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New Year’s Blog for the End of 2012

 

New Year’s Blog for the End of 2012

 

FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: SEE THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF BIG NEWS AT THE END, Then come back to reading this.

- Several nights ago, on Sunday the 23rd, Turner Classic Movies showed as its Sunday Silent feature Carl Dreyer’s “Joan of Arc” (also called “The Passion of Joan of Arc”) made in 1928. In my Movie Notes (written for my sons Julian and Benedict and posted here under “Writings of JC”) I wrote of it:

“Silent masterwork by Danish director, starring a great actor, Renee Falconetti, who appeared only in this one film. Intensely moving, don’t watch casually. ‘Convinced the world that movies could be art,’ says the jacket blurb, and it’s right. I remember my first seeing it;  you will remember yours. (Seen again: this is of all films the most unlike any other. Some consider Falconetti’s performance to be the finest on film—it seems beyond human capacity.  The young priest sympathetic to Joan is Antonin Artaud, himself a famous actor, and promoter of a rather poisonous doctrine of a ‘theater of cruelty.’)”

Last Sunday I intended to watch only the beginning, to call back my memories of that greatest of film performances, which indeed seems more than a performance, more than acting, somehow moving into the transcendental, the sublime. But in the end I couldn’t look away, and sat there mesmerized through the whole, through the terrible scenes of her death by burning. Looking up more information on Maria Renee Falconetti I see that she did make one other film, now forgotten, and was mostly a comedienne. Dreyer reportedly meant originally to use a famous movie actress such as Lillian Gish in the role, but ended with Falconetti, and somehow drew out of her--with harsh treatment, it’s said, that made her physically uncomfortable--this mesmerizing series of close-up studies of her face, her responses to the brutal questioning of her tormenters, which make up about half the footage of the film.  Nothing like it has been done before or since, and one can’t imagine anything like it being attempted again. If you haven’t seen it, buy the best disk you can get--a recent restoration with a musical score taken from old compositions that somehow fits the images--and watch it over and over. It will enrich your life.

- From the Sublime to the Ridiculous-- but the nostalgically and enjoyably ridiculous: The next afternoon Turner Classic Movies showed, and I happened to tune in on (without having noticed it in their programming) the original “Babes in Toyland,” with Victor Herbert music and starring Laurel and Hardy. Made in 1938, it must have been shown in that or the following year at the Union Theater on Main St. in Fort Bragg, the small fishing and lumber town in Mendocino County on the Pacific coast where, on one Saturday morning, a triangular-faced little boy of eight or nine stood in line clutching his dime for admission. He loved the movie, and was impressed enough by the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” near the end to persuade his piano teacher, a Mrs. Stagner, to order the music for it so that he could try to play it--as he never quite could. But the music haunted him through many later viewings, when he showed it to his children, always in danger of turning wet-eyed when Mother Goose at the beginning sings “Toyland, Toyland, little girl and boy-land” and “Once you leave its borders you may ne’er return again.” As a teen-ager he was devoted to the light operas of Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg (“The Desert Song,” “The Vagabond King”--push the right button and he will still sing the song with which Francois Villon rouses his fellows in a tavern to go off to fight the troops of Burgundy) or Jerome Kern (“Music In the Air,” with John Charles Thomas and Irra Petina, at the Curran Theater in S.F.) Anyway: seeing this old movie for the umpteenth time--but the first in a decade or more--stirred the old feelings in me, and I watched it through. Two complete movies in two days (see above) sets a kind of record for my later years.

- The NYTimes Obituary section for December 19th printed an obituary for the death at age 96 of Mary Griggs Burke, the New York collector who put together a great collection of Japanese art over many years. I got to know her when I was a fellowship student at the Met in 1953-4, and in later years saw a lot of her and her husband Jackson (whom she married in 1955.) The great exhibition of Japanese art shown at the Met in the spring of 1954 included several fine works of Nanga painting, introducing that subject to me, and I later advised Mary and Jackson on expanding that side of their collection, which was new to them (and pretty much everybody else outside Japan). When I put together the first foreign exhibition of that school of painting, the 1972 “Scholar Painters of Japan: The Nanga School,” I included, in an exhibition otherwise entirely made up of works from Japanese collections, a Taiga screen they had bought on my recommendation representing “The Poetical Gathering At the Orchid Pavilion.” And in fact this exhibition would not have taken place if Mary Burke had not gone to a lot of trouble to rescue it when it seemed doomed, confronting the Bunkachô authorities in Japan and arguing for its restoration in their program after they had decided to eliminate it. (For that story, see on this website Reminiscence no. 50, “My Partly Botched Nanga Exhibition.”) I visited Mary less often in later years, but remember being shown some Chinese paintings she had bought, including a figure scroll by Wu Bin. Like another New York collector I knew well, John Crawford, she was reluctant to see her collection go to the Met because, also like Crawford, she disliked the curator (and department chair) with whom she would have to negotiate.  But in 2006, perhaps in response to the retirement of that curator and his replacement by another, she announced that her collection would be divided between the Met and the Minneapolis Museum of Art--with the Met getting, I assume,   pieces that would best supplement what they had already, notably from the Harry Packard sale and gift. (This is only an “educated guess”--I have no direct information about the matter.)

So, farewell to another old friend and supporter.

- Finally: The Big News: OUR NEW SERIES OF VIDEO-LECTURES BEGINS TO BE POSTED AT LAST. At left, under the blog section, is a new one for the new series, which is titled “Gazing Into the Past: Scenes From Later Chinese and Japanese Painting.” The detail picture on it, from Shitao’s great “Waterfall on Mt. Lu” in the Sumitomo Collection, is the same detail that appeared (more cut-down) on the title page of my Skira book “Chinese Painting”  long ago, and depicts two men: one seated and watching the other, who is standing and gazing, not upward at the waterfall, but downward into the mist. When each of the lectures is opened, another “Gazing Into the Past” image appears behind the titles: a detail from Luo Ping’s 1799 “Portrait of I-an” that is the last painting in that same Skira book. (The implications and resonances of that picture, and of the music that accompanies it and the pianist who plays the music, are all explained at some length in an insert at the beginning of GIP 2--watch and listen to that and you will understand better  my purpose in doing this new series.)

