Newly Arisen

In the latest issue of the Burlington Magazine Artur Rosenauer has published a previously unseen painting of the Risen Christ as an early Titian of around 1511. The painting, measuring 144 x 116,5 cm. was in the Bülow Collection in the nineteenth century until 1929 when it went to Uruguay. It is now in a private collection in Europe. A spectacular find, especially if it is indeed by Titian. It is rare that genuine pictures by such well-described great masters, especially non-portraits, surface. Continue reading ‘Newly Arisen’

Venetian Disegno

Totally forgot to post this here in good time. It’s been a little crazy around these parts lately. Anyway, I’m organising this colloquium in Cambridge tomorrow. If you happen to be around, and are interested in the topic (slim chances, I know!), then by all means show up!

Live from the Ping Awards

You may remember me writing about the Ping Awards in this space. But briefly: the Ping Awards are awards given annually to comics in Denmark at an annual gala show. There was an older award of the same name, a reference to one of the great Danish cartoonist Storm P.’s (1882-1949) most famous characters, but the present incarnation was founded in 2012 by the comics website Nummer9 in collaboration with the Danish Comics Council, the international comics festival Copenhagen Comics, and the comics magazine Strip!

Works are nominated in six categories by comics critics from Nummer9 and Strip! and the winners are selected by a jury comprising representatives from each of the founding bodies, as well as a number of independent critics, writers, artists and comics professionals. You can read much more on the Ping website, albeit only in Danish. (Sorry).

Anyway, this year’s Ping Awards were given out at a show at Lille Vega held in conjunction with Copenhagen Comics on 1 June in Lille Vega Copenhagen. It featured appearances from such international luminaries as Jaime Hernandez and Jill Thompson, as well as hilarious acceptance letters from awards winners Chris Ware and David Mazzucchelli. A sampling of the event has now been made available by the Ping team in the video above. Enjoy, and get in touch if you would like to know more about the Ping Awards.

The Week

“When history looks back on this moment, will it view those who opposed intervening as champions of peace? Or, when the textbooks count the dead children, and the international norms broken with impunity, will our descendants puzzle that we took pride in retreating into passivity during this slaughter?”

Nicholas Kristof

The week in review

The absurd theater on whether a coalition of Western countries led by the US will intervene in the Syrian civil war or not, the contorted logic behind the whole chemical weapons rationale, and the sudden, provocative fit of Russian diplomacy have obviously dominated the week’s news. It’s been a fascinating study in the vagaries of international politics around a hot potato issue. But it’s also been depressing. There is no question that the prospect of engaging in another war, no matter how limited said intervention is claimed to be, is daunting and demanding of the utmost caution on the part of decision makers. But we’re talking a genocide here, like the one that’s been happening in Darfur or the one in Rwanda in the nineties — both of which we left to run their course. The argument for select attacks or even better, imposing a no-fly zone, in Syria seems to me a basic, human one.

I find particularly depressing the arguments that we should let the notoriously lame duck UN Security Council or US Congress decide. Or that we can solve the conflict with humanitarian aid or non-violent diplomacy alone. It’s been tried for two years now and hasn’t worked. And in the meantime a hundred thousand people have been killed and millions have had to flee their homes.

I really hope the current decision to pursue a handover by the Assad regime of all chemical weapons bears fruit, but also that it is followed up by aggressive diplomacy to resolve the situation and bring peace to the region. If necessary by the use of force. Witty as Vladimir Putin’s op-ed piece in the New York Times was, fun as it was to see him expose the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, the reality of the war in Syria is so horrible that his high ground-arguments for civilised conflict solution ring hollow if they don’t bring an end to the killings soon.

Alans Krig i Information

I Informations bogsektion har jeg i dag en anmeldelse af Emmanuel Guiberts mesterværk Alans krig. Læs den!

Shana Tovah!

A certain tendency in hip hop?

Over at RapSpot, I’ve just reviewed Chicago speed rap veteran Twista’s incredibly poor showing in Pumpehuset, Copenhagen this past Saturday (in Danish, unfortunately). A large part of my criticism is the fact that he lip synched almost his entire concert, which ties in with the reservations I recently expressed about the Wacka Flocka show at the same venue. The difference was that Twista for over twenty years has marketed himself as the fastest rapper alive and in this represents the kind of virtuoso technique that one has to be able to deliver on stage as well as in the booth in order to retain artistic credibility, whereas Wacka Flocka has not and does not. Also, Twista’s show was lazy and poorly conceived. A shame, but the real issue seems to me that this kind of approach to performaning live is proliferating in hip hop.

