The condition of Paris as the main artistic capital from the end of the 19th to the mid-20th century caused it to attract an expressive contingent of foreign artists, and among those, dozens of Brazilian artists who were attracted by what was seen as the world capital of arts. They encountered, however, an extremely competitive universe, in which national origins were important components to recognition.
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“Respectfully submitted for your perusal—a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown.” So begins Rod Serling’s characteristically clipped voice-over narration near the beginning of “To Serve Man,” a 1962 episode of the cannily uncanny half-hour television series The Twilight Zone, in which one such Kanamit arrives in his spaceship in New York City and soon afterward appears before the Security Council of the United Nations. There the hyperintelligent giant, speaking perfect English (though without moving his lips) offers Earthlings freedom from war, hunger, and disease—problems that the Kanamits themselves, he says, long ago overcame.
vivam, parsque mei multa superstes erit
Gertrude Stein’s collection of major artworks by the most famous modernists of her time (hence degenerate in the eyes of the Nazi occupiers), coupled with its owner being a Jew made it a leading candidate for “aryanization,” meaning theft, the destiny of art collections in all the countries where the Nazis operated during World War II, as Hector Feliciano details in The Lost Museum. Small wonder that Katherine Dudley, Stein’s neighbor and friend, would call it a miracle that Stein’s collection, left behind in Paris when its owner moved to Bilignin in the Free Zone, survived. There, Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas were not in danger of arrest thanks to their American passports—not, at least, until the Nazis had occupied the Free Zone and sacked the American Embassy in Vichy—and they were probably saved from internment after that event thanks to their friend Bernard Faÿ, one of Stein’s French translators, who headed the Bibliothèque Nationale during the Occupation years.
In the final room of Thick Time, the William Kentridge show recently on at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, viewers encountered yet another of the installation environments those familiar with the South African artist’s work have come to expect from this fascinating—mercurial, polymath—contemporary global art-maker. We imagine we are in a room in a villa near the sea. On one wall, a demagogue gesticulates in vintage newsreel footage, addressing an audience in French (apparently an international gathering of socialists), while disappearing slowly from view as water rises to obscure all but the English subtitles.