They're Still Stealing Van Goghs
While researching Nazi art thefts for a novel, L.A. Hardscape, I was brought up short by the audacity and sheer scope of the crime. I had seen Monuments Men, but that had seemed like an entertainment, an embellished tale based on fact, and it didn't really dilate my cortex like the tons of print that you can dig up on the thefts and I just scratched the surface. Hermann Goering's "collection" alone, amounted to almost 2,000 works of art when you count sculpture and tapestries along with the 1,400 paintings. And, like a true obsessive bureaucrat, he and his minions catalogued every single one. Including who they stole it from. These guys were nothing if not methodical. And it should be mentioned here that the entire amount of stolen art and artifacts is much greater than what adorned the walls of Carinhall, Goering's chalet. The Third Reich 's amassment of looted objects was in the hundreds of thousands and storage in salt mines, caves, warehouses and tunnels from 1933 to the end of the war are legend. A lifetime could be spent researching the thefts. Goering's collection alone has taken researchers years to trace. Efforts are ongoing.
I found myself looking up painting after painting and, being an artist myself, sighing over each and every one. This guy surrounded himself with beauty and splendor, the best of the best--I don't know what the metaphor is here; this truly evil ratbastard of sewer/vomit heart and mind making his grand chateau outside Berlin, Carinhall, the depository of the world's art genius. There is no metaphor so I won't struggle for one. Hitler's number two man was one hell of a collector, emphasis on hell.
I was wasting a lot of time looking at great paintings (Can that be time wasted? If you're trying to get a novel done, I suppose it could be.) many of which I'd glimpsed in art history courses in art school. My eyes were glazing over. Just one of these paintings could set me up in fast cars and tall cotton for the rest of my life.
At this point I was eyeing Van Gogh’s Bridge at Langlois in Arles. And that's when I made the decision to follow the Nazi trail of theft through one artist, thus paring down the time spent and making the task less gargantuan. I looked up this painting and found that the bridge at Arles was the subject of four Van Gogh oil paintings, some watercolours and a series of drawings. All of these are just superb, as you would think. He was about thirty-five when he produced them in 1888 in Arles, France, where he lived at the time and where he enjoyed the height of his career and productivity. In less than fifteen months he produced more than 200 paintings.
The bridge reminded him of his homeland, the Netherlands, and he sent a framed version of it to an art dealer there. One of the 1888 versions was taken by Goering and it was one of his favorites. He stole Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet as well, but ended up selling it in 1937. But not the bridge. That stayed at Carinhall. But where is it now? I lost the trail at Carinhall, though a book might provide some clues.
A 518 page book, "Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection," published in 2009, could possibly shed some light on which bridge painting was in that collection, and also provide a trail of provenance, which in many cases is labyrinthine. The only information I could find on Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet was that it had reportedly been sold. To whom, was not divulged. But another, third, Portrait of Doctor Gachet, of which only two were known, showed up in Greece in the inheritance of a struggling author, Doreta Peppas. It had been "liberated" by her late father in a Resistance attack on a Nazi train. They'd been after ammunition, but Peppas' father also made off with a crate of paintings. One of the paintings was the Van Gogh and other items included a notebook of his drawings. Nazi stamps on the backs of the items were validated as official, and the items themselves appear to be indisputably authentic. Why isn't Doreta rich? No one will touch the art, possibly because it may cast doubt on the authenticity of other Van Gogh paintings now hanging in galleries and private collections. It's a byzantine story but suffice to say she may be the richest poor struggling author in the history of literature, and by way of the Nazis, the art world. She remains penniless, and the art is in a temperature controlled vault which further drains her meagre income.
The art trove is hers, having been traced as far back as possible, and no one has come forward to claim the pieces. Not the family from which they were stolen, or anyone else. It's quite possible the previous owners were the last of a family line and met their end at the hands of the Nazis. The crateful never reached its intended destination, where it would no doubt have been catalogued.
The notebook alone is probably worth $3.5 million and a respected authority said he believes it to be Van Gogh's student workbook from the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels. The age and the paper have been confirmed in separate tests. Other tests and samplings have further corroborated the pieces as genuine. The Van Gogh Museum offered to authenticate the Gachet painting but a contract they sent stated they would keep it forever. For free. Meanwhile Ms. Peppas has lost her home due to search, storage and authentication costs. The Nazis, it appears, have left their mark, and curse, on Van Gogh and the world's fine art market once again.
