Monday, December 31, 2007

Taxydermic Follies of 2008

The Anatomical Extravaganzas of Frederik Ruysch

Before our era of 3D digital effects, the visualization of marvels was possible only in the fantastic arrangements of magic lanterns. The third dimension was reached with the multi-level dioramas, or with the physical exhibition of dead bodies of different nature, on the edge between reality and fantasy, art and science. If the two-headed babies of the itinerant sideshows are now a nostalgic icon of the pre-horror movies entertainments, such tradition had some illustrious precursors.

Frederik Ruysch (1638-71) had the ability to merge the wonders of the dioramas with the horrors of the anatomic preservation: not just preserving, but deforming infant bodies affected by anomalies in artistic compositions with the science of taxydermy. Pure spectacle. In some way, he was the Ziegfield of his time.

His “preparation” survived mostly in some series of prints. But some jars survives in St.Petersburg, thanks to the Tzar Peter the Great who bought them from the bizarre anatomist.

We know is a weird way to close a year, and the contrast seem striking with the gentle postcards of last week. But no novelties or wonder is such without the unexpected surprise and the excitation of our primal feeling. Happy new year.

Frederik Ruysch 1

Frederik Ruysch 2

Frederik Ruysch 3

Frederik Ruysch 4

Frederik Ruysch 5

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Season's Greetings

Struggling to compose a gallery for our most conventional Season's greetings, we stumbled into this collection from the London Transport Museum.

It is a series of cardboard signs from the 50s, instigating londoners to use subways and buses to reach the cornucopia of circuses and pantomimes then availables in theatres and halls.

Have a Nice Christmas

Raffaele De Ritis

Happy Holidays 1

Happy Holidays 2

Happy Holidays 3

Happy Holidays 4

Happy HolIdays 5

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Polish Poster Freakery

The 70s were the glory years for the State Circuses in the Soviet countries. Circus in Poland was run by ZPR, a central organization ruling a school, five large big tops around the country and thousands of performers in the world. My circus childhood is scattered by exceptional Polish tumblers, jugglers, animal trainers that after winning awards in Monte Carlo or spending seasons in Usa with Ringling bros., went often to work in Italian circuses.
Today, as for all those "State" circuses, the glorious Polish circus is little more than a memory (several good private-owned circuses exixts there). But it left an unique trace behind: the treasure of their posters. By 1962, ZPR asked to painters and illustrators to produce posters for their shows. What is amazing is that, opposite to any other circus tradition on the planet, the advertising didn't displayed the circus name or some appealing quote: just the word "Cirk". Some of those posters are today in art museums, and high priced for serious collectors. In the black-and-white communist towns and villages, those imaginative artists attracted the audience under those anonymous big tops with unparalled and imaginative graphics, with a surrealism and an hirony that must be always intrinsecal to the circus. Instead of promising, they was suggesting: inventing, deforming, emphasizing, reducing, mixing-up the animal and human dynamism, generating unexisting creatures. Evocating and provocating with monstruosities, just as we like.

Polish Burlesque 6

Polish Deformities 5

Polish Perplexity 4

Polish Anomalies 3

Polish Freaks 2

Polish gallery 1

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday gallery: Superlative Suggestions

Posters from the Golden Era of Theatrical Hypnosis

Few fields in the human knowledge and amazement are so suitable for stage as is hypnotism. His blend of mistery and humour, "instruction" and comedy, laughs and mysticism made it one of the most popular features of the fair tradition and of the vaudeville era.

Any performer with a minimum of stage charisma, without singing or acrobatic abilities, could turn himself into a professor of psycology or a sorcerer of somnolency. They baffled science.
Out of the theatre, once at home, endless booklets filled libraries or mail boxes tring to theach "how to" hypnotize.

Later, space-age
popular culture propelled the mitology behind this modern science from the rasputinian mesmerizers to the abducting aliens, up to the tv screens, without diminishing his power.

Ridiculizing each other is probably one of the hidden desires of this umanity, and we give to the mystic on stage the right to officiate those humiliation for an evening of innocent entertainment.
Hypnotism remains today an entertainment form for cruise ships, tv show or corporate events. Even with peculiar exponents, it rarely preserves the limelight fascination and the imposing imposture of the vaudeville scientists, dime-show decorated ministers or mesmeric masters.