 

Another dozen or more GIP lectures are close to completion and will be posted before long. Each, with a few exceptions, is devoted to a single artist, and in many cases centers on a single painting, typically an album or handscroll from which we see many sections and details. And always the lectures contain large numbers of  images, wholes and close-in details, mostly made from old Kodachrome slides from my collection--disorderly, but the largest anywhere?--and feature also commentary from my old head, of which much the same can be said (more visual images of Chinese paintings than in any other still-operative head, but more and more disorderly as time passes.) That the images, and whatever wisdom the old head holds, will be lost forever when I join my ancestors, is my main motivation for working to complete as much as I can of this series.

 

So:  take some time, when you have the time, to watch these lectures, which offer never-before-seen visual accounts of some of the most exciting Yuan-Ming-Qing paintings of China and some   great paintings--mostly Nanga but also works by Sesshû--of Japan.

 

And that is my Christmas and New Year’s gift for the end of 2012, offered with the warmest wishes for the new year, to all of you from your old lecturer and blogger,

James Cahill

Blog on 12/12/12

 

Blog on 12/12/12

 

All day I’ve been reminded--and not just by the Madison Square Garden super-celebrity concert for Storm Sandy relief--that today is the only day we will ever experience for which the date can be written all in twelves. So I use this as a convenient heading for what will be another blog made up of miscellaneous jottings, and especially several that correct wrong statements I’ve read recently in the popular media. .

First: all my blogs seem to contain something that has to do with my old friend the forger Zhang Daqian; so let me get that over with first.

 

Another Extravagant--and Wrong--Claim About Another Artist. This one was brought to my attention by one of my Facebook friends, who sent me off to an article published in Vanity Fair last month. The website is:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/10/wolfgang-beltracchi-helene-art-scam

And when you go there you find this headline:

The Greatest Fake-Art Scam in History?

It’s about a 56-year-old German “hippie artist” named Wolfgang Beltracchi, who has made a lot of money forging the works of recent painters, especially German painters, and selling them for big prices; doing this has permitted him to live the life of a rich man. But the writer who makes such claims about him obviously didn’t know--too few do--about Zhang Daqian, whose long career of producing forgeries along with thousands of genuinely-signed works of his own outdoes any of the other contenders for the honor (or dishonor) of being “the greatest fake-art artist in history.” But I’ve written enough about him already. So on to other matters.

- Second: Still About An Artist, and Inward Chants. I watch the BBC news often, and there is one of their announcers whom I really dislike, for no definable reason--her face, her voice, her whole manner. Her name is Kattie Kay, and when she is on camera (I leave her on so as to see and hear the news) I am chanting silently, inwardly: “Go away/ Kattie Kay/ Don’t come back another day!” (I like other women announcers on BBC news, so it isn’t that she’s female.) Now I have begun to chant inwardly, when another of my Facebook friends posts still another thing about Ai Weiwei and his big exhibition, “Go away/ Ai Weiwei/ Don’t come back another day!” But then the inner voice corrects me: you can’t do that, “away” and “Weiwei” aren’t a proper rhyme, but an identical ending... ANYWAY, I don’t want to be made to look over and over at the same dumb things, the Han pot he drops and shatters, the pile of ceramic sunflower seeds, and the rest, nothing much worth looking at among them. As I’ve written before, I respect him as a political dissident but not as an artist: he rose to prominence, like lots of others in China, by having a famous father (a writer)---and there are many    really good artists in China, people who make real works of art on their own, without hiring helpers to do it, and who deserve better the accolades Ai Weiwei is receiving. OK, enough of that.

Third: Another in a series that I could title: “Very Old Person Corrects the Media.  What has your Old Fusser found to fuss about today? Not the Fiscal Cliff, since all right-minded people already know what the solution to that is: higher taxes on the rich. No, today I’m fussing about a review of a new book in the NYTimes Book Review section for Sunday Nov. 24th (p. 18). The book reviewed is about the cartoonist Saul Steinberg, and it begins: “Saul Steinberg, the preeminent cartoonist of the 20th century. . .” NO NO NO! He’s a clever cartoonist, a great self-promoter, who did MOMA-style drawings (that looked, that is, like prestigious works of modern art), so successfully that he indeed ended up with his drawings exhibited at MOMA. But the preeminent cartoonist of the 20th century, who could out-draw any of the others and had a sense of humor worthy of Groucho Marx, was: GEORGE PRICE (1901-1998). I have made him the chief subject in one of my still-unreleased video lectures, titled “Old American Funnies,” in which he follows Gellett Burgess and Clarence Day (not Day’s “Life With Father,” but his “Scenes From the Mesozoic”) as one of three American humorists who should be celebrated more than they are for their contributions to our culture. George Price was best known as a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, contributing some 1,200 cartoons to that publication during the seven-decades span of his career. His humor was graphic, not verbal: he reportedly had other people think up some of his captions for him. His specialty were detailed, structurally strong drawings of interiors with figures, especially run-down urban apartments and their denizens: a favorite of mine (Fig. 1) portrays one of these with a worker entering the door carrying his lunchbox and saying to his slatternly wife, who is washing dishes at the sink: “I heard a bit of good news today. We shall pass this way but once.” But look at the three-dimensional acuity of his drawing, which constructs the ordinary objects and the spaces they occupy as a setting for the people with a precision worthy of a master--Goya would have admired it.

