Sunday, April 29, 2012

German Precision

  • 28 Apr 2012
  • Review
  • Christopher Allen
  • Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, to May 27


A COUPLE of recent exhibitions have recalled the part Germans played in the history of Australia, especially during the first half of the nation’s short history. The Enemy at Home (reviewed here in August last year), at the Museum of Sydney, revealed a remarkable collection of photographs made in the concentration camps where Germans were held as enemy aliens during World War I — and in the process reminded us that Germans were once the most important non-british part of the Australian population.

It was in the aftermath of World War II that Australia’s ethnic composition, and eventually also its cultural tone, were profoundly changed by the influx of Mediterranean immigrants, mainly from Italy and Greece, but also from regions such as the former Yugoslavia and Malta. At the turn of the last century, there were relatively few southern Europeans, but about 100,000 Germans, many of whom were concentrated in areas such as South Australia, where German was spoken and German religious and cultural traditions followed.

Germans were distinguished in many fields of Australian life, from industry and agriculture — particularly viticulture — to scholarly life and missionary activity; until after the Great War, when a large number were deported and others left voluntarily, discouraged by the new mood of xenophobia among British-australians. Their prominence in mid-19th century Melbourne was particularly notable, as we can hardly fail to notice in the outstanding Eugene von Guerard exhibition that originated at the National Gallery of Victoria and opened this week at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Melbourne was a new city in the mid-19th century, fuelled by the wealth of the gold rush, but rapidly building a cultural and scientific infrastructure of museums, libraries and a university only slightly younger than Sydney’s. And the remarkable fact is that most of the important scientists were Germans, including Ferdinand von Mueller, the great botanist; Georg von Neumayer, a geophysicist; Wilhelm Blandowski, the founding curator of the Museum of Natural History; Gerard Krefft, a zoologist; and Ludwig Becker, artist and geologist.

Many of them, such as von Guerard, were inspired by the teaching of Alexander von Humboldt, one of the intellectual giants of the age, who urged scientists and artists to explore the vast areas of the world that remained to be properly studied by geologists and natural historians.

But this was a different Germany from the one that emerged later and gradually succumbed to the militarism that led the nation from the catastrophe of one world war to the horror of Nazism and the new disaster of World War II. Germany in the middle of the 19th century was still a collection of separate kingdoms and tiny principalities; the greatest of Germanic states, and the traditional leader of the German world, was Austria, but Prussia, far to the north, had established itself as a great power in the 18th century under Frederick the Great, and it was the British and Prussians together who ultimately defeated Napoleon. When German unification came in 1870, Prussia instigated the process and dominated the new nation, excluding Austria, which it had already defeated in the Austro-prussian war of 1866.

The Germans in Melbourne belonged to what was still a politically and socially diverse people, and at the same time an artistic and scholarly tradition that was unsurpassed across the world.

German culture, which had been intellectually provincial for centuries, had blossomed into a golden age in the romantic period, renewing the language itself, establishing the standards of modern scholarship in areas as diverse as science, philosophy and philology, and reaffirming its absolute primacy in music. The momentum established early in the new century continued on into and beyond the period of unification, and as we saw in yet another exhibition with a German focus, The Mad Square, was still remarkable even in the shattered social fabric of the Weimar Republic.

Fred Kruger, whose photographs are shown in a comprehensive survey for the first time at the NGV, also came from this renascent Germany; unlike the aristocratic Humboldt and most of the German scientists in Melbourne, however, his background was a working-class one. He was born, as we learn from the fine catalogue by Isobel Crombie, in 1831 and grew up in Berlin, but his father, who was an unskilled worker, died in 1837 when Fred was only a little boy. It is unclear how his mother survived with four children under the age of six, but Fred grew up, married in 1858 and worked as an upholsterer. In 1860 he immigrated to Australia, joining his two brothers already here. His wife joined him two years later.

Initially he joined his brother Bernhard in an upholstery and furniture business in Rutherglen, northeastern Victoria, but as the alluvial gold ran out, the profitability of their venture declined, and Kruger sold up and moved elsewhere. He continued working in upholstery for a time but was forced into bankruptcy, before emerging soon afterwards, without any clear evidence as to how he learnt the trade, as a photographer.