The total estimated worth of her crate of stolen Nazi art, which includes a Cezanne nude, is over $100 million. Conspiracy theorists are blaming a bullying art cartel for refusing to legitimize the find until they can get their hands on it some other way. I don't know who is to blame in such a bizarre situation, but it does irk me that the art isn't shared with the world. Isn't that the point of great art? It's almost a sure thing that the art is real--none of the tests would seem to indicate otherwise. Begs the question WTF?
Anyway, the trail ran cold on Nazi looted Van Goghs. But mysteries abound and who doesn't love those? Especially mystery writers. (literature seems to be intertwined in this stolen art business) Bestseller Lynne Kennedy (The Triangle Murders, Time Exposure, Pure Lies) came upon just such a mystery while researching Deadly Provenance, a novel of deception involving a Nazi looted Van Gogh oil titled Still Life: Vase with Oleanders. Who better to pursue it? The Brooklyn-born author worked with the San Diego Sheriff's Department and SDPD Crime Lab in forming forensic studies for teachers and students. In adding authenticity to her books she worked with museum and historical experts as well as crime-solving officials at a time when the CSI tv shows were becoming popular. Great credentials for investigating a lost Van Gogh. While she solved the case in her novel, the painting remains missing in real life, and Kennedy herself is still on the case. If anyone has any leads they are encouraged to contact her; a good start is her website, lynnekennedymysteries.com There, you'll find fascinating links to interviews and progress notes.
The painting, also known as Vase on Yellow Background, was one of thirty or so that had been at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris. Suspecting an imminent Nazi raid in 1940 the owners packed them off to Chateau de Rastignac near Bordeaux. In 1941 the Nazis tracked them there, looted as much as they could, and burned the chateau to the ground. The paintings, including the Van Gogh, have not been seen since. And Lynne Kennedy has unearthed some very interesting information in her search, having contacted people and museums who are close to the source.
Nazis weren't the only thieves interested in Van Gogh paintings. Two of his paintings were stolen in 2002 from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a seascape and a painting of a church in Neunen where his father had been pastor. The burglars climbed to the roof using a ladder, broke through a window and exited out the side of the building using a rope. The theft seems like the stuff of movies. During an investigation of the Camorra Mafia family in Italy, the oils were recovered in 2016.
At the time of the crime, the paintings were worth about $4.5 million. Works by Van Gogh have sold for up to $82.5 million at auction, but the stolen works were from his Hague period, and of a style that sell for a good deal less.
Another vase-and-flowers Van Gogh oil Poppy Flowers, was stolen in 2010 from Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo. Its value is around $50 million and one can imagine a white-suited, red-fezzed Sydney Greenstreet bargaining with Humphrey Bogart for its return. Egyptian officials believed they had caught the perps of the painting pilferage, arresting two Italian suspects attempting to board a plane at Cairo International Airport. No deal. It's still among the missing Van Goghs. It had been stolen previously in 1977 from the same museum and recovered ten years later in Kuwait. If you see a small painting of a bunch of yellow flowers and a couple of red ones in a vase, give the museum a call.
If you have a Van Gogh or two, you might want to beef up your ADT alarm system with some of those impenetrable lazer-ined security mazes that only George Clooney could negotiate. Or was that Cary Grant? In one of my books, Ruined Days, a New Orleans art gallery uses holograpic images for its most expensive sculptures. A Degas ballerina revolves under a light, for all intents and purposes a solid bronze figurine, until someone reaches for it and touches only air. As the gallery owner explains to the main character in the story, "Some collectors prefer to have the original in a vault somewhere. We make these up for them so they can appreciate the piece with no reservations about it being damaged or stolen."
Perhaps in the future, Van Goghs, Titians, Klimts and Caravaggios will be exquisitely projected images. Once the lights go out in the museum or gallery, so do the paintings. You're still in the presence of genius, once removed. And you're not supposed to touch the works anyway. Sort of like zoos of the future; holographic images, and if your kid jumps into the gorilla cage they won't have to shoot anything. That, to me, is preferable to jailed animals. But hey, that's me.
