Imagine Vividly


English by Anna Günter

The Joshua Tree – An homage to U2 & Anton Corbijn

Exceptionally creative design normally has a great recognition value. This is probably what Alex Steinweiss had in mind when in 1940 he came up with the idea to transform the so far standardized record sleeves to add individuality and color. 31.5 x 31.5 cm. This standard has stayed consistent up to date, but only a few iconic album covers have managed to be immortalized on it and are still engraved in the collective memory. Just think of Andy Warhol’s legendary design for the Velvet Underground’s debut album from 1967. Almost twenty years later I was proudly marching into school with a black-and-white record sleeve. Happily I was showing off my record “The Joshua Tree” by the Irish band U2, released on March 9th 1987. I had bought the album one day prior at the legendary record store “Soundcheck” in Detmold. On the cover of the album is the famous picture by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn. The band is seen standing in a bizarre erosional landscape in the Death Valley, just below Zabriskie Point. These boys try to give the impression that they are taking themselves and life itself way too seriously. It is no surprise that my journey of musical and aesthetical discoveries took off with the rock band’s fifth studio album. Dedicated to Greg Carrol, a friend passed away one year prior, it exemplifies pain, grief, and existential loneliness, which I as an adolescent take a special interest in. With or without you. More or less stumbling through I play the chromatic chords, and the Edge lets me know why I feel so dissatisfied. He masters the arpeggio like no one else and is able to elongate the sounds into infinity. While Bono is singing like mad scratching the limit of his high tones, the guitarist simply skips the decisive third and hereby creates a feeling of utter uncertainty. A good friend once apologized to me, writing that he would like to deploy elephants for me, as U2 did, but he couldn’t. This music, paired with the Dutch’s photographs shapes my acoustic imagery decisively for a long time. Lingering in the backyard with my Walkman, our acacia almost resembles the Joshua Tree on the LP’s back; but up until now I’ve never seen such a tree with my own eyes. If you believe Corbijn they only ever grow in groups. This could now be a nice analogy relating to the band, but I want to finish my note with a friendly look at the cover of “All that you can’t leave behind”. It is an image easy to remember because the band looks so tiny on it. Real people in front of an empty, futuristic background. However, the four Dubliners could never shake off the image established by the Joshua Tree album’s photographs.

Heaven 42
Pink, blue, white, black, orange, and then the shape blurs into a flickering. And yet, everything starts with Martina who swings open the door of the artist’s workshop and hereby provides me with my first glimpse of Detlef’s work. When I meet him a little while later he seems shipwrecked to me. Somebody thrown overboard, and hauled out of the water time and again. The bawdy shoes, and the trousers also oversized, wet hair, never do I see him different. But his anecdotes emit sparks of exaltation, his faith in the good, the strength, and the devotion. “I want to paint the world’s greatest picture, but I don’t know how.”, he writes. Detlef is genuine. Martina once told me I was like Alice in Wonderland, and she is probably right. Detlefand I marvel at the world, and that’s what connects us; but he has his head way higher up in the clouds, and falls much deeper later. Every now and then I smile thinking about our strange first trip to Berlin. Packed withas many paintings as if we were to move a whole household from west to east. Jammed in between portfolios and canvases we are high-spirited and happy. We put up with the same journey back, and it doesn’t bother us that we only sell one painting and three drawings. We talk about Heaven 42, the completely white paper, which opens up the biggest color space of all painted papers. Detlef wants to use this for his book project, or at leastfor his catalogue, or a card, or we’ll see. Maybe we’ll sell something first. A year later I decide to take a job in Basel, to have some security and re-enter the academic world. I watch the people of Basel jump into the Rhine, and despite an aestival atmosphere and mild air, my yearning persists. When I return home Detlef has lost his Ariadne’s thread. Our second summer in Berlin is terrific. Berlin welcomes Detlef with open arms, were side with a company from Stuttgart at Soho House, drink the best coffee in town at the corner of Torstraße, eat with collectors and friends at Pantry, and are being showed through the Reichstag by the editor-in-chief of Das Parlament. We send pictures to Berlin, Potsdam, Stuttgart, and New York. But Detlef is reluctant, he seems uneasy. He doesn’t feel comfortable and returns home. The private finissage at the exhibition’s end turns into a lavish celebration, Detlef is partying exhilarated and cheerful in the thick of it, but not able to hide his anxiousness; I have a premonition that the myth has already killed the hero. A year later the square in front of Hanover’s central station seems too bright and too wide – it intimidates me. On this day, I cannot get hold of Detlef. While I walk towards the entrance I try again. It is my daughter’s birthday. I know the door has been closed when I sit on the train and Martina’s number appears on my phone.