Crombie paints a fascinating and poignant picture — based on limited documentary resources — of an artist’s career: of the separate courses of a personal life marked by repeated bereavement, as child after child was born and then died in infancy, and of a professional existence pursued with energy and determination. The vicissitudes of the personal life seem to be reflected in regular and restless changes of domicile, while the continuity of the professional practice is manifest not only in a steady production of images, sold separately or in albums, but an ambitious participation in national and especially international exhibitions from Paris to India, in which he was frequently awarded medals and other prizes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gustav Klimt Anniverary

24 April 2012
Gustav Klimt: What's the secret to his mass appeal?

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Klimt. The Austrian painter's most famous work, The Kiss has become a staple on university residence walls, but what is it about Klimt that garners such mass appeal?
Paintings by Klimt are among the most expensive in the world but they have also come to adorn the cheapest tat - everything from mugs and fridge magnets to key-rings and tea towels.
One of his works, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, even has a Barbie doll made in its image.
"It's quite extraordinary the way the 'Klimt factor' has taken off," says art critic Richard Cork. "He's one of those artists - and there aren't many - who gets his repros everywhere.
"It's like an extraordinary contagion but of course it's more positive than that, it's a whirlwind. Everywhere you look, there's a Klimt. You can't escape him."
His popularity, says Cork, is due to him being on the one hand very avant-garde in his day, experimenting with new things, and on the other hand dealing with subjects that have very wide appeal.
"He has very sensuous appeal and people respond to that almost instinctively. He pushes his paintings towards abstraction but how he does it is to fill a lot of them with patterns and this pattern-making has this kind of allure."
There's a sense of freedom about Klimt's work, he adds, and an uplifting quality that people relate to.
"People like gold," says Dr Alfred Weidinger, one of the foremost experts on Klimt. "It is this metallic aspect that people are attracted to."
Weidinger is the vice-director of the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, which holds the world's biggest collection of Klimt. Over the course of his career, Weidinger has found the artist's appeal to be truly global.
In 2009 Weidinger was travelling around Africa taking photographs when he met a woman in the deep rural south of Ethiopia - a place where tourists rarely go - who was wearing a T-shirt of Klimt's The Kiss.
She explained that an Italian photographer who had visited her village earlier that year offered her a choice of three T-shirts as a thank-you gift. Although she knew nothing of the artist, she chose the Klimt because she loved the gold in the image.
Klimt's frieze in the Stoclet Palace
As the son of a goldsmith, Klimt understood metals like few other artists of his generation. Though he worked with paint, he had a unique ability to create the illusion of precious metals, stones and jewels.

He trained at the commercially-minded School of Applied Art, not at Vienna's fine art academy.
"He wanted to use marble, real gold and real silver," says Weidinger, but rarely could he or his patrons afford them.
But when money was no object, Weidinger says, Klimt's true colours were revealed.
He was asked to create a mosaic frieze for the mansion of a wealthy banker, Adolphe Stoclet, and he encrusted it with jewels, enamel, mother of pearl, silver and gold.
In his paintings Klimt recreated the sumptuous grandeur of the Stoclet Palace.
"You can feel behind the paintings, the will to make something precious," says Weidinger.
Not just a master of the metallic, Klimt was also a master of his own marketing.
He was one of the only artists in Austria to do extensive, authorised reproductions of his own work. And he allowed others to reproduce his work too.
But to reduce Klimt's work to its decorative appeal is to ignore its radicalism. He was the leader of the Secession movement, a group of Viennese artists who challenged the rigidity of traditional Austrian painting.
Gustav Klimt
Their main aim was to bring art, craft and design together in one great movement, the Gesamtkunstwerk. It was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, characterised by the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh whose decorative style also reached a mass audience.

Klimt's life-long friend and supposed lover Emilie Floege was involved in the movement as a dressmaker and one of the main couturiers in Vienna. Her work is thought to have influenced the opulent textiles depicted in Works like The Kiss.
Floege was only one of Klimt's many lovers. Though he was a shy man he reputedly loved women and after 1900 painted them almost exclusively.
Many of his women were painted in the nude, in evocative and erotic positions that emphasised sensuality and sex. They brazenly confronted the viewer with their gaze as well as their nudity.
They were controversial images but appealed to a new sensibility, a celebration of sexuality that was only just emerging in a city and a society that was the playground of another famous Austrian, Sigmund Freud.
In 1905 Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, a book that was to profoundly challenge attitudes to sex.
Like Freud, Klimt wanted to put sexuality in the public sphere.

