Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Cigarette advertising blooming like summer flowers

It is true, I did say it was quiet, not much doing on the cigarette advertising advertising front. Anything but, now. First up Camel (left). Sticking with the “Do your Thing” strapline here we have two relatively young people with (unlit) cigarettes in their mouths (always an unattractive image, surely?) doing their own thing. In line with the campaign more widely – and there are many examples elsewhere in this blog – the message is “Fuck off”?

Next up, Pall Mall is back with some fantastic tosh. Take “New Neighbour, New Friend” (right) as part of the “Enjoy the moment” campaign. How nice, meet on the balcony and be introduced by sharing a death stick. Most people do the introductions safely using an intermediary, such as a dog or cat.

Same campaign, same nonsense. Sorry about this one, it has been literally defaced, but none the worse for it. Strapline is very clever: boring short holiday or long-time short holiday. I do not know whether this a a play on the old British saying that I know confuses German speakers. “What did you do on your holiday?” We did nothing”. “Great!” “How can doing nothing be anything but boring?” “Is doing nothing good?”

Finally, (un)Lucky Strike is back (right). Now this one is truly bizarre. And it is almost in line with the Pall Mall neighbours above. The innovation here is that the cigarettes are brown. Not great, I would have thought, but there you go. But added to that, there is now a Luck Strike dating app, “Cigarillo”, presumably for people with a death wish?

“Flaschendrehen trifft”, by my translation, is something like “meet by spinning the bottle”. Random? But to make it even stranger, if one looks at the packet with the “cigarettes are deadly” warning on the white block, one finds, “Wollen sie aufhören?” – “Do you want to stop smoking?” Mixed messages, at the very least.

 

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All a bit quiet on the cigarette advertising front

Despite my best efforts with my blog – posts about politics, art and travel – it is the cigarette advertising that brings in my readers and sparks interest. It seems, in particular, that Germans are the most curious about my posts, even though all of the examples are free to be seen in any German city.

Of late, the billboards have been few in number, and when they do appear they are boring as anything. The latest JPS (left) is a case in point. “Maximales Vergnügen” translates literally as “maximum pleasure (in death)”

Then there is “Passt Perkfekt ins Jetzt” (right) sort-of Perfect Fit now? And this “compact” innovation. That is interesting. Does that just mean it is narrower because it seems to be cheaper than “Maximales Vergnügen”?

There is, however, a new kid on the block, as it were (left). The no batteries needed, of course, refers to the considerable competitive challenge coming from e-cigarettes. And whilst I do not like the latter – users fail to appreciate that the vapour that they produce smells and has emanated from their mouths. It is also voluminous (I am sure this is deliberate on the part of the manufacturers and is unnecessary for the efficient delivery of nicotine). Users Blythely inhale and exhale with no care at all for anyone behind them who gets a face full of the stuff. I almost prefer the real thing.

Anyway, not only are batteries not needed, but users get American Spirit. New to me. Looking forward to more genius straplines from this brand and its marketers. And here’s me thinking the Germans were in hock to Russia!

 

 

A return to Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna: Low Countries and Germany

We made our first visit to KHM at Easter and we managed but a fraction of the artworks (largely the Habsburg’s Italian collection). So we went back to see the work of some of my favourite 15th and 16th Century artists.

Let me start with Valckenborth whose series of scenes from the months of the year. Five are in Vienna. They are hung really badly (high), one has to take a photo to study them; but the snow on this one is almost 20th Century impressionism.

Talking of snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder made his career out of depicting ordinary people in the landscape. His show scenes are always cold, but equally, there is always people enjoying themselves. Skating is a particular outdoor fun activity, but here there are also hunters. For some, I assume, that is worth getting out of bed for.

There are some 12 Bruegel the Elder’s paintings in this collection (more than a quarter of all those that survive in the world). All that I have seen in various museums are always a thrill. Though the subject matter of another winter scene, “The Massacre of the Innocents” is not a positive thrill. It recreates the biblical scene of Herod’s infanticide in the low country winter landscape.

