Artist commissions the creation of a life-sized doll of his ex then beheads it, 1918
11:22 am

Artist Oskar Kokoschka and his muse Alma Mahler.
The work of Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka was hugely influential in the world of Expressionism. Fiercely opposed to the Nazis, Kokoschka also produced work for the visual art collective Wiener Werkst├Ątte as well as other designs and stage productions for the Art Nouveau-themed Cabaret Fledermaus. His ability to infuse a sense of dread and trepidation into his paintings and other creations would end up earning him the moniker of “Chief Savage.” Nearly entirely self-taught, Kokoschka did attend the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts), though he almost didn’t graduate. Luckily architect Adolf Loos became aware of Kokoschka’s work and helped to further develop the artist’s proficiency for painting. In 1909 at the age of 23, Kokoschka would paint Loos and the finished product has been noted as one of his greatest works of portraiture. As important as Kokoschka’s contributions to Expressionism are, it would be his torrid love affair with Alma Mahler which led to the production of some of his most contentious work, as well as an emotional meltdown of epic proportions.

Kokoschka began his relationship with Mahler (the widow of composer Gustav Mahler) in 1912. Kokoschka was completely enamored with Mahler, and he spent every moment with her. He drew and painted her image to the point of obsession for the three short years they spent together becoming his primary, if not solitary, muse. As you might imagine, things got a bit too heavy for Mahler and she left the possessive artist. The breakup sent Kokoschka into a dire downward spiral during which he enlisted as an Austrian cavalryman in WWI in 1915. During his time in the military, he was critically injured after taking a bullet to the head and suffering the effects of shell shock—sending him off to recover in a hospital in Dresden on at least two occasions. During his second stay in Dresden, his doctors found Kokoschka to be exhibiting signs of “mental instability” and would keep him around for a few years until they were sure he had fully recovered.

“The bride of the wind” a self-portrait by Oskar Kokoschka with his love and muse Alma Mahler in 1913. 
Once he received a clean bill of health, Kokoschka returned to Austria in 1918 and commissioned the services of Hermine Moos, a German dollmaker and artist, requesting she make a life-sized doll in the image of his ex-girlfriend, Alma Mahler. During their working relationship, Kokoschka would deluge Moos with excruciatingly detailed letters regarding his various “requirements” for the doll. Here’s one Kokoschka sent to Moos dated August 20th, 1918 which will help further illuminate the artist’s fixation with Mahler. You might want to take a seat for this one:

Yesterday I sent a life-size drawing of my beloved, and I ask you to copy this most carefully and to transform it into reality. Pay special attention to the dimensions of the head and neck, to the ribcage, the rump, and the limbs. And take to heart the contours of the body, e.g., the line of the neck to the back, the curve of the belly. Please permit my sense of touch to take pleasure in those places where layers of fat or muscle suddenly give way to a sinewy covering of skin. For the first layer (inside), please use fine, curly horsehair; you must buy an old sofa or something similar; have the horsehair disinfected. Then, over that, a layer of pouches stuffed with down, cottonwool for the seat and breasts. The point of all this for me is an experience which I must be able to embrace!”

In another disturbing letter to Moos dated December 20, 1918, Kokoschka feverishly inquired if the doll’s mouth would be able to be “opened” and if so, would there be “teeth and a tongue inside.” Once the doll finally arrived, things got decidedly more bizarre. Kokoschka enlisted the help of his servants to spread rumors that the doll version of Mahler was a real woman. He would ride around with her in his carriage and brought her to the opera. And like the real Mahler, he painted her picture over and over again—perhaps 80 times. While the doll did a good job at being a compliant subject and companion, it was no substitute for the real thing. Eventually, Kokoschka realized he was finally over Mahler and threw a party to celebrate the occasion. One of Kokoschka’s servants dressed the doll up in her best party clothes and perched her on a chair in the midst of the revelers. According to Kokoschka, he was pretty loaded, and as he and his fellow drunks watched the sunrise he decided to drag the doll out into his garden, pour a bottle of red wine over it, and chop off its head with an axe. No big deal.

Kokoschka left the decapitated doll in his yard and went to bed to sleep things off. Early the next morning a police officer happened to catch a glance of what he believed to be the headless, bloody body of a nude woman in Kokoschka’s yard. He called for backup and the cops busted through his front door fully expecting to find a crime scene. At this point, you might be thinking this is how Kokoschka ended up with a one-way ticket to the loony bin—but nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to marrying a real girl, he would continue to paint and exhibit his work in museums all over the world, such as the MFA in Boston in 1948, and MoMA in New York in 1949. After a long, prosperous career, Kokoschka passed away at the age of 94 in the Swiss municipality of Montreux. Lastly, if you’re wondering if this might be the first recorded instance of someone acquiring a made-to-order sex doll, it isn’t. If my research is correct, the first dolls used for sex were apparently made by Dutch sailors during the 1700s. The dolls—which were made from leather—were called “dama de viaje” or “travel lady.” And now you know!