My lecture on him will culminate with a long section on what I take to be his masterwork, “George Price’s Ice Cold War,” published in 1951. In it, using captions from Shakespeare below his drawings, he takes on the notable politically-far-right figures of his day: Joseph McCarthy, William Randolph Hearst and his sons, Gary Cooper, Hedda Hopper, a racist orator named Homer Loomis (Fig. 2), the American Legion (Fig. 3), the Daughters of the American Revolution--with a mordant pen that raises him, in my view (expressed in my lecture), to be “the Daumier of our time.” The arty Saul Steinberg couldn’t touch him. I end my lecture with a series of photos of some recent rightists: Trump, Gingrich, Rohrer, McConnell, Romney--and asking rhetorically: Where is George Price now, when we need him? Look in your library, or in a second-hand bookstore, for a copy of one of George Price’s cartoon collections, and take it home or buy it. And wait for my lecture, along with others, to appear on this website. (They will have to be in a third series, to be titled “Pages From My Notebooks: Issues, Arguments, and Memories,” made up of video-lectures that don’t fit into either of the first two series, including some that are semi-autobiographical, and others on subjects that don’t belong within the “Later Chinese and Japanese Painting” scope set by the sub-title of the GIP second series.)

 

 

Fourth: the death of the sitar player Ravi Shankar at the age of 92 has brought forth obituaries hailing him as “the man who introduced Indian music to the Western world.” He was a great performer, but this last is not true: it was his older brother, the dancer Uday Shankar, who introduced Indian music to the Western world. I saw and heard him and his troupe of musicians several times when I was young, and had--still have somewhere?--an album of old Victor red-seal 78 RPM records of Indian music played by them. You can hear them on a 1937 recording at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7syjXvCHyA.

 

You can also, if you are adept enough at cyberspace-hunting, watch and listen to his 1948 film “Kalpana,” meaning “imagination” or “creativity”--not for god’s sake the 2012 horror film of that title, but the film that Uday Shankar made late in his life--a somewhat amateurish but impressive and moving film that presents an eccentric old man trying to persuade a film producer to take on the making of the movie he envisions, about an ideal project that will present classical Indian dance and other culture to the outside world through an imagined Shangri-la-like enclave in the Himalayas--well, my memory of it isn’t  clear enough for me to write more. But find it, watch it.

 

What I remember about Uday Shankar as a dancer is the way he would strike a pose and stand center stage looking sideward, smiling slightly, see Fig. 4, while his musicians continued playing behind and around him, and without moving his feet or body or head, he would send ripples through the muscles of his outstretched arms. And he could make his eyes vibrate--I know this because I learned to do it myself. I don’t recommend trying it--I was told by an oculist that it could be damaging to the eye muscles. But I could do it, by a certain relaxation of muscles, and see the world vibrate before me. (I just tried it, and now the text I’m writing blurs on the computer screen.)

 

So, in the midst of all of the well-earned adulation for his younger brother, join one very old enthusiast in acknowledging that the person who introduced Indian music to Western audiences was not Ravi, but Uday, Shankar.

 

A few final notes. I’ve been informed, more about this later, that our video-lecture series “A Pure and Remote View” will be posted in China, for free viewing by everybody there, I would hope, by a very large number of people, since my books in Chinese translation have been best-sellers in China, and my lectures might well appeal to the same people.

The second of our video-lecture series, “Gazing Into the Past: Scenes From Later Chinese and Japanese Painting,” should be up and accessible on this website quite soon. But I’ve been writing that for a long time, and a succession of obstacles, human and technical, have kept it from being posted. Keep watching this website, the space below the PRV symbol at right, for another to appear--and within that, when you click on it, the first half-dozen or so of the GIP lectures.

 

So, that’s all for today, or rather tonight: I end this just three minutes before the date will be: 12, 13, 12, spoiling forever the one-two-one-two pattern.

 

Your old blogger, James Cahill 

Later: Tonight Turner Classic Movies, which I watch regularly, is showing several movies of “Les Miserables.” The 1935 Hollywood one with Frederick March and Charles Laughton I don’t want to see again, but the 1934 French one I definitely will watch, partly because the great actor Harry Baur is Jean Valjean. (See, if you have a chance, his 1941 “Volpone,” in which Louis Jouvet is his henchman Mosca.) But also because the young man Marius in this French “Les Mis” is played by Jean Servais! So who, you young people will ask, is Jean Servais? Well--back in those days when we went to art-film houses to see movies from France, one that I especially liked, along with the great Pagnol trilogy (with Raimu and others, the films that the name Chez Panisse came from--those were days when you could use such a name and expect cultivated people to know who Panisse was)-- was another Pagnol film made in 1934 titled “Angele.” In it, Orane Demazis is a young woman named Angele who is imprisoned by her father in the basement of their house (as I remember) for misbehaving, going off to the city with a Bad Guy; the comic actor Fernandel is sympathetic but unable to help her; and she is rescued by a handsome young hero played by Jean Servais. Twenty-one years pass, and in 1955 Jules Dassin makes what I have always taken to be the best of all heist (elaborate robbery) films, titled “Rififi.” And the anti-hero, just out of prison and enticed into joining in one last job--which he will not survive--is none other than Jean Servais. If you haven’t seen this one, get it and watch it. See how they devise a way of silencing the alarms; see how they come into the jewelry shop through the ceiling; see how Jules Dassin pays for a casual theft with his life. And watch Jean Servais--with tears in your eyes, if you are like me--drive through Paris, while dying of his wounds, to deliver a little boy he has rescued to his mother. No, I haven’t spoiled anything by revealing these bits of the plot; the movie goes far beyond story-telling. Rent it, buy it, see it.

Much later, early morning: Watched the 1934 French “Les Mis” with Harry Baur as Jean Valjean--one of the great performances on film, director is Raymond Bernard, unknown to me. Three-part, epic length (like “Children of Paradise”), music by Honnegger! I’ve ordered a DVD to watch again. (Have I related how, back in the early 1940s, Gordon Cyr and I and several others formed the Honnegger Society of America to attend performances of his works and cheer loudly? We actually corresponded with him--he believed we were a large, recognized organization instead of a few high school boys.)

