If you thought the largest photography collection in the world was in New York or Paris, you haven’t been reading the Arts Voyager and you need to think again. But size isn’t everything — even in Texas — and for the cliché (French sense of the word) caché of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, what matters most is context: The aesthetics of the curating and exhibition framing; that rather than relying solely on docents (my favorite talks and looks like John Cullum) to explain everything, the Carter also leaves erudite critical compendiums on tables near the oeuvres so that visitors can instruct themselves. (If I know who Clement Greenberg is, it’s not because of smart-ass revisionist American art history professors who tend to sneer at him, but because of the Carter.) And then there’s the context of the current health crisis, in which both the Carter and the nearby Kimbell in the Fort Worth Cultural District — where you can also sidle over to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and, if you want to start your own collection (of cowboy and other paraphernalia, not cowgirls), the Cattle Barn Flea Market — seem to have been more sage than the governor, not waiting for the recent spike in Corona cases to impose strict social distancing, masking, and admittance limitation rules following their re-openings June 19. Small steps, perhaps, but necessary measures if we’re to make it through that portal. Above, and on display through July 5 as part of the exhibition Looking In: Photography from the Outside: Paul Strand, “Gateway. Hidalgo,” 1933. Photogravure from “The Mexican Portfolio,” 1967. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
by Jean Sénac
Copyright Actes Sud 1999, 2019
Introduction and translation by & copyright 2020 Paul Ben-Itzak
(From Jean Sénac, “Oeuvres Poétiques,” compilation published by and copyright Actes Sud, 2019. For more on and by Jean Sénac, click here.)
The man of words entered this city,
The most beautiful of them all and creviced with lies.
He didn’t need to shout.
Just his look. Just his word.
(Old poem, can I still write:
“The panoplies of cold crumble into dust.
The grey was suddenly seized with
A man in his furor and his certitude
here to teach us patience.
To remind us in his simplicity
that under the ashes
(A man who writes with his mouth)
lies the fuse.
And Spain itself takes the floor.
On the wooden table it places its fist,
silent and strong.
A fist of olives. Bread.
Alive in its bones
A smile flashes.
there’s bitterness upon this earth,
At the rear of these meager shops,
a swig of water.
To give bread,
To cherish the earth and blood.
(Oh Victory of the Indians,
Arana confronting the stone wall!)
To every mouth its word
To every ruin its nest.
Spain, who robbed you of your daily bread?
Blas de Otero, I wanted you to know
how for us as well they broke their word.
I’ve said: Algiers, Oran,
the mountains, the sea.
The same earth stricken,
the same flesh tangled in the briar patch,
the same bed of putrid garbage and the same arrogance.
You have said:
Life, distress, peace.
You have said:
You have walked with hands spread wide.
You have said: Spanish Motherland!
I have said: Algerian Motherland!
Our words surpass language.
Blas de Otero, I also, I wanted you to know my people,
and that you would bring to Barcelona this abrupt light which we have in common.
Around the city,
we descend the market streets which do not lead to the sea.
In the shadow of the Prado
there are drawings like barricades
Go, return to Spain.
There are drawings that kill.
“Man is imperiled. Don’t fall asleep.”
Goya, Machado, Liberty!
I call you to witness crime and hope.
Go, return to Spain.
Go out to the world.
(Blas, chez moi the young women
have lost the taste of jasmine;
and our terraces are silent….)
the new day on the table.
Under the earth
the seed takes root.
— Paris, March 10-22, 1959
Sabrinia Bizien, “Abundance.” Just one of the elements that helped the author find – and plant – surprises around the compact apartment in the East of Paris that she shares with her husband Thomas and their sons Armand (8) and Aimé (4) during the two months France’s population was confined at home.
By Julie Safier-Guizard
Translation by Paul Ben-Itzak with the author
(V.O. Française follows translation.)
How does an over-worked, overtly creative Parisian mother, daughter, musician, youth choir director and writer make sure she stops and smells the roses? By noting, recording, and sharing them with friends and family. For Julie Safier-Guizard, for the past 630 days this has meant keeping daily journals of “Petites Joies” and “Surprises.” When the pandemic arrived, bringing with it, on March 15, a government order to shelter in place (lifted May 11; French restaurants, cafés, and other workplaces fully re-open today, public schools beginning next Monday), allowing just one-hour per day outings for health and family imperatives, physical exercise, or grocery shopping, Julie Safier-Guizard, the daughter of an American man and French woman and a Paris native, saw no reason to stop looking for surprises.
March 15 – 21, 2020
Surprise, Day 186
Against all odds, not knowing what exactly I might have nor when I’ll be better, I’ve decided to continue the challenge of “Surprises,” so that these little scintillating sparks of mischief, joy and life might do some good for us every day. I’d dreamed up scores of possibilities with the wild things; at the end of the day they found, entirely on their own, a passionate, all-consuming pastime: Skinning carrots!
Short-order chefs en germe: Armand and Aimé on voluntary KP duty.
Surprise, Day 186 1/2:
Unable to go outside to see the flowers bloom, we’ve created our own… in all colors!
First, we draw by hand or with the computer flowers that we then color. Then we cut them up and then, finally, fold the petals over one by one. When the flowers are placed in the water, the petals unfold more or less rapidly.
Flower-power: Les vrais fleurs chez Julie and Thomas – a professional gardener – soon got some company thanks to apprentice faux fleurs gardeners Armand and Aimé.
Surprise, Day 186 2/3
“We are at war….” The voice of our dear president resonates in the kitchen from the small crackling radio, missing half its antenna.
Thomas is frozen stiff, holding the radio in his hands like a fragile object.
I imitate the orator and tell myself that it won’t be tomorrow that we’ll be getting a television. I like imagining too much….
Sitting on my knees, Aimé finishes his apple sauce (the only dish that he seems to like at the moment).
As for Armand, at the same time riveted to the radio and a trifle antsy, he ends up asking, after the president has enumerated all the activities to be proscribed, “But why doesn’t he say to not watch television too much?”
