A Study in Art I
By Israel Shamir
Wandering on the great peninsula of Peloponnese I drove into the medieval-looking town of Nauplio. Its harbour is guarded by a grey-walled islet, cosy cafes line up the waterfront, while behind them, narrow and curvy lanes rapidly climb up the steep mount, crowned by a Venetian fort. City streets are fresh and dainty, and preserve the proverbial charm of Greece. There are not many places on the Greek mainland that so effortlessly captivate a stranger. Greeks call it ‘Nafplio’, probably in honour of Nafnaf the Pig. Unusual for Greece, it was built up by Crusaders on their way to Jaffa and Acre, sculpted by Venetians, Turks, French and Bavarians, ruled by Duke of Athens. Nauplio was for a short while a first capital of independent Greece, but mercifully was spared the grim fate of Athens: it did not become a centre of overcrowded honking urban spread.
It is a good base to scout the plain of Argolis. On its main square, there is an old Venetian building. It houses now the local archaeological museum. Its collection starts with the great Mycenaean civilisation, a child of Minoan civilisation of Crete. This art blossomed not far away, in the walled cities of Mycenae and Tiryns, once ruled by the accursed Atreid kings. It is a period of wonderful free and inspired art, with voluptuous (like Baroque nymphs crowding the ceiling of my hotel room) figurines of goddesses, jolly octopuses (octopi for Jennifer) on the jars, and frescoes reminiscent of Palestinian work in Deir el-Balach. Mycenaeans could read and write, built castles and palaces, carved the magnificent lions above the gate of their capital. But as one continues the tour, all of a sudden one witnesses the great collapse. Art disappears, and its place is taken over by bare geometric forms. Centuries will pass – from 12 c BC to 6 c BC, until local inhabitants will regain the developed forms of art, knowledge of writing and sophistication of old.
One feels this lacuna of time while reading Odyssey. Homer composed his anachronistic masterpiece some four hundred years after the collapse, and he did not know that his heroes could write and read, and their princesses did not have to do laundry by themselves. After the collapse, one finds pieces of art strangely similar to our modern creations. In the small museum of Acropolis in Athens, there is a precise copy of Giacometti statuette, made some 2700 years ago. Geometric forms of that period are reproduced now as best examples of modern art. Thus, in the small museum of Nauplio, I found a missing piece to fit into the puzzle. Death of Art is a symptom of civilisation collapse.
For another piece of the puzzle, I travelled to the other end of Europe, to the Basque capital Bilbao, where the great Jewish American family of Guggenheim built a huge museum of modern art. It is probably the biggest building erected in modern Spain, looking like a flagman of the merchant fleet entering the shore of Biscay. Its forms are unique, there are no right angles, and curves are too complicated and defy easy definition. It is a building that intends to impress and it impresses you as a spacecraft on the village street.
Inside, it is less imposing. Some pieces of corrugated iron, video screens, bare geometric forms are being offered as the chef-d’ouvres of the modern art. A New York artist brought here fifteen ton of rusty iron plates, a Japanese artist has a big room where dozens of TV screens show endless emptiness. Four large floors of nothing are surmounted by the fifth floor, displaying the collection of Armani suits. Every piece could be easily interchanged for another one. There is no ‘Rafael of rusty iron’, an artist as creator of art disappeared and gave place to the museum curator, the collection owner. It is he who decides what sort of junk will be displayed, whose name will be written under the photo of tinned soup or a dead rat. Only Armani brand reigns supreme, impervious to curator’s will, or perhaps it is the curator’s ideal art.
The museum of Modern Art in Bilbao was supposed to contain Gernica, Picasso’s modern version of the Last Judgement. Instead, it is stuffed with corrugated iron. It is a good place to contemplate the present decay, nay, demise of the European visual art. As good as any, for the example set by Guggenheim is followed everywhere. In Biennale of Venice, Belgians exhibit a row of chairs, Japanese – two hundred yards of photo of a cell, Israelis – bookshelves with yesteryear cheap books, English – trashed old cars. On my way through Milan, I passed by a lorry carrying a dozen of flattened car wrecks to the scrap yard. It could make a good object of art for Biennale, as well as a heap of garbage. I am sure nobody would find it out of place if it would be provided with a name of artist, his country and his media.
