From the exhibition Félix Fénéon, Les temps nouveaux, de Seurat à Matisse, on view at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris through January 27 before moving to the Museum of Modern Art in the Spring: Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), “Les Funérailles de l’anarchiste Galli (the anarchist Galli’s funeral),” 1910-1911. Oil on canvas, 198.7 x 259.1 cm. New York, Museum of Modern Art, bequest of Lillie P. Bliss (exchange), 1948. Photo ©Paige Knight. In the entry for Angelo Galli (1883-1906), in his “Dictionnaire de l’Anarchie” (Albin Michel, 2008), Michel Ragon writes: “Brother of Alessandro Galli, stabbed to death by a guard at the factory where he’d gone to check on strike-breakers on May 10, 1906. During his funeral procession, joined by an exalted crowd, violent scuffles broke out with the mounted troops. The painter Carlo Carrà, who at the time frequented the anarchist milieus, found himself among the crowd and, moved by the mass demonstration, the violence of the brawls with the police, the black oriflammes being brandished and the shrouds covered with red eyelets, painted in remembrance one of the most astonishing Futurist tableaux…,” of a mammoth scale, exposed to great success in Paris, London, and Berlin in 1912. A contributor to the newspaper Il Tempo upon its founding in 1918, on March 8, 1910 (as Guillaume Apollinaire would note in Le Petit Bleue on February 9, 1912), Carrà joined Umberto Boccioni, the poet Filippo Marinetti, and a handful of others on the stage of the Chiarella theater in Turin to deliver the Futurist Manifesto, in their words “a long cry of revolt against academic art, against museums, against the rule of professors, of archeologists, of …. antique dealers…..” Fist-fights and cane battles immediately broke out, Apollinaire noted, the “great audience tumult” only ending when the police intervened. (Guillaume Apollinaire, “Chroniques d’Art,” Gallimard, Paris, 1960.) For more on anarchists and unionists from Michel Ragon, click here. For more Ragon on art — exclusively on the Dance Insider and Arts Voyager — click here.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 3019 Paul Ben-Itzak
First published on February 11, 2000, grace of my father Edward Winer, who passed away this past December 7.
NEW YORK — One evening in 1933, a young man was thrown out of the New School auditorium in Manhattan after he rose to protest a showing of Sergei Eisenstein’s “Thunder Over Mexico.” The man was Lincoln Kirstein, who would later co-found the New York City Ballet with George Balanchine, and he was objecting because he knew that this copy of the film, a much-truncated extract from over 200 reels Eisenstein shot in Mexico, totally went against the legendary Russian filmmaker’s plan for “Que Viva Mexico!,” his panoramic history of Mexican civilization.
Kirstein had sat in a small projection room in New York with Eisenstein and his colleagues, Alexandrov and Tisse, a year earlier and listened as the three watched and commented upon 30 of these reels. In an article in the April 1932 issue of Arts Weekly (included in “By, With, To, & From: a Lincoln Kirstein Reader,” edited by Nicholas Jenkins), Kirstein had warned, “If anything should happen to ‘Que Viva Mexico!’ between now and the time it is cut and shown to rob it of Eisenstein’s final fingering, it would be a loss of staggering dimensions. There are no catalogues of the Alexandrian Library which Caesar’s fire ignited, and we have only the Rubens copy to show us what Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari may have been. For us their loss would have been less crippling than this film of the heart of a consciousness, this testimony of extreme distinction.”
By early 1932, Eisenstein’s backers had pulled out, and his stop in New York, where he would try to edit the rushes, was one last attempt — as Jenkins tells it — “to retain control of his film.” From the wreckage, some smaller films were created, pale shadows of the master’s intentions. This is what had broken Kirstein’s heart. He would have been heartened, then, to be in the audience at Anthology Film Archives Thursday, for a generous four-hour showing of raw “Que Viva Mexico!” footage, assembled 45 years ago by the Museum of Modern Art’s Jay Leyda and Manfred Kirchheimer. (The footage had been donated to the museum by Upton Sinclair, who with his wife had brought together the film’s original backers.)
