Inscrutable Klee

Readers of this blog will have noticed that I sometimes allude to T.J.Clark’s articles in the LRB. Recently he reviewed the massive Klee exhibition at Tate Modern. I think he is right to stress that it is very hard for us today to recapture what Klee was trying to do, but then that might be a problem for all art. Clark only writes about established figures, and some historical distance is for him a necessity, but it may not be wrong to detect behind his variable methods a lingering whiff of historicism – as Benjamin defined it, the belief that one can recover the truth about the past. No matter when or where it was made, all art only exists in the present, and what time does is make more and more evident how strange great art is. Come to think of it, I really don’t understand what Klee is about, and notions of “playfulness,” “wit” and “charm” are just conventional excuses to cover up that ignorance. I’m talking about his figuration, his little symbolic machines and cute people – although Clark wants to say that history proves they are not so cute. They are neither cute nor not-cute, but completely mysterious and inexplicable. The good ones. Sometimes they’re just cute, and it’s not worth the trouble to recapture why. But the good ones are still alive and bothersome. I could say the same thing about the figures of Philip Guston, Matisse, Picasso, and maybe even Max Beckmann, just to mention some of the undoubted masters of the human image of the last hundred years. Familiarity dulls the strangeness.

Pual Klee, Drawn One 1935

Pual Klee, Drawn One 1935

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