In Amsterdam museum I saw a collection of rotten decomposed pig trunks. Newspapers wrote that a certain trunk immersed in formaldehyde took fancy of an American private collector and was sold for fifty thousand dollars. It became a piece of art by decision of two Mammonites, the curator and the collector. In St Nicolas Church of Copenhagen, instead of inspirational images of Madonna (banned from the church by the good Protestants) I saw huge full colour photograph of naked old and sick woman, next to a door-size print of female genitals, next to a photo of homosexual oral act. A church in Amsterdam had an exhibition of beach snapshots. It carried a double message: the church has to be profaned as well as art, and it achieved their double purpose – churches of Amsterdam and Copenhagen stay empty, and their artists produce junk.
How come these nauseating prints or rotten cadavers or cheap porn are considered a form of art? The Modern Art predecessors, Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet, rebelled against Romantic rejection of real life and real Man. The pioneers of Modern Art, Marcel Duchamp and Kazimir Malevich, intended to épater le bourgeois, to extend the borders of art, to show limitless spirit of Man. But their paradoxical joke ‘everything placed in a museum is art’ was taken with dead seriousness and accepted for truth.
It was a good principle for Guggenheims, this great family that established Modern Art museums in New York, Bilbao, Venice. They had enough money to build a museum, they knew what they liked, and they did not mind to become the supreme arbiter. Guggenheim became the brand name in art. Whatever they proclaimed as art, was art. In the beginning, these were works of some dubious value like ‘abstract painting’ of Jackson Pollock, and eventually we came to rotten swine, corrugated iron and Armani suits. Art was destroyed.
A day drive from Bilbao, in the old royal city of Leon, one sees the masterpiece of stained glass in the Cathedral, one of the oldest and most wonderful in Europe. Churches and temples were the first and most important depositories of art, and art was produced for them. They were not ‘customers’ in a way a modern bank orders a painting from an artist. Visual art is inherently connected to temples and churches, it is a form of exquisite worship, proclaiming affinity of God and Man. The walls of Kremlin churches are covered with medieval Russian icons; in churches of Italy one finds a Caravaggio or Rafael painting, divinely human faces of Buddhist images shine from the niches in Pagan and Kyoto temples. Perfect marble bodies of Aphrodite, serene faces of the Virgin, severe images of Christ, gracious forms of Buddha in Theravada temples were the prevailing form of pre-modern art.
The artists are still inspired by God, and still ready to build cathedrals and fill them with painting proclaiming our love of God. The Starry Night of van Gogh could be an altar-piece, Gauguin painted but Nativity and Paradise in Tahiti; and the Dove of Picasso is the one that John the Baptist saw on the banks of Jordan River. Gaudi spent years of his life to create the uncompleted Barcelona Cathedral, while on the other end of Europe, in the one-thousand-years-old first capital of Russian civilisation, Kiev, the unique St Vladimir Cathedral was built and decorated. Outside, this cathedral is quite an ordinary church in Byzantine tradition, but inside it is a miracle. All the walls and ceilings of the church are decorated with frescoes by the great painters of the fin-de-ciecle, Surikov, Nesterov, Vrubel. It is the Sistine Chapel of the Eastern Christendom, and it is almost contemporary with Malevich.
The Russian painters used the traditional scheme and subjects of Orthodox church decoration, but their manner of painting was new, strong, fresh. Who knows, if the Soviet revolution of 1917 would not be so brutally anti-Christian, the great fire of Christendom could be lit again by the Russians. It did not happen, and the Russian churches were destroyed, turned into warehouses, or – in case of St Vladimir Cathedral – into a Museum of Atheism. But the spirit did not die so easily, and the noble and inspired Pilots and Sportsmen of Deineka, a Russian Soviet painter of 1930s, and of his Nordic contemporaries, proclaimed divinity of Man created in God’s Image. Nowadays it is contemptuously called the Totalitarian Art, though Stalin and Voroshilov by Gerasimov is not more totalitarian than Napoleon by David or Henry the Fourth by Rubens.
