Thursday, November 15, 2018

First Snowfall: 2018-2019 Fall/Winter

The meteorologists had predicted some snow flurries for the NYC area today, with most of the actual snow heading further north and west. Well, imagine everyone's surprise when the snow actually starting sticking and didn't go away! Yes, today was our first snowfall of the 2018-2019 fall/winter season. I was stuck in my office working through most of it, so I didn't get to take pictures. AA, however, was working from home, so he took this picture you see here during the afternoon hours when the snow was coming down pretty heavily. It was a very wet snow, and by the end of the day had turned into slushy ice-like rain that was very slippery. Nothing too pretty about that kind of snowfall today!

It seemed rather ironic to me, then, that here we are freezing and getting iced by Mother Nature, when right in the heart of NYC at Rockefeller Center, Christie's auction house this evening broke the record for the most money a work of art by a living artist ever sold at auction: the hammer price went for $90m! The painting is the one you see here, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, by that grand dame of a British queen, David Hockney. According to The New York Times, "The painting was executed during a three-month period of intense creativity after the artist broke up with his American art student lover, Peter Schlesinger. Many viewers assume that the scene is set in California, where Mr. Hockney has lived for decades. But the canvas was painted in London, based on photographs taken at a pool in the South of France." I was fortunate to have seen this painting at the recent Hockney exhibition at The Met, and it was the star of the show, an exquisite composition with incredible color, without a doubt one of Hockney's best works. And now with the price tag to match. Oh, but to jump in that pool right now, instead of bundling up with the heater on beside me...

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Statue of a Countess

I am pleased to share the news that my latest article, "Between Venus and Victoria: John Gibson's Portrait Statue of the Hon. Mrs. Murray, Later Countess Beauchamp," has just been published in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide (along with a number of other very interesting essays by some colleagues I know that I look forward to reading). My essay discusses for the first time the portrait statue you see here that Gibson made for the 3rd Baroness Braye of her widowed daughter Catherine, who later married Earl Beauchamp (pronounced "Beecham").

The statue was commissioned in 1842 when the Baroness and members of her family were on their grand tour in Rome, and it was completed in 1846. Gibson exhibited the marble statue at the Royal Academy that year, where it received mostly positive feedback, but one critic rather surprisingly compared it to the Hottentot Venus. (You'll have to read the article to learn why!) The Baroness and her daughter were friends with Gibson for many years, and he often visited them at their London home and at Stanford Hall, where the statue is on view as part of the family's art collection to this day. What makes the story of this statue even more remarkable is that Catherine made the bold decision to have Gibson tint it while it was still in the early days of his own experiments with polychrome sculpture (i.e. Tinted Venus). As I discuss in my essay, she received sharp criticism afterward for having done this, but Gibson urged her to "fight it out" and not give in to the critics. (Wise words I need to remember myself many days!)

I am incredibly grateful to the current Baroness Braye and her family for their generosity and hospitality in giving me access to unpublished family papers and their homes, and to the staff at Stanford Hall for responding to all my inquiries along the way. Without their encouragement and support, this article never could have come to fruition.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Art Libraries at the Rijksmuseum

I was quite honored to be among the guest speakers for the recent 8th International Conference of Art Libraries, held at the Rijksemuseum in Amsterdam (facade of the building seen here). The conference itself had some very interesting papers and it helped inspire a few ideas in my head, which is always a good thing. I was surprised that so many people from the U.S. were presenting, but most of the audience members came from throughout Europe. Two speakers even presented about art libraries in Japan, which quickly reminded me that we need to stop thinking so Euro-centrically about all these things. 

My co-presenter (Melanie Wacker, also at Columbia; photo at left of us taken by Ann Lindell) and I gave a talk entitled "From Curatorial Files to Linked Open Data: Cataloging the Art Collection at Columbia University," discussing background on the art collection my department oversees and how our management of metadata and cataloging moved from traditional paper files to a metadata schema that we were then able to convert to MARC so as to be published in the Columbia Libraries online catalog, to convert for use in the soon-to-be-launched Digital Art Properties collection, and then used as the basis for a linked open data project that was a grant to test art for use in BIBFRAME, the future XML-based form of cataloging established by the Library of Congress that eventually will replace MARC. I realize much of what I just wrote there may seem like gibberish to anyone but IT specialists and librarians, but the point is that up until recently no one could search anything in the Columbia art collection, whereas now the art collection is now not just discoverable but available in digital format (highlights anyway) and is being used to establish new models of excellence for ways of cataloging art by libraries in the future. It's been a team effort that we are all proud of.