How true! What an unpardonable omission!
Surprise, Day 187
Aimé seizes my pills:
“Mom, it says here, ‘Pills for never being sick.'”
Surprise, Day 187 1/2
To liven up meal-times in a way that insures they don’t degenerate into total chaos, we make up riddles. Aimé gets into the spirit of the thing… in his fashion:
“You’ve guessed what it is?”
“No, a leopard!” cries Aimé, delighted to divulge the answer.
“But Aimé… a leopard, it’s…”
“A blue leopard is blue!” he declares in a tone that allows no room for debate.
And indeed, he’s right!
Surprise, Day 188
We cannot guarantee that the words which follow are correctly spelled.
“Mom, I don’t want you to dye!”
“What do you mean, Aimé?”
“I don’t want you to dyonos!”
“I don’t want you to morose… that you’ll be dead, if you really need me to spell it out! You understained now?”
Surprise, Day 189
“Aimé, I don’t want you hanging out alone on the balcony.”
“It’s not ‘balcony,’ Mom, it’s ‘balcokneeeee’!”
“I said, It’s not ‘balcony,’ it’s ‘balcokneeeeee!'”
“Oh, of course: the balcokneeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
“Yes, ‘balcokneeeeeeeeeee’ is ‘balcony’ in Aimish…”
But of course!
Surprise, Day 190
“Mom, can I be a girl?”
“Um, Aimé, you’re a boy…. So you’d rather be a girl?”
“Okay…: Is it that you want to do things girls do, or that you want to be a girl?”
“Be a girl! Just a little bit! But after I’ll be a boy again, okey-dokey?”
Magic wand, anyone?
Surprise, Day 190 1/2
Opening the window yesterday, I received a shock. It wasn’t like usual. Because my nose had a sudden urge to plunge into the nocturnal air and take it in completely. It was the aromas…. Yes, that’s it, one senses the night’s aromas like never before. I felt as if I were enveloped in a soft quilt made up of a thousand aromatic corners, innumerable patchworks, patchworks each of which offered its own unique perfume…. It was somewhat fluid, indeterminate, but at the same time it was like I was getting inebriated inhaling each aroma in such an exquisite manner. Starting tonight, every night I plan on opening my window and making a ritual out of trying to recognize at least one of these patchworks. Odors, effluvia, and perfumes will be my playground.
Our Planet is finally able to breathe and reclaim its colors. I want to cry with joy.
Surprise, Day 191
This morning everything is perfectly quiet. I enter their room discretely and find the boys, for once, calm … and very busy!
The room is filling up little by little with stickers and collages of all kinds. It’s entirely likely that the walls will soon be saturated, given the length of the wait which is expected….
Salle des surprises: Art ‘caché by Sabrinia Bizien.
Surprise, Day 191 1/2
I divert myself by planting surprises all around our apartment, utilizing glossy paper, the printer, and poster putty…. In this way, the eye settles on the gentle tableaux (by Sabrinia Bizien) and gets lost for a moment.
Not far from the dish-washing liquid… above the kitchen table… to the left of the stove, in the bathroom….
I’ll see how the boys react….
Surprise, Day 191 2/3
With the kind permission of Miss MM, “Paint-brush meets plume” goes public for at least 14 days. 14 days with a daily painting and accompanying poem….
In this way we hope to provide a bit of balm for these difficult times.
And what about you? Do you still believe in wonder-full surprises? Art by Mariane Mazel.
Painting by Mariane Mazel
Poem by Julie Safier-Guizard
From the gushing of purple
I cry towards you
I am red lip-stick
I am cherry blossoms
Dangling from ear-lobes
And I cry towards you
Born from my pallor
Cousin of violet
all the same
inside me that this cry
Vibrates the most intensely
(Author’s biography follows original French version below.)
Version française originale
par Julie Safier-Guizard
Depuis 630 jours, Julie Safier-Guizard, maman – artiste parisienne, enregistre les ‘Surprises’ et ‘Petites joies’ quotidienne, y compris dans le foyer qu’elle partage avec son mari Thomas et leurs fils Aimé (4) et Armand (8). Et ce ne serai pas un petit confinement de 2 mois qui vas les faire arrêté, les surprises. Au contraire. — PB-I
Du 15 au 21 mars
Surprise, jour 186
Envers et contre tout, ne sachant ni ce que j’ai exactement, ni quand j’irai mieux, j’ai décidé de continuer le défi des SURPRISES, pour que de petites étincelles de malice, de joie et de vie, nous fassent du bien chaque jour.
J’avais prévu plein de possibilités avec les fauves, finalement ils se sont trouvé eux-mêmes une activité passionnante : l’épluchage de carottes !!!
Surprise, jour 186 bis
A défaut de se promener pour voir les fleurs éclore… On en a fait de toutes les couleurs !
Dessiner ou imprimer des fleurs que l’on colorie. Puis les découper et enfin replier pétale sur pétale. En mettant sur l’eau chaque fleur de papier, elles vont se déplier plus ou moins vite…
Surprise, jour 186 ter
« Nous en sommes en guerre… »
La voix de notre cher président résonne dans la cuisine à travers le petit poste grésillant auquel manque une moitié d’antenne.
Thomas s’est figé, tenant le poste comme une chose fragile.
Je me figure les mimiques de l’orateur et me dis que ce n’est pas demain la veille que nous aurons une télévision. J’aime trop imaginer….
Assis sur mes genoux, Aimé finit sa compote (seul plat qu’il semble apprécier en ce moment).
Quant à Armand, à la fois attentif et un peu agité, il finit par lancer :
— Mais pourquoi il ne dit pas de ne pas trop regarder la télévision… ?
(C’est vrai ça ! Quel impardonnable oubli !)
Surprise, jour 187
Aimé se saisit de mes médicaments :
– Maman, il est écrit dessus « Pastilles pour ne plus jamais être malade ».