Photo: Klaus Køhl.

Stop the Motor City Sellout

As most of you are no doubt aware, Detroit is bankrupt, and one of the worse ideas the city has for keeping its creditors at bay is selling off the treasures in the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of America’s finest art museums. Deaccessioning masterworks from the collection, or dissolving it entirely, would be a great loss to the public, and to the city: no longer the industrial hub of yesteryear, Detroit needs to redefine itself in order to remain a vibrant city and and an attractive place to live and visit. Focusing on culture and other soft capital doesn’t appear like the worst way to achieve this, and in the DIA the city has an internationally significant cultural institution and a natural node of interest in such an endeavour, it seems to me. Besides, whatever money might be raised from selling off the collection is dwarfed by the city’s debt. It would be like pissing your pants to stay warm.

Anyway, enough pontification. Jeffrey Hamburger from Harvard University has organised an online petition to convince the city of Detroit to leave the DIA alone. I encourage you to sign it, and leave any comments you may have.

(Such petitions can make a difference, however small. Hamburger’s petition to convince the city of Berlin to leave its collection of old masters at the Tiergarten Gemäldegalerie may not have been the deciding factor, but it cannot have had an adverse effect on the recent, happy decision not to move the collection).

Image: The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1566), one of the great works in the DIA.

The Week

The week in review

This week the rap game experienced tremors when Big Sean released the song “Control” online. It featured a verse from the still-young, still gunning Kendrick Lamar on which he not only claimed for himself as many indices of hip hop royalty as he could — ‘Makavelli’s offspring’, the ‘Black Beatle’ or ‘Marley’ and, evidently most galling of all ‘King of New York’, he also named names, placing himself in the august company of the current paragons (Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Andre 3000) and calling out a selection of his contemporaries, warning them that whether they are homies or not, he is trying to make their careers history (or ‘murder’ them, to be exact) in the true, competitive spirit of hip hop. This touched of a frenzy of responses from all over the rap world, with dis tracks coming at Kendrick left and right (and mostly from New York emcees, as one would expect). Several prominent artists reacted positively, stating that Kendrick has made hip hop exciting again by rekindling the focus on lyrics.

This is the kind of verse that’s an immediate jaw-dropper, and not even mainly because of the presumption of naming of names. It’s in the performance. Kendrick here sounds as hungry as he ever has, pouring more aggression into this one verse than his entire, already impressive body of work can muster. We’re hearing a new side of him here. It’s not really about the lyrics, despite what everyone has been saying. Kendrick pushes some easy buttons and simultaneously makes sure not to piss off the establishment too much (why not include Jigga, Nas, et. al. on his hit list while he’s at it? It would be in the spirit). (incidentally, I like that Kanye is nowhere mentioned!). And frankly the rest of the verse is kind of incoherent, lacking in evocative simile and too busy with the name checks. No, what makes this verse of a different order than just about all the responses and most of what one hears in rap at the moment is the conviction he brings to it. It is truly exciting to hear a rapper spit with such passion. The words matter, of course, but only because they are delivered with such fire, such promise. In one verse, Kendrick has done much to dispel the very reasonable fear that he might experience sophomore jinx after his masterful major label debut good kid m.A.A.d city of last year.

XXL and MTV both provide nice overviews of the responses to the verse; Brandon Soderbergh has the best critical take on the song.

  • In other news, you have to read this incredible piece on how Edward Snowden established his contact to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
  • Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz on Detroit’s plight and what one might learn from it.
  • Institution and Individual – French Satire at the Comics Journal

    A new instalment on my lamentably irregular column on European comics, “Common Currency” is up over at The Comics Journal. It examines the winners in the two major categories at this year’s Angoulême festival — Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain’s Quai d’Orsay vol. 2 and the work of Grand Prix awardee Willem, exemplified in his latest book Degeulasse. It is an attempt to tease out some of the tendencies in French satire, from the proudly idealistic to the coarsely individualistic. Go, read.

    Party and Bullshit

    Went to Waka Flocka Flame’s concert in Copenhagen last night. Didn’t quite know what to expect, but arrived stoked to find out whether the energy he channels so freely on record translated well to the stage. Well, it did and it didn’t.