Perhaps Bruegel’s most recognised painting is his depiction of the Tower of Babel (1563). What is remarkable about this picture is its encyclopaedic detail and depiction of considerable technical and craft skills. All made up of course.

This period is great if you like ghouls, demons, witches and hell. H Francken the Elder’s wonderful Hexenküchen (witch cooking) is a wonderful example of the genre. I particularly like the church in background as a reminder of some sort of duality. But the witches surely win? I am not quite sure what is going to happen to the naked individual on the far right, but I suspect it is not good.

Next up, Hell. I rather like David III. Ryckaert’s “Dulle Griet” (on a Raid before the Entrance to Hell). I have to say I am not quite sure what is going on but the thrashing woman seems to be managing the fantastical collection of ghouls. Difficult to know how long she was going to keep them off.

Here is another great depiction of Hell. This time from Herri me de Bles (somewhere around 1540). It is circular – maybe Hell is circular? – and the hellish colours are brilliant. It does not look so bad relative to other depictions. It is almost Boschian in the strange creatures that are there. Maybe it is some sort of subterranean eco-system? It is not the usual hellfire. Survivable, maybe?

Next up is Man at a Window by Samuel van Hoogstraten. Hoogstraten, apparently, specialised in trompe l’oeil – translated as “deceive the eye”. So we have a wonderfully painted window in a frame with a man’s head protruding from it. Forgive me, I am not entirely sure what the deception is in the literal reading. However, historically, Jews were not permitted to live in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna in the 16th Century. The man depicted may well be Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller who achieved permission to live there. The picture has a symbolism associated with looking into the forbidden district?

This being a Low Countries collection there is Rembradt, one of his many self-portraits (I am sure the Habsburgs would have been delighted to have The Nightwatch instead). However, there is this fantastic Vermeer, The Art of Painting. The model is Clio, the muse of history, who inspires and proclaims the art of painting in the old Netherlands. These can be seen on the maps with the provinces prior to their division into North and South.

Left is a picture that looked familiar and indeed it was. This is the work of Hans III. Jordaens entitled the Cabinet of Curiosities. I always feel that I may be developing a bit of cultural capital if I can draw a comparison.

 

There are a couple of depictions of stag  hunts in the collection. Actually, they look more like massacres in terms of scale (Lucas Cranach the  Younger, Stag Hunt of Elector John Hendrick). These are all Court commissions. Frederick of Saxony himself can be seen on the far left with Emperor Charles V. But the scale of the endeavour is troubling.

 

So there we are wandering around and there is a Holbein! Holbein, of course, was Henry VIII’s court painter who famously got sent out to paint potential wives for the King. Sometimes too complementary for the king’s liking. This is his portrait of the elegant Jane Seymoor.

By contrast, Albrecht Dürer portrait of the semi-naked grinning mature woman was unlikely to charm a king. It is unclear what this picture is about as the woman grins with her bag of money. Maybe it is a picture of seduction or avarice. Maybe Dürer’s patron wanted to caricature his then wife, the wealthy Dorothea Landauer? I am a shade confused on this, but whatever the meaning, older people are always more interesting sitters.

One thing I  have learned to do is not to focus always on the central characters. As a form of communication, the whole canvass carries messages, some more interesting than others. For example, Bernaert van Orley’s Alterpiece of St Mattewand Thomas. St. Thomas is being martyred. This involves walking on hot coals, accepting a poisoned chalice and, of course, being thrown in an oven (left). I think I will stick to mortal being-hood.

Finally, a branch of feminism that I was not previously aware of. Otto van Veen’s Persian Women, depicts a scene from Plutarch’s Brave Women (new to me, I have to say). They revealed their nethers to shame the men from fleeing in the face of the enemy. I am not quite sure how that works, but apparently it was a great victory in the end.

