Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dinner with Wilhelm Lehmbruck

Shortly after the end of World War Two Gunther Grass took a job as a stonemason mostly carving tombstones and restoring the stone facades of public buildings bombed during the war. At one point, however, his boss asked him to carve a copy of a sculpture by Wilhelm Lehmbruck. You know: a forgery (one of three) to be sold on the black market.

He did, though not without some difficulty, especially with the calm yet mobile surface of the torso's back. These had to be reworked, which meant that the stone layer between the shoulder blades had to be evened out, but what had been removed from the surface was gone for good.

Who is enjoying my Lehmbruck today, wondered Grass, the client of an anonymous dealer of yore or, if it has since been resold, a new owner?

' I would give anything to be able to ask Wilhelm Lehmbruck, who took his own life shortly after World War I, to forgive my trespass. I really should use my at times successful method of issuing a "subjunctive" invitation to him, who Lili Krohnert praised as incomparably great, and to the painters Macke and Morgner, who fell in battle at Perthes-les-Hurlus and Langemarck, respectively, to break bread at my imaginary table.

We would fall into a conversation about current events- how enthusiastically we went to war- then only about art. What has happened to it since. How it survives every attempt to ban it, yet once the external restraints are removed has on occasion contracted into a dogma or vanished into the abstract.

We could then laugh at the junk assembled for installations, the fashionable shallowness, the restless videomania, the event-hopping- the beautiful scrap metal, that is, in the overfilled void of the ever contemporary art business.

Then it would be my privilege as host and cook to treat my guests on leave from death to a fine meal: a bouillon of cod heads seasoned with fresh dill, for starters; next, a leg of lamb larded with garlic and sage, lentils simmered in a spicy marjoram sauce; and to top it all off, a fine chevre with walnuts. With brimming glass of aquavit we would toast one another and rail at the world...

After the meal I would surely find an opportunity to thank him, the chance master of my apprenticeship who set the standard by which I learned to fail...'

Peeling the Onion

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