Here is another set of notes Kurt prepared in advance of his With HIdden Noise lecture at UC Davis in 1986, in which he reviews Marcel Duchamp's work within an art historical context--by threes. Context, for Kurt, was essential to the understanding of any work of art; not surprisingly, his Princeton professor art historian Erwin Panofsky developed and taught a three-part method of analysis.
In 1986, Kurt and UC Davis graduate student Tamara Blanken produced a replica of Duchamp's A Bruit Secret (With Hidden Noise) and planned an event at the University of California at Davis during which it would be displayed and Kurt and Tamara would each give a presentation. Kurt generated a set of notes for his talk, which included some slide presentations. Accordingly, this document is adapted from his typewritten notes, and images added corresponding to the slides he displayed. Tamara's account of creating the replica is also available. A transcript and recording of Kurt's lecture is also available.
This excerpt from Kurt's opus A Ball of Twine elucidates the mystical path, a path which intrigued and absorbed him. Exploring Soma (Amanita muscaria), Kurt then follows the mystical path of initiation through rituals and practices spread throughout the world. He concludes with a discussion of Benedictine, and Duchamp's references to it. He quotes and cites sources extensively, demonstrating his well-established habits of academic discipline.
Kurt's lectures at UCLA during 1966 were carefully transcribed as class notes, and luckily have been preserved within his archived material. This particular lecture from October 14, 1966 was lecture 5 in his undergraduate Art 1C class in Art History. And the history of Art History itself is the topic of this lecture.
As was so often the case, Kurt stepped forward to urge the University to assume a leading role in social and cultural transformation, in this case gender bias. He wrote a critique and set of recommendations about Sac State's art history program while Art Department Chair, a portion of which is excerpted here, and sent it to the President of the university. "Gender bias in the discipline of Art History is real, exists and persists on several different levels," he wrote, "and requires the thoughtful attention of peers, academic administrators and students as well as future textbook authors." In the light of issues surrounding gender bias today (2018) Kurt's observations were, as usual, progressive and timely.
As these notes from 1986 amply demonstrate, even after 20-plus years of teaching Kurt continued to make careful preparation for his classes. Though he often made notes in his ever-present blue-lined paper notebooks, in the 1980s he also kept notes by computer.
This particular batch found in his archives--in preparation for his Creative Art and Mythology class 113-D--were printed on perforated, punched paper designed for use in a "daisy-wheel" printer. There's a good deal of solid art history contained within these pages.
"Perhaps we need a radical approach to history now, at this time, to make some sense where other worn-out and irrelevant historical approaches manifestly fail." So Kurt von Meier begins his exploration of the "inter-realm" between painting and sculpture. "The more we begin to challenge our own simple-minded propensity to file away works of art into one or another air-tight category, in practice the more we tend to discover about values and meanings the work might contain." This essay, which appeared in the March, 1968 edition of Art International magazine, was a feature article, as opposed to his regular Letter from Los Angeles.
Here's what the story of Rock & Roll looks like to art historian Kurt von Meier: "The rise of r&r can be seen as reflecting and documenting the growth of an entirely new dimension of artistic expression, wherein the concept of "Art" has once again become integrated into the "Life" of people in the real world." And: "Histories are invented--they can be accurate and, at the same time, as much works of art, as just weak and wishful thinking posing as factual record. The relating of events to arbitrary structures is a forceful reminder of the limitations encountered by mechanistic approaches to the humanities." Using his academic disciplines, Kurt explored the roots of R&R in preparation of writing a book; this material was published in the October, 1969 edition of Art International magazine. Images and links have been added.
Iconoclastic but not malicious or mean-spirited; this is how Kurt describes the ground-breaking Dada-period artist Kurt Schwitters. This lecture delivered at UCLA in 1965 is straight-up art history; for those of you who are interested in the history of Dada and its relationship to art and life in the world of the 1920s, this recording provides a stream of Kurt's observations, understandings and insights. He does this as he describes a series of projected slides, their content, style and context. Picasso, Braque, Moholy Nagy and the cubists also are discussed.
The recording runs about 45 minutes and takes a few moments to load.
As an art historian, Kurt was deeply concerned about censorship, and ways in which a state attempts to enforce morality. In this lecture at UCLA in 1966, assembled from notes, Kurt reviews the issue of obscenity--both past and present--and the attempts by the State of California to prosecute poet Steve Richmond on charges of obscenity for his publication Earth Rose. "The Superior Court," states Kurt, "has indicated that the standard of "customary limits of candor" should be based on a National rather than local level. The establishment of a National standard against which material should be tested is nearly impossible to establish."