Surprise, jour 187 bis
Pour animer les repas de manière à ce qu’on parte un peu moins dans tous les sens, on fait des devinettes.
Aimé joue… à sa manière :
– Vous devinez alors ?
– C’est un animal ?
– Oui !
– Jaune ?
– Non ! C’est bleu.
– Un… éléphant ?
– Un oiseau ?
– Non, un léopard, s’écrie Aimé, ravi de divulguer sa devinette.
– Mais Aimé… un léopard c’est…
– Un léopard bleu, c’est bleu !, lance-t-il d’un ton sans réplique.
Et il a bien raison !
Surprise, jour 188
[Nous ne certifions pas la bonne orthographe des mots qui vont suivre]
– Maman, je veux pas que tu moures !
– Pardon Aimé ?
– Je veux pas que tu mourisses !
– Mais Aimé…
– Je veux pas que tu mors… que tu sois mort, pour que tu comprennes !
Vous avez comprisse ?
Surprise, jour 189
– Aimé, je préfère que tu ne restes pas seul sur le balcon.
– Pas le balcon maman, le baaaalcon !
– Pardon ?
– Je dis : pas le balcon, le baaaalcon !
– Ah, oui : le baaaaaalcon !
– Oui, baaaaalcon c’est le balcon en « français Aimé » !
Ah mais bien sûr !
Surprise, jour 190
– Maman, est-ce que je pourrais être une fille ?
– Euh… Tu es un garçon Aimé… tu aimerais être une fille alors ?
– Oui !
– Bon… Tu as envie de faire des choses de fille ou être une fille ?
– Etre une fille, juste un petit peu ! Mais après je serai encore un garçon, d’accord ?
Baguette magique, anyone ?
Surprise, jour 190 bis
Hier soir, en ouvrant la fenêtre, j’ai reçu un choc. Ce n’était pas comme d’habitude. Car mon nez a eu envie de se plonger dans l’air nocturne et de l’accueillir entièrement. C’étaient les odeurs… Oui, c’est ça, on sentait les odeurs de la nuit comme jamais !
Je me suis sentie enveloppée dans une douce couette aux mille recoins odorants, aux patchworks innombrables, patchworks qui chacun proposait son parfum… C’était assez flou, indéterminé, et en même temps j’étais comme saoule de recevoir chaque odeur de manière aussi fine.
A partir de ce soir, chaque nuit, j’ouvrirai ma fenêtre et m’amuserai à reconnaître au moins l’un ces patchworks. Odeurs, effluves et parfums seront mon terrain de jeu.
Notre Terre respire enfin et reprend des couleurs. Je voudrais crier de joie…
Surprise, jour 191
Ce matin, c’était très silencieux… Je suis entrée discrètement et j’ai vu les garçons, pour une fois, tranquilles et très occupés !
La chambre se remplit peu à peu de gommettes et collages en tous genres. Il est très probable que les murs arrivent à saturation étant donné la longueur de l’attente qui s’annonce…
Surprise, jour 191 bis
Je me suis amusée à semer des surprises dans notre appartement, en utilisant le papier photo, l’imprimante et la pâte à fixe… De cette manière, l’œil tombe sur les doux tableaux et peut s’y perdre un instant.
Non loin du liquide vaisselle, au-dessus de la table de la cuisine, à gauche de la cuisinière, dans la salle de bain…
Je verrai comment réagissent les garçons….
Surprise, jour 191 ter
Avec l’aimable autorisation de Demoiselle MM, « Pinceau et plume se rencontrent » devient public pendant au moins 14 jours.
14 jours avec quotidiennement une peinture et son poème…
Nous espérons ainsi diffuser un peu de baume en ces temps difficiles.
Et vous? Est-ce que vous croyez toujours aux surprises? Art par Mariane Mazel.
Peinture de Mariane Mazel
Poème par Julie Safier-Guizard
Du jaillissement du pourpre
Je crie vers toi
Je suis bâton de rouge aux lèvres
Je suis fleurs cerises
Aux lobes d’oreilles
Et je crie vers toi
Né de ma pâleur
cousine du violet
C’est pourtant en moi que ce cri
Vibre le plus
Une petite chaise d’enfant, un dessin et des pinces à linge. C’est avec ces objets que Julie Safier-Guizard a commencé à fabriquer des histoires, à l’âge de 5 ans. Le dimanche, chargée de son matériel, elle sonnait à la porte des voisins de son immeuble, et s’ils voulaient bien l’inviter, elle accrochait un dessin au dossier de sa chaise et inventait pour eux un conte. Aujourd’hui, si Julie est devenue musicienne de métier, elle n’a jamais cessé d’écrire. Auteur de fragments de vie et de nouvelles pour adultes, Julie fait aussi jouer son imagination pour les enfants : en avril 2017, la maison lunii lui a commandé une série de 18 histoires audio pour les 3-6 ans et elle est en train de terminer l’écriture d’un roman jeunesse.
A small children’s chair, a drawing, and a few clothes-pins. It was with these objects that Julie Safier-Guizard started making up stories, at the age of five. On Sundays, her arms loaded with her props, she’d ring the doors of the neighbors in her Paris apartment building, and if they were up for inviting her in, she’d hang a drawing on the back of her chair and invent a story for them. These days, if Safier-Guizard has become a musician by metier, she’s never stopped writing. The author of fragments of life and short stories for adults, she also makes her imagination play for children: In April 2017, the Paris publisher Lunii asked her to make a series of 18 audio stories for children three to six years old, and she is currently finishing a novel for adolescents.
