Tal R on Marsden Hartley



“A great painting always speaks with two tongues. It says: I’m a flower, and it says: I’m not a flower. His paintings are always like that.” Watch the praised Danish artist Tal R express his appreciation of American painter Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), who has made a painting that he considers “the most ridiculous idea, but also one of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen.”

Tal R considers Hartley’s paintings more relevant than ever: “They’re not about perfection, they’re not about finding yourself, they’re not about a straight road. They’re really like people’s lives – going left and right.” The sense of unfulfillment in Hartley’s paintings attracts him, and is precisely what he believes makes artwork great: “It’s like an arm reaching out for something that you don’t quite get.” Tal R also discusses the ornamented paintings Hartley did during World War I, and how he turned the cruelty of the war into beautiful uniforms: “He creates this kind of colourful mathematics about something that is anything but colourful.” All wars, Tal R continues, have something naïve and childish about them, and a painting such as this can point out this childishness. Finally, Tal R argues that at the end of his life, Hartley doesn’t become a better painter “… he actually becomes worse and worse in a good way.”

Tal R (b. 1967) is a Danish painter and former guest professor at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Born Tal Rosenzweig in Tel Aviv to a Danish mother and Czechoslovakian Jewish father, the family moved to Denmark, where Tal R was raised. The title of the series of paintings featured in the film, ’Habakuk’ (2017), is Tal R and his sister’s nickname for their father. Tal R is widely considered to be one of the main forces in bringing painting back after conceptual art dominated the art scene in the 1990s. His work has been shown internationally, e.g. at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Aarhus, Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin, Camden Arts Centre in London and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark.

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) was an American painter, poet and essayist, who has been hailed as “America’s first great modern painter of the 20th century.” The work of Hartley, who lived most of his life nomadically between Europe and the USA, can be regarded as a bridge between European and American modernism. His first critical success came with an exhibition at the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz’ 291 Gallery in New York in 1909. Financed by Stieglitz, he went to Europe in 1912, spending much of his time in Germany, where he met Franz Mark, Wassily Kandinsky and other members of the innovative group of painters Der Blaue Reiter group with whom he exhibited at the famous Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon in Berlin in 1913. Despite his central position on the art scene of the time, Hartley has largely remained a neglected name in the USA and an unknown figure in Europe, perhaps because of the many-faceted character of his oeuvre, which has made it difficult to place him in the history of art.

Tal R was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in spring 2019 in connection with the retrospective exhibition ‘Marsden Hartley – The Earth is All I Know of Wonder’ at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark. The retrospective is the first major exhibition of his work in Europe since 1960.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken

Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner and Mathias Ussing Seeberg

Edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen

A complete list of works shown in the film can be found in the end credits

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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