It was quite humbling to be presenting at the Rijksmuseum, one of the grandest collections of art in the world. This was my second visit there, the first time two years ago when AA and I traveled to Amsterdam. On this trip we also made a visit to The Hague where we visited the Maurithuis and I truly fell in love with Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, one of those examples of art where you have to see it in person to truly admire its majesty in terms of lighting, brushstroke, and overall composition. She is more modern in her appearance than I ever realized. We also visited Delft, Vermeer's home, which was an absolutely charming city. I also had an opportunity to visit the Hermitage Amsterdam and see the Neoclassicism exhibition with works from St. Petersburg; the Canova sculptures were just exquisite. I'm in London right now writing this, with a few other things to do here before heading home in a couple of days.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Happy 10th Birthday!

When I think about being 10 years old, the greatest memory I have was moving from our smaller ranch-style house to a larger split-level house in the same town. At the time it felt like we were moving to another part of the state, but of course it was only about 6 blocks away (admittedly, these were long, curvy blocks, which made it seem further). Riding our bicycles from the new house back to the old neighborhood seemed so far; I remember thinking at first how amazing it was Mom and Dad were letting us ride our bikes so far away! My brother CC hadn't been to the new house yet, so on moving day he wrote his bicycle and had to ask neighbors along the way where the moving truck had gone, which was how he eventually found the house. As for the was olive green on the upper portion and brick on the lower portion (later Mom and Dad painted the top portion white with deep-red shutters and trim). The house was remarkable to CC and me because we had stairs for the first time, and not just 1 set of stairs but 3 sets, including stairs that went down to a basement. We moved right before Halloween that year, and so that holiday was a strange one with all new territory to scout out for candy. Uncle Eddy is the one who took CC and me around, I remember. My costume alternated from being a scarecrow to being a ghost that year; CC went as "Pedro," with a floppy sombrero, cigar, and painted-on mustache (admittedly racist in retrospect, but what did we know?). We lived in our old house for 7 years and in that new house for over 9 years before we moved on again...lots of memories there...

I have other vivid memories from being 10 years old, but all that is the first thing that jumps out at me today. And here we are on bklynbiblio, now celebrating 10 years of this blog. I started this blog after my trip to Provincetown with JM. I've been back there 3 or 4 times since then, and traveled to many other places. So much happens in a decade...yet the spirit of this blog has remained the same. Today's post is #588, and very little has changed in the topics written about, based on the tags for each post: New York still comes in at #1 (163 posts), followed by 19th-century art (114), England (99), photography (98), with art exhibitions (84) and sculpture (83) neck-and-neck for 5th place.

As I've expressed in recent posts, I hope I will have time to write more. I'm winding down 2 big essays, one of which will be published later this fall, and a few conference/symposium projects are in the works, all of which I hope to blog about soon. Sometimes I contemplate whether I should "close" the blog and call it a day, but then I hear from a few of you who enjoy reading what I write, and I realize this blog--even though posts are intermittent--helps me keep in touch with some people, and for that reason we'll keep it going. My thanks to everyone who reads this blog and has helped sustain bklynbiblio for the past 10 years. On to more future memories...

Thursday, July 12, 2018

New Solomon Records

For those of us who love and appreciate Simeon Solomon's paintings and drawings, yesterday and today were major days in the auction world. Yesterday, 26 Solomon drawings and watercolors went up for auction from a single collection at Christie's London, all of them selling in the range of £2,600 to £38,000. Today, though, at Sotheby's London, there was a sale of nine Solomon paintings and drawings in the Victorian sale. These works came from two different collections, and the sale broke not just one but two sale records. Up to now, the record was held by the sale two years ago of his watercolor A Prelude by Bach (A Song), 1868, which sold for £182,500. The painting you see above, Habet!, has broken that record. 

This painting has often been considered his best work, not so much by reviewers at the time, but by his colleagues and friends like William Michael Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne, and subsequent art historians. Painted and then exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865, the picture depicts a group of ancient Roman women having different reactions to a gladiator fight in the arena. The painting's first owner was Charles P. Matthews, a brewer who had homes in London and Essex, England, and it was sold at the auction of his estate after his death at Christie's London on June 6, 1891. It was sold then for 21 guineas. Around a century ago, it was purchased by the grandparents of the owner who sold it today, and surprisingly was actually "lost" for most of the 20th century, having only been "found" in the mid-1990s. Today that same family sold the painting, and it earned £370,000 including premium. As I've mentioned in the past, as compared to his fellow Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian painters, this is still relatively low (some major paintings by Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti go for over £1m these days). Nevertheless, this was a satisfactory acknowledgment of his work and has helped reaffirm his importance in this canon of Victorian painters.