Kurt's friend Walter Hopps, museum curator and director, was a particularly close friend of Marcel Duchamp, and Hopps reportedly had been allowed a glimpse of the object hidden inside a ball of twine in Duchamp's Ready-made sculpture, A Bruit Secret - With Hidden Noise. In this paper, presented in the fall of 1986, Kurt indicates that Walter Hopps tipped-off Kurt as to how he could "figure out" what the hidden object was. Kurt's exploration of the secret ultimately resulted in his 350,000-word ebook "A Ball of Twine" but his basic methodology is revealed in this concise and much shorter 9,300-word paper.
Kurt's 1991, 500,000 word masterwork about a sculpture by Marcel Duchamp (edited down to a mere 350,000 words by Clifford Barney) required a life-time of study and three years to write; it was not published (online) until 1997. This document from 1991 presents the preliminary working title of the book (later changed), and in typical fashion examines the words and structure of the proposed title itself. It also anticipates and encourages the concept of hyperlinked books and resources online, of which this website is a current example.
In this short essay written in the early nineteen-eighties, Kurt returns to several of his favorite topics: weaving, architecture and mythology. "On the islands of the Indonesian archipelago the status of weaving within a scale of culturally valued activities is most elevated. Wherever the most ancient forms of weaving--warp ikat techniques--have survived, the art and craft of spinning, dyeing and weaving are accorded paramount respect among all of the visual arts. Weaving is regarded as the principal art form, comparable to calligraphy in Islamic culture, painting in 19th century Europe, TV today.”
The Peace Tower created in 1966 in Los Angeles, the collaboration of over 300 artists opposed to an escalation of the Vietnam war, is the lead subject of Kurt's article from April, 1966 in Art International magazine. "When art is removed from the irrelevant sanctity of the gilt frame, the anaesthetic atmosphere of the academy, or the marble museum's hallowed halls of death, and is set down in the middle of life, it is inevitably more vulnerable to destruction than are all the visual atrocities found so tolerable by the vulgar," states Kurt, and he goes on to explore "the interpenetration of Art and Life."
In 2003 (as Emeritus Professor of Art History during his last year of teaching), Kurt and his students at Sacramento State University created an exhibit of his teaching collection: various artworks, sacred ritual objects, carpets, tapestries and items of curiosity. A CD was created by Michael Azevedo which includes commentary by Kurt about the exhibition and the pieces displayed. The culmination of his teaching career, the exhibition and his commentary recap the remarkable diversity of his interests, his vast body of knowledge and his fascinating life experience. That CD has now been converted to a self-playing movie file on YouTube. Click on the video link above to view it (runs approximately 90 minutes).
Cover illustration by Andy Warhol, LIZ, 1962. All photos courtesy of Sam Parsons, Audio production courtesy of Spider Studios. Photo courtesy of Sam Parsons, CSUS Media Services, All images Copyright 2003, Sam Parsons, CSUS Media Services.
Sadly, this essay seems particularly pertinent today (2017), as the world once again witnesses the rise of nativist, nationalist governments leaning towards totalitarian and authoritarian methods of ruling. He notes, "The totalitarian state is generally absolutist in function, but not necessarily absolutist in theory." Given its style, this essay was written by Kurt in the early 1960s, yet as is customary through all his articles, he propels his own concerns forward amidst his rigorous scholarship.
Kurt was a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Free Press, an alternative newspaper which was published weekly from 1964-1978. This book review by Kurt from 1967, published in the Los Angeles Free Press, reveals the meaningful influence of the work of Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller on Kurt at that time. His criticisms of higher education are forthright; the impacts of Buddhism, G. Spencer Brown's Laws of Form, and leaving UCLA, Los Angeles and the world of art criticism for the bucolic Napa Valley and a professorship at Sacramento State University remained ahead.
In 1982, Kurt curated an exhibit in Sacramento State's Robert Else Gallery of Ikat, weaving of the ancient people of Indonesia. A catalog of the exhibit (collection of Joseph Edmondson and Herbert Solomon) was printed, with an essay by Kurt about the people of Indonesia, their cultural history and the role of ikat in their social and ceremonial life. Examining the "warp" of ancient and modern civilization, Kurt weaves an engaging fabric of his own.
In referring to this book, one writer calls Kurt an "academically over-endowed art historian," no doubt due to Kurt's ability to find the fun in art that's being naughty. In Thomas Rowlandson, Kurt found a soul-mate, and many of the characteristics Kurt ascribes to Rowlandson -- his vitality, sense of humor, his mockery and mirth -- are applicable to Kurt as well. This book was published in large-format, hard cover edition (what we used to call a coffee table book) in 1970 by The Hogarth Guild. Kurt wrote the lengthy introduction and the text accompanying each of its many illustrations. The print run was small, and the book is long out-of-print; accordingly, it's hard to find and sought after by collectors.