Back to Van Gogh, Nazi loot, and paintings of questionable authenticity that continue to surface. This one, signed Vincent, was purchased for a few hundred guilders in the Dutch city of Breda around the time WWII began. A still life featuring an open bible, clay pipe, and some other items such as a bottle, and a drape of some kind behind, is primarily monochromatic yellow ochres and greens. The owners, Catherine and Malcolm Head from Guildford, believe it to have been painted at the parsonage in Neunen, where Van Gogh lived between 1883 and 1885. They've spent a great deal of money on age testing and other samplings which do corroborate the time, if not the artist. But the Van Gogh Museum dismisses the painting as a fake, citing stylistic differences. They stated that it is more likely the oil was by the lesser-known female Dutch artist, Willemina Vincent. Hence the signing "Vincent" in the lower corner. Although, to me, it looks like Van Gogh's signature style, but it is slanted uphill. As art restorer Robert Mitchell says, "It could well be a genuine painting by Vincent Van Gogh but everyone in the art world will say no before they say yes." That one's been around since 1997 and shows no sign of conclusion.
In the "You just never know" department, Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Rey, which now hangs in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Russia, has an interesting backstory. It was once used to plug a hole in a chicken coop. Dr. Rey worked on Van Gogh after the legendary ear incident, and to show his gratitude, Van Gogh painted his portrait. Rey never liked it much, as evidenced by its disposition as chicken house insulation. I wonder if whoever found that painting had any problem making people believe it was genuine. "I was tearing down an old chicken coop and there was a Van Gogh on the wall inside. Yeah, I think it's real, don't you?"
By the way, that ear thing? Nobody cuts off their own ear, even if severely depressed. Or, as some have said, suffering from the tormenting tintinnabulation of tinnitus. There are much easier forms of self mutilation. A new German book, Pakt des Schweigens (Pact of Silence) contends that he made up the story to protect his friend Gaugin, who, perhaps unintentionally, whacked off the ear with his sword during a contentious argument in the dark. Gaugin was a fencer, and he could have been protecting himself. The authors, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, believe that the two artists had a hellacious fight because Van Gogh was upset that Paul was leaving, going back to Paris. It was common knowledge that Van Gogh was infatuated with him. At any rate once the shit hit the fan and the ear hit the floor, the two made a hasty pact to keep mum, Gaugin, to avoid jail time, and Van Gogh, to keep the friendship from disintegrating further. The incident took place near a brothel, and Van Gogh wrapped the ear in cloth, presenting it to a prostitute, who passed out when she realized what it was. Van Gogh went home and passed out as well. He would probably have bled to death had not the prostitute alerted police, who found him in his blood-soaked bed. They took him to a nearby hospital where he asked to see his pal, Gaugin. But Gaugin refused to visit him, left that day, and they never set eyes or ears on one another again.
Van Gogh wrote to Gaugin saying, "I will keep quiet about this and so will you." Some years later Gaugin wrote to another friend that Van Gogh was "A man with sealed lips. I cannot complain about him." Van Gogh's brother Theo also had some knowledge of the night that hints at circumstances other than self harm.
It all took place in Arles in 1888, no doubt interrupting Van Gogh's supremely prolific period during which the bridge paintings and drawings and hundreds of other works had been produced. The Nazi highjacking of Bridge at Langlois in Arles took place years later, and its whereabouts are still somewhat clouded. No one has heard anything about the ear, though it was supposed to have been kept in a jar of preservative. One hopes Dr. Rey didn't dispose of it in the chickenyard. What was it with that guy, anyway?
It wasn't long after the hearing loss that Van Gogh died in the arms of his brother, July 29, 1890. He was only 37. And even his death has an ear, I mean air, of mystery about it. Anyone with his roller coaster ups and downs would have been diagnosed as manic-depressive or possibly bipolar these days, and medicine might have smoothed it out some, extending his years of incredible creative genius.
His death: no suicide note, but days before, an ebullient letter to Theo. And he had just ordered supplies and paints. Moodwise, he was on an upswing, if anything. And the fact he'd been shot in the stomach is another question mark. Grossly evident powder burns from the sooty gunpowder of the day were missing indicating the weapon was fired from a distance. The position of the wound would have been extremely difficult for Van Gogh to accomplish, especially with his right hand--and he was right handed. Plus he had been receiving accolades and painting busily, even after the loss of his ear.