Also by Solomon up for sale today was this picture, the 1867 watercolor version of Bacchus, that he painted when he was in Rome, finishing it in London once he was home. In some ways this painting best epitomizes Solomon's style and subject matter, showing the god of wine as a sensual youth half-dressed, basking in the sun. The homoerotics of this painting are self-evident, and in many ways has become an important subject in discussing Solomon's own homosexual identity and how he frequently depicted youthful males as objects of beauty at this time. The picture was estimated to sell for £50,000-£70,000, but I knew it would sell for much more. It set the record for the second-highest work by Solomon sold at auction, coming in at £237,500 including premium. Two works on paper did not sell at today's auction, because they didn't meet their minimum estimate, but I think between these two big-ticket items and all the works sold yesterday at Christie's there was a sense of exhaustion. I don't think there's ever been this many Solomons up for sale at the same time, so this certainly made for an interesting two days of sales. To read more posts on this blog about the Solomon family painters, click here.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Call for Papers: Transnationalism and Sculpture

A few months ago, I posted a call for papers for a conference panel session that my colleague Tomas Macsotay and I had organized. That conference took place this past April 5th at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and was a great success. (I realize now I never posted about it, but trust me it was.) Tomas and I are now co-chairing another conference panel session, this time to be held here in NYC in February 2019: the College Art Association (CAA). Our panel is the official session for the Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art (AHNCA) and is detailed below. The image above could relate to a sample presentation of something we are interested in. The 1830 painting is by Ditlev Martens and is called Pope Leo XII Visits Thorvaldsen's Studio near the Piazza Barberini, Rome... and relates to the Danish sculptor's vast studio that had workers from many nations working for him (image: Thorvaldsens Museum). Check out the CAA conference website for instructions for submission. The deadline is August 6, 2018.

Transnationalism and Sculpture in the Long Nineteenth-Century (ca. 1785–1915)
Session Organizers:
Roberto C. Ferrari (Columbia University)
Tomas Macsotay (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)

The history of nineteenth-century art is frequently presented as the product of revolutions and socio-political changes. The Zeitgeist for nationalism and imperial expansion generated by these historic events inevitably fostered interest in national schools of art criticism and artistic practice. But rising interest in global studies has led to more and more evidence of the transnational as a major impact on artistic practice of the nineteenth century, specifically in association with the creation and dissemination of narratives of national identity, and the interests of economic and colonial expansion. The transnational is defined as crossing national boundaries, but for this session transnationalism also refers to culturally blended nexuses of artistic creativity and engagement during the century.

Evidence of this artistic practice is arguably best evident in the creation and display of sculpture, particularly public sculpture because it requires large studios with teams of workers to create, and it occupies spaces that force an encounter with the viewer. Examples of proposals for this session on transnationalism and sculpture in the long nineteenth century might include: sculptors’ studios in Rome dominated by Americans and Europeans, and their practiciens and pupils from other nation-states; monuments incorporating multi-cultural imagery; public statues of monarchs made by local artists in the colonies, potentially inscribed by the politics and hierarchies thereof; and the commingling of sculpture made by native and foreign artists at academies and international exhibitions. Papers on individual artists and works of art are welcome, but they should focus on the larger issue of transnationalism.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Wisdom of the East Exhibition

I'm very pleased to share the news that I've curated an exhibition now on view in the Wallach Study Center of Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia. The show, entitled Wisdom of the East: Buddhist Art from the J. G. Phelps Collection, brings together a group of Asian sculptures and ritual objects from Tibet, Nepal, Japan, and China, dating from the 12th to 19th centuries, in the permanent art collection at Columbia. The image you see above is one of the four cases, this one showcasing three Buddhist sculptures from Japan. The figure on the left is Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom who rides a lion, carries religious texts, and defends the faith with his sword. The figures on the right are a Bodhisattva and Buddha associated with Mahayana Buddhist traditions of Japan. All three are gilded and lacquered wood. This exhibition brings together just a small selection of the 50+ sculptures and ritual objects that the NYC socialist politician James Graham Phelps Stokes (1872-1960) donated to Columbia the year before he died. I mentioned Stokes recently as the author of the observation on time and experience in his travel journal to Japan in 1892, an entry I discovered in doing research in anticipation of this exhibition. You can read a little more about the exhibition here. It will be up until September 14, 2018.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Gibson and Portraiture Essay

