Monday, April 11, 2011

A door entered from the ceiling

Die Verspottung, oil on canvas, 1984
"This slide is not upside down, it's a Baselitz" was how my art history professor first introduced a work by the German painter Georg Baselitz to our class as she used the projector to show us one of Baselitz's "inverted" canvases. Baselitz, a German who has enjoyed a long and successful career as a painter and art teacher, is most known for his knack of standing recognizable anthropomorphic images on their heads inside of his pieces.

Tanz ums Kreuz, oil on canvas
The effect is, well, a bit unnerving. At least to me. I often find myself tempted to take a reproduced Baselitz work and turn it "right side up," by flipping the book or poster at hand around. I can only imagine what trouble I would get into at a museum while moving the paintings on the wall. The truth, however, is that Baselitz very much intends viewers to see his paintings in this "upside down" manner, and these works have been very intentionally placed at odds with our normal perceptions.

Lazarus, oil on canvas, 1984
This being art, there are of course numerous theories to explain what Baselitz is about in his placements. Here is some of what I think: firstly, those forms represented this way seem more vulnerable and haunting as a result. But more importantly, by turning the image of a man on his head, Baselitz very precisely points up the realities of what we have here. This is not our reality. This is not about making an illusion for our eyes. This is a canvas. And you can see all the layered brushwork more clearly because you immediately perceive what is before you in the terms of a painting. The technique of the brush is highlighted. The focus is on the painting as a painting. You don't look at this work and see a person you recognize. Instead you search to recognize what has happened to an image you might aprehend, and in that searching Baselitz has you: you have just spent time looking at his painting, and that was the key for him all along.

Georg Baselitz, here seen right side up
The viewer focuses attention on the artwork as if it were a puzzle, and in the search to apprehend it clearly, understands what it is in its details. This method of display made Baselitz quite the sensation. His work came on the international scene after a long run of cool Minimalist dominance on the world art stage, and his contemporary critics often describe being seduced by the lush brushwork of his pieces. Here was a painter who loved paint. And he stood in the German Expressionist lineage, but also against it, turning it indeed upside down in a postmodern way that employed artful manipulation of the viewer. There is a tangible sense of boundaries being crossed. Very certainly, the paintings induce viewers to think.

Recently, at the end of a very fine meal, someone shared with me a bottle of sherry. The dinner, and the other wines we drank that night, are chronicled quite well here. I was in the company of friends, people whose company I enjoy, and I was completely unnerved. Not because of the people in the room, but because of the sherry in my glass: Valdespino "Tio Diego" Amontillado. I have had quite a few top flight Amontillados in my day as a sommelier. I recently even put together an all-Amontillado dinner with the estimable Peter Liem as the host, where we tried several excellent examples. But this wine was different. Most of all it made me think. Here was an Amontillado that showed so many elements of a fine Fino, but with the overall character of a lighter styled Amontillado. I'd never had anything like that before. Zippy, intensely dry, saline, and thus in many ways like a Fino, this wine also had a subtle richness against a rather light frame that was revelatory. All I could do was wonder about it. It was like the frames of my reference points were being turned askew. It was asking me for a new understanding, and I was drawn to think about the layers of this wine more deeply than perhaps any wine of recent memory. Here was an Amontillado that loved Flor.

Hightoned lime against richly styled caramel. It is an rare combination, yes? Perhaps only as rare as this wine, the "Tio Diego," which at this point is virtually never seen in the United States. Having once poured the the classic Valdespino "Innocente" Fino by the glass at a restaurant that I worked in, I could only wonder at the change here. Here was the Innocente, but many years later. And transformed. Clearly it was different, but what had it forgotten? Less than I might have thought.

One of the takeaways from drinking the Tio Diego was a true understanding of what Peter Liem means when he says that a real Amontillado is just another intrepretation on the spectrum of Fino. Another takeaway is that I still have a lot to learn about wine, and that there occasionally comes along an example that just totally turns my world upside down. I am still vulnerable.

This picture is Brook's. Sort of.


Brooklynguy said...

Nicely done. And I haven't yet thanked you for bringing that Baselitz canvas. Not yet sure where it will go - thinking living room, but I cannot tell you how much i aprpeciate it.

Levi with an i said...

You'll be turning it sideways, yes?