Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 60

A sketch by Tom Hachtman/>
Aquarie Gertrude comes up for another spin around the virtual sun of birthdays this very day today. And a great birthday it is. 2011 is promising a big comeback for Stein — in the California of her youth, of all places. San Francisco is preparing the unusual festivities: two major exhibitions focused on Stein. And for the first time ever in this city, two museums are coordinating their efforts and their programming to present the multiple facets of their topic. At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the focus is on Stein’s personality. “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories” will show Stein in a way she has never yet been shown — through her domestic life, the art of friendship, her celebrity, her survival during the war, and her legacy. Here is how the museum presents this unique project:
“Drawing upon a wealth of rarely seen artistic and archival materials, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories illuminates Stein’s life and pivotal role in art during the 20th century. (…) Through a portrayal of Stein’s contributions in her writings, patronage, and lifestyle, the exhibition provides an intimate look at Stein’s complex relationship to her identity, culture, and history. Seeing Gertrude Stein also explores the ways in which Stein’s life and writings have impressed themselves upon the American artistic imagination and inspired generations of writers, artists, musicians, and performers.” This exhibition will open on May 12 and later to on to the National Portrait Gallery in D.C.
If this isn’t promising, next-door neighbor SFMOMA proposes to present the Stein siblings as major early collectors of modern art, on May 21st: The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde. Similar attempts have been made in the past, in Europe and the States (for example,”Four Americans In Paris” at the MOMA New York, in 1970) and now is the time for them to be reconsidered and reviewed.
SFMOMA announces:
“Co-organized by SFMOMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, this major touring exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculptures reunites the collections of author Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael Stein, and Michael’s wife, Sarah Stein. As American expatriates, the Steins were part of the vibrant cultural life of Paris in the early 20th century, where they hosted prestigious salons and developed close friendships with leading artists of the day, most notably Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, whose works they collected in depth and form the core of this presentation. The exhibition will demonstrate not only the importance of the Steins’ patronage but also how they developed a new international standard of taste for modern art, acquiring works by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Matisse, Francis Picabia, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, among others. Sarah and Michael Stein’s return to Palo Alto, California, in 1935, the same year SFMOMA was founded, was instrumental in the making of the museum’s collection, and SFMOMA’s presentation will underscore Bay Area connections to the Steins.”
To round out the fabulous menu, appetizers will be served in the form of lectures (one series co-organized with UC Berkeley and, yes, yours truly will be part of that), and desserts in multimedia — a Stein opera and a performance piece — will be offered. And if this isn’t exciting yet, a month later, the De Young Museum will offer Picasso, and the San Francisco Center of the Book an exhibition of books and artefacts about … you guessed it.
Happy birthday, Gertrude. You predicted it, didn’t you? “I will be well welcome when I come.”

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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 59

One of the mysteries of Paris Was A Woman: Who is the charming elderly gentleman who looks like Dirk Bogarde in Death In Venice, and who talks with some rather intimate knowledge (and a bit of tender malice) of Gertrude and Alice?
He reports a racy remark Alice made one day when Gertrude was intrigued by the fact that Nathalie Barney, salonnière exceptionelle, got all those women lovers? After all, like Gertrude herself, Barney was in her sixties at the time and still going at full speed…
Samuel M. Steward, who had been a young gay darling of Gertrude and Alice, overheard Alice cracking a joke right out of the book of gay etiquette. Barney, Alice said, was finding the women at the basement of the Galéries Lafayette, in the Ladies room…

I have repeatedly addressed the topic of sexual liberties between Gertrude and Alice (and certain friends) in these columns: see the très naughty Christmas poem Alice wrote to Gertrude in my post 16; or reflections about Alice's roles in Gertrude's life in post 17. In post 15, I introduced my late friend Samuel M. Steward with the stunning roses he tattooed on the back one of his clients and lovers. Now everybody can be introduced to Sam thanks to a biography — a remarkable book about a remarkable man.

Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade, by Justin Spring, is a subtle, brilliant, playful, elegant and compassionate portrait that does full justice to its subject. Spring has saved a huge archive of erotic writings, drawings, photographs and collected materials from the oblivion of an attic and turned his research into a page-turner. There are the ambitions that made the young writer dear to Gertrude Stein (see Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas); the life-long sex obsession that made him dear to Alfred C. Kinsey (for whom Sam became a prime gay informer and sexual performer); his tattoo shops in Chicago and Oakland (with Hells Angels as clients); Steward’s “Stud File” with notes and details on his nearly 1000 lovers; and finally the pornographic stories and novels written under numerous pen names that made him dear to innumerable gay readers because of his undying belief in the joy of sex and his high-risk rebellions against pre-Stonewall American pruderies.

When Sam became my friend and informant for my photobiography of Stein, he was already old, sick and weak, but delighted by any chance to still serve his beloved Gertude and Alice. He was proud of holding out for the 5-hour-marathon of interviews by film maker Greta Schiller for Paris Was A Woman, in 1993, shortly before his death. It slyly amused him that he who had befriended Stein in the thirties and was still alive, was framed by a bouquet of a dozen roses looking over his shoulder at the camera.

P.S. An exhibition from the Samuel Steward Archive will be arranged by Justin Spring this coming March, at the New York Museum of Sex.

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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 58

Paris Was A Woman

If you missed Paris the Luminous Years on PBS and (and missed the snow falling on Gertrude’s Montparnasse in my last Stein post), there is a there there to console you: Paris Was A Woman, the charming (if not always accurate) documentary by Greta Schiller. It is now available on Netflix.

There is no better way to get a good look at Stein through the movies. Yes, the icon of modernism in front of a home movie camera! She and Alice walk in the Luxembourg Gardens. She gets her poodle excited. She even attacks the tomato patch in the garden of the country house — just to disprove herself: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” “Work is something I cannot do.” You hear her voice, the marvelous melody of her rapping on Picasso, and you can decide for yourself if Alice was out of her mind when she met Gertrude for the first time and was blown away by the “contralto” voice that seemed to emanate from the brooch Stein was wearing… “It was unlike anyone else’s voice — deep, full, velvety like a great contralto’s.” Contralto voice coming out of a brooch? Is this an early case of Alice having been involved with a hash brownie? Or simply the violent effect of falling in love?

Live testimony in the film comes from the great Janet Flanner who wrote her regular Paris reports for the New Yorker, and from photographer Gisèle Freund who portrayed all the soon-to-be famous artists who frequented either Stein’s salon in the Rue de Fleurus or Nathalie Barney’s in the Rue Jacob, or both. Nathalie Barney’s housekeeper of 40 years dishes up stories about the “Amazon” of Paris and her guests. Sylvia Beach reminisces at length about the mythic bookstores, her own English-language Shakespeare & Company, and her lover Adrienne Monnier’s French-language La Maison des Amis de Livres. Stein was the first client in Beach’s lending-library-bookstore, faithful until she couldn’t forgive Beach’s obsession with James Joyce. Years later, in an interview, Silvia Beach appears undefeated by the publishing dramas of the past. It’s her friends who disclose the heart-wrenching story: the betrayal by Joyce, who allowed her to ruin herself with the publication of his Ulysses, in 1922, and then jumped ship, not giving her a penny of the $45,000 Random House offered him…

Publishing as we have come to know it. No matter, Paris Was A Woman makes it abundantly clear why creative women at the beginning of the twentieth century chose to be in Paris and no place else.

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New YEAR, New HOME for my blog

Why Do Something If It Can Be Done moves out today into the blogosphere on its own, after having been embedded in http://www.shewrites.com since its conception, in October 2009. It also occasionally appeared on my website news page http://www.renatestendhal.com/news and on Facebook, and will continue to do some or all of these. If you have missed the video on my She Writes page: Here’s Gertrude Stein reading her famous portrait of Picasso, which I love to call her Picasso “rap” — on YouTube
Happy New Year to all present and future Gertrude Stein fans!

