Friday, June 29, 2007

A room with a view

Anyone who was around in New Zealand in the 1970s knew that there was a strange German Expressionism thing going on. At its centre was an eccentric artist from Lithuania. Rudi Gopas not only believed that the moon landing never took place, he also had Luna photographs taken through his own handbuilt telescope to demonstrate it. He was a powerful and passionate figure. Today his teaching methods, which included students making a copy of a well known painting based on reproductions in art books, seem to combine everything that was weird and wonderful about art in New Zealand before conspicuous travel and the internet. Phil Clairmont, a Gopas student, copied Kirchner’s self portrait as a soldier, and webs of German Expressionism clung to his painting and printmaking long after leaving art school. We thought of both Phil and Rudi when we visited the Einstein Tower in Potsdam. Designed by Erich Mendelsohn in around 1917 (when the young Richard Neutra was on staff), it is a masterpiece of Expressionist architecture with a similar sense of strange clarity as the chapel at Ronchamp. Einstein only visited the observatory once and never used the equipment. Rudi Gopas, on the other hand, would have been up the stairs and onto that telescope like a rat up a drain pipe.