Blasts from the Past: 40 Overlooked Masters Who Still Stire our Souls


| Arts Extra Special


Louise Brooks (1906?1985)
Silent film siren Louise Brooks was as scorchingly sexy as any screen goddess who followed, but unlike most of her imitators, she remained her own woman. Brooks spurned the Hollywood star system and made her biggest pictures, Pandora?s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, in Germany. Nor did she worship at her own altar: Instead of burning out on drink and drugs (or fading away on yogurt and yoga), Brooks retired from the screen to write witty and intelligent essays on the film industry. (Book: Lulu in Hollywood, by Louise Brooks; University of Minnesota Press, 2000,)
?Joseph Hart

Joseph Beuys (1921?1986)
If the spirit of Andy Warhol rules the ?cool? side of contemporary art, this German artist still influences the more mystical and mysterious side. Beuys?one of the founders of the German Green Party?fashioned crude, compelling objects from fat, felt, and wax, and performed visceral rituals that often involved living and dead animals. Serious to the point of solemnity (he called the frequent political lectures he gave in the gallery ?social sculpture?), he served as the earthbound conscience of an art world all too prone to camp and hyperintellectuality. (Book: Joseph Beuys: Mapping the Legacy, ed. by Gene Ray; Distributed Art Publishers, 2001) ?Jon Spayde

Maya Deren (1917?1961)
The surreal mysteries that excite and perturb audiences of today?s avant-garde films, from David Lynch?s to Matthew Barney?s, owe their existence to Maya Deren?s pioneering work of the 1940s and 1950s. A Russian immigrant to New York, Deren adapted the techniques of European surrealist film?haunting repetitive rhythms, strange juxtapositions, abrupt discontinuities, mysterious objects that appear and disappear?to create a new American theater of the mind. In so doing, she virtually invented our underground cinema. Plunging even deeper into mystery, she later became a scholar and initiate of voudoun, Haiti?s African-inspired religion. (Video: Maya Deren: Experimental Films; Mystic Fire Video)
?Abbie Jarman

Arrested Development (1992?1996)
At the height of the
gangsta-rap craze and
fast on the heels of the Rodney King riots in 1992, Arrested Development hit the charts with a single called ?Tennessee? that was?of all things?a hip-hop prayer. The band pioneered a funky, southern-folk beat and promoted an upbeat black pride message charged with spirituality. They split up in 1996, but visionary front man Speech (Todd Thomas) is still recording. (CD: The Best of Arrested Development; EMI-Capitol, 1998) ?Joseph Hart

Marie Taglioni (1804?1884) and Fanny Elssler (1810?1884)
One of the principal artistic fault lines of the
19th century was between the ethereal ballerina Taglioni and her archrival, the earthy and sensual Elssler (left). (Their loyal fans came to blows when the two appeared simultaneously in Paris.) Taglioni pioneered the romantic ballet as we know it; she was one of the first dancers on pointe, and the first to wear leotard, tights, and tutu; Elssler was the first to incorporate folk dance into ballet.
The gamine/earth mother contrast was reflected in their lives, too: Taglioni was trained, managed, and dominated by her tyrannical father, who squandered her income and left her penniless. The shrewd Elssler toured America and amassed a fortune. Taglioni suffered a painful divorce; Elssler had several warm love affairs and two children. Popular passion for the divas only increased after they died: Russian fans of Taglioni consumed a sauce made from one of her ballet slippers, and Elssler?s devotees purchased ceramic copies of her hand. (Book: Ballerina: The Art of Women in Classical Ballet, by
Mary Clarke; Princeton Book Co., 1988)
?Joseph Hart

Rabindranath Tagore (1861?1941)
Once as famous as Einstein, with whom he publicly discussed the meaning of life, this Nobel Prize?winning poet, dramatist, novelist, and thinker led a literary renaissance in his native Bengal and presented a modern version of the wisdom of India to the West. Tagore was a shrewd idealist who felt that East and West had much to teach each other on the road to a better world for all; openly admiring elements of British culture, he could still denounce imperialism in ringing words. (Book: Tagore: An Anthology; ed. by Krishna Dutta; St. Martin?s, 1997)
?Jon Spayde

Tina Modotti (1896?1942)
A still life with guitar, bullets, and sickle; an achingly beautiful portrait of a pregnant farmworker holding a child?Modottti?s ostensibly leftist photography captures the sensuous details of real human lives caught up in revolution and fuses the personal with the political in powerful ways. In 1923 she went to Mexico with her lover (and photography mentor) Edward Weston and became friends with artist Frida Kahlo and her circle. A photographer for only seven years, Modotti abandoned her art to serve the Communist Party in Europe. (Book: Tina Modotti: Radical Photographer, by Margaret Hooks; Da Capo, 2000) ?Karen Olson






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