If you are a movie buff, the name of the German director Werner Herzog will definitely ring a bell for you. A rather loud bell, and with a strange, very strange sound. I was very intrigued to learn that the Getty Museum acquired his 18-minute video, "Hearsay of the Soul" and put it on display in a darkened gallery next to an exhibition of medieval manuscripts.
My colleague, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, who reviewed this video last week, gave it an understandably glowing review, emphasizing the amazing musical contribution to the video by Ernst Reijseger, a Dutch composer and cellist who frequently collaborates with Herzog on various projects.
Two weeks ago, I attended the opening of the exhibition. Sitting in a dark room and watching this video, based on images of prints and drawings by rather obscure 17th century Dutch artist Hercules Segers, I was less taken by the projected images of barren landscapes than I was enchanted and intrigued by the rich musical score. For me, it was the heart of this video.
All of the above made me want to battle the traffic jam to get to the Getty late afternoon this past Saturday for the panel conversation between Werner Herzog, Ernst Reijseger and the Getty's Education Specialist Peter Tokofsky. The event was completely sold out, but considering Reijseger's impromptu performances throughout the Getty campus in the preceding days, it shouldn't come as any surprise.
At first, conversation was centered on Herzog and his ideas behind the video, but then the focus shifted to the unassuming-in-appearance cellist Ernst Reijseger, who started to play his cello in a way that initially echoed the musical score of the video, and then he took all of us on a trip to another dimension. I swear I did not smoke or drink before going to this event, but when I saw him plant the cello on his knee and strum it like a guitar -all the while singing and wailing -I found myself transported to another dimension completely. The fourth or even fifth dimension? It was hard to say. But I started to worry how I would come back to reality as we know it. As far as I could observe, everyone in the audience was enthralled by this unique, improvised performance during which the musician was walking around the stage and then into the audience like Ellen DeGeneres -all the while squeezing the most disturbingly seductive and guttural sounds out of his cello.
It's very gratifying to see museums supporting such daring artists and their unique visions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. On August 2, The New York Times reported on the case of censorship in Kiev, Ukraine where the director of the museum, Mystetskyi Arsenal, ordered a large mural specially commissioned for an exhibition to be painted over because of provocative content dealing with corrupt clergymen and bureaucrats burning in hell. Does this story ring a bell for us here in LA? You bet. Two years ago, Jeffrey Deitch, director of MOCA, ordered to paint over a controversial mural by Italian artist Blu, which was specially commissioned for the "Art in the Streets" exhibition. Talk about lack of courage. How can you champion street art but at the same time shy away from controversy. You definitely want to check out the current issue of Artillery Magazine, which includes an editor's note commenting on Deitch's departure from MOCA.
Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.