Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Translation of "Salzburg: Kokoschka and Manzù" by Thomas Bernhard

Salzburg, in July

In the white room of the archiepiscopal palace Oscar Kokoschka is exhibiting his most recent works.  These afford no new revelations.  The centerpiece of the exhibition is his portrait of Pablo Casals, the great Pyrenean artist.  Here color is turned into philosophy and philosophy into the great human question.  Casals is a fighter at war with this earth of ours, his weapon is his cello, his strength is his music.  In it there is no recurrence, only the continuity of existence.  Casals: the name signifies remaining imperturbable and immutable.  In other words: loving creation in bitterness.  This powerful painting says all these things.  Next to it hangs the monumental triptych “Thermopylae,” painted for the University of Hamburg, and depicting the struggle of the Greeks against the Persians at the narrow pass at Thermopylae.  Kokoschka is less of a master of large surfaces than his compatriot Boeckl.  Consequently this cycle is less than completely overwhelming.  Wild colors of the human chaos: the fictive annihilation of the whole of civilization.  However well it may depict his worldview, in this depiction Kokoschka has not attained the sagacity of, for instance, Picasso’s most recent drawings.  He has attempted to transfer it from paper to canvas.  It is the convulsive torments of a latter-day Inferno that shine intermittently through the three oversized paintings—in shades of green, red, and yellow.  The most engrossing of them is the central panel, with the seer Megistias who prophesied the downfall of the Greeks.  This triptych comprises three great attempts.  Perhaps their successful completion is still on the distinguished artist’s to-do list?  Such is one’s first impression—modified by a thorough study of the “consensus” from London and Linz–of an undoubtedly extremely interesting exhibition, one that well and truly would have benefited from the omission of some more or less undistinguished sketches of scenery for this year’s Salzburg Festival production of The Magic Flute.    
In the Bastionsgarten one may see two of Giacomo Manzù’s statues, “The Cardinal,” well known and much admired since last year, and “The Dancing Girl.”  In the pavilion there are some new sculptures.  All of them are worthy of honor.  The strictness of Gothic conventions elevates these effigies well above the level of mere “reality.”  The maturest of these: the bronze reliefs of the crucifixion and entombment of Christ.  They are all utterly devoid of pathos: large-scale and rough-hewn.  The beauty of his “Busts of Women” inheres in their widowed lugubriousness.  One thing is safe to say: along with Marino Marini and Giacometti this shoemaker’s son from Bergamot is the greatest living Italian sculptor. 

[1] Editors’ note: First published in Die Wurche, Vienna, 30 July 1955, above Thomas Bernhard’s signature.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2013 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

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