Another Four-part Blog For Halloween and After

 Another Four-part Blog For Halloween and After

Part 1: Follow-up on song published at end of previous blog: I printed out there the song, set to the tune of the Major General’s song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance,” composed for my colleague and friend David Keightley’s 80th birthday celebratory dinner last Saturday evening. And I mentioned what a pleasure it is to devise the tri-syllabic rhymes that the song demands. Thinking about that took me back nearly seventy years to the time when I was in basic training in the Army, at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and expressed some of my negative feelings about what the Army (quite deliberately and necessarily) does to young men, penning some lines for a similar song, never finished, to be sung to the same tune. They are, like so much else of my literary past, in the CYCTIE (Ching Yuan Chai Treasury of Imperishable Ephemera) on this website under Writings of JC. But I will print them below to make them more easily accessible, while still recommending the CYCTIE to all who love funny verses and rhymes as I did and do. (Try reading just the “Sudden and Gradual Limericks” that make up the first item in it.) Here are the lines I wrote:

I am the very model of a modern U.S. fighting man,

I know a lot, although I'm not a thinking or a writing man;

I know the gory side of war, but little of the tactical,

My education's very short, and hor-i-bul-ly practical--

They feed me scientifically with vitamins and minerals,

They feed me just as well, they say, as four- and five-star ginerals,

 

I know the way to hide a truck by parking it below a tree,

And when I speak of Brownings I am not discussing poetry—

 

The trouble with all this is that I'm nothing but a war machine,

I steadily improve as I become less man and more machine—

 

(Unfinished. The “Browning” is of course the automatic rifle of that name, which we were being taught to aim and fire.)

 

Part 2: A Really New Scam! Long ago, I think it was in the 1970s, I received as a professor a longish letter (still sent by old-fashioned “snail” mail) from people announcing a grand conference--in Hong Kong, I think it was--on some all-embracing topic, to be held on a “non-participating basis”--you didn’t have to come, you just submitted your paper. I don’t recall details but assume that it would somehow be “read” there; and later they would publish a volume or volumes with all the papers. I wrote back congratulating them (ironically) on having invented what seemed to me a really new scam. “We send you our papers, pay you to publish them, then you sell the resulting volume(s) to libraries all over, as well as to the participants themselves--really the first truly original scam I’ve heard of for a long time!” It could have had a place in a book I was fond of then titled “The Big Con,” a book you should find and read it you haven’t already. (It was the basis for the memorable Newman/Redford film “The Sting,” which added Scott Joplin music as soundtrack at a time when it wasn’t widely known, and everybody went home with “The Entertainer” rag playing hauntingly over & over in her/his head and desperately wanting to hear it again--) Now, in an age when so much of what comes to us on the internet or in emails is a scam of some kind, this kind of academic-publication scam has reappeared and proliferated to become one of the frequent types. The “Conference” for which one is invited to submit abstracts and papers is now held, typically, at some place one hasn’t heard of (and is highly unlikely to go to) in Turkey, and the “publication” will be (needless to say) on the web. Great reduction in trouble and cost for the organizers, a kind of “publication” that can be cited in one’s bibliography for those foolish enough to take part. In this digital age, the lines between honest enterprise and scam, between some kind of reality and a sham existence out there in cyberspace, joins so much of the rest of our culture--including a lot of what’s being produced and reviewed as “art”--in a realm of semi-existence, non-corporeal evocations, quick comings-and-goings (with the goings usually more to be welcomed than the comings.) On the other hand, I will continue to try to call attention to worthwhile internet postings that I Iearn about, such as the following.

- Part 3: New Internet Posting of Meiren Prints: My friend Christer von der Burg, founder and president of the Muban Foundation in London that collects and studies Chinese woodblock printing, has begun to post on a new website some very interesting popular prints, made in Suzhou in the second half of the 18th century, representing beautiful women with children, some of them from his own collection and others from a castle in France (!). You will find them at: http://chiwoopri.wordpress.com/

He writes me, in response to a query of mine, that it’s OK to announce these on my own website, and send my readers/viewers to them, giving away the true identity of Mr. Chiwoopri (surname Nesedblocknt). The story he tells is fascinating, and the prints of some importance both for popular printmaking and for the big topic of Images of Women in Chinese Painting (and Printing). And I have a very minor role in his story, as the person who first noticed two of them hanging framed in the window of a Madison Avenue dealer’s shop and let him know about them. Julia White and I are not including prints in our forthcoming exhibition of meiren hua or beautiful-woman paintings, and the colors of these popular prints are so fugitive that it wouldn’t be good to expose them to light for a long time anyway. So go to this new website and enjoy them in large color reproductions, and read what Christer writes about them.

- Part 4: Latest News on “Riverbank”: It Appears In Shanghai, while Cahill Paragraphs About It Fail To Appear In Shanghai! The exhibition of “Masterpieces of Chinese Painting in U.S. Museums” that has just opened at the Shanghai Museum is made up of old and fine paintings--all except one--you guessed it, “Riverbank,” which is there again, no doubt looking as out-of-place as it did when it hung (was hanged?) in the National Palace Museum in Taipei alongside the great works of Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang. One begins to suspect a project, which we can call: Age and Importance Gained By Association. But wait! That’s not all! (as hucksters say on TV). A great story! As noted in previous blogs, I wrote an article to accompany the exhibition, as I did for the one two years ago in the same museum on early Chinese paintings from Japanese museums, and again it was to be published in the volume of essays presented at the opening symposium (which of course I can’t attend)--but also, just before the exhibition opens, in a big Shanghai newspaper, where it could be read by those going to the exhibition before or after they went. I agreed to requests from my contact at the Shanghai Museum, and also from an old friend who was acting as go-between, that the Dongfang Caobao (“Eastern Morning Post”) print it on the day before the exhibition opening. I told one of my correspondents about this, and he wrote back, after looking, that it wasn’t there--instead, what he found (and sent me to, with a website reference) was a page announcing papers to be delivered at the opening, including--surprise!--one by Wen Fong about why “Riverbank” is a fine antique painting, and not by Mr. Zhang. He associates it with a genuinely old Dong Yuan-style painting, the “Wintry Groves” in the old Kurokawa Collection in Ashiya, and sees them as earlier and later within the artist’s career! You can find it, if you want to, at:

http://www.dfdaily.com/html/8759/2012/10/29/886719.shtml

So, I wrote my contact Lea at the Shanghai Museum, and also a colleague who was there: What happened to my article? And I got the news:  it was published in the newspaper, but not conspicuously--rather, tucked away where one is less likely to look. And, big surprise! It doesn’t appear completely, but only the opening pages--the whole was, they decided, too long to print there. My earlier essay, which they printed whole, was 21 typed English pages; this one was 29 typed English pages. And of these 29, they published only (the Chinese translation of) eight pages, stopping just short of--you guessed it--the long paragraphs I wrote about “Riverbank.”  (The part that was printed can be found, in Chinese, at: http://www.dfdaily.com/html/1170/2012/10/28/886313.shtml.)