From the Arts Voyager archive: Edward Verschaffelt, “The Preparation of Couscous.” Oil on canvas, 23.62 x 31.5 cm. Image copyright Artcurial.
by Jean Sénac
Copyright Actes Sud 1999, 2019
Introduction and translation by & copyright 2020 Paul Ben-Itzak
As pied-noirs — ethnic Europeans born in colonized Algeria — go, Jean Sénac (1926-1973) provides a sort of photographic negative (or positive) of Albert Camus, the first to publish his French Algerian compatriot’s work in the West, for his Gallimard imprint Espoir in 1954. Where Camus’s attitude towards indigenous Algerians (“Arabs,” he wrote in 1958, had no more claim to the land than Jews or Greeks) was often paternalistic, Sénac’s was not only fraternal but often that of a little brother hoping to be accepted by the clan. Taking the side of the FLN (Front for National Liberation) during the War of Independence, unlike the vast majority of pied-noirs he not only remained in Algeria after 1962 but served in the Cultural Ministry, hosted a radio show often featuring Algerian poets, and even opened an art gallery in Algiers, ultimately falling out with the government and being reduced to poverty before being stabbed to death in his subterranean janitor’s quarters in Algiers on the night of August 29 – 30, 1973, a Pasolini-like assassination which many feel was never quite fully solved. Like the renegade Italian New Wave filmmaker, Sénac had cut his own path, a road often at odds with the ruliing society’s norms, be it French or Algerian; a companion of the revolution in his youth, his later poems featured frank and sexually vivid evocations of his homosexuality, of his erotic love for his male partners, sometimes embodied in what he called “Corpoemes.” But more than this overt sexuality, what really marks Sénac’s poetry — his landscape — is a sensuality not confined to skin but enveloping all of nature, from sprigs of weeds to tide-smoothed surfaces of stones in the Mediterranean shallows to the surfs of the azure Algerian sea, his element as it had been his mentor Camus’s.
To a layman — one not steeped in the intricate tapestries (and botany) of these landscapes, nor in the complex interior tortures of an artist successively rejected by his most apparent ethnic and national communities — Sénac’s most coherent, and in a way courageous, poetry remains his revolutionary paens. His affinity for the “Arab” cause is not Jean Genet’s, that of a European voyeur fascinated with the body of the Arab male, but a genuine kinship for the indigenous underdog trying to regain not just his own land, but his national dignity. (If the dedicatees of his often erotic love poems sometimes have Arab names, there is nothing exoticized or Orientalist in his passion for his lovers and companions.)
If Camus ultimately wanted to have it both ways — insisting on French respect for the “Arab” or “indigenous” population but only up to a point, stopping short of full recognition of their national aspirations and instead arguing for a form of limited autonomy, while desperate to be liked by his indigenous literary peers — Sénac unequivocally chose his camp, rejecting his European family for a local tribe which never fully accepted him, despite a non-proprietary, expansive love for the contours of his native land itself, manifest in his poems, which should have linked them. It was a brand of integrity — and desire, or need, to integrate — based more on what was right that what was best for him or his family. (Camus’s usually fraternal spirit, and ability to adhere to his professedly universalist and humanist values, was taxed — compromised? — by his protective instincts towards his aged mother, brother, uncle, and in-laws, all living in Algeria and thus prey to the bombings in which both sides, be it the FLN or the paramilitary OAS which would later try to assassinate DeGaulle, often spilled innocent civilian blood during the Algerian War.)
Sénac’s poems are characterized by the kind of lack of self-protection and raw vulnerability which distinguishes the most genuine artists, or at least poets. If up until now, ever since reading “The Plague” in high school (while on a State Department-sponsored high-school exchange visit to Israel where cute Israeli girls constantly pounded into the Age of Aquarius San Francisco Jew I was that “the Arabs want to kill us” and “why don’t you come here?”), I’ve always lionized Camus for his ideals, these days I am likely to replace him with Sénac, for the younger man’s example. In his willingness to expose himself, both physically and metaphysically, I find a barre to aspire to.
Because Sénac’s poems can also be dense — he can make Victor Hugo seem as simple to understand as Lafontaine — we’ve chosen to disperse our translated samples, collected by Actes Sud in “Oeuvres Poétiques,” originally published in 1999 and re-issued last year — over several episodes, so that none of the individual poems gets lost in this rich emerald forest, and to allow the reader time and space to contemplate and live with each one.
If the current context screams out the particular relevance of today’s selection — like George Floyd, the protagonist’s final cry is for his mother — the only comparative link we dare draw here is between the victims, historical and cultural analogies being water too muddy for even us to wade into. — PB-I
“Poems on the death of Ali”
by Jean Sénac
Facing the officer
at the gate of the camp
he’d lifted his head.
How proud he is, Ali!
How worthy of his father, Sheik Toumert!
Frank and noble like a Koranic surate!
The officer had slapped him.
Ali hadn’t said a thing. He’d lifted up his head.
Full of rage, the officer started yelling,
A frenzy of yellow-jackets around a limpid rose bush.
Ali lifted his head and smiled.
They’d beaten you so badly.
They’d driven the electric stupor so far into your bones
that when you awoke you said “Mother…”
and you slipped away from yourself towards the brambles
where they couldn’t reach you any more.
They’re not even worthy
of leaving their footprints in the mud.
Because the water is spirit
the land is spirit.
They are but furor
A bitter motor turning vainly in the emptiness.
Oh heart of ore,
you you shine
subterranean and profound!
You build our dwelling.
You’d said nothing
you’d said “Mother…”
You’d said nothing
you’d said “Mother”
You’d said nothing
you’d said “Mother!”
And for this petite austere word
they killed you.
I’d eaten the honey from your hive.
Your dog had followed me.
I’d run through the vines
towards the thickest mound.
I’d cried towards the bumble-bees.
The silence had suffocated me.
Now, wherever you reveal the enemy to me, I’ll be there.
Yahia S. Ben Hadji, 1958
Collected in Jean Sénac, “Oeuvres Poétiques,” Copyright Actes Sud, 1999, 2019.
From the Arts Voyager Archives: Theodore Gudin (1802-1880), “The Conquest of Algiers,” circa 1830. Oil on canvas, 46 x 60.5 cm. Inscribed on the back: “On June 29, 1830, at 3 in the morning, the army advanced against Algiers: The Third Division, of the Duke of Escars, forming the left wing, was the sole engaged and… the enemy from position to position all the way up to the heights of Boud Jerah (in the middle of the painting), which it occupied by 6 a.m….the fleet only recommenced its attacks July 1.” Image copyright Artcurial.