Glowing Icons 

As I enter the kitchen that morning my attention is caught by a whiteparcel. Andreas must have left it here when he picked up the dog earlier.My coffee in one hand I am curious to tear open the packaging. “Mycatechism: Art is the father. Beauty the son. And freedom the spirit.Antwerp, 10 December 1983” is what I can read in golden letters on theblue china plate. Instantly I am teleported to the world’s end, listeningunder the spell of dawn to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Weeping Song”. Some say Jan Fabre’s grandfather, an entomologist, was the one whocoined the phrase of the ‘blue hour’. We already know. The time betweendreaming and waking, or the realm of the unreal, the mystical, and also ofdeath is home to Jan Fabre. Only late do I discover the 90s-art icon’s work.I visit an exhibition in Hanover a few months before the Documenta IX,1992 in Kassel, and see his works with BIC pencils, covering whole walls,made up of densely drawn dashed lines. What attracts me to his drawingsback then is Jan Fabre’s ability to take away a things’ banality. Theshoebox from his childhood covered in dashed lines with BIC pencil, theblue-shaded piece of furniture, is the exhibition’s shrine. Everything istransferred onto another level. Following the exhibition, I start to covervarious objects of daily life in blue lines; even though I don’t really likeblue and the BIC pencil constantly leaks ink and leaves smudges. In 1997there is Fabre’s “Glowing Icons” from his trilogy of the body, preoccupiedwith the eroticism of the flesh. It deals with clothing that has become souniform that it steals the icons’ aura. Without the clothing there are onlypeople left. When Jackie takes off her Dallas-Chanel-costume she is simplythe naked actress Renee Copraij. Five years on and my enthusiasmsuddenly fades. The Belgian art world’s enfant terrible, Dr. Fabre, will cureyou; catapulting cats into air but insisting on not hurting the animals. Iforget Fabre. Very simple. And now Andreas brings this plate from thetriennale in Ostend, and it is this basic unknowability of the world that inthe dim light of dawn makes Jan Fabre’s Œuvre so precious.

The Studio of the Five Senses

Over the years I have witnessed about thirty to forty fashion shows. At approximately the same time that Kenzō Takada is capturing the circus arena on the back of an elephant, and chasing models on horseback wearing transparent uniforms around the scene, I am visiting my first fashion show. At a tender pre-school age, and true to the 70’s spirit, I emerge self-confidently through improvisation. My mother is only distracted for a minute, when she turns her head to see her child on stage, a moment she still remembers vividly today. There she is, her little daughter, surrounded by mannequins, singing lyrics and rhymes she has made up herself, and a little off-key. In thanks the presenter gives her two pajamas. I have difficulties now reconstructing how we get from the suburban boutique’s pajamas to Kenzō Takada’s fashion house in Paris. During the 1980s my mother is working for a company based in Paris, and frequently invites her to the French metropolis. At one event at the Lido my parents probably first encounter creations of the designer, who is so full of mysteries and contradictions. His dramatic appearances, his love for excessive parties and vernissages stand in sharp contrast to his coyness, his friendly reticence and humanitarianism. The first pieces from the KENZO Jungle collection let us children rejoice in ecstasy. From there on my world is focused on Japanese savoir vivre and fashion. It is the mixture of European chic and Asian influences, the unique fabrics, the flowing, and flowery dresses, the box type cut, the blazing colors, the jungle theme and last but not least the ethno-style. Kenzō Takada’s preference for shapes from the realm of botany and animals, combined with the wide cuts are so elaborate, one could think that he had transplanted a Nō-actor complete with his mask into one of the Douanier Henri Rousseau’s paintings. When Kenzō says of himself that he is a romantic spirit, naming his 2004 founded label for living accessories “Gokan Kobo”, the studio of the five senses, then it should be mentioned that he has a unique perception of the invisible. Kenzō Takada has the special gift to bring one or more, in their essence very different things, together. For a short moment, put under a strain like this, it becomes clear what real art is about. And it is exactly this that has its origin embedded into the character of the most contradictory and humanitarian contemporary fashion designer. It is consoling to see that with 2011’s designer duo Carol Lim and Humberto Leon two worthy successors were found.

