Friday, September 17, 2010

Valeska Gert (Diary of a Lost Girl) helped inspire punks

Valeska Gert, the dancer and actress who gave a memorable performance as a sadistic reform school disciplinarian in the 1929 Louise Brooks film, Diary of a Lost Girl, was not only a precursor of performance art, but helped inspire punks in Germany (especially Nina Hagen). That's according to a new article in Deutsche Welle.

That must-read article, "Germany's forgotten performer Valeska Gert helped inspire punk," is occasioned by a new biography of Gert, as well as a first ever exhibit about the actress and dancer at the National Gallery's Hamburger Bahnhof.

Besides her appearance in Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl, she also appeared in his Joyless Street (1925) and Threepenny Opera (1931) - as well as later on in films by the likes of Fellini and Fassbinder.

In the late 1920's, Gert unveiled one of her most enduring works of "performance art" (though it wasn't called that then). Entitled "Pause," it was an interpretative anti-dance piece performed between reels in cinemas; it was designed to draw attention to stillness and serenity. It reminds me of John Cage's 1952 composition 4′33″, the three movements of which are performed without a single note being played.

Valeska Gert's transdisciplinary art is paid tribute to for the first time in the National Gallery's Hamburger Bahnhof. Gert (1892-1978) is one of this city's great figures, albeit one who remains vastly underestimated to this day. Her art, according to the gallery, "probes the structures and effects of perception" - where it is placed alongside others that also tackle the phenomenon of perception, such as Marcel Duchamp. Even as far back as the 1920s, Valeska Gert's conceptual works anticipated happenings, current trends in performance art, popular, small-stage entertaining arts, free improvisation and many other developments in contemporary art and modern music.

In exile in the United States in the 1940's, she opened the Beggar Bar in New York, where Julian Beck, Judith Malina, and Jackson Pollock worked for her. Tennessee Williams also worked for her for a short time as a busboy.

If Louise Brooks is the secret muse of the 20th century, is Valeska Gert the great missing link in 20th century culture?


[ Here is a link to Gert's Wikipedia entry, which contains additional details. And here is a link to a German language page which includes an interview with Wolfgang Müller, the author of the new book on Gert. Use your web translation function to get the gist of it. ]

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