The images that follow are NSFW.


More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb
11:22 am
‘Art is a means of feeling our way forwards’: Oskar Kokoschka’s letter to a prisoner of war

The artist, poet and playwright, Oskar Kokoschka sent the following letter to a young German prisoner of war, in 1946. In it he advised him to be warmed by love ‘the sight of our neighbor, other people, a foreign nation, another race,’ in which the ‘embrace of love will illumine the choice, form and shape of a new order of humanity.’ Kokoschka understood the young man’s trauma, having himself served as a Dragoon in the Imperial Austrian army, during the First World War, where he slithered in trenches through ‘bottomless mud,’ until he was seriously wounded and considered too mentally unstable to fight - the twisted logic of this was not lost on Kokoschka. Later, he was the focus of hatred and bigotry, when his art was deemed ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis. It forced Kokoschka to flee Austria for Prague, before then moving to Ullapool in Scotland, where he remained for the duration of the Second World War.

In this letter, Kokoschka expounds his belief in the importance of art and the artist that could show the ‘way up from subjection of blind obedience to human freedom.’

To a German Prisoner-of-War (Fritz Shahlecker)

[London,] 4 July 1946

A close friend showed me the drawings you made in the camp in England. He told me of your prospects of soon regaining your freedom and returning home to T├╝bingen. Like many of your fellow-Germans, you were abused in your early youth by a criminal demagogy and thrown into a war of aggression, during which the authority of human precepts was thoroughly and totally suspended, and which appears even now to threaten the future validity of those same precepts.

As an older man, I am in a position to make comparisons which shed light on the changes that have taken place in the moral sphere. That gives me a right to offer a younger man some advice that may come in useful when you are home again. After every great disappointment - in your case, when one has been the victim of a betrayal - one’s insight is clouded, because one is always overcome by weariness at the same time. The tendency to feel sorry for oneself is only a natural consequence of that weariness. You are honest in your drawings, but it seems to me that you tend towards the idealized view which comes from being in the center of a world that one is trying to rebuild. In your drawings you are trying to give shape to a new world with artistic expressive media available to you, after the reduction of your old world to ruins. You want it to be a human world, in contrast to the physical, materialistic world where naked force ruled, and in my view that is the hopeful and promising aspect of your experiment.

But the advice I would like to give you, however great your present need and poverty may be, is this: stop surrendering to a tendency to study yourself alone and to forget that a sentimental outlook is just as sure to lead to waste and failure as the entire order that is collapsing before our eyes today. That order sprang from individual egoism, and was helped to ripen by nationalistic narrowmindedness. Humanism was believed dispensable. This materialistic attitude found its complete embodiment in Fascism. Bear in mind that your personal need and poverty, both physical and spiritual, are nevertheless infinitesimal compared to the need and poverty of the children abandoned to savagery in today’s world. If your heart turns in hope to the work of rebuilding, because you are young and want to do good, you must help to make a better world for these children. You saw for yourself that what was achieved by the sword came to nothing in the end, therefore take up your pencil in the hope of doing better. You do not succeed in expressing anything about the pain throbbing in mankind today, because you are not yet able to give shape to genuine emotions. It will be like that for as long as you idealize yourself as a man of sorrows, instead of looking for the redeemer in every innocent child. The child can truly be the redeemer, if we can genuinely believe in the possibility of a better world. Sentimentality does not help us to discover new worlds, it makes us cling to the past in fascination. The new world can only be given shape if we love our neighbor. If we are warmed by love, the sight of our neighbor, other people, a foreign nation, another race, will enable us to shape a new image of the world, in the contemplation of which the isolation of the individual and his nameless torment in a ruined world will give way to the splendor in which the embrace of love will illumine the choice, form and shape of a new order of humanity. All art, that of the great epochs as well as that of primitive cultures, that of colored races as well as our own folk art, is rooted in this soil, in which the moral man has vanquished dust, decay and force. Man overthrows the dictates of physical laws and the dominion of blind elements, and by that means fights his way up from subjection of blind obedience to human freedom.

Art is a means of feeling our way forwards in the moral sphere, and it is neither a luxury of the rich nor the rigid formalism that comes out of the theories of the academies. The modern art of the present time also tends towards arid formalism. Art is like grass sprouting from the frozen earth at the end of winter, like growing corn, and like the spiritual bread in which the human inheritance is passed on to future generations.

In hope that you will find the inner strength to practice the spiritual office of an artist in the future, I leave you with my best wishes,

Yours, Oskar Kokoschka

‘Oskar Kokoschka Letters 1905-1976’ is published by Thames and Hudson.

Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:46 pm