Who could resist reading an article with a title like that? Who even knows what a spitzmaus is? Clue: the article was about an exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, so the obvious guess was that it’s German for some kind of rodent. So far, so intriguing, but what was more, the exhibition in question was curated by Wes Anderson, of whom I am an ardent fan. A trip to Vienna started looking like a tantalizing prospect, especially since there was another blockbuster exhibition on in the same museum, a collection of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. A mini- break with friends was duly organized.
In 2012, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna started a new series of exhibitions where creative individuals were invited to put together their own personal selections of objects drawn from the museum’s historical collections, which number more than four million objects, and span a period of five thousand years. The first was curated by the painter and draughtsman Ed Ruscha, and the second by the British ceramicist and writer Edmund de Waal (whose book, “The Hare with Amber Eyes”, is about a collection of special objects.)
For this year’s exhibition, cult director Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Darjeeling Limited”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”) partnered up with costume designer and author Juman Malouf to sift through the museum’s vast collection, probably driving the staff mad in the process, which took two years. They came up with an eclectic selection of 423 objects, of which 350 came from the museum’s warehouse and have never before been shown to the public.
The collection is quirky, just as expected. Totally disparate objects are lined up next to each other, sometimes the only obvious connection being that they are of the same color. Below, in the green room, a huge emerald in front of a green dress worn in a production of Hedda Gabler.
The exhibits come with no explanations written on the cases, so that the viewer must figure out the connections for himself, without distraction ( however, booklets are provided with lists where you can look the exhibits up). And, speaking of cases, one of the rooms is entirely devoted to just that—weirdly shaped decorated boxes containing such disparate things as a scepter, a collection of flutes or a crown. There is ‘a suitcase for the war-robe of a Korean Prince’, and a ‘case for one hundred ostrich feathers’. And there is a large, completely empty glass case—the premise here being that we seldom look at the cases themselves, only at their contents.
The main object of the exhibition is to point out invisible affinities between very different worlds.
Next to the room mentioned above, with the exclusively green objects of every kind and every era, there is another with an assortment of animals, some stuffed, some carved, and three black emu eggs in a custom-built case that looks like an incubator. All are arranged around the famous spitzmaus, an Egyptian mummy of a shrew, in its own tiny wooden sarcophagus with its portrait pained on the side. By the way, I looked it up, and a shrew is not a rodent at all.
There are also 16th century portraits of the Petrus Gonsalvus family, all suffering from hypertrichosis (see one of their unlucky offspring below), and 22 exposed busts, arranged not in chronological order but according to size.
There are miniature snowshoes,
And miniature musical instruments.
And a room devoted to portraits of children.
The exhibition was wonderful—and outside, there was Vienna, and concerts
and statues, and Christmas markets.
And to eat, schnitzel, and strudel, and hot chocolate. And of course, the Breugel exhibition, of which more to follow.
Couldn’t resist re-blogging this! From Bruce Goodman’s great blog, Weave a Web.
(This is a translation of an actual poster in France)
After entering this church, you may hear “the call of God”. However, it is unlikely he will call you on his mobile. Thank you for turning off your phones.
If you wish to talk to God, by all means do so. Come in and choose a quiet place.
If you wish to see Him, send a text while driving.
There’s no need to describe Pablo Picasso—everyone knows about him, and most of us have come across one or more of his works in an exhibition or museum, since he was extremely prolific.
For me, most enchanting were his early works, the Blue and Rose periods, which visitors to Paris have the chance to admire at the Musée d’Orsay. The exhibition is a collaboration between the museum and the Musée National Picasso, and has gathered major works that focus on the period from 1900 to 1906.
Picasso was a fantastic draughtsman, and could produce detailed academic drawings with great ease. In his paintings, however, he expressed his highly personal viewpoint, often distorting body parts, foreshortening limbs or elongating fingers.
It is difficult to comprehend today, but at the time he was derided for this by art critics, and floundered in the teeming artistic milieu of Paris, until he was picked up by American art patron Gertrude Stein. Although they did not speak each other’s language, they became friends, and she had a major influence on his career. He painted her portrait, which everyone agreed did not look at all like her, but which eventually became one his most famous portraits. After 1919 he was giving her paintings for free, since he had become so successful that she could no longer afford to buy them!
