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.
University of Iowa Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim 1959.6 / © 2009 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / ARS, NY
Have you been over to the Figge Museum yet to see Mural by Jackson Pollock? The masterpiece is currently on display through December 31 as part of the exhibit titled A Legacy for Iowa: Pollock’s Mural and Modern Masterworks from the University of Iowa Museum of Art (which also includes works by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall). I’m not sure if it is the size, the intense strokes of color or just some unnameable aura, but this painting has always had the ability to weaken my knees and completely clear my head (This may explain why the museum always keeps the Eames lounge chairs nearby!). After taking in the painting for a few minutes or so, I suddenly find myself actively easedropping on the other viewers: “Look for cigarette ash!” or “I think it looks like dancing.” or “I read in the Smithsonian that Pollock spelled out his name.” or “I could paint that!” to which I often say in my head “But you didn’t!” Here are several movies related to Pollock and his work:
The University of Iowa’s Mural plays a prominent role in Pollock, a biopic of Jackson Pollock starring Ed Harris–the film includes a very intense scene where Pollock paints Mural in one feverish night before he presents it to famous art collector/patron, Peggy Guggenheim (who offered the painting to the University of Iowa in 1948).
Imagine having something in your possession that is either worth over $100 million or less than $5 and no one can tell you which. Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? tells the story of a woman, Teri Horton, who bought a cheap painting in a thrift shop only to have someone tell her that it could be an unknown work by Jackson Pollock. What intrigued me most about this movie was that upon seeing Teri’s painting, I had a very strong, persistent feeling that it was NOT done by Jackson Pollock despite the evidence presented. I had expected to be easily convinced.
My Kid Could Paint That is a documentary on kid painter Marla Olmstead and the controversy surrounding the authenticity of her paintings. At the heart of this movie is the question: What makes art, Art? the artist? the work? the idea? or the price it will fetch at an auction?