 

Joan as Police Woman, Vienna, 31 March 2018 and Hove, 23 April 2018

We are regulars at Joan as Police Woman gigs. I think this is about our fifth time, though the first outside of the UK. All bar one of these share one thing in common: the intimacy of the venue. Intimacy enables Joan Wasser to play to her key strength: emotion. The venue matters, therefore. Last time we saw her, in her collaboration with Benjamin Lazar Davis in Brighton, UK, the venue was rammed and the bar was simply in the way. Tonight was perfect, though as bizarre as they come. At the Ottaker Brauerei (a real working brewery) one might have expected the bar to be in the way again. But no, the bar has its own room and the concert space is what it says on the can. Space. Nothing fancy – a dark hole with steel girders. Perfect for Joan as Police Woman (seemingly she has performed there twice before).

l-r Parker Kindred, Jacob Silver, Joan Wasser, Eric Lane and Jared Samuels

By contrast, The Old Market in Hove, UK, is rather less industrial. Once it was a market hall, but as venue it is versatile, fully furbished, though with visible wooden beams holding up the roof. I think it was her first time at the Old Market (having previously also appeared at Brighton’s Concorde 2, if I am not mistaken). It did not matter, the intimacy was there. The audience engaged, though clearly the band, coming to the end of a comprehensive European tour, were admitting their weariness. For some bands, this could easily lead to fractiousness; but these musicians seem very much at ease with one another. It was a much more relaxed performance than Vienna.

Now this was the Damned Devotion tour. Dammed Devotion is her latest solo album and it is worthy of a collection to add to her existing body of work. Actually, it was not until seeing Joan as Police Woman in Vienna that I realised how different this album is from its predecessors. The big clue came in the stage setup – three sets of keyboards – not seen before. We were reassured to see her long-time percussionist, Parker Kindred (left), mount the stage. He was intricately supported by bassist, Jacob Silver. Together they kept an order to the proceedings; Kindred’s timing is impeccable and it was great to be close enough to spend time watching a master caress and cajole a drum kit. It was also the first time that I have listened to a band from the drum kit outwards. By which I mean, the beats come first, followed by bass, keyboard and vocals. And with Joan as Police Woman live, that seemed to make sense.

And that is another reason why Damned Devotion is different, Kindred gets his moment to let rip on Joan’s uncharacteristic “dance track”, Steed (for Jean Genet).   I’ve never heard Wasser sing so high at such tempo and with so much noise

Wasser with Jared Samuel in background

behind her, not only Kindred’s percussion, but also two sets of keyboards played by Jared Samuel and Eric Lane. Equally, Wasser must rightly assert herself. On her album, Classic, I always celebrate her divinity captured in the song The Magic: “And I find I am face to face with none other than me; I’ve got the mirror up against the marquee; And all it reads is, I am fine, I am divine; But there is a wild side going on behind the sign”. We got it in the set, of course, but it is now complemented by her lastest self-anthem, The Silence with its clear lyric “My body, my choice, her body, her choice”. The Magic is subtle in tone, if not lyric. The Silence is neither.

This is a tour to promote The Damned Devotion, it is certainly not a greatest hits. Though it was good to hear Eternal Flame, the song that introduced me to Joan as Police Woman back in 2005 with its beachy-kitsch video. And there is one other addition to the repertoire. What is it Like to be You?, Wasser tells the audience, in a peculiarly revelatory exchange with the audience, is about her deeply missed father who passed away a couple of years ago. Of course, she is not the only daughter to fail to ask questions of a parent before they die. Wasser laments this with her father and captures her lament in this song. This is doubly intimate and it is why venues matter.

Vienna’s washrooms

So there we are looking for breakfast. We end up at Schwedenplatz. We cross the Donau Kanal using the Schwedenbrücke and stumble into Spelunke on Taborstraße. It is one of those cafés that doubles as a nightclub. Versatile. But as we have found over the years, the proof is in the toilet, and Spelunke is special. The breakfast was ok, too.