I should pause here to explain what Kirstein means to folks like me — i.e., the non-dancers in the dance field. If dancers have their Nijinskys and Pavlovas, their Nureyevs and Fonteyns as role models, we in the dance auxiliary identify with people like Serge Diaghilev, producer of the Ballet Russes; Kirstein; and, today, Charles Reinhart, the co-director of the American Dance Festival. As someone who was drawn to dance, and particularly ballet, not because I’m a dancer but, in part, because I love good art, Diaghilev and Kirstein have a particular appeal because of their demonstrated interest in, and support of, not just dance but the visual arts. Diaghilev not only used the leading Cubist painters in the ballets he produced; he also started his own art magazine, “The World of Art,” just before the turn-of-the-last-century. Kirstein’s interest in visual art, and particularly sculpture, is widely known. But I had no idea until my dad gave me the reader, and I learned of Kirstein’s closeness to the promotion of the Eisenstein film, of how passionate he was about this medium as well.
Last Saturday, I stumbled into a showing at the Drawing Center in Soho of a hundred or so original DRAWINGS by Eisenstein (including one of a sinuous “Harlem snake dancer”). While there, I learned that Anthology would be showing the ‘Que Viva’ footage, which Leyda assembled to summarize Eisenstein’s intentions for the epic.
So I hied myself to Jonas Mekas’s treasure of an ongoing, public film archive in the East Village to look for Kirstein. I thought that if it was important to him, it had to be important to me. What I didn’t figure on was that this material would be so obviously a matter of movement.
Much of the first half of what I saw (I only stayed for part one — hey, I’ve been Flashing three nights straight!) was almost ALL about movement. (Confession: The film was also screened without a soundtrack, testing my ADHD-challenged concentration capability.) One section is a study of a Via Delarosa march by Indians that is subtly intertwined with indigenous tradition. Hundreds of Indian men retrace Christ’s arduous road, all but the few Christ enactors within their ranks walking on their haunches; that’s right, hunched. The road, the climb seem unending. There is definitely a rhythm here. Like “Serenade” — the first ballet Balanchine created in America — there is also a story, with rites. And canon!
“Serenade” ends with the ballerina being hoisted on the shoulders of her comrades and carried offstage. The prologue of “Que Viva Mexico!”, at least what we saw, is mostly taken up with bare-chested Indian males carrying the casket of a fallen compatriot down a mountain.
But the heart of what I saw last night –and the most dancey material — deals with bull-fighting, gruesomely real and hokily imagined.
First we are shown actual footage of a real bullfight. A picador gores a bull; a bull gores a picador’s horse. The matadors (? I get the human sadists in the bull-ring mixed up) then poke the bull with banderoles (these have flowers on one end, and hooked blades on the other), which stick out of his skin as he continues to try to fight them. Then we are treated to many takes of each of various aspects of the bullfight recreated by Eisenstein. We get a bull’s eye perspective, as we view the matador from atop an obviously phony bull’s head, seeing the matador from between his horns. Truly comic fodder, as is a surprisingly modern sequence in which a dapper and obviously older, and light-skinned, male spectator, dallies with a dark-skinned younger man.
The most purely balletic section is the lengthy footage of the paso mariposa (or butterfly pass) to which, a subtitle explains, Eisenstein “planned to give…special attention,” perhaps “for its resemblance to ballet.” One can see why: The bullfighter, facing his quarry, splays his cape behind him so that he appears to have wings on either side. He flits back and forth with lots of fancy footwork, moving backwards as the bull charges, then whips the cape over the head of the animal — who also dances. It’s total ballet. (Eisenstein’s plan was to have Dmitri Shostakovich score this film, to Indian and Latin themes. One can imagine how splendidly the Russian composer would have treated this intense section.)
Indeed, in a very human sense, the footage I saw indicates that much of this film is very balletic. Prior to seeing it, I wasn’t necessarily expecting a dance film; even such a ballet monument as Lincoln Kirstein has a right to have other interests, after all. And, as a non-dancer involved in dance, it’s Kirstein’s very catholicity of passionate pursuits that appeals to me. But I don’t think it’s too much of an extrapolation to guess that, as he sat with Eisenstein and his colleagues in that small projection room in 1932, at least one of the reasons Kirstein found “Que Viva Mexico!” “an absorbing experience” was Eisenstein’s capturing of how movement expresses culture. This same belief, I would guess, would seventeen years later help convince Kirstein of the need for a New York City Ballet — for U.S. American culture to be expressed through movement as well.