Fun Fur

How could I forget the world’s most legendary catwalk! In China eight is the luckiest number and the brand FENDI enjoys great popularity. In 2008 the Roman fashion label steeped in tradition uses the Great Wall of China as a catwalk for its models, and the world is amazed. In my mind I am taking out a small eighties blouse from my close and start to look at the double-F-logo. It stands for FUN FUR. Just as fashion world’s probably largest picture book it is one of Karl Lagerfeld’s creations. Since 1965 chief designer for FENDI’s women’s collection, Lagerfeld designs one fairytale after another. On occasion of the brand’s 90th anniversary in 2015 it is his idea to have models wearing evening dresses at Rome’s Trevi Fountain literally walk over water. At times his bags look like tropical birds, then like small monsters, and everywhere fur. For Karl Lagerfeld there is no other option, because creativity is not democratic. This is also the reason why the Romans accept the brand’s decline in the 1980’s, ignoring numerous animal rights activists calling for a boycott due to the continued use of fur. Naomi Campbell is let go of, even though she is wearing fur again, and the label proceeds with traditions. My blouse with logo print is a relic of this time. At my confirmation I wear it casually combined with mud-colors and black, a skirt brindled in a brand-typical manner, and with a broad belt. I must   have   looked   quite   edgy,   because   the   pastor   was   seriously   and obviously shocked. Although I am not very tall I am standing in the last row when the group picture is taken, even behind the boys. In this year’s spring/summer collection, amongst light, flowing, and very feminine styles, one can again find the ZUCCA-print and the iconic stripes on FENDI’s fabrics. Lagerfeld states, hereby quoting a Jewish proverb, that he does not look back, otherwise he would not be capable of constantly reinventing himself. But that’s where he is mistaken; the outer appearance may change but the core essence stays the same. Continuity and loyalty are key. Additionally to fun and coolness, it is Pietro Beccari who since 2012 initiates a return to the company’s history. Nevertheless, it would be more than contemporary to have a floral epic in a FENDI manner without the use of fur, and to add to the label’s core values sustainability and social responsibility. 

An Homage to Friendship

My great-aunt never had her husband pronounced dead. She kept faith until the very end, that one day my grandmother Hermione’s little brother would return to her. In the meantime, she was my grandmother’s best friend and thereby showed herself loyal in just the same manner. To us kids she always seemed a little bit frightening. When she came to visit she would spent time in bed until lunch, and when we ate after school she would usually take a small breakfast with us. Her arms folded strenuously behind her back she would make her rounds through our garden, thereby making it extend to park-size. Hermione joined her after work, and both of them seemed very happy chatting in the big cherry tree’s shadow. In retrospect I remember myself being exhausted almost constantly that summer. The sunlight’s shimmering resembled a painting by Gerhard Richter. My head soaked with sweat and with a scarred knee I never again experienced by grandmother this mild and indulgent. When I now hold my great-aunt Mathilde’s cup in my hands I can still see the leaves cast their shadow on the mighty tree, and I begin to understand that joy is always secretive and a good friendship does not require many words.