Picasso painted prostitutes, blind men, drunks, but also babies and children. He was moved by the notions of family and motherhood. His palette made up of blues gives off an aura of melancholy. He was also inspired by other artists of his time, such as Van Gogh and Gaugin, whose influence can be seen in some of his work.
It is amazing that these paintings were made when Picasso was only 20 or 21. The blue period lasted until 1904, when hints of pink started creeping into his palette, to evolve into the rose period, where joyful pinks, reds and oranges dominated, and his subjects were harlequins and circus people. This lasted for just two years, and ended with the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the first painting of the cubist period.
It is also astonishing how prolific Picasso was. He left behind tens of thousands of works, even though, when he was young and broke, he reused canvasses and even burnt drawings for warmth.
Anyone within reach of Paris should go and see this exhibition—it is just wonderful. I left unsure whether to be greatly inspired or simply throw my pens and brushes in the bin and take up knitting!
Some of you might remember an older post entitled “4.1 miles”, (read it here), about ‘The hero of the Aegean’, captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who risked his life nightly in Lesvos rescuing refugees arriving on the island in unseaworthy boats. I am sad to report that he has suddenly passed away of a heart attack, at the age of 44, leaving behind a wife and two children.
A man who worked tirelessly for months on end to save thousands of lives was stuck down in the prime of life. I do not know his medical history, but I have no doubt the stress of those long nights, his despair when he failed to save everyone, the awfulness of dragging out bodies, many of whom were children, had something to do with his demise.
Papadopoulos was of refugee stock himself, his family having come from Nikomedia, Turkey, in 1922. His father was an ironmonger and he grew up in a working class neighborhood, joining the merchant marine for a few years before moving to the coastguard. Due to his work, he became the face of the Greek Coastguard, was awarded medals for his exploits, and starred in the multi-garlanded documentary 4.1 miles. However, he remained a simple man, never forgetting that lives were constantly in danger on his watch.
Papadopoulos did not like to talk about his experiences, but others on his boat have described the unbearable scenes of saving people who were severely handicapped, having lost all their limbs to bombs, along with heavily pregnant women, and others who were very ill.
It is so unfair and cruel that his family was robbed too soon of someone who had saved so many other lives. And worst of all, it appears his efforts were but a drop in the ocean of misery that is the refugee crisis.
Greece made the New York Times front page (October 12, 2018) with a photo entitled Epidemic of misery. It shows Afghan refugees at Camp Moria, on the island of Lesvos. I quote from the caption: ‘Trauma, psychosis and suicide attempts have become common at Moria, which has around 9,000 people living in a space designed for 3,100. There are 80 people for each shower, 70 per toilet.’
It beggars belief that our presumably civilized western society can tolerate this. Refugee camps have existed since ever, for example in Sudan, but there it was possible to turn a blind eye. This is at our feet. Most Europeans dream of a vacation in the Greek islands, and many go there each year.
I have no doubt the Greek authorities are not managing the situation or the funds available in the best possible way. But this cannot be only the fault of the Greeks, nor can it be their sole responsibility. Everyone should be pulling together. I know individual people, from many different countries, are doing whatever they can—donating money and time, taking in people, some even upending their whole lives to go and help. I find, however, that the authorities, people in power, governments, call it what you will, have woefully mismanaged the whole issue.
And that is just one camp.
(Photos from Google).
Here’s a post full of goodies for avid readers of mystery and crime. Enjoy!
This is my favourite article from the time I wrote for the Greek News Agenda public diplomacy magazine. It combines my two big loves: travelling in Greece and crime litterature. Here, I am proposing six mystery novels that will inspire you to discover three Athenian neighborhoods and will guide you to another three breathtaking holiday destinations. The article had many unique visits but the most wonderful part for me was that it was descovered and promoted by the authors themselves through their social media.
In Kifissia with Commissioner George Békas – Dangerous Spring
Follow the “patriarch” of the Greek crime literature and descover the secrets of the Athenian high society. Yannis Maris is the author who established the crime novel genre in Greece in the ‘50s. His main character, Commissar Békas is depicted as an everyday man who nevertheless is not afraid to defy the rich and powerful in…
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