Thursday, September 15, 2011

Terry Southern, 1962: "New Art Museum in Hamburg Blown Up"

Terry Southern, photographed by Stanley Kubrick

A satire written by Terry Southern in 1962 is included in A Brief History of Authoterrorism, a new anthology compiled by Gabriel Levinson and published this month by Antibookclub. Here is an extract from "New Art Museum in Hamburg Blown Up," which originally appeared in Olympia, Maurice Girodias's monthly review from Paris. The magazine survived only through four issues; the rediscovered satire was featured in the premiere number along with writing from J.P. Donleavy and William Burroughs. Southern's acid take on the non-existent neo-Nada artists group is aimed at one of the writer's prime targets: the self-important artist. The full piece can be read at the Paris Review blog.


...Preliminary investigation failed to determine the precise cause of the explosions, although what appeared to be wired detonation devices were found throughout the debris. Museum officials could not be reached for comment, nor, in fact, could their exact identity be immediately determined, though it is presumed that they are in some way connected with the new school of painting in the Lebenhausen, the so-called “neo-Nada” group, whose work was to be exhibited publicly yesterday at the museum opening, after months of intensive advertising. Gallery owners in various parts of the city, as well as artists of other schools, were cautious in their comments as to the merit of the neo-Nada painting, which had never been shown before. “We must wait and see,” was the general attitude.

On a recent visit to Hamburg we had the opportunity to speak with thirty-two-year-old Ernest Badhoff, one of the leading exponents of the new school, shortly following their ill-fated vernissage at the Rheingeld museum. The interview took place in English, and was recorded on tape. A verbatim transcript of the conversation follows:

Q: I find it curious that Hamburg should be experiencing this resurgence of advanced creativity.

Herr Badhoff: Nothing could be more logical. Germany is a nation of philosophers and art, after all, is merely an extension of philosophy—a clever or attractive way of making a philosophic statement. My God, what a sense of realism it has brought! A strange new kind of realism—an almost imaginative realism, you might say.

Q: I see. Well, now about your work—the work of the neo-Nada group—how many are you?

Herr Badhoff: I am not at liberty to divulge that. I can tell you this much, our vernissage featured the work of twelve painters.

Q: You mean the October 1 show at the Rheingeld?

Herr Badhoff: Yes. I had seven paintings in the show, the others about the same. In all, there were eighty-five paintings in the show.

Q: Well, perhaps I’m mistaken, but I was given to understand that your work—the work of your group—has not yet been shown publicly nor, in fact, has it been seen by anyone I’ve been able to meet.

Herr Badhoff: You see, ideally a painting—or any other work of art, for that matter—occurs, both in conception and execution, solely in the mind of the artist. Only persons unsure of their conceptions, and lacking any inner sense of form and color, find it necessary to bring the painting into material existence. Such persons, of course, have no real or noteworthy connection with contemporary art.

Q: I see. Well, now I understand there is an American here who is quite prominent in your group.

Herr Badhoff: That is correct. Jack Dandy he is called—he was here during the war, as a soldier, and deserted from the U.S. Army. As you may know, he is a quadruple amputee, one of very few.

Q: I see. Well, how does he manage to paint with this ... this very serious handicap?

Herr Badhoff: All I can say is he literally throws himself into his canvas.

Q: But you have never actually seen his work, have you?

Herr Badhoff: Again correct. No one has seen his work. We do not show our work, not to anyone.

Q: Now your vernissage at the Rheingeld was spoiled, wasn’t it—by the explosions, I mean. How did that happen?

Herr Badhoff: No, no, that was the vernissage.

Q: The work, the paintings, deliberately destroyed?

Herr Badhoff: No, no, that isn’t the point. You have to see the totality of it. The paintings did not exist at the time of the explosions. Those paintings were done with an oil-based pigment, you understand, tinctured with acid—sulphuric acid, six-percent solution—giving them a physical duration of about seventy-two hours. The paintings were nonexistent before the explosions.

Q: Well, now just what was the point?

Herr Badhoff: The point? What point?

Q: Well, of the whole thing.

Herr Badhoff: Ah yes, that was the point—the “whole thing!” Yes, that was the point precisely!

Q: But at the time you were hanging your pictures for the show, you must have seen some of the other work then.

Herr Badhoff: Ah ha! No, I did not! We did not see each others’ work at that time. Each canvas was covered with a loose drape which had been treated with a seventy-percent acid solution. This drape dissolved in about two hours—by which time we were all out of the building. But—and this might interest you—for perhaps six hours, there were eighty-five marvelous, never-before-seen pictures there on exhibition, in a totally empty museum!

Q: And then ...

Herr Badhoff: Ka-blooie! Nada!

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