From the exhibition Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through January 26: “The White and the Black,” 1913 Oil on canvas, 44–7/8 × 57–7/8 in. (114 × 147 cm). Kunstmuseum, Bern. Hahnloser/Jaeggli Foundation, Villa Flora, Winterthur. Photo ©Reto Pedrini, Zürich, and courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.
An image by Leonard Nimoy from his Full Body Project, from its exhibition at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts. Photo copyright Leonard Nimoy and courtesy R. Michelson Galleries.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2007, 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak
“Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality and you have a revolutionary act.”
— Heather MacAllister, founder and artistic director, the Original Fat-Bottom Revue, and subject of photographer Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project book and exhibit.
First published on the Dance Insider on May 15, 2007. To learn how you can obtain your own copy of our archive of more than 2,000 reviews by 150 artist-critics of performances, films, exhibitions, and books from five continents published on the DI /AV since 1998, as well as PB-I’s Buzz column of rants, raves, and news, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
PARIS — In my recent Flash Journal from this city of light, reporting on the physical discomfort inflicted on the audience by two successive programs from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company Rosas, I noted that even without a pain factor many non-dance-world people, particularly in the United States, are already uncomfortable with dance, and that a likely explanation for this is their discomfort with their own bodies. This discomfort didn’t come from nowhere; it has many causal agents, one of which is the media’s treatment of the body. Take the New York Times’s prudish coverage (in more than one sense of the word) Sunday of photographer Leonard Nimoy’s new Full Body Project, a photography story (never mind that the Times mis-filed the piece under ‘fashion’) in which the photographs could not be fully shown because, reporter Abby Ellin noted, “Their explicitness prevents the images from being reprinted here.”
Why as a reporter can’t you show the readers what you’re talking about?
Why is nudity from an artist presented in an artistic context explicit? Particularly when there is no sex involved. If appropriately applied to pornography, this word has no place describing the human body en soi.
Why does the Gray Lady — which some would posit as the most sophisticated newspaper in the United States — turn pale when it comes to treating its readers as adults, who are able to accept that in a story about photographs of nude full-bodied women it makes sense to present the photographs of the nude full-bodied women? Why does the Times instead choose to infantilize its audience by photographing the artist standing in front of the least revealing photo the paper could find, and even then with the artist’s head concealing the model’s breast?
Ah! It’s the children, the Times might say; we’re a family newspaper! We know adults can take this, but what about the kids? Well, I hate to play the Europe card, but I have news for you: I am currently looking at the cover of Le Monde 2, the Sunday magazine of France’s largest newspaper, from February 16, 2004. It features ballerina Sylvie Guillem, in all the splendor of her naked glory, in the air, balancing on a camera balanced on a tripod — in a self-portrait. True, in the cover photo, a profile view, Guillem’s long trellises cover part of her breasts. But in the — very artistic — portfolio inside the magazine, also taken by the dancer herself, they are not obscured. Might these photos titillate some readers? Perhaps. But titillation was not the intent of either the artist nor the subject (in this case the same person). The intent was simply to reveal herself — “at the risk of displeasing” the reader, as Le Monde put it in the cover line. (The etoile also appears to be wearing no make-up; thus for a performer, she is truly naked.) If someone part of whose business is creating physical beauty felt vulnerable to this risk, imagine, then, the risk taken by the women in Nimoy’s Full Body Project — not because they’re fat but because, well, who among us civilians is comfortable baring ourselves like this — no cover, no dissimulation? Neither they — nor the photographic artist — deserve the shame implied by the Times’s suggestion that they were doing something ‘explicit,’ with all the dirtyness that connotes in American society. The shame here is not on the models nor the artists, but on the Times. Even moreso when one considers that a newspaper whose promotion of the fictive causes of a real war lead to the deaths of a million innocents has no moral authority to imply that art created by innocents is profane.
And bringing it back to dance, and the discomfort many feel with it, there’s a correlation: In Europe, where there’s no, or anyway less shame associated with the body, dance houses are typically full; the language is not alien to people outside the dance world’s rarefied circle. As opposed to the United States, where dance is treated as the poor sister (the Times doesn’t even see fit to list its dance stories on the Home page of its web site), here in Europe it’s not just part of the culture; it’s got a place of honor in the culture.