But in 1903 he was forced to remove one of his paintings, Hope I, from the first retrospective of the Secession movement. The picture, which showed a naked pregnant woman staring unabashedly out from the canvas, went far beyond the boundaries of propriety.
Perhaps this radical spirit is something that later generations of young people have identified with.
"Nobody was able to synthesise feelings like love, passion or desire but also despair and anxiety like Klimt," says Klaus Pokorny of the Leopold Museum in Vienna. "That's why he is so fascinating for younger people."
"Another reason is his capability to catch harmony and lust but not least his art is very, very decorative."
But any artist that becomes as ubiquitous as Klimt risks being over-exposed, says Cork.
"There's what I call the Mona Lisa problem, which is that if a painting is reproduced everywhere and there's no escape you get fed up with it.
"I can't look at the Mona Lisa any more. I look at it but can't react to it. Sometimes I do get like that with Klimt, when I'm in a birthday card shop.
"It's better to go back to Vienna and see the real thing."
The Strand from the BBC World Service travelled to Vienna to mark the 150th anniversary of Klimt's birth.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rare Papyrus Discovered in The Queensland Museum

  • 21 Apr 2012
  • The Weekend Australian

Museum had ‘lost’ treasure for 100 years

WHEN visiting British Museum curator John Taylor asked to inspect Queensland Museum’s collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts, he did not expect to stumble upon a long-lost section of the burial scroll of one of the civilisation’s greatest builders.
AAPWorld-renowned Egyptologist John Taylor with one of the missing fragments of the Book of the Dead at the Queensland Museum
The world-renowned Egyptologist, in Brisbane for the opening this week of a touring exhibition of mummies from his museum, was poring over a display case of antiquities when his eye was drawn to a shred of papyrus bearing the distinctive hieroglyphs of Amenhotep, a chief builder in the 15th century BC, whose burial scroll, known as a ‘‘Book of the Dead’’, was scattered across the globe in the 1890s.

Intrigued by the fragment, donated in 1913 by an unknown woman, Dr Taylor asked whether there were any more pieces in the museum’s dungeons.

‘‘When I was brought into the conservation lab to see them, after a very short period of time it became apparent that we did indeed have many fragments of the Book of the Dead of this extremely important man,’’ Dr Taylor said yesterday.

‘‘This is not the papyrus of just anybody — this is one of the top officials in Egypt at the peak of Egyptian prosperity.’’

After an archeological quest spanning more than a century, it is hoped the fragments can be used to piece together the ‘‘massive jigsaw’’ littered across some of the world’s great museums.

Books of the Dead contained magical spells and were entombed with mummified Egyptians to ensure their safe passage from one life to the next. The more wealthy the deceased, the longer the scroll.

Dr Taylor suspects that when it is completed, Amenhotep’s book could be in excess of 20m long, representing one of the longest and most historically significant Egyptian burial scrolls in existence.

‘ ‘ If we can reconstruct the whole document, then that’s going to tell us a whole lot about how these religious texts were put together in ancient Egypt (and) how they selected different component spells,’’ he said.

The fragments are too fragile to be moved unnecessarily, but Dr Taylor hopes to virtually match up digital images of the fragments with other sections from the British Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

‘‘If they can all be photographically documented, then it should be possible to do a huge jigsaw puzzle and put the pieces together,’’ he said.

Amenhotep was Egypt’s chief builder during the construction of the Great Temple of the god Amun at Karnak, near Luxor, about 1520BC.

‘‘Of course that temple is one of the most impressive sights in Egypt that tourists flock to see, and there is a very strong probability that Amenhotep was one of the people who actually constructed parts of that temple,’’ Dr Taylor said.

The papyrus that caught his eye is not normally displayed publicly, but was brought out to accompany the Egyptologist’s Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb exhibition.

The fragment was donated to the Queensland Museum by a private citizen almost a century ago, but curators are refusing to name the mystery woman until they have researched her background.

Queensland Museum director Ian Galloway defended his curators over not recognising the significance of the fragments despite preserving them for almost a century.

