research point: compare the approach of contemporary artists with those of earlier artists

Marcelo Moscheta and Caspar Friedrich

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33 Mountains, 2010, Marcelo Mosheta

Funny how art loops around itself, criss-crossing, sometimes doubling back, threading its way through time and minds like a very long shoe lace. In Vitamin D2 I came across Marcelo Moscheta’s 33 Mountains which jumped out at me because of the recent work that artist Annette Lemieux had asked the Whitney Museum to turn upside down in protest of Trump’s election (Dunne, 2016).

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Left Right Left Right, 1995, Annette Lemieux

Simultaneously it had me thinking of Vija Clemins and Tacita Dean (whose work has been highlighted on this part of the course), Caspar Friedrich and John Ruskin. John Ruskin because I’d been dipping in and out of Simon Shama’s Landscape and Memory, and Caspar Friedrich because the result of a clear-out by my father in law is a pile of art books on the kitchen table that includes Friedrich.

33 Mountains is a collection of drawings in graphite on PVC board, each drawing mounted on iron posts and in Vitamin D2 is shown leaning against a wall – an installation of drawings.

I’m wary of looking at art in a book if I’ve never seen it for real. In Vitamin D2 the work is on a double page spread, so that helps. Snapshots of mountains like this could come across like someone’s holiday snaps – hiking or skiing in the alps. They are all cropped images of mountains, it’s hard to gauge the scale of the rock we’re looking at.

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The overall impression is of the oppressive presence of mountains, a slight feeling of claustrophobia. The cropped images are glimpses, and this is how we see the mountains when we are in them. Unless we climb to a viewpoint or take the chair lift to the top, we are in the valley and catch glimpses. They loom up behind buildings, behind forests, behind other mountains. They suddenly appear above the top of low cloud, around a bend in the road.

Moscheta’s mountains are white out of black and the sense this gives of night time intensifies their massive and eternal presence. They are there when we go to bed, there when we wake. They were here before us and they’re not going anywhere soon!

33 was Moscheta’s age when he completed this work. Maybe each mountain is alluding to something more personal but as a viewer looking in a book the overriding feeling I get is the simple overpowering presence of the mountains. In Vitamin D2, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti writes about 33 Mountains (2010) and Atlas (2011): “In both works it should be noted, drawing is still used as a measurement system. In the first case, the number of mountains alludes to the are of the artist himself when the work was done, while in the second the size of each planet is correctly proportioned in relation to the Earth….It is the clash between the desire for accurate measurement and the fascination with the unfathomable immensity of the world that the core of his work resides. In this sense, the work is part of the great Romantic tradition of confronting humanity with the vastness of nature.” (Price et al., 2013)

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Wanderer above the sea of fog, c.1818, Caspar Friedrich

Looking through the Friedrich book, the works that carry the same sense of the presence of mountains are obviously Wanderer above the Sea of Fog but also The Rock Gates of Neurathen and The Waltzmann.

However!  Following an online trail I came across a work by Moscheta in which he has rendered Friedrich’s The Ice Sea in graphite. (At this point I’m tempted to write WTF?! what are the chances of that?) I can’t quite believe this full circle loop of my  research. This doesn’t really make the comparison between the approach of the two more straightforward, but it gives me confidence in how I’ve read Moscheta’s work. I wonder why he has done this. It makes me think back to Vija Clemins and how she wants to give something back to the object that the photograph has lost. Is there something similar going on here?  Is Moscheta pushing this painting into a photograph? Is he rendering the original painting more real? Is he undoing the process of painting to find the original?

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The Sea of Ice, 1823, Caspar Friedrich

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Friedrich, 2008, Marcelo Moscheta

The similarities and differences between the work of Moscheta and that of Friedrich:

  • capturing the absolute dominance of the mountains – their massive and undeniable presence – they don’t do a song and dance to get noticed – they are heavy and quiet.
  • with Friedrich, the mountain takes centre stage, it’s in the middle of the image. It sits within its landscape, whether we have come across it or gone to a view point to see it, Friedrich has led us to this point and we are looking out at the scene. He uses a foreground and middle ground, the mountains are in the distance.
  • Moscheta crops his image quite close, there is no sense of the landscape around – to me this helps the get a sense of the mountains, we way we tend to see just part of a mountain. It gives more a feeling of being ‘in’ the scene than looking out at it.
  • Friedrich’s work is traditional – painted on a flat surface to be hung in place. Moscheta has turned his drawings in to installation. Though I’ve only see them in this formation, presumably they can be moved about, like placards. I wonder if there is meaning behind this – the placard is synomonous with protest – the obvious connection is climate change. Are these mountains silently protesting man’s presence on this planet?
  • In 33 Mountains there is more of a sense of chance, a looking around and catching glimpses of these forms, always there, over our shoulder. I wonder if this approach is down to photography’s existence? We have become more used to seeing many different angles of the same subject, and cropped.
  • Moscheta works in black and white, in graphite, and Friedrich in oils.  It’s been hard to pinpoint Moscheta’s technique on 33 Mountains, and not being able to see the marks up close doesn’t help. Lillian Rodrigues of the Anita Beckers Gallery in Frankfurt describes the technique:  “he covers the PVC support with graphite and then carefully works in subtraction – taking away the material to leave the image”.  This process seems to echo how mountains reveal themselves to us – from cloud, from mist – first just a vague shape of two dimensions, slowly revealing itself. In the very way Moscheta draws he is also describing the mountains.
  • Friedrich’s works are considered part of the movement of Romanticism and he has without doubt romanticised his subjects.This was a time when succumbing to the sublime was all the rage, and Friedrich’s works are full of the wonder of it all, nature swathed in poetic mist and pretty colours. Though Moscheto still gets across this feeling of the sublime, his images are pared down, black and white, less chocolate box.

It’s been interesting looking at these two artists – to my eye they have both worked to explain similar feelings about the landscape but in different times. Friedrich was working pre-photography and pre-winter breaks. Moscheto in many ways has to work harder – we are familiar with the mountains even if we’ve never been – we’ve seen photos, documentaries, the ski-chase in The Spy Who Loved Me. We know the deal, it is not enough to paint a pretty picture of a mountain, that isn’t enough to fill us with awe. We need to be spooked by these monsters that appear out of nowhere, just around the corner and in 33 Mountains I think he’s done just that.

 

References

Price, M., Cashdan, M., Krause, C. and Godfrey, T. (2013) Vitamin D2: New perspectives in drawing. London: Phaidon Press.

Dunne, C. (2016) In Response to trump’s election, artist asked the Whitney Museum to turn her work upside-down. Available at: http://hyperallergic.com/338783/in-response-to-trumps-election-artist-asked-the-whitney-museum-to-turn-her-work-upside-down/ (Accessed: 12 February 2017)

(No Date) Available at: http://www.galerie-beckers.de/cms/files/2012/11/Moscheta_Latitude_2008_eng.pdf (Accessed: 13 February 2017).

 

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