It should come as no great surprise that a bioengineered replica of Van Gogh's ear enjoyed a New York debut in 2015. Titled Sugarbabe, the auditory oddity actually contains natural DNA from Van Gogh and a direct male descendant. It was displayed at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. The genetic donor was Liewe Van Gogh, Theo's great-great grandson. Created ("It's alive. And it hears...") by Diemut Striebe, it employs a computer processor which stimulates nerve pulses allegedly allowing it to hear. One wonders if it was embarrassed at the opening. Some gallerista having imbibed too much free wine can be imagined to say "Ears to you, Vincent." or "Anybody got a Q-Tip?" or maybe whispering sexual innuendos into it.
Some words of advice: if it needs cleaning, don't stick anything sharp in it. Or around it. And guard it carefully. If they're out there plotting to steal Van Gogh paintings, they'd sure as hell want his ear. Or a close relative.
While the Van Gogh Museum may not be interested in Sugarbabe, and often declines to accept surfacing paintings as authentic, they do, through diligent research, welcome the ones they deem worthy. Sunset at Montmajour is such a painting and it's not even signed. Inventoried in the collection of Theo Van Gogh, it was sold in 1901.
No record of it existed until a Norwegian industrialist bought it and displayed it in his home. Advised that it was not a Van Gogh, he stored it in the attic. In the 1990s the Van Gogh Museum dismissed it because it was unsigned. "Hey, not so fast," someone said. In 2011 they started a two-year investigation. Exhaustive tests and a letter of provenance from Vincent to Theo resulted in a 2013 unveiling and hanging of the oil in the museum.
Meanwhile they're still plotting thefts out there. And fakery abounds. But I just saw one on eBay. "Vincent Van Gogh Painting. Bearing "VINCENT" Signature at bottom left. This piece appears to be in decent good condition and will be sold 'as is.'". Hmm, where's the phone number of the Van Gogh Museum? This might be the break I've been looking for.
This piece originally appeared in Resurrection of a Sunflower, a Van Gogh anthology by Pski's Porch.
Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Three more books since. His fiction and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Santa Fe Writers Project, Shotgun Honey and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com
David Huddle teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English and in the Rainier Writing Workshop. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Esquire, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Poetry, Shenandoah, Agni, Plume, The Hollins Critic, and The Georgia Review. His most recent books are Dream Sender, a poetry collection, and My Immaculate Assassin, a novel. With Meighan Sharp, Huddle has co-authored a book of poems, Effusive Greetings to Friends, forthcoming from Groundhog Poetry Press in the fall of 2017, and his new novel, Hazel, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2018.
At the entrance to the Dayton Art Museum, a tall piece of kinetic art guards the doors. On second thought perhaps it is knighting the stream of comers and goers: a shining, polished stainless steel structure, a perpendicular mast (a square-sided pole) 20 feet or so tall, which includes its divergence into a large wye's reaching arms, and at each of their tops, a shining sword-like, tapering, five-foot triangular piece of metal that juts out from the point of attachment near its thicker square end and cuts empty space, slicing around independently at the prodding of invisible currents.
I can't see the mechanism that holds these rotating blades in place yet allows their movement. Trying to do so, I stand near the sculpture's base craning my neck and farther off gaining some details in the distance but at the same time of course losing others. This crafts-person's trick in achieving balance is obviously beyond my ken. I can imagine the mind and the limbs creating it, though. They're in a well-lit large warehouse-like room playing with materials that became what I see.
Balance seems to be at the centre of this art—maybe it's at the centre of all art. If so, how odd. Some of the most unstable people I know are artists of one sort or another. If this observation is true, then maybe practicing an art based on balance appeals to kinetic artists because they find it hard to achieve balance in their own lives. At any rate, I'm thinking now of their act of creating as performance art, like someone on stage entertaining an audience.
To get my drift, go to youtube and view the video of Miyoko Shida Rigolo's performance. You'll have a hard time thinking it's not a trick of video razzmatazz. What she does is totally based on balance.