Extract from “Our Wealth,” by Kaouther Adimi, copyright Editions du Seuil, 2017
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak
“The day will come when the stones themselves cry out at the great injustice which has been leveled on the men of this country….”
— Jean Sénac, “Letter from a young Algerian poet to all his brothers,” cited by Kaouther Adimi on the frontispiece of “Nos Richesses” (Our Wealth)
“However well disposed one may be toward the Arab demands, one has to admit that, as far as Algeria is concerned, national independence is a conception springing wholly from emotion. There has never yet been an Algerian nation. The Jews, the Turks, the Greeks, the Italians, the Berbers would have just as much right to claim the direction of that virtual nation.”
— Albert Camus, “Algeria 1958,” collected in “Actuelles III,” copyright 1958 Librairie Gallimard, as translated by Justin O’Brien in “Resistance, Rebellion, and Death,” Albert Camus, copyright 1960, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..
The rain is falling. The sky is gray. The wind is blowing briskly near the Seine. There are children’s hats, well-dressed young women, leather purses, clothing which is second-hand but clean. Amongst family or with friends, laughing or with grave expressions, together, we march to protest against the curfew imposed on the Algerians of France.
These Arabs. These melon-heads. These crouilles. These rats. These little rats. These little shits. These scrapings. Beat them up. Massacre them. Reduce them to nothing. Use them as projectiles. Utilize batons. Utilize our police specials. Utilize bricks. And kill as many as possible. Kill tens of them. Massacre these people who have no business being in Paris, in front of the Seine, in front of our statues, in front of our trees, in front of our women. Massacre them. Beat them up. Toss them into the river. See the bodies of Algerians sink into the muddy waters. Brown bodies, far away. That they disappear. Quickly. Violent charges. Rat raids in Paris. Paris! Paris kills with the police of [Prefect of Police Maurice] Papon [successfully tried three decades later for war crimes committed during the Occupation]. Savage. Pursuit in the streets of Paris. Nothing to be embarassed about; throw them over the walls, into the Seine. Broken bodies. Bat and club blows. Bodies hung in the Vincennes woods. Seine filled up with cadavers. Hate liberated. Noise. Chaos. Police batons on tensed-up bodies, on bloody craniums, on defenseless people. The silence of Parisians. New charge. People flattened out on the street. Blood everywhere. Ambulance sirens. More blows and bodies in the Seine. A raid in 1961. [Lit. ‘raid,’ here the term ‘rafle’ might also refer to the Rafle of the Vel d’hiver of 1943, when thousands of Jews were rounded up in Paris to be deported to the German death camps.] Disinfect France of its Arabs. Purify the avenues. Massacre the assassins. Repression. Tragic. Paris kills since this morning. To the police, the national guard, and the highway patrol, add the Forces of the Auxiliary Police, brigades made up of Harkis [indigenous Algerians who fought with French forces]. Zero tolerance. Initial arrests even before the demonstrations start. Insults, blows, bullying. Cigarettes forced down the throat. Water mixed with bleach. Brutal raids. Blood on Arab visages. Legs broken. Beatings. Sicking of dogs. The sun-burnt are lined up against the walls. Driven off in police cars. Their curly hair is seized in the middle of the street…. Stones are thrown. They’re drowned. For the rest of the month, bodies are fished out of the Seine. It doesn’t stop for days. Cadavers in the Seine. Hands tied behind the backs. Bodies strangled by their own belts. Bodies tied up and precipitated into the water. Informed in Algeria, their families don’t understand what’s transpired. We bury them as we’re able. Paris!
Bars searched. Beatings. Revolver bullets in the head. Bodies interred in mass graves. Bullets in the stomach. Bodies on the ground curled up in the fetal position to protect themselves. Iron bars and lead canes. Paris! Systematic interpellations. Faces against the walls. Pallid visages. Puddles of blood. Trembling hands. Fearful eyes. Noise of clubs, of bats, of feet kicking. Arabs knocked out and tossed. Executed. Hundreds of men. In interminable lines. Hands in the air. They’re arrested. They’re struck.
Night has fallen. Windows open. Our heads full of anger, our bodies exhausted, we scream out piercing “Youyous.” A final salutation to our dead.
On October 17, in the middle of the night, Claude Bourdet and Gilles Martinet, founders of the Observatoire weekly magazine, receive a visit from a group of policemen who want to publish an anonymous tract. It’s published October 31, spread out over four pages, signed only by “a group of patriotic policemen” who affirm: “What happened October 17 and the days which followed against peaceful demonstrators, amongst whom no weapons were found, gives us the obligation to bear witness and to alert public opinion…. All the Algerians caught up in this immense trap were knocked unconscious and systematically precipitated into the Seine.”
When, many years later, our grandparents watch us leave Algeria for the other side of the Mediterranean, they tell us to be careful: “The French are hard.” And we don’t understand because we’ve forgotten.