So, the first challenge is to get in. Because one does not expect to find instructions on the floor, the tantalising glass door just refuses to open. It takes a couple of helpful women to point out the floor sensor (above left).

Once in, there’s more going on. Now I did not go into the women’s toilet, but my partner came out with a couple of interesting shots from inside a cubicle where the portal window has a couple of surprises (left and right).

And just in case you cannot find the loo roll, it is illuminated.

So the next day, we are after breakfast again. We concede Stadtcafé adjacent to Freyung, a rather central location. The café is pretty regular. The porridge was good. Then in the toilet one finds another mysterious piece of equipment, albeit designed by Dyson (right). These three-in-one contraptions never seem satisfactory and always challenge. The wash basin itself is a bit of a mystery. It is more of a drainage channel.

As a design idea, this borrows directly, I think, from the old ghastly Wallgate three-in-ones that seemed very popular with English public authorities either building or refurbishing their public conveniences (left).

Wallgate picture by Retroscania (Flickr) from Dudley bus station

Das Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This museum and art gallery is just about as outrageous as it gets. The only concession to normality is the cloak room. Everything else screams empire, wealth, kleptocracy and vanity. It’s great.

Recently, our favourite art historian, Andrew Graham-Dixon, made a series of four documentaries about the British Royal Collection. It’s a familiar story of European royals, they have all used art for propaganda, as a store of value, diplomatic gesturing and self-gratification. The Habsburgs were no different. Their collection is equally outrageous, but at least the Austrian Bundes Republic now owns the collection and a grand building in which to display it.

David Teniers’ fantastic picture of Leopold Wilhelm (1614-62) inspecting his haul of 51 Italian works from the collection of the Duke of Hamilton in Brussels (above left) just captures the obscenity – or scale economies – of art buying and collecting. It is simply my favourite picture in the Italian collection on show which took us 3 hours to view with as much respect that we could.

The curators enjoy juxtaposition. Some of which vaguely work. Others not. Putting Titian up against Picasso is an interesting one (above right). Titian’s intimate portrait of Pope Paul III (1546) was, I sense, intended to humanise him, without diminishing his stature as Pope. He sits. His hands and arms are almost close enough to touch. But not quite. By contrast, Picasso’s portrait of Carlotta Valdivia (painted, not surprisingly, in his blue period in Barcelona, 1904) is not accessible at all. She was not ostentatiously rich, but her pearl earring and cowl suggest more wealth than Picasso had at that time as a bohemian. The slight rosy colouring of her face suggests, apparently, a former physical beauty swept away by the years.

This flattery of sitters is not uncommon. In England, we know that Holbein, Henry VIII’s court painter, overdid it on Anne of Cleves before the King married her. Probably not a good idea. This overdoing is on display again with Titian’s second  portraits of Elisabeth d’este (1534) who looks amazingly good for her 60 years’. Good work.

Over the years we have learnt a lot about how to look at pictures and, indeed, what to look for. Andrew Graham-Dixon taught us to go for the detail. For example, Lazarus in, what is simply a landscape painting by Pieter Breugel. So, when viewing landscapes, it is the little detail that makes the difference. Take, for example, the view of Schönbrunn Palace gardens (1758/61) by Tintoretto (right). There are lots of court figures in the grounds. But, of course, to keep everything perfect, the groundsmen had to follow them with their rollers. And look closely (left), we can see them!

More recently, Waldemar Januszczak’s documentary about Mary Magdelene, has us always looking for her in depictions of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. To be honest, I’m not sure if I have found her at Jesus’ foot in The Lamentation of Christ by Savoldo (around 1513, right), but probably.

Another Graham-Dixon prompt is to look for Ghouls, particularly done by Germans. Now this one doesn’t quite qualify, but by goodness, that is one heck of a snake (Raphael in 1518) that St Margarete has to slay (left).