The complete article, in both English and Chinese, will be published in the volume that contains also the papers given at the opening symposium; but this, I fear, may appear only after the exhibition has closed. So all the notes on the individual paintings that I wrote to provide viewers of the exhibition with more information about them and hints on what to look at in them, etc., may not be accessible to them while the paintings are there for them to see. A real loss; and for what reason? Because my article this time was 29 (English) pages, where the earlier one was 21--“too long” to be published in the daily paper ahead of the opening, to be read by everybody interested--only nine (English) pages printed there this time, stopping just short of “Riverbank”…

Am I old and foolish, to suspect that something akin to suppression occurred? Maybe--I’ve given the facts here, you can judge for yourselves. We are working to get the rest published soon--success or failure will be reported below. (I am writing this while being interrupted by costumed children ringing my doorbell to get their trick-or-treat candy.)

Later (10 PM): A reassuring email from my Shanghai Museum contact Lea, bless her, informs me that the book containing my essay in full will be printed and for sale in the gallery outside the exhibition and elsewhere while the show is still on; I was wrong in assuming that it would be published only after it’s over. She assures me that it will be bought and used by a lot of people. (Later: it’s selling so fast they are having trouble keeping it in stock.)  Also that the full essay will appear in Dongfang Caobao. So all the time I spent in gathering information about the paintings and writing out my views on them (and the views of others) wasn’t wasted, I feel much better. The trick-or-treaters have come and taken all the candy-bars I had for them, and I’ll go off to bed and read and sleep for a while.

Yours, James Cahill (October 31st, Halloween! And whose face would I carve in my pumpkin, were I carving a pumpkin, and had I the representational--portraiture--skills to do it? You guessed it!)

Still Later: Before I could post the above, the latest issue of Orientations magazine arrived, devoted to the Shanghai Museum’s sixtieth anniversary and its great exhibition. I haven’t read much in it yet, but have skimmed the article by Mike Hearn about the Met’s loans, ending with--you guessed it--That Painting, which he writes of as having a  “distinguished pedigree.” Augh! He must know that it has no pedigree at all, no plausible provenance, only that silly story about how Xu Beihong bought it from an unspecified source in some far-south place where no old paintings were ever found before, showed it to nobody for years, then gave it to his friend Zhang Daqian in return for a painting that he liked by Jin Nong (whose works are worth many times less.) And then Zhang didn’t show it to anybody for years either, until--and so forth. And as I wrote one of my correspondents about that “provenance,” “If you can believe that, I’ve got some great pre-Song paintings I’ll sell you.” To repeat once more my summation: If, in the field of European painting, a work ascribed to a little-understood old master in a style never seen before were to turn up in the hands of known master-forger, with no plausible provenance, no documentation, it would be laughed off the scene. Why are we in Chinese painting studies so gullible?

Also in this Orientations issue is an interview with Shan Guolin, longtime curator of Chinese paintings at the Shanghai Museum, in which Shan, once my good friend, now evidently appointed an Honorary Princetonian, writes that Professor James Cahill misjudged Riverbank because he “compared it with some Northern Song paintings and forgeries of Dong Yuan made by Zhang Daqian, and believed the painting showed similarities with Zhang’s technique. However, he did not talk about brush and ink, which are the crucial factors for Chinese painting.” Augh again! Has ever greater nonsense, and greater non-truth, been written? In the “Indictment in Fourteen Counts” that I delivered at the Met’s 1999 “Authenticity” symposium, an essay that has been published everywhere (including in  Chinese), Count 5 is: “Brushwork, or lack of it,” a long section in which I used some eight slide comparisons, details of “Riverbank” alongside those of truly old paintings, to illustrate my argument: that Zhang Daqian cleverly avoided conspicuous brushwork, visible brushstrokes, to satisfy the traditional Chinese connoisseur’s belief that these early paintings showed no brushwork of the kind that later paintings typically display. And I showed in the comparisons how Riverbank’s no-brushstroke drawing differed in important ways from that seen in genuinely old paintings. Shan knew this; why did he state such an obvious untruth? (Rhetorical question.)

And Later Still: News from Shanghai at last; a long email from my younger colleague Liu Heping, who was there delivering a paper himself, about the symposium. Too long to recount here. One whole session, the first, devoted to pro-Riverbank papers, including the one by Wen Fong (delivered by someone else) accepting that awkwardly-pasted-in “signature” and placing the work within the oeuvre of Dong Yuan (!)--how my old friend Mr. Zhang must be chuckling in the afterlife to see his handiwork so successfully duping so many people! Nobody involved in this session gave a paper recognizing it for what it really is. None of the paper-givers belong, it would appear, among those with good eyes and a good knowledge of early Chinese landscape style, all of whom have quickly seen through it--Hironobu Kohara, Sherman Lee, Rick Vinograd, Harrie Vanderstappen--and all of whom (quite independently of each other) ended up calling it a modern pastiche, which is what it is. And what it must eventually be universally recognized as being--there’s no way it can be accepted, in the end, as anything else, because you can’t, as the saying goes, make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Although old Mr. Zhang was adept at making silk somethings, not purses but paintings that enriched his own purse, out of the sow’s ears of artificially darkened and ripped silk. Some of these still hang on museum walls.

