There is something about the season of Autumn that makes me want to climb into a cave and paint pictures, you know? Maybe I’m feeling some ancient human safety feature that is trying to get me settled in a warm place before winter arrives. Or maybe I just think hermits and bats are cool. Most likely it is because I have seen the magical documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Humanity’s Lost Masterpiece, a Film by Werner Herzog on the fascinating Chauvet Cave paintings.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the perfect mix of history, science and art that leaves the viewer feeling an intense awareness of humanity and our connections through time. The Chauvet Cave paintings were discovered in southern France in 1994 and many are believed to have been created over 30,000 years ago. Due to the conservation problems facing the nearby Lascaux cave paintings, the Chauvet caves have been locked down with authorities only giving very limited access to scientists and art historians. Herzog shot the film with only a 4-person crew who had to use all their equipment while standing single-file on the limited, narrow walkways and with very small allotments of time. Although this prevented any grandiose, unobstructed scenes or any carefully angled close-up shots, the moving shadows and uneven light give the paintings an unnerving movement similar to what we can imagine they would look like when lit by a torch thousands of years ago.
Surprisingly, the ancient paintings are not the only fascinating subjects of Herzog’s documentary. He also features many of the cave scientists and their varied research projects related to Chauvet. For example, by studying the animals portrayed in the cave paintings, a group of scientists now believe that the ancestors to modern lions did not have manes. The scientists themselves range from former circus performers to a perfume designer who actually SNIFFS OUT CAVES! Herzog manages to celebrate the modern technology used in the cave projects without losing the ancient hum surrounding Chauvet.
I highly recommend this film to anyone interested in documentaries about the humanities or those who like films that leave them feeling a little mysterious and a little bit magical afterwards.
With the recent record-breaking amount paid for a single painting – a portrait by Pablo Picasso painted during a single day in March 1932 – which sold for a staggering $106.5 million in early May in New York, it reminded me of one of my favorite books on the artist, Life with Picasso, written by Francoise Gilot. Gilot, who lived with Pablo Picasso for nearly a decade, is the mother of two of his children, Paloma (the fashion and jewelry designer) and Claude and she continues to have a successful art career.
Gilot initially published this memoir of their life together, which spans the years 1944 until 1953, in 1964 after their relationship ended. The two met in Paris during World War II when she was a 21 year old art student and he was 62 years old and was already a world famous artist. Gilot found inspiration working next to Picasso while creating her own artwork. The book is a fascinating read into the process of how Picasso created his paintings, sculptures and prints as well as how he dealt with those who were around him and part of his inner circle.
This is highly recommended not only for fans of the artist but for those who enjoy a glimpse into the biography of an legendary and talented individual told from the viewpoint of someone who was living her life next to his for many years.
Last summer, while walking home from the University of Iowa Main Library very late in the evening, I came to a stop in front of a large truck parked in front of the Museum of Art. I stood and watched as workers and museum guards struggled to manuever a very large crate into the building–a crate that looked to be the exact size of Pollock’s Mural.. The flood was coming and the museum staff was frantically trying to get the entire university’s collection to safety. This meant not only removing the artwork from flood danger, but also going forth with a complex evacuation plan that involved secretly moving the artwork out in the middle of the night and transferring it to a secure location. Working around the clock, it still took about four days to save the Museum’s artwork (now on display at the Figge Art Museum).
In Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces, Robert Clark tells the story of the devastating flood that hit Florence, Italy on November 4, 1966. With almost no warning, the Arno River rose into the city in the early morning hours–giving the Florentines no time to save their families, their homes nor their city full of art. As soon as photos of the destruction began to surface, volunteers from around the world (nicknamed “mud angels”) rushed to Italy to help save the priceless paintings, manuscripts and architecture from the deluge of water and mud. Clark does an amazing job describing the incredible efforts to save the treasures of Florence, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, but also the lack of attention given to the actual people affected by the flood. While the world pumped money into conservation efforts, the Florentines spent weeks without food, water, and electricity bringing to light difficult ethical questions of history vs. present vs. posterity.
As one of the most enjoyable nonfiction books I have ever read, I found Dark Water both fascinating and emotional with a great combination of art, history and personal stories to which we in flood country can sympathize. This is a must read for all those who enjoy art or have ever visited the amazing city of Florence.
Those who are interested might also went to watch Restoration of Books, Florence 1968, a 40 min. documentary currently viewable online from the University of Utah.