“who knows, maybe” – an homage to James Joyce’s Dublin

The whole world has read James Joyce’s Ulysses. But that’s not true. Even years later the picture still works as a trigger: The razor flashing in the morning sun, and I’m up on the tower looking down on Dublin’s bay. I see the grey, loving mother, and the mail boat, which is about to leave the port entrance of Kingstown. But after consulting the Ulysses again, I realize there is no morning sun in which Buck Mulligan’s razor could reflect the rays of sunlight. It is Dublin’s mild air in the morning that Joyce is describing, and it is Mulligan’s umbrageous face clouding my memory of the scene. More than thirty years ago, on a cold and rainy day, I picked out, as so often, and also coincidentally, two precious finds from my parents’ overflowing book shelves: The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde and Ulysses by James Joyce. While I loved the former one, it took me years to get beyond the latter one’s first ten pages. I despised the fat Buck Mulligan, and open blades, like the razor, would henceforth send shivers down one’s spine, cutting deep under the skin, even today – hundred years after the novel’s publication. Joyce famously stated, that he intended to create an image of Dublin, so thorough that it could serve as a model to rebuilt the city in its entirety should it ever vanish from the face of the earth. When in November my daughter asked me whether I would consider spending this year’s pre-Christmas vacation in Dublin, I was astonished. I had never really thought about travelling to the Irish capital. As a matter of fact, this can also be credited to James Joyce. It is not important to reiterate Leopold Bloom’s path through Dublin step for step, but rather experiencing the thoughts on one’s mind while walking. Standing in front of Sweny’s Pharmacy it is certainly not necessary to buy a bar of lemon soap to taste the smell in the air. Since Joyce’s times not much has changed, because the whole world is contained in this novel. And that is why I want to finish my account not high above Dublin – but rather in Merrion Square Park, facing the statue of Oscar Wilde, above all because I feel that the city’s most important things are with me: my daughter Anna and a first edition of Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”.

How it all began – an homage to Gucci

This may sound very dramatic, but my love for the Italian luxury brand Gucci started on a Parisian flea market when I was eleven years old and has not left me ever since. At the market I found 500 francs on the ground, and later on discovered at a gorgeous French woman’s arm the bag with the most famous bamboo handle in the world of fashion. My mother told me about World War I’s leather shortages and how this inspired the handles’ innovation. However, she could not convince me that the money I had found would not suffice to buy the beautiful bag. I cannot recall how much those 500 francs were exchanged for D-Mark at that time, it just wasn’t nearly enough for the bag. From that time on I was infected and devoured every story connected to the Italian fashion house. Naturally this was followed by a coming- of-age phase, which led me to question the consumption of luxurious goods and society itself, trying to justify this before my friends, and even the feeling of guilt caused by the obsession with the blatantly superfluous. Nevertheless, throughout every doubt my passion for excellent craftsmanship, design, seeing, being amazed, and dreaming stayed. When Tom Ford left Gucci this initiated a period of tedium for me, which only ended with Alessandro Michele. And so this may sound like the cacophony of bygone times, but it was indeed a complete unknown needed to awaken the sleeping beauty Guccissima and dissipate the black Prince Saint Laurent’s hegemony. And how marvelously he is doing so! Alessandro Michele, who looks like he just escaped photographer David LaChappelles Last Supper, breathes since 2016 new life and an uncertain future into the Gucci brand. And that is just the way it should be, it is contemporary. We don’t know anything about the future, we just have a vague notion about what’s coming. Michele breaks with traditions, he is constantly looking for new vocabulary in a thriving language, translating terms like “beauty and sexiness” onto another level. Looking back at 2016’s Berlin campaign the attentive spectator realizes that this creates something that has been in contact with the very essence of being. Shaking up conventions, the lack of civic spirit, roughness, brashness, and also revolt, allure, romantic play and more are part of his total artwork. It is unmitigated fashion – and to grasp its meaning comes pretty close to Schiller’s encouragement of seeing for oneself. Now that I have finished writing I realize that I never quite outgrew that eleven-year-old girl on the Parisian flee market who was so amazed. There is a time of innocence and a time of seeing – and only our childhood memory can reconcile these two.