Dance also has a direct relation to joy. Take a look at the Leonard Nimoy image we’ve reprinted on this page, inspired by Matisse’s painting “La Danse (I).” Is this about explicitness, or is this about joy — and body-pride?
I wish that in deciding whether to include unadulterated images in its story on his artistic and morally estimable project, the Times would have been guided less by its archaic ‘standards’ and more by Leonard Nimoy’s words to the Times reporter:
“The average American woman, according to articles I’ve read, weighs 25% more than the models who are showing the clothes they are being sold…. So, most women will not be able to look like those models. But they’re being presented with clothes, cosmetics, surgery, diet pills, diet programs, therapy, with the idea that they can aspire to look like those people. It’s a big, big industry. Billions of dollars. And the cruelest part of it is that these women are being told, ‘You don’t look right.'”
For dancers, whether aspiring or working, the implications are double.
Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project was published in 2007, and exhibited October 25 – December 15 of that year at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2014 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
N.B. Le titre c’est le notre. The title is ours, not the artist’s. Christophe Martinez is a photographer based in Paris. Curator PB-I would like to dedicate today’s publication to the memory of Edward Winer, his father, who died December 7 in San Francisco at the age of 81.
Curated by Paul Ben-Itzak.
Text by Christophe Martinez, translated by Paul Ben-Itzak.
Pour tout renseignment / For information contact :
Français: Christophe Martinez, email@example.com
English or Français: Paul Ben-Itzak, firstname.lastname@example.org
Textures and light: Without any particular pre-meditated inclination, nor any specific documentary intent, the photographs produced result from hybrid technologies…. For Christophe Martinez, the darkroom produces rather than simply records. Reflect, attempt, operate, transform, with the sole condition being the search for an equilibrium where only methodically developed phenomena intervene. Thus a sum of actions and experiments leads to a marriage of techniques and photographic matter. A form of luminous capillarity arrived at by applying fundamental laws of optics, nature, and light, and with the use of both photo-chemical and digital processes. These different protocols dialogue in a dance at the same time elemental and sensitive.
Christophe Martinez was born in 1978. He lives and works in Paris. For the artist, it is above all photographic conditions and the disposition of photographic material that prime. It is in this framework that he has developed the variants of his research and the depth surrounding the questions that he poses.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2006. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2005. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2005. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2009. 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2009. 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #3, 2009. 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2007. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #3, 2007. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2007. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2016. 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2016. 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2013. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2013. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2012. 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2012. 115 x 146 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #3, 2017. 146 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2017. 146 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2017. 146 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2010. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #2, 2010. 90 x 115 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
Christophe Martinez, Untitled #1, 2006. 115 x 90 cm unframed and without margins. Pigment print on paper. Oeuvre unique. Copyright Christophe Martinez.
“Here is nothing, we are sorry to say, but the desire to attract attention at any price.”
— Theophile Gautier, critiquing Edouard Manet’s “Olympia” in the Moniteur Universel, June 24, 1865, cited by Jacques Letheve in ARTnews Annual, 1959
“…what an idiotic project…. A night in the slammer probably caused him at least as much fear as he caused straphangers.”
— Michael Kimmelman, critiquing Clinton Boisvert’s site-specific project for the School of Visual Arts in the New York Times, December 18, 2002
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002, 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak
(First published on the DI on December 19, 2002. To learn how you can obtain your own copy of our archive of more than 2,000 reviews by 150 artist-critics of performances, films, exhibitions, and books from five continents published on the DI /AV since 1998, as well as PB-I’s Buzz column, e-mail email@example.com .)
As alumnus Eugene O’Neill once wrote, Princeton University is a tradition-bound place. It was still that when I arrived about 70 years after O’Neill, and I frequently felt the need to overtly demonstrate that I was a non-conformist. One afternoon in 1984, this took the form of deciding to wear a white cowboy mask for the day. My rounds included a visit to the bank and, well, you can guess what happened. The police were very nice about it, simply advising me that it’s not a good idea to wear a mask into a bank. My classmates put it more bluntly: How could I be so stupid?