‘‘We expect when you deal with objects and specimens that over time, with changes in technology and increases in knowledge, we’re always taking off new layers of understanding with each object,’’ Mr Galloway said.

"In this particular case, the knowledge was embedded here in John Taylor."

‘‘I would say these fragments are priceless, but our collections are valued every year and perhaps this year our collections will go up a notch.’’

Dr Taylor said he never expected to make the ‘‘once in a lifetime’’ discovery on his visit to Australia, adding the long-lost relic could have turned up almost anywhere. ‘ ‘ In Egypt in the 1890s, people were collecting and digging up antiquities at a very fast rate and often it wasn’t documented where these things were going,’’ he said.

 ‘‘Private individuals would go on holidays to Egypt and buy things like this and take them home, so there’s still a lot of material out there that people haven’t seen.’’
Dr Taylor, who curates the British Museum’s Egyptian funerary antiquities, amulets and jewellery, declined to estimate what the fragments could be worth.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Historians Debunk Anzac Myth

  • 19 Apr 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald
  • Geoff Strong

  • Historians argue the Anzac legend is more pork pies than bully beef

ANZAC DAY is nearly upon us again, by jingo. And it is by jingoism that many historians now believe the myths surrounding this most hallowed day have diverted us from the truth. Three recent books argue it is about time this was corrected.

A former army officer and historian for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Graham Wilson, says one of the most persistent myths was of the great independent Aussie bushman instantly transformed into a fabled fighter.

‘‘We were not a disciplined fighting force like the British, or even the New Zealanders, and had an appalling discipline record,’’ he said.

He has analysed the careers of soldiers who joined up and found that between 7 per cent and 25 per cent were from the country.

‘‘In reality, most were urban and probably factory workers who didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. In terms of fighting skill, the Turks we fought at Gallipoli were much better soldiers and it wasn’t until 1917 that the Australians became an effective fighting force.’’

Mr Wilson, the author of Bully Beef and Balderdash and a former regular army warrant officer, said much of the mythology was created by the official war historian Charles Bean.

He said the Gallipoli campaign was not mainly undertaken by Anzac forces. There were equal numbers of British and French troops, as well as a large contingent from the Indian army.

Marilyn Lake from the history department at La Trobe University, the co-author of What’s Wrong with Anzac?, said it was untrue that Australia’s national identity was formed in Gallipoli in 1915.

‘‘From when we were formed as a nation in 1901, we had already achieved headlines and attention on the world stage by our advanced social democracy, including minimum wages and women’s equality.

 Visitors came from around the world to see how these social experiments worked.’’

Professor Lake argued that the Anzac myth had been used to legitimise military actions, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another book released this year was edited and contributed to by a University of NSW historian, Craig Stockings, entitled Anzac’s Dirty Dozen. In it the writers attempt to demolish a dozen myths surrounding Australian military history.

Dr Stockings said one of the persistent myths was that Australia became embroiled in other people’s wars by factors outside its control, but this was the reverse of the truth. ‘‘Every war . . . has seen us take a deliberate decision to go to war in support of a powerful ally. It is a kind of premium on an insurance policy hoping that if we do this they will come to our aid if we were to find ourselves under threat.’’

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

British Library buys 7th century St Cuthbert Gospel

  • 18 Apr 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald
  • Press Association

British Library pays $14m for saint’s gospel

LONDON: A 7th-century book that lay buried in a saint’s coffin for hundreds of years has been saved for Britain after a fundraising effort. The British Library raised £9 million ($14 million) to buy the  the earliest surviving intact European book.

Its chief executive, Dame Lynne Brindley, said on Monday: ‘‘This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure the Gospel for the nation and we were both grateful and touched that so many people felt moved to support our campaign.’’

The book, on show at the library in London, was produced in the north of England in the late 7th century and buried alongside St Cuthbert, an early English Christian leader, on the island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland about AD698.

The coffin was moved off the island to escape Viking raiders and taken to Durham, where the book, which is a copy of the Gospel of St John, was found when the coffin was opened at the cathedral in 1104.

The single largest contribution to the campaign was a £4.5-million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, but there were also donations from trusts and the public.

Dame Lynne said: ‘‘To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the AngloSaxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the 7th century would have seen it.’’