Hermès for Bonwit Teller or homage to the air-hostess

One sleepless night I found myself lost in thought browsing through eBay. I wasn’t expecting anything when I clicked on page three hundred of results for the search term “Hermès”. However, scrolling down the page one curiosity hit my eye. It was only the last word in the article’s title, written in lower case letters and without an accent, the seller had put an emphasis on the bold printed letters of the capitalized “BONWIT TELLER”. The pictures displayed a handbag made out of dark brown calfskin, seemingly in an exceptionally good condition. On the inside the bag revealed an artfully crafted embossing in gold: “Hermès – Bonwit Teller”. The bag was listed for one hundred euros. I am still mystified by my own hesitancy. Without bidding on the bag I fell asleep. But my rest proved to be a short one. One hour later I searched the web for further information. Originally from Germany Paul Bonwit had opened a small boutique in New York in the 1880s, which was soon renown to offer a unique and rather exclusive range of products. Continuing his success Bonwit managed to join the department store Stewart & Co on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street in 1930. The New York Times points out that he played a substantial role in the development of fashion and design, as well as ensuring that European fashion houses like the French “Hermès” were able to reach customers overseas. While doing so Bonwit demanded from them that his company name would be imprinted on the products. Thus I started comparing the photos of the bag on eBay with images of bags of that kind, which I found on the websites of various auction houses. And indeed, it seemed to be true. It was actually an original of the French luxury brand, very similar to the Kelly Bag (Petit Sac Haut à Courroies). Auction prices ranged from 3,000 to 39,000 Euros. Without question: I had to have this bag! But my initial hesitation now came back to haunt me; somebody had already bought this wonderful bag.But now I started to wonder. Who was this seller that had no idea about the true value of the bag he had listed? I looked at his feedback ratings. He had only gotten three yet, and they were all favourable. He had started eBay about a month ago and was selling several more items: a Lufthansa dress for stewardesses from the 70s, a checked miniskirt by Christian Dior, a short fur jacket made from genuine mink bought in the Niddastraße, Frankfurt’s centre for fur trade, a pair of binoculars, and another bag, also from Lufthansa. Looking at the items I was very moved. Was this the estate of a former stewardess, who had accompanied the Lufthansa’s weekly flights from Frankfurt to New York? Back in the 60s and 70s, when flying was still surrounded by an aura of exclusivity, and the stewardess resembled a mannequin, exuding gracefulness and glamour. She was required to have completed thirteen years of school, and had to be able to translate Hemingway from English into German and vice versa, she had knowledge of Russian literature, knew to serve both the Pope and the Shah properly, and was the perfect hostess on board who could fulfil every passenger’s wishes. Their dresses in 1970 were made by the Berlin designer Werner Machnik, and seemed toblend haute couture with uniform, the blue ones for bad weather & the yellow ones for sunny days. One full set was eleven hundred Euro back then. The passenger received “Hermès” products on board to refresh himself and flying was an elegant amenity. Women did not take off their high heels, nor their pearl necklaces, and men wore suits instead of the now common sweats. The flight attendants were by contract supposed to retire at the end of their twenties if they had not already found a husband in the air travel’s dating scene. Maybe this stewardess from Frankfurt, the former owner of the beautiful “Hermès – Bonwit Teller” handbag, had found her love on one of her many flights. Maybe she had not. But most certainly she led a very adventurous life, met interesting people, and saw many different places. And I imagine her walking down Fifth Avenue gracefully and elegantly.