Yours again, James Cahill, this time writing on November 5th. Some time after tomorrow we will learn whether we are governed by a best-we-can-hope-for administration or a disastrous one. If the latter, what? I can’t join those people who say they will move to Canada if Romney-Ryan win; my house there has been sold. Maybe I’ll join a movement for having Northern California, perhaps along with Oregon and Washington, secede from the union to form a new country called Nocalorwash? (But that sounds like a merger of a no-cal drink company with a carwash.)


Follow-up Blog

 

Follow-up Blog

Blog for 11/16/12 (Follow-up to Blog for 11/12/12)

As the above heading indicates, this is a follow-up blog, meant to be attached, so to speak, to the previous one, especially to its Part Four, the concluding paragraphs about the opening symposium for the current Shanghai Museum exhibition, the latest issue of Orientations magazine, and (no surprise) the appearance of that spurious masterwork “Riverbank” in the exhibition and at the symposium. If you haven’t read those paragraphs, please go back and do so. (At the bottom of this blog, click on “next”--which, somewhat mysteriously, really means “previous”--not my fault.)

Now that you have done that, we will continue. You might think that I can’t keep coming up with new and important information about “Riverbank,” new proofs that it is a forgery by Zhang Daqian. But in fact the evidence continues to mount, crucial and damning evidence that (to repeat myself again) should convince any open-minded person of the truth about it.

- First: A further insert has been added to Addendum 2B of the “Pure and Remote View’ video-lecture series, the one titled “Riverbank: A Closer Look.” It reports, and shows, the recent discovery of a “try-out” earlier version of “Riverbank” that has turned up. It’s owned by the prominent collector Gary Ho, and was brought to my attention by Dick Barnhart. Mr. Ho and the painting were both in Vancouver while I was still there, and he generously brought it to my house so that I could see it and Rand Chatterjee could make lots of whole and detail photographs of it, photos we have used for the insert, along with an audio by me. It proves to be a smaller painting, ink on darkened silk, similar in composition to “Riverbank” but simpler, and painted in the style that Zhang Daqian used for his “Dong Yuan” and “Juran” forgeries. (I match it up with images of those in this lecture addendum.) And it exhibits the same manner of “aging” and artificial ripping, done by Zhang with the help of his “ager,” whom I believe to have been the Tokyo mounter Meguro Sanji, studio name Kôkakudô--the same processing, that is, as the rest of his forgeries on silk, with the tell-tale “brickwork” pattern all over it. The new insert appears about forty minutes into Addendum 2B--you can fast-forward to reach it, without re-watching the whole--and will last for about seven minutes. Watch this--for those of you who have been following this gripping drama, it will be another eye-opening revelation.

-Second: A new Zhang fake discovered, with  important implications.

A week or so ago a woman in San Diego wrote me asking for my opinion on a painting she had inherited, a hanging scroll that had been acquired in China by a colonel in the U.S. military during World War II. The work (Fig. 1) is obviously not an old painting, and after first sending her wrong information based on misreadings of inscriptions on it, I wrote that it is clearly a recent forgery, purporting to be a work by the Yuan-period master Sheng Mou.

 

She sent me more details from the painting, including one (Fig. 2) of the man in the house at the bottom, representing the great Northern Song (11th century) historian and litterateur Ouyang Xiu hearing the wind in the autumn trees and composing his famous “Dirge of Autumn” ode, which is the theme of the painting. And as, late at night sleepless at my computer (“As I nodded, nearly napping/ Suddenly there came” a realization, and) I gazed longer at the figure, at his house with its tiled roof and triangular gable beneath it, as well as other features of the paintings (notably a large pine tree above the house), all of which began to look more and  more familiar--I was suddenly struck with the truth about the painting: It’s obviously another Zhang Daqian fake! Possibly done while he was living in the interior of China during the war, where the American colonel acquired it. and where Zhang must have been producing forgeries to earn money along with his properly signed paintings and his Dunhuang copies--and still not able to enjoy the assistance of skilled helpers in Japan for aging the paintings and making them look more plausible as antique masterworks. On this one Zhang--probably with less capable Chinese helpers--has lavished an excessive array of “important” inscriptions and seals all over the painting, as well as on the strips of mounting at its sides and in the space above it (the “Dirge of Autumn” text copied out and signed by the Ming master Shen Zhou). All very patently spurious.


I sent some of these images, both of the new painting and of comparative materials, off to several people, including John Rohrer, whom I’ve cited in previous blogs (see especially the one for April 19 this year) as a supporter in recognizing “Riverbank” as a work by Zhang; Rohrer has expertly juxtaposed patterns of treetops, their trunk-and-branch structures and the foliage that surrounds these, from old signed paintings by Zhang with those in “Riverbank,” showing them to be so near-identical as to indicate beyond  doubt a common authorship. And Rohrer wrote back agreeing with me: yes, this one is clearly another by Zhang.

But the part of the painting to which I want to call your attention is not the trees or the mountains but the house, with its tiled roof, triangular gable, open porch, and the scholar (Ouyang Xiu) leaning on the railing and gazing out, turning his head sideways and cocking it slightly upward, listening to the wind (Fig. 2). Where had I seen all these before? To answer that (rhetorical) question I now put beside it (Fig. 3) a reversed detail from “Riverbank,” with the man in the waterside house in lower left, with his wife and children behind him, gazing out over the river. (Zhang’s assistant who was charged--I’m guessing--with painting in the roof-tiles here never finished them, leaving much of the roof unprotected, but he painted odd rows of them, absurdly, into the triangular gable.) The crucial correspondence is not in the architecture, however, but in the main figure, who turns his head sideways and cocks it upward in exactly the same way as does the Ouyang Xiu figure in the other painting--in a way, moreover, that no figure in a genuinely old Chinese paintings can be seen to do. And the faces of both clearly display a higher degree of self-consciousness than any figure in truly old Chinese painting could possibly display--these are modern men. The two images are, in fact, pretty much the same figure, with only hat and beard altered--the pose is exactly the same.  With no genuine Chinese prototype, who is this man, where does he come from?

