Don DeLillo – Baader-Meinhof, 2002

 

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Gerhard Richter. Dead (Tote) 1988. Oil on Canvas. 62x73cm, MoMA, New York

She knew there was someone else in the room. There was no outright noise, just an intimidation behind her, a faint displacement of air. She’d been alone for a time, seated on a bench in the middle of the gallery with the paintings set around her, a cycle of fifteen canvases, and this is how it felt to her, that she was sitting as a person does in a mortuary chapel, keeping watch over the body of a relative or friend.

This was sometimes called the viewing, she believed.

She was looking at Ulrike now, head and upper body, her neck rope-scorched, although she didn’t know for certain what kind of implement had been used in the hanging.

She heard the other person walk toward the bench, a man’s heavy shuffling stride, and she got up and went to stand before the picture pof Ulrike, one of three related images, Ulrike dead in each, lying on the floor of her cell, head in profile. The canvases varied in size. The woman’s reality, the head, the neck, the rope burn, the hair, the facial features, were painted, picture to picture, in nuances of obscurity and pall, a detail clearer here than there, the slurred mouth in one painting appearing nearly natural elsewhere, all of it unsystematic.

“Why do you think he did it this way?”

She did not turn to look at him.

“So shadowy. No color.”

She said, “I don’t know,” and went to the next set of images, called Man Shot Down. This was Andreas Baader. She thought of him by his full name or surname. She thought of Meinhof, she saw Meinhof as first name only, Ulrike, and the same was the case with Gudrun.

“I’m trying to think what happened to them.”

“They committed suicide. Or the state killed them.”

He said, “The state.” Then he said it again, deep-voiced„ in a tone of melodramatic menace, trying out a line reading that might be more suitable.

She wanted to be annoyed but felt instead a vague chagrin. It wasn’t like her to use this term – the state – in the ironclad context of supreme public power. This was not her vocabulary.

The two paintings of Baader dead in his cell were the same size but addressed the subject somewhat differently, and this is what she did now – she concentrated on the differences, arm, shirt, unknown object at the edge of the frame, the disparity or uncertainty.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I’m only telling you what people believe. It was twenty-five years ago. I don’t know what it was like then, in Germany, with bombings and kidnappings.”

“The made an agreement, don’t you think?”

“Some people believe they were murdered in their cells.”

“A pact. There were terrorists, weren’t they? When they’re not killing other people, they’re killing themselves.” he said. 

She was looking at Andreas Baader, first one painting, then the other, then back again.

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s even worse in a way. It’s so much sadder. There’s so much sadness in these pictures.”

Don DeLillo,1936. Baader-Meinhof, in, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, 2011. First published as Baader-Menhof, in The New Yorker, April 1st 2002

Images: Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Man Shot Down 2 (Erschossener 2), 1988. Oil on Canvas, 100.5 x 140.5 cm

Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Dead (Tote), 1988. Oil on canvas, 62 x 73 cm

© MoMA, New York. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, gift of Philip Johnson, and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (all by exchange); Enid A. Haupt Fund; Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund; and gift of Emily Rauh Pulitzer

The short story describes a series of fifteen paintings entitled, October 18, 1977, by Gerhard Richter, born 1932, now in MoMA, New York. Text from: Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007. The fifteen paintings that compose October 18, 1977 are based on photographs of moments in the lives and deaths of four members of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), a German left-wing terrorist group that perpetrated a number of kidnappings and killings throughout the 1970s. . . . these paintings have a single date as their title. On this date the bodies of three principal RAF members were found in the cells of the German prison where they were incarcerated. Although the deaths were officially deemed suicides, there was widespread suspicion that the prisoners had been murdered by the German state police. Richter based his paintings on newspaper and police photographs; his reworking of these documentary sources is dark, blurred, and diffuse. Richter hopes that, “by way of reporting,” these paintings will “contribute to an appreciation of [our time], to see it as it is.”

 

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Martin Amis – Money, 1984

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Thanks to my shrewd self-projection as a painting-buff, canvas-fancier and general art-artist I have spent a good deal of this turbulent period being exposed to high culture by Martina Twain. Accordingly, I’m in a state of high-culture shock — a panic of bedraggled blankness — as I am led across swirling parquetry, down ulterior corridors, past hidden visions smocked in light. You have to queue, and pay good money, to mingle with vituperative interpreters and flashlight-faced Japanese, balls-talking bumblers, vultures, students, loners, pick-ups, the determined samplers and consumers spun offby the thrashing city. Many of these types, I note, are working class and upwardly mobile, out-of-towners in high-gloss jerkins and biscuit pants-suits. The men are plump clunkers in pastel romper gear, smiling, plodding, nodding. The women are the kind of talking dolls that say Mommee and take a leak if you turn them upside down, their faces cute and beady under rugs of taramasalata and meringue. Heroic consumers, they have a slice of most things, and now they want a slice of this stuff too, this art stuff. They seem to think it’s all there for the taking. Maybe it is. But for me? I’m from the wrong side of the tracks. I’m from the wrong side of the Atlantic. I’m from London, England. I’m pretty well convinced by now that this gear isn’t for me. It’s trying. While others look at art or read books or surrender to serious music, my mind just razzes me about money, Selina, hard-ons, the Fiasco. I’m trying, but that’s trying too. It’s trying, trying.

Me and Martina, we went to all kinds of shows. We went to a constructivist show uptown East somewhere. Twanging maypoles and girder tepees, spastic flexings of concrete and steel, jagged jungle-jims. We went to a modernist show just off the Park. Ripped playing-cards and chess-piece profiles, backgammon battlefields and shards of dice, spoils of trickery, hazardry. I feel obliged to seem enthusiastic about all this but I ran out of bluff and patter long ago and now feign dumbfounded absorption beneath my poker face. Yesterday we went to a show of the classical nude in marble form, it was nice to see some women looking so cool and neutral in the heat. They weren’t quite in the altogether, though, these nudes, having been figleafed by a recent hand. It’s ridiculous, said Martina, the tiny wraps and sprigs they’ve added on. Oh I don’t know, I said: don’t be too hasty — it’s good to leave a little something to the imagination. She didn ‘t agree, in my view, of course, the chicks would have looked even better if they’d added stockings and garter- belts, G-strings and ankle-strapped shoes: but that’s aesthetics for you. Tomorrow we go to the big new show by Monet or Manet or Money or some such guy.

Martin Amis, 1949.     Money, A Suicide Note, 1984.     Published by Jonathan Cape,1984. Image: Penguin Books, Illustrator: Bert Krak.

Amis critiques the self-indulgent money worshipping generation of the capitalist social pornographic landscape of New York in the 1980s through the character of the anti-hero, John Self. Yet, while the value of artistic culture is treated dismissively the term ‘artist’ is used to describe a variety of street, criminal, business and social persona from the general art-artist, money artists, sack, piss, con and bullshit artists, jungle artists, spool artists, lie artists, bad-cheque and bent-plastic artists, TV artists, too-little-too-late artists, sadistic singlet-and-dumbbell artist, haggard handjob artist, chess artist, short-fuse artist, the needing, the hurting artist, the wanting artist, and the body artist. Art is the key neurosis of self obsession ‘… Okay. Actually I’d like to return to the motivation question. It seems to me it’s an idea taken from art, not from life, not from twentieth-century life. Nowadays motivation comes from inside the head, not from outside. It’s neurotic, in other words. And remember that some people, these golden mythomaniacs, these handsome liars — they’re like artists, some of them.’