Catalyzing Art in the Community


Lars Hegelund

Lars Hegelund.

An article about what we can to to include art in our lives looking back on the merits of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and Ernest Hemingway. 




Imagine 1923. We are in Paris. On the “Left Bank”. In 27 rue de Fleurus, a studio apartment where two women in their forties seemingly unaware of each other’s presence are going about their daily routines. Gertrude Stein, her unusually big and square body hovering over a well-used typewriter, is finishing up a lecture she is going to give the next week in Oxford undisturbed by loud rattling and banging of pots and pans in the kitchen where Alice B. Toklas, her life-long companion, is preparing tonight’s three course supper. There are modern paintings, or what in those days would be considered cutting edge modern paintings, on every wall in the place, sometimes stacked one above the other. Ernest Hemingway writes in his Paris memoires ‘A Moveable Feast’: “…we had loved the big studio with the great paintings. It was like one of the best rooms in the finest museum except there was a big fireplace and it was warm and comfortable and they gave you good things to eat and tea and natural distilled liqueurs made from plums, yellow plums and wild raspberries.” Cezanne took the lead on those walls but only to be closely followed by Matisse and Picasso. The rear guard being shared by Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Toulouse- Lautrec. In a way Matisse himself created the legendary Gertrude Stein art salons where a whole generation of often expatriate intellectuals and artists would see and get seen, inspire and get inspired, provoke and get provoked. People wanted to come to Stein’s place all the time and at all times to view Matisse’s and Cezanne’s latest works. Stein explains herself: “Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in this way that the Saturday evening salons began.”


It is the Roaring Twenties. On the crumbling foundations of a worn Impressionism  walls of new ideas and ideals are shooting up: ‘Post Impressionism’,’ Cubism’ and ‘Surrealism’ being the bricks and intellectuals like Stein, Huxley and the young Sartre the mortar that ties it all together in words. Words …“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. Barely do we hear her (Gertrude Stein’s) name mentioned and associations to that famous quote pop up causing a slight uneasiness, for what is it all about … “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”? Well, in my view it is about abstraction, it is about repetition and it is about innovation, all three of them being ingredients in this new so-called modernism of paint, steel, ink, fabric, music notes and street barricades threatening to render lifeless every old traditional value. OK, maybe not every value, because Gertrude still had pretty old fashioned ideas about collecting art which she in her rather motherly way would share with the young Hemingway: “You can either buy clothes or buy pictures,” she said. “It’s that simple. No one who is not very rich can do both. Pay no attention to your clothes and no attention to the mode, and buy clothes for comfort and durability, and you will have the clothes and the money to buy pictures.”


Let us for a moment leave Hemingway’s amusing memories (don’t worry, we will need him again to continue our own story) and pay a visit to the kitchen in 27 rue de Fleurus where Alice Toklas, 4’11” and barely able to reach up to her groceries is roaming around in expectance of a dear guest. She writes in her deservedly famous The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book’: “One day when Picasso was to lunch with us I decorated a fish (a Bass) in a way that I thought would amuse him…. A short time before serving I covered the fish with an ordinary mayonnaise and, using a pastry tube, decorated it with a red mayonnaise, not colored with catsup – horror of horrors – but with tomato paste. Then I made a design with sieved hard-boiled eggs, the whites and the yolks apart, with truffles and with finely chopped fines herbes. I was proud of my chef d’oeuvre when it was served and Picasso exclaimed at its beauty. But, said he, should it not rather have been made in honor of Matisse than of me.” Art and fine foods walk hand in hand as did at least symbolically Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.


Following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway let us say good bye to the Paris and to all his now famous author friends: Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Miller and James Joyce and cross the Atlantic Ocean, briefly enjoy some time in Havana, a location that would be pivotal later in his life, and head for ‘the end of the world’, ‘The Southernmost Point’, a small sleepy outpost with dusty streets, wooden shacks and a bunch of conch boats. Hemingway would turn Key West into a world attraction with him and his wife taking up residence in a stylish Spanish Colonial two-story home opposite the lighthouse from where he would soon assume the part of a conductor, conducting an emerging community orchestra of Conchs, cats, film stars, drunkards, intellectuals and great authors. Even I heard about Key West in a reportage brought in the Copenhagen newspaper Politiken in 1983.  Being an architect in Denmark with an affinity for literature I felt a sudden urge to go there right away and at least temporarily be part of the ‘Key West artistic lifestyle’. Not so much because of Ernest Hemingway, he was dead and gone already, but to get an interview with Tennessee Williams who was now the literary king of Key West. Tough luck though, in February 1983 America’s greatest playwright died. I arrived on March first only to get the bad news. A great consolation however was my luncheon with Tennessee’s older sister Rose who not playing with a full deck also wanted to read my palm. Needless to say it all came true.


In the world of chemistry a catalyst is a substance or an agent that speeds up and facilitates a chemical reaction without taking part in or being consumed by the reaction itself. In the great world of art and community both Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris and Ernest Hemingway in Key West were catalysts, and so can we be. But is that not at task for the museums, the opera houses or the great theatres to take care of? Yes, but there are many levels in a society where art and community interacts, not only the official and oftentimes heavily sponsored ones. One may all too easily forget that art is also about something as profane as everyday business and money, the latter being on any artist’s mind at least 12 times a day. For an emerging artist his or her performance is a livelihood as it was for all the big iconic masters. A great part of Michelangelo’s, Shakespeare’s, van Gogh’s and Hemingway’s personal letters is about money and most importantly the lack of it. Big words and pleasing praise don’t do it alone when it comes to nourishing art in our community. We have to be art consumers in more ways than one, not just enjoying. We’ve got to buy it. With that in mind let me finish turning again to a slightly patronizing Madame Stein as she advises her young protégé about a Picasso he has fallen completely in love with: “My dear Ernest, no! He (Picasso) is out of your range. You have to buy the people of your own age – of your own military service group. You’ll know them. You’ll meet them around the quarter. There are always good new serious painters.”










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