Unreal Nature

September 1, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… a clear and simple mathematical symbol of the machine’s own strength …

This is from Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004). This book uses extracts from other books to comment on the featured artists (I’m extracting from those extracts… ) If that text does not refer specifically to the MoMA art that is shown in the parent book, I may choose to use some other work by the artist to illustrate my post. Today’s first is from The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age by K.G. Pontus Hultén (1968):

“It was in the experimental pre-war days of 1913 that I was fired to do the rock drill, and my ardor for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill, second-hand, and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into …

“Later I lost my interest in machinery and discarded the drill. I cast in metal only the upper part of the figure.”

Jacob Epstein, The Rock Drill, 1913-14

… The confusion in Epstein’s thinking about The Rock Drill is typical of the ambivalent attitude toward machinery held then and later by many people who, for lack of a clear commitment, have been unable to define their opinions or positions toward it. As Richard Buckle has pointed out, Epstein’s concept of a masked man drilling rock “held for him the fascination of a heroic, demonic, even sexual image,” its phallic character is especially evident in some off the preparatory drawings. At the same time, as the passage from his Autobiography makes clear, Epstein also felt a kind of abhorrence and fear of the figure, which he termed “menacing,” “sinister,” “terrible,” and devoid of all humanity.

The next segment is also from Hultén’s book; this time he’s writing about Umberto Boccioni:

Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind I, The Farewells, 1911

… In a [train] station, the departures are more final — not because trains go faster and farther than stage coaches, but because those who enter into a train become part of a system, while those who stay behind are outside that system. … The numbers “6943” that rise out of [the train’s] side become a clear and simple mathematical symbol of the machine’s own strength and individuality.

Last, this is from The Paintings of Gerald Murphy by William Rubin (1974):

… The notebook entry for Wasp and Pear reads:

Picture: hornet (colossal) on a pear (marks on skin, leaf veins, etc.)
(battening on the fruit, clenched …

This is Murphy’s only convincing rendering of an organic, living thing. … Murphy had always been a careful observer of nature — “Have you ever seen the lining of a potato bug’s wings?” he wrote Sara during their courtship — and he “never forgot the large technically drawn and colored charts” of fruits, animals, and insects which he had encountered by chance during his wartime training. But despite the precision of his drawing and the accuracy of the textbook-like microscopic enlargement of the wasp’s leg, Murphy had no Audobonesque scientific concern in this image. His emphasis is on inventive patterning, as in the head and transparent wing of the wasp, and to that end he was perfectly content to omit the insect’s rear-wings.*

Gerald Murphy, Wasp and Pear, 1927

[* … and wasps don’t make honey.]

My previous post from Elderfield’s book is here.




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