Ballerina Sara Mearns, by Kathryn Marshall.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2020 Paul Ben-Itzak
There are dancers who are in it for the lifestyle, and there are dancers who are in it because without it they wouldn’t be able to live. When I first saw Sara Mearns onstage in 2010 at the New York State Theater — it must have been as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” — I knew that not only was she one of the latter, infecting the audience with her joy and welcoming them into the dance and the Tchaikovsky score, but that if she were bottled up and unable to dance, she just might die, or at least whither away, like the heroine of “La Sylphide” when she dons the poisoned cloak. If I disagree with the campaign launched recently by a globally clueless New York organization that claims to represent the interests of dancers which begins with the premise that they are “necessary workers,” ludicrously placing performing artists on the same plane as health and food workers, which only bolsters a generalized popular impression that dance is irrelevant and out of touch with everyday concerns, I like the much more humble confession of Sara Mearns, who this Sunday on YouTube at 7:30 p.m. EDT premieres “Storm,” a five-minute solo choreographed by her husband Joshua Bergasse, to music by Zoe Sarnak: “We filmed this at the height of the pandemic in New York City. Every morning we would wake up to the numbers rising. At that point, I felt lost and questioning what my role or contribution was in and to society. I felt helpless. I felt my being was crying out. This song and the choreography allowed me to express the pain I was in.” Don’t be mislead by that “I,” which might suggest another self-involved dancer more involved with the reflection in the mirror and exploring her own (or her choreographer’s) angst than reflecting the real, quotidian concerns of ordinary people. When the “I” expressing her “pain” is a Sara Mearns, she’s expressing the pain of all of us, in an inchoate, non-verbal way that all the numbers, all the speeches, all the media reports, and all the anodyne politician’s speeches cannot. (And not just speeches but hypocritical postures; to hear Andrew Cuomo, who could have saved so many lives *justement* in New York City had he imposed confinement a week earlier — at last count, which is probably already dated, 21,000 people or a fifth of the national tally had died from the virus in Gotham alone — pose as the grand protector is truly painful.) She’s proving — to cop a phrase from the title of the late Joseph H. Mazo’s chronicle of a year in the life of the New York company Mearns works for — that dance is truly a contact sport, in the most universal sense of the adjective.
…. I need to say another word, or two (You know me, Al) about the funding of this piece, part of the “Works & Process Artists (WPA) Virtual Commission Series,” which the press release describes as “a direct response to the pandemic…, launched to financially support artists and nurture their creative process during these challenging times by granting over $150,000 in commissioning funds to artists who have been featured at Works & Process at the Guggenheim.” It’s co-presented — funded — by Barrington Stage Company, Broadway Dance Center, Kaatsbaan, the Joyce Theater, New York City Center, the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and Spoleto Festival USA.
It also says down here at the very bottom of the PR that the project has received support — i.e., your tax dollars — from the U.S. Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program and the NYC Employee Retention Grant Program. The problem here — as anyone who has listened to NYC congresswoman AOC knows — is that the “small businesses” benefiting from this public aid are restricted to those employing a minimum number (50?) of people. The ‘smaller’ businesses, not to mention, to go even ‘smaller,’ freelancers and the self-employed, or contractors — and we all know this is the way American, and European, companies have been going for the past decade — are out of luck. The dance equivalent of this category is “pick-up” dancers, or “jobbers,” typically engaged, or anyway paid, on a per-concert basis, often for multiple companies. In France the busiest category of these performers (and technicians) is protected by the “Intermittents” regime, which basically enables them to qualify for unemployment like any other person who works for just one company, even if they accumulate those hours with multiple employers. This stature does not exist in the United States (nor in most European countries), meaning that American “pick-up” dancers, already fragile in a non-virus context, are simply tossed out on the street (perhaps literally, given that, at last report, neither the NY governor nor mayor had proposed suspending rent, unlike here in France) in a period which effectively eliminates public concerts, their sole source for the little revenues they already have. (How about if, instead of lobbying for a ludicrous rhetorical designation which only lowers dancers’ credibility in the eyes of the general public, “Dance NYC,” the organization referred to above which (mal)distinguished itself by enabling New York magazine’s ignominious firing of dance criticism’s eminence grise Tobi Tobias — devoted the time dance organizations have paid for by arguing for getting necessities to “pick-up” dancers? Or to helping their efforts to unionize?)
The acronym Works and Process has chosen is “WPA,” ironically the same as the federal Works Process Administration which, during the Great Depression, not only funded myriad art projects and employed numerous individual artists across the United States but helped nurture a new generation of art-makers.
What I see looking at the long list of artists Works & Process (with public support from your tax dollars) — and its cohorts listed above — is doling out this money to is a lot of old names. I don’t begrudge these artists what must ultimately pan out to very little for creating new work (judging from the 80 artists among whom a total of $150,000 must be divided) compared to what creators in other fields receive. I would just like to suggest that a Sara Mearns (or a Joshua Bergasse), who is protected by a Union contract (in the upper end of the scale considering the company she dances for, for whom she is a principal dancer) and as an employee has a right not only to the one-time $1,200 allocation that Congress has allocated to everyone but six months of unemployment, does not need this money as much as a “pick-up” dancer who, in the United States, unless she’s got a full-time day job has no claim to unemployment benefits.
And yet these dancers are a fundamental part of the dance ecology system; think of them as the workers carrying the stones for the foundation of the pyramid. (With — like Homer Avila, to whom this proved fatal — no insurance if they break their backs in the process.) And not just in the creation of new work; in New York, it’s these very same “pick-up” dancers — who typically don’t have the access to a free company class of a Sara Mearns — who provide much of the revenue of, say, a Broadway Dance Center.
So I would like to ask these organizations, particularly Works in Process, whose performance roster, with its preponderance of artists from New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, often resembles star-fucking — what are you doing, what do you plan to do, to nurture the worker bees of the dance eco-structure? The future Larry Keigwins and Nicole Wolcotts? And the dancers — invariably, for “emerging” choreographers, “pick-up” dancers — who make their creative work possible.
This morning I woke up in a curfew: From the New Contemporary collection at the Art Institute of Chicago: Andy Warhol. “Little Race Riot,” 1964. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection. © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
But first, a school: From the exhibition Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine… Paris pour école, 1905-1940, theoretically on view through August 23 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme in Paris: Jules Pascin, “Les Petites Américaines,” 1916. MahJ © mahJ / Mario Goldman. Because a number of the artists featured in the exhibition are cited in this episode of “Trompe-l’Oeil,” we’re including some of their oeuvres here. Jules Pascin, the American – Bulgarian artist Hemingway once dubbed “the prince of Montparnasse,” slit his wrists, scrawled the name of his mistress on the walls of his Montmartre studio in his own blood and then hung himself 90 years ago today.
