Vienna Remembers Lennon, Lamarr, Velázquez

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The Vienna Underground remembers on the screens in its stations the death of John Lennon, shot on Dec. 8, 1980 in New York:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Isn’t the line: “No need for greed or hunger” a wish for Christmas and the New Year we all would share?

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Lamarr the Inventor

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Hedy Lamarr

Some newspapers remembered Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, born in November 1914 at Vienna and most of you know as Hedy Lamarr, who died in 2000 at Casselberry, Florida. In 2014 she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Not because she was “the world’s most beautiful woman” according to Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM. But because of her co-creation of a frequency-hopping system.

After having escaped her Austrian husband, a munitions manufacturer, in 1937, she met Louis B. Mayer at Paris – he was scouting talents in Europe. He hired her and insisted that she change her name to Hedy Lamarr in homage to the silent film star Barbara La Marr who had died in 1926.

Viewing Velázquez

If Hedy Lamarr would have lived about 300 years ago Diego Velázquez might have invited her to be the model for his painting Venus with Mirror or Rokeby Venus (London, The National Gallery) now to be viewed at the Kunsthistorische Museum Vienna.

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Velázquez’s “Rokbey Venus”

Framed by silky cloths, a female nude lies on her bed, turning her back to us. The absence of any decoration or jewelry might show at first glance an intimate set if not for a boyish, winged Amor holding the mirror, and such defines the nude as Venus. Velázquez plays games with us visitors: Amor gets to see Venus differently from us, and Venus does not truly get to see herself in the mirror. We look at her beautiful back, but her true face is hidden from sight: the mirror shows a blurred face. Unlike other famous painters before him, Velázquez does not concentrate long vistas on the face and body of Venus – he prefers the game with the eyes of the visitor.

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This painting is one reason why Édouard Manet called him “Painter of the Painters”, and contemporary painters like Picasso and Francis Bacon (“I fear the reality of Velázquez paintings after having played with them.”) felt inspired by Velázquez.

The exhibition holds 40 original paintings and in addition half a dozen paintings done by his disciples. There is no way but to Vienna if you want to admire Velázquez outside Madrid…still opened until Feb 15, 2015.

The Masters Abound

Do not hesitate to book your flight to Vienna: Alberto Giacometti Pioneer of Modern Age Sorcerer of Sculpture – this wonderful and exciting exhibition is opened until Jan 26, 2015.

Only one day before the doors close to an exhibition of Henri Toulouse Lautrec…and on the other hand the doors just opened for a small exhibition of Tony Conrad (born in 1940 at Concord, NH): Two Degrees of Separation.

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Monument for Nazi deserters.

The monument in memory of Nazi army deserters has been installed in the center of political power. The German artist Olaf Nicolai designed a huge concrete “X” in the middle of the Ballhausplatz : the “X” is the sign of erasement and everybody who now will climb up the stairs to the lying “X” will feel alone: all alone is etched into the concrete. It was not until 2009 the Austrian deserters, among them the famous composer Friedrich Cerha, were fully vindicated…

The decision whether to restitute or not concerning the principal work of Gustav Klimt Beethoven Frieze of 1902 – 2.15 meters high and 31.14 meters long – will be made until March 2015, announced the advisory board a couple of days ago – after experts had examined the causa for over a year…I feel dizzy.

In a different sense I felt dizzy during a concert at the Konzerthaus: Georg Friedrich Haas and his successful “Limited Approximations” of 2010, a concert for six micro-tonally tuned pianos and orchestra: just the thought that six! pianos are placed on stage is tremendous – and reality was even more…a great piece of contemporary music!

I have to announce the death of Ursula Voss, literary manager, wife of late Gert Voss. She died only 5 months later than her husband with whom she had been married for 45 years….

May she rest in peace.

No snow yet in Vienna – but the jingle bells in over ten Christmas-markets remember kids and adults that Holy Night is approaching…

Enjoy Christmas: peaceful, grateful, and may God open our hearts to the poor!

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Gerd-Theo Umberg from 2002 served as a professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts at Frankfurt, becoming vice-president in 2006; since 2010 he has been professor emeritus. Previously he worked 36 years in different German theaters. From 1996 to 2004 he was director of the Staatstheater Darmstadt. He lives in Vienna.