In my case, it was I who was not thinking, and it was the bank employees who were reacting as they should to a customer wearing a mask. However, the case of Clinton Boisvert, a freshman at the School of Visual Arts, is another matter altogether. Responding to an assignment for his Foundations of Sculpture class that he create a site-specific work, Mr. Boisvert (whose last name would translate in French as “Green wood”) last week reportedly painted 37 Fed Ex boxes black, scrawled the word “Fear” on them, and attached them to girders and walls in the Union Square subway station. Not having seen the work, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that it taps into the post 9/11 NYC zeitgeist. But from reading numerous reports in the local media, I see nothing that warrants a) the charge of reckless endangerment with which, if one can believe the New York Times — a big if — the district attorney intends to prosecute young Boisvert, or b) the condescending crucifixion with which Times critic Michael Kimmelman attempted to lacerate the courageous artist in yesterday’s paper. But then, it wouldn’t be the first time in history that an artist was working beyond the ability of a critic to comprehend.
“As the saying goes, art this bad ought to be a crime,” Mr. Kimmelman writes. Is this the best ‘criticism’ the chief art critic of the New York Times can come up with? Well… no! He then goes on to cite, approvingly, an even higher critical authority: the NYPD. (This would be the same NYPD who busted an artist of an earlier era, tapping into an earlier cultural zeitgeist, when Anna Halprin’s troupe was arrested for dancing nude at Hunter College in the 1960s.) “‘The kid is clueless, basically,’ a police official said on Monday,” Mr. Kimmelman continues, referring to the policeman’s quip, “demonstrating remarkable acumen as an art critic.” Well, actually — no. At best, what the police demonstrated, in responding to Mr. Boisvert’s installation by closing off the subway station for several hours and calling in the bomb squad, was a circumspection understandable from law enforcement in a post-9/11 New York. Never mind that, as even Kimmelman acknowledges, many New Yorkers had already guessed that the 37 boxes were an art project and not a security threat; a reasonable argument could be made that it is law enforcement’s job to err on the side of caution. One might also argue that it is their training to recognize even the slightest possible threat to public safety, and that they are not trained to recognize art projects.
An art critic, however, should be able to make this distinction. However, it seems to elude Mr. Kimmelman, who writes of Mr. Boisvert:
“Trying to imagine what he intended, I can only guess that he might say the boxes bearing ‘fear’ were meant to make tangible, as sculpture, what New Yorkers have felt since 9/11 — to give physical form to prevalent emotion. But that’s art mumbo jumbo. By provoking fear, the work trafficked in emotional violence.”
What a stunningly ignorant (“Mike, you ignorant slut!”) statement for a supposed art critic to make! Not all, but much art is MEANT to provoke emotional response. And not just of safe emotions. It is meant to hit us where we live. Cutting the NYPD the slack for actually removing the boxes — unlike Mr. Kimmelman, it’s not the cops’ job to recognize art — where, exactly, is the basis for charging Boisvert with ‘reckless endangerment’? Was there something inside the boxes they’re not telling us about?
And speaking of boxes: Also at Princeton, I had a professor of Russian literature named Ellen Chances. With her raven hair, pallid complexion and taste for old-fashioned dresses, Professor Chances looked like a heroine straight out of Tolstoy. Every session, she would write on the chalkboard elaborate charts explaining the literary and social context of that week’s assignment. One afternoon, Professor Chances did not show up for the beginning of class. When she strolled in 20 minutes late, she was wearing, for the first time ever, pants — blue jeans. She commenced to talk about boxes: The boxes we put things in, literal and figurative — she even pointed to the iron frames of the bright classroom’s windows as evidence. And when she was done, with 15 minutes left to go before the class normally concluded, she abruptly left.
In the United States right now, there is a big, huge box labelled FEAR. Can you see it? The Bush Administration grabs Iraq’s declaration on weapons before anyone else can see it not, of course, to edit out references to the numerous U.S. corporations and government agencies alleged (according to a German newspaper which claims to have obtained copies of some of the deleted pages) to have aided Iraq’s weapons programs over the years, but because the excised portions might help others construct weapons of mass destruction. Yup, put that one over in the FEAR box, my fellow Americans. Trust us. We know what you should fear.
