Carl Julius Salomonsen, New Forms of Art and Contagious Mental Illness (Los Angeles: New Documents)
Over the years 1919–20, the celebrated medical scientist and doctor Carl Julius Salomonsen began giving public lectures and publishing pamphlets regarding a new “epidemic” that had begun to affect the European populace: the increasing ubiquity of modernist art. In a 1919 pamphlet titled New Forms of Art and Contagious Mental Illness, he wrote: “We stand, at this moment, before a movement in art which is psychopathic in character, and whose victorious journey through all countries is probably caused by the same spiritual disease that gave the older, religious spiritual epidemic such a powerful spread.” This pamphlet and the accompanying talks were countered by a retaliatory pamphlet published by the Copenhagen modernist painters group, to which Salomonsen responded with a further pamphlet. Translated into English for the first time, the entire altercation is gathered in this volume, documenting one of the earliest rejections of modernist art.
Roland Topor, Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne (London: Atlas Press)
The works of the French author and artist Roland Topor, who died 20 years ago, are currently undergoing a major reassessment in his homeland. Major exhibitions have been mounted and all his books are being brought back into print. This is the first of them to be translated into English for some 50 years, and more will certainly follow. Topor was something of an all-round maverick, known for his paintings and drawings as much as for his novels (The Tenant was filmed by Polanski), plays and short stories. He was also a film-maker, actor and the co-founder, with Arrabal and Jodorowsky, of the Panic movement, whose violently orgiastic performances provoked widespread condemnation.
Topor’s works are dominated by a sense of irrational everyday menace that could be interpreted as humour, but a form of humour pushed deep into discomfort, almost to the point of total horror. The reader slowly becomes aware that, alongside preoccupations that some might think morbid, all is being orchestrated by a distinctively optimistic sensibility. From the collision of these factors, rooted in the author’s experiences and his irrepressible personality, come works increasingly seen as unique in European art and writing of the late 20th century. The present text is perhaps a fable, perhaps a love story of enormous tenderness, or it may be a sequence of ever more sinister events that culminate in horror and atrocity. It all depends on your point of view. The central event in this narrative cannot be revealed here, but its sheer implausible reality is utterly convincing and the effect is unforgettable. Some readers may come to wish that that was not the case.
Review of Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne in The Times Literary Supplement: