DELINQUENT
OBLIGATIONS

Dear
Tilman
Riemen-
schneider

Thank you for leaving behind such beautiful carvings.

I first saw one of your pieces at the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas - about five hundred years after you carved it, and nearly five thousand miles away from where you lived. I didn't know then that it was so rare! Only a few of your sculputures are displayed in the US, and the lion's share are in Germany.

I was really struck by it! Here was an artwork that seemed to straddle this uncanny border between the stylized figures of middle ages art and the realism of the Renaissance. The effect - that you clearly COULD make an incredibly lifelike sculpture but instead chose this stylized moon-faced representation - felt so modern. It reminds me (I'm ashamed to say it) of ... anime.

Anime! Of course not visually; your stuff doesn't look like anime. But the idea that a technically competent artist still needs to work within genre conventions is something that I had to learn, and I think you helped me figure this out for medieval artwork. Like, the awkward, stilted characters we see in illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows aren't the best they could do at the time - they're a specific style of the time.

I made it an ongoing goal to see as many of your sculptures in real life as I could. Not easy for an American! But in 2019 I made a solo trip to your hometown of W├╝rzburg, and got to see a TON of your pieces, and spend as long as I wanted just hanging out with them. I think I definitely unnerved some docents at a few different museums.

Plus a whole lot of your sculptures are still inside churches! Those you can just show up to, and stay as long as you like, although you will eventually attract some concern.

It was great; I'm not articulate or sensitive enough to capture what kind of pleasure I get from seeing your work, but... I really, really enjoy it. The figures are beautiful, I can spend large amounts of time trying to think about how you planned and executed the carvings, and the portraits are just... captivating? Like I said: I'm not articulate or sensitive enough to really process this.

Also! That trip was a real lesson in what I now call attention arbitrage. Because you're relatively overlooked now, showing a modest interest in your work created outsized opportunities. (I should write more about this theory somewhere.) I got to see your work up close and personal, with a couple of different private tour guides, and connect with a few others who had real expertise - and access. It was great (OK, I will definitely write about this elsewhere).

Anyway, your work is beautiful and it gives me great pleasure. Thank you!

Matt
January 16, 2024

UM WHAT

This is Matt Kirkland's corrective project for 2024: learn how to write thank you notes. I'm warming up by writing to dead people.