She begins by taking what looks like a large goose feather from the bun in her hair and balancing it upon a slightly longer and what looks like a heavier piece of wood or bamboo, though perhaps it's some lighter material. She holds this second piece at its balancing point, then repeats this procedure with increasingly larger pieces of the same material, slowly balancing one after another beneath the one before it, one hand holding the latest balancing point, the other introducing the newer piece of wood. At the end a large mobile of fourteen pieces slowly circle on her balancing hand and finally upon one last erect piece of wood. All the time during composition, at each stage of construction, you can see the wavering nature of the loose balance as well as the entire piece turning. Then she....well, you need to see the quiet climax, the breathtaking beauty in this finished art, which is mobile even throughout its creation.
It's another extension of the mobile idea, which I think must have derived from observing natural phenomena. The leaf or flower on a stem waving as a breeze affects it. The piece of tissue that hangs down tempting prey into deadly range of the angler fish's mouth. The glinting water drops spreading out, sprinkling down onto the ground, creating patterns, dripping from ice as it melts from an eave in bright sunlight several hours during the day. A week of the samaras helicoptering, swirling down from maple trees until gone for another year. The shower of pink crabapple blossoms that I've enjoyed, standing under limbs, immersed in a powerfully rich aroma some springs in my backyard.
The more constant example is the night show of stars, which hold such permanent positions that humans have recognized and named the relationship of stars to one another for millennia. A close study of the night sky stimulates wonder of course, and part of that concerns a perception of our own infinitesimal existence in the grandeur of the cosmos. But also, the wonder about what holds the continuing relationship of the things we observe up there in place. Science suggests gravitational pulls, magnetic attractions and repulsions, orbital forces beyond my knowledge but clear enough to me to prompt comparisons. They remind me of the wires and hidden human devices that hold the pieces of popular mobiles in a stable relationship while allowing their movements to occur.
In this way I end up also thinking about myself. Human beings are held on our own wires and strings, our invisible emotions and thoughts, the DNA patterns that formulate who we are, the inheritances that go back into humanity's prehistoric origins. Are we not to a large extent mobiles ourselves?
And all those supposedly stationary things that we assume are landmarks? The human eye can catch only a limited range of motion. We don't see the tree's slow movement, the erosion of a sandstone crag, or witness very well the hummingbird's flapping wings. If a movement is too slow or too fast, we miss it. Perception also depends on the nature of the moving object's substance and colour. Our eyes have help. Scientists have extended our ability to perceive the otherwise invisible, but we don't have to spend thousands for very complicated machine help. More simply, an album of photographs that show how we looked down through the years back to childhood can shock us and prompt nostalgia. Doesn't it also suggest those hidden wires that connect us all?
Making any kind of art employs magic. So does the viewers' appreciation of a piece of art. This kind of rapture lasts for the period during which a creation engages us, when we respond emotionally and intellectually to it. So here I am just outside the Art Museum's front doors, a George Rickey mobile, Two Lines Oblique, prodding me to circle around it in my mind, following the artist's impulses, judgments, and skill, levitating in my imagination at the artist's stimulation.
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folk dances. Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town, and his poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies.
How to Do Art
In other words, don’t let it do you.
By which we mean we are as much a part of ourselves as art is to itself.
Notwithstanding the psychological realm — the realm with much to say about nothing at all.
Take the artist on a painfully inartful day—the morning is cloudy but the afternoon is sunny, naturellement, the mailman arriving at 1:15pm before the recycling (sundry cans and bottles, crumpled cardboard pieces) endeavours to be disposed of, evacuated into a urine-coloured, unprepossessing vat next to the more prominent but filthier receptacle whose plastic lids have been disabused of their function (spring, summer, fall and winter), the weather given its full and
natural right to subsume the banal and odourific contents therein.
Still, there is much toiling to be done. There is the afternoon that wanes—painful reminder of the blinding transience of life.
But at the end of it all, do we dare believe? Has that narrative that had defined our lives been finally subsumed? Do we assume that we are to be bestowed entry into THE GRAND SOCIETY OF INFINITE ACCOLADES?
No (the very word that we have been tasked to elude).
Dinnertime. The producing of dinner can be thought of as art, of course, as food is nearly always relied upon as being the substrate to consciousness. Moreover, the term “culinary arts” has repeatedly been seared into the dogma of our digestive existence.
Chicken cutlets, one evening.
Linguine with sautéed vegetables, the next.
As we muster the undead.