    Waka Flocka’s music is simple, testosterone-charged, almost vitalistic hip hop that carries the trappings of gangsta rap, but fundamentally is about a party. It is the wrong place to look for complexity and even variety, but when he is at his best — like on his amazing album debut Flockavelli from 2010 — he marries infectious abandon and chest-thumping assertiveness, and he tends to do it over Lex Luger’s majestic, surprisingly complex orchestration.

    Anyway, much of this also happens live. Turnout was low at the venue, Pumpehuset, but what a crowd — youngsters moshing bare-chested in the front rows, the rest reliably throwing their hands up at every prompt. And Waka and his DJ brought great physical energy to their performance, never letting things slip. It was a party, no doubt about it.

    On the other hand, Waka didn’t really rap much at all. Most of the time he either shouted or ad-libbed his own recorded vocals, essentially acting as a hype man to his own music. It was more of a DJ’s vocal performance than that of an MC and when one is reared on hip hop being about skill in live performance, that just doesn’t cut it for a high profile rapper like Waka (the DJ didn’t do anything beyond pressing play, adding the obligatory gunclaps and ad-libbing on the his mic). From a musical point of view, it makes for a fallow listening experience.

    I suspect Waka doesn’t even give it second thought, coming as he does from a tradition of Southern hip hop that doesn’t adhere to the blueprints prescribed in New York last century. Where this is perfectly acceptable as a live performance because it gets the job done — it’s a party, people have fun. This seems to be a tendency that is becoming increasingly prevalent in hip hop, and one that poses a fundamental challenge to certain core values in the culture. Now, I don’t think skills are disappearing from the music — clearly Waka has them in the studio, and channels he his persona well on stage, which is also important to the skill set of an MC — but I can’t help but feel a little sad to see such devaluation of vocal and musical artistry in a genre that has always put a high premium to them. It is a carte blanche to lazy, disposable music and, in the hands of less charismatic performers, extremely dull concerts.

    The video above, from a 2012 performance in London gives a good idea of Waka Flocka’s performance style as I experienced it, although he didn’t bring a drummer to the stage last night.

    The Week

    The week in review

    This weekend saw the first Vanguard Festival here in Copenhagen. A bold step up from long-time hip hop booker Peter “Soul Kitchen” and his team, it spread over two days divided between indie rock (Friday) and hip hop (Saturday). Surely a risk, it seems to have paid off — at least judging by attendance on Saturday. The lineup was stellar, if somewhat retrograde — what one might call ‘your dad’s favorite hip hop’: Pharoahe Monche, DOOM, De La Soul, and the Wu-Tang Clan (on their 20th anniversary tour), as well as some quality Nordic acts, with Loop Troop Rockers and Malk de Koijn being the most notable.

    While among the best in hip hop of the past twenty plus years, the list carried some risk: DOOM is infamously languorous on stage, De La have long been past their (astonishing) prime, the the Wu-Tang are notorious wild cards as a live act. And while DOOM was just as boring as always, and De La gave a lacklustre performance loaded up with time-filler and frustrating wheel-ups, the festival overall was a fantastic live experience. Loop Troop ripped it with their reliably energetic show; Malk is always solid: Pharoahe, backed up by Mela Machinko and DJ Boogie Blind, was reliably amazing, his vocal stylings and content crisp on the mic; and Wu-Tang brought the blast.

    When I last heard them perform live, in 2008 — in the wake of their partly public row over royalties and creative decisions — morale was clearly fraying and their show was erratic. Five years later, and twenty years after Enter the Wu-Tang, the Clan was evidently more closely knit, even if Ghostface still seems reluctant to participate — I don’t think he spat more than four or five verses total — and any Wu-Tang show without a prominent Ghost is a less than optimal one. Good that Meth remains the fabulous entertainer he is, that U-God and GZA (the usual weak links live) performed above average, that Dek remains rock solid, and that the RZA retains his enthusiasm. Also crucial was the crowd, psyched to witness the entire clan on stage for the first time in Denmark, sending much love their way. The interaction, spiked when RZA invited two kids on stage to rock out to “4th Chamber”, was nothing less than wonderful and made for a magical finish to a great festival that I hope we will see return many a time in the future.

    UPDATE: for Danish readers, peep the Rapspot coverage by Svensker-Martin (Ponyblod, Loop Troop, DOOM, Wu-Tang) and Toobs (Marvelous Mosell, Pharoahe Monche, De La Soul, Malk de Koijn), and here are Kenneth Nguyen’s photos.