Back in 2016 I had blogged about the new exhibition at the Royal Academy on the sculptures and drawings of John Gibson (1790-1866). Toward the end of the exhibition's run, there was a study day held at Tate Britain, and I was honored to be invited as one of the speakers for this event. We also did a local London version of the Gibson Trail and examined closely a selection of his figures and busts in the UK capital. About two months afterward, our host for that day, M. G. Sullivan, announced that some of us had been invited to submit articles associated with that study day in Tate Papers, the peer-reviewed, free online journal published by the museum. Sullivan and I decided to collaborate and co-author an article on Gibson's portraits, basing a portion of the essay on the bust of William Bewick that is in the Tate's collection. Our essay--and three others--have now been released (click here), and I must say that I am pleased to see this one in print.

Our essay is the first to focus on his portraits, and I think we managed to convey well how, despite Gibson's general distaste for portraits, he still made quite a number. We tapped into his extant account books to record prices and heretofore unknown commissions, and examined a number of these works chronologically and culturally. The image you see above is a detail from the back of the bust of an unidentified woman, dated to the 1820s, by Gibson; the work is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art and is a rather magnificent bust, particularly in the carving of the sweeping hairdo. The title of our essay is "'Men thinking, and women tranquil': John Gibson's Portraiture Practice." I'm looking forward to reading the other essays on Gibson's studio practice by Anna Frasca-Rath and his association with the Duke of Devonshire by Alison Yarrington (a subject I've written about as well, from a queer context, but Yarrington is the world expert on Devonshire's sculpture gallery). I read the other day Susanna Avery-Quash's essay on Gibson's friendship with Sir Charles Eastlake, which was excellent. So take a look, and if you feel inclined, enjoy the reading!

DC Heading to the Bronx

My friend and colleague Deborah Cullen, who for the past 6 years has been Director and Chief Curator of the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, has just been named the Executive Director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts. ARTNEWS has written up a great piece on her new role, as has The New York Times. I've never actually been to this museum, I'm sorry to say, but over the past few years it has raised its profile and I am eager to visit because of some of the exhibitions on at present and opening soon. (My family, on my mother's side, is all of Bronx extraction, but I wonder if any of them had ever been to this museum before?) She lives in the Bronx with her husband, sculptor Arnaldo Morales, so it likely means a lot to the museum that she has been a resident in that NYC borough for quite some time now.

Deb and I are both alum of the Graduate Center, City University of New York, although she graduated about a decade before me so we only just met when I started at Columbia about a year after her. She is a major art critic and curator of the art of contemporary African-American, Caribbean, and Latinx artists; prior to role at Columbia, she worked at El Museo del Barrio. At Columbia, she successfully transitioned the Wallach Gallery to its gorgeous new space, a white-cube windowed gallery in the Lenfest Center for the Arts on 129th St. The inaugural show "Uptown" that she curated there, the first of what she has called a triennial, focused on NYC artists who work north of 99th St., so essentially the Harlem and Washington Heights area. The show was fantastic. She and I have served on each other's respective planning committees for the gallery and the permanent collection at Columbia, and she and I have worked together to secure some amazing new art work by contemporary artists in the permanent collection. John Pinderhughes, a fantastic Harlem-based photographer, was among those artists, and he took the photo of Deb you see at the top of this post. I'm thrilled for Deb as she moves onto this new position, but I will definitely miss working with her. Here's a selfie of us in Seattle in May 2014 when we attended together the annual conference of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Video: E-Journals in Art History

No one ever likes to hear him/herself on tape or video, but everyone on my panel session from February agreed to the request to be filmed, and that online video is now available for viewing for free here:

This was in association with the panel session I chaired at the ARLIS/NA conference held in NYC, "Born-digital and Other E-journals in Art History: Crossing Boundaries among Art Historians, Editors, and Librarians," about which I first blogged here. The response to the session by some audience members and the panelists themselves was very positive, so we are glad that it went so well (even if we are embarrassed to hear ourselves on video afterward!).

