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Van Gogh and the Olive Groves

“Ah, my dear Theo, if you could see the olive trees at this time of year... The old-silver and silver foliage greening up against the blue. And the orangeish ploughed soil. It’s something very different from what one thinks of it in the north – it’s a thing of such delicacy – so refined. It’s like the lopped willows of our Dutch meadows or the oak bushes of our dunes, that’s to say the murmur of an olive grove has something very intimate, immensely old about it. It’s too beautiful for me to dare paint it or be able to form an idea of it.”   “… le murmure d’un verger d’oliviers”. These are the earliest lines we have describing Vincent’s feelings among the olive trees of Provence in Springtime. The scene is set in Arles, 28 April 1889, four months after the dramatic incident at the Yellow House with G., with Gauguin. A keen observer, Vincent instinctively knew how to immerse himself fully in nature. From a willow trunk on a road side he could create a portrait, indeed years before he had written to his brother that one must depict “a pollard willow as though it were a living being, which it actually is”, and that one mustn’t tire of working on it until there truly is “some...

Ulay (1943-2020) / The most unknown among renowned artists

Frank Uwe Laysiepen, the German artist known as Ulay, died on March 2, just a few months before a major retrospective of his work, scheduled for November 2020, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He was born in 1943, in Sollingen, Germany, during World War II, but his personal and artistic journey really began in 1969, in Amsterdam (his adopted city) to which he was drawn by the constructive anarchist Provost movement. From Amsterdam, Ulay’s journey took him to Paris, Rome, Berlin, London, and then widened to include New York, Morocco, India, Nepal, the Middle East, China, Australia, and Patagonia. It ended in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where he married Lena Pislak and resided in the years before his death.   It is now up to us to rediscover his work: polyhedral, beyond category, non-commercial and uncompromisingly radical. Ulay was a pioneer of Polaroid photography and of performative photography, a prominent figure among European Performance Art and Body Art of the 70s, and an early advocate for ecological militancy through art. His work challenged at their root all concepts of stable identity —national, sexual, political. Yet, even among "insiders", he is known almost...

A rediscovery / The unpublished diaries of Jo van Gogh-Bonger

‘Today I begin my diary. I used to laugh at anyone who did it, for I thought it foolish and sentimental […]. For in the routine of daily life there is so little time to reflect, and sometimes days go by when I don’t actually live, but let life happen to me, and that’s terrible. I would think it dreadful to have to say at the end of my life: “I’ve actually lived for nothing, I have achieved nothing great or noble,” and yet I believe that something like that could happen’. Amsterdam, March 26th 1880, Jo Bonger is seventeen years old. This is the first page of her diary, ‘Mijn Dagboek’, to which she will entrust her musings on and off until 1897. For the title page of this first notebook she chose to transcribe two lines from the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ‘To act that each tomorrow/find us farther than today’.  These words would become her motto for the rest of her life.   From the left: Jo Bonger, Diary n. 1 (1880-1881, 20,5 x 16,6 cm), © Van Gogh Museum, Vincent van Gogh Foundation, Amsterdam; Jo Bonger, ca. 1880-1882, Friedrich Carel Hisgen, photograph, © Van Gogh Museum, Vincent van Gogh Foundation, Amsterdam Little known but highly influential: Jo...