Paolo Cornacchia lives along the shores of the Chesapeake. He has previously been published in Literary Orphans. More information about him can be found here:http://paolocornacchia.space
Rembrandt's First Emmaus
Begin at the tiny woman, attending in far left’s dark distant background. Always begin at any tiny woman, seemingly shrouded with inconsequence, because that tiny woman is probably the presence who makes everything else fall into place and flourish.
That tiny woman in the Rembrandt, haloed and thereby sacred in her ministrations, obvious source of the tabled silver. You’ll notice she leans forward now into her work, at the same angle the foregrounded Christ reclines, relaxed no doubt because of her and what she’s served. Christ and the woman sway together, even at a distance, making everything else possible.
The facing man canted opposite against them both, still of this world, as if counter-balancing, aghast, and knowing at last he’s never been in control, with his own astounded doubt that has always thrown him off-kilter. His gesture is almost fearful, hands nearly defensive. Is this then Cleopas from the Book? His dubious mouth and startled eyes?
And then, his friend from the journey, now become the adoring darkened supplicant, suddenly part of that shadowed obscurity that contains now all of the Christ.
Everything sweeping into that new-dimension dark miracle, the other-worlded shadow, the chin-whiskered, exuberant Christ, cast by unseen light that might be of His own creation. Tilted back, cast back playful, relieved at last of earthly burden, to enjoy at last the brilliance of a realized Being. Could this be? Rembrandt must have seen it when he painted. How the shadowed foreground has been newly transported from a realm somehow beyond his earth-bound palette.
And what is it of the slanted paneled wall so brilliant and un-cross-like in the light that knows to point beyond the crumbling stone — back and up to Heaven?
Harry Youtt is a frequently published poet, three times nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Since 1990 he has been teaching in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Among his other accomplishments, Harry officially coined the phrase: Plain-speech Resonance Poetry. He is most proud of this.
The Sky's the Limit: Thoughts on the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building
“…It demands of us, ‘what is the chief characteristic of the tall office building?’ And at once we answer, it is lofty. This loftiness is to the artist-nature its thrilling aspect. It is the very organ-tone of its appeal. It must be in turn the dominant chord in his expression of it, the true excitant of his imagination. It must be tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it, the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line…”
A tenet of Modernism was to connect the inside of buildings with their outsides. In the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society building (1929-32) by George Howe and William Lescaze the interior does not merely form a link with the street and surrounding cityscape; it creates a unity with the atmosphere around the building. The connection of lived space and intangible space (light and air) is rendered to masterful effect. The ascent from the materiality of the streets outside its lobby, higher and higher to the pinnacle of sun and air of the boardrooms must be experienced in an uninterrupted flow. We might say it is a journey away from the material burdens of the world for an esoteric encounter up in the clouds.
When the visitor enters the first floor lobby, he sees a soaring space that leads the eye upwards. The light entering through the doorways and filtering down from the banking floor above fills this area and seems to beckon the viewer to move onward and upward, starting literally with a ride up the escalator. On level two one’s view is drawn to a bank of interior windows, behind which one can see an expanse. Once in this banking floor, the visitor’s gaze is drawn horizontally and vertically by full-height windows and a U-shaped service counter. Now the hallway windows extend this room even farther. The view is of the upper stories of surrounding buildings, thus accentuating the rise the customer has just made. Aluminum ceiling panels insinuate the sky to the interior. Polished black marble piers not only tell of height but ricochet light across the banking floor.
Corridors are open and uncluttered with no ornament distracting the eye. From the second floor one ascends another long escalator to the ballroom (The building is now a Loew’s hotel.) The visitor can only see light from the third floor windows and that which is reflected on the ceiling of that level, seen from the vantage point of the escalator ride up. The board and dining rooms at the top are airy and breezy. The solarium cheers up the rooms more, and a terrace extends the free movement of bankers. From up here the eye looks out and now down. There is more of a horizontal emphasis, such as in the overhang cantilever over the terrace and the glass bank of doors.
The thin limestone piers that elevate the building off the ground, in a manner, accentuate the delicacy of the building. This might be the first skyscraper whose base reflects its top. The two-story base exterior is covered in gray and black granite, which reflects light, thereby losing some of the visual heaviness of itself.
