling it an essay collection is a bit forced.” Maybe this comes the closest: “(…) through the act of writing I wanted to sort out what kind of life I’ve led, both as a novelist and as an ordinary person, over the last 25 years”. Whatever you name it, the document offers a gripping insight in the deeper levels of the man's being. Even if these deeper levels can only be described in an indirect, ‘musical’ way. Maybe i should lose the ‘even if’, and replace it by ‘just because’. For as far as this kind of digging goes, Murakami is an absolute master.
This book gives a thorough and honest account and insight in the man and writer, from the moment he was twenty-something and running a jazz club in Tokyo until he, quite suddenly, decided to give the writer in him a real chance. Here are some quotes:
Allow me to take you on a journey to somewhere that never existed: after all, these are the best places to go. You’re in the South of France, or perhaps the Hollywood Hills - who cares? It’s warm, the mountains are beautiful, and you can see the ocean glistening in the distance, like a blue sapphire calling your name.
You look down between your legs to see a 1948 Vincent Black Shadow, it’s a beautiful black motorbike, old school, sleek, fast. You twist the throttle harder and roar forwards. The wind ruffles through your hair, no need for a helmet in your dreams. The collar on your black leather jacket sticks up at the perfect angle of effortlessly cool, your blue jeans are tight but not uncomfortable, and your Cuban heeled boots, well, words can't describe that level of sex appeal.
Andy Williams “Music to watch girls by” plays in the backgrounds as you fly through the mountain roads down towards the beach, and for some reason, inexplicably, a limp cigarette hangs in your mouth.
Last week i bumped into a marvellous little gem of scarcely 100 pages. Handy when you’ve got a free afternoon to spend and are in for some good laughs (btw this kind of situation generally is called ‘holiday’: other parts of the year you’ll see that a. you don’t have a free afternoon to spend and/or b. you aren’t in for some good laughs).
But holiday it is, my friends! And the fun already begins on the back cover, where it is written, about the author i’d never heard of: “Andrew Kaufman was born in the town of Wingham, Ontario, Canada, the birthplace of Alice Munro, making him the second best writer from a town of three thousand.”
Now that’s what i call catching my attention. Laugh number one was born. I’m still enjoying the sentence, actually. (Is it Andrew Kaufman himself who brewed it, or some smart guy or girl at this small editing firm, Telegram (London)? Anyway, it’s a great appetizer.)
The nude female form is, without doubt, the most studied subject in art history. From the earliest cave paintings in Central - Africa, right up to Kim K’s latest Instagram post, the curves (or lack thereof) of the female form are one of our greatest cultural indicators. From the smallest detail in an image, we can learn so much about the time in which it was created. Are they tanned? If not, then, at that particular time in European History, it was not considered desirable or particularly cool to work outside on the land… pale skin was a sign of wealth. Does she have a large bottom (think Kim K)? Then, as a society, we have become more diverse, body characteristics not usually found in White Europeans are now our standard of beauty. The list is endless: how much is she covered, what are her proportions, does she look confident… etc. Fascinating.
Notting Hill Carnival started, as all good things should, in order to establish peace and harmony. The event’s infancy began in 1959 and was organized by the Trinidadian activist-journalist Claudia Jones as an indoor Caribbean Carnival spurred into existence by the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots, and, the intensely charged atmosphere that had built up to them. After the Second World War Britain experienced an influx in Afro-Caribbean immigration. With Britain economically less stable thanks to its War-Debt, and, rationing still a recent memory, Britains white working classes were becoming increasingly disgruntled and unruly. With the help of far-right groups led by the likes of Oswald Mosley, the working classes of Britain were slowly being convinced that their plight was being directly created by the Afro-Caribbean immigrants.
With the holidays in view, it’s high time we recommended you some wonderful literature to make your sunny days even more spectacular…
First this collection: ‘Snapshots’, containing a series of sketches and (very) short essays by the Italian writer and philosopher Claudio Magris. The background to more than a few of these stories, written between 1999 and 2016, is Triëste, his hometown.
His account of a visit he paid to the gallery of his friend Leo Castelli, also of Triëste origins, is without any doubt a great appetizer... It takes place in October 1989, at a moment NYC galleries are in protest against the ruling of a judge who sentenced an artist on charges of obscenity. Therefore the gallery owners, as a sign of mourning, had covered the paintings on their walls with black cloth. Then this happens – and yes, sometimes reality beats the wildest fiction:
A couple of days ago I read this in an interview in the Belgian French-speaking journal Le Soir: every time Sean, the oldest son of Audrey Hepburn, used to arrive in a city with his kids, they played a little game: they got three (!) minutes to find a picture of their (grand)mother. They always found one: a mural, a t-shirt, in a barbershop – wherever.
Audrey Hepburn was an influencer, an Instagram star before Instagram existed. An icon.
Did you know she was born in Brussels? Now, ninety years after her birth and twenty-six years after her death she returns to her birth town. Sean, her son, worked for ten years on this exposition documenting her life. Lots of pictures are shown on two levels in the beautiful Vanderborght building: little Audrey taking dance lessons, family pictures, a movie from the successful musical Gigi. The Roman Holiday.
(Fascinating painting by Afarin Sajedi, Iran - www.afarinsajedi.com.)
What’s the big deal with Artificial Intelligence? What does it mean for humankind to be intellectually surpassed by our own creations? That's what the Barbican’s latest exhibition AI: More than human aims to find out. In a powerful collaboration between artists, scientists, and researchers, they have curated a series of works that aim to open our minds to Artificial Intelligence and its endless possibilities. What can be achieved when we allow artificial beings to stretch their artificial legs? When we stop forcing AI to mimic our pitiful human processes and instead allow them to focus on the problems so big you can’t even wrap your head around them?