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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 57

Gertrude Stein in “Paris the Luminous Years” on PBS
What do Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Janet Flanner, Nathalie Barney, Hemingway, Stravinsky, Chagall, Sylvia Beach, Joyce, Pound, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Sarah Bernhardt, Diego Rivera, Djuna Barnes, Isidora Duncan have in common?
They all gathered in Paris between the first and third decade of the 20th century, the place where “everybody who was anybody” had to be. France, according to Stein, was “that other country that you need to be free in the other country not the country where you really belong…”
Conveniently, to mark the moment, a documentary on PBS (KQED, Dec.27, at 10 pm) brings all of this into focus: “Paris the Luminous Years” by Perry Miller Adato (who got the Directors Guild of America Award in 2003 for her “Georgia O’Keeffe — A Life in Art”) and brilliantly explains why and how, in Stein’s words, “Paris was the place that suited those of us that were to create the twentieth century art and literature, naturally enough. …” Adato explains in thrilling images, memories, interviews the attraction Paris held for foreign artists and intellectuals in every field. She shows the origins of the great creative moment in Western civilization and art that made Paris a lasting myth to the rest of the modern world. “It is because of this element of civilization that Paris has always been the home of all foreign artists,” Stein wrote in Paris France, “they are friendly, the French, they surround you with a civilized atmosphere and they leave you inside of you completely to yourself.” And she goes on: “Foreigners belong in France because they have always been here and did what they had to do there and remained foreigners there. Foreigners should be foreigners and it is nice that foreigners are foreigners and that they inevitably are in Paris in in France.” This explains in Stein’s own words why “Paris was where the twentieth century was.” Perry Miller Adato beautifully fills in the blanks, bringing home Janet Flanner’s notion “Paris Was Yesterday” — just yesterday.

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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 56

Entering fall in high fashion? Dressed in Gertrude Stein from head to toe? Coat, dress, petticoat, handbag and dessous:


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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 55

On our pilgrimage to the sites of Stein’s “mystery” novel, the impression of sadness, the all-pervasive dread of French country life deepened at the Hotel Pernollet. (Here, as the center of the world, on a postcard from the 80s.) Situated in the little town Belley, some 4 miles from Bilignin, the five-generation hotel had its heighday around 1930. Gertrude and Alice discovered it in the Guide des Gourmets and took to it. It did not matter that the owner, Mr. Pernollet, at first took Gertrude for a gypsy (with her flowing skirts and naked feet in sandals) and saw Alice as her maid. The gypsy and her maid had a good laugh about it. Continue reading

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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 54

Our sleuthing began 75 km east of Lyon on an empty country road, between rabbit cages and sad bistros. Whereas nowadays a plaque guides the pilgrims in the village of Bilignin, back then, when I translated Stein’s mystery story, you had to be a good detective to find the house behind its forbidding walls. We found ourselves “at the edge of radical uncertainty,” having to knock at the gate. It so happened that the same family who had owned and rented the house to Gertrude Stein from 1929 to 1943, was still living there. The doors magically opened to us. Continue reading

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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 53

Translating Stein’s murder mystery Blood on the Dining-Room Floor was very much a case of transleaping. I had to leap into a language, German, that gives every noun, article and personal pronoun one of three possible genders: feminine, masculine, neuter. There is no genderless equivalent in German. So what was I to do with Stein’s “everybody”? Continue reading

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Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 52

After the marker of 5O Stein blogs — talking about Stein’s one and only writing block –- did I contract one myself? No, for me, too, writing went on, on another page. Finishing a novel, writing about opera. Stein was writing her detective story during that ominous summer in 1933, when success caught up with her. She was troubled by questions of identity (“I am I because my little dog knows me.”) Some part of her seemed unreachable, dead. It must have been soothing to mirror her inner troubles outside, in the provincial life around her. Lots of shady things right then are happening in her village and the nearby little town Belley with its proud hotel – adultery, betrayal, feuds over money. Continue reading

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