Part 15 in the Paris Tribune / Arts Voyager exclusive English-language translation of Michel Ragon’s seminal 1956 novel taking on the world of Abstract art, artists, art collectors, art dealers, and art critics in Paris, as well as post-War anti-Semitism in France. For the first 14 parts, click here. For more on Michel Ragon, in French, click here. Because today’s episode of Michel Ragon’s “Trompe-l’Oeil” — like the last— deals extensively with Post-war anti-Semitism in France (among other topics), making it singular among literature of the period, we’ve decided to make it available for free to all readers, even non-subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager and think this work is important, please subscribe or make a donation today by designating your payment through PayPal in Euros or Dollars to email@example.com , or write us at that address to ask how to donate by check.
The art of the present, the ‘art vivant,’ is still Montparno. But if the artists of the avant-garde still live in Montparnasse, they’re no longer Bohemians. They’re no different, by their wardrobe and their comportment, than anyone else. If one had to identify them with a particular social category purely by their appearance, it would most likely be that associated with journalists, film directors, radio reporters. Already, Kandinsky in his time looked more like an industrial magnate than one of the founders of Abstract art. Mondrian might have been mistaken for a distinguished mathematician or master of ceremonies. They were a far cry from Picasso’s flowered shirt and shorts; Chagall’s photogenic grimaces; and Braque’s grease-monkey cover-alls. Thus today, whether it’s Soulages with his studio overlooking the Montparnasse cemetery, Schneider living on the fringes of the train station, Manessier and Singier with their mansions on the rue Vaugirard, or Hans Hartung near the rue de la Gaité, no one is trying to stand out except by his oeuvre, erected in solitude.
From the recent exhibition at the Musée Marmottan Monet: Piet Mondrian, “Arum; fleur bleue,” 1908-1909. Oil on canvas, 46 x 32 cm. © Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague, the Netherlands.
The traditional artist cafés of Montparnasse — le Dôme and le Sélect — are all the same still invaded by painters, models from the Grande Chaumière Academy*, and a mob of intellectuals. From time to time, the street-walkers who work the intersection around the Métro Vavin come in to warm themselves up with a coffee at the counter.
From the exhibition Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine… Paris pour école, 1905-1940, theoretically on view through August 23 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme in Paris: Amedeo Modigliani, “Portrait of Kisling,” 1916. Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Bertrand Prévost. Born to Jewish parents in Livorno, Italy, after initially installing himself in the Bateau-Lavoir in 1906, Modigliani eventually migrated across the Seine to the cité Falguière in the 15th arrondissement, bordering Montparnasse. Also home to Chaim Soutine’s studio (and, much later, the translator), in Michel Ragon’s “Trompe-l’Oeil” the cité Falguière is where the critic Fontenoy shacks up with the painter Blanche Favard.
Each of these consumers is hoping to resurrect a chapter of the gilded past. The Americans have heard about le Sélect from Hemingway or Miller. The Israelis are following the traces of Soutine and Modigliani. The Scandinavians, the Germans, the Italians, they’re all searching for this mythic École de Paris and they plant their flag in this storied quarter which gave birth to it, awaiting its return or trying to reconstitute it themselves.
From the Arts Voyager Archives and past coverage: Juan Gris, “Apples and grapes on a table,” Autumn 1913. Oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm. The Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Some, elderly, unknown, linger as a kind of vestige of this glorious Montparnasse past. They sat at this very table 40 years ago with Picasso or Juan Gris, and they continue to come here and steep themselves in café-crèmes. They’ve never left Montparnasse. And they’ll never leave it. Every night, from nine o’clock until one a.m., they remain planted in front of the same cup of coffee, never refilled because they can’t afford it. They cling to their souvenirs. They continue getting high on chimerical dreams in which they only half believe any more. At times, during the Summer months, they seem to have left Paris on vacation. But they’ve only drifted down to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where they spend their evenings on the terrace of the Royal Saint-Germain. This is their sole infidelity to Montparnasse. In this way, they convince themselves that they’ve voyaged.
From the exhibition Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine… Paris pour école, 1905-1940, theoretically on view through August 23 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme in Paris: Moshe Kisling, “Cubist Nude,” 1918. MahJ © mahJ / Mario Goldman.
Then one morning, after traipsing back to their Spartan hotel room, or their attic, or their dingy basement, they die, without any pomp or ceremony or anyone noticing they’re gone. Only the waiters, the café society equivalent of a congressional sergeant of arms, perceive a void among the clientele, quickly filled by the young people arriving from Issoudun or Istanbul. Accustomed to living in colonies, some who’ve spent 30 or 40 years of their lives in Montparnasse die before they’ve learned to speak French. They seem to have this extraordinary capacity of being able to transport intact the street where they were born in Minsk to Denfert-Rochereau.
Thus, while the new artists of the avant-garde, conscious of their social standing, break with this romanticism of poverty, of the night, of alcohol, of girls, particular to the Montparnos who made Montparnasse, a bearded, long-haired clientele, arrayed in cast-off schmatas, continues to furnish tourists with the living proof that Montparnasse is not yet dead.
From the exhibition Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine… Paris pour école, 1905-1940, theoretically on view through August 23 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme in Paris: Simon Mondzain, “Hunger,” 1914. Private collection. © Christophe Fouin.
The new Montparnos in our story were nonetheless not all complete failures, because Manhès, Ancelin, and Fontenoy spent practically all their nights there. Atlan, who occupied an atelier next-door to where Gauguin once lived, also permanently held court at le Dôme or le Sélect. But he and Manhès also found kinship in a larger community of Jewish artists. They hob-knobbed with the painter Michonz, who had been one of Soutine’s few confidents, or with Zadkine or Mané-Katz.
From the Arts Voyager’s previous coverage of art auctions at Artcurial, Paris: Jean-Michel Atlan, Untitled, 1955. Image copyright Artcurial.