Hypnotic posters 1

Hypnotic posters 2

Hypnotic posters 3

Hypnotic posters 4

Hypnotic posters 5

Hypnotic posters 6

Hypnotic posters 7

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Extraordinary Exhibitions

Forgotten feticisms, a New York Times art reporter and Cinquevalli unexpectedly materialized.

Soon or later the priest of peculiar performers’ paraphernalia preservation had to land on our blog. And we have no doubt that each one of our visitors is more than instructed on who is Ricky Jay. And that most of them know about each one of his literary feats, including the last, “Extraordinary Exhibitions”, that is also an exhibition in itself.

Recently displayed at Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the show stimulated art critic Michael Kimmelmann at New York Times, who confirmed our feticist fascination for the handbills and their legitimation as part of the art family.

He writes: “ handbills must have been appreciated, or else they landed by mistake in a pile on someone’s desk or inside someone’s library, as bookmarks, avoiding leaky roofs, small children with soiled hands and generations of tidy owners, to transmute into prized artifacts that passed to the antiquarian market, from which Mr. Jay, a century or two or three after they were printed, acquired them”.

The reporter continues: “art works that way. It can turn up, unexpectedly, and once you see it, you can’t imagine how you missed it in the first place. The art is there in the worn, throwaway sheets, dog-eared or tattooed with the rusty imprints of paper clips(...). Art is also about what’s inexplicable and out of the ordinary. Painting is the world’s oldest conjuring act, colored dirt smeared on a flat surface to create an illusion. We may know it’s not real, but we still enjoy seeing how the magic is done”. To finish: “life was just as rich and perverse centuries ago, and people delighted in the bizarre and subversive, just as we do. It’s history that sanitizes the past, makes order out of chaos”.

One of the extraordinary performers displayed in Mr.Jay’s playbills announces german juggler Paul Cinquevalli. Who is likely the only of them whose extraordinary exhibition survived the sanitized past: crossing the path of the cinematographer, he was able to leave us a microscopic trace of his feats. This doesn’t have the allusive and enigmatic fascination of the playbills, but at least guarantees us for few second the magnetic amazement of a forever gone live performance. So, please, come forward and appreciate it by the words of Mr.Jay himself: “Paul Cinquevalli was unquestionably the most famous juggler of his day. And on the first Royal Command Variety Show in 1912, he appeared before King George and Queen Mary on a bill with the most famous vaudeville artists in the world.

This is an unusual broadside because of the distinctive type being placed on the diagonal instead of a more traditional format. It calls Paul Cinquevalli ‘The King of the Cannonball,’ and he did a number of stunts in which he caught cannonballs with his neck and balanced them in various poses.

But perhaps he was more famous still for being called ‘The Human Billiard Table.’ In a tight-fitting costume, he had a number of pockets placed in specific pouches and he was able to roll balls across his neck and shoulders making them land in the pockets of his choice.

He was so famous at this time that it was said that his name and fame as a juggler is a household world throughout the universe …

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sunday Gallery: Big top Barbarellas

Dolce vita pin-ups and spaghetti circus

In the postwar Italy, the Vatican influence was balanced by different entertainments: the the “avanspettacolo” burlesque revues; the innocent sexy movies; or illustrated pulp adult fairy tales .

This atmosphere rooted some of the world’s greatest movie poster illustrators, as Marcello Colizzi and Renato Casaro, later celebrated for materializing spaghetti-western and Hollywood classics. Those artists celebrated female body in a graphic burlesque school, that soon landed under the big top.

In the early 70s, erotic pulp was spreading from newsstands windows and cinema marquees. So, italian circus impresarios left behind clown portraits, candid horses and smiling majorettes.
On the exemple of the movies, the sawdust posters got spicy: roaring wild beasts merged with space-age whip-equipped virgins ; the italian imagery of the circus became symbolized by audacious jungle amazon women; stretched giant legs were absurdly surrounded by skating penguins, and indian squaws promenaded on elephants.

The style soon propagated overall Europe, with a banal plagiarism still poorly emulated today.

Our collection benefits of some of those erotica extravaganzas designed by Colizzi and Casaro (later famous for glorify Rambo, Conan or James Bond).

So, we celebrates today the golden era of the spicy sawdust spaghetti circus dreams.

Sexy Spaghetti circus 1

Sexy Spaghetti circus 2

Sexy Spaghetti circus 3

Sexy Spaghetti circus 4

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