Magazine article Artforum International

Hundertwasser: 'Night Train,' 1978

Magazine article Artforum International

Hundertwasser: 'Night Train,' 1978

Article excerpt

For Christmas a couple of years ago my little sister and her husband gave me a beautiful volume of reproductions of Hundertwasser's graphic work. Paging through the succulent prints of this artist, I came across the silk screen entitled Night Train. What first attracted me to this image was that the train and the cubicles below it were in astounding blues: little boy blue, sky blue, and night blue all shaded together, and bleeding down to turquoise. Most pleasantly fixated, I began to experience the elevated feeling one gets, for example, in certain Tokyo stations of the Japan Railway. One exits a frighteningly crowded car, in which one has been squeezed and shoved without even being noticed, and emerges onto the cold night platform, still a member of a swarm. The swarm disperses. One breathes, shakes off the miasma of the crowd, and the train also departs, bearing away its vertically stacked humanity. For the first time one can see beyond the track a spectacular view of urban immensity: lights below, silhouettes of towers, more crowds - yes, a panorama of crowding, which is only a panorama because one is momentarily out of the crowd. This is the vantage point of the Hundertwasser print.

But in fact the night train goes nowhere; it comprises the top story of a blue skyscraper block to whose manifold windows are pressed eyes as large, colorful, and blandly expressionless as the camouflage spots of certain butterflies. A second block of apartments abuts the foreground; here the faces are even larger. They gaze straight out at us as if pushed from behind by unseen inner multitudes, which could conceivably impart a desperate feeding; yet everything is "cute," clean, and colorful here, as in Japanese cartoons. Atop this edifice, what seem to be beams of darkness ascend to penetrate a horizon of graded darkness reminiscent of that of certain ukiyo-e prints; these beams go straight up like anti-aircraft lights at a party rally in Nuremberg; below these bands of darkness, the sky becomes the strange cold pink hue one sometimes sees on winter afternoons in the Japanese "snow country" described so hauntingly by Yasunari Kawabata. Farther down still, this blush of the air merges with a plain of snow crystals stood on end. These entities can be glimpsed through the train and buildings; both snow and city are made to appear vulnerable by this effect of mutual transparency. …

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