The experience is a physical and emotional journey away from the confines of the ground and up to the heights. It is a freedom from the world below into an environment of light and air at the top…an escape from the problems on street level (in 1932 effects of the Depression were just outside the bank). I think Le Corbusier meant his towers to achieve this sensibility. The shopping malls, industrial complexes, hotels, and luxury apartments of the 1960’s tried to do this as well, with usually unsuccessful results.
Air and light are what the PSFS convey, which are what tall buildings should communicate.
Stuart A. Kurtz
Stuart A. Kurtz: "I started my writing career in sleep-away camp. I was sick and had nothing to do, so I lay on my bunk and composed a sketch about a reporter named Milton Moncrief who was covering a volcano eruption. He interviewed people as they ran from the ash and lava. He didn't have a clue - and maybe I didn't either...that the sketch was pretty bad, or that I would some day choose this as my profession. I am now doing cultural journalism, drama, and poetry. North Park Vaudeville in San Diego presented my play, Hey, Pete, There Must be Some Mistake, in October, 2012. I was the only American reporter to cover Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche in 2009. My first full-length play about an environmental disaster in future Iowa is now taking shape, and I am marketing my one-act allegory, The Time of Our Joy. Available for hire at email@example.com Blog www.stuartkurtzportfolio.blogspot.com and poems published here:
Frida Kahlo is known for her self-portraits, and here she holds a Mexican flag made of papel picado [cut paper] looking south on the U.S.-Mexican border. Kahlo was married for a time to Mexican muralist painter Diego Rivera, who was commissioned to paint extensive murals in cities across the U.S. Kahlo didn’t feel at home in the United States, and was upset by the industrialism she saw in cities such as Detroit and New York.
Buildings like esqueletos
block the Aztec sun—as I stand
over earth & wiring as roots.
Lindsey Thäden is the most recent winner of New York's 2016 #PoetweetNYC contest. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Philadelphia-based Apeiron Review, eleven40seven, New York Metro, Passages North and Vending Machine Press, which is e-published from Sydney, Australia.
Spanish Moss and Moonlight
The shape on paper was hers, light pencil tracings of the first ideas of how the moss would hang in front of the moon, the humid haze would hover in the luxuriant Louisiana sky. Now he was shaping it in three dimensions, his fingers and hands working together, centering, centering, pressing, smoothing the Lake Pontchartrain clay; his strong left leg powering the treadle, the wheel spinning, the vase rising from a shapeless lump of earth into an almost living, an almost organic form.
“Pinch in the neck,” she said, “there above that rounded shoulder that suggests the tops of the trees--constrict the clay into a sharply defined ring, a cylindrical edge that will pronounce: Here is a vase--a form with a hollowness, with emptiness, inside it. The blue and pale lighted circle of trees I have in mind will hold within that hollow space where all vases hide their secrets, the mystery of moonlit nights and bayous.”
She carries off the green ware, places it on her turntable and begins to shave off strips of clay, layers of clay, snippets of clay that drop to the workbench, leaving strands of moss to fall from the trees. As clay curls off the edge of her embossing knife, the live oaks and bald cypress rise, their branches woven, and everywhere the Spanish moss, drapes, droops, caresses the tree forms, bounds the growing image from above the way bayou trees frame the southern night skies.
With the first firing, the vase turns white as the fullest moon, ready for the glaze. The blues, pale, paler, palest, separate sky and foliage, shape and void, turn black bayou waters into a moonlit blue sheen, mark the sky for radiance with flowing silken glaze. The trees across the water loom upward, reaching, reaching, and the round moon hides behind fingers of moss, the deepest blue moss, moss that loves live oaks and warm nights and calling owls and chirping tree frogs.
And then the final fire, the kiln blazing, clay and glazes merging, capturing in the chemistry of ceramics and heat a moment of time, making it a piece of forever, burning into reality an imagining of shape and form and color and shadings. Oh, yes, here is what she saw before she began to sketch. And here is what his fingers felt before he took up the clay. Here is what they made, together, from earth and fire and memories, from Spanish moss, from live oaks, from moonlight.
Roy Beckemeyer lives in Wichita, Kansas His poems have appeared in a variety of print and on-line literary journals including Beecher's Magazine, Chiron Review, Coal City Review, Dappled Things, Flint Hills Review, I-70 Review, Kansas City Voices, The Light Ekphrastic, The Midwest Quarterly, The North Dakota Quarterly, The Syzygy Poetry Review, and Zingara. His book of poetry, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Review and Press, Lawrence, KS, 2014) was selected as a 2015 Kansas Notable Book. He won the Beecher's Magazine Poetry Contest in 2014, and the Kansas Voices Poetry Award in 2016.