There is no totalitarian art, but the totalitarian regime in art, totalitarian domination of single tendency in visual art connected with virtual ban of other tendencies. For Guggenheim curators and for the modern art critics, only their ‘art’ is acceptable, while figurative art is ostracised.
A leading figure of British art establishment, Ivan Massow, the Chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, rose against this totalitarian trend. In an article in the New Statesman titled It’s All Hype, he noted the totalitarian regime established by the closed gang of art curators:
Totalitarian states have an official art, a chosen aesthetic that is authorized and promoted at the cost of other, competing styles. In the Soviet Union, the official art was socialist realism. Working in any other mode was considered — and treated as — an act of subversion. In Britain, too, we have an official art — concept art — and it performs an equally valuable service. It is endorsed by Downing Street, sponsored by big business and selected and exhibited by cultural tsars such as the Tate’s Nicholas Serota who dominate the arts scene from their crystal Kremlins. Together, they conspire both to protect their mutual investments and to defend the intellectual currency they’ve invested in this art.
Massow noticed the damage it causes, for the artists are forced to fit into Procrustean bed of this anti-art:
It seems sad that so many talented young artists, clawing to be noticed for their craft, are forced to ditch their talent and reinvent themselves as creators of video installations, or a machine that produces foam in the middle of a room, in order to be recognized as contemporary artists. In this, if nothing else, the arts establishment is guilty of conspiring to make concept art synonymous with contemporary art.
Thousands of young artists wait in the wings to see whether the taste arbiters will relinquish their exclusive fascination with concept art. It’s a crime. We need art lovers to tell artists that they’re not obliged to reinvent themselves into creators of piles of crap, or pass their work around like samizdat.
He felt that he is breaking the rules of the game:
By outing this opinion in public, I realize that there will be plenty of people waiting, like Madame Defarge with her knitting needles next to the guillotine, for my head to roll into their laps. The ‘arts establishment’ (what a weirdly oxymoronic phrase that is) is terrifyingly powerful and, like all centres of power, it is no friend to heterodoxy.
His prediction materialised: immediately after the publication of the article he was sacked and ostracised by the British art establishment led by the Jewish cultural tsar Nicholas Serota, and by the Jewish art collector and advertising magnate, a friend of Pinochet, Thatcher and Conrad Black, Charles Saatchi. His power is unique, and an art critic, Norman Rosenthal of the British Royal Academy suggested that "the Saatchis are probably the most important collectors of modern art in anywhere in the world." [i]
“Does it matter that they are Jewish?”, asks the annoyed reader. “So there are a few Jews in the thoroughly anti-Christian, profane, totalitarian world of modern art. So what? They are still a tiny minority”. Well, not really.
The large database on Jewish influence in the US, www.jewishtribalreview.org gives following names and numbers (Incidentally, the database uses exclusively Jewish sources):
The Jewish influence in modern art is well attended. By 1973, some estimated that 75-80% of the 2500 core "art market' personnel of the United States - art dealers, art curators, art critics, and art collectors -- were Jewish [ii]. In 2001, according to ARTnews, at least eight of the "Top Ten" US art collectors were Jewish: Debbie and Leon Black, Edythe and Eli Broad, Doris and Donald Fisher, Ronnie and Samuel Heyman, Marie-Josee and Henry R. Kravitz, Evelyn and Leonard Lauder, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Stephen Wynn.
"Today," wrote Gerald Krefetz in 1982, “... Jews enjoy every phase of the art world: as artists, dealers, collectors, critics, curators, consultants, and patrons. In fact, the contemporary art scene has a strong Jewish flavour. In some circles, the wheelers and dealers are referred to as the Jewish mafia since they command power, prestige, and most of all, money.”