Skanda in Georgia

I'm writing this post from Athens, Georgia, where today we de-installed a few works of art that we loaned from the Columbia University art collection. The exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, which closed yesterday, was "Images of Awakening: Buddhist Sculpture from Afghanistan and Pakistan." It revolved around an amazing new acquisition they have received: a 5th-century Buddhist head from Hadda (their image online currently is pre-conservation; trust me, it's gorgeous). The exhibition included loans from a few collections to narrate more fully the story of art, mostly Buddhist in nature, from the region once known as Gandhara, a crossroads for Western and Eastern cultures from the time after Alexander the Great to nearly the 7th century. Today, of course, this region is a political quagmire because of the Taliban and Isis, which is partly why a show like this in Georgia (traditionally, a more-conservative state) becomes so important. In my role as Curator of Art Properties at Columbia, I can say that we were very pleased to be able to participate in this exhibition and loan four small schist stone sculptures to this. Three of them were Buddhist in nature, but the work you see here actually has origins in Hinduism. This is somewhat surprising as Hinduism was not yet fully developed as we know it today, although its earlier origins as Vedism were culturally entrenched throughout the Indian sub-continent. A sculpture of a Hindu deity from this region, during a time when Greek-inspired art was influencing Buddhism, arguably demonstrates how globalism has always impacted art and is not a 21st-century phenomenon.

The figure represents Skanda, the god of war and son of Shiva and Parvati. It dates from the 4th to 5th century. His mythological origin is rather fascinating, and a bit provocative--curiously, it seems to bear some relationship to the Greek story of the birth of Aphrodite, goddess of love (both born from water, seed thrown into the water, etc.). Despite its fragmented state today, this work has held up well (it had some minor conservation in order to be shown, so thank you Jones Abbe Art Conservation). The sculpture shows the god not with multiple heads but rather in a warrior stance holding what once was a spear and, in his other hand, a peacock, the animal with which he is associated. That makes for another interesting analogy, as peacocks in Greek mythology are associated with Hera, queen of the heavens, and seen as a symbol of marriage. Is another love/war cultural emblem at work here? Perhaps. Peacocks are beautiful birds, particularly when they display their shimmering iridescent feathers, but they are also notoriously loud and vicious. I guess all is fair in love and war.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Time and Experience

Whenever my dear friend JAM emails me wondering how I am, because she hasn't seen any updated posts on bklynbiblio, I know it's been a while since I've blogged and I've overdue a post or two! A few new posts will be coming over the next week or so, but for now I thought I would make a return by commenting on the passage of time (hence the pocket watch), but also the importance of life experiences. This past Christmas Eve, I included in a post that in general my blogging had dropped overall largely because of a general lack of time due to the numerous projects I have going on both related to work and of my own professional interest. But I also noted that I had recognized a shift in my own life over the past few years, where the recording of events is no longer as important to me as actually "living in the moment" has become instead. I'm certainly not the first person, nor will I be the last, to ever come to this rather individualized existential realization. However, I recently came across someone from the past actually acknowledging this very idea in their own writing. I came across the following in a travel journal I was reviewing related to a current project.

Greatly to my regret, I find it impossible for me to continue my journal in the foregoing way. My desire had always been that my journal should record not only facts, but also, to a certain extent, impressions and descriptions. As writing matter it would in that way afford me much more temporal enjoyment, and as reading matter would, I believe, be much more interesting in the future. But lack of time forbids such continuance. I have so much to see, and so much to do in order to see it, that it is wholly impracticable at even the present length, to keep the writing up to date. And so for the present at all events, my "journal" must consist of little more than more or less disconnected notes.

Those words were written on November 5, 1892 in Japan by James Graham Phelps Stokes (1872-1960) in his travel journal that he kept while touring Asia. (This journal is part of the Stokes papers in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia.) His brother and he had only just arrived in Japan a few weeks earlier, their first stop on what would be a year-long trip from there to China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and India. His previous travel entries had been incredibly detailed, but there is a marked difference in tone--more phrases and personal asides then documented historical facts--than the earlier portion.

When I read his words, I couldn't help but smile and find it reassuring that even in 1892--without technology, just a notebook and pen--someone could still feel as overwhelmed attempting to record life in detail, rather than actually living it. It was a subtle reminder for me that, regardless of the passage of time, we humans are not much different from the people of the past.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

19thC Graduate Student Symposium 2018

This coming Sunday, March 18th, is the 15th annual Graduate Student Symposium in the History of Nineteenth-Century Art, co-sponsored by the Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art (AHNCA) and the Dahesh Museum of Art. It will be held at the Dahesh in NYC. The Mervat Zahid Cultural Foundation has generously provided the Dahesh Museum of Art Prize of $1,000 for the best paper, and the prize also carries with it the opportunity for publication in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. I was among the jury members who selected the papers this year, and I will be chairing one of the groups of papers. Below is the list of papers, with summary abstracts of each available for reading on the AHNCA website. One of the papers addresses this important, fantastic painting: Edouard Manet's Mademoiselle V ... in the Costume of an Espada, 1862, oil on canvas, in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other papers are on topics like harems, tigers, pickaxes, and Caribbean exoticism. It promises to be a great day of papers!

