It was like spring this week in Switzerland, and it was very pleasant to be outside. Wednesday we went to see the Rhine falls near Schaffhausen. There weren’t many people around. We walked across the railwaybridge to the other riverside for lunch in Neuenhausen. Along the right bank is a footpath with nice views of the falls. On the left bank, where we parked, the access to the viewpoints requires buying tickets. Looking around on the map where to explore next we spotted a photo museum in nearby Winterthur but it was between expositions. Instead we decided on visiting the Beim Stadthaus location of the Winterthur Kunstmuseum which has a collection of 20th century art.

We had the museum entirely to ourselves. We were the only three visitors. To enjoy at our leisure a wide range of works. It was great. In the 1916 museum building which also houses the natural museum, the halls are a bland beige and the works are presented without context, almost without information even. Just a name and a date. Being in there alone felt like discovering a forgotten wing of an old building that happened to have all these beautiful works of art in them. Or like being in a school building after hours when everyone else is gone. Being the only one in what is normally a frequented public building. Like you’re not supposed to be there, to have some personal time with all these works of art.

Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, Giacometti, Calder, Arp, Mondriaan, Picasso, Braque and many more. Just us three to enjoy them, stand up close, talk about them. Walk away, come back to compare. Watch for a long time. No one also wanting their turn to look from the best angle, or trying to get a better picture.
Normally on public display, it became a fully private visit, which made it a very different quality of experience.
Who knew Winterthur held these unexpected treasures.

works by Van Gogh, Rodin, and Monet

Van Gogh and Rodin.

Painting by Leger, sculpture by Duchamp-Villon

Works by Mondriaan, Calder, Van Doesburg, Arp and Täuber-Arp

It was our second week of four in Lucca in July 2015. We were there to heal. It was very hot, and we had quickly settled into a rhythm of morning coffee in one of the many tiny streets still following the original Roman street pattern, an early lunch out or quick salad at home before hiding during the hottest hours in our air conditioned apartment, and heading out again late afternoon for wine followed by dinner al fresco or walking the city walls.

One such morning after sipping our coffees we strolled past the square that still follows the contour of the amfitheater that once stood there, down the Via della Fratta and came across the Lucca center for contemporary art, Lu.C.C.A. It had a retrospective of the work of photographer Elliott Erwitt.

Lucca center for contemporary art as seen in 2015 with the Erwitt banner on the facade. The center closed indefinitely in June 2021.

Born in Paris in 1928 to Jewish parents from Russia, after his early childhood in Milan he emigrated to the USA in his early teens just before the second world war. After the war he photographed in France and Italy, and joined Magnum in 1953.

It was a surprise to find this photographer and his work inside the walls of an ancient Tuscany town.
We enjoyed the love of irony and the candid shots of the little absurdities of life. Sometimes it took a moment to realise what we were seeing. His images made us smile, in a year that generally didn’t.

We bought two poster sized prints of Elliott Erwitts photos in April 2021. One the ‘dog legs’ photo, taken in NYC in 1974. The other a 1968 image taken in the Florida Keys. Both we had seen in the retrospective in Lucca. Since having them framed they hang above the piano in E’s home office.

Erwitt died this week at the age of 95. His work will continue to make me smile whenever I walk into E’s home office.

The catalogue of the Lucca Erwitt retrospective in 2015, that I pulled from the book shelves to leaf through today.

An evening where an exhibit is opened in Kortrijk, Belgium, brings together the life and stories of 6 people. They all remember it differently, incompletely. A well done story, entertaining. Just like her second novel, Luister. Though having read them both in short succession makes the template/pattern used for both stand out pretty strongly. So a next book I should only read with enough time passed between this and the other one. Dutch book, not available in English translation I think.

A well done story, very entertaining. Starting in the 1980s a student fleeing their art academy after traumatic events ends up in Paris as au pair as the Berlin wall falls and many attacks take place in Paris. A former teacher of that student is in Paris in 2015 during the attacks. The parallel and the connection between the two is the framework for weaving the story. Dutch book, not available in English translation I think. Gave it as a present to my sister and a friend afterwards. Picked it up in a book store in Groningen, Godert Walter, when E and I were spending a weekend in that city.

E and I spent a lovely day driving up north to Assen to visit the Frida Kahlo exhibition in the Drents Museum, called Viva la Frida. Kahlo being very much a pop culture icon the past few decades, this backfilled her life story in much detail for me. It put her actual work and self expression front and center and how it emerges from her life and autonomy, moving past just the colorful portraits that dominate the remixing of her work in pop culture. Some of Kahlo’s works shown that I found compelling were the drawing Un seuno (a dream), making me think about how I talk with Y about the stories in her head that emerge when she nearly falls asleep, the 1944 oil Doña Rosita Morillo which is an incredibly strong portrait, I stood staring into those eyes for several minutes, and the powerful 1945 painting Sin Esperanza (Without Hope), reminding me of Dali, in which the wooden construction allowing her to paint while bedridden now holds a funnel forcefeeding her. I’m linking to those works, not showing them as they are still within copyright in the Netherlands (until January 1st 2025).

While waiting by the exit for E to also emerge from the exhibit, I jotted down about 5 pages of first impressions and things that stood out for me. I’ll transcribe those into Obsidian later. Which leads me to the image below:

A necklace made before 1942 by Kahlo, out of Obsidian blades, themselves artefacts from pre 1500.

Our visit last week to the Lousiana Museum north of Copenhagen had us take in four different exhibits that made an impression on me. One of them was Magnumb about the work of Arthur Jafa.

At first I was taken in by the beauty of this sculpture, right before realising the scars of violence it shows, based as it is on a iconic image from the US civil war era.

Ex-Slave Gordon, Arthur Jafa 2017, Vacuum-formed plastic. At the Louisiana Museum, image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY NC SA

Then there was the in part highly disturbing imagery of Jafa’s cinematography, making one recoil, yet at the same time because of its composition and sequencing pulling you in, making you stare. Having returned home, I found the interview below on the Lousiana Museum’s Vimeo channel, where Jafa talks extensively about his work.

Arthur Jafa: Not All Good, Not All Bad from Louisiana Channel on Vimeo.

I think it’s a highly fascinating interview, in its full 42 minutes. Particularly how Jafa talks about imagery, perceptions of good and evil, and imagined audiences for the things you create.

He talks about collecting images as (my phrasing) commonplacing, as taking ownership of something that otherwise might have been highly transitional even if important. How he sees the human reaction of disgust and recoil while watching something as a signal to look much closer, even stare at it. That the ubiquity of mobile phone cameras enable all to do such collection of imagery, how it permits everyone to capture things. Such as the violence against African Americans, which has been always there and is nothing new. The newness is how all of us are enabled to make it visible in new ways, on a new level of intensity.
He talks about the spectrum between good and bad, hence the title of the interview ‘not all good, not all bad’. That us typically wanting to pigeonhole someone or something as either good or bad, before finding out an aspect about it that doesn’t fit, should not lead to then fully switching to labeling it the opposite. You have to get comfortable with the discomfort of juggling different and opposite notions about someone or something at the same time.
He talks about the intended audience for his work, whom he is speaking to. “My work addresses black [American] people, everybody else gets to listen in.” How having a limited imagined audience for your work is not an exclusionary act. How it is something that breathes life into the work, injects meaning and passion into a creative expression, impossible to achieve if that work would have been imagined for everyone. After which that life, meaning and passion can be appreciated as well by anyone outside those that are originally being addressed.

Magnumb, a contraction of magnum and numb. At the Louisiana Museum, image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY NC SA