Saturday, 25 June 2011

Postcard of the Day No. 49, Rotterdam Lusthofstraat

This is a joy to behold – a postcard view of a group of gasholders. The installation looks rather new - young saplings tethered to supports growing alongside the street and a pristine roadway suggest that novelty may have played a part in selecting this sublimely banal subject. A century ago, a new gas storage facility may well have been cause for celebration, a symbol of an emerging technology and the promise of hot water supplies on demand. Artists have generally resisted the charms of the gas works with the honourable exception of Paul Signac whose painting Les Gazomètres, Clichy (1886, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) bravely confronted the subject in the Parisian banlieue. The same gasholders appeared on the extreme left of Van Gogh’s Bridge at Asnières (1887, Menil Collection, Houston) but the greatest enthusiast for the subject was Carl Grossberg, a minor master of die Neue Sachlichkeit, who could always find space for a gas works in his unsparing explorations of the industrial margins of the modern city. Grossberg’s vision of hydraulic lifting bridges, overhead pipelines, furnaces, boilers, lifting gear, storage tanks and loading bays took him to a place that most avoid and revealed a world of Machine Age forms and profoundly unsettling atmosphere. This postcard has something of the faintly sinister emptiness that’s typical of Grossberg’s paintings. Below is a card featuring the much celebrated triplet gasholders located at the entrance to St. Pancras Station as a Midland Railway red liveried train departs for the north.

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