  • Lucie Grandjean, Université Paris Nanterre, “John Vanderlyn and the Circulation of Panoramic Images in Nineteenth-Century America: Promoting and Diffusing ‘a love and taste for the arts’”
  • Remi Poindexter, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, “Martinique's Dual Role in Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny's Voyage Pittoresque”
  • Alexandra Morrison, Yale University, “Unfaithful: Julie Duvidal de Montferrier’s Copies”
  • Siddhartha V. Shah, Columbia University, “Tooth and Claw: Chivalry and Chauvinism in the Jungles of British India”
  • Clayton William Kindred, Ohio State University, “The Harem in Absentia: Analyzing Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ’s The Gate of the Harem
  • Jennifer Pride, Florida State University, “The Poetics of Demolition: The Pickax and Spectator Motifs in Second Empire Paris”
  • Kathryn Kremnitzer, Columbia University, “Tracing Mlle Victorine in the Costume of an Espada
  • Galina Olmsted, University of Delaware, “’Je compte absolument sur vous’”: Gustave Caillebotte and the 1877 Exhibition” 
  • Maria Golovteeva, University of St. Andrews, “Photography as Sketch in the Works of Fernand Khnopff”  
  • Isabel Stokholm, University of Cambridge, Fathers & Sons? Two Old Peredvizhniki and a New Generation of Russian Artists, 18901914”

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Top 10 Read Novels: 2014-2017

Back in September 2014, I posted highlights on the best novels I had read between the years 2010-2013. This was a “sequel” of sorts to the post I had done previously on the same topic from2005-2009. Here it is 3 1/2 years later, and I’m posting a follow-up, highlighting my favorite works of fiction that I read over the past 4 years. I’ve been meaning to write this for a few months now, but my dear friend SVH contacted me the other day about a program her library is doing, identifying favorite novels as written about by bloggers, so I’ve been inspired to catch-up on my list-making. As I noted on my previous posts, these are just the self-rated 5-star novels I read between 2014 and 2017, not that they were necessarily published during that time, although a few actually were. (And don't forget about my annual round-up of reading such as this latest post in 2017.) Here’s my 2014-2017 countdown, from 10 to 1…