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Fabled City of Timbuktu

  • 5 Apr 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald

UN fears for Timbuktu’s treasures after coup

Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders . . . must be safeguarded.’ UNESCO

PARIS: The ‘‘outstanding architectural wonders’’ in the fabled city of Timbuktu could be damaged in the fighting that has engulfed northern Mali as rebels push forward, the United Nations cultural agency says.

‘‘Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, must be safeguarded,’’ the UNESCO director-general, Irina Bokova, said.

She called on the Malian authorities and warring factions to respect the desert country’s heritage, which she said was ‘‘essential to the preservation of the identity of the people of Mali and of our universal heritage’’.

UNESCO’S concern comes as the United States called on rebel forces in northern Mali to lay down arms and for coup leaders to step aside, warning the country’s territorial integrity is at stake.

As Islamist-allied Tuareg rebels rapidly advance through the African nation, a US State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the US was ‘‘deeply concerned’’ and looking at new ways to pressure the coup leaders.

‘‘The United States urgently calls on all armed rebels in the north of Mali to cease military operations that compromise the Republic of Mali’s territorial integrity,’’ Ms Nuland said.

She said while the rebels had ‘‘legitimate political grievances’’, they should wait until the return of a civilian government and seek to settle differences through dialogue instead of violence. ‘‘As civilian leadership is restored in Mali, we also urge all armed rebels to engage in dialogue with the civilian leaders in Bamako to find a non-violent path forward for national elections and peaceful co-existence,’’ Ms Nuland said.

Disgruntled troops swarmed the capital on March 22 and chased the President, Amadou Toumani Toure, out of power, accusing him of failing to supply the army to put down the longrunning Tuareg rebellion.

Tuareg rebels have taken advantage of the chaos to make quick advances. Radical Islamists at the weekend seized control of the fabled trading hub of Timbuktu and said they were imposing sharia.

On Tuesday, the African Union imposed travel bans and ordered assets frozen after the coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, refused international calls to step down.

Timbuktu, which was put on UNESCO’S World Heritage List in 1988, bears witness to the golden age of Timbuktu in the 16th century and to a history that stretches even further back to the 5th century.

Timbuktu had until recently attracted tourists but they have been deterred by kidnappings in the deserts of west Africa by a group with links to al-qaeda.
Agence France-presse

The Beautiful Feathered Tyrant

  • 5 Apr 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald
  • Deborah Smith SCIENCE EDITOR

Meet T.rex’s feathered cousin, but don’t mess with this chick

IT WAS fluffy but not to be trifled with. Remains of the largest known feathered creature – alive or extinct – has been discovered in China.
About nine metres long and weighing a hefty 1400 kilograms, this new dinosaur species – a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex – has been named Yutyrannus huali, or the beautiful feathered tyrant.
Three nearly complete skeletons of the downy giant were unearthed in Liaoning Province in the north-east of the country, near where other smaller feathered dinosaurs have been found.
The research team leader, Xing Xu, of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, said the creatures’ feathers were simple filaments, and it would not have been able to fly. ‘‘They were more like the fuzzy down of a modern baby chick than the stiff plumes of an adult bird.’’

Yutyrannus was about 40 times the weight of the largest previously known feathered dinosaur, Beipiaosaurus.
Professor Xu said its discovery increased the size range of dinosaurs for which definite evidence of feathers was available.
‘‘It’s possible that feathers were much more widespread, at least among the meat-eating dinosaurs, than most scientists would have guessed a few years ago,’’ he said.
The find is reported in the journal
The new tyrannosaur lived about 125 million years ago, and its feathers may have been for insulation.
The climate was colder then than when the scaly T.rex lived, about 67 to 65 million years ago.
Corwin Sullivan, a team member at the same Beijing institute, said large-bodied animals could usually retain their heat easily and were prone to overheating.
‘‘That makes Yutyrannus, which is large and downright shaggy, a bit of a surprise,’’ Dr Sullivan said. The remains included two juveniles that weighed about half a tonne each. They had three fingers on their forelimbs, unlike their more recent relative, T.rex, which weighed more than 6 tonnes and had two fingers.
The simple feathers were only partly preserved in the three dinosaur specimens, so scientists said they could not exclude the possibility they were found only on some sections of the body.