FRIDAY 06.02.15 AT 10PM
07.02.15 – 24.04.15
AT CULTURGEST PORTO
EDIFICIO CAIXA GERAL DE DEPÓSITOS
AVENIDA DOS ALIADOS 104
Celluloid Brushes is a still growing anthology of the filmic perception of the artist from 1267 till today. Initiated by and shown for the first time at the contemporary art-centre Etablissement d’en face in Brussels, it comprises over a hundred titles and for each tittle an artist was invited to make a poster. The main premise for the selection of these films and television-series is that they are about an artist, whether fictional or existing. The anthology is ordered according to the historical chronology of its subject (Giotto comes before Michelangelo, etc.) or -in the case of fiction- according to the year in which the movie takes place or was made in. With each presentation we add new titles to the database and invite new artists. A few exceptions aside, there was very little elaboration why this or that artist was chosen to make a poster for this or that movie. As far as we know, everyone was happy with his assigned movie. Celluloid Brushes resembles something of an amateur sci-fi or horror movie-club, making their own posters for their weekly program, appropriating their favoured subject through its announcement, the announcement as a format in its own right.
Regardless of the level of dramatization, abstraction or attempted realism, the majority of these movies deal with the lives of artists; their life as something encompassing and spiralling with pregnant tension around what could be nominated as the job. But the job itself, the art, always remains eluded and a fallacy in its depiction. Some of the movies have (successfully or not) attained to widen the spiral and transcend the mere ‘life’ of the artist but a good load of these films are actually no more than a cover-up for period & costume-drama, provided with clothes and architecture that are as authentic and accurate as the depicted painting-process itself is superfluous, inaccurate and in the best case a good caricature. A quirky case when it comes to the depiction of the job is the biopic Pollock (Ed Harris, 2000), in that it unveils Hans Namuths’ famous documentary of Pollock (1950) as a fiction: Pollock’s action painting being directed, manipulated and dramatized by Namuth. A fiction unveiling non-fiction as fiction -but still drenched in drama of alcoholic self-destruction.
Contrary to gangster-movies where the act of robbing a bank is externally visible and its depiction thrilling, the transgression in the process of making art takes place almost exclusively inside the head; it is fully internal and quite unspectacular. Hence, this transgression is projected on some other external anecdotic behaviour. Maybe it is exactly this fallacy that is fascinating: the failure to render ‘the job’ into something worthwhile watching or spectacular.
Now, although this edition of Celluloid Brushes does not contain the actual film-program, it seems nonetheless or actually all the more appropriate to further focus on the notion of the dramatized artist-life by looking at one remarkable and paradoxical absentee in the anthology. Absent because, though Berlioz made an Opera and Gershwin & Weil a Broadway musical, there was never a movie based on the autobiography of the 16th century Mannerist artist Benvenuto Cellini. And quite paradoxical so, because everything Hollywood has ever desperately been elaborating and looking for in their movies-about-artists, can be found in sheer abundance in Cellini’s memoirs. Benvenuto Cellini is actually more famous for his autobiography written in 1558 at the age of 58, than for his proper artistic work of which a big mannerist saltcellar is one of the very few remaining pieces. This gold plated table-sculpture designed for King Francis 1 of France is permanently on view at the Kunsthistorishes museum in Vienna. But as far as dramatization of an artist life goes, Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography still remains the nec plus ultra. A friend of Michelangelo, he worked and helped defend the Pope, was sculptor to the king of France as well as to the Medici of Florence. His memoirs, written in typical Renaissance wit (akin to Machiavelli) read like an adventure novel in which its protagonist incessantly hails his own excellence in every undertaking. And Cellini did strictly everything: a goldsmith, a sculptor, a fighter and a soldier, a musician and a lover swinging both ways, there’s nothing in which he wasn’t a genius: always winning, always faster than his opponent, always more cunning. He boasts of injuring the Prince of Orange and of having killed at least fifty people, recounting their deaths in gory details. And no sooner does he lay down the sword or he picks up the chisel and starts describing with accuracy the design and technical realization of his sculptures, elaborating his theories on the arts and subsequently receiving the greatest praise of his commissioners and of course the envy of his contemporaries. It’s Virtu and Fortuna page after page. Cellini travels, works, eats, loves and seems to have lived as many lives as he claims to have taken. If the autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein is a vividly detailed gossip-novel of the Parisian avant-garde written with dry-wit phlegm, Cellini’s memoirs are its theatrical and rambunctious opposite. But they can be equally considered as one of the most detailed recollections of their time, offering an exceptional perspective of the life in the Italian Renaissance.
Cellini’s pleasure and the positive complacency with which he describes his adventures are devoid of complexes or self-pitying neuroses that seem to define the average artist in the Celluloid Brushes anthology –there’s no downfall to his rise. An occasional zest of melancholy here and there serves merely for spicing things up a little. On a commercial level Cellini, the movie could easily be imagined as something of a Renaissance Wolf of Wall-street but with more blood, killing and sword fighting –and without the downfall. As to why there is no filmic adaptation of Cellini we can only guess. In its absence (for the time being) it serves as the perfect paradigmatic case, but to the question if it would be a good thing to actually make a movie of his memoirs, the most probable answer would be I don’t care so much, but I’d love to make the poster for it.
Michael Van den Abeele