10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015). Anyone who commutes on trains and subways—myself included-—knows all about the experience of subtly observing other people. Others prefer the experience of looking outside the window. I do both. This book took that quotidian practice and added a twist: an affair and a murder, as witnessed by a self-professed alcoholic tragedian named Rachel. The plot clearly is indebted to Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel 4:50 from Paddington in which Mrs. McGillicuddy witnesses a murder on a train from the window of her own compartment as it passes the other one (a brilliant set-up, I might add), but Hawkins then turns this novel into a story about what it means to be a woman in a world still dominated by masculine power.
9. Emma by Jane Austen (1816). Written just over 200 years ago, Austen’s literary classic still can entertain. Emma is considered to be one of Austen’s best developed novels, and certainly the character of Emma Woodhouse is someone worth recognized as one of literature’s greatest heroines: a dedicated, kind, intelligent woman who also has ambitions, faults, and makes grave mistakes, but through these experiences finds the love she’s been unaware of having looked for all along. That said, I confess I do prefer Pride and Prejudice (1813), which I’ve read twice, and the character of Elizabeth Bennett, over Emma.
8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005). This book is supposed to be a young adult novel, but I struggle with that classification because the subject matter is a bit emotionally intense at times. When Death is your narrator, you know the story is going to be dark. Young orphaned Liesel Meminger grows up in Nazi-occupied Germany. Fascinated by books she steals them in order to learn how to read, but she also discovers through her daily actions some important, hard lessons about survival and life itself. I challenge your heart not to break near the end.
7. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (2013). Over the past 4 years I discovered Atkinson, and I’ve since read and loved her novels Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995), Case Histories (2004), and A God in Ruins (2015), but the first book I read by her, Life after Life, gets on this list as my favorite so far. Her writing style can seem abrupt at times, but this adds to the flow of the storyline and the quick-wittedness of some of her characters. In 1910 Ursula Todd is born and then dies; in 1910 Ursula Todd is born and survives. This is not a story about reincarnation, but simultaneous incarnations, and how the decisions we make, or are made for us, determine the lives we live.
6. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016). This book won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and justifiably deserves it for its unapologetic story of American slavery and its poetic tone throughout. Whitehead’s book is a story of survival, mostly seen through the eyes of Cora, a runaway slave, but the author also adds magical realism with the creation of an actual underground railroad whose road to freedom is fraught with new experiences along the way.
5. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1886). This is the first time I’ve ever read Hardy, and at first I wasn’t completely sure I liked it. People say he's dark, and it's true. But about halfway through the novel I realized I was reading the story of my working-class ancestors in England—not their actual lives, of course, but the essence of what their stark daily lives must have been like. No other Victorian novelist had given me that before. The story of alcoholic Michael Henchard, who in the first chapter sells his family off to the highest bidder in a drunken rage, still has the power to shock. The aftermath of that action reverberates through the novel through plot twists to the very end.
4. 1984 by George Orwell (1949). This book was so much more painful to read than I expected, not just because of what happens to protagonist Winston Smith, who dares to have independent thought, but because of the controlling life that he and others around him are forced to adopt in this dystopic classic. What has struck me about the book ever since I read it, is how the potential of what happens in the novel could actually happen today: not from socialism, however, but from capitalist corruption. Concepts like “newspeak” and “doublethink” are practically oozing out of Washington, D.C. these days, and although I would never have considered Pres. Tyrant to be Big Brother, if this level of corruption and totalitarian power that he propagates continues unchecked, that tyrannical party will eventually make our lives unlivable.
3. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881). I never thought I would say this about a novel by James, but this is actually a page-turner, but as you would imagine. Isabel Archer is another one of those great literary heroines, but I found it a struggle early on to sympathize with her because of some of her choices in life which seem immature and foolish. The first half of the book you spend the entire time getting to know her and the people around her; the second half, you can’t put it down because of how those decisions impact everyone, and how Isabel has to come to terms with the ramifications of her own choices, good or bad. 
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878), translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is one of the greatest opening lines in literature and says much about how this lengthy, but incredibly well-written, novel will play out. The mistake most have about this book is thinking the title character’s story of her illicit affair with Count Vronsky is the main storyline. In fact, there is much more going on in this book. I was found myself identifying more with the story of Levin, who tries despierately to figure out his place in life, and almost sacrifices his greatest love in the process. This book deserves to be near the top of this list, and it's only because of how the next book was written that I suspect it isn't my number 1. It took me 4 months to read and it was worth it.
1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857), translated by Lydia Davis. It seems strange to me that at the top of my list are 2 infamous 19th-century novels about women having extramarital affairs. I think what drives me to rank them both so high are the stories of their passions for life and love, rather than their immorality. (I guess I am a Romantic at heart.) Earlier last year AA and I spent a few days in Rouen and Upper Normandy, France, which I think also helped me in deciding to finally turn to Flaubert for the first time and read his infamous story of Emma Bovary. This is another book where I thought I knew the storyline; I had even heard it was a boring read. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this book is one of the most beautifully lyrical I’ve ever read. The descriptions are so lush at times you feel like you’re with the characters smelling what they smell and feeling what they touch. Both Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary come to tragic ends, and the (male) authors of these novels could be accused of misogyny and taking a moral high ground in judgment of them. But it is exactly for those reasons that these books should still be read. One needs to appreciates these novels in the context of their day, but one also should discuss their messages in light of current social politics, most notably the #MeToo movement today.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

E-Journal Session at ARLIS/NA 2018

Tomorrow morning at 9:45am (i.e., Mon., Feb. 26, 2018), I'm chairing a panel session at the 2018 annual conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA). The conference is in NYC this year. When I first started my librarian career (over 20 years ago, if you can believe it), I quickly joined ARLIS/NA and made it one of my primary professional organizations, and I've never regretted it. Some of the people I met 20 years ago are still friends and colleagues. At one point I was Chair of their Web Advisory Group, when the organization and its website was still more home-grown rather than professionally managed as it is today. I also served as President of the Southeast Chapter at one point too. But as things evolved in my life and career (PhD work, in other words), I had to pull away from the organization for a while. This is my first time back at the group's national conferences in a long time, and I'm looking forward to a few of the informative sessions and reconnecting with colleagues and friends.

