Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Party out

Grateful thanks to the splendid Mick Hartley who has posted this so that I could pinch it:

Tuesday is hereby proclaimed to be Sunday, Wanda Jackson day.


The Palace at Gödöllő looks like this:

It has powerful connections with both Hungarian independence and the establishment of the Dual Monarchy, through Count Andrássy and then the wife of Franz Joseph, Elizabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Hungary, reputedly the most beautiful woman of her time, later assassinated, at the age of sixty-one, in 1898. She was reputedly good and kind and learned Hungarian well before she needed to, and as a result the Hungarians love her.

Yes, but... It's the usual yes, but.. in one way complex, in another way very simple. Take the simple one first.

The sheer extent, opulence, extravagance of the palace is nauseating, especially when you have just seen photographs of the 30s Depression at the Crisis exhibition I talked about two posts ago. It is hard to hold the images together. Half of me says: Burn the thing down! Écrasez l'infâme!. The other half say: Hold it. Wouldn't it be better to leave it as it as, but include a mass of notices saying: Here died the footman, Albert X, or: Here slaved the laundress, Maria Y. Record the existence of all those unrecorded in the grand annals, not depicted in the oil paintings. Let them be present and let that be the rebuke. Not so much of those who are noted and celebrated here, but to the world that produced them. Who cleaned the privy? Who died falling off the scaffolding?

The more complex Yes, but... refers to the other argument, which is to do with the beautiful things of the world. The beautiful things of the world, it says, require wealth and leisure to commission, produce and display. That much admired altarpiece for the private chapel, that ravishing tapestry above the bed, the great classical orders in the portico, the frescoes, the furniture, and that whole range of artefacts from delicate frippery to towering masterpiece. Would we have had them or - let's raise the stakes - the Sistine Chapel ceiling if there were no Sistine Chapel, no Rome money? It is hard to deconstruct Michelangelo's Last Judgment purely as the ideological product of a ruling elite. One might be missing something. What of the great cathedrals? And so on down the Kenneth Clark Civilisation line so fiercely opposed by John Berger.

I don't know the answer to that one, except that that was then. Let's try do things another way now, not just for show, not for the sake of Popular Art. Not Cool Britannia Art. Not Big Business Art (nor Big Ideology Art). It shouldn't be impossible. It should be in the nerves somewhere. And truth to tell, much of the art in the palace at Gödöllő is hideous trash.


James said...

I rewatch "Civilisation" when I'm feeling low and cynical and need cheering up: it's that faint smile showing Clark's British teeth, there as though you're meant to understand that he doesn't mean a word of it or that he's about to start laughing. Except for the bits where he bangs on about Germans, of course.

Done properly, I think your commemoration of a great house's working population IS the way to go: admire the beauty (basically) and make sure its attribution is rightfully distributed. But it has to be done in the right way. K and I followed a pair of teachers around the V&A recently. They were rehearsing themselves out loud for a forthcoming school visit. As we went around the British Galleries, they put everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) down to British "arrogance" and "exploitation" - and nothing and nobody else. Each exhibit had either been stolen or was an expression of national hubris. Even Morris's handwoven cloth! Even the statue of Bashaw, the Newfoundland dog! And so on in the same dispiriting fashion. The poor kids. I hope they had the sense to ignore all of this and just enjoy themselves.

Kelvingrove Museum up here has more or less pulled it off, mind you..

George S said...

Well, yes, post-colonial guilt with belt AND braces. A pretty repulsive phenomenon. Little do the teachers realise that they are inadvertently training the next generation of fierce patriots.

These people are idiots. You could go around any European or American gallery and say the same. And I imagine you could go around the colonised countries and find they weren't all noble savages (or nowadays we would have to say savants) either but had ransacked each other's territories to grab this or that. Europe happened to be better at it. And they had the complex religious equipment to do it. They were saving souls as well as making money. It wasn't so much hypocrisy as a kind of alternating belief system.

It is not so much guilt, which is I think most of the time a fairly useless emotion, as consciousness that is worth fighting for. The vast wealth of the palace and the endless poverty of the unemployed or very cheaply employed makes an unmissable contrast. I understand the Kenneth Clark line - it is in favour of a world of enlightened eloi. That's better than a world of unenlightened anything.

But I would like it to be clear that these palaces do not spring up entirely from the fairy touch of enlightened and well-intentioned grandees; that palaces,in effect, are not the best that can be done.