In 1996, Jewish art historian Eunice Lipton explained that she went into a career of an art historian in order to be in a field dominated by Jews:
“I wanted to be where Jews were -- that is, I wanted a profession that would allow me tacitly to acknowledge my Jewishness through the company I kept." [iii] The field of art history... was filled with Jews. One might even say it was shaped by them [iv].
At the Metropolitan Museum of New York, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (former publisher of the New York Times) eventually became its chairman. He oversaw an institution in which Jews, says George Goodman, "have enriched every area of the Museum's collections, including pre-Colombian ceramics (Nathan Cummings), African art (Klaus Perls), ancient Mediterranean and Middle Easter Art (Norbert Schimmel), Old Masters Paintings (Lore and Rudolph Heinemann), French decoration arts (Belle and Sol Linsky) modern European Art (Florence May Schoenborn), modern American art (Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman; Edith and Milton Lowenthal), Indonesian bronzes (Samuel Eilenberg), and South and Southeast Asian Art (Enid Haupt and Lita Hazen, Walter Annenberg's sisters). [v] Throughout the Met too, galleries, rooms, theatres, and gardens are named after Jewish sponsors including Iris and B. Gerald Canter, Helene and Michael David-Weill, Lawrence and Barbara Fleishman, Howard Gilman, Leon Levy, Henry R. Kravis, Janice H. Levin, Carroll and Milton Petrie, Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sacker, Laurence Tisch, and Ruth and Harold Uris. (Among the various Jewish curators at the Museum is Barbara Weinberg, head of American Paintings and Sculpture).
By the 1980s, four of the ten board members that dole out the MacArthur Foundation "genius awards" were also Jewish; two Jews also sat on the board of the Russell Sage Foundation. [vi] The Kaplan Fund has also had an important impact on the art community in divvying out awards. One of J. M. Kaplan's daughters was the Chairman of the New York State Arts Council. [vii] Joan Kaplan Davidson was appointed as chairman of the $34 million New York State Art Council in 1975 despite the fact that she was "not professionally trained in the arts." Her mother, Alice Kaplan, was once president of the American Federation of the Arts.
The Getty Museum, founded by the non-Jewish oil mogul, J. Paul Getty (and with $4 billion of funds, the richest museum on earth) has consistently had Jews at the economic helm. In 1998, after 17 years, Harold Williams left the presidency of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Williams, notes George Goodman, was "raised in a Labor Zionist home in East Los Angeles." [viii]. The new president of the J. Paul Getty Trust is another Jewish administrator, Barry Munitz, formerly the chancellor of both the California State University system and the University of Houston.
The fact that Jews are so dominating in the art world is very rarely publicly acknowledged. It is forbidden -- as always for anyone, anywhere -- to discuss the subject for fear of being branded "anti-Semitic." Typically, as example, an entire 1989 academic volume on the "Sociology of the Arts" fails to mention Jews as sociological entity in the modern art dynamic. There are analyses of art galleries, "artist groups," art patrons, and art audiences, broken down into gender, age, income, occupation, and even "racial and ethnic minorities." We can find that, negligibly, "blacks, Orientals, and persons of Spanish origin constitute about 7% of the art audience," but there is nothing whatsoever about Jews, even their own percentage of that "art audience," let alone how many art galleries they own, museums they direct, and articles they generate about art value. [ix]
[i] FALLON, p. 335 This and following data is quoted by the great compendium of Jewish activities, www.jewishtribalreview.org with much gratitude.
[ii] BURNHAM, p. 25.
[iii] RUBIN- DURSKY, p. 289
[iv] LIPTON, p. 285
[v] GOODMAN, #2, p. 73
[vi] CHRISTOPHER, p. 121
[vii] KREFETZ, p. 153
[viii] GOODMAN, #2, p. 142
[ix] FOSTER/BLAU, 1989
Continues in Part Two:
Last updated 04/10/2003