    OK, here are some links:

  • A major piece of reportage this week was Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian‘s exposure of the NSA XKeystroke surveillance programme. If you didn’t take the time to look at it already, I urge you to do so. Like so much of what the US Government gets up to internationally, this affects us all. Related: John Cassidy and Ben Wizner had useful commentary on the Bradley Manning verdict.
  • Ahmed Akkari interviewed on Danish TV. Akkari was one of the group of Danish Muslim representatives who travelled around the Arab countries in the wake of Jyllands-Posten‘s publication of the infamous Muhammad cartoons, fanning the flames of what was at that point still mostly a local conflict. Since that went down, he’s matured and done some soul searching and now comes forward to denounce his actions in public. Anyone interested in the affair should watch this fascinating interview conducted with reliable acuity by Martin Krasnik. Unfortunately it is in non-captioned Danish. I don’t know whether there’s a transcript out there.
  • The Frankfurt School. Excellent web resource presenting central texts by Frankfurt school thinkers. Great for reference, as well as general edification.
  • Photo: Ghostface Killa by Paw Ager for the Vanguard Festival. More here.

    Tegneserier i Information

    I dag debuterer jeg som tegneserieanmelder i dagbladet Information med en anmeldelse af sommerens danske tegneserier. (Deriblandt Jan Solheim og Henrik Rehrs Insolitus, billede ovenfor). Det er planen at jeg fremover vil varetage broderparten af tegneseriestoffet for avisen, om end filmskribent Christian Monggaard naturligvis fortsat vil bidrage på området ind i mellem. Tak til Christian og til jer der læser!

    Anonymous Venetian

    The drawing reproduced above was sold last week at Sotheby’s London. It fetched £20.000 including the buyer’s premium. Which, if the old attribution to Titian were correct, would be an amazing bargain.

    As I’ve mentioned before, Titian is hard to pin down as a draughtsman because there are so few surviving drawings securely attributable to him. This sheet is definitely in his manner, but doesn’t look like his work to me. The construction of the figure, while daring and impressively conceived, is too incoherent, with the dramatically foreshortened right leg fitting awkwardly on the body — especially the lower leg — and the feet being disporportionately small. Also the outline of the head is a little sloppily put down. A far cry from Titian’s bold, confident strokes.

    But who is it by, then? The most obvious suggestion, and one that has been made repeatedly in the literature is Jacopo Bassano, but as is generally acknowledged, this is not really a satisfying attribution either. Again, the figure is not really of his type — it has a nimble quality too it that is at a distinct remove from his stout characters, and the bodily twist depicted here is unlike his way of posing his figures. And it is too accomplished, too expressively drawn and, again, too different in kind to be by his lesser talented sons.

    I don’t have any great suggestions, but it occurred to me that the drawing might be Paduan, perhaps by Domenico Campagnola (1500-1564). A follower of Titian in his early years, he worked in Padua for most of his life and was instrumental in defining a tradition for landscape drawing derived from Titian that would reverberate for centuries. He is almost exclusively known — and very well defined — as a draughtsman in pen and ink, however, while his chalk drawings are few and far between. In this sense, there is very little to compare with, and the drawing at hand in any case seems beyond his rather pedestrian approach to the figure. But if we think about his early, extremely innovative work in printmaking in the 1510s and of the anatomically somewhat awkward, invariably contorted figures he would populate especially paintings with in the following decade, we have something that may not be totally off the mark.

    A long shot, I know, but something to think about?

    Roskilde 2013 in Retrospect

    Kendrick Lamar by Kenneth Nguyen

    It’s been two weeks now since the Roskilde Festival. Two busy weeks with lots happening. It was another good year, however, not the least for hip hop, with a program focused on coastal innovation, from Kendrick Lamar to El-P and Killer Mike to Mykki Blanco and Azealia Banks. The notable misfire was Rihanna lip synching her way through a boring set Saturday night. Anyway, our coverage at Rapspot can be sampled here, and these are my contributions: Mykki Blanco, Killer Mike and El-P, Linkoban, and Kid Koala as well as my usual rap up commentary, which I’ve just uploaded. All in Danish. I’m sorry.

    Thanks for a great festival, everyone – and props to the graff people who celebrated their 15th anniversary at the festival this year with another great burn on the festival walls.

    See you next year?