Jakob Hoffman's Portrait of an Armless Calligrapher Thomas Schwelcker.


MAASTRICHT, THE NETHERLANDS
 - André Malraux' concept of a "musée imaginaire" inspired me to do some imaginary shopping today at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), building my own "collection imaginaire."

Malraux, French statesman and art theorist, wrote about the "musée imaginaire" in his trilogy The Psychology of Art (1947-1949): "a [virtual] museum without walls in which objects of art are important for their own intrinsic value rather than for their collective underlying meanings." In The Metamorphosis of the Gods (1957) he states that objects placed in museums loose their original geographical, historical and ideological or religious context and become a mere "objet d'art."

This statement applies preeminently to a fascinating Hermes column which drew my attention and which I definitely wanted to have in my worldly shopping bag. It is a so-called Herma: a stone column with the head of Hermes above a plain, squared lower section on which male genitals have been carved at the appropriate height. In ancient Greece these statues had an apotropaic function and were placed as protection at crossings, country borders and in front of temples, porticoes and other public places. Before his role as a protector of merchants and travellers, Hermes was a phallic god, associated with fertility and luck; hence the genitals.



Archaistic Hermes column from the 1st century AD depicting the young Hermes.


Speaking of body parts, my eye was subsequently drawn to a pile of breasts in pale pink bronze, increasing in cup size towards the top, by the surrealist artist Hans Bellmer. His work characterizes itself by an eerie strangeness and a perverse sexuality, his favourite subject being the doll: symbol of childhood, femininity, sexual fantasy and political victimisation at the same time. In Bellmer's work, the repetition and scrambling of body parts is intended to show how the obsessive nature of desire transforms perception of the beloved's body, endlessly replicating it for its own pleasure.

Enough of 3-D body parts, let's move on to the 2-D section. I was struck by a painting depicting an armless calligrapher. Surprisingly enough this foot painter, Thomas Schweicker (1540-1602), was a highly acknowledged calligrapher in his time and many people came to see him in order to buy his works, even Kaiser Maximilian II. Although eccentric, I decided not to buy it. Instead I acquired an intriguing seascape drawing by Leon Spilliaert.

Suffering from insomnia because of a stomach ulcer, Spilliaert conceived his drawings while strolling at night along the quays of Ostende, where he lived. His work is symbolist, expressionist and abstract at the same time, and steeped in mystery and melancholy.

I always wanted to have an Egon Schiele watercolour, so I was about to choose one, but I discovered that I had run out of "monnaie imaginaire;" I had already spent about one million euro.

Next year I'll bring a big bag of yuan; in conjunction with Sotheby's, TEFAF is going to Beijing.