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Whatever became of little Fränzi Fehrmann? - click opera
February 2010
 
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Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 08:29 am
Whatever became of little Fränzi Fehrmann?

Yesterday I let slip en passant that the text on the sleeve of the first Momus EP, The Beast with 3 Backs, contained references to the Moral Tales of Leopardi and the Imaginary Lives of Marcel Schwob. Today I want to flip that sleeve over and look at the man in the picture on the front: the expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, seen here watching dancing peasants in his mountain retreat at Davos.



This photo of an epicene, almost pierrot-like man watching a dancing couple expressed the EP's theme of love triangles and sexual threesomes well, but the image fascinated me for other reasons too. Kirchner is rather Bowie-like here (in fact Bowie is a collector of the work of Die Brücke, the group of painters Kirchner led), but he's also the personification of artist-as-bohemian, something I was very interested in at the age of 25. I like how he's standing, in this photo (I wish I had a better copy), in front of his own paintings. He seems to have asked or paid the peasants to dance just to observe the shapes they make. He stays outside the heteronormative contract they imply, cutting a slightly lonely figure -- a lost, delicate-looking cosmopolitan recovering from a nervous disorder in the Swiss Alps, standing apart from the rooted, earthy couple. He's someone who will reproduce culturally, not biologically.



Kirchner's years of urban bohemianism peaked a few years before, when he moved, with a group of artist friends (Max Pechstein, Erich Heckel) from the cities of Dresden and Leipzig to Berlin, setting up a studio decorated with African and Oceanic wood carvings and exotic fabrics at Körnerstraße 45 in Berlin-Steglitz (not far from Hauptstraße, where David Bowie would live seventy-odd years later), overlooking the S-Bahn tracks. From the photos Kirchner took of the gatherings at Körnerstraße we can see that a lot of naked dancing went on, giving the painters something to sketch and paint. The studio was frequented by a group of little girls aged no more than nine or ten. Fränzi and Marzella are now familiar to us from paintings, drawings, woodblocks; they almost are the face of Die Brücke. Their names are in the titles -- Fränzi is Fränzi Fehrmann, the youngest daughter of a poor working class family of fifteen children. In the 1980s, when my Brücke-reverence was at its peak, my walls were covered with postcards of her.



As Bunny Smedley wrote in the Electric Review at the time of the 2003 Royal Academy Kirchner show, Die Brücke was "one of those all-purpose youth movements dedicated to finding the way to the future, as ever through means including free-ish love, a bit of light substance abuse and a lot of artistic innovation, finished off with a gentle dusting of self-justifying theory. In 2003 we can feel jaded about such things, but there remains every possibility that a century ago they seemed new, exciting and positively engorged with possibility. This is exactly the quality that radiates from many of Kirchner's paintings.



"Kirchner was a bohemian, living the life that fantasy tends to ascribe to artists, but which they so rarely achieve. In Kirchner's social circle, circus performers and prostitutes mingled with intellectuals and cabaret singers, modelling and messing about and having sex with each other in a casual sort of way; the decoration in the group's communal studio was inspired by African tribal art and oddities found in local markets; in the summer, the group decamped to the Moritzburg lakes outside of Dresden where they removed their clothes in order to swim, enjoy the sun or to rediscover the simple and direct sensibilities of happy savages. In short, it all sounds a bit like the way people of my generation always secretly suspect that the 1960s, which we mostly missed, might have been.

"Kirchner, at any rate, seems to have enjoyed it completely — those summer days, the carefree fun and certainly the girls. He drew and painted women endlessly. He painted his girlfriend Dodo, Mimi the exotic dancer, a pair of adolescent sisters named Franzi and Marzella who fell in with his group of friends — painted them clothed or nude, or sometimes a bestockinged or hat-wearing compromise between the two — conveying everything from affectionate camaraderie and aesthetic appreciation to frank lust. The art from this phase of his work is amazing stuff, surging with energy and overflowing with fantastic colour."