The Gods are always good value in 16 Century art. Venus and Adonis, in particular. Of course, Adonis is destined to be killed by a wild beast (Venus knows this because she has that most awkward of powers, the divine power of prediction). But when if comes to affairs of the flesh, this does not really matter. I trust that when one’s nipple is being squeezed (right), the future is of little concern. Veronese’s picture tries to warn us with storm clouds, but my eyes are elsewhere.

Tucked away in one of the small rooms off the main gallery is a series of four pictures about the seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1566). Each one has a profile portrait to make the point. The portraits are entirely made up of non-human components – for want of a better word – such as fruits and, here (left), fish. They are extraordinary pictures. Peculiarly unsettling.

There are, of course, pictures that remind one of earlier times. My mother was particularly enamoured by the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Delilah was a lot of a baddie, and not only took away Samson’s strength by cutting off his hair, but also had him blinded. My mother was keen for me to grow my hair, which I did, but I was never strong enough to push down a temple (top panel, right Tintoretto 1543).

Finally, there are some pictures that quite simply do not belong in this part of the collection. There’s a Turner, for goodness sake (another attempt at juxtaposition). There is also Bathers by Paul Cezanne (1890, left).

OK, we had no time for the huge collection of low countries art, Gustav Klimt and Dürer. We’re coming back, soon, to mop up.

JPS identity crisis

John Player Special is trying to knock us over with its striking new campaign, Make your Day. There’s a lot of red. It is supposed to “fit in”, as the strapline indicates. Because it is compact! What is a compact cigarette? More tobacco? If so, the bit they do have to put on the poster “Rauchen ist tödlich” is as fitting as ever. Deadly.

Gauloises’ winter season continues

Gauloises’ Vive le Moment campaign sticks with the winter theme and young people being naked in the snow. This time it looks like a hot tub in the garden with the clothes carelessly discarded on the wet snow. For some reason, there is no catchy strapline (I suppose it is cheaper that way?), the picture says it all!

Seville in December – Museo de Belles Artes

Take your passport for free entry into this wonderful example of a city gallery celebrating the work of its sons, if not artist daughters.

There is a lot of extraordinary medieval – largely religious – art here from the likes of José de Ribera, Juan de Valdés Leal, Taller de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. But also some more contemporary work from the likes of José Garcia Ramos, Rafael Senet, Jose Villegas Cordero and Gonzalo Bilbao Martinez. There are some cameos by influential Flemish artists including Jan Brueghel de Velours, Pieter van Lint and Sebastian Vranckx. There’s also the odd German; namely, Lucas Cranach.
 
The building is a former monestery (left). It has two floors and an inner garden courtyard. The religous art tends to be about alterpieces. There’s plenty here with lots of virgins with child and grusome crucifixions. I recall Andrew Graham Dixon on his Art of Germany series that no one does ghouls better than the Germans. That may be true, but the Spanish and Flemish artists throw them in, too. Martin de Vos’, The Last Judgment (1570), has some pretty nasty ones dragging the sinners to their eternal damnation (right).
There’s a couple of paintings by 17th Century painter, Francisco Pacheco. His Portrait of an Elderly Lady and an Elderly Man (c1630) is chilling in its wizened-ness (left).
 