The answer to that question is, I think, fascinating, and I’m happy to have an opportunity to re-state an earlier observation: I’ve been arguing for decades now that Zhang Daqian loved to paint himself into his paintings, to make the male figures in some of them into secret self-portraits. (He also painted many open and honest self-portraits.) It’s Zhang himself who occupies the crucial position and dominates the scene in both the “Sheng Mou” and “Riverbank,” as well as in some others of his forgeries (Figs. 2 and 3). The pose that he often gives to these figures--and it is a pose, head turned, sideward-looking, face tilted slightly upward--the pose is one that he regularly assumed himself, so that it was familiar to all of us who knew him well (Fig. 4).

It was part of his charisma, his manner of dominating whatever scene he found himself in. It allowed him to thrust his impressive beard forward into space, instead of allowing it just to hang down as beards more commonly do. His beard was an attribute nearly as important to him as his eyes and his smile (Fig. 5). (Just looking at these old photos brings him back so strongly to my memory that I almost want to address him in Japanese, the language we used in talking with each other.)

So, once again, I imagine him in the afterlife, looking back into the real world, striking exactly that pose and smiling that smile, observing the huge success that his beloved “Riverbank” forgery, with himself not-so-secretly occupying a key position in it, is still having in the world, even while some of us recognize it as unmistakably his work. He sees a whole opening session of an exhibition symposium at a great Chinese museum devoted to discussing it as a major pre-Song painting, even (in one leading Chinese art authority’s paper) placed chronologically within the oeuvre of the great and mysterious master Dong Yuan. He sees it written up by another major authority as a work with a “distinguished pedigree” when that authority knows full well that it has no pedigree or provenance at all; and as a work that deserves more attention (positive, of course) than it has received.  And he watches a longtime Shanghai Museum curator accusing that pesky dissident James Cahill of not paying attention to the “brush and ink” of the painting. (Oof! That one really takes the absurdity prize.)

You may well ask, finally: with all this incontrovertible evidence piling up, and the truth about “Riverbank” becoming more and more obvious, how can its True Believers deal with all this evidence, all these proofs? Answer: by not dealing with them at all, by looking the other way. By trying to prevent an article containing two paragraphs with the truth about “Riverbank” from being published in a major Shanghai newspaper with those paragraphs included. Most of all, by pretending that all this evidence and these proofs, as well as the irritating colleague who keeps finding and publicizing more and more of them--that all these don’t really exist. Not, at least, for us right-minded scholars.

Is this an intellectually defensible response? Of course not. Can they keep it up forever? Of course not. When will the popular media seize upon this great story, which can be illustrated with so many terrific mages of both paintings and people, and “break it”? I wait to see. If any of you has the right kind of contacts to make this happen, and wants to come out on the side of truth and give old Mr. Zhang proper credit for his masterwork . . . please do so. You will have the blessing of your old and unrepentant (in fact. rather exultant) blogger,

James Cahill (Nov. 16th, 2012)


This Week’s Blog will be another series of short ones.

This Week’s Blog will be another series of short ones.

First, Halloween. It’s coming soon; how can I respond? By referring readers who haven’t read last year’s Halloween blog, or want to read it again or look at the picture, to my blog for 10/30/2011: use the newly-installed old-blog-finder just to the left of this, go to that date, admire the photo: a newspaper photo of my daughter Sarah at the age of four standing beside a Jack Pumpkinhead figure--this appeared on the front page of the Washington Post way back, and she saved it. The brief text with it introduces her as the daughter of one James Cahill who made for his two children--the older one is Nicholas--a full-size Jack Pumpkinhead figure (those of you who don’t know who that was, go back and read The Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum) that sat outside their house on Newark Street, beside the front steps, and could wave its hand at passers-by and also talk to them. And the accompanying story in my blog tells how at last I brought it to life. You can’t believe that? Go back and read the story, it’s true; Nick and Sarah can testify to that.

My publications in Chinese. I don’t publish much of anything in English any more--too much fuss about getting publication permissions for illustrations, dealing with editors (other than Naomi Richard, who was my ideal editor but who has retired) and other annoyances that I can’t tolerate in my old age,. But my books continue to appear in Chinese translation, mostly published by Sanlian Press in Beijing, and continue to be best-sellers--Gao Juhan (myself) is much more famous there than James Cahill (whose books are mostly out of print) is here. Most recently, a book about Chinese paintings of gardens that I co-authored with two young Chinese collaborators--I told the story of this before--has been raising a stir, mostly positive; and another of my older books, the Reischauer Lectures delivered at Harvard and published as The Lyric Journey: Poetic Painting in China and Japan, is about to appear in Chinese. My contact at Sanlian has sent me a picture of the book, quite handsome. And these books are produced at surprisingly low costs. Tell your Chinese friends, or read them yourself if that’s one of your languages. I have recommended strongly to Sanlian that they publish an English-language version of the garden paintings book, and they hope to do that, so I may still see one more book by me (and two others) appear in English.

Another important exhibition at the Shanghai Museum is about to open, this time made up of early Chinese paintings from U.S. museums: the Boston M.F.A., the Met in New York, the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. (The other great early collection in the U.S., the Freer in D.C., is prohibited from lending by the provisions of Freer’s will.)  For last year’s show I wrote a longish essay for the catalog about Japanese collecting of early Chinese paintings--readable here in English as CLP  197--relating how Chinese paintings came to Japan in three “waves”: early, middle (Edo period), and late (early 20th century.) (A certain person has written that he plans to organize an exhibition featuring these “three waves,” and when I asked whether my writing would be cited, he said he didn’t need to, since this was “common knowledge.” News to me, because when I wrote about the middle period in my 1985 article “Phases and Modes in the Transmission of Ming-Ch’ing Painting Styles to Edo Period Japan,” I found no previous useful published research on this matter and had to do it myself--besides relying on Japanese informants credited in my article. We will see how he handles this matter in his exhibition catalog.) Anyway: for this year’s big Shanghai  Museum show, which opens soon, I’ve written another, even longer article titled “Early Chinese Paintings in U.S. Museums: An Insider’s View”; this will again be published in the catalog, I assume in both English and Chinese, and will also appear here as another CLP--watch for it. The Chinese text will be published first, I learn, in the Book Review section of a big Shanghai newspaper called the Daofang Zaobao on October 28th. I’m sorry that I’m no longer able to travel, and so won’t see the exhibition--although of course I’ve seen all the paintings (I believe) long ago, it would be a pleasure to view them again in this new setting, with some added, I assume, from Chinese collections--that, at least, was what happened last year. I’ve written my editor-translator contact at the Shanghai Museum asking that she try to persuade the compilers of the catalog not to follow the common present-day Chinese practice of reproducing old paintings on silk in what they believe to be an “honest” way, showing them as really look now--a process that too often produces rectangles of dark brown in which no image can be seen. (I recently ordered two new books on Chinese paintings in P.R.C. collections, and found them filled with “reproductions” of that kind. Down with honesty!)

