Review: Amalie Smith’s MARBLE

Amalie Smith photographed by David Stjernholm

Amalie Smith is a Danish visual artist and writer, who has received numerous accolades in both fields of her work. Her novel Marble came out in Denmark in 2014 and was translated into the English language by Jennifer Russell and published by Lolli Editions in November 2020.

The novel represents a remarkable  interplay of two strands of text, one following the protagonist Marble, who leaves her lover Daniel in Copenhagen and travels to Athens to trace a pivotal figure in Denmark’s art scene: the sculptor Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, and the elaboration on her life and work constitutes the second strand. Carl-Nielsen travelled to Greece 110 years before our protagonist Marble embarks on the same journey, in order to work on reconstruction, and she showed that Archaic sculptures were not white, but were originally painted in bright colours, an act which helped shed a different light on whiteness of surfaces as actually being a construct, and not a fact, and thereby also defied gender roles as they were constituted in the Victorian era. It is precisely the investigation of Anne Marie’s life and work which makes for the second text, which is braided with the first into “a network”, as Smith has described her mesmerizing novel. By focusing on the output of her art-historical research, as well as on the correspondence between Anne Marie, and her husband Carl Nielsen, an eminent Danish composer, Smith attempts to bring into life a pivotal female figure who paved the way for women artists by being the first woman in the world both to undertake an equestrian statue of a king and the bronze doors for a cathedral. She also helped establish the Danish Women’s Art Association and was an advocate for the admission of women to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, as is pointed out in an insightful interview with Amalie Smith, which is available on Lolli’s website.

Besides blending two narrative strands, one fictive, and the other focused on a real-life figure, the book itself is also a stunning investigation into the bending of form and structure, evading binarisms of any kind, and moving away from dichotomies, what Smith also does with the story of marble, for she rewrites it by pointing out that a split between body and idea exists; when we look at a structure or monument made out of marble, what we see is the idea, and not the material, marble becomes a surface-less and flawless shape, and it is precisely the split between the physical and the metaphysical, which represents a construction, that she attempts to deconstruct.

Not only does the text constitute a novel of an unusual form, but it also has a wonderful quality of gliding as during a sea voyage, with stunning phrasings gleaming like water bathed in sunlight. Both lovers of art history and practice of art will be at home while reading Marble, a novel adorned with data stemming from in-depth research into Carl-Nielsen’s life and work, as well as due to the fact that it sheds light on many other sides which have been part and parcel of making sculptural art since the times of the Danish sculptor. It is a remarkable feat of writing, which will surely continue to draw accolades from all over the world.

“Classical art from the Renaissance and onwards did not wish to be ephemeral. Rather than attempting to imitate reality, it sought to get at the ideas behind it. Like the sciences, art

began to define itself through separate disciplines. Painting became that which is without form and sculpture became that which is without colour.

Form and colour were separated. White sculpture was invented.

I think of the separation of form and colour as a compression tool intended to make possible the transportation of materials into immortal, into the world of ideas, into eternity.”

Translated from the Danish by Jennifer Russell

Published by Lolli Editions, UK

Winner of the Danish Crown Prince Couple’s Rising Star Award

Winner of a Carl Nielsen and Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen Grant

Publication: 12 November 2020

Share Button
Sanja Gligorić