Yesterday I dropped by Salon des Amateurs (g) a laid-back bar/club loosely associated with the Duesseldorf K20 Museum. The occasion was a lecture by Oliver Tepel on Mannerism in Pop Culture (g). Tepel is a sort of freelance art critic/art historian who also doubles as a DJ once in a while. He had shoulder-length brown hair and wore a long-sleeved shirt covered by a gauze-thin white sweater, all tucked into his pants. He read a few comments from notes, but most of the lecture consisteed of slides and videos projected from Tepel's Mac onto a wall of the club. The hipster audience was generally quiet and focused — especially when Tepel played glam-rock videos.
Tepel's began by placing Mannerism in its historical context — long held to be an embarrassing and inexplicable footnote to the High Renaissance, but then re-discovered in the early 20th century. Tepel chose Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long Neck as a suitable example: the elision of the classical foreground — middleground — background structure; the odd, unrealistic poses of the subjects, the exaggerated proportions (such as the ludicrously oversized Christ Child); disorienting tricks with perspective and lighting – shown here by the oddly undersized figure in the background and the mysterious, single pillar, which Tepel compared to a factory smokestack. Tepel also played excerpts from this lively discussion of Pontormo. There are as many answers to the question where mannerism came from as there are art historians, but Tepel suggested that the Sack of Rome by Charles V's troops might have played a role, by flooding the city with exotically-clad, dangerous foreigners and by shattering the soothing assumptions of High Renaissance Classicism.
We then leapt rather abruptly into the 20th century, and the "lecture" became disjointed observations interspersed with long music videos played in their entirety. We heard from Elvis, the Beatles (singing "She Loves You" in German), some groovy tracks from the Jefferson Airplane and Tim Buckley, among others. Tepel's thesis was that rock & roll was the Mannerism of contemporary pop culture: clashing colors, hallucinatory experiments with perception, subversion of accepted pop-song conventions, extravagant self-expression, and erosion of accepted gender categories. Modern Mannerism reached its apex in glam rock, which provided a pretext for showing an excerpt of Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine and a Bowie video or two.
As for the lecture, there were interesting ideas scattered about, but it was nowhere near a coherent argument. Presumably Tepel was showing us a work-in-progress; the lecture was free, after all. The unforgettable highlight, though, was Tepel's screening of I'maman, by one 'Jobriath' (no, I'd never heard of him before either). Don't Google anything yet, just watch the video:
This was one of those delightful cross-cultural moments in which you realize that a trivial cast-off piece of flotsam from your own culture has found a loving home somewhere else. Granted, Jobriath doesn't seem to have made much more of a mark in Germany than he did in the U.S., but at least one German hipster thought he was important enough to the history of glam rock to be worth showing an entire video — an honor not accorded to Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper, Roxy Music, or dozens of other potential candidates.
The odd story of Jobriath can be read, in all its sad, twisted glory, here.