Responses to my dismissals of conceptual artists as clever-idea people: they have predictably been met with wonderment: can anyone really be so backward in his ideas about art? So I am a hold-over, joining such notables as the late Sir Ernst Gombrich but totally out of touch with younger art-lovers. Just to be clear; am I advocating that they be banned? Of course not--I’m not for banning much of anything that doesn’t really harm people, as these mostly don’t. They are just a bore, and huge consumers of money and gallery space that could be better used. If I advocate anything at all, it would be that we collectively adopt the recommendation (previously cited on this website and elsewhere) of the late Princeton musicologist Edward Cone, whom I got to know when he spent a semester on our Berkeley campus as Ernest Bloch Lecturer, delivering the lectures published as The Composer's Voice. He later wrote an article--which I think was published in The American Scholar for Autumn 1977, Vol. 46 No. 4--in which he proposed that the art world could be greatly bettered and relieved of much nonsense if artists and composers were forced to present their works without having them designated as art, or as serious music—so that they would have to make it on their own, to be received, experienced, and judged as other events and objects might be. John Cage's famous However-long-it-is composition, in which the audience gazes at the pianist doing nothing for a long stretch of near-silence (only ambient noise), would be recognized as a total bore, as would many performance pieces and uninteresting objects or installations.

Is there really still another way I can bring Zhang Daqian into my  blogs? You might think that I’ve exhausted every possible way; but no, there is still another. One of my Facebook friends found an old picture, looking mysteriously real but too like a Chinese painting to be quite believable, of a Chinese noble-scholar figure holding a staff and seated under a pine tree, gazing upward, and backed by a landscape equally beyond belief. She and others were (quite properly) marveling at it, wondering how it could possibly have been produced, what wonderland it depicted, how they could find it and go there; I served as the beastly balloon-puncturer, informing them that it was a composite photograph made by a certain Long Chin-San who had a photographic studio in Taipei and specialized in making mysteriously real-looking composite photographs like this one, often featuring Zhang Daqian as the lofty-minded scholar (how old Zhang must have enjoyed the irony of that!) Zhang sometimes adopted the same traditional persona in real photographs, for instance positioning himself against the old Monterey cypress trees at Point Lobos while he lived nearby. (These are the trees that I took my seminar on the Ming master Wen Zhengming down to see, since Wen often painted similar trees--and we stayed overnight in Zhang Daqian’s house, courtesy of his daughter Sing who was in my seminar.) I will reproduce two pictures: the composite work by Long Chin-San and a real photo of Zhang that I recently found somewhere.

 

And that concludes today’s blog, except that I will append to it a song I have written for the 80th birthday celebration for my old friend David Keightley, which will take place this coming Friday, October 26th. David and I used to make up a pair, performing at Center for Chinese Studies New Year’s parties, retirement parties for colleagues, etc., singing funny songs we composed--new words, that is, to familiar tunes. For my own retirement celebration in May 1994, David composed and sang a new text for the Major General’s Song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, beginning: “He is the very model of a Chinese painting specialist.” Now I have, in retaliation so to speak, composed one that Cyril Birch and I will sing at David’s retirement dinner. I worked long and hard on it, coming up with tricky three-syllable rhymes like those Gilbert used. So that song, which by the time this is printed will have been performed at the dinner, can be read below. So, Happy Eightieth David, Happy Halloween everybody else, from James Cahill!

He is the very model of the Chinese antiquarian,

He knows where folks of ancient Shang and Zhou did all their buryin’

He reads archaic script as it’s inscribed on bones and tortoise shells,

Writes articles that carry the explosive power of mortar shells--

Deciphering inscriptions that are written out on scapulae,

He tells his adversaries “You should cancel all that crap you lie,”

He knows what made north China’s slopes so loessian and terracy

(Thinks: terracy, terracy--then looks up:)

And countered K. C. Chang with all his shamanistic heresy!

(Chorus:: And countered K.C. Chang with all his shamanistic… etc.)

His book about Shang China and its Time, Space, and Community

Is not a work that anyone can challenge with impunity

For ancient China’s worshippin’, its writin’ and its buryin’

He is the very model of a Chinese antiquarian!

(Chorus repeat: For ancient China’s … )

He wrote a learned paper on why all the swords have disappeared

There were no explanations of this matter until his appeared

He wrote a weighty book about the sources of Shang history

And Neolithic women who for others were a mystery--

And every New Year’s day he led a group of us on bicycles

Traversing Tilden Park like highly animated icycles,

He’s been official welcomer for visiting celebrities

(pause to think: celebrities, celebrities… Then looks up:)

From places far away as Karakorum  and the Hebrides!

(Repeat: From places far away as …)

He worked to get a seminar for Cahill’s art historians

A building we had longed for since the time of the Victorians

A new East Asian Library to study in and tarry in,

The funds for which were gathered by our Chinese antiquarian

(Repeat: A new East Asian Library to study in .. .etc.)

Final Quatrain:

We’ll sing another song, old friend, though it may be more cursory

When once again we gather for your hundredth anniversary

For all your learned writings, both profound and adversarian,

You are the very model of a Chinese antiquarian!  (repeat)



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