“Everyone’s Heart is Full of Fire”: A Portrait of Martha Kirszenbaum, Curator

Still from "Puce Moment," 1949, directed by Kenneth Anger.
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A burst of confetti from a painted cannon. A name you call across the crowd: Martha, Martha, Martha. An exasperation with her force like a bursting river, smashing over stones, cutting them clean with a rush that was always emotion. With her head angled just so, those mascara’ed eyes look languid but a central spark gleams a taut and restless energy, clipped brown hair curtains over the scintillating black vinyl of her jacket. She is larger than larger than life.

Movement drives movement, in each a fierceness of diligence and dance and love vibrating with a strange abandon that still awakes the next morning, invariably smooths out a skirt and gets to work: assuaging the octogenarian artist’s jealous lover and recruiting teenagers to star in a film for this month’s resident, crouching over correspondence, summoning another show in Vienna or Vancouver, Milan or Marseille. Decorous even as her voice might claw, with her Polish heart she is always and certainly a French woman. French, Polish, and Jewish. Ancestor of survivors, Martha wears their survival under that vinyl jacket, in her skin, like a poem cut from a hundred fiery colors. A spiritual daughter of Chopin, you could see her dying in Paris and having her heart buried in Warsaw. Or maybe not Warsaw. Perhaps in the sands of Palmyra, nestled in the dust of smashed monuments that will never forget they were once gods, or in the seas off Los Angeles, dropped at the exact point where the sun sets into the water. That soft fold in a hotly pursued and ungraspable horizon.

A curator. The word on her wears like the sashes and medals of an emissary from a more cosmopolitan age, Safavid Persia or Austria-Hungary (in the basement of the Secession, she assures me she’d be fucking Klimt too hard for him to ever paint her). A curator truly, an organizer of exhibitions and programmer of films; an advocate for artists and arranger of objects, one who truly lives to fill a space and bend its emptiness with the lure and gravitas of art: to focus all the surge of living artists into a single sharp point. Underneath degrees and internships, appointments and grants, a snaky curve of all the other positions she fulfills with actions and without title: midnight bellydancer and nightclub doyenne, occult dreamer and fatalist romantic. She keeps the clans of tireless wanderers – all of us expatriates – everywhere but together. Keeping us from breaking into broken leaves, otherwise lost in the wind. All of us, instead of haggard searchers, become legends in an epic we’re making together.

We met in LA. We met in Paris. We met in LA. She went from nomad and freelancer to director of a space, a residency, a series of acts that amounted to a tapestry of her life and thoughts. She called it Fahrenheit, a foreign temperature but she burns hot by any measure. Michel Auder’s lusty stares and Jozef Robakowski’s jokey pseudo-surveillance. A pairing of Dorothy Iannone and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, she titled Everyone’s Heart is Full of Fire (a quote from elsewhere, but it’s also Martha).

Martha, Martha, Martha. A car speeding through a sleeping city, the music louder than the air can carry.

She was, and is my friend. Accomplice into the long night where we both chased our ideas and passions into actions, looking for that thing that would animate our spirits, jerk our bodies into life, sublime into a liberty that can only be felt when you’ve already broken all the rules, unfettered from ought-to’s and should-haves and there:, we sometimes found pure joy. It always costs something, of course, we pay a price for this search. But this is hers, this path out to everywhere.  

This is the second feature in a new Momus series by Andrew Berardini, titled “Portraits.” You can read the first one here.

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