Of all of them, Mané-Katz was without doubt the only one who fully symbolized the cosmopolitanism of the Montparnos. He lived not far from le Dôme on the other side of the Boulevard Montparnasse, in Othon Freisz’s former atelier, which he’d bought upon the death of the latter. Small, svelte, with a curious, entirely white head of hair in the shape of an aureole, he bore a simultaneous resemblance to Leopold Stokowski and François Fratellini. Like the second, he possessed a sense of repartee, brio, a slightly clownesque sense of humor, and above all the laugh, a laugh both childlike and expressive. He might well have belonged to the same generation as Soutine and Picasso and be rich and famous, but this didn’t stop him from sitting down at Manhès’s table with an entirely unassuming simplicity and regaling him with comic anecdotes in which he was invariably the victim, the first to laugh at his own misfortune, ending up by infecting all around him with his good humour.
When he was finally decorated with the Legion of Honor, his joy was unbridled. Fontenoy, who ran into him a few days later, could not understand how a man already crowned with so many honors could be so proud of a little piece of cloth. Mané-Katz suddenly grew serious:
“It’s hard for you to understand, you’re French by birth. Me, it took me dozens and dozens of years to become French. The little Jew from the Russian shtetl decorated by the French minister…. Now I feel more at ease. I’ve finally been accepted by your country.”
The next night, Manhès and Fontenoy were seated at their regular table in le Sélect when they saw Mané-Katz enter. Spotting the pair, he approached them, his hand extended, in a hilarious mood:
“Ah, Fontenoy! Remember what I told you yesterday? Well, today I went over to get my plane ticket in a travel agency next to the Opera House, for New York, where I’m going to have an exhibition. Coming out of the agency, I ran into an American I know. I accompanied him back into the agency, we talked, then I came out again. Then I ran into another American I know. I walked back into the agency with him, we chatted, I walked out again. Suddenly I felt someone yank the collar of my jacket, and a gruff voice barked, “What are you trying to palm off on them, those Americans? And that red ribbon, how dare you? Come on, you, to the police station!” I tried to explain to the cop that I was going to New York, to show him the proof of my decoration. But try to reason with a symbol of authority. The precinct captain had to launch an investigation. You see, Fontenoy, I was mistaken to believe that I could become French just like that, ipso-facto. He mistook me for a Jewish Black market trafficker!”
For a moment, Mané-Katz let his bitterness seep through. But then he executed a perfect pirouette and picked right back up mocking himself, breaking out in laughter and slapping his thighs.
From the exhibition Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine… Paris pour école, 1905-1940, theoretically on view through August 23 at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme in Paris: Marc Chagall, “Khalista Revue,” No. 2, 1924. © MahJ / Christophe Fouin, © ADAGP, Paris 2020. Khalista or Khalyastre (the Gang), a literary and artistic review created in Warsaw in 1922, was edited by the poets Peretz Markish and Oser Warszawski and illustrated by Chagall. Other reviews published by the community of artist-immigrants which buzzed around “the Hive” in Montparnasse prior to World War II included Menorah, which ran from 1922 to 1933, and the Jewish Review, created by Albert Cohen and put out by Gallimard.
Montparnasse absorbed Fontenoy, as it did Manhès, as it did all the others. And yet Fontenoy also resented the hold the quartier had on him. He told himself that he was spinning his wheels amidst the flotsam and the jetsam and that he was in danger of being swallowed up by the quicksand like all the others. Manhès echoed his sentiments. But despite their efforts to meet up elsewhere, in their homes or in other neighborhoods, they invariably ended up on this corner of the rue Vavin, this corner on which all the streets, all the roads of the world seemed to converge.
Towards one or two in the morning, Fontenoy and Manhès usually separated near the train station. Manhès went home to Isabelle and Moussia, Fontenoy back to Blanche. This last was going out with him at night less often. She told him:
“I’ve about had it with Montparnasse. What’s the point of frittering away half the night blabbering about painting or poetry! I’d rather stay here and paint. I
think it would also be a lot more productive for you to devote your evenings to writing.”
Fontenoy knew that Blanche was right, but this didn’t stop him from inevitably descending every evening, by eight or nine o’clock, to le Sélect. It was winter. Returning five hours later he’d find Blanche asleep. When he got into bed, she’d grouse because he’d awoken her and he was glacial.
*A studio popular during the epoch with many artists, where they could have ready access to live models; this summer, to encourage social distancing — and reach a global audience — the Grande Chaumière Academy is offering this service by video remote.
As 150 paintings, drawings, engravings, and other oeuvres by Marcel Gromaire (1892 – 1971) ride off into the sunset after successive exhibitions in Séte, Honfleur, and most recently la Piscine (Swimming Pool) in Roubaix, France — many of Gromaire’s explosions of color no doubt returning to languish in the sombre basement of the Modern Art Museum of the city of Paris, which apparently prefers exhibiting contemporary artists no one’s ever heard of to Modern artists more people should know about — we thought we’d give you two last, in our view appropriate for the particular juncture we’re living in the world and in France right now, perspectives from the versatile artist who was as at home writing comics for a satirical magazine as sketching his comrades in the trenches of “the Great War,” conceiving massive public murals and tapestries, penning the first book (in 1925) on painting and the infant art of cinema, illustrating a book of Charles Baudelaire’s “Spleen” poems (you can find it at the Art Institute of Chicago), or infusing buxom bare-breasted babes with splendiferous color, often in hues of bright green, gold, and red. And no matter the subject, Gromaire almost always made sure to include a splotch of sky in the background. ‘Scuse us while we kiss him (in good Franglais) ‘a bean toe’. Top: Marcel Gromaire, “Les bords de la Marne,” 1925. Oil on canvas. Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: Eric Emo et Stéphane Piera © ADAGP, Paris, 2019. Bottom: Marcel Gromaire, “|La Guerre,” 1925. Oil on canvas, 130 × 97 cm. Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville. Photo: Julien Vidal/Parisienne de Photographie. © ADAGP, Paris 2020.