Saturday, December 17, 2011
Somehow it had escaped my notice that the festivities surrounding the celebration of the hundredth birthday of the artist known as Ele D’Artagnan at Post I Perdu, a theatre belonging to a poetry foundation (adjoining a bookshop dedicated to poetry in many languages) in the university neighborhood of Amsterdam, would be in Dutch. Three large works by D’Artagnan floated against black velvet drapes while Ella Arps, owner of the gallery Arps & Co., which handles his work in the Netherlands, led the audience through his incredibly colorful life “on the margins of La Dolce Vita.” Ella has absorbed the biographical details as well as anyone: how the child born an orphan in Venice and given the name Michele Stinelli rented a room in the home of Pietro Gallina, in the ancient Forum of Rome; acted in films by Fellini; painted; pursued the question of his parentage (mother, of the Lombardi family, a harpist with La Scala; father unknown but believed by D’Artagnan to be Toscanini); died homeless in Rome; and, through the efforts of Pietro, his lifelong friend, came to be represented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and to underwrite a school in Savador de Bahia. Although the artist has yet to be recognized in Italy, celebrations of his centenary went forward on three continents: in Amsterdam and Limburg, Germany; in New York and Chicago; and in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
In Amsterdam, two poets read, in Dutch, which sounded easier to understand in verse than in conversation. One of them was a young man with a bottle of beer who accepted as a stipend a photograph of D’Artagnan reproduced on metal. It was lovely to see people crowding to get up close to the paintings, which are full of charming, minuscule details. Ella introduced me as a collector. Just for the record, I am not a collector, though I am the proud of owner of a drawing that D’Artagnan did on a matchpack.
My stay in the Netherlands began at dawn yesterday (I am not sure of the exact time of sunrise in Amsterdam so near the winter solstice, but it was raining when I arrived and stayed dark until about ten in the morning) and continues tonight in The Hague at a concert by Baby Dee to celebrate her CD, “Baby Goes Down to Amsterdam,” a live recording of a concert that took place during the Holland Festival in June, 2009. I think you could say that D’Artagnan and Baby Dee are both outsider artists, in that they are more celebrated outside their own lands.