Much of the coverage of Mr. Boisvert’s project has emphasized that he just arrived in New York three months ago, the inference being that he’s just a rube from the Midwest. I would draw a different lesson here: Plopped down in an alien mileau, Mr. Boisvert is, perhaps, able to see things — big picture things — that New Yorkers (or many, anyway) cannot see about themselves, captive as they are to the post-9/11 neurosis — how else explain Mr. Kimmelman’s exagerated response to a college art project? I could WRITE a thesis about this, but in painting that one word and those 37 boxes and placing them in a subway station, Mr. Boisvert has made much a more eloquent and communicative statement. I encourage his professors at SVA to affirm that he has a special gift. He didn’t “cause” the fear, as Mr. Kimmelman would have us believe; he identified it, as only an artist can. Mr. Kimmelman didn’t have to like the results, but he could have at least have had the eye to recognize the intention, and to reveal it to his readers, instead of abdicating his critical responsibility to law enforcement. But it’s not the first time in history a visionary artist has been pilloried by a tunnel-visioned critic. Mr. Boisvert, you have arrived
Left and Right (from the Arts Voyager Archives): From Lot 1 of the Collection Hugo auction at Christie’s Paris, April 4, 2012: Atelier Hugo-Vacquerie (Charles Hugo or Auguste Vacquerie), “Portraits of Victor Hugo, 1853-55.” Four salt prints representing Victor Hugo in Jersey, the first of the Channel Islands where he took refuge with his family in 1852; in 1855 they’d move to Guernesey. Est. pre-sale: 4,000-6,000 Euros. ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.
Introduced and translated by Paul Ben-Itzak
(Second of two parts. To read our translated excerpts of the first trial, before the Commercial Tribune of Paris, in which Victor Hugo sought to force the Comédie-Française to fully honor its contracts to perform three of his plays — including Hugo’s testimony about the larger stakes involved, for both the theater and the Romantic movement of which he was the champion — click here. If you have not already done so, please support our ongoing arts, culture, and literary coverage and translation of French authors and history by designating your donation via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org , or write us at that address to ask about donating by check.)
In Romain Gary’s 1975 “Your whole life is ahead of you” (published, by Mercure de France, not insignificantly under the false name of Emil Ajar– a photo of the fictive author illustrates the back cover), an elderly French Arab monsieur who is slowly going blind and probably losing his wits passes his days on a bench outside the cosmopolitan Belleville apartment building in which the pre-teenaged (also Arab French) narrator lives with an elderly French-Jewish woman who boards the children of whores. In the left pocket of his suit-jacket he retains a copy of the Koran; in the right, a copy of (as he refers to him) “Monsieur Hugo.”
If we’ve chosen to translate and reproduce, in their near entirety, contemporaneous legal journals’ accounts of the proceedings accompanying Victor Hugo’s 1837 lawsuit against the Comédie-Française to impel France’s largest theater to honor its contracted engagements to perform three of his plays and pay modest damages for not having yet done so, it’s not just because Hugo’s lengthy and eloquent elocutions in the two trials are themselves compelling dramatic material. Nor because of the validity of Hugo’s incisive explanation that what’s at stake — what drove him to take his occasional employer to court — is not merely his personal rights as an author but the fate of a new school of literature to which the Comédie-Française (the only publicly-funded theater and the only theater with a literary bent), the literary establishment as represented by a conservative faction of the Academie Française, and a ‘coterie’ of ‘bureaucrats’ at the Interior Ministry have systematically sought to bar the route. Nor even for the resonance this battle has in a contemporary France where the Parisian culturati and mainstream media still tend to favor a narrow coterie of their ‘chou-chous’ and cronies. (It’s not uncommon for hosts at the State-owned middle-brow radio chain France Culture, who went on strike this week — which means they only return to the air-waves to let listeners know how well their strike is going — to use their programs to hawk the books of their fellow hosts and commentators, nor films of which the chain is an official sponsor.) It’s also because at a time when this same media often chooses to defend lay values through the vector of a negative, that is to say by incessant railing over the supposed imminent menace posed to these values, and lay society, by a headscarf, with the resultant potential stigmatization of any Muslim woman who chooses to cover her head, the vivid testimony of Victor Hugo, the most sterling representation of those values in one individual, provides a positive example, or clarion call, of what they actually mean and represent and of the positive cultural manifestations they protect, promote, and produce. An opportunity to, rather than stigmatize these women because they don’t conform to our conception of lay values — thus, by imposing a negative — positively impress them with the luster of the lay offer (presuming, as the opponents of the headscarf often do, that they’re not already hip to it) when it comes to moral values and of the cultural offer adhering to, and profiting from, these values puts at their finger-tips. (In Hugo’s case, opening the doors of the nation’s leading and only public theater to a whole school of literature.)