Alonso Vázquez’s The Last Supper (1588) has a wonderful sinister feel, notwithstanding Judas with his bag of money. There is something decidedly inedible on the table and some creepies on the floor. The apostles are muscular figures deeply concerned about the traitor amongst their number.
Maestro del Papagayo’s Holy Family (right) seems wholly mischievous. The child squeezes the nipple but is tempted by a grape! The symbolism is, I assume, fertility and the blood of Christ?
There is a lot of St Francis of Assissi going on in this gallery. For example, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Stigmatisation of St Francis (left) dating from c1645. More of Murillo’s wonderful work was in a special gallery where no cameras were allowed.
Another favourite son is Taller de Zurbarán. The gallery houses some rather large canvasses of saints; for example, St Anés with lamb (whom I know nothing about) and St Dorotea with fruit and flowers (both 1650, right). Dorotea was a legendary virgin martyr who may have lived in the 4th century. She is called a martyr of the Diocletianic Persecution.
Francisoco de Goya y Lucientes finds a place in this gallery as well as the cathedral. In the gallery, one finds his dark portraiture; for example, that of Canon José Duaso y Lastre (1824, left). This is the precursor to Goya’s black paintings, and you can see why.
 So, back to the Flemish artists, Jan Brueghel’s depiction of paradise with its paired animals, verdant backdrops and the odd naked Adam and Eve (right) delights in its detail and idealism.
This being a local museum, quite a bit of space is given over to paintings of dubious value. There are something like 8 canvasses by Domingo Martínez charting the route of a allegorical carriage through Seville in 1747 (left). It seems reminiscent of those major cavasses representing street scenes in Venice. Clearly important for the city but not necessarily for art. Though Martínez was very much a student of Murillo and the depictions are rare examples of secular art of the time.
 Talking of which, the more contemporary art occupies a few rooms on the second floor. Two things are really important in Seville. Flamenco and bull fighting. Both are represented in the collection, but not always as one might expect.
The dancing, for example, has a modesty about it; it is street flamenco. For example,Manuel Rodríguez De Guzman’s Baile en la taberne (right) and José Garcia Ramos’s Baile por bulerias (left). These both strike me as capturing the spontaneity of flamenco in Sevillian society. All you need is a spanish guitar (and someone to play it) a frilly frock, some shoes and maybe a male partner. And knowledge and passion, for I have no doubt that it is a technical art. Whilst I find flamenco myself to be rather dull to watch, I do not doubt its importance to the culture. Also nothing dies, unlike with the bullfighting.
The matadors are heroes. When one is lost, it is captured on canvas by the likes of José Villegas Cordero’s La Muerte del Maestro (1913, right).
Back to the real heroes, the people of the city. Part of the city’s wealth came from tobacco. Gonzalo Bilbao’s La Cigarreras (1915, below left) lets us into the working environment in one of the cigarette factories. It looks like a cathedral rather than a factory; it has all humanity in it.
Rafael Senet’s La Pescadora (1885 right) also draws on the lives of ordinary folk. The fisherwoman walks the beach with her large basket and exposes her feet as she tries to keep her dress from getting too wet.

Finally, I share, what is clear from our visit to Seville. The people love to dance and celebrate. Gustavo Bacarisas’s Sevilla en fiestas left (1915) captures this nicely with, what seems to be a night-time scene where the light captures three woman all dressed up with somewhere to go.

If you are in Seville and are looking for somewhere to go, this gallery is a gem.

Seville in December – the city walls and back

Early new year’s day in Seville is tricky for breakfast – don’t try it before noon. Our favourite place, Picatoste, was closed. We ambled along to the Cathedral area and found a hungover cafe bar with torched croissants on offer. Full of charcoal, we ambled further along the river to Puente del Barquita walking south east towards the district of Macarena. There one finds the remains of the 12th century city wall (left) and gate. Most of the wall was removed in recent times to facilate the expansion of the city. It does, however, face the parliament building, a converted hospital! Nestled in between is the baroque façade of the Basilica de Macarena. It’s not really baroque. It is also closed, like most places, to visit on 1 January.

We then walked south along San Luis, a wonderfully narrow throughfare with a mix of dereliction, exquisite restorations (Santa Marina) and local people. This is not really tourist central. San Marcos has a Mudéjar tower, a reminder that the 14th century church was actually built on the site of a mosque. We managed lunch in a fast-running-out-of-food tapas bar close to Santa Catalina. In the sunshine. Unfortunately, 5 minutes later one is back El Centro. Back to the hotel for a cup of tea.