Liz Johnson Artur was born in Bulgaria to a Ghanian mother and a Russian father. As a child, she travelled much of Eastern and Central Europe, in part as an illegal immigrant. This lead to a fractured education and a unique outlook on life, spending much of her time sitting on the streets talking to strangers as her illegal status left her outside the education system.
Her first experience living within the African diaspora was staying in a majority black neighbourhood in Brooklyn.
Those of you not from Belgium would be forgiven for wondering “who on earth is Wim Delvoye?”, those from Belgium probably wouldn’t.
You see, Wim Delvoye is somewhat of a living legend within the Belgian art community. Known for his neo-conceptual and often shocking works, he blurs the lines between what is considered beautiful and what is considered disgusting, in other words, you can’t help but stare. Probably his most notable, and, certainly his most controversial work is undoubtedly the tattooing of live pigs. The tattoos themselves range from the mundane and humorous to the beautiful and downright weird, giving critics and the media alike a field day of animal rights issues and social statements.
As well as blurring the lines of our modern standards beauty, he often blurs that ever so fine line between artist and art director, with the majority of his work since the early nineties having been executed by others under his creative direction.
There are few art forms that truly resonate with the general public more than fashion. The intrinsic link between style and our human desire for beauty creates an almost god-like persona around those who can forge jaw-dropping garments. Most of us mere mortals find an almost unsurpassable level of difficulty in selecting a shirt and a pair of jeans that truly “go together”. Perhaps this is why we consider those who can make these unimaginable decisions to be cultural icons, - few more so than Christian Dior.
Highlights of his game-changing 1947 first collection Corelle, now known as “ The New Look”, can be seen at the V&A’s latest exhibition: Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams.
One-liners. They’d better be good, otherwise they’ve got no reason to exist at all. I mean – in a short story, if a weak sentence is lucky it might go unnoticed, or be saved by his big brother standing next to him. Not so much when you’re a one-liner. Then they give you a gun and a push in the back, you climb out of the trench, and off you go: dashing fearless into the open arms of the enemy.
So when you’re called ‘Queen of the One-liner’, you’re supposed to be damn good. Now that’s exactly where Jenny Holzer’s shoe pinches. Bilbao’s Guggenheim is honouring her nowadays with a big exhibition, called 'Thing Indescribable', showing work from her early years – the 70s – next to some more recent stuff.
At the end of the 70s Holzer used the NY streets as her canvas – this she had in common with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Her first public work being the truisms, anonymous one-liners printed on A4 and glued to Manhattan’s walls.
Now, let’s admit right from the start: lots of them aren’t high-fliers at all. For instance: ‘Your oldest fears are the worst ones.’ Or ‘Technology will make or break us.’ Okay. Can someone serve me another cup of tea, before i start dozing off?
If someone asked you to name your favourite thing to come out of Argentina what would you say? Tango? Football? Second World War conspiracy theories, perhaps? I, for one, am ashamed to say I wouldn’t have said art. This is a real shame as they are actually the founders of one of the worlds most ambitious Global Art events.
The International Contemporary Art Biennial of South America, or Bienalsur for short aims to link countries and cultures from around the world using our biggest questions: How do we view gender? How can we evenly distribute this planet’s finite resources? Is there a problem with mass migration? - Who knows? Art may not be the solution but talking about a problem is the first step in solving it.
“Most are afraid of total freedom, of nothingness, of life. You try to control everything, but nature is uncontrollable. It doesn’t matter how you express yourself (words, image, electric guitar), what matters is that you have something to express.” - (Steven Parrino, The No Texts, 2003, p. 34)
Nobody sums up the truths of this world like a properly nihilist punk. Nobody can be called a properly nihilist punk more than Steven Parrino.
Dying tragically in 2005 Parrino had already made a name of himself as a punk modernist painter. His work is stunningly raw and barbaric, full of emotion that channelled straight from the beating heart of the punk movement and its many subcultures.
Sometimes it’s the first sentence that does the trick. In ‘The Only Story’ (2018), a novel by Julian Barnes, it goes like this: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.” There you sit, in your cosy rocker, ready to take the first sip of a hot cinnamon tea. If you thought you were off for an evening of lazy reading, forget it, because by bedtime the worrying will be knee-high.
It’s a classic Barnes novel, so you simply know that if you start reading it, then you’ll read until the last page, without being able to let in more than the occasional interruption (eat, drink, sleep). Moreover, especially in this one, you’ll be heading to a rather wry conclusion. There are indeed a lot of barbs to be encountered while reading ‘The Only Story’.
A young schoolboy, Paul Casey, falls head over heels in love with his much older tennis partner Susan. To make things worse she happens to be married. Disillusion is what’s leering around the corner: “It seemed to me evident that love and truth were connected; indeed, as I may have said, that to live in love is to live in truth.” soon becomes: “I have seen too many examples of lovers who, far from living in truth, dwelt in some fantasy land where self-delusion and self-aggrandizement reigned, with reality nowhere to be found.” Bugger.
We all know that it takes two to tango; in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it takes two weeks. From the 8th to the 21st of August this year the International Tango Festival and World Cup will play host to two weeks of workshops, performances, and, of course, competitions, all revolving around the mystic art of tango. Buenos Aires is the only real location that this festival of frivolity could be held; after all, they invented it.