Johanna Brade traces Fränzi Fehrmann's life in some detail in the Dictionary of Artists' Models. "The artists were fascinated by the naturalness of the girls' movements and the unconscious eroticism they radiated," she writes. "Further, the angular form of their slender bodies conformed to the primitive art that had had a decisive influence on Die Brücke's Expressionist idiom since around 1909. Fränzi Fehrmann and Marzella were not nice, gentle girls. The pictures often show them with a sceptical, shy look. Their nudity is unposed. This makes them seem, on the one hand, vulnerable and extremely childlike, and, on the other hand, like erotic Lolitas.



"Fehrmann came from a poor background. She was the youngest of 15 children. Her father, Oskar Emil Fehrmann, was a locksmith's hand by trade but worked as a machinist from 1910. Her mother, Alma Lina Clementine Fehrmann, nee Pazi, had a small milliner's shop in Dresden and took her work to fairs to boost the family's income. When Kirchner visited Fehrmann again in Dresden on 12 February 1926, she had two illegitimate children. Kirchner noted in his sketchbook, "Fränzi herself is very sad and gloomy because of her misfortune with the children. Her youthful memories, of Moritzburg etc are the happiest part of her life." An album containing photographs from these early years, which Fehrmann had at that time and which would now be of tremendous documentary value has not been found. In 1931 she married the printer Alfred Fleischer; they divorced in 1948. Two years later, Fehrmann died in Dresden, aged just 49."

16CommentReplyShare

petit_paradis
petit_paradis
erik
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 08:05 am (UTC)
oben im eck

in that secod pic he looks like palais schaumburg era holger hiller


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 08:22 am (UTC)
Re: oben im eck

He really does, doesn't he?



ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 08:35 am (UTC)
she would have survived

the arrival and departure of the nazis, the immolation of the city and ivan's conquering armies. it's perhaps surprising that she lived as long as she did. i suspect she made of stronger stuff than that gentle junkie kirchner... meanwhile the brücke museum is showing off their collection until the beginning of may - including his portrait of Marcella in that stunning striped green shift.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 09:08 am (UTC)
Re: she would have survived

Well, as you probably know, Kirchner shot himself in 1938, terrified that the Nazis (who had branded him "degenerate") would invade Switzerland, and never quite recovered from the traumas of World War I. He lived longer than Franzi (58 years to her 49) but died sooner.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 09:32 am (UTC)
Re: davos doings

yes, his poorly informed decision is one of my favorite cases of mistaken suicide - much like walter benjamin's. i always try to keep those rash fellows in mind when i begin to plot my own demise...


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Re: davos doings

I think the only thing that stops me from going through with it -- when I am being bitten by the black dog -- is the thought that my parents would just be devastated. So I would have to shoot them also, first. And then I have an aunt and uncle - you know - it would be a blood bath.


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33mhz
33mhz
The Queen of Overdub Kisses
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 08:52 am (UTC)

Very nice. I have as my current desktop background this close detail photo from Dresden Street.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)

Professor Mark Currie is extremely sexy.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)

(And obviously I don't intend that in any creepy or stalkerish way.)


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Wed, Apr. 8th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC)

LOOOOOOOOOOOL


ReplyThread Parent
pay_option07
pay_option07
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
quality that radiates

I'm curious of his influence in the northern spheres.


http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/PM.cgi?LM=Gallery&scope=GalleryH&LANG=English&AP=fullImage2&k=MBAM2249

The Seven and Kirchner. Colours and composition more subdued.

http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/expressionism.htm

Can't imagine those Highs and Lows.
Didn't Bowie have an Album "LOW."
It's the perfect territory.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Apr. 7th, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC)

So much I want to say about this post but my brain isn't working right now, so this is scattershot. I will say that one thing that doesn't get mentioned enough in your threads is the artistry of your photo layouts. Not a middling image to be found. I want them all.

I chanced upon this last night -- Artists and models



Sally Mann








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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Wed, Apr. 8th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC)

MOMUS.


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bikerbar
bikerbar
bikerbar
Wed, Apr. 8th, 2009 08:07 am (UTC)

Kirchner is a fascinating figure. Instead of going off to Tahiti like Gauguin, Kirchner, in a sense, created a pacific atoll in his living room in Berlin. The fantasy of the artist and the world he/she creates has an uneasy relationship with the act of selling product. I suppose the fantasy is the product, but if the relationship between Kirchner and his collectors rested on the shared interest in a romanticized freedom of the spirit, as is often the case, it was still the beginning of a sort of "hall of mirrors" schizophrenic uncertainty the artist must bear between the act of creation and the act of selling oneself. Kirchner was a border-line outsider artist then in a sense, and someone working in the same vein today, primitivist modernism, would look purely naive. But often the artist, when trying to explore new terrain, must walk that tightrope between implied genius and outsider "rubbish".