Memory Is Organic
Early warmth urged green-fingered hands up from soil. Iris bulbs driven by need to resurrect, unbury what had been blacked out beneath the surface until strong sun penetrated, woke them. When the irises flower this March, I will resist mind-seeing my friend and mentor again, one year since she held court in her living room’s mid-century modern recliner, another consignment store find. She had a knack for looking carefully and into corners, for noticing, showcasing beauty. That March she shrank daily, unlike the tumors inside, becoming shadow; wisp; waif. But her authoritative tone remained, still her contagious laugh spilling over mouth’s brim, broad smile so comforting. Three of us summoned to say goodbye as a group that day, at an appointed hour, could not comfort back, could only sit for the assigned duration, making stilted conversation, conversation meant for continuation, meant for the living. Just as the iris bulbs she gave me have risen, bloomed, died back each year in their own way and time, my friend lived longer than expected. They were blooming in my yard as she was dying, as I was reading the last novel she would ever write, about an artist trapped inside a wrecked body. My mother’s cancer then also had re-bloomed in her chemo-broken body. She fought longer than my friend, surrendered more quickly—from the day I watched her doctor withhold, force her to ask how long? reluctantly answer. When the irises bloom again, I will refuse to think of my mother who loved irises, think how my friend transported and tended and shared the bulbs another woman had poured into her cradling arms years ago, the arms she once cradled her only daughter in. These irises, not yet loose and opening, not yet offering purple-blue velvet unfurling, shock of gold stamen, are readying to bring up from earth’s basement the secrets that nourished them through the past year, through cold seasons, and soon will, despite my resistance, force me to remember.
Janet St. John
Janet St. John lives and writes in New Mexico. Her poetry and flash fiction have appeared in numerous literary magazines includingThe Nebraska Review, Poet Lore, StepAway, After Hours, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing, Canary: A Literary Journal of Environmental Crisis,and bosque: the magazine. With arts funding under attack, she is dedicated to writing and creating even more art, keeping convos about the arts even more alive, and personally supporting as many artists and arts programs as she can. Her weekly blog series "Art & Soul Shorts" is part of that mission: https://www.janetstjohn.com/blog
Afternoon in Edinburgh
Your eyes pull me across the room, past the milling tourists, to where you wait, mouse-velvet collar turned against the stubble, brown beret atop your wild hair. You gaze at me across three hundred years.
Once, you painted burghers, their black robes shimmering like water, ruffs starched by obedient maids. They paid you well for their memorials, and it was they who tittered when they heard what was to be sold: the Mantegna, the Giorgione and the Raphael, objects of your lust. Inside the house, their wives ran fingers over fabrics that would no longer drape your rooms as they dreamed of their own parlours. Even with everything gone, there still was not enough for you had sinned gravely, loving Saskia beneath your class while living above it.
My sins are different than yours but sins nonetheless, so long as it is wrong to hide under guile, turn away toward ease and refuse to feel the weight of our lives.
Though you once preened like a cock, you never pretended the weight was not there. Even as a youth you felt it. Still in your twenties you squinted and saw Judas in the temple imploring the priests to take back their silver. They refused, of course, and turned their backs, and we know what came next – the hanging, the lynching, the digging in the potter’s field – but in the studio you lingered on this moment and felt its crushing weight. Now, you challenge me to be so brave.
You will live twelve years more and paint yourself again, with sallow skin and wiry hair. Defeat will hover but arrogance will save you. A delicate balance, it is, to teeter between what you know and what will save you.
If I could, I would reach under the crumpled velvet to embrace and comfort you, but there is no refuge for us, hubristic comrades, fellow penitents.
Kathleen Stone in a writer from Boston. Her critical art reviews and personal essays have been published in Arts Fuse (artsfuse.org) and Points East and she is at work on several longer projects. She co-hosts a monthly literary salon in Boston called Booklab and holds graduate degrees from the Bennington Writing Seminars and Boston University School of Law. Her website can be found at www.kathleencstone.com.
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