The enthralling testimony of Victor Hugo — which constitutes the heart of the appeal proceedings reproduced below in our translation, and in which he simply seeks to assert rights already sanctioned by existing law, explains the larger stakes, and even identifies his real opponent and thus the real enemy in these stakes, “the bureaucrat” (the French word, ‘commis,’ can also be translated as ‘clerk’ or ‘sales assistant’) — provides a vital reminder that the most effective and inspiring way to diffuse lay values is not to stigmatize the personal religious choices of some members of a minority group but to continue to educate citizens about the inherent value of lay society as already promoted and championed in the stirring words and exemplary lives of Victor Hugo, of Voltaire, of Camus, of Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
What if — for example — instead of wasting half of the air time allotted for interviewing two of the authors of a new 3,000-word, three-tome “Koran of the Historians” on a recent edition of his France Culture drive-time show in grilling the scholars about whether the Koran mandates the wearing of the headscarf (the Orthodox kipa or typically ‘moche’ Hassidic wig somehow never seems to come up), Guillaume Erner, who is so obsessed with this subject he must have nightmares about it, had asked them about possible correspondences and correlations between the Koran and the thinking of Victor Hugo? And what if such a discussion had won new adherents among some of these same headscarf-wearing women? And inspired them to rush out and get their own copies of “Monsieur Hugo,” to accompany them concomittently with the Koran? (And more kipa-donning French Jews and habit-wearing French nuns to do the same.)
It is partly with this end in mind that we now turn the floor over to Monsieur Victor Hugo, his attorney, and the attorney for the Comédie-Française, preceded by our summation of this second trial.
Victor Hugo versus the Comédie-Française
Court Royale de Paris
(Presiding judge Monsieur Séguier)
Session of December 5, 1837
As reported by French legal journals, reproduced in “Victor Hugo – Theatre Complete,” in the edition published by J. Hetzel, Bookseller – Publisher, Paris, 1872, and translated by Paul Ben-Itzak
(Following the Commercial Tribune’s November 20, 1837 ruling ordering the Comédie-Française, in the person of its director, to pay Victor Hugo 6,000 francs in damages and interests for having failed to honor its contracts to perform Hugo’s “Marion de Lorme,” “Hernani,” and “Angelo” — the second of which singularly ushered in the era of Romanticism, the school of which the author was the crowned chief — and the court’s ordering the theater’s director to schedule performances of the three tragedies by specific deadlines as agreed to in the contracts or face fines of 150 francs per day, the organization filed an appeal before the Royal Court.
Much of the appeal proceedings focused on the lawyers for the two sides’ reiterations and bolstering of their cases already addressed in the first trial — and thus in our previous translation of those sessions — and doesn’t need repeating here. But salient details furnished by the attorneys for both sides during this second trial are worth translating for the way they illuminate the popular and boisterous appreciation for Hugo at the time; the refusal by the Comédie-Française, part of whose excuse for not honoring its contracts with Hugo was the alleged mitigated box office receipts for the three plays, to produce records supporting this argument; Hugo’s lawyers producing receipts which suggested the contrary, that the classical playwrights who dominated the theater’s repertory often did much worse at the box office than Hugo, whose plays’ average box-office intake also exceeded that of the Comédie-Française’s leading star; and how Hugo was ready to surrender his meager State stipend when even the barest suggestion of conflict of interest arose.
But most of all this second and last trial — the Royal appeals court would uphold the commercial tribunal’s ruling in the author’s favor — is noteworthy for another improvised speech by Victor Hugo who, once again, signaled the larger questions at stake, specifically: Who controls what the public gets to see? And who lurks behind the effective barring of the country’s only State-funded, literary theater to an entire school of new work?
Voila the pertinent highlights. As with our earlier account, text presented within brackets is the translator’s; the rest is translated from the contemporaneous accounts of the Gazette des Tribunaux:)
As soon as the doors opened, a sizable crowd poured into the courtroom, among them a large number of writers and dramatic artists.
Monsieur Victor Hugo had some difficulty finding a place to sit on the benches reserved for him, already invaded by lawyers.
Maitre Delangle [attorney for the Comédie Française] took the floor with these words…: To read the complete translation on our sister magazine the Maison de Traduction, please click here.