The round-table panel session I'm chairing is entitled "Born-digital and Other E-journals in Art History: Crossing Boundaries Among Art Historians, Editors, and Librarians," and my co-chair is Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Seton Hall University, and Founding Editor of Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. We have four speakers who are going to give brief presentations on specific topics, and then it's open-forum with the audience from whom we hope to hear comments, questions, and recommendations for improvement in the publication and dissemination of electronic journals in art history. Here is the full description of the panel and information on our speakers:

E-journals have existed for about three decades. They were pioneered by the sciences and social sciences, but for various reasons, some more valid than others, the arts and humanities were slower to catch on. In the field of art history, in particular, a major retardant was the need to establish protocols governing permissions and licenses for reproducing high-quality color images in perpetuity on the internet.

Today, the e-publishing of art history journals has become an accepted practice, yet it is certainly not the standard. Key challenges remain: how to adapt traditional print journals to digital formats, and how to take full advantage of the possibilities the digital medium has to offer; how to index and archive e-journals, and how to fund them, especially open-access journals that are born digital.

This round-table brings together art historians, editors, and librarians involved in different aspects of journal e-publishing. Interactive in format, the session will address questions about content, format, access, archiving, and new possibilities in the digital publishing realm. The session will begin with short presentations by the panelists about their experiences in e-publishing, highlighting lessons learned and future challenges to be addressed. The second half of the panel will open the floor to the audience for comments, questions, ideas, and information sharing, so a larger cooperative experience can be shared by all.

Elizabeth L. Block (Metropolitan Museum of Art): “The Art History Journal Unbound: An Editor’s Perspective on an Evolving Readership”
Martina Droth (Yale Center for British Art): “Creating a Born-digital Journal for Art History: Objectives, Challenges, and Lessons”
Alexandra Provo (New York University): “Indexing for Access: How Librarians Can Help Situate E-journals Online”
Isabel L. Taube (Rutgers University): “Preservation Management in E-journals: What Are We Doing to Fix Links and Archive Resources and Are We Doing Enough?”

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Art in 17th-Century Life: Robert Nanteuil

At work we have been incredibly busy preparing for a new exhibition opening tomorrow in Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. The show is entitled "Art in Life: Engravings by Robert Nanteuil (c. 1623-1678) from the Frederick Paul Keppel Collection," and was curated by students in the MA program in Art History at Columbia, under the guidance of the MA director Frédérique Baumgartner and the Curator of Art Properties (yours truly). This is the first time that the MA program has partnered with Art Properties to utilize art from the permanent collection for an exhibition, thus giving the students an opportunity to curate an exhibition. It has been a lot of work to do this for all involved, including everything from selecting the prints, digitizing them, conserving one, mounting and matting them, and so on, not to mention all the work we've done environmentally, including retrofitting display cases, installing new LED lighting, and constructing faux walls. The short-term work, however, is going to benefit all in the long run, as this is the beginning of what we hope will be a recurring annual exhibition curated by a new student group each year. Below is a view of one of the cases showcasing some of the prints on display.

Nanteuil grew up in Reims, France, where he trained as an engraver. He settled in Paris in 1646-47 and soon established himself as portraitist to the court of King Louis XIV, the famous Sun King, eventually rising to the position of Designer and Engraver to the King. Over the course of his career Nanteuil made over 230 painstakingly realistic portraits, most of which were ad vivum (taken from life). Many of the prints went through multiple states and editions with altered backgrounds. Most are traditional window-style framed portraits as you see in the installation view here. However, a few show individuals in particular settings. The 1659 print of Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661) at the top of this post is taken from a portrait by Pierre Mignard, rather than life, but Nanteuil depicts him seated in his palace with his kunstkammer of scientific instruments and gallery of ancient and modern sculpture behind him. Among the prints in the exhibition this one is one of my favorites, even if it is atypical of Nanteuil's style. Rather than a straight-on portrait, the print contextualizes Mazarin as a connoisseur and collector, and arguably foreshadows depictions of over famous collectors over time, most notably Charles Willson Peale's The Artist in His Museum, 1822 (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts).

These prints were owned by Frederick Paul Keppel, a former dean of Columbia College and son of the NYC print dealer Frederick Keppel. In 1947, 184 of the Nanteuil prints were donated to Avery Library by F.P. Keppel's widow, and for this exhibition the students selected 16 to showcase, arranged in 4 cases with various themes. The exhibition is open to all 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, until May 18, 2018. There is also an online exhibition: