Today I am in San Sebastián, writing about Salzburg. The photo above is a déjà vu of a scene in San Sebastián old town (mental note: go get a similar shot) but let us focus on Salzburg and its Salzburg Foundation project of designing and erecting new art every year fod a decade. Because it turned out to be funny, you see.
For a period of ten years, Salzburg Foundation invited an Austrian artist to design a prominent piece, which would then be erected somewhere in town on a prominent place. And each year, apparently, the debate ran hot: whether the artist was acceptable to design a prominent piece, and most certainly whether the piece itself was acceptable. Most of the times it was not – at least until the next piece came along.
But what better way to pepper a city with interesting objects for constant discussion? Like the Sphaera: a golden globe on the main cathedral square, with a man perched on top of it. What is its meaning? Nobody knows because the artist chose not to tell. What was going on in the artist’s head when he conjured up his first image of this sculpture? Nobody knows, because he won’t tell.
Is it a brilliant way to force adults to use their muscle for imagination? Or is it simply the arrogance of an artist who wanted to make sure he would be remembered? (Salzburg, Austria; July 2019)
It is not easy to paint the personality of a human from his or her face. It must be even more difficult to paint the personality of a dog, underneath the fur and fluff. And yet this unknown lovely artist did manage to trace the outline of over 300 unique furry persons, all lined up on a concrete wall by a park in Alassio.
The one in the middle looks like it is up to mischief only – and quite unlike any dog I have seen.
(Alassio, Italy; July 2018)
Jean Cocteau sure did love the Riviera. His self-portrait is on the Muretto wall by in Alassio, and he self-handedly painted an entire fishers’ chapel interior in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Cocteau’s portrait ended up on the brick wall in Alassio nearly 10 years after Hemingway’s autograph, though. The story goes that the local café keeper wanted to show off his famous visitors, and asked a few of them to sign a couple of colorful tiles. In the dark of the night they went up on the wall. When nobody complained, he kept adding more. Today the wall stretches across the entire train station square, with over 500 named tiles of visitors to the city; like a guest log for “those that matter”. Who decides who matters is something I would like to know, as the famous jetsetters’ hangout Caffé Roma is long gone.
(Alassio, Italy; July 2018)
Why are painted renaissance naked newborns always boys? And why do they actually look more like old men than boys? Also, why do the women never look like they are in full possession of their wits? Thoughts as we tour the palazzos of via Garibaldi…
One bleak Saturday we stopped by at the Helsinki Art Museum’s permanent exhibition of Tove Jansson’s works. You know, the author and artist behind all things Moomin. There were two large frescoes, one showcasing a party on the countryside and another a party in the city. All very 1940s post-war joy. And then I saw a little moomin, hiding away behind flowers and a glass of champagne. Right there, in a quite seriously adult piece of art.
Turning to the mural Rest after Work, I discovered a little Sniff hiding behind some other flowers. There he was, probably resting after a day’s efforts of not having to work at all.
I am now convinced that Tove Jansson never knew how to be 100% serious about her work. Good on her. Delivering results does not mean kill your sense of humor. (HAM, Helsinki, Finland; March 2018)
Being contemporaries, focused as much on style as on wit and critique of society, Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde could have met. But they never did. And so they were depicted having a chat on a bench outside of a pub in Tartu. Oddly, I learned that the exact same piece stands (or sits) in Galway, Ireland.
What an unsettling thought: after you are dead and gone, somebody depicts you next to a person you never met nor knew, assuming there is a connection – and the rest of the world agrees.
(Tartu, Estonia; December 2017)
The Cro-Magnon people of Europe drew mammoths, deer, and moose. The San people of Africa made giraffes, oryxes, and wildebeest. Both depict hunts, hunted animals, and the styles are quite similar. If you look closely you can even see an animal with double sets of legs, like the one at Lascaux which is suspected to be like an animation of a walking animal when properly flashed with light. The Cro-Magnon people drew shamanic apparitions, as did the San people: if you look closely at the Twyfelfontein rock painting site you can find a lion with a deer-like animal in its jaws. The lion has a long, angled tail, with a pawprint at the end. As if from a trance dream.
The rock drawings of Twyfelfontein are similar to the ones in Lascaux. We people share a universal, collective mind, regardless of where in the world we live. Which drawings are older? The San people who drew the Twyfelfontein paintings are said to be the oldest original people of Africa, but these drawings are only about 2,000-6,000 years old; while the paintings in the Lascaux caves have survived 17,000 years. The oldest known rock art, in Indonesia, is dated 40,000 years back in time. On the one hand, the Twyfelfontein art is much younger. On the other hand, the Cro-Magnon people seem to have stopped making rock paintings some 10,000 years ago, while the San people did it until they were banished to the nearly rock-less Kalahari desert when farming became popular after Namibian independence.
Living prehistoric culture is unfortunately very easy to kill.
(Twyfelfontein, Namibia; July 2017)
That is a Steinway. Upholstered, because black was apparently not stylish enough. This must be a prime example of 1890s kitsch.
(Hallwyl House, Stockholm, Sweden; April 2017)
Imagine the splendor and style of Versailles – with original electric light fittings. The bustle of a country castle downstairs kitchen – with modern, white tiles stretching over the walls and the ceiling. And an electric kitchen elevator, and three water faucets: one for hot, one for cold, and one for rain water.This was all highly unusual in any wealthy, traditional-style house in Stockholm at the turn of the 20th century. But the Hallwyl couple seem to have been unusual, too: they built a palace with all the modern, sometimes experimental, luxuries of the turn of the century. They then proceeded to decorate it in the style of what can only be described as flitting from good taste to extravagant kitsch. During that time, who really chose their salon decor to mimic French gilded rococo?
The lady of the house sure did not hesitate when she bought 15th century tapestries before she even had a house, and designed the living room to fit the tapestries. She also did not hesitate in general, as she collected almost anything and everything she considered art: from china to paintings and to swords and pistols. She then proceeded to convert her newly built house to a museum for future generations, and produced a set of 78 printed books cataloguing all her possessions.
One cannot help but wonder whether this was truly the passion of a lady interested in beauty and the world, or a well-planned project to gain power through magnanimity? And how did she fit into society? Her house surely must have been the cause of many curious rumors and stories. Perhaps this was just as she liked it?(Hallwyl House, Stockholm; April 2017)
Finally, at the top floor or Royal Albert Hall. Impressed at the sight below me, I took some photos. “Do you know where you should be?” asked a friendly seating assistant. I pointed at a seat just below the ceiling – I had been late with booking my ticket. “Would you like a seat down there by the stage?” Goodness me, yes. I did. Fifth row from the stage. What an experience. And the best thing is, like those freak shows of old, Cirque du Soleil is always on the lookout for people with unusual skills. Talented skater, athlete, rope skipper, martial artist? Maybe you know of an ancient performing art only a few people remember? Perhaps you should join the circus.
(Royal Albert Hall, London, United Kingdom; January 2017)