Schiele also toyed with the prepubescent female nude and it got him into pretty hot water in provincial Cesky Krumlov. Its interesting that after WWII, the nude has been pretty much abandoned in the leap into abstraction and conceptual performance. The Holocaust explains that somewhat, and also the position of the body within new media left painting and sculpture in the dust. The Be-In and Actionist ritual built upon the same currents Kirchner and Schiele were examining, and it was also in a similar utopian spirit, albeit in the post-WWII era of lost hope and abandoned dreams. And yet fetishizing the pubsescent female and stirring in (misinterpreted?) Reichian sex-economic orgasm theory only degrades women in the end. Just look at the crazy case of Otto Mühl ... the trick is to get away from power games and build upon a respect for the body and the individual, rather than endlessly repeating the same old colonialist model of conqueror/victim. Can we transcend, or is the dark urge to dominate too deeply entrenched in the human psyche?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Apr. 8th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)

it was still the beginning of a sort of "hall of mirrors" schizophrenic uncertainty the artist must bear between the act of creation and the act of selling oneself. Kirchner was a border-line outsider artist then in a sense

I don't agree with this at all -- compared to Van Gogh (an actual schizophrenic) Kirchner was the epitome of modern self-promotional slickness. He had an alter ego, a fictional French critic named Louis de Marsalle, who popped up several times over the years with (self-)laudatory essays for catalogues and art magazines. When Die Brucke split up, it was over the kind of ego stuff any modern rock band knows only too well: Kirchner thought he was the star in the group, and was taking too much of the credit, particularly in an essay he wrote in 1913. Outsider artists don't do this career machinery stuff.

fetishizing the pubsescent female and stirring in (misinterpreted?) Reichian sex-economic orgasm theory only degrades women in the end

I tend to think that the naked human body is a kind of Rorschach blot; if you look at it and say it's "degrading", it's simply projection. Why should an image of a naked human be inherently degrading? I won't say the Rousseau idea of the noble savage is absent from Kirchner's paintings (and Gauguin is of course a big presence -- I like your idea that K "created a Pacific atoll in his living room"), but I don't think the Noble Savage is a "degrading" idea.

the trick is to get away from power games and build upon a respect for the body and the individual, rather than endlessly repeating the same old colonialist model of conqueror/victim

I think the Noble Savage (or the "knowing child", in another variation) is about respect for the body, and for the other in and for his/her difference. That doesn't mean as an individual, though; a child or someone from another culture cannot avoid being primarily, for us, someone whose identity is quite generic, which is not at all to say bad or limited.

I think Americans have a blindspot about the ways in which group identity can be ennobling -- you tend to think respect can only come through the perception of someone as an individual, and that's actually a way of saying that you only respect people insofar as you can identify with them by projecting American-style social atomism, individualism and relative (notional) isolation onto them. You tend to underestimate your own group identity, too, like people who think only they don't have an accent.

As for respecting the body, how about by drawing it? That seems to me a perfectly reasonable way to respect it, and I don't know why anyone would say that to draw is to degrade.


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bikerbar
bikerbar
bikerbar
Wed, Apr. 8th, 2009 12:00 pm (UTC)

yes I'm an American. We all must be born somewhere. And as was shown clearly in "Century of the Self" Americans have been persuaded by their protectors to think that way. So lets call it social conditioning. You are right though that group-think is generally foreign to the American sensibility, unfortunately. Maybe the financial crisis will foster more intercommunication.

I'm not condemning the use of the nude, or even the exploration of uncomfortable territory like the sexuality of children. By mentioning Muhl I just wanted to point out the link between different types of libertines.

Yes Kirchner was certainly a good careerist and outsiders dont do that. But personally I find the strains of pushing for a career somewhat antagonistic to making art. Maybe I'm just too antisocial ...


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